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Escapades in Aspen

August 6, 2014
Rafting down the Roaring Fork river

Rafting down the Roaring Fork river

When my daughter, Emily, announced she had one week off of work this summer when all kid activities are cancelled due to an annual sailing race, my mind immediately started working. “What will you do?” I asked casually.

“Annabel and I are thinking of going away somewhere”, she answered, referring to a friend she met three years earlier on a summer community service trip to Costa Rica.

Emily is leaving for college this fall. Knowing that this could be an ideal opportunity to spend quality time with her, I blurted out, “Would you and Annabel want to go away with me and Dad? Somewhere we could do some high adventure?”

I held my breath, and within seconds she said, “Yaaaa!” She texted Annabel who responded in kind. And that is how I lured my 18-year-old daughter to come away with us. Yes, we’d be sharing her with a friend, though it seemed the ideal strategy for getting her to travel with us and we happen to be very

That’s us paragliding over the valley!

That’s us paragliding over the valley!

fond of Annabel.

To make the package as attractive as possible, challenging outdoor activities would be key. Planning a trip for 5 days and 4 nights, I researched the Grand Canyon (too hot and crowded) and Utah (Emily spent a summer in Moab so not as new and enticing). Eventually, we decided on Aspen, Colorado, a place that came highly recommended by several of my adventure-seeking, food-loving friends.

Our journey from New York was seamless, with a change of planes in Denver and a 40-minute connecting flight to Aspen. Eight minutes after hopping into the hotel’s free shuttle van, we stepped into the lobby of the Limelight hotel. Just a couple of blocks from the main pedestrian plaza with its bustling shops and restaurants, this welcoming boutique hotel is pet friendly (we didn’t bring ours but the roaming dogs made Emily very happy) and has a pool and two hot tubs, a large lobby bar and restaurant with live music nightly and a great breakfast included – from bagels and lox to pancakes and yogurt.

After checking in, we put on sneakers and headed straight to Four Mountain Sports to rent bicycles for a ride on the Rio Grande Trail. The trail, part paved, part gravel, winds along the Roaring Fork river and after 8 fairly flat miles, we reached our destination, the Woody Creek Tavern, for a hearty lunch of fish

Emily rock climbing.

Emily rock climbing.

tacos and spinach enchiladas. Many cyclists opt to take a taxi back (you can arrange for bike pick up with the bike shop or take a tktk taxi) since the tavern also specializes in fresh lime margaritas. Although my husband, Rich, imbibed, I saved my strength for the return ride along the trail which was more of a long, gentle incline.

Before the jet lag and biking fatigue set in, we had a delicious meal at a French bistro, Brexi – I had trout almondine with blistered haricots verts and figs; Rich had a steak au poivre with parmesan fries.

Our next bout of adventure came with the Aspen Whitewater Rafting company on the Roaring Fork river’s class IV rapids, which included the exhilarating (read: scary) Slaughterhouse rapids – an 8-foot drop that had us all clamoring to paddle hard and stay in the boat. The 40 degree water – the river is fed by melting snow – turned out to be refreshing rather than unbearable thanks to the cozy wetsuits the outfitter provided.

Between the good food, challenging activity and beautiful weather, Emily seemed to be appreciating our time away together. Sure, she went off with Annabel at times and they spent hours in their hotel room watching movies and listening to music. But we’d already shared some good stuff – delicious meals, screams on the river rapids, and a great bike ride.

The following morning, adventure came in the form of something completely new to all of us –

Hiking up to Maroon Bells.

Hiking up to Maroon Bells.

paragliding. We began our day at the Aspen Paragliding office, signed our lives away, literally (We had sign after writing out the following statement: I realize that paragliding is an inherently dangerous sport that may result in injury, paralysis or death to me), and then hopped in a truck with our co-pilots to drive up Ajax mountain to an altitude of 10,900 feet. Alex, the company owner and one of the pilots, explained that we’d be taking off from a trail called “Walshes”, a double black diamond ski slope. Before attaching me to my wings, my co-pilot, Patrick, and I did a test run where I ran for about 10 steps as he ran behind me. “Even if you stop in your tracks, lean forward and keep running”, he said. Once on the slope, I followed his instructions and before I knew it, we were flying high in the valley, over the mountain and town below. With the help of thermals, warm air propelling our rise, we soared like birds and I glared at the mountain peaks in the distance and the valley below. Patrick showed me how to control the wings, and let me maneuver our speed and direction by pulling up or down, left or right, on two handles attached to the ropes. It was breathtaking, and despite having signed my life away, I felt completely safe. After 20 minutes in the air, we landed on a flat grass area 2,000 feet below our take off, running as our feet hit the ground.

Hiking in Aspen is the most common outdoor activity, and one of the more popular hiking areas is Maroon Bells, elevation 9,700 feet. Using Aspen’s free bus system, we rode up to Maroon Bells, where

Ajax Tavern’s truffle parmesan fries.

Ajax Tavern’s truffle parmesan fries.

we savored the views of the lake and the snow-peaked mountains. We continued uphill on a rocky trail to Crater Lake, where the views did not disappoint. We picnicked on the cheese, crackers, hummus, and fruit we brought along, took in the beauty and made our way back down.

In between our activities, we managed to find plenty of great food. We watched the World Cup final match, while inhaling the amazing burgers at J Bar in the Hotel Jerome and sipping some Fat Tire beer. We perused and selected from the impressively intricate cocktail menu at Justice Snowe’s. On the front terrace at Wild Fig, we dined on beet salad, heirloom carrots and a platter of figs and burrata. A visit to Aspen wouldn’t be complete without lunch at Ajax Tavern, right at the base of the gondola. There, we ate the decadent and delectable truffle Parmesan fries, a gourmet version of mac and cheese and raw oysters. Before catching a performance of the band, Carolina Chocolate Drops at Belly Up, a music venue in the center of town, we had an excellent sushi dinner at Kenichi.

On our second to last day, we challenged ourselves further with a half day of rock climbing in

Morning yoga atop Aspen mountain.

Morning yoga atop Aspen mountain.

Independence Pass. We contacted Aspen Expeditions and were picked up by our guide, Zach, and his adorable dog, Mr. Django. Zach brought all the equipment we’d need, including climbing shoes so we set for our half day. He drove us out to Independence Pass where we did four different climbs on the granite rock in an area called Power Line. It was challenging, exhausting and a great time.

We closed our adventure getaway on our final morning with a free all-levels yoga class at the top of Aspen mountain, a few steps from the gondola. About 25 people turned out for the class which took place in the open air facing the mountains. Doing warrior pose facing that majestic view was humbling. It was the perfect ending to an exhilarating and culinary journey, filled with lots of Emily time.

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