667 Miles for Oatmeal

I’m not sure if we’re crazy, but we basically just drove 667 miles roundtrip for oatmeal.

I may be grossly oversimplifying the situation. But we did go to Fort Collins, Colorado for a quick weekend getaway in order to stock up on essentials from Trader Joe’s. And it’s the second time we’ve done so this year. But this time, we had a brand new standalone freezer to fill. So, we threw a couple of coolers into the back of the Mazda and headed out Saturday morning, bright and early.

There was no snow and ice to deal with this time, as there had been in March, but the first third of the trip was foggy. By the time we reached Lusk—the first real town of any substance along that stretch of Wyoming—the clouds had broken up. Lusk seems like a charming place, complete with a historic main street and a stagecoach museum. One of these days we’re going to spend a little time there checking it out.

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We reached Fort Collins at 1:00 and naturally, our first stop was Raising Cane’s for chicken fingers. Afterwards, we hit a couple of local liquor stores, stocking up on ciders and sour beers—items that are harder to find in Rapid City. We hit the jackpot and scooped up some Wild Roots vodka from one place. Thanks for the tip, dad!

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Colorado sunflowers.

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Colorado is beautiful, but browner than South Dakota.

Last time we’d picked a motel a few miles from downtown, but we stayed at a Best Western in the university district less than a mile’s walk from Old Town. This was a much better location and it had a pool, so we took advantage and went swimming before heading out for dinner. We enjoyed the Crown Pub so much last time, we went there again. Killed a couple of hours with good food and drinks, then walked back to our motel, stopping by a couple of funky places along the way.

Fort Collins definitely has a Portland vibe, and there was even an event called Tour de Fat in which people dress up in costumes and ride fat-tire bikes downtown. The locals warned it was pretty outlandish, but it was tame by Portland standards. Translation: no naked people.

Sunday morning, we decided to drive up to Estes Park, a mere hour away. It’s the site of the famous Stanley Hotel, Stephen King’s inspiration for The Shining. Absolutely beautiful drive, and its location at 7,500′ in the Rocky Mountains is breathtaking. We grabbed breakfast and Bloody Marys and wandered through an arts festival before heading back. I would have loved to spend more time checking out Estes Park, but we still had to stop by Trader Joe’s in Fort Collins and drive the 5.5 hours back home. Tara and I have decided to book a room at the Stanley for our anniversary next September.

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The road to Estes Park.

Got back to town and loaded up two shopping carts’ worth of stuff from Trader Joe’s. This included seven boxes of steel cut oatmeal, six boxes of bird’s nest vegetable appetizers, four boxes of chile lime chicken burgers, and an assortment of soup dumplings, Chinese buns, ginger soy cod, etc. Not to mention the 14 packages of dark chocolate peanut butter cups, but in all fairness, most of those are going to Tara’s coworkers, who all placed orders with her in advance.

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We came. We saw. We loaded up our carts.

We had one last stop before finally heading home: Ridley’s grocery store, where we purchased half a dozen packages of the Basque chorizo we love so much. It wasn’t until 2:00 before we began the long trek back, arriving home around 7:30. All in all it was a fun, if expensive, getaway—but now we are fully stocked for at least six months.

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Long but uneventful drive back through Wyoming.

Super thankful that today is Labor Day. It gives us a day to recover before heading back to work. We plan to do not a whole lot other than grill ribeye steaks and enjoy Bloody Marys. It’s supposed to hit 91 today, which will ironically make this one of the warmest days of the summer. Fortunately, it’s only a one-day heatwave. Next weekend looks downright cool.

Bring on fall!

Funky F.C.

Tara was supposed to drive to Ely last Friday to take care of house-related business and visit family, but decided to cancel at the last minute when a snowstorm in Wyoming threatened to make the trip treacherous. Because she already had a suitcase packed and was itching to hit the road, she suggested we drive to Colorado instead. We’d been talking about taking a weekend trip to Fort Collins sometime, and decided, what the heck – there was no time like the present! There were two main draws to F.C.:

  • Raising Cane’s
  • Trader Joe’s

If you’re unfamiliar with the former, they are a fast-food chain that serves chicken fingers. Didn’t know chickens had fingers, did ya? I first discovered the place on my road trip in 2011, when I stopped in a Cane’s in Lincoln, Nebraska. I’d only had them a couple of times since – once in Reno and again in Las Vegas – because they haven’t expanded into any of the states where I live yet. Fort Collins would give us an opportunity to satisfy our chicken finger fix.

Trader Joe’s, I’m sure you know. Let’s just say life is hard without a TJ’s in town. It’s probably the one thing I miss most about the PNW. Err…other than family and friends, of course! And while Deb from Fuel recently sent me a care package from Trader Joe’s, it was of course limited to non-perishable items. Kinda hard to send frozen food through the mail! But we had a cooler and figured we could stock up.

I should add, those weren’t the only reasons we decided to make the 333-mile, 5.5-hour drive to Fort Collins. We went seeking adventure and fun and were anxious to visit someplace new. Cane’s and TJ’s were perks. So, Colorado it was!

We hit the road early Saturday morning. It had snowed/sleeted a little bit overnight, so the roads were a little slick – especially the farther south we went, where the snow had been heavier. It was a beautiful drive though, and we passed through small agricultural towns like Lusk and Torrington, where the pace of life is far different than anything I am used to.

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Snow-covered hills near Edgemont, SD

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Main drag in Lusk, WY

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Somewhere in the middle of nowhere, Wyoming

We crossed the Colorado border around 12:30 and made it to Fort Collins about 25 minutes later. Our first impression? Lots of people and traffic! Which is funny, because F.C.’s population is only 165,000. But that’s more than double Rapid City’s, so it felt pretty big to us.

We made the obligatory stop at Raising Cane’s and hit a couple of stores before checking into our motel.

We relaxed for a bit, enjoying a cold beer before heading into Old Town Fort Collins. Our evening plan involved bar-hopping, so we decided to be responsible adults and call an Uber. Old Town Square was about a ten-minute drive from the La Quinta where we were staying, so we had plenty of time to explore.

Fort Collins is a pretty charming town. It’s got a funky Portland vibe and is definitely geared toward hipsters. It was nice to see so many brewpubs and trendy restaurants – and there is lots of public art. Fun fact: Fort Collins was one of two towns that served as the design inspiration for Disneyland’s Main Street U.S.A.

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Downtown Fort Collins

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Old Town Square

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Fountain in Old Town Square

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Brewpubs galore!

The weather was decent but chilly, so we were more than happy to step inside for a reprieve from the cold. The Crown Pub was a great first stop. In fact, we enjoyed it so much, we ended up going back later in the evening for dinner. They made an excellent Tom Collins and our appetizer of fire-roasted shishito peppers was fantastic. Eating them is kind of like playing Russian Roulette though, because – according to Wikipedia –

Whether grilled, charred, or skewered, shishito peppers add a kick of flavor to any dish. Just watch out: While the majority of these small green peppers are mild, about one in 10 is spicy enough to make your eyes water.

I knew this going in and had warned Tara, but she was game. Sure enough, right about the point where I had been lulled into a false sense of complacency and was beginning to think maybe we would get lucky and avoid one of the really spicy ones this time, I bit into a hot one. Naturally, Tara found this amusing.

In any case, we wandered around Old Town for a while longer, stopping into a few other places, but most were so crowded we couldn’t get a seat or it was too noisy to have a decent conversation. This is why there’s a lot to be said for living in a town of 75,000. Tara summed it up best when she posted to Instagram, Kickin’ around Fort Collins (which very much has a PNW vibe) has made me realize two things: I miss this kind of inclusive environment with left leaning ideals and a shit ton of breweries and such, and I absolutely do not miss all the damn people and traffic. It’ll be a nice place to visit and just as nice to leave. 

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Which pretty much sums up F.C. for me, as well. We were back at our motel by 10:00. We grabbed brunch the next morning after checking out of our room and then hit Trader Joe’s to stock up. We filled our cooler with all our favorites – frozen steel cut oatmeal, chicken lime burgers, falafel, Speculoos Cookie Butter, etc. One thing we did not pick up was their famous Two-Buck Chuck; Colorado has weird liquor laws and they aren’t allowed to sell wine or hard alcohol in grocery stores. And yet, they are super liberal with the weed. Go figure.

We pulled out of town around 11:00 and headed for home, but decided to take the slightly longer way, through Nebraska. We were dying to check out Carhenge in Alliance. Think Stonehenge, but replace the rocks with automobiles. It doesn’t get any more kitschy than this, folks! But it was so cool to see.

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Carhenge was the brainchild of Jim Reinders, an Alliance native who developed a fascination for Stonehenge while living in England. Back home in Nebraska in the summer of 1987, he came up with an idea to create a replica of Stonehenge in physical size and placement to serve as a memorial to his father. 39 vehicles were placed to assume the same proportions as Stonehenge and the monument was dedicated on the Summer Solstice in 1987, with champagne, poetry, songs and a play written by the family.

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Reinders’ “Ford Seasons”, comprised only of Fords and inspired by Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, suggests the Nebraska landscape’s seasonal changes as wheat is planted, grows, is harvested, and then the field lies barren during a windy winter. Plus there’s a “covered wagon.” Clever!

runzaFrom Carhenge, it was about another 2.5 hours to home. We stopped at Runza in Chadron for dinner to go, wanting to sample this regional Nebraska delicacy. A runza is a bread pocket stuffed with beef, cabbage, and onions – another culinary treat we can thank German-Russian immigrants for. It was delicious!

Finally, we arrived home around 6:20. Talk about a whirlwind 36-hour trip! It was great fun though, and we were able to stock up on things we have missed out on.

This trip also gave us a newfound appreciation for the place we call home. Rapid City may not have a Raising Cane’s or a Trader Joe’s, and the politics may be a little more red than Colorado’s, but it’s also lacking the busy traffic and throngs of people that make finding a spot in a bar on a Saturday night next to impossible in more bustling metropolises.

It once again proves we are living exactly where we should be.