After Mingo we continued heading west on I-70, stopping shortly after at a rest stop to empty bladders and grab food from the back of the van for snacks and lunch. We had decided at this point to skip driving into Denver and caching, then heading to Pikes Peak. We were running pretty far behind schedule at this point and, by cutting going to Denver first and instead driving straight to Pikes Peak, which would shave almost 90 miles off our trip and save us about 3 hours by skipping the caches along the way. This would give us plenty of time to get up to the summit and do the caches. This was the jolt we needed to stay on target, time-wise. This was never going to be a numbers run to begin with so, while sad to be missing out on a few caches that are well-regarded, we would still get our other goal for the trip. After we entered Colorado, Chutch1035 stopped at the nearest gas station to gas up and switch from driving. Since I had yet to drive any during this trip, I volunteered to take over. I am most at ease when I am behind the wheel. With everyone situated and Chutch now reclined in the middle row to take a nap, I put on my headphones, cranked up the tunes, and headed towards the ever-higher horizon ahead.
One of the reasons why I chose to go on this trip was to travel to places I had never been before. Even before Pikes Peak was in the picture, the original map had us routed through Denver and up to Cheyenne, WY before heading back towards home. These are places I have never had the chance to say I’ve been to and to pass up an opportunity to do that would be a regret I’d have to live with for a long time. I am forever grateful that my loving wife let me go on this trip. Her work affords her the opportunity to travel every so often and has gone to places like Austin and San Antonio, TX and San Diego without us. Sure, it was for business, but it’s not like she was stuck indoors the entire time. So it felt good for me to be the one to say I went somewhere this time. But I sure did miss her during the trip and would have loved for her to be there with me. If anything, we might just have to make this trip ourselves (although we’ll be stopping to sleep in hotels along the way :P).
For anyone who has never made it out west in a car, I have to say that some of the most beautiful landscapes are in Colorado. After the unbelievably dull views from Kansas, it was a refreshing change of pace to see the vast prairies of eastern Colorado, and as we headed down US24 towards Colorado Springs, seeing the foothills of the Rockies begin to rise from the ground and then, the Rockies themselves, was a true sight to behold.
We were monitoring our elevation on the dashboard GPS at this point and noticed an almost 3,000 foot jump in elevation in the distance from I-70 to Colorado Springs. Since it was gradual, we didn’t notice any ill-effects from rising to over a mile above sea level. At least I wasn’t feeling it….yet.
We rolled into Colorado Springs shortly after 4:00pm local time, which meant we were now only about 90 minutes behind schedule from where we needed to be. This was a great relief to me because that mean we had time to get to the summit and do what we came to do. We had read up on battling altitude sickness and some of the common suggestions was to make sure you drank plenty of water and had a fairly full stomach of carbohydrate-rich food. So we decided to stop at a Burger King and have a quick bite to eat. Since I was still a bit funky from the previous night’s fail cocktail, I wasn’t feeling very hungry, but I still managed to force myself to eat a Whopper Jr. I really should have done that sooner because within 20 minutes I was feeling great. My brother, Team Duckman, volunteered to drive us up and down the mountain as he has the most experience on these sort of trips, so I handed him the keys and took a look towards the west and saw our target.
The road to Pikes Peak is probably the most visually-stunning stretch I have ever been on. I was going through some serious information overload as we passed massive rock formations, deep rock-lined ravines, and huge houses built into the sides of the mountains we were passing through. The pictures don’t do it justice at all.
It took about 30 minutes to get to the entrance to Pikes Peak Highway from the Burger King we stopped at, but it flew by with all the stuff we could look at. There is a cost to get onto the Highway and after we paid we pulled over to wait for the other van to get in. During this we noticed that the guards were closing off the entrance to any more visitors so to say we made it in by the skin of our teeth is an understatement. Good fortune was smiling upon us. The road is about 19 miles in length and, because of some serious switchbacks and steep grades, it takes roughly an hour to reach the summit. But as you can see, it’s not like we were in a rush with so much to gawk at.
Once we reached the top of Pikes Peak, the visibility was very low. At times it was completely white everywhere you looked while at other times you could make out things maybe 100 feet away. Clouds move very fast up here and the wind can be unforgiving and brutal. Oh…and it’s cold. We are currently going through the hottest, driest summer in 50+ years back in Indiana so any temperatures under 80 are pretty chilly. Try 38 degrees at the summit. And we’re all wearing totally inappropriate clothing…some in flip-flops no less. We’re such noobs. There are several caches up here, 2 traditionals, a multi (that requires a multi-mile hike), a virtual, and an Earthcache. Since the weather wasn’t really cooperating (I mean, there’s thunder coming from below and right next to us for crying out loud) and we could barely see in front of us, we decided to just go for the EC and the virt. So I have even more incentive to head back to Pikes Peak in the future.
Now, remember that altitude sickness I mentioned earlier. I totally thought that the sandwich I had helped as I didn’t feel any weirdness the whole way up. However, the minute I stepped out of the van and opened the back to grab my GPSr, I became so dizzy I almost fell over. The best way I can possibly describe this feeling is being drunk. It was a chore just to walk, and even at a very slow pace I was finding it hard not to fall over. We congregated to the spot for the virtual picture and got a few of those in. It was sleeting and very windy so the pictures look painful for obvious reasons. We are such boneheads.
Unfortunately because we got here so late, the “world famous” donuts were no longer available and once the Cog train passengers left, the place was pretty much deserted. Taking that as our cue, we headed back to our vans and made our way back down the mountain.
As we headed back onto Hwy 24, we noticed a lot of banners hanging up along the highway. They were thanking the firefighters for putting the wildfire out and saving the city. It was then that we saw just how close the fire came to this area, as you can see below.
Now that Pikes Peak was behind us, it was time to head north to Denver. It has been decided that we would have a big meal at Casa Bonita in Lakewood, a suburb of Denver. Casa Bonita is a massive Mexican restaurant that is known for their all-you-can-eat deluxe meals, diving shows, roving Mariachi band, and arcade. It’s like a Mexican Chuck-E-Cheese on speed. The food isn’t anything to write home about, but the ambiance is something you’ll never forget. We stopped on the way to change clothes and cleanup a bit because, by this time, we were all a little funky. Since there aren’t any rest areas on I-25 between Colorado Springs and Denver, we had to stop at a town park and use their bathrooms. Don’t judge…at least we WANTED to be clean. Better than than traipsing in smelling of armpits and feet.
There was a cache out in the parking lot of Casa Bonita that we naturally had to grab. Yes, it wasn’t that great of a hide, but at least it wasn’t a LPC. After everyone was back in the vans, we headed into downtown Denver to a travel bug hotel to drop off our travel bugs that we have set to race back home. Unfortunately we chose the wrong time to do this as the cache is located in the middle of their bar scene and the place was packed with people. There was no way to be stealthy at this point so we just did what we had to do and got out of there. It was coming up on 11pm at this point and we were heading north into Cheyenne. TeamAdorkable was at the wheel at this point with DynamicDs as the navigator while TeamDuckman, Lucky Chavez, and myself tried to grab some shut eye. This would be the first time the entire trip that I felt ready to sleep, despite being a little woozy from motion sickness as well as dinner not quite agreeing with me (I told you it wasn’t very good). Cheyenne is about 90 minutes north of Denver and I’d say I got about an hour’s worth of sleep during that time. We stopped for a virtual cache just outside of town that was at a GPS calibration area and benchmark. It was located on a hill just off the exit and was actually an interesting educational moment on the trip. I will admit that I am not too aware of this whole benchmarking business that Chutch1035 and The Lawson Family are nuts over, but to have someone prolific like them explaining what the site was used for and how this stuff works was really interesting…even if I was half-asleep and it was almost 1am.
Since we are still running about 2.5 hours behind where we needed to be, and everyone was feeling pretty rough at this point, we decided to forgo any of the caches between the virtual and Amber’s Revenge II in Lincoln, NE. While this was only 5 caches, most of them were well off I-80 and required quite a bit of driving to reach them. With most of us sleeping and it being pitch black out here in the middle of nowhere, the caches wouldn’t really have much impact for us anyway and it would likely take even longer to find them since we’d only have a flashlight to guide us. So eastward we traveled, on through the night. Without a moon to light the sky, it was the darkest that we had encountered the entire trip, and I think this really helped with sleep. Now this wasn’t uninterrupted sleep by any means. During the night we had to make several stops to swap out drivers and get gas, so each time we stopped or pulled off the road I would wake up. But I can say that I did get some sleep for once on this trip.
It was at the break of dawn that I woke up. DynamicDs had taken over driving duties during the night and she couldn’t drive anymore so we stopped at a rest area about 160 miles into Nebraska and I agreed to take over. I went to the restroom and splashed some cold water on my face to wake myself up, got a Coke out of the vending machine, and then waited in the van while everyone else finished getting up and readjusting themselves. A group decided to grab the 2 caches at the rest area while we were there so we got to make up some of the numbers we skipped between Cheyenne and here. My brother woke up and rode shotgun with me to navigate, but as I’ve said before, I am best behind the wheel when I put on my earbuds and crank out the jams, which is exactly what I did. We were scheduled to be at the next cache by 9:40am and I was hellbent on getting as close to that time as possible. The dashboard GPS was telling me that we would be arriving, barring any stops, at 10:04am. I knew I could shave some more time off if I did 83MPH, so I set cruise control to that and we were off.
I was setting the pace for this leg of the trip and we were making good time, but unfortunately I didn’t take into consideration the rotation of drivers in the other van. While DynamicDs did the bulk of the driving overnight, the other van rotated out several drivers, so they didn’t get nearly as much sleep as I did. So while I was set to drive the entire 4 hour leg with no stops, the same couldn’t be said for the other van so stops were needed for them. What really sucked was that, because we were in the middle of nowhere Nebraska, cellphone reception wasn’t the greatest so we weren’t finding out they were stopping until we were miles away from their stopping point. So by the time we reached Lincoln, NE and the next cache, the rest of the group was still about 30 miles behind us. I will admit I have never been very good at leading a convoy because I always tend to lose them. Luckily we were able to use this extra time to find a way to reach the GZ and a place to park.
It was originally decided that DynamicDs and Yodaboyz were going to concur this cache together, but upon arriving at the GZ and realizing what was going to be needed, DynamicDs decided that there was no way more than one person could do this at a time. So as the rest of the group was walking towards us, DynamicDs began her assault on the cache, which you can see was quite the undertaking in the pictures below.
After that daunting find, we left to fill-up our gas tanks and then headed to one more cache in town, this time a webcam cache. This one was a fun cache. Located at a roundabout in town, there is a traffic cam pointed at the road and your job is to get yourself perfectly positioned and wait for the cam’s website to update with your photo. Luckily the site is able to be viewed from an iPhone and we were able to quickly get positioned (and repositioned) for the picture. I’m sure it must have looked weird to all those passing us. Here’s a group of 11 people, staring up at the sky, hands raised. I bet to some it looked like the Rapture.
Once that was done, my brother took over driving and we headed off towards Iowa. We just need one cache to claim the state, and Chutch1035 picked us quite the winner to finish off our trip. The cache has the extremely rare distinction of being 9 years old, having over 600 finds and only 1 DNF. It has never been muggled, and it is a regular-size container. Yes, the cache is in the tiny town of Hamburg, IA, across the river from Nebraska and near the Missouri border. Yes, it is located on private property. BUT, it has still seen a LOT more cachers than most urban hides, and the fact that is has never been muggled and only one person has ever DNFed it they were very new to the game, only have 14 finds to their name, and quit playing shortly after not finding it) speaks loudly in favor of the cache. Yes, it wasn’t anything remarkable and the hide wasn’t difficult at all, but it still capped off an amazing cache run and gave us the opportunity for one more group photo.
We left Hamburg just as quickly as we came, but not before stopping for another restroom break at a local gas station. With nothing but road between us and home, it was at this point that we realized it was almost over. Sure, there was still about another 10 hours and 2.5 states worth of driving left, but this marked the last time our group would do something together. Along the way we’d stop once more for gas and for a quick bite, but not everyone ate and by the time we rolled into Indy, several members had already been dropped off at another location beforehand. I know it’s lame to get all sentimental about something like that, but in this short period of time, I have grown closer to my travel companions. I have laughed with them, complained with them, even learned a few things that probably had better be left unsaid :P. In the end we traveled just under 2,500 miles. We covered 8 states and netted 25 cache finds. We did all this in just over 52 hours. We never stopped to sleep, and only had one REAL meal together. There were some tensions at times caused by sleepiness, but all-in-all, it was about as good a trip as you could ask for. My only regret was not riding some in the other van. While I forged a good relationship with everybody involved, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I bonded just a little bit more with those who were closely around me. I can’t thank everyone enough for letting me be a part of this and for their participation. These memories will last forever, and I am grateful that they are a part of them. This blog series is dedicated to my fellow members:
Central Indiana Adventurers
Chutch1035 and his wife Amber
The Lawson Family