I decided to try white water rafting…as expensive as it is. It was a lot of fun and I learned a few things, but not too exciting overall. I don’t recommend beginner white water rafting….it’s basically a lot of money to float down the river. Ask for intermediate. But in the end it was worth my money and I will tell you why….
Take a leap of faith
Part of the combo package was zip lining in the Rockies. Now that was fun. As confident as I was, the first run was a little scary. Sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith. By the final zip line I was flying upside down (the “spider man”) and doing flips off the platform. Trust in yourself and trust in what you do. All you need is a little confidence. This is only the beginning of my deep metaphoric breakdown of Idaho Springs. Get ready…
Our guides were phenomenal. One of them was especially friendly and I certainly returned the smiles. I’m glad I did. The guide, Christoph, wanted to explore a new hiking path and I wanted a hiking buddy, so we decided to go out and explore some trails…couldn’t tell you where…somewhere in the Rockies.
And that’s not all. Christoph invited me to the raft guide’s campout for the evening.
And here’s where I get cheesy. Stay with me here people. Promise it’s worth the read.
Camping out in the Rockies
Tucked between mountain peaks and off the beaten path, the campground was miles from light pollution of Denver and even Idaho Springs. Surrounded by mountains and evergreens, the only way to see the sky was to look straight up. We watched the moon come up over the silhouettes of evergreens, a jagged border between earth and sky. You could see the big dipper shining clear and bright even though the clouds blocked out the other stars. Campers had tents pitched all over the little clearing, little scraps of civilization among the mountain landscape. A river flowed through the camp, providing a midnight song of rushing water and significantly lowering the temperature enough to curl up in a blanket beside the glowing campfire. Campers and rafters sat around the pit and laughed between drinks of Jack Daniels and drags of weed and cigarettes (slightly less charming).
Christoph made supper on his little propane stove – homemade spaghetti. I swear to God in another life this guy was a chef. I drank boxed wine out of a measuring cup and he ate spaghetti right out of the pan (such a gentlemen letting me use his only bowl). Eventually we headed out to the campfire to enjoy the night with other campers. We laughed and drunkenly (not me – I stayed sober for safety’s sake) talked about life and travels and I got the dirty inside scoop on what it’s like to be a river rafting guide. These guys have literally seen the world.
The night was absolutely perfect. The smell of the bonfire, the sound of the river, and the feeling of joy from people I’d never met made the night unforgettable and irreplaceable. I didn’t get back to my hotel room until 2:30 and even that was too early. I will never forget my last night in Idaho Springs.
I’m telling you, this place was serene. It takes Iowa camping to a whole new level. These people live here every night in the summer. They cook on little portable propane fueled stoves and sleep on mats in their tents. If I hadn’t paid for my room already, I might have stayed and slept there too – although that’s a little more risk than I’m willing to take.
Things I learned in Idaho Springs (also worth the read):
1.) If you buy lemonade from little kids, wait until they turn around to drink…you might have to spit it out. I learned the hard way today.
2.) Rafting customers are called gumbies behind our backs because we look so hilarious in those stupid life jackets.
3.) Small towns are most certainly better than big cities when it comes to traveling. People are friendlier, hotels are cheaper, and you can more easily immerse yourself in the culture. You learn a lot more and have a better time making friends and being part of the culture then going through a museum or visiting a monument.
4.) Trust your gut instinct. I felt safe in Idaho Springs. I felt a good vibe from Christoph. I took a huge leap of faith heading to the trails with him and joining their campfire. That’s not always the case. Earlier I went for a run and it felt sketchy so I got out of there. Learn to understand your instinct and be aware of your surroundings. And sometimes even instincts are wrong, so take the right precautions when meeting people you don’t know well.
5.) People are generally good. Yes, you have to watch out for bad people and be safe and careful. But people are generally good. I can’t tell you how many friendly smiles I received in Idaho Springs, how many times people noticed I was from out of town and offered advice on where to go, and how often my bed and breakfast owner called me by my first name in passing. I ran into other travelers eager to tell their stories, and store cashiers excited to share their culture with me. Just ask a question and you’ll get a hundred answers.
6.) Follow your passions. The raft guides live for rafting and kayaking. They live modestly to pay for it (thousands and thousands of dollars in equipment and traveling…just a paddle costs over $100). They don’t care if they are poor or live in a tent, in fact they seem to love it because they get to do what they love most and it pays for the more exciting trips all over the world.
7.) In my sarcastic, mocking voice: “Be one with the land.” But seriously, one thing about traveling by car is that you don’t actually experience the terrain like you would on foot or bike. Now I’m not saying bike across the country instead of drive, but it would be worth your time to get out of your car, plant your feet on the ground, take a big breath and experience the world around you not just see it.
8.) You don’t realize how important conservation is until you realize how much beauty there is to lose. This I learned from Christoph. I’m not kidding, this guy has a grocery bag to save plastic, made me return my trail brochure to save paper, and drives no faster than 60 to save gas. But he’s also traveled the world and seen amazing beautiful landscapes littered by highways and buildings. I’d probably do the same if I had that perspective.
9.) The relationship between risk and reward. When you take risks, it pays off. I took a risk by befriending someone out of my element. I took a risk by choosing a little bed and breakfast instead of a franchise hotel. I took risks by getting in a boat and rafting, gearing up to zip across the mountains hundreds of feet above ground. And you know what? Idaho Springs was the best travel experience I’ve ever had because of those risks.
10.) And finally… Busch light is not just the taste of Iowa…it is the inexpensive taste of everywhere. Amen, people.