My alarm clock woke me at 6:30am and I rolled over to hit snooze as I was still way too tired to get up after staying out too late the night before. I hit the snooze a couple more times and then finally got up, grabbed my pack, and hit the road. I had a flight to catch in Kansas City and I wanted to be early so I could have some time to kill in the airport. For some odd reason I really like airports. I don't know if its the fast-paced environment, the people watching, the Caribou Coffee cappuccinos (if you know, you know), or the fact that I am normally heading to a place that I haven't spent much time in and the anticipation is building as my flight gets closer for departure. Either way, I simply enjoy doing the whole airport routine.
After a three-hour drive, I finally arrived in Kansas City and as I was pulling into a friend’s driveway where I would park my truck for the time I was gone, I received a text from the airline saying that my flight was cancelled due to air traffic control. At first I didn't think much of it, but then I looked at the email they sent me and saw that the next flight going to Denver didn't leave until 5:30 that evening.
Hold on, let me back up a bit. Let me give you an itinerary for the five days ahead that I had planned for: I was supposed to fly into Denver, CO and land by 3:00pm on Thursday where my brother, Ben, would pick me up. We would drive the 7 hours north through the night to the Wind River Range in Wyoming, start hiking the 9 miles to the spot we would camp at, play around in that area for two full days, hike back out the next morning, drive back to Denver, spend some time with some friends in town, then I would fly out on Monday morning to be back just in time for a Fourth of July party that evening. We had this trip all mapped out for the amount of time that we had with no wiggle room whatsoever. But sometimes, things don't always go as planned. So here's how it really went.
Once I found out that my first flight was cancelled, I had my friend take me to the airport to see what I could do about catching the earliest flight to Denver as possible. The first lady I talked to immediately said that there is no flight going to Denver until the next day at 3:00pm. Well that wasn't going to work due to my time constraints, so I went to the next available worker and asked if there was anything she could do. After about two minutes of searching her computer, she found a flight through a different airline and said I would be flying out at 5:30 that evening. It still wasn't ideal, but I took what I could get and she signed me up.
I ended up going back to my friend’s house to kill some time as I waited until it was time to head back to the airport so I could catch my 5:30 flight. At about 4:45 I got a text saying my flight was delayed until 6:30… Okay, no worries, I thought, I'll just finish this chapter in the memoir I was reading and then I'll head there. When I was about to head that way, I got another text saying it was delayed until 7:30. This went on for another hour and didn't end up leaving Kansas City until about 8:30 and I was originally supposed to be in Denver at 3:00pm. Oh I forgot to mention, my flight that ended up leaving at 8:30 wasn't a direct flight. I had to go up to Minneapolis and then connect to a Denver flight from there.
I landed in Minneapolis late and had missed my connection flight by an hour and a half, so I went to the help desk to see what I could do about this. They told me that the next flight going to Denver would be the next day at 8:00pm. So that means I would be spending the night in Minneapolis, a city that I had never visited and I didn't know anyone there. At this point, I made my frustrated self sit down so I could collect my thoughts and figure out the best way to get around this mess. I also called Ben to tell him what was going on so we could start brainstorming a different trip to do when I got there because we would not have the time to go to the Wind River Range anymore, since I was having to stay the night in Minneapolis. I went back to the help desk to see if there were any other options and we finally found a flight that would leave the next day at 3:00pm that would take me to Atlanta, then arrive in Colorado Springs at 8:30pm. Once again, not an ideal flight, but it was my best option so I took it. Now that that was figured out, I had to find a place to stay for the night. I made a Facebook post to see if any of my friends had any family or friends in the Minneapolis area. I immediately got a response from a friend here in Springfield saying that her parents live there and that I could stay at their house for the night (Thanks Maddy). Since that was taken care of, I was somewhat relieved from this mess.
I got my pack, and got an Über to the house I would be staying at. By this point, it was late into the night and I just went straight to bed once I got to the house. I will say that it was very nice to sleep in a bed rather than the airport. **side note, If I would've driven all the way to Denver, I would be there by this point… I woke the next morning to the sound of birds chirping and the cool, northern air that filled the room. I gathered my belongings, had a hot cup of coffee and got to the airport by noon. Remember when I said that I really liked spending time in airports? Well, it was starting to get a bit annoying by this point. I was able to get a lot of work done for the following week, so that was good and all, but I was just ready to be up in the cool mountain air not necessarily thinking about work.
My flight out of Minneapolis was on time (finally), and even though I had another five hours of flight time and layovers, I was just excited to be moving and getting closer to my destination. After 30 hours of dealing with flight cancellations and delays, I had finally landed in Colorado Springs at 8:45pm. Ben was patiently waiting to pick me up and once I got in the car we just started laughing at how ridiculous and how long it took for me to get there. But what can you do in a situation like that? When someone else is in control of when you leave and how you get there? There’s literally nothing you can do about all the delays and miscommunication, other than just sit there and be patient while you wait for the big metal tube with wings to come pick you up and take you to where you need to go. It can be frustrating at times, and trust me, I was frustrated during this mess, but I realized that patience is the key to get through something like that because the problems are out of your control and you can't do anything about it.
Ben and I immediately started the drive to Boulder, where we would meet up with some friends at a local bar and start scheming up other ideas of what we could do with the two full days that I had out there. We decided to drive to Estes park that night, sleep there, and pick up our other friend, Brock, that lives in Estes. Our plan now was to go into RMNP the next morning and hike the five and a half miles to Sky Pond, spend the night there, and then come back the next day to hang out with some friends we hadn't seen in a while in Estes Park. Sounds easy, right? It was nothing too outrageous, since we didn't really have enough time to do anything that would take us way into the back country, so we settled for this given our circumstances.
We met Brock for breakfast the next morning and headed for the trailhead shortly after that. On the drive there, we were all going through a mental check list to make sure we had everything for the night and the next day. Once we arrived at the trailhead parking lot, we organized our packs and made sure we had everything we needed once again. It was a bit cloudy and looked as though an afternoon storm might be rolling in, so we strapped our rain jacket to the outside and covered them with the rain fly for the pack, that way they would be easy to get to if it started to pour. The first two miles of the trail to Sky Pond were pretty easy, well maintained trails, waterfalls, and lots of people. But once you get past the falls, the people start to thin out and the trail starts to get steeper. Big granite walls on one side and then the town of Estes on the other. At about four miles in, we passed a park ranger and we thought nothing of it because we knew we had everything we needed to legally be camping that night. (The national park service requires you to obtain a valid back country permit for any overnight camping in the park) She asked to see our permit and we showed it to her, she looked at if for a second and said that we had the wrong permit and that we would have to turn around. (Because clearly, we were going to be staying the night out there by the size of our packs) At this point, I thought nothing of the set back because of all the other set backs that had happened previous to this. What do you do when all that you had planned gets shut down over and over again?
We ended up talking with the ranger a bit more to see if she would let us just finish the hike to Sky Pond so we could have our dinner there and then be back to the car by dark. She was very hesitant at first and we promised we would not stay the night out there since we didn't have the correct permit. So after a few minutes of doing our best to persuade her, she finally gave us the OK to let us finish the hike.
We went on our way and the last mile of the hike was the best because the trail got much steeper and it was lined with thousand foot walls on either side of us. As we passed some climbers on our way up, all I could think about was climbing those exposed walls feeling the cool wind on my face and the sharp pain in my fingers that I so dearly love from climbing on granite all day long, but unfortunately, this was not a climbing trip. Maybe next time.
After two hours or so of hiking, we had finally made it to Sky Pond. Its a high alpine lake surrounded by thirteen thousand foot peaks that still had some snow on them from the previous winter. It was a dreamy site to walk up to, to say the least. We set down our packs and started preparing dinner for the three of us, which consisted of boiling lake water and pouring it into a four person Mountain House meal. Nothing fancy, but anything will taste good at twelve thousand feet. After dinner we started packing up so we could get back to the car before dark. Remember that afternoon thunderstorm I told you about earlier? Yeah, well it was on its way and coming fast. As we were about to start hiking back, the temperature dropped, the rain started to fall, and the clouds closed in and we could no longer see the surrounding peaks. We all just stopped what we were doing despite the rain and just took in the moment that was happening around us. It was a surreal moment to see the clouds close in as quick as they did and feel the cool rain drops falling on us as we stood there in awe. It was almost like we didn't care that we were getting soaked because we were all so immersed in the moment. Mother Nature will do that to you, I guess.
Our hike back was very silent between the three of us. There were reasons for it to be silent, we were just following each other’s steps until we could no longer see more than a few feet in front of us, so we then turned on our headlamps. I feel that hiking in the quiet darkness will take anyone into a thinking zone and I feel like all three of us entered that stage at some point. "what am I doing with my life?", "how could I live this way forever?", "I really like this one girl", "did I forget to call a client back today?", etc. The list is endless, at least for me. Its crazy to think about how much you can accomplish in a single backpacking trip compared to a full week of working or just being in your weekly routine.
We made it back to the car well after dark, exhausted, hungry, and ready for a cold beer. I don't think any of those wants were fulfilled that night, except for the sleeping part. We slept in the car once again and woke to some of our friends that we hadn't seen in months knocking on the windows asking if we wanted to go get donuts. Of course, the word donuts woke us up, so we all headed back to the town of Estes where we would spend the rest of our day catching up with old friends and filling our bellies with good food and even better beer.
Sometimes, when things don't go as planned, you have to make the most of what is given to you despite the set backs and the frustration. Because in the end, we won't have the things we have now, all we'll have is a story.