Adventure #13–My 40th Birthday, Part 1

Originally written 6/15/15

All photos from Flickr used in accordance with the Creative Commons license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode

13Photo credit: Ryan Vaarsi, “Lucky 13, Los Feliz,” https://www.flickr.com/photos/77799978@N00/8424223789/

Rocky Mountain National Park–http://rockymountainnationalpark.com/

To celebrate my 40th birthday, I’ve done a bunch of fun things with my friends and family over the last couple weeks, some of which I’ll be writing about as adventures. Also, some people gave me adventures as birthday presents, which I am really excited about—it’s like two presents in one, since anything that gives me an excuse to blog is a gift in itself.

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For the actual day of my birthday, however, I decided to go hiking in nearby Rocky Mountain National Park with just my husband. I’ve been going hiking in RMNP since I could walk, so, while I was greatly looking forward to the trip (I don’t get up there nearly as much as I’d like to), I wasn’t going to be able to use it as an adventure for my blog. Instead, I was planning on writing a kind of reflective, introspective post about turning forty, finding my first gray hairs, trying to ignore the wrinkles, etc.

Fate had other ideas.

I got my first hint that Fate was planning a blogworthy day for me on our way up to the Park. We were driving on Interstate 36 south of Boulder, where they’re doing some construction to install express lanes. It was Sunday, so there wasn’t any construction actually going on, and it looked like the project was very close to being completed. Almost no orange cones or lanes blocked off or anything like that. There were signs saying that it was a construction zone, but that was really it.

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The outside of my birthday card from my husband. I love pickles.

My husband moved into the left lane and sped up to pass some slower vehicles, and just at that moment, a police car that neither of us had noticed turned on its lights and pulled in front of us from the shoulder. Uh-oh. It moved around behind us and motioned us to stop.

“Good morning,” the officer said, when he had gotten out of his car and come over to talk to us through the window. “Do you know how fast you were going?”

Ray, who has the greatest respect for law-enforcement officers and wanted to go to the police academy at one point in his life, didn’t fib or try to make excuses. “When I looked down, it said seventy-five, sir.”

“That’s right. And do you know what the speed limit is through here?”

“Sixty-five, sir.”

“No. It’s fifty-five.”

The officer paused to let that knowledge sink in, and my heart sank with it. We’d been going twenty miles per hour over the limit in a construction zone. This ticket was really going to hurt.

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The inside of the card! Hee hee!

Ray gave the officer his license, registration, and proof of insurance, and the officer took it with him back to his car.

“I’m sorry I just ruined your birthday,” Ray said unhappily.

Neither of us knew it right then, but that was not going to be the last time Ray said that particular sentence that day.

The officer came back a few minutes later and returned Ray’s license. “Raymond, do you know what the fine is for going twenty miles an hour over the limit? $300 and 6 points off your license. In a construction zone, all fines are doubled. That’s $600 and 12 points.”

Oh, no. I knew (because Ray had been something of a speed demon back when we first started dating) that in Colorado, if you accumulate 12 points in violations in 12 months, you can lose your license. That was even worse than the $600, which was bad enough. What were we going to do if Ray couldn’t drive?

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Sorry about the reflection from my flash in the middle of this picture. I’m definitely no Ansel Adams.

“But I see that you haven’t had a ticket since 2008,” the officer went on, “so I am going to cut you a break this one time and let you off with a warning.”

I hadn’t realized that I’d stopped breathing until I suddenly started again. He was letting us off with a warning? It was like a ray of sunshine breaking through some very, very dark clouds.

“Don’t speed through here again, all right?” the officer said, and handed Ray a business card with his name and address on it. Ray handed it to me along with his registration and proof of insurance. I put the paperwork back in the glove box and the officer’s card reverently in my purse. That man was getting a thank-you note!

It’s always interesting to me to see the different ways people react after a stressful situation is over. For the next twenty minutes, Ray kept saying things like, “I wasn’t the only one speeding,” and, “There isn’t even any construction going on!”

I, on the other hand, was so happy that I could have sung and turned cartwheels.

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This is the adorable gift bag that Ray gave me my presents in after breakfast on my birthday. It looks like a muppet. Best gift bag ever!

We reached Rocky Mountain National Park about 9:30 a.m., early enough to have beaten most of the summer crowds. The trail we had decided to hike, the Emerald Lake Trail, was at the south end of the main road that led from the Fall River Entrance where we’d come in, so we spent about twenty minutes driving through the Park on the way to our destination.

It was a beautiful day. The sun was shining, the weather was warm, and all the trees and grass were vibrantly green after a very wet spring. We saw a heard of elk in a meadow, and one or two deer picking their way through the trees by the side of the road. At one point, traffic in front of us came to a complete stop, and we leaned out the windows to see a wild tom turkey, his tail fanned out like a brown peacock, herding a group of hens across the road.

That was worth the trip to me, right there.

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Sadly, I didn’t get a good picture of the turkey with his tail fanned out, but here is a different wild turkey (also cool).

At the end of the lovely drive, we found that we had timed our trip perfectly, and there was still plenty of parking at the busy and popular Bear Lake Trailhead. We parked, loaded our backpack with food and water, and made a pit stop at the glorified outhouses near the ranger station. Then we were off toward Emerald Lake, on a 3-mile-round-trip hike that was labeled “Easy” on the Park’s website.

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Right away, we hit a snag. The trail might be easy in mid-July, but at the end of a wet May, it was still mostly hidden by snow. Patches of the paved trail stuck out from underneath the thick, dirty white blanket (melting spring snow is not pretty), only to disappear again where the trees shaded the track from the sun.

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I wasn’t too worried. When I was in college, I used to go hiking in the backwoods of rural Tennessee pretty much every weekend, and while I’d never hiked in snow there, I’d hiked in just about every other condition. Walking on top of packed snow didn’t seem too bad. Besides, plenty of other people were on the trail, including kids in crocs and grandparents in shorts, so how hard could it be?

It didn’t occur to me that Ray, not as fond of hiking as I am, might not be excited about trekking across the snow. He wasn’t, as a matter of fact, but since it was my birthday (and we’d driven two hours to get there), he just hitched the backpack a little higher on his shoulder and didn’t say anything.

Almost immediately, the trail began to climb up a hill, winding through rocks and evergreen trees. I was so enchanted by the scenery—the little running streams by the side of the path; the small, dark gray squirrels peering at us from the branches; the spicy scent of the pines—that I hardly noticed how steep the ascent was.

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If you look carefully, you can see a squirrel in the middle of this picture

Ray, on the other hand, was painfully aware of the climb, and every ten minutes or so he would step to the side of the path for a quick water break. It was just as well that he did, because otherwise I probably would have forgotten to drink myself. Getting dehydrated when you’re at 8000 feet above sea level is a really bad idea.

Every time we stopped, we talked about this and that, including our plans for the rest of the day. There’s a little café called the Estes Park Pie Shop where we always eat after hiking; we started going there a year or two ago after seeing a truck parked outside their shop that said YOU NEED PIE! in giant red letters across the side. Since the pie (and the rest of their food) turned out to be as good as their advertising, we go back whenever we’re in the area.

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I don’t eat pie (or any other kind of dessert) very often anymore, but this was a very special occasion. So, as soon as we were done hiking, we planned on driving back into Estes Park to have lunch, followed by pie, before heading home so I could take a nap (also very important). As far as I was concerned, it was the perfect birthday plan.

Whenever we paused for a drink, this one particular family would pass us. There were six of them: a mom, an older couple who I guessed were her parents, a toddler, and two red-headed older kids who might have been eleven or twelve. The first four of them were going pretty slowly, just like we were; neither the toddler nor the older couple moved very fast. The older kids, however, seemed athletic and adventurous, and they hiked much faster. We only caught up with them when they stopped to climb a rock or wade in a stream.

They got so far ahead of the rest of the family that I actually wasn’t sure at first that they were part of the same group. There wasn’t much that I was sure about with them. I think they were twins (they were the same height and build and had very similar faces), but I never was certain whether they were both boys, both girls, or one of each. Their red hair was cut in matching mops like Raggedy Ann and Andy, and both of them had long, skinny bodies dressed in t-shirts and jeans.

raggedyannPhoto credit: Joe Haupt, https://www.flickr.com/photos/51764518@N02/17172505419/

In case you’re too young to know who Raggedy Ann and Andy are…

After watching them clamber up on some rocks and stand looking down at the forest below them, I decided that they were kids after my own heart. When I was little (like four or five), my parents used to put a whistle around my neck when we went hiking because I enjoyed running ahead and exploring so much. The deal was that I could explore, but I had to stay on the trail, and I had to blow my whistle every few minutes so that my parents knew where I was.

During the first part of my birthday hike with Ray, we played a kind of leapfrog with the adults in this other family: they would pass us when we stopped for a drink, and we would pass them when the grandparents stopped to adjust their hiking poles, or when the mom stopped to put the toddler in a baby carrier (which was basically a special backpack. The mom then did the same hike we were doing with a 25-pound 2-year-old on her back—she must have been in incredible shape).

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Every time we leapfrogged, we would smile and say hello to each other. There’s a camaraderie in the Park that I love, a sense that you’re sharing this beautiful experience with everyone else on the trail. We said hello to all the people who passed us going the other way, and they all smiled and said hello back. That just doesn’t happen when you’re out walking down the street in Denver. You’re much more likely to drop your eyes and pretend you don’t notice the person you’re passing—you know, in case they’re a pervert or a psycho. But out on the trail, everyone is friendly. It’s part of the magic of the Park.

A little less than a mile from the trailhead, the path flattened out, and all of a sudden we found ourselves on the shore of a lake. We thought at first it was Emerald Lake (it certainly was a gorgeous, deep green color, the water reflecting all the trees on the hillside to our left), but we realized that we hadn’t gone far enough for it to be Emerald. Later, we found out that it was called Nymph Lake, and it was the first of a series of lakes on the trail.

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Nymph Lake

Standing on the shore, it felt like we were watching some kind of seasonal changing of the guard. The water was completely clear of ice, and ducks were floating on the surface, but most of the shoreline was still several feet deep in snow. The mountains had apparently not gotten the message that it was supposed to be summer.

After we’d stood looking at the lake for a while, Ray asked if I wanted to keep going or if I wanted to turn around and go back. I said that I wanted to keep going. We’d only been hiking for about twenty minutes at that point, and I wasn’t ready to go home. Besides, we hadn’t reached Emerald Lake yet.

This (unbeknownst to us) was one of those decision-making crossroads that you look back on later with regret. But, of course, you never know at the time what you’re in for, which is probably a good thing.

Dramatic music should be playing here! To be continued….