Thursday, July 28, 2022

The Great Wide Open 2022 - Bikes & The Black Keys

In early 2020, we texted our friends, the Eybergs, about seeing the Black Keys at Red Rocks. Being one of our favorite bands from their early days to now, we knew they'd jump at the chance to come with us. But as the world shuttered and concerts were cancelled, it wasn't until we were actually on our GWO Tour 2020 that we received the final update: the show would not go on.

Fast forward to 2022 and this time we get the text from our friends in Dillon: "Wanna go see the Black Keys at Red Rocks" in July? Hell to the yes! I think they had already asked and heard from the Eybergs who were also a Hell Yeah. A few panic hours of Lauren and April online, refreshing the ticket window, and the plan was set. The Drop Out Boogie Tour was to be our first stop on the 2022 GWO Tour.

But first home. We stayed at Ryan's parents' place. As I described in the previous post, mom had fallen and broken her hip. Our short stay home was full of visits to the hospital and then long days at the rehab facility. In between were some memorable moments with friends who had thrown a little welcome home gathering and boy did we need all the hugs. We had a good ol' fashioned 4th in the driveway of Ryan's parents, complete with decades old black cats and bottle rockets (no fingers were blown off). We visited the new downtown mall, which was full of people despite the crushing heat. 

When it was time to leave, it was tough. I felt mom was in good and capable hands but she never left my thoughts. Though I tried to have fun, knowing she wasn't, really tugged at my heart. I checked in almost every day to cheer her on and stay in touch with her nurses. My brother Jim and her husband were doing the heavy lifting and I'd eventually return to give them some relief. In between that time, I took to the mountains for some salve.

Prior to the Eybergs arriving in Colorado, we stayed a few days up the hill from Morrison, which is at the entrance of the Red Rocks venue. The little town had a handful of restaurants that we sampled and Bear Creek flowed fast along the town's banks. We spent a few days working in a condo and rode the local Bear Creek trail system after work. Aside from one ride in Omaha before we arrived, these were the first with some elevation and my tender lungs let me know it! The trails were dry and loose, a mix of tech and easy peasy pedaling. An out & back trail, we never completed the whole thing, opting instead to ease our way into riding after being off the bike for so long. There were going to be plenty of long slogs to come. No need to rush it. 

On the evening of the second day, after another ride around Bear Creek, we drove up to Evergreen to see what there was to see. We ate at a nice little outdoor eatery and then took a stroll. I was surprised. It definitely had that summer mountain lake community vibe and I was digging it.

By Wednesday of that week, it was time to check out of the condo and check into camp with the Eybergs, not to far outside of Morrison. Sort of urban camping, with a Home Depot on the distant horizon. But it was close to the music venue and we'd be getting back late. After a comical errand of meeting a mobile locksmith to remove the locked padlock from the bike cable for which we didn't bring they key, then getting groceries and a big lunch, we finally met up with April & Todd. From camp we drove to Red Rocks and parked on the road until Andy & Lauren arrived to pre-game.

The venue was everything I'd imagined; a sloping amphitheater with slabbed cliffs on either side. A zillion stairs took us to the GA section and we sat on a long bench, almost dead center. Better access to the bathroom and the libations up top, I was told. The opening band was pretty good, their wardrobe looking like they robbed a Goodwill prior to. Band of Horses played next and sounded great as well. But the true fun began when Dan Aurbach and Patrick Carney took the stage, with their band, blasting that classic bluesy rock sound. They ripped through all the classics, with barely a break, and added the newest release, Wild Child, to the playlist, even inviting Nathaniel Ratliff out for a tribute song. Towards the end of the set, the full moon gave us an encore as it rose up through low clouds and hung like it was just another one of the crowd, enjoying the show. With a light breeze and views towards Denver and beyond, it was an escape I fully enjoyed.

The next day we headed for the high country. I had booked a place that had two sites next to each other and were only 1.5 hours drive. Though they were next to the South Platte River, the campsite itself was but just a small circle drive with hardly a lick of shade. I think it was mainly used by folks coming to fish who would be on the water all day and not frying like an egg on land. We arrived early and had to wait for the previous campers to clear out. Once we set up camp, and stuffed our faces, we headed for the first ride of the weekend in Buffalo Creek. We'd been there once before and knew it to be full of amazing views and interesting terrain amongst large boulders and pine. The trail head is a memorial to a fallen rider and has everything a mountain biker needs from a bathroom, to drinks and snacks, to a tool station. The ride was toasty by mid afternoon but we didn't care. We were in the mountains riding bikes with friends. Though we were out of cell signal most of the time, I did get a signal at the end of a driveway off the highway. I was able to make calls home to check on mom. It was rough back home and I was going to have to make a decision to go back.

But before I had to make that decision, we had some fun to partake in. The weather stormed each afternoon, cooling the air down. In between Ryan fished and I took hikes along the river with our friends. I don't recommend doing that in sandals on gravely trails! 

Day two was a similar ride in another part of the same trail system with wide open views and fun rock rolls. 

After returning to camp but not yet tired enough to sit around, we headed back up the road to hike an area called Cheeseman Canyon. Ryan brought his Tankara rod as the area boasted miles of gold medal water. The Eybergs were gracious to allow us some fishing time but eventually they wandered to higher ground to see what there was to see. By the time we made it back to the truck, fishless and frazzled, ours was one of the last vehicles in the previously full lot. Like we do, we packed it in with fine people who appreciate what that means.

Day three, we were up early and on the road to the next trailhead. Starting from an area very popular with campers from Denver, we climbed a bit more than previous days and descended some excellent flowy CT terrain with steep rock rolls thrown in here and there. When we got back to the truck, we drove to a second trail head where Ryan opted to drop us and then meet us at the bottom of the descent. T&A and I rode mostly downhill through a burnt-out but beautiful area that had loose, open trails with really cool views. Post ride we found an amazing food truck and a an equally amazing coffee shop across the street. I only planned to get a coffee but the warm blueberry turnover had me on my knees. I took one bite and saved the rest for the morning. It was still glorious.

To wrap up the weekend, we drove up to Cheeseman Reservoir in hopes of dipping into the cold mountain lake to cool off but signs said no human contact allowed so our stay was short-lived. 

Back at camp, my mood was dark. Thoughts of my mom alone in rehab (covid protocols forces patients to stay in their rooms) while I was prancing among the peaks filled my chest with pressure. I knew what I had to do. I asked the Eybergs if I could catch a ride back with them to Omaha, knowing another set of friends could bring me back a few days later. I spent the remaining part of the day trying to catch a trout in the gold medal waters of the South Platte, feeling lighter knowing I would be home soon to do what I could for mom and my family. I finally got a bite but I didn't quite set the hook. The water and my mind went quiet.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

The Great Wide Open Tour 2022 -Intro

By Koconnorc - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

The 2022 installment of the GWO Tour has started off a bit different than in years passed. The tone is a bit less jovial, the excitement overshadowed and the uncertainty of the near future is a new unwelcome companion. 

Starting around mid May I contracted what I thought was for sure Covid-19, with all the coughing and congestion. It was so bad at one point, I had to sleep on the couch so Ryan could get some shut eye. But after a couple home tests and a trip to urgent care (my 88 yr old dad was coming within days) my tests were all negative and seemed to be a case of bronchitis. Fluids and rest meant no bike riding for me. I couldn't even go to the gym for all the coughing. My symptoms started to improve and continued that way during my dad's visit and we had a great time. Ryan, however, begun to battle something similar and it was all we could do to keep Dad from catching it. Soon after Dad left, my ailment returned with a vengeance. A second trip to urgent care forced another Covid test (negative) and a chest X-ray to rule out pneumonia. I received a script for some real meds and I doubled-down on immunity supplements (the kind people take during chemo) and hoped for the best. I felt fine other than the congestion and the constant nasal drip. Forcing all the air out of my lungs, I could hear all the mucus bubbles popping. One could have assumed I smoked a pack a day! Eventually, I made my way back into the gym only a few weeks before heading north. I had been working out since January, having finally committed to a routine for my sport as a New Year's resolution, and I didn't want to lose any more fitness. By the time we left Florida on July 1, we were more or less over the worst of whatever it was but hadn't ridden a single pedal stroke in over two months. We were hoping a change in environment would further assist in our recovery. 

Driving home to Nebraska takes two solid 12-hours days. On the second day, less than two hours from home, I got a call from my brother, Jay, telling me Mom was in the hospital, suffering from a fall. We didn't know the extent of it as she had just been taken by ambulance, and even by the time we arrived, she was being told she didn't have a break. But she was in severe pain and couldn't move her right leg. Another set of x-rays the next day revealed a fracture in her femur and she was to have surgery on July 4. The surgery went great and she was told she'd be up walking in a few days. Well, when you're 82, that's not totally accurate. The reality was mom ended up going to a rehab facility and is still there, three weeks later. I was happy to be home to help with the transition and leaving her was excruciating. My siblings are there and her husband of course but mom's not an easy customer. She didn't like it and was scared, as anyone would be and I felt terrible for heading off to play. It didn't seem fair. Almost three weeks in and it's all hands on deck to get her through this. It's been challenging for all involved and we've only just started. My mom is one of the toughest women I know but age does something to people sometimes that erodes the confidence thought to be impenetrable. Doubt and shame creep in like an unwanted guest. I worry that they're here to stay.

As I write this, I feel a pull towards home. My real home. Not where all my crap is but where all my familial connections lye. I've been back once already since heading west, to help relieve my brothers and step-dad, by hanging out with Mom; trying to make her laugh and forget her situation. Sometimes it works. 

It's weird becoming the caregiver to a parent but also the most natural thing in the world. I love my mom and will do all I can to assure her return to normal. 

My head is in the mountains, but my heart is home.