After booking our first night’s lodging at around 10pm on Friday night, we rose at 5am on Saturday and tumbled out the door, praying we had not forgotten anything, as we packed in a hurry as always (tradition…). A short flight later and we had landed in Denver, CO, having gained two hours and therefore still having an entire day ahead of us. Day 1 of our 2-week road tripping venture. We picked up our rental car and were disappointed that the only car available was a Chevrolet Malibu (which neither of us knew the first thing about) versus a Toyota or Hyundai which was more familiar to us. After taking a solid 10 minutes scrambling to figure out where the trunk lock button was and how to open the gas tank, we were on our way.
The car actually had a really smooth drive and easy handling, which was nice to see considering our plans to drive up mountains and on dirt roads throughout our touring. The ipod (with 400-song road playlists) was plugged in and we were off. We settled in at our hotel briefly and then went to walk into town, which was about a half mile trek. It was hotter than expected, somewhere in the mid-80’s but amazingly there was zero humidity, which was definitely a major climate difference at this elevation compared to the sweaty, sticky, grueling NYC summer air that I dread every June like the plague. The altitude, however, was noticed almost immediately. The sickness is real and I felt lightheaded, foggy and my fingertips tingled a bit in this mile-high city (approximately 5,200 ft). Upon a quick googling I learned that despite feeling like you need to crash and take a nap during your first high-altitude day, it’s actually better to take a casual walk, as your respiration slows when you sleep and you therefore take in even less oxygen than when you are awake. So we walked…far.
We stopped for lunch at Yard House which boasted the “world’s largest selection of draft beer”, a claim that was quite convincing. Furthermore, we didn’t really have any set “plans” for our night in Denver other than meandering through the city.
“Do you really want to do anything specific today except eat food and drink beer?”
One Tommy Knocker Jack Wacker Wheat Ale later (say that 10 times fast) and we were feelin’ fuzzier than one beer normally has the power to cause. To go with our liquid vacation I had Korean short rib tacos and sweet potato fries with maple bacon cream dipping sauce, which was like dipping the fries into dessert icing. It was sweet, rich and slightly salty from the bacon, and the short ribs were doused in a super flavorful sauce with just a little tang that complimented the light crunch of the veggies. Vacation…official.
We continued through the fairly touristy 16th street mall stretch of the city which was bustling and crowded. Seeking something a little more casual, we continued until we got to the Lodo section of town which reminded me a little of Williamsburg, Brooklyn with its local bars and cafes, and small apartment buildings alongside unique metal architecture of stores and entryways. The fewer tourists we saw, the closer we felt we were to where we wanted to be. When traveling, we’ve found it’s 100 times more fulfilling to do as many things as possible the same way that locals would. That is, after all, the real reason for visiting a town or city, right?
We made a pit stop at the Great Divide brewery for a THREE DOLLAR beer flight with some tasty brews and wishing we hadn’t eaten yet so that we could partake in the food truck parked conveniently outside. After some advice from my friend Eleanor, who used to live in Denver, we continued onto Gin Mill and then a couple of casual rooftop bars and swirled our afternoon into boozy oblivion. Microbrews are the area favorite, so I guess we took that a little more to heart than originally planned. By dinnertime, our pickiness towards choosing a culinary venue had subsided, and we plopped down at the first burger joint we saw and ordered some Coors Lights, which I still cannot justify as I write this. Blame it on the altitude fogging my brain?
Our first day felt like it was a week long, so we happily crashed around 11pm and actually got a full night’s sleep. The next morning we began our driving journey towards Steamboat Springs, which we only picked out because of its proximity to Rocky Mountain National Park. We decided to make a quick pit stop in Boulder (my mother claimed it was a cool, young city that we would enjoy) and have breakfast at The Buff restaurant, which was chosen because I realized quickly that it had been featured on a Man vs. Food episode, which almost made me cry with happiness (I am more than a little addicted to that show…whose surprised??). After a 40 minute wait and half of a giant iced coffee in a mason jar, and we were seated. I got their famous (gigantic) pancakes with lemon zest and pecans, and a side of bacon. They were fluffy and fantastic, with just a little bit of tart lemon swimming through the plate. Katie got a hot skillet with bacon, tomato, onions, breakfast potatoes, chedder cheese and topped with 2 sunnyside up eggs. I tried just one bite and was blown away. It was like having everything you could ever ask for in a breakfast in each and every bite. She said that it was one of the best breakfasts she’d ever had, even better than a country breakfast we had in Nashville during our first road trip, which was an astronomical claim to make, and not one that was taken lightly. You go, Boulder.
On the road again towards Rocky Mountain National park to see if our Chevy would cut it on a fairly lengthy mountain climb….