Friday, November 20, 2015

I think this whole town is high...

Phil, Amy, Thomas and Keona 10,400 feet up
It is unquestionable that when living in Colorado in 2012/2013 we had the time of our lives. Since we left all those years ago, we have always longed to return. With our friend Phil now living in the true mountain town of Breckenridge, that's where we headed on Halloween night with a $19 flight from Milwaukee. We knew it was going to be a challenge trying to set up life out here, as we knew all too well that housing is a real issue at the beginning of the ski season. We started out planning and researching early and had some leads. Jobs were plentiful, as the ski season was weeks away. However, to find a place to rest our wary heads was neigh on impossible. We stretched our invitation to crash on Phil's couch for as long as was comfortably possible but in the end, our winter season was to be spent elsewhere. However we did get a great long week in the High Rockies, with a great mate. 

In between job interviews and looking at houses, we got out on a few small hikes and immediately we knew we were back at elevation. With two dogs in tow, Phil led us up Mt. Royal from the town of Frisco. What a remarkable welcome back to the mountains. With perfectly clear and crisp blue skies, we were surrounded by 14,000 foot peaks, lightly snow capped, suggesting the imminence of winter to come. The deep breaths were worth it for the chance to do some clifftop AcroYoga. We stopped in at the Backcountry Brewery for a well rewarded pint afterwards. 
Surprise snow storm in Beaver Creek
With the weather still acting like late summer, we were able to really stretch our legs about town. We would skate and ride bikes from Phil's mountain side log cabin into town for a beer at Breckenridge Brewery, grab some food for dinner or swing by the bottle shop to make sure we kept well lubricated. All accessible by the cycle path along the creek running into town. We we spent two Mondays at the potluck dinner the locals organize at Broken Compass Brewery, and once even slaved over making Amy's family's Greek Pastitsio dish with hopes with winning a prize. No such luck, but we filled our bellies with a plethora of incredible food that ranged from all genres and cultures. Caught out by the changeable autumn weather, after being parked up in a downstairs bar for a few hours our stunning sunny day turned into a a snow covered evening. The journey home was slippery but a memorable, laughter filled adventure. We spent another day driving over the Vail Pass back to our old home in Avon and our beloved ski field Beaver Creek. The area was eerily deserted, but we walked around reminiscing and stopped in to have a few tasters at the newly opened Vail Brewing Co. We sipped our beers while the smells from the marijuana dispensary next door wafted in and snow fell soundlessly outside. 

So the scenery had taken a dramatic change that is nothing short of magical. Witnessing a scene change in such peaceful serenity in such a soft and quiet manner is what really captures us, time and time again. What it made for us also was some awesome scenery to venture through while we had a rental car for a few days. With our temporary transportation being the iconic Suburban, we accidentally entered the interstate headed east only to realize that we just got on at the last exit for 21 miles. So we made the adventure under the continental divide through the Eisenhower Tunnel and then back again, although we had only intended to just go down the road. We eventually made it to the summit of Loveland Pass, and the continential divide. Life is pretty epic from up that high, just walking a hundred metres to the viewing platform at 12,000 ft is a real effort. Over the next couple of days we made a nice trip around the back roads of Summit County. After swapping out the Suburban to something more appropriate, we made it just over the back of Breckenridge to the true area of South Park, where we rummaged through an antique store in Leadville and drive on roads that just twisted around and hung off the cliffs of these mountains we so dearly love. The recent snow fall tested my driving with bare road surfaces on the southern slopes and packed and icy surfaces on the north. Slow and steady I got us there, to Hot Sulfur Springs, where the appropriately named town had just that. We soaked our souls, and got dusted with a perfect evening snow shower.

Turing into winter

With the ski field gates still closed, we had to find ourselves another "ski lift" to get some runs on all that fresh snow. Taking advantage of friendly locals who offer lifts, and baked goods, in spare seats or the backs of their trucks, we lapped a section of glades from the summit of Loveland Pass down to a lower section of road. This behavior epitomizes the spirit of Colorado, away from the stereotype, there is more than one way to get high in the Rockies.

Getting "high" in the Rockies

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Land of Big Sand Dunes - Michigan

Thomas with Lake Michigan 450 ft below
We boosted off from Milwaukee with a rental car for three days for an unexpected gem of our travels. We hadn’t really planned on visiting Michigan and therefore didn’t really know what to expect. But it turned out to be an amazing three days. It was lot of driving, but with some more remarkable American scenery along the way. 

Stunning late autumn foliage and winding local roads.
We set off south on our circumnavigation of Lake Michigan off past Chicago and at some point in Indiana, in a not so sharp looking area, we decided we needed McDonald's. We pulled off the highway and got some 99c cheeseburgers. While we sat and ate, I slowly realized we were the only white people about. Just then, Amy looks at me about to talk, and I say, “don’t say it”. Once back in the car she confirms what she was about to comment. Later, Matt and Sarah claimed that we were in one of the the most dodgy areas possible. It definitely was a tad rough looking, but we had no problems. From there on it was open roads, stunning scenery and we were back among the majority.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore- its a long way down.
Heading north along the Eastern Michigan Coast, tagged the 'third coast' of America, we got off the interstate and drove on beautiful snaking roads through the stunning late autumn foliage. Making a few stops in quaint historic summer vacation villages of Saugatuck and Muskegon along with others and turning off onto the scenic route 22. The weather was a bit rough but it really highlighted the awesome ruggedness and exposure of the wild coastline, a character I love in a true landscape. The wind was howling and waves were pounding. We constantly were forgetting that this was only a lake, but even so, I would have done anything to have had my windsurfer.

We made it that night to Grand Rapids and stayed with Sarah’s mum. We jetted right into town to check out the very reputable Founders Brewery, and I was blown away with how big and shiny it was. It took up a complete block with a purpose built craft beer factory. We grabbed a bite to eat and had a couple of beers in their enormous tasting room. I was particularly stoked with the array of nitro beers. We couldn't resist ordering their famous dip and were in cheese and beer heaven the rest of the night.
A long undulating climb across the dunes
Historic fishing village
Along the whole East Coast of Lake Michigan are sand dunes. The winds tend to blow westerly so over time they have blown all the sand from the now cliffy/rocky Wisconsin side gathering in some absolutely enormous formations here on the Michigan side. You might have thought you were in rolling hills but they are just old dunes that extend a long way inland. Then, in some places, the dunes just drop right into the lake. The dramatic Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore was like a Martian landscape and a joyful place to explore. A long dune walk led us over the endless false peaks finally making it to the calm crystal clear morning Lake Michigan.

Art's Tavern

We camped for the night at the National Park, with some basic borrowed camping gear and stayed remarkably warm for the weather. That night we enjoyed some tasty local beer and classic American burgers from Art's Tavern in Glen Arbor. A must do recommendation by Sarah in the sleepy off season lakeside town.

Our drive further north over the Mackinac Bridge to the Northern Peninsula was stunning and remote. It was such a pleasure just to pass through this place. With a lot of ground to cover, we didn’t stop much, but just seeing the landscape change as we passed by was great. The drive was very long and we only got back into Milwaukee around 10pm traveling over 1100 miles in the three days. But we can now confirm what they say is true, this state is rugged and dramatic and it sure does live up to its nickname of "Pure Michigan."

Thomas and Amy at Sleeping Bear Dunes