Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Journey

What an unbelievable journey this has been… one we will all remember for the rest of our lives.  What started out as a time to spend with family and enjoy our children before time passed and they were off on their own turned out to be just that.  Going into this, we had some concerns about how everyone would do being together 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  It’s not like we could each go off on our own, off to our own room to shut our door, off to a quiet corner of the house to spend some time alone.  I won’t lie to you – it took about a week or so for us to get used to it.  And there were times along the way that we had to ask each other to leave us alone for a bit.  But those times got fewer and farther between as the weeks passed.  As we settled into a routine of being on the road, we talked more, played more, laughed more, and just enjoyed each other’s company.  Even upon arriving home, after each of us exploring the house and having some time to ourselves, we ended up all migrating back to the same room to play a game.

We feel so blessed and are so thankful to have been able to spend this time with our family.  We thank each of you for your prayers for our safety and hope you have enjoyed reading the blog and scrolling through the pictures.

I would also cherish your prayers as school starts back.  I’m always quite tearful when my girls go off to school, but it will be especially hard this year for several reasons.  First is the fact that my oldest baby will be starting high school, and then shortly after school begins my youngest baby will officially become a teenager.  And then, after constantly being together this summer, it will be hard for me to have my girls gone all day again.  But at least I’ll still have Scott!  ;-)

Homeward Bound

Upon arriving back at the hotel after our rafting excursion, Scott asked if we wanted to head toward home the next morning or stay one more day as originally planned.  We had planned one day with no activities as some down time before the long journey home.  The plan was just to stroll through a couple of the ski villages (Vail, Breckenridge), browse the shops, and then turn in early for a good night’s sleep before the 27-hour drive home.  We all decided to hang around for one more day as originally planned.

We settled in for the evening to relax, but the people in the room above us did not.  This particular hotel in Colorado had been extremely crowded since we had arrived… the continental breakfast had been a zoo the past two mornings.  We tried to ignore the stomping overhead and attempted to drift off to sleep.  At some point, we all zonked out until around 5:00 AM when the people above us decided they had slept long enough.  Fortunately, everyone else slept through it, but I’m a very light sleeper, so my snoozing was done.  Finally at around 7:00, after two hours of overhead banging and stomping (I think at one point they might have been doing some break dancing up there), I decided to get up.  I tiptoed over to Scott, gently woke him up, and said, “Can we go home today?”  We had no adventures left for our trip, no scheduled fun activities left, no new scenery to take in, no fabulous places left to explore, no exhilarating and exhausting hikes to trek, nothing left on the itinerary to keep us going.  Therefore, I was done with hotel living and all the noises that go along with it.  He said yep!  So we got dressed, got packed, got nourished, got loaded up, got checked out, and got in the car.

We stopped off in one of the ski towns first so the girls could grab their souvenir postcards from Colorado… and so we could say we strolled at least one ski town.  Then we hit the road toward home.  We had decided to drive until we couldn’t drive any longer with a goal of making it to Kansas City, Missouri.  That would give us a 10-hour drive for the day.  Also, since we would be driving through St. Louis on the way home, Scott wanted us to go to the Gateway Arch in St. Louis – since he had been to St. Louis several times on business, and had been up to the top of the arch a couple of times, he wanted the girls and I to see it too.  Driving through Kansas was pretty cool, and I was able to get some great pictures.

Doesn't this cloud look like Winnie the Pooh (laying on his back)?
Do you think I've been in the car too long?

A storm cell off in the distance.
Thank goodness it wasn't twirling... or anywhere near us!

We spotted another storm cell a few miles away from the other one.

Kansas sunset

We made our goal of Kansas City, Missouri at around 11:30 PM.  We got out of the car and were met with a blast of heat and humidity!  Humidity… back to the land of humidity.  Ha!  We unloaded the van, crashed into the bed, and slept until just barely before breakfast ended the next morning!  After eating breakfast, packing, and loading up the van, we set our driving goal for the day… Frankfort, Kentucky with a stop off in St. Louis.  We arrived at the Gateway Arch around 2:00.  Scott wanted the girls and I to go up to the top.  Since Scott had already experienced the ride up, he explained how it worked.  It wasn’t your typical elevator… since the Arch is curved, the elevator to the top is actually a 5-seat “tube”, and it takes four minutes to get to the top.  I’m extremely claustrophobic, and so is Emilee, so she decided to stay down at the bottom with Scott.  Ashlee really wanted to go up, so I decided to man-up and go with her.  We got in line to buy our tickets, and the first question the ticket seller asked was, “Is anybody claustrophobic?”  Oh, dear!  I could feel the color draining from my face.  We got the tickets and waited for our time to line up for our ride to the top.

While we were waiting, we noticed a display on the wall that compared the size of the Arch to other structures.  We spotted the comparison to Mt. Rushmore and had to grab a picture.  Our original itinerary had included a visit to Mt. Rushmore.  However, about halfway through our trip Scott started worrying about the girls not having any down time between our trip ending and school starting - our original schedule had us arriving home only four days before the first day of school.  So we cut out a few activities here and there to put us back home a few days earlier.  So, although not the real thing, I got a fun pic anyway!

Standing in front of "Mt. Rushmore"
When the time finally arrived, we got in line, turned over our tickets, and took our position at our elevator.  Eight 5-person tubes went up every five minutes.  We would be in a tube with a mom and her two sons, 17- and 11-years-old.  When our “tube” door opened, the other family climbed in, Ashlee climbed in, and I seriously thought about not climbing in.  At this point, though, I was committed.  I took my seat, the door closed, and my heart rate immediately doubled.  I told you that my mind was a dangerous thing.  The first thing that went through it when the door shut was that we were going to get halfway up this thing, it was going to stop, and we would be trapped.  Also, it was 100 degrees outside and there was no air in the tube.  I immediately started blabbing 90-miles an hour hoping to take my mind off of being stuck in a tiny tube dangling a million feet in the sky with no air coming in.  So glad God had already planned who I would be stuck in the tube with.  Ashlee was cool as a cucumber – not the least bit affected.  Emilee would have rolled over and died on the spot.  And the family we were airborne with was great.  The 11-year-old kept me entertained and answered the three million questions I asked in my babbling spree.  I was never so glad when the four-minute ride was over and the doors opened up.

Five-seater capsule

This is a model of the 5-seater capsule elevator
to the top of the Arch.
Extremely small when the doors are closed!
Ashlee was taller than the capsule, and
we had to duck down to get inside.

We walked a few steps to the top to overlook the city, and the view was amazing.  We could see the river on one side and the city on the other. Here are some of the pictures from the top.

The illuminated sign to the right of Ashlee's head says, "Welcome to the Top!"
Ash and I spent a few minutes with our faces plastered to the windows and then got in line to head back down the same way we went up.  We told the employee at the top that we were ready to go back down, and he sent us to our elevator position.  Coincidentally, we ended up getting placed in a tube with the same family we went up with.  And once again, the 11-year-old kept me entertained and kept me from panicking about getting stuck in a tube.

When we got back to the bottom, we found Scott and Emilee.  Scott was grinning pretty big… knowing how claustrophobic I am, I’m thinking he really enjoyed imagining me in the tube!  But I have to say… I did great, and it was a lot of fun!

We then headed back to the car to finish out our day’s drive to Frankfort, Kentucky.  We landed in Frankfort that evening, unloaded the van one last time on our trip, and hit the bed.  Breakfast the next morning was one of the best hotel breakfasts we’d had… it was a nice ending to our hotel stays!  Then, for the last time, we loaded the van back up for the final leg of our journey home – only seven hours until home!

One last swipe at the bug guts!

Service with a smile!
We hit the driveway to our house at 5:30 PM, jumped out of the car, and walked into the house together!  Thanks to my best bud, Tammy, my house was nice and cool!  We had cranked the AC up to 85 while we were gone, so not only did she come by the house a couple of days earlier and took the thermostat down to 72 so it would have time to cool down before our arrival, but on a weekly basis she kept an eye on things, watered my plants, moved Scott's car around in the driveway, switched lights on/off, set our garbage out, made sure nothing was out of place inside, etc., etc., etc.!  Such a relief for us while we were away!  Upon entering the door, everybody just walked around the house aimlessly for a few minutes checking things out while Scott turned the water back on.  Then, for the last time, we unloaded the van.

NC State Line!

Pilot Mountain - getting close to home

Pulling into our neighborhood!  There's no place like home!
It’s amazing how quickly things go back to the norm after being away for almost eight weeks.  I got started on the mound of laundry, Scott got started on sorting through the mound of mail, Ashlee found her computer to check email and facebook, and Emilee ran for her room to facetime her buddies.  And I have to tell you that we all slept like logs in our own beds!

Rafting the Arkansas River in Colorado

Today was our last big hoorah before heading home.  Scott had scheduled us on a half-day rafting trip in Browns Canyon down the Colorado’s Arkansas River.  We would be hitting mostly class two rapids with a few class three rapids thrown in.  Ashlee was ecstatic; Emilee was terrified!  We had a one-hour drive to get to the rafting company, and we saw some beautiful scenery along the way.  We were also so high in elevation (over 11,000 feet) that we saw the tree line pretty clearly.  The tree line is the edge of the habitat at which trees are capable of growing.  Beyond the tree line, they are unable to grow because of inappropriate environmental conditions – usually cold temperatures or lack of moisture.

The bottom half of the mountain looks like it is
shadowed by clouds, but it's actually darker from the trees.
The top half of the mountain is bare because of the tree line.

Another view of the tree line.

We spotted this odd-looking building on our way to rafting.
It is actually a facility where they mine for molybdenum, 
chemical symbol Mo, a silvery
white soft metal with one of the highest melting points of all pure elements
used to make high-strength, high-temperature steels.
How's that for a bit of science trivia?

An old school-house we spotted along the way.
Because we had a one-hour drive from our hotel to the rafting company, we headed out early in case we got lost... or wnated to sight-see along the way.  We saw a sign for the Leadville National Fish Hatchery, so we decided to check it out.  After all, it is a "National" hatchery.  I've never seen so many fish in one place.  Made me want to grab a fishing pole... I feel certain I could have caught something here!

Cutthroat Trout

More Cutthroat Trout

Rainbow Trout
We found one more pullout on the way and stopped to take some pictures.  Seems that this was a stagecoach depot back in the olden days.  Here is a picture showing the cost of catching a stagecoach from one town to the next.  Seems kind of expensive to me!

We decided to eat our picnic lunch here as well.

We arrived at the rafting company at the designated time, grabbed our life jackets and helmets, and loaded up in the shuttle to head to the loading location.  When we arrived, our guide went over some safety information… basically, what we need to do if we ended up in the water.  That scared Emilee even more.  Then he told us to pick our seats.  We were in a group with one other couple, and we told them to choose their seats and we would fill in the rest.  They said the girls would have more fun in the front, so they let the girls grab the front two seats – Ashlee loaded up front left, Emilee was front right, Scott was middle right, and I was back right.  Emilee wanted Daddy behind her in case she started to sail out of the boat so he could grab onto her.  We then loaded up in the raft and headed down the Arkansas River.

On our way to the raft drop-off location

Suited up and ready to go

Starting down the Arkansas River
As we started out in the water, our guide then went over what we needed to know about paddling.  We started off in some pretty tame water, but it wasn’t long before we hit some good rapids.  The girls got soaked in the front, and the rest of us got some good, cold splashes.  Ashlee was grinning from ear to ear; Emilee was not!

Ashlee was all smiles throughout the entire adventure.

Emilee was terrified!

We floated on further down the river hitting rapids here and there, having a great time, and getting pretty soaked.  Just before we got to the halfway point, we hit the biggest rapid of the day.  It was fabulous!  And nobody got flipped out of the boat!  Just as we passed through this rapid, it was time to pull over to the shore for a snack/water break.  By this time, the sun had gone behind the clouds, we were soaked, and Ashlee and Emilee were shaking like leaves.  Fortunately, the guide had brought along some splash jackets, so he pulled those out for the girls and then set up our snack – cheese & crackers, huge chocolate chip cookies, and water.  We scarfed down our snacks while watching other rafts shoot through the biggest rapid.

Notice how Emilee is leaning toward the middle of the raft?

Still leaning in!

Looking back up the river at the class three rapid we just went through
Watching others navigate the rapids

Ashlee is ready to get back in. Emilee is happy to be out.

Who's the dork in the helmet?

Suited back up and ready for the second half!
We finished up our snack, and then it was time to load back up.  Emilee wanted no part in getting back in the raft.  She would have walked back to the car if she could have!  She decided she wanted to sit between me and Daddy, so she and Scott traded seats, and Scott took the front (thank goodness!).  As soon as we got back into the raft, we hit another class 3 rapid, and Scott got drenched.  It was great!  Ashlee was in heaven, and it was the first time Emilee had smiled since the rafting trip started.  We spent the next hour floating down the river with some pretty consistent rapids.

Scott and Ashlee in the front - they got drenched!

Emilee is still leaning in!

 Finally got some smiles out of her.
She was much more comfortable being behind Daddy
where she couldn't see the rapids that were coming up ahead.

When we arrived at the take-out place, we unloaded the raft, loaded back into the shuttle for the return trip back to the rafting company, and wrapped up in our dry towels to keep warm.  On our way back we got some great views of some of the mountains called “The Fourteeners.”  They are mountains that reach over 1400 feet, and the ones we saw were named after colleges.  We saw Princeton, Harvard, and Yale.

14ers - Harvard, Princeton & Yale

Princeton Mountain
After a 40-minute ride back to where we started, we got changed into our dry clothes, thanked and tipped our guide, and headed back to our hotel.  As soon as I laid my head back against the seat, I was a goner – slept until we pulled into our hotel parking lot.  We had such a great time… even Emilee loved it once she got behind Daddy and couldn’t see the rapids that were coming up in front of us.  And Ashlee wants to try some class four rapids the next time we go rafting!  No surprise there!