Now that I’ve shamelessly added wood planking to this blog’s header, and changed the post background to a particularly fetching salmon hue, I figure it’s high time I wrote about a trip the wife and I took to Colorado, exactly two years ago this month.
Just one year into my own early retirement master plan, I’d already read through Mr. Money Mustache’s blog TWICE. The guy (Pete) has like 500 posts. So you can imagine how much precious work time I had invested in this radical new form of frugality, driven by purpose rather than coupon-clipping.
Once you dive into MMM, you feel like there’s something magic happening over in the Mountain time zone. I personally felt that the little town of Longmont, Colorado might have more to offer than little ol’ icebox Minneapolis, Minnesota. We had to check it out first-hand. And if we ran into Pete or his lovely Mrs.? Well, icing.
(Full and honest disclosure: Longmont was actually just a pass-through on a week-long trip to Rocky Mountain National Park, with overnight stays in Fort Collins for beer purposes, and Boulder because we like hiking so damned much.)
We Travel Cheap’ish
Getting tickets was no problem at all. By this time, I’d already picked up on the strategy of applying for a bazillion credit cards to rack up bonus rewards points. Besides, Minneapolis to Denver is a relatively short hop. If memory serves me correctly, we converted some Chase Sapphire bonus miles to Southwest. Gotta love the synergies with those Chase cards. Go sign up if you haven’t already. Anyhow… Free flights. Check.
The rental car was easy too. Again, having read that sweet little mustachioed blog from heaven, I was fully armed with knowledge. The young associate at the rental car counter had no chance when offering an upgraded vehicle to “handle the mountains.” Was it a Humvee?
We stuck with our choice of the venerable Toyota Yaris. Stick shift! The Yaris is one of the least powerful and smallest cars you could rent off the lot. At first I wondered how this little toy car would manage the great Rockies. More on that later. Cheap rental car. Check.
Hot Rod, Baby. FM and AM radio!
Did I mention the toll roads looping around Denver? Supremely annoying.
Longmont for Lunch
Since Longmont was on the way to our destination of Estes Park, I convinced the Mrs. that we should stop there for lunch and a little walk-about. You know, see if we could spot any bums shopping for errands on bicycles. We instead were greeted with a cute town that has all the things I could imagine an early retiree would want or need, including a Carl’s Jr.
At first, we had to get past the dreaded development just on the fringes of town. All sorts of chain-infested-strip-malls and box stores line the main byway into town. Not bike-friendly by a long-shot. Just as Pete wrote about. Just get to Main Street and things get much more promising.
There’s also the light industrial zones of Longmont that have some cool things happening. We chose to stop at Left Hand Brewing. And we’re glad we did. Their beer is taysteee… In fact, I want to say we put Chocolate Milk Stout on our breakfast cereal that entire week.
For food lunch, we ate at the Sun Rose Cafe. I highly recommend it if you’re ever passing through Longmont stalking famous bloggers.
A Healthy Walk Leads to an Epiphany
After lunch, since we still had plenty of time before checking in at the lodge in Estes Park, we decided to take a leisurely stroll around the old neighborhoods of Longmont. If we were to ever consider moving out to this front-range town, the older, established blocks would be our likely destination.
Roosevelt Park is just a hop off of Main Street and perfectly situated as a central park of sorts for any kind of festival or triple-M hootenanny. We walked around for a bit there and then headed over to check out the Longmont Public Library.
Longmont’s public library has a wonderfully large children’s area stocked to the gills. *clap* *clap* *clap* (now click the picture to check out a fun little side story!)
Oh, and the library is just a block off of Main Street, just like the park. Longmont’s walkability is not too shabby.
Oh yeah, the Epiphany
While walking around on this beautiful sunny September day, I began to feel the top of my head tingle. Dammit, forgot my ball cap in the car! Poor Cubert’s receding hairline was taking the brunt of the Colorado sun. We dodged el sol as best we could, but noted the scarcity of trees, relative to lush, verdant Minneapolis.
I guess in retrospect I wouldn’t call it an epiphany, just an “ah ha” moment that yeah, the UV factor in front range Colorado is about twice that of where we live. For fair skinned balding types like me, not a great mix. Wussing-out on the sun aside, Longmont is a very fine little city that checks the box in just about all of the essentials.
The only REAL drawback as far as I can tell (I won’t count the UV factor against Longmont) is housing costs. Over the last three years alone, housing prices have shot up over 12%. Still, the same house in Longmont can be fetched for a THIRD of the cost of a similar property in Boulder just down the highway. Guess where I’d live if I wanted to retire early?
The REST of the trip
We finally found our way to Estes Park where we spent the next four days hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park. Remember that Toyota Yaris? We took that little puppy up the Trail Ridge Road. If you’re interested in taking in some wonderful sites and shitting your pants in the process, I highly recommend this drive!
The “TRR” is the highest elevation highway in the continental U.S. It is pure white-knuckle driving with narrow lanes and steep drop-offs where often guardrails are just … not there… Now, coming down from up top, the Yaris performed incredibly well.
Gear-braking with a small car is a helluva lot easier in a small stick shift than it is in a monster all-wheel drive. We giggled at the poor souls braking all the way down (while hoping none behind us had brake FAILURE.)
Frugal Travelers, Sort of…
We’d already checked the boxes on free flights and cheap rental car. We were also good about preparing our own meals for breakfast and lunch. We even dined in a couple of times while at Estes Park, taking advantage of the lodge’s grill and kitchen. Oh how fun to watch how quickly water reaches the boiling point at elevation!
And yet, we did drop a chunk of change on lodging. Staying near the national park is not a cheap affair. At least not for us ill-prepared non-campers. For the three nights we dropped $225 per night. At least we opted to walk the thirty minute trek into town when we dined out. Spend a little, save a little?
Sorry, back to Longmont
We had an amazing time in Colorado. After RMNP, we spent a day in Fort Collins biking to boutique breweries. The picture of us on the blog’s right nav-bar was taken that day in front of New Belgium Brewing Co. Our favorite brewery was Funkwerks, but Horse and Dragon was quite good too.
As we headed back to Denver I thought about what it would be like to move out here. The mountains are simply amazing. The people were just as friendly as Minnesotans. Beer? No issues there. Bike culture? Heck, there were riders making their way down the Trail Ridge Road! Man…
If it weren’t for the fact that we’ve established our roots pretty deep here in Minneapolis, we’d probably consider a move out west. The winters here in Minnesota can be brutal. And try as I might to embrace them, I still yearn for milder temps: where leaving the house doesn’t require putting on eight layers ahead of time.
In the immortal words of Mr. Money Mustache, “wah wah wah!!!” Complainypants!
Side Note: I want to call-out my newest bestest friend, Grayson Bell. He stepped in and saved my bacon when this site started having author-induced dead-link issues. AbandonedCubicle.com is also now on HTTPS thanks to Grayson. Look him up at the link on his name if you ever need help! He’s THE MAN.