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Adventures in Nepal XXII: The Journey Home

On January 30, 2020, Emma and Elizabeth spent their last day in Nepal. They were both still a little under the weather, and that mysterious new coronavirus seemed to be turning into a Whole Thing, so they continued to wear their masks.

They began the day with some shopping, to pick up some requested items for Emma’s family.

They had lunch at their favorite Kathmandu restaurant.

And then, at 8:00 that night, they headed to the Kathmandu Airport.

Big boi!

The cheap seats were overbooked, so the girls got a free upgrade to a fancier section of the plane!

BUT NOT WINDOW SEATS. This was, of course a catastrophe.

One of Elizabeth’s pocket friends admiring the in-flight meal.

As with the flight from the US to Nepal, the return-flight layover was in Dubai rather than China, at the request of Emma, who had less-than-optimal past experience with Chinese airports. This was fortuitous, because just as the girls were flying out of Nepal, the WHO declared the coronavirus outbreak to be a Global Public Health Emergency. A few hours later, the US also declared a Public Health Emergency and started screening passengers flying in from China for signs of illness. If the layover had been in China instead of Dubai, Emma and Elizabeth likely would have been subjected to a 14-day quarantine.

They landed safely in Dubai…

…settled in for a five-and-a-half hour layover…

…and then caught their 17-hour direct flight from Dubai to LAX.


They followed the sun west. Elizabeth said this was the closest they got to night the entire flight, up in the Arctic Circle:

Flying over the Grand Canyon…

…over the Western desert…

…and the California mountains.

There were no health screenings of any kind for passengers arriving from countries other than China. The girls breezed ashore with no problems. It was in fact an early example of the general poor response to the virus that would soon be named Covid-19. But at the time we were all as thankful as we were baffled by the lack of concern.

When Elizabeth had first booked the Nepal flights, she was a sweet summer child who knew nothing about the slow bureaucracy of international travel, so she assumed that a two-hour layover between landing at LAX and departing for Austin would be sufficient. Alas, the flight from Dubai arrived an hour late and she was still in line at LAX for Customs when her Austin flight was boarded. Under the stress of realizing that she was going to miss her flight, she mislaid her passport. Emma was already on the other side of the security gates, so Elizabeth had to navigate this new territory alone. Eventually the passport was found, and Elizabeth made her way outside to where Emma and her mom were waiting. They drove her to her next terminal, helped her rebook her Austin flight and after a four-hour layover she was on her way home.

The whole Nepal experience was so good for Elizabeth. At the time, we thought it was the first of many international expeditions for all of us. Now we’re a year and a half into this pandemic with no end in sight.

So many places we want to see, and there’s no knowing when or if we’ll ever get to them. But I’m so thankful that Elizabeth got to enjoy this one last big adventure before the world shut down.

Categories: Covid-19, Family, food, Friends, Health, Life, Nepal, Travel | Leave a comment

Barr Camp

You fill up my senses
Like a night in a forest
Like the mountains in springtime
Like a walk in the rain…

-John Denver, “Annie’s Song”

We had planned to conquer Pikes Peak over the Memorial Day weekend. But all the rain has put the Summit House construction project behind schedule, so that coveted summit is still closed off to the public. We briefly considered canceling our Barr Camp reservations, but it wasn’t like we’d be able to get reservations anywhere else on such short notice. Short notice for good camping reservations in Colorado is counted in months, not days. Anyway, we figured half a mountain was better than none, and the views would still be nice.

Then we got the weather forecast for the weekend: thunderstorms through Monday. Fun fact—the Pikes Peak area is one of the most lightning-prone spots in all of Colorado.

At that point we gave some serious thought to canceling the hike, because that would be a dumb way to die. But in the end we decided to risk it. Fortune favors the bold, right?

We got to the trailhead early, just as the moon was setting. Manitou Springs still had patches of blue sky, and the air was mild. Perfect hiking weather!

This hike was also the maiden voyage of my new GoPro, because I got tired of ruining good cameras with rain and dust and general abuse. I was surprised at the low resolution of the photos, considering the GoPro 9 is a 20mp camera. You can’t really zoom in at all without seeing every pixel. There’s quite a bit of lens distortion as well, even with the fisheye setting off.

The clouds rolled in early in the day, and the higher we climbed the denser they got.

We were surrounded by mountains, but the clouds swallowed them up. We never got even a glimpse of Pikes Peak.

We don’t know what this concrete thing is. It doesn’t go anywhere, it’s just a little man-made cave about five feet deep. Maybe a remnant of the cog railway’s utilitarian days, or maybe a shelter for hikers caught in storms?

My pack was the only one that didn’t come with a rain cover, and for some reason I didn’t think to buy one. So I used that incredibly classy trash bag, and it worked fine.

The clouds turned the trail into a mystical, otherworldly place.

This hike was harder for me than I expected. It was partly the altitude, but mostly the extra weight I’ve put on in the last couple of years. I need to get serious about getting back in shape if I’m going to be exploring Colorado on foot.

But we made it to Barr Camp at last!

For some reason I didn’t get a pic of the outside of our lean-to, but here’s the view from inside.

We got incredibly lucky with the weather. As soon as we were safely under shelter, the thunder and lightning and hail arrived. A couple of hours later the view looked like this:

After we got our stuff all settled into our lean-to, we went to the main cabin for hot chocolate and tea and the company of other campers. So cozy! At 6:00 they served spaghetti and garlic bread…

…and the next morning they served yummy pancakes hot off the stove.

The lean-tos have mattresses in them, so we only had to pack in blankets. One thing we realized right away is that the camp blankets we used in Texas are not warm enough for up in the Rockies. We ended up using our reflective emergency blanket as a top layer to hold the heat in. Next on the shopping list: winter-rated sleeping bags!

The storm stormed itself out overnight, but the clouds hung around. We refilled our water bottles at Barr Camp’s only source of fresh water:

We filtered it through a Sawyer Squeeze and had no problems.

Everything was fresh and wet from the storm. The clouds got more drizzly as the day went on, but it didn’t really rain until we were almost back to the trailhead.

The GoPro’s photos are so lo-res that this zoomed-in deer looks like a paint-by-number.

But credit where it’s due: the GoPro is impervious to mist and rain and dust and general abuse, which means it gets to go places other cameras shouldn’t. Like the saying goes, the best camera is the one you have with you when you need it.

For the last couple miles of the descent, Manitou Springs and Garden of the Gods come into view down below.

The cog trains are running again, after a complete replacement of the cars, tracks and station.

After the hike, we had a nice lunch at Edelweiss.

All in all, Barr Trail is a challenging but beautiful hike. We’ll probably tackle a few of the “easier” fourteeners to build up our stamina before we have another go at Pikes Peak.

Categories: Animals, environment, Family, food, Holidays, Life, Travel, trees, Weather, Wildlife | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Christkindl

I haven’t made any Nepal posts lately because all of my flash drives got misplaced in the last apartment relocation, and one of them has the photos Elizabeth gave me from her trip. Normally they would have made the move in the safety of my purse, but my purse went out to a local repair shop to have its main zipper fixed right around the time of the move, and the flash drives got packed… elsewhere. In a Safe Place somewhere. If they don’t turn up soon, I’ll have to ask Elizabeth to dig up her copies of the pics and resend them so I can wrap up the Nepal saga.

Lost items aside, we love our new home. Technically we’re in Englewood now, just south of Denver. It suits us perfectly, it’s very walkable and charming.

The pandemic has hit the local economy hard. All the small family businesses are a big part of what gives this area its appeal, so we have resolved to support them as much as we are able. Last weekend we took a break from the chaos of moving to visit the Denver Christkindl, an outdoor Christmas market where (mostly) local vendors can sell their holiday wares.

In the spirit of supporting small businesses, we started the day with drinks and sandwiches at our neighborhood coffee shop.

In the background you can see the white bridge/staircase of a light rail station:

Denver has the best light rail system of any city I’ve ever lived in. We definitely want to support that, so we try to use it as much as possible. It’s easier to get to downtown Denver by rail than by car anyway, especially with traffic and the cost of public parking.

After breakfast, we walked to the station.

The C Line to Union Station comes through every 15 minutes.

20 minutes later we rolled into Union Station.

We could have taken the H Line and arrived closer to the Christkindl, but we wanted to walk around downtown and look at the holiday decorations. Denver loves Christmas.

It was the kind of bright high-altitude fall day that’s warm in the sun and cold in the shade. Luke said his head was chilly, so we stopped in a couple of hat shops in Larimer Square. At Pendleton he found a nice wool hat that suits the “railroad baron” aesthetic he has been cultivating of late.

We continued exploring, and found these awesome statues near the Opera House:

We finally saw the Big Blue Bear in person!

Fun fact: downtown Denver has warmed itself with steam since 1880. On cold days you can see it rising out of vents in the ground.

The Christkindl Market is usually right downtown near Larimer Square, but for Covid safety it’s been relocated to the spacious Civic Center Park.

We did our best to support the local vendors. We bought some ornaments and cards and so much food that we had to bring most of it home with us. Since I wasn’t driving, I got to enjoy some hot mulled wine. One stall sold handmade woolen items from Nepal, and Elizabeth found a hat that perfectly matches her Nepali jacket!

We wanted to stay until it got dark enough for all the lights to come on. After we left the Christkindl we walked around admiring the local architecture and art installations.

I love the life-size reindeer and sleigh on the roof of City Hall:

The Capitol Building is beautiful too:

But we had come early in the day, and we ran out of things to look at. And when the sun finally did disappear behind the skyline, it got cold very quickly. We decided to head back to Union Station, and come back another day to see all the lights.

On the way back we stepped into a bookstore and bought a couple of Christmas-themed books. This guy was trippy:

He’s a wax figure, not a live person. Looks super real, though.

Union Station was lit up by the time we got back to it. Denver does love Christmas.

The train home (electric tram, really) was cozy warm. Colorado is nice. We like it here.

Categories: Artwork, books, Christmas, Family, food, Holidays, Life, Nepal | Tags: | Leave a comment

Breckenridge, Part I

After puttering around the parks and foothills for three weeks I was eager to get up into the actual Rockies, visit one of Colorado’s picturesque little mountain towns and maybe summit a peak or two. I would love to see Ouray, but I’m not quite up for the six-hour drive to get there just yet. For my Labor Day weekend outing, Breckenridge was a more accessible choice. Elizabeth came with me. Luke wasn’t feeling a peak-scaling expedition this time.

I expected traffic to be awful heading west out of Denver into the mountains, and it was. What should have been an hour-and-40-minute cruise ended up being closer to two-and-a-half hours. But the views are so pretty, we enjoyed the drive anyway.

It was nice to get out of the Denver haze and up into the blue skies. We even pulled out into a turnout to admire an overlook view of the Dillon Reservoir.

We didn’t really know what to expect in Breckenridge. We had a vague, flexible plan to find some public parking near the scenic downtown and then just walk around and see what there was to see.

Parking was easy to find. And the Breckenridge magic started right away –– we saw gondolas suspended over the lot, heading up to some unseen alpine destination.

We asked around and found out that the gondolas are free to ride, so naturally we got in line. In retrospect, I’m amused by the fact that we never asked where the gondolas were going. It didn’t even matter; we’d just find out when we got there.

There are a total of four gondola stations on the line. We stayed on all the way to the top.

We disembarked at Breckenridge Ski Resort, which offers year-round activities. After grabbing some lunch at the Ski Hill Grill, we made a beeline for the Alpine Slide.

We took a ski lift to the top of the slide…

…and then rode little toboggans-on-wheels back down the slope. Wheeeeeeeeee!

By then it was mid-afternoon, and we wanted to settle the question of where we would be camping that night. We asked a resort employee about dispersed camping nearby, and he cheerfully gave us directions to his own favorite area, up in the National Forest above a different resort. I made a note, and we headed back to the gondolas.

I accidentally got off one station too early. Stayed long enough to snap a pretty pic and got back on.

Elizabeth wanted to check out the High Line Railroad Park, so we drove there next. The museum part is currently closed for Covid, but we did enjoy looking at the old vintage train cars and engines.

This monster is a rotary snowplow, used for clearing heavy snow off of the tracks.

There’s also a nice railway-themed playground.

And my favorite part –– the park is near the trailhead of Trollstigen Trail, which led us to Isak Heartstone, the Troll of Breckenridge.

It’s a short, pretty path, definitely worth the detour.

The shadows were getting longer, and we didn’t want to be setting our tent up in the dark. We stopped by a local eatery for soup and bread to go, and then drove up to the area the resort guy had recommended.

It was pretty up there for sure, but we had a hard time finding any ground flat enough to set up a tent on. After driving a backroad loop that my car was not designed for, we circled back and stopped to talk to an employee of the nearest resort about where we could camp. He recommended near the river, but said that really anywhere was fine.

Long story short, we finally found a flattish spot to set up camp with a nice view. And with all of the care we took to follow the advice of the locals, we still got a visit from a ranger the next morning, telling us that we had set up our tent in a no-camping zone and would have to relocate. Clearly there are rules that we must learn. I’m not going to post any pics of our campsite, because I don’t want to encourage anyone else to camp there.

To be continued!

Categories: A Plethora of Parks, Covid-19, environment, Family, food, Holidays, Life, Travel, Weather | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Preliminary Exploration

In amongst all the drudgery of moving states, the kids and I have enjoyed exploring our new home. Here are some of my favorite pics from the past month.

On Mt Falcon:

At Genesee Park:

At the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge:

Investigating the local eateries:

Other than the constant haze from wildfires, Denver is a very pleasant city to settle into. Hopefully we still like it after the first winter snow arrives. Which, according to local weather forecasts, will be tomorrow.

Categories: A Plethora of Parks, Animals, environment, Family, food, Life, Weather, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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