Our flight from Washington Reagan airport to Denver departed at 7am. We were both so excited to finally be going there as it marked the start of our west coast road trip. Neither me or Triin had ever been to that side of the the country and thus, regardless of the early hour, we were wide awake. Our friend Amy and her three daughters live in Fort Collins, Colorado which is about an hour drive north from Denver. We first met them six years ago in London, when Amy was studying for her MSc and the girls were in their early teens. We had heard so much about Fort Collins and seen all the fun stuff they shared on Facebook for the past few years, obviously it was pretty awesome to now be actually on our way there to see it for ourselves.
My first internal US flight went fine; I found it bizarre that when we got off the plane there were people standing around everywhere waiting to board. Usually the passengers would still be separated by a wall or something so the ‘comers and goers’ don’t just walk amongst each other, but to be honest I have never taken an internal flight before.
We took a shuttle to the car rental and then after the usual ‘if you pay more you will get this totally necessary extra thing you so totally need’ (Triin quietly commenting in the background imitating the nasal voice of the salesgirl: ’Gimme more money!’ ) something happened that I have never experienced, ever. Well two things actually. After signing all the very important papers, the person outside tells us that we can CHOOSE any of these 6 SUV’s (five Jeeps and one Toyota RAV 4 parked in a row. We asked for some advice about petrol efficiency etc and proceeded for the next 30 minutes checking out SUV’s. It was pretty exciting, especially after the European car hire standard of Fiat 500!
The second thing was that after choosing the RAV4 (it’s petrol efficient!!) and starting the engine, immediately the car rental employee who parks the cars fender bendered us. Luckily no damage, just a bit of a surprise as we leave to start our 6 weeks west coast road trip. Triin was super excited to be driving again after 12-odd years living car-lessly in London. Just to jump ahead to reassure everyone – that was the only ‘accident’ that we experienced in the 5000 miles we drove in total. Nukid! Knuckles! Boom! Some might say it was a total waste of $0 excess we had on this car, just sayin’.
We drove north to Fort Collins, and admired the Rocky Mountains in the distance towards the west. The total vastness of space was surreal after the heavily populated east coast and Europe. In a few days we were going to head towards the mountains and drive through them! Charlene is a massive fan of mountains and was looking forward to some beautiful winding mountain roads for sure. I think it reminded her of home in the southern coast of South Africa. Triin grew up in a relatively flat Estonia by the sea so she’s more partial to the large bodies of water but nevertheless the Rockies seemed pretty darn impressive. And now I will stop referring to us in third person, i swear.
Our first stop was at Amy’s youngest daughter Maya’s house as she had agreed to be our guide for the day. We last saw Maya when she was 9 years old and we were eager to see her all grown up; at age 9 she had been hilarious and awesome to be around. After a few moments of chill we decided to go and surprise Ananda (the eldest daughter) at the restaurant the she worked at. Maya directed us to a drive through the Poudre Canyon which was absolutely breathtaking – everywhere we looked we saw more and more mountains, people tubing or rafting down the very strong-looking and fast paced river.
Ananda’s restaurant was a short drive out of Fort Collins and surprising her was awesome, I truly wished that we had taken a video as her reaction was pretty priceless. Ananda saw Maya, waved, then waved at us and only then realised who she was waving to, haha. We saw her last when she was 13, which seemed like a lifetime ago.
The food smelled so good and we were reminded of just how hungry we were; it was the middle of the afternoon and we’d literally just had breakfast at 5am or something. Apparently the beef burgers were very good so I had one and, indeed, it tasted very good. However, being a vegetarian who hadn’t eaten meat for months, I managed to feel ill the rest of the day. I also finally met Ananda’s friend Willow, whom she had spoken of non-stop when she was living in London.
After that Triin and I were eager to get ready for our road trip so we went to Amy’s house to see where we were sleeping for the night as Amy herself wasn’t in Fort Collins that night. She was kind enough to let us sleep in her bed and also lent us her tent, sleeping bags, a road map and a frying pan for our trip. We took Maya and her friend back to their house as they would’ve probably died of boredom if they accompanied us to Target on a mission to get more campaign gear and supplies.
We got a cooler box, tons of water, rice, beans (because, you know, being basic…), torches, pots and a stove, all of which made us feel prepared for the road trip. We were nervous and excited at the same time but the most overwhelming feeling was exhaustion. After all the shopping we met up with Ananda and Maya again for pizza at a place downtown. Fort Collins is a student town so they seem to have a bunch of ‘young hipster’ places. Plus it’s Colorado, man, which means tie-dye is in. I still can’t believe there were old-school games in the pizza place and I didn’t play any. I think it had to do with the fact that we had woken up at 5am that day.
It felt so good to hang out with the girls again after so long, it was always just so effortless with them. Our hangouts had gone from “Simon says” and trying to skateboard whilst sitting on the board to having dinner together. Although our visit on this occasion was only for the night, we would return to Fort Collins in a few weeks after trekking through Colorado, Arizona, California, Nevada and Utah. Big excite!