He Restoreth My Soul
This post has been sitting in my drafts folder since 2020. I'd forgotten about it. When I read it a few days ago, I decided that I would post it in honor of my dear hubby, Alan. I loved this "retreat"...mules and all.
During the weeks that followed Mom's passing, I felt drained. The tiniest things could trigger tears that would roll down my cheeks. A memory. A photo. Mom's favorite lamps with the pink quartz finials. My heart was so tender, I thought it might melt away into a tiny blob of gelatinous matter. It was my precious husband, Alan, who came to my rescue.
"I'm taking you somewhere relaxing after your mom's celebration weekend," he said, "Where would you like to go? The mountains? The beach? A city?" Even the smallest decisions befuddled my brain. "Just surprise me," I replied, "but mountains sound good to me right now."
As our departure day approached, the pitfalls of surprise destinations began to give me pause.
Me: "Will I need hiking boots?" "What about my Camelbak?" "Do I need nice clothes for dining out?"
He: "The temperatures will range from the low 70's to the mid 40's. You'll want to pack fall clothes. I think you need a relaxing vacation. If we go on short hikes, your tennis shoes will be fine. Mountain towns tend to be on the casual side."
Ladies, can we just sit here a moment and talk about all the things men do not know about how women overanalyze their travel wardrobes? Packing for a trip entails a myriad of variables. There's Aspen casual, then there's Estes Park casual. I wear white pants well into September because it's just too hot to wear denim. Last year before we went to Hawaii, I googled this: Do people in Hawaii wear white pants in October? Google was no help.
I studied a map trying to decide which mountainous areas would be cool in the afternoons and downright chilly in the evenings. Then I went to weather.com and checked the highs and lows for likely destinations. Neither Aspen nor Estes Park fit my algorithm. Besides, Alan told me that we had never been to the surprise destination. I threw up my hands and did what I always do. I overpacked.
On Sunday, August 30th at 5:45AM, we loaded our luggage into the car and headed to the airport for a 7:00AM flight. Or, so I thought. Turns out that was not the plan because Alan sped past the airport exit. "Baby! The exit!" I yelped as our car continued north. He gave me a sly smile and replied, "This day will have lots of twists and turns. Just stay with me." Just as I began to suspect that we were flying in a private jet, we sped past the private jet exit. I began to perspire.
We drove for a couple of hours watching the sunrise before we turned left at Amarillo and began to wind our way towards New Mexico. By my calculations, we would need to travel to Montana to enjoy those moderate temperatures in August. Seriously? We were driving to Montana?
With that in mind, I retrieved my travel pillow from my carry-on and did what I always do on long road trips. I went to sleep to make the miles go by faster. I awoke in Raton, New Mexico just as Alan was pulling onto I-25 heading north.
"Wait a minute," I said, "Are we going to the Broadmoor?" That didn't make sense because in just a few weeks we were going there for a bank retreat. Was this some sort of scouting mission to make sure that the accommodations would work for our group? Also, I had already investigated the average temps in Colorado Springs. The forecast did not pass my temp test. "I'm not saying," he teased, "Just wait and see." I repositioned my travel pillow and went back to sleep.
I woke again as Alan was exiting in Colorado Springs. The roadsign indicated that we were heading towards the Broadmoor. Alan glanced in my direction, smiled and said,
"It's what you think it is. And, it's not what you think it is. And, there may be mules involved."
My stomach churned. It was then and there that I decided that surprise destinations are too stressful for me.
Moments later, we pulled onto the Broadmoor grounds and were directed to a particular building that served as "base camp." Base camp?! The valet unloaded our luggage and gestured towards a set of double doors saying, "All you need to do is check-in at the desk!" Your ride will be here at 2:00. Our ride? I breathed a sigh of relief when he made no mention of mules being saddled up.
We entered the building and found a very small "front desk." During our brief check-in, we were asked to sign waivers. "Wait...whut...why do we need a waiver for a relaxing trip to the 40-degrees-to-70-degrees mountains?" I asked eyes wide. "It IS a wilderness experience," the lady said smiling. With a BASE CAMP. I looked at Alan who was smiling that "I've got a secret" smile.
Promptly at 2:00, a shiny black Cadillac Escalade pulled up, our luggage was loaded, and off we headed towards "wilderness". Paved roads winding through an area of beautiful homes with lush lawns guided us up above Colorado Springs. I began to relax until the driver informed us that we would be driving through a zoo. I kid you not. A zoo.
The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo perches on the mountainside just above the Broadmoor. Our driver had a special remote control that opened the "employees only" gates of the zoo as he told us a bit of history of the zoo. He slowed the car down to a snail's pace and began pointing out points of interest while tourists sauntered just ahead of the Escalade's front bumper towards lions and tigers and bears. "Over there," he said, "Can you see the giraffes?" My head began to spin. Wilderness? Giraffes? Mules?
He pushed the remote again to exit the zoo as we continued up the mountain. The paved road turned into a rutted dirt road with sharp switchbacks that gave the Escalade a run for its money. After a while, the driver slowed down and pointed out the mule barn ahead of us. "Eric (not his real name because I forgot his real name) has your mules all saddled and ready. I'll drive your luggage on up and it will be waiting for you." My eyes were as big as saucers. "Mules? Are we going to some remote encampment? Will there be running water and flushing toilets?" Alan simply smiled and said, "You'll see."
For about an hour we lumbered up the dirt road through the silence of the forest. The gentle rocking of the mule and soothing birdsong began to lull me into a state of peace. Maybe my heart needed to be nestled in the wilderness for a few days. Just not in a tent. Please, God, not in a tent.
Rounding the last switchback, we came upon a mountain encampment dotted with snug wooden cabins and graced with a large log lodge with a lovely wrap-around porch. Wooden rocking chairs were clustered about the porch facing out towards the fine views. We were welcomed by a lady who held out a tray of some sort of fruit juice. "Welcome to Cloud Camp!" she said smiling.
I could have kissed her on the lips. "Cloud Camp" sounded like heaven to me. She lead us up to the lodge so that we could check in and get acquainted with the camp. We were given a list of activities and the times that meals were served. She told us about the sunset flag ceremony/happy hour with passed hor d'oeuvres. Again, HEAVEN.
Following the luggage cart to our very own cabin, I began to sing loudly like Little Orphan Annie. "I think I'm GONNA like it here!"
Because we were still in the middle of Covid (that's an era right...middle of Covid?), at dinner we were seated at massive individual tables that ordinarily sat 10 to 12 guests. At the far end of the rectangular table sat another couple. They were from Dallas. We enjoyed a slow-paced, meal of several courses and plentiful wine. The conversation was relaxing and fun. While each mealtime was lovely, I'll tell you about our favorite part of Cloud Camp in a bit. But first, clothing.
I actually did pretty well in packing for this mystery trip "with mules". The days were Lulu Lemon (not me...I'm more of an Old Navy girl) and the nights were jeans-with-cute-tops. One night upon entering the lodge for dinner, I spied a woman who was undoubtedly also surprised by the destination of her get-away. She stood in a corner with her khaki-pants-sport-coat husband. I did a doubletake. For the evening meal, she had packed a sequined cocktail dress. I wanted to sit with her next to the big hearth and commiserate about the stress of packing for the land of the unknown. "Bring more wine! Pass more hor d'oeurves! We're having a moment here!" We were called to the table before I had time to "bless her heart." I will say that she rocked that dress like a boss as she strode to her seat one of the large camp dining tables.
And now, I'll tell you about our favorite part of each day at camp. At sunset, we gathered on the porch of the lodge that overlooked Colorado Springs and the plains beyond. Drinks and tasty morsels were passed as the sun began to set. We watched as the camp "director", his son and the camp dog climbed the steps to "flagpole hill" which stood between us and the infinite view. Then, music began to float from unseen speakers. It was the same song every night, but sung by different artists.
America the Beautiful. Cloud Camp. You were perfect, mules and all. Alan Lackey, you nailed it.