Sunday, August 30, 2015

Our Trip Out West, Part 3: It's Fun to Stay at the YMCA

There is a lot to do at the YMCA of the Rockies, and we tried to do as much of it as we could.

One evening we discovered the pool, for example, though only Lauren actually went swimming.  The pool was warm and had a corkscrew waterslide into the deep end, so she enjoyed it thoroughly.  I read my book while she did that, so I enjoyed that thoroughly.  Win all around, I say.

Kim and Tabitha located the library while we were there.  There were puzzles.  Puzzles are cool.  They brought one home and Kim put it together back in the cabin. 

The first thing we did, however, was find the zipline.  Lauren, Tabitha, and I went.  Kim did the sane thing and took pictures from below.

Ziplining, for those of you who are not up on your gratuitously risky forms of entertainment, involves climbing up a very tall pole to a platform overlooking a valley, attaching yourself to a cable that runs a very long way out over a very long fall, and then launching yourself into space on the assumption that all of this will function as designed.  You then zip down the line (thus “ziplining” – clever, huh?) for about thirty seconds of pure fun, after which you have to walk back across the valley, which is less fun but a required cost of the whole thing.  And then you do it again. 

Also, guys?  Make sure you get your harness adjusted just right, otherwise you will be in for a world of hurt about a third of the way across.  Just saying.

We hiked our way down to the building where you make arrangements for this sort of thing – one of those brownish cabin-like structures that looks like all the others only somewhat smaller than the big ones and somewhat bigger than the small ones – and signed up early Wednesday morning.  You have to fill out an awesome variety of forms, all of which indicate that you understand that even thinking about this activity could result in serious injury or death, that on no account will you hold anyone other than yourself responsible for anything that happens even if a YMCA employee were to follow you down the line and shoot you with a crossbow, and that any attempt to contact a lawyer regarding anything that happens good or bad will result in the automatic forfeiture of your home, the loss of your job and reputation in both your online and meatspace communities, and a lifetime ban on eating anything tastier than sauteed cardboard.  You know, the standard release forms that one finds in America these days.  Nothing special.

Signed, paid, and ready, we hiked back up the way we came – Colorado is lovely, but in my experience rather steep – and got ready to zipline.

Everyone in our group of 18 zipliners was from Wisconsin.  This was a recurring pattern out in the West, actually.  We’d attach ourselves to a group of people doing something, stand around waiting for the actual doing part, strike up a conversation, and discover that at least half of the people nearby were refugees from the Badger State.  Given the rapid decline of Wisconsin into tinhorn petty tyranny this is perfectly understandable, but still it was a surprise to see it confirmed.

This sort of activity is one of the reasons that you see a different kind of tourist in Colorado.  There was an abundance of trim people in active-wear clothing, the men with hipster facial hair and the women often carting small children in strollers that probably could outperform our car on the highways, wandering about the place at all times – quite a shift from the usual vaguely overweight t-shirt-and-ball-cap American tourists that I’m used to and am now one of.  But they’re friendly, for all that.  Every time you pass someone at the YMCA of the Rockies they wave and say hello, and you get used to returning that favor.  It’s kind of nice.

The first thing they have you do when you go ziplining is line up and get your equipment on. 

There is a harness, which – as noted – needs to be adjusted carefully.  In the front is a little purple loop that you will eventually D-clip a stout rope to, and sling that rope over your shoulder.  When you get to the top, you D-clip the other end to the line.  That’s your tether to safety.  If it doesn’t work out, they also give you a helmet.

The YMCA guy then goes over the safety regs (“Don’t do anything stupid”) and turns you loose.  You get in line – there are lines in front of both poles leading up to the platform – and when you climb up they clip you in so if you don’t make it all the way up at least you’ll have a safe ride back down and can start over.  Eventually you clamber up like a telephone worker and get to the platform.  It’s the last step around the edge of the platform that is the tricky one.  You stand up there on the platform for a while until the complicated flag dance between the person on the platform and the person on the other end of the line across the valley indicates that it is safe to go, and then you defy all sense and reason and jump off the platform.

It’s a fast ride, just humming along in the air across a mountain valley.  It’s kind of peaceful, in a way, and seems to take much longer than it actually does.  And then – WHAM! – you run into the braking mechanism at the other end, which slows you down enough to land without rolling.  You unhook, and head down into the valley to go back – the last 20 yards up the hill on the other side are the killer part – and then you do it again because this was much more fun than you thought it would be and the adrenaline makes you forget the initial climb up until you’re already halfway there and it’s too late to back out.

We did this for an hour or so.

And then on Saturday we did it again, this time with friends.

When we were working out the details of this trip we discovered that our friends in England were also planning to come to the US at about the same time and were willing to meet us there for a couple of days.  Richard, Magnus, and Ginny got in late Thursday night.  They stayed at one of the lodges that the YMCA of the Rockies has for those who don’t stay in the cabins, and met us early Friday for breakfast.  It was the first time we’d gotten together since we were in England in 2012, and the first time since Julia passed away in January.  It is a lovely thing to get together with good friends.  Ginny, Magnus, Tabitha and Lauren picked up pretty much exactly where they left off, and so did Kim, Richard, and I. 

I live too far away from too many good people.

For our second round, Kim and Richard begged off to go to a yoga class that was being offered at the same time.  The four kids went down to the zipline building on their own and I met them as they walked back up the hill to the zipline platform.  It turned out that when you sign up for ziplining at 8:30am on a Saturday, you get the place to yourself.  This time I stayed on the ground and took pictures while they rode the line across the valley.

Eventually Kim and Richard, thoroughly stretched and relaxed by the yoga class, came by in the van and collected us, and we went to the Admin Building for snacks.  They were very good snacks, even if they were very slow snacks.  More time for hanging out together, I guess.  This is a good thing, on balance.

There is a lot more to do at the YMCA of the Rockies than just ziplining.  For example, there is also a mini-golf course.  Actually, there are two.  We didn’t know this at first. 

After we finished our snacks, Tabitha, Lauren, Ginny, Magnus and I wandered down from the Admin Building to the mini-golf course, stopping along the way to pay tribute to the statue that pretty much by definition had to be there.

We found the mini-golf course and headed for hole number one.  We were a bit curious as to why the greens were fairly flat and devoid of obstacles and why the holes were as big around as dinner plates, but we were having too much fun to care.  Eventually it dawned on us that this was the 9-hole kiddie course, and the 18-hole regular course started on a different spot.

Did we let this stop us?  No.  We finished our kiddie course like the professionals we are, and then moved on to the big kids version.  Eventually Kim and Richard joined us, and if we had kept score it would not have been nearly as much fun.

Later that day the kids went horseback riding, because that’s what you’re supposed to do in the West.  In a sense it’s kind of like ziplining, in that there is an intense round of signing release forms absolving the YMCA, the livery stable, Rocky Mountain National Park, and pretty much every person, organization, or entity in Colorado of any legal responsibility for anything that might happen, and then there is a round of equipment and instruction.  The helmets are similar, but there aren’t harnesses.

There are saddles, though.  This came as a rather odd surprise to Ginny.  Not the saddles in general – she has some experience riding horses, and saddles are only to be expected – but rather the style of saddles.  Out in the West, they ride Western Style, as one would imagine.  But in England, where Ginny learned to ride, they ride English Style.  Apparently these are two different styles.  There was a short period of adjustment, and then all was well.  Fortunately neither Magnus, Tabitha, nor Lauren had enough experience to make that difference matter.

And off they went for an hour ride around the border between the YMCA and Rocky Mountain National Park.

Right about that time Anne arrived. 

Anne is one of my friends from the UCF, the circle of bloggers that I stumbled into a few years ago.  We look after each other in some ways, celebrate and mourn together, and try to meet up whenever we can.  This is actually the second time I’ve met Anne.  She lives not all that far from the YMCA in relative terms, so she agreed to drive up and hang out with us for a bit.  As noted, I live too far from too many good people, and it is always a treat when we can fix that, however temporarily.

Anne, Kim and I hung out at the Admin Building for a while until it was time to pick up the riders, and then we headed back to the cabin where there was the Exploding Kittens game.

Lauren really needs to go to Vegas, is all I’m going to say about that.

Afterward we had a lively dinner at the cabin, packed everyone up into the van along with half a cord of firewood, and headed on down to the firepit that we’d reserved.  Because S’MORES!

They don’t do s’mores in England, apparently, mostly because they don’t really have graham crackers there.  You can only have your first s’more once, and being there to watch it happen is an amazing thing.

We sat around the fire setting marshmallows on fire, telling minute mysteries, and generally enjoying each other’s company.  Eventually Anne had to leave – she was only close to the YMCA in relative terms, and it was a long drive home for her – and a little while later we wound down and brought the night to a close.  Hanging out with good people is the best way to spend an evening.

We did a lot of just hanging out, actually.

I’m not a great fan of vacations that you need a vacation to recover from.  Vacations should be relaxing.  There should be down time.  We did our best.  There were a lot of games – Exploding Kittens, Carcassone, various permutations of cards – and more than a bit of reading.  There were conversations.  And late at night, as we wound down from our various exploits of the day, there was internet – the YMCA of the Rockies has pretty much zero cell phone service, but surprisingly strong wifi.  As noted earlier, this is my kind of camping.

When you sit out on the deck with your book, one of the things that you have to get used to is the abundance of locusts that flit about.  It’s not like they’re a swarm or anything, and they mostly stay out of your way.  But they all sound like Five O’Clock Charlie And His Poorly Maintained Biplane coming for his afternoon bombing run, and it does take a while before you can just ignore them.

One night we decided not to eat in the cabin and went into Estes Park for dinner. 

On the way back we stopped in at the local Safeway to pick up a few supplies.  I always like going to grocery stores in new places to see what’s there – they had all kinds of interesting food (bleu cheese slices for burgers, chip bags that came pre-inflated, and so on) as well as interesting people.  One time Kim was convinced she saw Kit Harrington from Game of Thrones, and for all I know she was right.  Another time there was a woman in line holding her iPad up to her ear like an old ‘70s boombox, bopping and jiving through the aisles and into the checkout lane.  Hey – marijuana is legal in Colorado, so who knows what was going on with her.  She was very nice, though.

We checked out on Sunday, though we didn’t leave right away.  The YMCA of the Rockies is pretty strict about checkout, so we were cleaned, packed and done by 10am as required.  We all hung out at the Admin Building for a while.  There were a few hands of Exploding Kittens.  An inside table got repurposed as a coin-soccer field – apparently that game, under various names, transcends both oceans and generations though specific rules and practices vary.  It was a lovely chance to spend just a little more time with our friends.

And then we were off.

Our Trip Out West, Part 2: Settling In

We got to the YMCA of the Rockies late Tuesday night and settled into our cabin.

When I think of the YMCA, mostly I think of a large rectangular building with a pool on one end and a gym on the other.  It’s kind of drab and filled with serious people trying to get healthy or achieve exercise levels that I have no interest in reaching.  There are also large groups of buff young men - some of them wearing Native American headdresses - singing in harmony.  The YMCA of the Rockies is not that.

Oh, you can do all those things, of course.  I'm sure singing is allowed.  There is a pool.  They may even have a gym somewhere, though why they would do that is something of a mystery to me since the whole place is a) on a 45-degree angle, which makes walking from building to building exercise enough, and b) huge, which means you get a lot of exercise just walking.  It would be kind of recursive that way.

And they have all kinds of things to do, most of which I will get to later.

Mostly though, from my perspective, it had cabins.  Nice cabins.  Cabins with actual beds, full kitchens, and showers.  Yes, it is in a non-urban setting, and that makes it camping to me.  But this is my kind of camping.

This is what the cabin looked like when we got there.

And the next morning, when you could see it, it looked like this.  We're in the one on the left.

It had two bedrooms, one with a queen bed and one with three singles (two in a bunk-bed arrangement).  It had a small but functional kitchen, and room for a table.  It even had a nice living room with two couches for hanging around in, and a fireplace if you bought the wood for it.  We did that on our first night and it was cozy, especially since that night it got down into the 30s, Fahrenheit.  Apparently it snowed in the higher elevations that night, though not where we were - the staff was all abuzz with that, since that doesn't happen that early in the year usually.  The next night we discovered that the cabin also came with a thermostat and built in heat, which was a pleasing discovery even though it didn’t get that cold again the rest of our trip.  We had lovely weather the whole time, in fact – highs in the 70s, lows in the 40s and 50s.  I can handle summers like that.

The bear-proof trashcans were a bit of a revelation, though.  They’re everywhere.  They’re very serious about bears up in the YMCA of the Rockies, to the point where they warn you against leaving food out on the kitchen counter lest you have unwanted houseguests.  It’s like living in a city, only with food instead of wallets.

Once we got everything unpacked from the van on our first night there – and got the van cleared out of potato chip shrapnel so as to avoid any visits from the bears – this is what the night view looked like. 

I’m not sure why, but I really like this photo.  It’s not a great photo, really - it's not even the best one I took that night, from a compositional perspective - but there is something about the way the light works that pleases me.  So that’s the one I chose.  It’s my blog.

The next morning I went out to the little deck and this is the view I got from our door. 

Even a city boy like me has to appreciate a view like this.  Kim and I spent a fair amount of time just sitting out there reading in front of the mountains, and it was marvelously relaxing.  I couldn’t live in a place like that – the lack of city would drive me crazy fairly quickly – but for a week it was lovely.

Really, it was.