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A quick “plus and minus” recap of our weekend:

  • Left Valentine’s Day gift for Drea at work. Husband fail. (-)
  • Finished Season 4 of Lost on DVD. So much more gratifying to watch episodes back to back. (+)
  • Contact lens debacle Saturday morning. In half-awake state, rinsed my lenses with disinfectant instead of saline solution. Talk about burn. (-)
  • Nice ride with Tom and Renata up to western MD; enjoyed novelty of driving on Beltway and I-270 without will-to-live-sucking traffic. (+)
  • Skied at Whitetail with Tom. Fulfilled need to ski at least once a year. (+)
  • Drea and Renata shopped at Hagerstown outlets while Tom and I skied. Everyone wins! (+)
  • Tom forgot gloves. $50 at ski shop. (-)
  • I forgot ski goggles/sunglasses. $30 at ski shop. (-)
  • Pretty much got taken for a ride by monopoly-exploiting jerks at ski shop. (-)
  • Multiple skiing fails on my part. Highlights: not going fast enough to make it over ski jump, sliding backwards down ski jump, almost getting taken out by snowboarder behind me, coming to painful grips with shocking degree of my imcompetence, AND skiing into a fence. Not the wooden kind, the orange plastic safety net kind. But still. (-)
  • Later redeemed myself by nailing a double black diamond. Boo-ya. (+)
  • Met up with Smizz in Hagerstown after skiing/shopping excursions. (+)
  • Tried to see Mall Cop. Sold out. (-)
  • Saw Coraline instead. Good, but freaking weird and definitely not for kids, despite PG rating. (+)
  • Smizz took us to a great little place called Cafe del Sol for dinner. Salsa, nachos, Yuengling, and meat-lover’s calzone. Delish. (+)
  • Starbucks for the ride back home. (+)
  • Sore muscles the next day. Self-loathe for not being in better shape and having to groan like an old man every time I stand or sit. (-)
  • Who cares? Our weekend was off the hook. (+)

The pluses and minuses of our jaunt to Nashville this weekend to celebrate Drea’s grandmother’s 100th birthday:

  • We flew instead of driving 11 hours. (+)
  • Realized after going through security that we had to go back to check our bag. Repeat process of standing in counter line, standing in security line, removing shoes, etc. (-)
  • Free entertainment watching guy at ticket counter COMPLETELY LOSE HIS MIND because the lady wouldn’t accept an expired driver’s license as valid ID. Totally worth standing in line again for. (+)
  • Flight delayed. (-)
  • Got to meet most of Drea’s extended family for the first time. (+)
  • Mild state of lingering nausea from riding around in the backseat of Drea’s dad’s convertible. (-)
  • Didn’t have to pay for a meal the whole weekend. (+)
  • Colder in Tennessee than Maryland (?!). (-)
  • Free breakfast (and great coffee) at hotel. (+)
  • Ridiculously saggy beds that gave you a backache in the morning. (-)
  • They have Sonic in Nashville! (+)
  • Got back too late on Sunday to go to life group. (-)
  • Drea’s grandmother is 100 and still looks great. (+)

So Drea and I are going with her parents to Nashville in a few weeks to celebrate her grandmother’s 100th birthday.  (And the woman is still in relatively good health.  Holy crap, right?)

Anyway, since it’s like an 11-hour drive from DC (hell, no), I’ve been trying to figure out the most time- and cost-effective way of getting there.  Flying is way expensive, so I thought, hey, why not take Amtrak?

Until I learned that Nashville doesn’t have an Amtrak station.  That’s right.  Nashville, the Athens of the South, the Country Music Capital of the World, this mainstay city of our land, is obviously not important enough to be serviced by our nation’s main rail transport provider.

This might not seem like such a big deal, but to put it in perspective, here are a few places that DO have Amtrak:

Winnemucca, Nevada

Bartlesville, Oklahoma

Yazoo City, Mississippi

Oshkosh, Wisconsin

What, you’ve never heard of any of these places?  EXACTLY. 

I’m going to try to convince Stephen Colbert to give a wag of the finger to both Nashville and Amtrak for this shameful debacle.  Deterring rail travel is bad for traffic congestion, bad for the environment, and (infinitely more importantly) bad for me because we now have to fork over $300 a piece for airfare!

With our flight not leaving until 3:20, we had a few hours to kill, so we took a little drive into Denver to check out the downtown area.  Denver is a cool city (figuratively and literally), replete with sleek skyscrapers, green parks, charming neighborhoods, and views of the Rocky Mountains from almost anywhere in the city.  (You can never get lost in Denver; the mountains are always to the west.)

Our little foray into the Mile-High City didn’t produce many tangible memories, save for lunch at and/or pilgrimage to the original Chipotle restaurant and a brief drive through the University of Denver’s picturesque campus.

Saying goodbye to Colorado, we flew out of Denver, arriving in Raleigh for our layover a few hours later.  Given the now-obsolescence of in-flight meals, we were starved for dinner, but crushed (and slightly pissed off) to find all the Raleigh airport restaurants closed.  (It was 8:45. I mean, come on.)  We managed to temporarily fend off our hunger by inhaling about 14 bags of pretzels and peanuts on the flight to Baltimore.

As my parents picked us up at BWI, we (or I) had a brief moment of sadness that our big trip was over.  But we were ready to be home, sleeping in our own bed. Drea and I also realized that we have different views on what constitutes a great vacation.  She likes to go somewhere for a week and just relax; I like to drive all over the place, seeing as many sights as possible.  Needless to say then, this trip was tailored more to my liking.  :)  But we both had a great time, she didn’t mind the long drives as much as expected, and I promised our next vacation would be a little more low-key.  (Hmm…another challenge!)

So, we’re glad to be home.  Thanks for reading!

We visited a church in Broomfield.  And, I mean, it was OK and everything, but it’s always funny to visit other churches and observe the similarities and differences compared to your home church.  For example, we concluded that almost every church has an “anthem” worship song – in other words, one that is sung almost every Sunday for a period of time usually determined by how long it takes people to start threatening to leave the church if they have to sing it one more time.

For our church, it was “Breathe”.  There may have been one or two Sundays around 2001/2002-ish that we wouldn’t be found singing “and I…I…I, I’m desperate for You” at the top of our lungs.  Consequently, I now throw up in my mouth a little whenever I hear someone even hint at this being “the air I breathe” or “my daily bread.”

Anyhow, you can always tell which song is that particular church’s “anthem” because people start getting way into it even before the first line is sung.  A sure-fire sign of an anthem is those few shouts of excitement and applause as soon as people recognize the chord progression.  If you really want the Spirit to move, throw in a few extra choruses at the end.  And a key – no, TWO key changes!

I don’t mean to be sarcastic.  Well no, that’s a lie.  I do.  But sometimes a well-placed key change is an effective element in musical worship.  In any case, at this church the anthem song clearly was Aaron Shust’s “My Savior, My God”.  I felt kind of bad because I’d already expressed previously to Drea my reasons for disliking that song.  So we kind of exchanged a little snicker right there in the middle of worship.

It was also kind of funny because this church did the typical “greet the people around you” thing and only one person introduced herself to us.  Then they had all the first-timers raise their hands so they could give us a gift bag.  So there sat Drea and I, our raised hands giving clear testimony to our newcomer status, passing judgement on all those heathens around us who couldn’t even find the common decency to welcome a stranger to their congregation.  I shot a seething look at a nice-looking younger couple seated behind us.

Again, I’m just being sarcastic.  Personally, I actually find the 60-second meet-and-greet thing a little cheesy, so I can’t blame them.

Well, that was quite a tangent!  So…suffice it to say we went to church, relaxed, did some reading, and hung out with a few of my relatives in my Uncle Mark’s gazebo/fire pit looking out over the Rockies.  It was a great way to spend our last full vacation day.

So it turns out that the weather in the Rockies was pretty severe, as we awoke to reports of snow in the mountain passes. OK, I thought, so there’s been a little dusting of flakes on the summit ridges, no big deal. WRONG! As we drove at 11,000 feet across the Continental Divide, we were greeted by snow everywhere. The summits were completely white, and there was a legitimate collection of snowfall on the ground and trees. I mean, it looked like a freaking Amy Grant Christmas album cover. No lie. So there we were in our shorts and T-shirts, blasting the heat in the car as we drove through a dang sleigh-bells-ringing, snow-glistening, beautiful sight, happy tonight winter wonderland. We wished each other a Merry Christmas and drove on.

I consequently wasn’t surprised that the road in and out of Rocky Mountain National Park was closed. (RMNP is home to the country’s highest continuously paved road at 12,183 feet.) With a few hours to kill, we stopped in the trendy ski town of Vail to ride the gondola and relax with our books at Starbucks. (I also deduced from all the swanky condos and stores that I could never afford to ski there.)

We arrived at my Uncle Mark and Aunt Ruth’s house in Erie around dinnertime. They live in a great house with an airy, open floorplan and a fantastic view of the Rockies from their backyard. I introduced Drea to all the “Colorado Ackermanns” at a family get-together that night. She was obviously a big hit with everyone and we had a good time catching up with everyone.

My Uncle Alex met us in Colorado Springs to show us the office of the company he recently started. His company publishes tourist maps for local chambers of commerce. The combination of geography and graphic design made it an especially intriguing/cool experience for me.

An atypical weather pattern of constant rain in the area foiled our plans to drive to the top of Pikes Peak. This was moderately disappointing for me, but Drea, having dealt with some mild altitude sickness already, wasn’t too keen on driving above 14,000 feet anyway. We stopped at Garden of the Gods, which was nice but unspectacular in the gloomy drizzle.


Alex, at the last minute, had managed to score us a free dinner and hotel room in Eagle, CO after our original hotel flooded. He had even suggested a scenic mountain route for us to take, but with the weather (and roads) getting continually worse, I opted instead to stick with the interstates for safe measure.

Turns out we were pretty screwed anyway, as we caught evening rush hour traffic (exacerbated by the unusual rain) on I-25 coming into Denver, and again on I-70 out of Denver into the mountains. Drea slept as I navigated the nightmarish roads. Even the majestic mountains looked depressing juxtaposed against the congested interstate and cloudy rain. I’ll confess I was in a pretty dismal mood.

The weather finally cleared as we pushed west, and we arrived in Eagle to sunny clear skies. It’s amazing how just a improvement of weather can change your mood.

We had a great dinner at the Broadway Cafe, compliments of Alex, then settled into our hotel (again, compliments of Alex) for the night. We watched Michael Phelps make Olympic history in Beijing and called it a day.

After sleeping way in (vacations are great), we forged north out of Ouray.

Since my dad let us use his Golden Eagle (basically a prepaid “season pass” to any US National Park, I figured we might as well stop at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, just east of Montrose. I’m not going to lie – after seeing the Grand Canyon, Black Canyon seems just a little anticlimactic. Beautiful indeed, but let’s face it, what can compare with the GC?

We continued east on Rt. 50 through Montrose and Salida, stopping to take a peek at the Royal Gorge Bridge, the world’s highest suspension bridge that hangs a dizzying 1,053 feet above the Arkansas River. We took a few shots at the overlook in lieu of paying $18 a person to stand on the bridge itself.

The mountains leveled out as we made our way into Pueblo. We stayed at my Uncle Alex and Aunt Donna’s house for the night and had a great time catching up with them and their kids. Donna cooked us a stellar Asian dinner and we had a chance to meet a friend of theirs who’s a pastor in India. Very cool.

We stayed up talking until most of us could barely keep our eyes open. Drea and I used some of Donna’s kitchen glasses to store our contact lenses in as I had left our lens cases back in Ouray. :)

We learned to our dismay that the Ouray Hot Springs Pool was closed for the two days we’d be in Ouray. Just those two days. Awesome.

Not to be discouraged, however, we took a quick drive up to beautiful Yankee Boy Basin and enjoyed some more reading and relaxation on Ouray’s charming Main Street. Not a very eventful day, but a nice little break between long days of driving.

After another soak in the hot tub, we called it a night, thankful to spend time around such natural beauty (but ready to move on as well!)

We could have driven from the Grand Canyon to Ouray in one day, but I planned an overnight stop in Durango so we could make the spectacular drive into Ouray by daylight. US Route 550, known as the Million Dollar Highway in this area, snakes its way up through the San Jaun Mountains, providing countless “million dollar views” along the way. The drive is spectacular if you don’t mind the hairpin turns with no guardrails!

Aptly nicknamed “Switzerland of America”, Ouray’s small, charming grid of streets sits at 7,800 feet, surrounded on three sides by steep mountain slopes. It may be the most beautiful setting for a town I’ve ever seen.

We got settled into our hotel and headed up to Box Cañon Falls Park to check out the waterfalls and views of Ouray. It was SO COOL. Two short trails take you to a high bridge looking down on the falls, and down to the base of the falls, respectively.


We took a walk around town with the goal of finding a place to sit and read outside. We needed look no further than a nice little coffeehouse on Main Street with chairs and umbrellas out on the front porch. Soaking in the crisp breeze, the friendly bustle of tourists, and the mountains rising just beyond town, we couldn’t have asked for a more perfect place to spend an hour or two with a good book. I was immensely satisfied.

We walked across the street to a family restaurant where we dined nearby a table of four older couples on vacation together. They were a lively bunch despite their age, and we discreetly enjoyed eavesdropping on their conversation. You could tell they had been friends for a while as they laughed and made good-natured jokes about each other. They were probably all over 70, but having the time of their lives. We decided we wanted to be like them when we get old.

The temporary closing of the hot springs pool changed our evening plans a little, but we still enjoyed soaking in the hotel jacuzzi and retiring to our room to read and watch the Olympics (and blog of course!)

More of our Ouray adventures to come tomorrow. Good night!