The Great Grey Abyss of Nebraskansas spat me out into Colorado on a cool, misty Saturday night.
For the umpteenth time, I awkwardly tugged my small suitcase out of my trunk, stumbled a few steps under its weight, and smiled at the stranger letting me into her home.
I think to this day I have a permanent bruise on my knee from where my janky roll-aboard has repeatedly kissed it hello.
I'd met Sara, my Denver host, just once a few months ago.
When we first shook hands at the ever-divey Highlander back in Atlanta, my enthusiasm was as loud as my lipstick. At the time, I was coasting on the anticipation of blowing several pop-stands.
Detonation excites me.
It was May. We met at the birthday party of my friend / her cousin. I was drinking tequila and sweating through my typical frenetic chattiness. She gave me a play-by-play of the last bar fight she'd been in, a mere 20 feet from where we sat.
Needless to say, we hit it off.
At the time, I was ages away from mapping the westward leg of my trip, but she insisted I stay with her. Going that far south as I headed west hadn't occurred to me. It didn't come up again for months.
By early fall, I started texting Sara with the vaguest of travel plans. Maybe October? Maybe three days? Two? Five?
Sara's response was an unequivocal "yes" to any scenario I threw at her. As fall settled in and I drew my course from Wisconsin to Washington, her pull became irresistible.
It didn't hurt that Montana was already inhospitably cold and I didn't have the desire to outfit myself in an entire arctic wardrobe. I was a few weeks away from Southern California and my bathing suit remained in my suitcase's front pocket. I am a summer stalwart, through and through.
When I arrived, Sara and her family were as friendly and welcoming as I could have hoped for. We cooked, laughed, shopped, drank (and, after that, laughed more).
She was excellent at suggesting places to visit and explore, like Nederland, Estes Park, and Red Rocks. "Just wait until the sun comes out, though, you'll get better views then."
Colorado claims to have 300 days of sunshine, so I figured the wait wouldn't be that long.
So I waited.
And -- oh hell, patience isn't my strong suit. I hightailed it up to Nederland on a dreary day, layered up in bright synthetics against the chill.
Nederland was a bizarre little trove of small, ramshackle homes and businesses in varying styles of Scandinavian rusticity -- none of which looked particularly up-to-date. Or up-to-code, for that matter.
As Sara had warned, majestic views were few and far between. Heading back east from Nederland, I dutifully hopped out of my car when I came across Barker Reservoir to snap some obligatory "see, I went somewhere" pictures.
It's actually more of a pond: that's just a very tiny person.
The days were dim and short. I slept in and sniffled my way through racks of clothing, glasses of wine, and brisk walks.
When the sun finally broke through, I bared my arms (not the Bill of Rights ones, though Coloradans loves those) and made it to Red Rocks.
I admit, I harbored a tiny tendril of loathing for the amphitheater which almost prevented me from going, and it can be blamed squarely on Dave Matthews.
His Live at Red Rocks album (I refuse to link to it) simpered its way into the hearts of a burgeoning generation of brostafarians in the 90's. Their uniforms: Gap polo or madras button-downs, inexplicably thick cargo shorts, Croakies, goatees, red Solo cups. Their signature fragrance: stale pot, stale beer, stale patchouli and/or Axe body spray. Their distinguishing dance: the bouncing, elbows-out shuffle of the inebriated.
The band's unchallenging, unending quasi-ragas transported suburban whites away to a dreamy land just a few feet to their left. It was transcendence with premium parking. Stoned-stadium profundity. The resurgence of the David Cassidy-look for men.
Twenty years had passed and I still resented them for it.
When I arrived, I quickly ran up the steps to the amphitheater to see what the buzz was about, then headed to Trading Post Trail for a hike. Or walk. It's always fun to learn what you're in for once you get going.
The trail was easy, but it still took my breath away. The crisp relief of the red rock formations was stunning against the sky.