mile-high city

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Ah, sweet, sweet Colorado.  I could write a love song for that state.

Maddie and I returned yesterday morning from a fantastic (and whirlwind) of a vacation to visit our friend from college, Tyler, in Denver.  The trip was a perfect combination of relaxed but full.  See why below!

Thursday, 3/12

We flew Frontier Airlines out of Orlando to Denver.  Tyler picked us up at the airport and dropped us off in LoDo for brunch at Snooze.  After I ate an amazing breakfast burrito (and a chocolate chip pancake on the house since it was my first time eating there), Maddie and I set about to explore downtown Denver.  We shopped around but were relatively unimpressed with all the chain stores in the area — no cute boutiques or anything like that here.  What did impress me was the number of man buns (the hairstyle, not the body part like any Facebook friend of mine over 40 seemed to think) and thick beards.  One of the most surprising things Maddie and I noticed was simply how many guys there are in Denver.  Tons.  We took the Light Rail down to Tyler’s office to meet him that afternoon.  We snuck into the lobby (following behind a caterer and dodging his question when he asked if I had a badge) but were asked to leave five minutes later by a guard…those rocket scientists can sure be stuffy!

That night, we went to a happy hour at an Italian restaurant near Tyler’s place and then to a trivia night at a local sports bar.  It felt good to be playing trivia again (as opposed to hosting it)!  We finished in 3rd place (and I was proud).

Friday, 3/13

We slept in and then headed to Copper Mountain for a day of skiing!  We actually rented our gear off-site and I highly recommend the shop we where we did so.  The guys were really cool, the gear was nice and they even gave me a free chocolate chip cookie!  (It doesn’t take much to make me happy.)

Tyler’s friends John and Ann joined us to ski that afternoon.  It’s funny…the main reason they came is because Tyler and Maddie are both self-proclaimed “terrible skiers” and didn’t want me to have to ski alone when I wanted to leave the bunny hill.  So I skied with Maddie and Tyler for the first hour or so and then moved onto bigger and better stuff.  I’ve skied before in Colorado, in Winter Park, but this was my first Copper experience and it was great!  Just because I love trying new things, I think next time I’d venture over to A Basin or Vail.

After we left the ski resort (not before having a slope-side margarita), we went to the Dillon Dam Brewery for a beer.  One of my favorite things about Colorado (and a repeated theme you’ll see throughout this post) was all the breweries!  Then we headed to Beau Jo’s for mountain pies…where we sat in the literal attic in the dark for dinner.  It was interesting and I so wish I had a photo.

Saturday, 3/14

We went to brunch at The Original Pancake House on Saturday morning with another college friend, BreAnne, before heading to Fort Collins for the day.  When we got to Fort Collins, I tweeted at Coach McElwain (who just came to UF following a coaching stint at CSU).  He didn’t reply, but Colorado State’s Athletic Department did!  I got some recommendations on where to go in FoCo for the day that wound up being really helpful.  We started at New Belgium where we had the best tour ever in spite of not having registered beforehand.  (One of my strengths is talking my way into activities/shows/etc.)  Our tour guide Dave was such a treat and it was awesome to a) enjoy like 5 free [mini] glasses of beer and b) see where some of my favorite brews are made!  We even got to see the room where La Folie, my favorite sour brown ale, spends anywhere from 1-3 years in oak barrels before it’s bottled.

After we left New Belgium, we headed over to O’Dell Brewing for even more craft beer goodness.  The tour wasn’t nearly as high-quality as Dave’s, but we were still glad to have gone.  The place was crawling with people since apparently folks in Colorado love to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day several days early.  For lunch/dinner, we went to Choice City, a recommendation from both CSU and a bartender at New Belgium.  It did not disappoint!  This also gave us a chance to see the downtown (i.e. adorable) part of Fort Collins.

In this marathon of a day, our next stop was back to Tyler’s place in Denver to change for the Colorado Avalanche game!  We met a nice guy at the train station to the game (Alex) who I bugged the whole time about hockey and Colorado and life and I’m pretty sure he loved every second.  It was mine and Maddie’s first NHL game and, although our seats were dreadful, we had a good time and the Avs won!  I even scored a new (10-year-old) boyfriend named Logan who sat next to me at the game.  Afterward, we walked a few blocks to hit the town.  We ran into more awful guys and people that night than I knew was possible (including one who told me I was “thicker than three hot cakes and a milkshake” and meant that as a compliment) but eventually found our way into a karaoke bar which was a blast.  We ended our night with a Lyft home where I (of course) shared deep thoughts with our driver Troy on his sexuality and coping with telling his ex-wife and kids that he’s gay.  Only me.

Sunday, 3/15

We spent Sunday in my favorite place of the trip – Boulder!  We shopped alllllll along the Pearl Street Mall and soaked up the gorgeous 78 degree, sunny weather.  Tyler was a trooper as Maddie and I went into shop after shop.  There was so much life on Pearl Street because of what a beautiful day it was: street performers and families and artists and dogs and locals and tourists and it was awesome.  We ate at Illegal Pete’s and made a trip into a not-legal-in-most-states shop (because it’s Colorado, you have to).  We also drove around CU’s campus, which was stunning.  I really didn’t want to leave Boulder and am pretty sure I left a tiny piece of my heart there, but alas, we had a plane to catch.

That night, Maddie and I caught the red eye back to Orlando… and it was miserable.  It was a four hour flight and I slept maybe 20 minutes because of my terrible cough.  When we landed in FL, I was exhausted but had to make the drive back to Gainesville immediately.  Well, the trip took almost an extra hour because of an awful accident on I-75 and let’s just say, I was thankful it wasn’t me.  I was so tired that I was fighting to keep my eyes open on the road — rolling the windows down, blasting AC, changing the music — anything to stay awake.  We did finally make it, though, and I had time for a 90-minute power nap before heading into work and back to reality.

All in all, it was an incredible trip.  We had weather over 70 degrees all the days except our ski day (where it snowed on us and was beautiful).  Tyler was a kind and generous host (thanks, T) and Maddie and I both are adding Colorado to our list of “places we could live.”  Success!

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take me home, country roads

Last month, I had a great time BLAST visiting my friends in West Virginia!  My friend Jordan and her husband Evan moved there last summer and I’ve been plotting a visit ever since.  We wanted to go when we would have a chance to ski, so I found myself there in the frigid month of February.

photo[22]I drove from Gainesville down to Orlando, FL to fly out.  I flew Allegiant Air (super cheap but still good service – I highly recommend) up to Roanoke, VA.  When I landed in Roanoke, it was a whopping 5° F…talk about a change for this Florida girl!  I was wearing a t-shirt, some running pants and a light fleece pullover…but I wasn’t cold!  I actually think the excitement of being up north in the snow pumped adrenaline through my body keeping me warm.

In Roanoke, I rented a car and drove (two hours, in the snow and ice, by myself in new-to-me states) to Bluefield, WV where my friends live.  I arrived and there was even MORE snow than I imagined.  It was everywhere!

Once I made it to their house (a feat in itself…I wound up parking in a church parking lot and hauling my stuff up a giant, icy hill because the car couldn’t make it into their driveway), Jordan informed me that we were going sledding!  I was psyched.  We ate some lunch, layered up and drove over to Bluefield College, the spot of the sledding hill we’d be conquering.

photo[11]Let’s just say, my first time sledding was far scarier than I would have guessed!  I had what can only be called uncontrollable speed and wound up with a lot of snow in my clothes, ears and even mouth.  I trekked it back up the hill and did it all over again until my hands were completely numb from the soaking wet gloves.  (Bear in mind, temps were still in the ‘teens.)

That night, we ate dinner in a gas station (because, West Virginia) and drove around to some of the surrounding coal towns for a tour.  It was such a beautiful natural landscape but some of the visible signs of poverty were absolutely shocking — formerly grand homes now falling to ruins, unoccupied houses looking like their owners had just stepped out, occupied houses looking like they ought to be abandoned…it was tough to see.

photo[3]On Saturday, we built a snowman (my first ever), had a snowball fight and watched entirely too many episodes of Friends.  We also went to an event called the Winter Warmer at Jordan and Evan’s favorite local bar/restaurant.  I’m pretty sure the entire under-30 Bluefield population was there…it was live music and lots of beer.  Tough to resist!  I even made a few local friends (which Evan would tease me about the rest of the night).  It snowed a LOT this day; I want to say it was at least 6-7 inches!  When you combine that with the foot of snow they’d gotten throughout the week, it truly felt like we were in a (dangerous driving conditions aside) winter wonderland.

photoThen on Sunday, we went skiing!  I hadn’t been since 2011 and wasn’t sure if I’d still be any good, but I was.  I skied all the way up to black diamond runs and I even did a few jumps in the terrain park.  It definitely wasn’t Colorado-level conditions, but it was cool to be skiing with my friends (and none of the snow was man-made).  We definitely exhausted ourselves skiing all day long, and went back to Bluefield around dinnertime.  At home, we ate dinner, played Monopoly (Evan was so ruthless) and watched more Friends; the perfect night!

photo[9]Monday meant my departure and let me just say, it came way too quickly.  I woke up at 5 am and Jordan and I had to dig my car out of massive quantities of snow and ice…like, it took 45 minutes.  Then I drove back to Roanoke where I boarded my plane for the Sunshine State.  I landed back in Florida later that afternoon where I immediately had to strip down to my t-shirt and enjoyed my drive back to Gainesville with the windows down.

up in the air

plane

Once, I spoke on the phone with a friend of a friend who works in the public relations industry and was giving me career advice.  I was lamenting on my lack of specific direction when she asked me, “How would you spend your ideal day?”  I thought about this.  “For me,” she said, “I would be in a hammock reading Vogue on the beach all day if I could.”

“I would sit all day in a coffee shop, just chatting with whoever came and sat down next to me,” I told her.

I’ve written before about my love for strangers.  Talking to people as though I’ve known them my whole life is what I do best, and what I enjoy most.  So naturally, earlier this week when I traveled to Chicago for a job interview, I found myself doing lots of what I just mentioned: making new friends.

On the plane from Gainesville to Atlanta, I met a man who has been researching malaria for more than 30 years.  His work takes him away from his family frequently, but he knows it’s worth it for the value of the discoveries he’s taking part in.  From Atlanta to Chicago, I sat next to a guy who went to Virginia Tech and studied theatre.  He is now an experimental actor in Chicago who had just left the funeral of his 23-year-old brother’s girlfriend (who committed suicide in the apartment they shared).

At the airport waiting to fly from Chicago to Charlotte, I struck up a conversation with a man who lives and works in Wisconsin in economic development for the state of Victoria, Australia.  He grew up in Australia but moved to the United States 20 years ago after falling in love with an American girl studying abroad at his university.  “You must have really liked her to move across the world,” I said to him.  He explained to me that there wasn’t a place far enough away for him not to follow her.  “I knew she was it,” he said.  “And when you know that, you owe it to yourself to relentlessly pursue that person.”

In that same airport, I met the VP of Marketing for the largest independent bottler of Coca Cola in the country.  He was full of professional and interview advice.  One of the greatest things, though, was when he stopped talking about work and started absolutely glowing about his daughter.  It was clear that she is the sunshine of his life and it was so refreshing to hear a dad be so genuinely proud of his little girl.

On my airplane ride to Charlotte, I had every intention of taking a nap…specifically, a window seat-leaning, mouth possibly open, two-hour nap.  But after Rebecca started talking to me, I knew that wasn’t in the cards.

I heard about her husband, a former Army Special Forces officer who works in North Carolina now as she works in Wisconsin.  I heard about their commitment for making their marriage work after all these years in spite of deployments and distance constantly getting in the way.  I heard about her grandkids, and Disney plans, and then I heard about how she tragically lost one of her best friends in an accident last week.  Tears were in both of our eyes as we tried together to make sense of such a senseless tragedy.

I spent my final flight from Charlotte to Gainesville trying to nap but struggling to do so.  Just two days earlier, I’d been feeling crappy about relationship issues and personal problems (and to be honest, I still feel pretty crappy about those things).  In that short time though, I’d been exposed to countless people who’d given me perspective on life, work, family travel and love…all things I could use a lot more perspective on.

Even more intensely, I was met with the realization that the quote we hear so often (frequently attributed to Plato)  is unbelievably true.  “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

I’ve encouraged this before and I will again: take a moment today, or tomorrow, or the next day to talk to–really talk to–a stranger.  You never know who might be in need of some kind words, and I can guarantee that you’ll learn something too.  I learned this week that love knows no distance, family is a gift and life is short.  I have heard all of these things before, but had I not spoken with these total strangers this week, I wouldn’t have actively seen just how true they are.