It has been quite some time since I last updated. I went to a beautiful wedding and then ventured way out West to Colorado with my little brother for about ten days. I have been home, in New Jersey, for about a week and while little of import or interest, especially pertaining to my writing career has happened, I am still optimistic I can complete a viable portion of my second manuscript this summer. I was certainly inspired and rejuvenated by my journey to Estes Park, Colorado. I would like to share some of my vacation memories here in hopes the recounts will be inspirational to some other aspiring writer or writers.
Mikey and I left on our trip directly after Mass. That first day, I drove through the remainder of New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ohio, deciding to call it a night at a hotel in Fremont, Indiana. It was all standard operating procedure as far as road trips go, but the romantic in me was alive and well and there was a remarkably attractive man eating his continental breakfast, surprisingly alone. Had I been alone, I like to think he might have sat down at the table I had chosen and struck up a conversation. But I was not alone, I was with my little brother whom I love very much, and we both believed the drive to be breathtakingly beautiful. There was just so much space, filled with vibrant greens and blues I had never seen before.
The second day of travel, we drove through a tornado warning in Iowa. We stopped at the World’s Largest Truck Stop to eat and wait for the storm to pass at the World’s Worst Buffet – I bestowed it with such a title because buffet implies choice, but this so-called buffet only offered fried chicken with an assortment of expected sides. When we left, the storm had only dissipated ever so slightly and it seemed like we were actually driving into the worst of it. The rain was so thick and driving so hard, I could not see. I crawled along the interstate with my flashers on, shoulders tensed near my ears, leaning as far forward in the driver’s seat as possible to search the skies for enormous lightning streaks and funnel clouds. I have never seen such dark, threatening skies. I held the rosary hanging from the rearview mirror and said a few prayers. Doing so saved me from a tornado, but not from a speeding ticket in Indiana. I guess they can catch some “Midnight Riders,” as it were.
As scary as the weather was in Iowa, nothing filled me with fear as much as breezes rippling leaves of cornstalks in large fields. Thanks, Stephen King. Mikey put it in a more poetic way; he called it a sea of green, leaves in the wind rippling like waves.
When we stopped at a hotel in Lincoln, Nebraska after the second day of driving, we met a guy on the elevator from Colorado – he was headed back home. He was drinking a beer and had I been drinking a beer, he would have sufficed for a romantic daydream. I imagined that had I been alone, he would have invited me back to his hotel room for a brew and intelligent, wonderful conversation. Instead, he said the mountains in Colorado are breathtaking the first time you see them and went on his way.
At dinner that night, there was an older man seated at an adjacent table who was on his way to Los Angeles, California for his niece’s wedding.
The next day, the third day, we made it to Colorado. Estes Park is the most beautiful place I have ever seen – I know I’ve been overusing that phrase, but the beauty is nearly indescribable, so the tired phrase is all I can come up with (poor excuse for a writer, I know). When I was driving westbound on Route 36 in Colorado, and I saw the Rocky Mountains looming in the distance, I was awe struck. The beauty and the majesty overwhelmed me and suddenly, I felt like crying. The dark rock and the snow-capped peaks looked mighty and formidable and I was inexplicably terrified and anxious, gripping the steering wheel as tightly as possible with sweaty palms. But, upon some reflection, I bet the curving road that hugged mountain and cliff alike with no guard rail was probably to blame, especially considering my poor, stuttering engine that worked so hard to keep up against the staggering elevation. I made sure to charge my camera battery upon finally reaching the hotel and resolved to really try to take some pictures, to try and capture the indescribable beauty, because the camera on my iPhone was not cutting it.
Downtown Estes Park is perfect. I wouldn’t change a single thing about it. Rivers run along the rear of the shops and the most charming bookstore is right next to a perfect coffee shop and paper store. It is where I would like to meet my husband.
On the journey to Colorado, Mikey and I crossed through two time zones. We were chasing the sun.
I-80 sucks – not matter which time zone its in. There was SO much construction.
If you want proof that God exists, that life at its worst is only organized chaos but as its best is a miraculously detailed plan of exquisite beauty, then shut your mouth, open your eyes wide, and go West. It really is God’s country.
Mikey and I rode the aerial tramway to the top of one of the Rocky Mountains, then we hiked to the summit. I did it in cheap, rubber flip flops, too. While we were there, I fed a chipmunk; he took a peanut right from my hand! He put his little paws on my hand and it was adorable!
I spent time at the heated, in-ground pool at the hotel, just reading, listening to music, swimming, and tanning. The creepy trees with markings eerily similar to human eyes on the light-colored bark Melanie and I found in Maine are also in Colorado.
Mikey and I went to The Stanley Hotel for a Night Ghost Tour – it’s the hotel that inspired Stephen King to write The Shining.
But my life is such a fucking shit show. When Mike and I were dining at the restaurant next door to our hotel, called The Sundeck, my debit card was declined when I tried to pay with it. But I didn’t think much of it because I had just paid the balance for the room and have a daily limit of about $700, so it made sense to me. Then, at the restaurant in The Stanley Hotel called Cascades, it was declined again. I was embarrassed and concerned, so I tried to use the ATM downstairs. It didn’t read my card and I thought maybe the card was old and worn; parts had been peeling off and it expired in about a month anyway. I tried using my phone to locate a TD Bank in Colorado, but there are none. Panicked and sweaty, I tried the ATM machine again. It read my card this time because I swiped it properly but it wouldn’t allow me to take any cash out. This all happened in the half-hour before our Night Ghost Tour was set to start, so I was feeling rushed and overwhelmed. I called customer service and apparently, my checking account was frozen because of suspicious activity – someone in Washington had been buying (or at least attempting) software online. I explained that I was far from home on vacation and needed money to eat and get home. The woman verified some recent purchases and then transferred me to a supervisor who agreed to allow me to access my account very briefly. We agreed on a withdrawal of $600, but the stupid ATM at the hotel only allowed transactions in increments of $200, so I had to complete three separate transactions and had no debit card for the remainder of the trip. I wondered about how to pay for hotels on the way back. I had my credit card, but feared maxing it out.
To make matters worse, Mikey really enjoyed the Night Ghost Tour and wanted to venture on the Paranormal Investigation with me but he couldn’t because he is not eighteen and I felt awful because he was disappointed, and I didn’t want to leave him alone, but I knew that if I didn’t go, I would regret it. UGH! I knew I should go because I planned the trip before I knew Mike was coming and I could make it up to him by buying him an expensive watch from the gift shop, but I still felt like shit. The watch was $120.00 which I didn’t really have to spend, but Mom agreed to send money if there was a need. I hate using my parents’ money. Only I could be that miserable on vacation.
The best parts about those days were Barney and Jessica. Barney was our waiter at breakfast who reminded me of Dick Holloran from “The Shining,” who moved to Colorado from Washington, D.C. the day Pope John Paul II died. He knew the locals, the regular customers, and easily and readily engaged in animated conversation at The Mountaineer. Jessica was our waitress from The Sundeck who I bumped into at the hotel pool with her two beautiful, friendly children (girl aged 7 and boy aged 4) who were diving for pennies after the little boy lost his candy in the pool, which his sister rightfully refused to retrieve. She thought her mom and I were friends, which was sweet considering it was mainly idle chatter. Jessica told me about her eight siblings (a brother in Fort Worth, Texas and the others in Missouri) who want her to leave Estes Park to be closer, but she won’t because she absolutely adores Estes Park – she never locks her door and has never felt the need to. She recommended the tours at The Stanley Hotel and was just a genuinely wonderful human being.
When it rains, it pours; you know, when I woke up in the morning of June 27th, I felt incredibly uncomfortable in my own skin. It was a horrendous combination of exhaustion, nausea, and anxiety. Mike and I purchased breakfast at the Donut Haus – and then we went into Downtown Estes Park and did just a little bit of shopping. Afterwards, we decided to venture into Rocky Mountain National Park.
We stopped at the Alpine Visitor Center and decided to travel Trail Ridge Road. It’s the highest paved road in America and goes through different tundra. The views are literally breathtaking, to the point where it seems surreal, like there’s some kind of magic taking observers from one painting to another. It’s almost unfathomable that such beauty, possibility, and opportunity, can exist and that there are some who will never experience it. We stopped and took tons of pictures. The road was longer than we anticipated so when we finally exited the park – $20 and an hour later – we were ready for lunch and to return to the hotel. I put the address in the GPS and for close to an hour, we were hopelessly and miserably lost, with the needle of the gas gauge dangerously flirting with the red. Mikey was infuriatingly unhelpful and obnoxiously oblivious to the terror and misery consuming me.
Dad sent me a text message asking me to call him, so I did when I finally found a gas station and filled up on fuel. I cried, finally venting and finally breaking. Mom thinks I just finally allowed myself to freak out about my debit card being frozen. For five days everything was going so smoothly and then it all went SO shitty SO fast. Once I finally realized the only way back to the hotel was back the exact way we had come, we backtracked and I had to pay another fucking twenty dollars because when we first came in, the park ranger didn’t tell me to keep my receipt because it was actually a pass for a week’s admittance, and it blew out of the window.
I was beside myself.
But the trip was salvaged and I was okay once I knew where I was. I ate some food, and talked to Mom. Mikey and I didn’t do much for the remainder of the day, other than get some ice cream in town and watch a girl catch a small fish in a plastic cup from the river behind the shops.
The Stanley Tour at The Stanley Hotel was more informative than the others. It talked about its supernatural past, as well as the more general history. We were allowed to travel upstairs and peeked into rooms. That same night, I went on my Paranormal Investigation. There were severe thunderstorm warnings being issued, constantly breaking into the regularly scheduled programming with alarming buzzes and beeps. The sky was something to see, with the lightning appearing to strike the very tops of the mountains. Mike was okay at the hotel and I swear a ghost tugged on my pants. It was a good night.
The next day was Saturday and our last full day in Colorado. We were running out of things to do and were honestly ready to head home. Since the hotel wanted us to change rooms for our last night, we simply cancelled that last night and left for home Sunday morning, after Mass at a beautiful church near the hotel. We only stopped once on the way home, somewhere in Iowa, probably because we were so anxious to get back. That second day, I drove through Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. I was exhausted and glad to be home, but already, I miss the beauty, majesty, mystery, romance and imagination of Colorado.
This weekend was enjoyable, productive, and – most of all – much needed. Yesterday, I ventured to Sleepy Hollow with my good friends Dom and Raina, and Raina’s parents, and Raina’s parents friends. I met everyone at Raina’s house, which was an adventure in and of itself. I was pulled over on the parkway by a State Trooper for speeding, but he was understanding, and patient, and because my driving record is close to impeccable, he cut me a huge break. Still, the experience was somewhat nerve-rattling because I had never been pulled over before and I was anxious just to get to Raina’s house and out from behind the wheel. The issuing of the ticket made me late, as did generally leaving my house later than I would have liked, but I did arrive. Dom showed up after I did, so my lateness was forgiven, and then the seven of us piled into two cars and hit the road.
The scenery was absolutely beautiful. The leaves were all different shades of flaming red, burning orange, and resilient green and the mountains and hills we passed were covered in trees and seemed to go on for miles. Dom frequently mentioned that it had been quite some time since he had smelled grass and he swore the sky was different in that part of the country. We rode over bridges that provided safe travel over beautiful, dark water. Dom, Raina and I caught up, shared snacks and were anticipating spending the evening in a historically creepy geographical location such as Sleepy Hollow, New York.
The town caught us all by surprise. We thought it would be … well, sleepier. It was a “blue collar” town that was diverse in population as far as wealth and ethnicity. We parked at Phillipsburg Manor, but traveled into the heart of Sleepy Hollow for dinner. The meal was good and we survived the perilous task of parallel parking, and the gift shop had several interesting items for purchase. I bought two books (The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving and The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter) and a witch hat with a celestial theme. I enjoyed hot chocolate and freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. I also thoroughly enjoyed the company and the scenery. The walking path from the parking lots to the manor was lit by candles encased in glass lanterns. It would have been romantic had we not been able to hear the blood-curdling screams of tourists venturing through “Horseman’s Hollow,” the very attraction we had purchased tickets for.
Dom has a talent for conversation; he is one of the most eloquent people I have ever had the distinct, intellectual pleasure of meeting. When we were waiting for our turn to line up for the haunted walk, he engaged one of the security guards in conversation and we learned interesting tidbits about the history of the town, the attractions, and the origin of the commercialism surrounding Sleepy Hollow and its legend penned by Irving. He mentioned Irving’s estate, named Sunnyside, and I made a mental note to visit it as soon as possible. I also hope to make it to the cemetery, which is purported to be an entertaining, interesting tourist trap. Dom also engaged the young man checking tickets at the entrance and he was a writer, working on a fantasy/adventure piece for about six years – since he was in high school. For the first time in a few months, I introduced myself as a writer instead of as a teacher and it felt right. I felt fulfilled and – for lack of a better term – cool.
The walk itself was definitely creepy and I did scream through most of it and maintain a quickened pace. The costumed and makeup were remarkable, nearly everything seemed authentic, and we laughed as much as we shrieked. Our biggest disappointment was that there was not more to do; we had hoped the town would fully and enthusiastically embrace its place in spooky folklore but as it turns out, this is only the third year they had done something to recognize Sleepy Hollow and its legend on a grand scale. In particular, Dom had wanted to be immersed in history and after talking about that, we decided to make a try for Salem, Massachusetts. The festivities there do have a historical authenticity and the three of us have yet to travel there and have yet to hear someone speak ill of Salem around Halloween (except for some strangers behind us on line, who claimed Sleepy Hollow was more entertaining than Salem, and that surprised us).
I really hope Salem works out, but I do not want to miss my cousin Cory’s visit. One day last week, he quit his job because his boss was unkind. He walked right off the job and embarked on one hell of a road trip. He has kept me updated through messages, pictures, and Facebook statuses, and I am incredibly jealous. I would love to be able to just leave, to shirk all responsibility and do exactly what I want. I would love to get behind the wheel and see the country. Cory explained that he only has one life and he will not waste it, will not let days go by without having seen and experienced “cool shit.” I could not agree with him more. I am so glad I went to Sleepy Hollow.
It was not just for the Halloween fun and atmosphere; it was to travel with friends. Dom, Raina and I ended up at the Bridge View Tavern at the end of Beekman Avenue. While the restaurant was all out of appetizers, the view of the Hudson River and the Tappan Zee Bridge was breathtaking. The beer and wine were cold and tasty and the fries hit the spot. We talked of people we know, some we still know and others we wish we could forget. We were appreciative of the gorgeous night and the seasonal radiance particular to fall in October.
If I am to be perfectly honest, the ride home was my favorite part of the night. Raina drove and to help keep her awake, Dom and I took turns reading from The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter. The short stories were disturbing and entrancing, but I think the coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts takes the most credit for keeping us up. Although, when we returned to Raina’s house, we all stayed up to hear the end of the longer story and I cannot even begin to express what that meant and still means to me. Picture it; three twenty-somethings lounged on couches, attentively listening to a story being read aloud. The television was not on. We were not wearing ear buds to hear iPods. There was an occasional perusal of the iPhone, but for the most part, we were totally engaged by the written word. That is how I want every night to end.