I'm Out Of My Element! (Driving from Homestead to Colorado)

What a journey this was…

Heavily inspired by the likes of Jeff DePree and his epic adventures, I knew that I wanted to go on a big road trip this summer. Luck have it, my friend and fellow adventurer Henry was working as a whitewater rafting guide in Colorado this summer! These ideas were swirling around in my head in April/May and I still had school to get through. Once that was done, I also realized that having money is nice for, well, living and such. I knew I couldn’t dive into this head first. Not to mention that to get out there in a car requires living accommodations and a Honda Civic is not the most friendly car for prospective car campers. Luckily for me, my brother had just had his old car fixed up and got a new one for himself! Let me introduce you to…

Elley (pronounced L-Lee) Elley (pronounced L-Lee)

What a car! She had some problems, namely a bad transmission, but nothing that couldn’t be repaired. This comes up in the future…

Goodbye Home(stead)

My drive begun at the bottom of the bottom of the country, in my home in Homestead, FL. Just to get out of the state was about a 400mi drive! But a scenic one, with the drab suburbs fading into green fields of grass and oak trees draped with Spanish moss. Around mile 360, I arrived at my second home of Gainesville. Here, I saw friends, savored the beauty of the city, and just as fast as I came was on my way. I had also dropped off some kittens, Dipper and Fiona. I miss them to this day!

Love those kitties

Goodbye Florida! Goodbye Florida! :(

Ah, Good Ol’ Georgia

Georgia is a pretty place to visit, especially past Atlanta. There are some fantastic hikes and views to see. On this occasion, I was-a simply passing through. On OAR trips, we see this billboard every time and it always get lols:

Ooo! I want one Ooo, I want one!

And don’t forget gang: $limes b4 dime$:

On gang On the gang

Alright, thanks Georgia! On to the Smokies

Ah, Now We’re Talking Mountains

Finally, getting into Tennessee rewarded me with my first sight of mountains:

Country roads or something like that?

The picture does not do justice to how beautiful the sunset was on this day. Like a Chick-Fil-A peach milksh- oops! Wrong state.

I was really hoping to get into Chattanooga earlier so I could climb at their fantastic climbing gym: High Point. Thankfully, I got there about an hour before closing!

High Point on point I’d love to come back and give those lead walls a try. I gain that confidence later on this trip!

And I’ve never been to the local aquarium, but my sister assures me it is worth a visit.

Fishes and stuff are in here

After a brief visit in this beautiful city (I’dve liked to have grabbed a beer, but my sleepiness was already catching up with me), it was onwards to the Foster Falls campsite. I’d tried to reserve the site earlier that day online, but was having issues with the site. I’m in CS, I’m not supposed to have tech issues! There seemed to be plenty of spots open, so I opted to risk it for the biscuit and just camp there anyways. To my surprise, there were no cash drop-boxes… We live in a tech dystopia. Truly hell. /s

The morning greeted me with a view I was elated to come back to:

The Falls of Foster Falls

At this point, I realized that I could have driven all this way and it would have been worth it. It brought be right back to Fall of last year, where OAR did a trip here and my eyes were opened up just a little bit more to the light of adventure and the beauty of the outdoors. I never knew just how much beauty and stunning landscapes there were just in our backyard of the Southeast! Enough of that, I know you’re really here for the waterfalls :^)

The water of the falls Wow

Hey little crawdad buddy Hey little crawdad buddy

Another angle

I really just cant get enough of it

Trail sign This was such a relief to see at the end of the OAR hike. I try to stop and smell the roses more often now.

The Element in the elements

I didn’t feel that just stopping at the falls was all that was in the books for the day, so I went on a small hike to visit the other small waterfalls. I drove about 15 minutes north to the north trailhead, got a look at the map, and decided to wing it and just loop back around to the parking lot at some point.

First fall. A bit hazy to swim in…

The bridge This was the first bridge we crossed on the OAR trip. This trail goes about 10+mi or so to the big waterfall shown earlier.

Cool light effect Looks like a picture my friend Richmond would take. Cue dramatic lens flare

Falls galore

I met a number of people along the way. One nice older lady asked that I take a picture of her and her grandchildren next to the river. She asked about what I was doing, where I was going, why I was wearing Adidas slides on a hike, and what exactly “Salt Life” was. I contemplated telling her it was the brand of an infamous biker gang from the south but instead my good side explained its South Floridian origin. Coming up on the bridge, I encountered a couple that had been ahead of me for most of the hike. We talked for a bit and the lady mentioned that doing the full hike from the bridge to the falls was on her bucket list. I mentioned the OAR trip and that with camping it was very doable. I hope that she fulfills this dream one day and the facade of the falls is as sweet a victory for her as it was for me.

Ok, enough of these darn woods! I need some concrete on my feet. The sweaty, beating sun on my brow. The glistening heat island of a real city: Nashville. I’d never been before and had no idea what to expect. I noticed weird roads, reminiscent of Seattle, with its one ways all over the place. It even had its own Capitol Hill! I found at a coffee shop next to a sickeningly fancy hotel and worked there for a few hours. Afterwards, I found a nice burger place, Bama Burger, and chatted for a bit with the workers there. Then I found one of those electric bike rental things and gave it a spin:

Cars cars cars


Cool corridor

God its hot This was in the shade! Yaouch!!

Laser art High tech metal engraved laser art of all the official state symbols

With my fill of Tennessee, I now planned to drive to Missouri and find a campsite somewhere before or after Kansas City. Which one exactly? “Ah, we’ll figure it out!”

A Taste of Kentucky and Illinois

These states were meant to be but passing glances on my drive. I’d been going at a somewhat leisurely pace, taking my time especially in Tennessee. But the smell of the Colorado mountains was growing stronger and my desire to get out there stronger with it. After leaving Nashville, I noted the mountains fading gracefully into hills and the Kentucky landscape establishing itself on the horizon. Then Illinois appeared just as soon and night with it. “Uh oh, Missouri is a bit farther than I expected.” It was time to find a campsite. I noticed a sign on the highway pointing to one, so I followed that and did a lil pioneer manoeuver of not using Google Maps for once. I drove in, found an open parking spot in the mostly empty campsite area, and paid my dues at a honor-system pay booth. Finally! Someone understands the camping crowd! Sleeping that night was horrendous, as the temps hovered in the high 80s all night. Some passing rain was my saving grace. After the rain begun to patter on the roof and the temp dropped a couple of degrees, I was lulled to sleep.

The next morning, I meandered around the campsite:

Coolest looking sign One of the coolest looking trail signs I’ve seen in a while

And my heart broke when I saw:

No climbing?! No climbing?! Blasphemy!! At least I can ride my goat here

But this lake I’d missed on the way in the night before was quite nice:

Nice lake

Thanks Illinois, home to the great Alexandra Chertok of OAR!

Missouri: The Best Breakdown of My Life

As the driving continued, I admired the mild hills that continued on seemingly forever:

Nice hills. Still no mountains though :(

The highway had a really cool looking rock that look like it had been cut to make way for the highway. Why not just go over the hill? I suppose less ups and downs are better for the cars?

Things were going quite smooth up until this point. Too smooth… God decided that it was time to spice things up. As had happened numerous times at this point, I strayed by a foot or so and rode over the rumble strip on the side of the highway for a moment. I like to keep safe distance between me and the other drivers and its also unsafe for me to drive with a BAC of <0.15% (just kidding!). This time, instead of running over a kitten or broken glass, my car downshifted and the check engine light came on. Oh Elley…

And The Car Troubles Begin

Welp. It was a good run. Time to come clean about Ol’ Elley.

This car had belonged to my brother for about 2-3 years. They specifically seeked out an Element, as its a great car for outdoor activities and my brother is a big fan of fishing. It was a decent deal: a 2004 Honda Element for under $4000 and less than 120K miles. Relatively low for a car its age. And it was also from the original owner!

Perhaps unsurprisingly, a deal like this doesn’t come without its caveats. It didn’t take long for my dad to realize that this thing was leaking more oil than the Deepwater Horizon spill (…too soon?). On top of that, some lights in the dash were out, pretty much most of the engine/transmission mounts were bad, the power steering went out at one point, leaving my brother to have to crank that thang to get any turning! One by one though, he whacked these moles back into their holes and the condition of the car was improving quite a lot. One thorn remained: the transmission.

A Small Detour To Automatic Transmission Land

It started not too bad. A rough shift, some clunking noises, etc. But it was manageable. Unfortunately, it just kept getting worse. My dad changed the transmission fluid; a procedure that could either bring new life to it OR completely ruin it. The thing about transmissions is that when the fluid hasn’t been changed in a while, these things called clutch packs (which operate on friction) start to wear out from dirty fluid. However, all that worn off material and other contaminants mostly stay in the fluid. This makes the fluid thicker and actually allows the clutch packs to retain some of their function. However, when you replace that old, thick, gummy fluid (which is very bad for the rest of the transmission) with new, delicious, pink-lemonade colored fluid (mmm… sounds delicious), those clutch packs no longer have the friction they were used to, and a death spiral ensues as the packs now slip and wear off whatever material happened to be left.

Ok! Now that you are an expert on automatic transmissions (ATs) (if you are one, please email me. Kinda not joking. auto-transmissions at ranvier dot net), we come back to my tale of my brothers ownership of Elley. The AT had always had issues, but around the beginning of 2023, it started to refuse shifting up from 2nd without a considerable amount of time and painful sounds. No amount of stern talking to and smacking the dashboard convinced it to start working. To add some oil-icing on the cake, the timing chain cover was beginning to leak absolute buckets of oil. This is a part of the engine that is difficult to access, and my dad was remiss to remove the subframe or lift the engine out of the car. These things are hard to do without a jack lift!

So this car is seemingly on its way out. But alas, she’s not dead yet! He took the car to a local mechanic and was quoted a reasonable price to both rebuild the transmission and fix the leak on the timing chain cover. After a few weeks in the shop, she got her medicine and seemed to be running really nicely! Around this time, I had just sold my old car and my brother acquired a new one. Elley was up for the taking and take her I did.

Some Final Touches Before the Journey

Before getting this car, I had just planned on driving my Honda Civic for the whole drive. She’d done so well for the 4 or so years I had her, with literally no mechanical issues and the biggest repair being a bad AC compressor and a leaky power steering pump. Elley, however, was so large! I could easily fit anything I wanted in there and still have enough space for a sleeping pad. She was the one for the job.

After the shop work, we weren’t quite out of the weeds. I replaced a sway bar link that’d gone bad, cleaned the throttle body, discovered a massive rust spot hiding under some plastic paneling, had the tires rotated, and did my own rough inspection of the engine bay (I will regret not having a professional do this later; stay tuned!). My dad had confidence in the car and after driving it about 30mi in town, I agreed with him. What good is a fixed car if ya can’t drive it? And what better way to find issues than a trip of this magnitude? (oh god) On the road with her I go!

Back to Missouri

This was the first time in the trip that the check engine light had come on. That transmission shift thing was also odd, but I figured it could have been from the rumble strip slowing the car down too much. I pulled off to a gas station and went under the car for an inspection.

Oh the horror when this was the first thing I saw:

A bad CV axle Uh, I don’t think that’s an OEM feature

So theres grease all over the place and the CV axle that comes out of the transmission and drives the wheel has a completely shredded boot on it. That’s that destroyed rubber piece there. I had no idea how long it had been driving like that, but I’d gander and say the entire drive, which was probably about 1200mi at this point? I discovered a nice little zip tie on the inside that the mechanic left as a treat for me I’m assuming. The boot was not in this condition when we took it to the shop, but it was torn, so my best bet is it deteriorated quickly and just gave out perhaps when I rode over the rumble strip.

This isn’t the end of the world, as I could drive on it theoretically for the rest of the trip. The problem is that boot is intended to cover rotating metal parts that are under a lot of load and moving at very high speeds. It could go for 5000 more miles or it could death spiral and strand me in the deserts of New Mexico. This feeling in my tummy was not acceptable.

Onward to Blue Springs

Thankfully, this fiasco had happened close to a nice city called Blue Springs, MO. I had no idea what to expect from the place, but it was about 40 minutes out from Kansas City (which is actually mostly in Missouri! what?!?!) so thankfully it wasn’t the middle of nowhere. I went into town, found a hotel, and indulged in a shower and some hot Domino’s Pizza. On the way to get the pizza (terrified the car would explode at any second), I noticed a sign that said “Ibex Climbing Gym”. Whoa! Not only was I not in the middle of nowhere, but this place even had a climbing gym! This later turns out to be the best detour of my life, all thanks to the magic of friendship, climbing, and magical forces of the universe (ok, the last one is dubious; scientists are working on it).

This place was actually a fantastic gym too. It had tons of bouldering and a great selection of lead, top-rope, and auto-belay climbs.

the bouldering section

picture of defeat V4s and V5s were my absolute limit here; it was some tough and fun climbs!

I was the first one in the gym that day apparently, and I got to talk to the employee that was manning (s/manning/girling/g) the place. She was very nice and we talked about when we’d started climbing, where I was from, and the styles of the climbs at the gym. Eventually, some people had started filing in and around this same time I’d started working on some of the auto-belays. I sat down on a bench next to a couple guys that were getting set to do some top-rope. They were super nice and offered to let me climb with them. We got to talking, did some routes, and went to get lunch at Chipotle. At this point, we’d talked about my predicament and Alex mentioned some potential campsites I could visit and a good mechanic in town he’d used before (thanks Dilday Automotive and Marine!). He and Brian parted and I headed over to Walmart to get some stuff for the car and tidy things up. After this, Alex called me and offered to let me stay with him and Brian at their place, about a 5 minute drive from the gym. So first you OFFER to belay me, take me to lunch, and then offer to let me sleep over?


I don’t usually go home on the first date (joke!), but these guys were my age, seemed incredibly nice, and the sound of a couch and shower was just too good to pass up.

I could make an entire post about my 4 days with Alex and Brian. To sum it up:

And some honorable mentions:

May the dog Blessed by the presence of May the Dog

Ah good &lsquo;ol dead end sidewalk Discovered the joys of American pedestrian infrastructure

beautiful track field Track is a big sport out here

more track Alex was being nice but he easily smoked me

I was sad when I had to leave this place. Honestly, I thought Tennessee had made the trip worth it, but if I were to have driven straight to Blue Springs and crashed my car into a ditch next to the Ibex climbing gym, it all would have been worth it. Sincere “thanks yous” to Alex and Brian for sharing their time and home with me and turning a place where I broke down into a place I’ll be coming back to (this time with a working car!!).

Goodbye Blue Springs

And Kansas was just around the corner. The first couple hours were really nice. It reminded me of driving through the hills of central Florida, but with less suburbs and more windmills.

Windmills First time I’ve seen a windmill!

The next 5 hours were a bit painful. Not the worst though; I continued to widdle down my “Liked Songs” playlist on Spotify. I’d actually only been listening to that this entire trip thus far and I think at this point I was about halfway through it? I though I’d listen to a podcast or something but the music and the lull of the road were doing really well for me thus far. Lots of time to think as well.

Finally arriving in Eastern Colorado, I was greeted by more of the same landscape as Kansas. But this time, it was Colorado (tm) plains! My first gas stop awarded me with some doggies:

Truck dogs Ahh… I miss May and my own dog Lucy…

Plains of Colorado The windmills never ceased to amaze me. They move so fast!

And soon enough, the mountains appeared on the horizon!

First sight of Colorado mountains Ooo, the rain looks so ominous. I think that’s Pike’s Peak?

Time to gas up and make the final stretch to Buena Vista!

Gassing up And the clouds continue to plot against me

But Elley had other plans for me…

I was driving uphill when suddenly the car went from 3000+RPMs to under 2000 and refused to go any higher than that. The problem with that is that RPM = speed and this reduced me to maybe 30mph on the uphill? Oh, and the check engine light came on. This was even more terrifying than the previous incident, as this time there were tangible effects and not just scary sounds. Thankfully, I had a code reader this time:

OBD code 1 Engine knock sensor fault

OBD code 2 “A” Rocker Arm Actuator System Performance/stuck Off

These were scary words. Actuator? Knock sensor?!

Eh. Computer: clear all codes.




Oh computer… When will you learn: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

Sorry, that got a little deep. Back to the trip.

This was a future me problem. I need to get into town where the mechanics live and out of these damn mountains, where the drunk drivers and cougars live!

I later learned that the P2646 code was because of a loose sensor cable. I still get P0325 to this very day, but it will clear itself randomly. I suspect its also a cable issue.

¡Hola, Buena Vista!

I arrived in this quaint town around 2AM, in part due to the mechanical issues from earlier. It was quite dark, but I could just make out the silhouette of the mountains around me. Exhausted, I admired them silently; a far cry from the leaping and hollering I anticipated I would be overcome by.

The next morning…

Browns Canyon Rafting. Oh, and mountains! Browns Canyon Rafting. Oh, and mountains!

And I was elated to be greeted by none other than His Excellency Henry Matthews Himself! Her Excellency Hildaleigh Serrano was hard at work kneading the best pretzel loafs this quaint town had ever seen.

So, this hard working man had some time to greet me, but surely he must be getting back to his affairs…

Henry: “Want to get some coffee and head to a crag?”

Me: …

At that moment, I promptly peed myself from excitement, cleaned myself up, and hopped in his car. We went to a place called “The Roastery”

The Roastery

and boy did they have some good coffee. The first time we went (which was followed by a daily visit each day after), I got The Spanish something, recommendation of his majesty. The next day, I think I got the Dirty Hippie. In the last few days of my trip, I settled into the drip coffee + breakfast burrito combo, which got you a decent black coffee with a fantastic and very filling breakfast burrito for only $8! I felt like this one should have been called the Dirty Hippie and I certainly felt like one ordering it, not having showered in a few days at that point.

Henry pointed out the bakery across the street, “Simple Eatery”, and mentioned that that was where Hildaleigh was working. We were coming back there at noon to pick her up from work. But now, it was time to climb!

I honestly didn’t take many pictures while I was out here! I liked being off my phone for most of the trip but it makes recalling things chronologically trickier. Therefore, I’m going to split up my story into chapters of the different things I did here.

Life in Town

When I wasn’t climbing, hiking, or riding with awesome tow truck drivers (remember those transmission issues I mentioned earlier?), lots of my time was spent in the beautiful confines of Buena Vista.

Did You Know (TM): the official pronunciation of the town by locals is B-you-nuh Vista". For once in my life, I felt like I had the upper hand on pronouncing Spanish in a crowd!

My place of living was the parking lot of Browns Canyon Rafting (BCR). They were gracious hosts, and so long as I didn’t poke my head up obnoxiously too much or for too long, I was allowed a parking spot next to Henry’s car. My Element was a perfect camper. I had all my belongings sorted on one side of the car and my inflatable sleeping pad on the other. My climbing gear and rope, cooking equipment, backpacking materials, food, etc. was all easily accessible by opening the side door of the car. The back has a cool tailgate, like a truck, that I used on many occasions to tie my shoes, brush my teeth, or open on the cooler nights to get a clear view of the start-filled night sky.

A gym was adjacent to us, just 5 minutes of walking from our cars. Henry and Hildaleigh had a membership there and we visited a few times to check out their climbing gym and showers (a luxury! I will never again take for-granted a hot shower). We practiced some big whippers in there! Henry took the biggest one by far, soaring at least a good 15-20ft from the top. By the time I left this place, I had virtually eliminated my fear of falling, both from a stance of safety emotions (High Point, Chattanooga: you’re mine!).

Downtown had a plethora of fantastic restaurants to dine at. We basically went to a new place every night. One day, me and Hildaleigh checked out a park and found the cutest little river that fed into a small lake. Families were out with their kids, fishing rods laid their bait across the icy water in hopes that the fish would bite even just the warmer surface, and one man was throwing his baby up in the air as they giggled with glee. Crossing a bridge, we found a music festival! People were gathered on their blankets and in backs of their campers, each with its own fingerprint of beads and draperies.

On one occasion, we all agreed to take a very speedy trip to the Arkansas River access that was near town and take a cold plunge. We hurried over there at a blazing speed of 15mph (the town speed limit), threw off our clothes in haste, and dove head first into the frigid rapids! Ok, a bit of hyperbole, but when we lowered our bodies warily, I found an odd comfort in the cold! By the time I was submerged, I felt comfortably numb, and exiting gave me a refreshing wave of warmth. This was a far cry from my other cold water experience I had tried out a few days prior.

Cool looking bench This bench rocks!

Mushroom galore A whole plate of mushrooms as an entree. I felt a pleasant sickness after this

Element! Another Honda Element!

Cave road This road going to the crag was so cool; they just blew a tunnel through a series of giant boulders on the side of a valley

A Beautiful Lake Hike

I had grand plans of hiking… something! I knew there were plenty of hikes to do in Colorado, so I figured I would check some out on my way out of town at the end of my trip or hit a couple with Henry and Hildaleigh. One day, Hildaleigh had a morning free and Henry had to work that morning, so she recommended a lake hike they’d been looking at: Ptarmigan Lake. We some coffee and headed to the hike.

Ptarmigan Lake Hike

Ptarmigan Lake Hike

Hey, thats me!

Hit the trail Jack

Oh, what a pretty lake

This thing was cold!!!! I don’t know if it was like your sea legs where you have to ease into it, but I was just not having it. Hildaleigh was a monster and waded out like 20ft into the deeper parts. “Its not bad” my ass… Apparently the river was colder to her, so maybe I just got better at handling the cold. Next time I’m here, I have to do this hike and swim across the entire lake just to prove to myself that I can!

We collected some superb stream water and started the hike back. It was a leisurely 2 miles or so and we took our time, admiring the breathtaking nature surrounding us and talking about life. We got back into town, and later that day we all climbed together. There was rarely a me and Henry wouldn’t!

The Rock Climbing Crags of The Vista

One of parts of this trip I was the most excited for was the rock climbing. So Henry had said, there were countless high quality rock climbing crags just a 10 minute drive from our parking lot condos. I was accustomed to driving 5+ hours to get to just any kind of climbing from Gainesville (10+ from Homestead), so I was stoked to get out there and try as many routes as I could.

I had set a goal for myself to push myself on this trip; both mentally and physically. I’d done lead climbing before, but was either climbing on stuff that was practically a ladder or was climbing at my grade but shitting bricks at the same time. The idea of potentially falling in my mind, not to mention the safety aspect of it, was just utterly horrifying. I had started to do more leading indoors and my friend Chris Bowen gave me the biggest whipper I’ve ever taken at High Point in Chattanooga, so I was better than where I started. This trip, I had decided, was going to be a turning point. I no longer wanted to accept my fear getting in the way of some seriously cool climbs.

I didn’t keep track of the exact climbs I lead, but it ranged from 5.7 up to 5.10a/b. On the 10a/b, I got past the crux only to realize that my footing was horrendous. A fall was ensuing and I was hopeless to stop it. I screamed “falling!” and let gravity take its course. Henry masterfully belayed me and when I realized my spine was still intact, a wave of euphoria rushed over me. It was my first unintended fall and a huge step in gaining confidence in leading. I know it is still a very risky venture, but without some level of confidence, its even more so.

Henry was a beast on the wall. He dominated slab climbs, walking up them like they were ladders, and pushed himself hard on the overhung routes. He’d gotten noticeably better since we’d parted ways at The Knot and I’m sure he’s continuing to improve every day. He knew the area well and took me to some of his favorite spots. I got to really use my rope and quickdraws for the first time and it felt good to be climbing outdoors and feeling confident and safe doing it.

One day, Hildaleigh, Henry, me, and some of the rafting guides from BCR went out with two ropes and climbed together. I had to leave early to meet with a tow person that was to pick up Elley (the suspense is building… what happened to Elley?! Don’t worry, we’re getting to it =^) ) and when I came back about an hour later, everyone was still at it! We did some really fun 5.9s and 5.10s and parted ways when we got back to BCR.

Hildaleigh improved quite a bit on the wall too! Henry had lead a 5.10 and when Hildaleigh gave it a try, she got just under the last bolt before the anchor. Later on, she reflected on what she could have done differently and was sure she could have gotten it. In the gym, she was crushing boulders left and right with the encouragement of some friendly gym-goers that helped her learn new strategies, like how to take advantage of her height on some climbs (take that Henry!).

Climbing in Buena Vista wasn’t just icing on the cake; it was the fillet mignon covered in caviar truffle sauce and topped with edible gold. I hope to climb many more climbs with Henry, as we built a bedrock of trust and friendship on the wall, and continue push to harder grades and taller falls.

Some hard 10b A funky start to a 10b alongside an easier 10a; Henry figured this one out but I think I took the dirty cheater start

Lowering madness
Henry lowering off a route; he had to be back for work in 15 minutes!

Mount… gasp Elbert… gasp wheeze

Finally, a day came where we were all free to do a hike together. What better one than the tallest one, Mount Elbert? Henry had his reservations, as it was going to be packed with people due to its popularity, but we all agreed it was a solid choice and would be worth it despite a potential crowd.

We headed out early in the morning, leaving BCR around 5AM. The drive there was serene, as we saw the gentle giant Elbert still asleep on the horizon. Arriving at the parking lot there were already a decent number of people. We organized ourselves, got our water, and started the approach.

Element number 2 Yet another Element! Happy to see some fellow brethren out here

Caves rock license plate This was a super cool license plate, along with the cool bat speleological sticker

The approach was very calm, gaining only about 1000ft in elevation over a few miles. I could already feel myself becoming winded, as the elevation was already >10,000ft at just the start of the hike. After passing the tree line, the views did not disappoint:

Above the tree line


Cant get enough of this

And just as soon, the summit was in view:

First view of the false summit

Gotcha! This was the first of two false summits. But it would be quite the trek by itself. It was at this point I was becoming nervous about the effects of altitude sickness on myself. I have a history of lung issues and was nervous this might be a bit much for my body. I almost backed out… But realizing what a disappointment it would be to come so close and just turn around, I decided to take a calculated risk and continue anyways. I wasn’t feeling terrible at this point and figured I would need to feel a lot worse to warrant aborting.

I told Henry and Hildaleigh to go ahead of me while I rested a bit more. After an extended break and thorough admiration of the panoramic paradise of mountains around me, I continued up the path. I talked to many people along the way, with one group being from someplace in the Southeast. They were all practicing physicians and had come to Colorado to try their hands at hiking some of its highest peaks. As I continued, I noticed a diverse range of people hiking this peak; one man was with his 10 year old son and another group looked like they’d decided to come up on a whim, wearing gym shorts and T-shirts. The higher up we went, the colder and windier it was getting, so I felt bad for them!

Closer and closer

Almost there Getting closer to the first false peak; I still didn’t know at this point!

After a total of about 3 miles of hiking and an elevation gain of 4000ft or so, we’d finally made it!

Victory! Victory!

Henbobo and Hil You guys rock… ok, I’ll try to stop the rock jokes

It was freaking cold up here. My thermostat was reading high 40s to low 50s and the wind was blowing nonstop. We found a nice rock shelter that seemingly was constructed to help weary hikers like myself hide from the wind. After calling our parents to share the achievement (the reception up here was fantastic!), eating some snacks, and taking in as much of the view as we could, we begun our descent.


We descended at a much faster pace than the way up, taking long breaks to rest and appreciate our surroundings. After we got back to the parking lot, we headed into the closest town, destroyed entire pizzas, and made our way back to Buena Vista.

Elbert in the distance Elbert was now awake and fully stretched out on the horizon as we parted ways

Whitewater Rafting!

One thing we had yet to do since I’d arrived was what Henry had mastered in many months out here: whitewater rafting. I’d dabbled in an easy one in Washington last summer, but nothing like what Henry was doing out here. One day, he made room in his schedule to take a few of us out on the river to try out an easier class 3. The plan was to shuttle a car to the take out point of the river and then take everyone in my car to the starting point with the raft strapped on the top of Elley. We made it to the take out point and while driving uphill to leave, disaster struck.

Elley was dead.

To sum it up, I lost all power going uphill. I get out of the car to see a red puddle of fluid accumulating under the car and a horrible smell of something burning. I quickly learned that this was transmission fluid and this car was going nowhere but downhill. We had some kind bystanders help us push the car around and we then neutraled downhill back to the parking lot. This was a disaster.

I called AAA, we all drove back to BCR, and later at night I was driven back to meet with a tow truck driver. On the drive back to the BCR, I talked with him about where he was from and how he ended up in Colorado. It turns out, he’d been a very wealthy investment banker in Atlanta in his past life! He detailed his amazing adventure and his dreams of motorcycling across all of Russia with his friends to me. When we got back, I said farewell and wished him luck on his future journeys.

The next day, I took a look inside the car and detected the source of the problem: a cooling hose had come loose from the transmission and ejected all of the fluid from it. The burning smell was coming from fluid that had found its way onto the engine and was burning. Possibly also coming from inside the transmission. The most… annoying, lets call it, detail I noticed was the positioning of a clamp on the hose. It was about 3 inches away from the end of the hose, very far away from where it was supposed to be. This was certainly the cause of the slippage and the result of human error. I’d been so worried about Elley this entire trip, thinking the transmission would fall out of the car or the engine would start knocking or smoke would start billowing from every crack and crevice. But her final blow was the result of human incompetency.

Oh poor Elley…

Mayday Mayday! We’re Going Up!

Due to the terms of the warranty we had on the car, towing it back home was the only option I had. This piled more salt to the wound, but needing to be back before the end of the week anyways, it was my only option.

Goodbye Elley Goodbye Elley! Get home safe.

I was fortunate enough to find a fairly cheap flight from Colorado Springs directly to Gainesville. Henry and Hildaleigh were leaving Buena Vista around this time too, so the timing was just right for them to drop me off at the airport as they started their long drive home. The drive to Colorado Springs was perhaps the most scenic one yet. I’d done the same one on the way to Buena Vista but I was significantly more stressed and it was way darker out. Me and Henry speculated on the climbability of some awesome looking rock formations that appeared at the bend of every corner. Vast plains carpeted the landscape as we left the collegiate peaks and as we got closer and closer to the Springs, Pikes Peak dominated the horizon:

I think thats Pikes??

Arriving at the airport, we made our final farewells. I had an absolutely fantastic time with Henry and Hildaleigh in Colorado and feel like I got to know them so much better than I ever had. Climbing, hiking, eating, and facing various trials and tribulations together, it was the highlight of my entire summer and a moment of my life I will never forget. I hope to continue climbing with Henry for as long as I can and hope that Hildaleigh may be there with us to share in the glory and triumph.

Goodbye Colorado! Goodbye Colorado! I’m going to miss you dearly.

Arriving in Dallas for my connecting flight, I chuckled at the lack of IT prowess in display:


And after a short 6 hours, I was back at home in Gainesville.

Home Sweet Home

The day after I arrived was my Pop Pop’s 90th birthday. I was so happy to see him again after so long apart along with the rest of my family. We had a fantastic breakfast and sitting at the table, I felt a deeper appreciation for what I was so gifted to have. Though my journey was long and exciting, this was what it was all about. I learned through this trip that I would trade a lifetime of adventure for my family and friends if it came down to it.

My pup Lucy Lucy-Lu!! And I love herrrrrr

Big ol&rsquo; fat cat I love you too Olivia, ya goofy goof

Special thanks to Alex and Brian for giving me a home away from home, my Mom and Dad for raising me to be resilient, Ethan and Peyton for always supporting my crazy ideas, Henry and Hildaleigh for being my companions in Buena Vista, Chris Bowen for inspiring confidence in me to follow through with this journey, and Pop Pop and Grandma for teaching me the importance of family and faith