Preface

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.”
John Muir, The Mountains of California

Shailesh and Me

Shailesh and Me

 

 

The world is full of hate and discontent. Racial tension is running rampant throughout America. ISIS is trying to spread its hateful message through unspeakable violence. And, even homegrown terrorists, right here at our own front door, are shooting innocent people in a bible study group and burning down churches simply because of a difference in skin color. In my opinion, hatred is the byproduct of stupidity. When our field of vision is limited, when our knowledge of the world and life is miniscule, hatred can become something that controls us.

This story isn’t about hate, racism, skin color or religion. This story is about how a man from America and a man from India take an amazing journey into the mountains of Colorado and learn a lot about each other along the way.

 

 

Background

I am the owner of a Law Enforcement software company. It’s a complicated business, and my small business has grown enough that I can no longer do it all alone. There’s software design, web design, customer support and more that necessitate the use of outside resources to make sure that everything goes smoothly.

Enter VATSA and Shailesh. In summary, Shailesh is an outstanding computer programmer who can accomplish complex tasks in very little time. After having worked with Shailesh for a few years, we decided that Shailesh needed to come to the United States so that he and I could discuss business tasks in person and so that he could gain some insight into the necessity of the software that we work on.

Workation

As I began to plan Shailesh’ trip to the United States, I realized that he had never been to the U.S. and that this could possibly be his only trip to the United States. As I began to envision his visit, I imagined him flying more than twenty-five hours on a plane from India, so that he could experience rural Iowa. On his return to India he would surely say that America is filled with corn and cows and people who wear pajamas to a place called Wal-Mart. Then……I got an idea. An idea that would make this trip count. And…would promise to be an experience of a lifetime for both of us.

A Trip to the Rocky Mountains??

To me, though there is much of America that I have yet to see, the mountains have always tugged at my heart-strings as being one of the most beautiful places in the United States. Majestic, awe-inspiring….beautiful. I still remember my first trip to the mountains with my uncle Robert when I was around 11 years old. Even then, I knew that I would have a lifelong love affair with the mountains and it’s snow-capped peaks, rugged rocky outcrops and fast-moving rocky rivers. So, it only seems fitting. An awe inspiring trip to the mountains seemed to be the best way to show a visitor from far away exactly how beautiful America can be. It was settled. And, after about a week’s worth of planning, the trip began to come alive.

A long flight for Shailesh

Shailesh would begin his journey from Pune India by traveling to Mumbai, where he would take a series of flights that would allow him to arrive in Omaha Nebraska 28 hours later. The flights went well and on Sunday July 5th 2015, I found myself waiting at the airport terminal for a man from India that I had never met in person. With each moment my excitement grew as I knew that this would be the start to an adventure. After waiting for about 30 minutes, I see Shailesh walking towards me wearing blue jeans and a button down shirt and carrying a back pack and small piece of luggage. ‘Shailesh?’ I asked and I was answered with an affirmative “Bob!”. We shook hands and headed downstairs to get his luggage. After that, a short trip to my house, where he was introduced to my daughter Bella and ‘Gimpo’ the cat. My wife was working on our arrival, so she would not meet Shailesh until lunch the next day. I showed Shailesh to his room and we ended the day with some talk and supper.

First time away from family

For Shailesh, the trip to America would bring a lot of first time events. Shailesh had, of course, never been to America and had never flown on a plane. These two things alone, he admitted, were a little frightening. He also had never been away from his wife (Shital  {pronounced Sheet-ahl}) and three year old child (Rugved  {pronounced roog-vaid}) for more than a very short time. This would prove to be difficult for not only him, but his wife as well.  One thing I have learned in traveling with Shailesh is that family and friends are more closely connected in India and breaking those ties with time and distance can be a painful event for everyone involved. I also learned that Shailesh normally spoke to his mother (Anjala {pronounced Angela}) every day. For the first few days of our trip he was unable to speak to her. However, with the power of Skype, eventually arrangements were made so that they could speak together and even see each other, which obviously made Shailesh rest easier. For the remainder of our trip, as internet would allow, Shailesh would Skype with his wife, son and mother each day, updating them about where we were at and where we would go next. This was always the happiest time of the day for Shailesh.

Day 1. Colorado bound

Just like in the movie ‘Smokey and the Bandit’, we had a long way to go and a short time to get there and there was only one day and two nights of rest for Shailesh before we began our journey to Colorado and the great Rocky Mountains. So, on Tuesday morning at around 6am, we started our journey in a Dodge Ram full of camping gear. The journey began like any vacation would, with excitement in the air as we drove onto the interstate and began our trip westward. Nothing could stop us now!!! Well, nothing except for the fact that in all of my painstaking diligence to make sure that I had all of the gear that we needed for the one or two nights of camping that we would do on our trip, I forgot one important thing……my laptop. Since this would be a trip where we would work together on different software related tasks, I might be needing this. So, I turned around, drove back home, retrieved the laptop and once again, about 25 minutes later, our journey was under way.

The drive across Nebraska was beautiful and filled with rolling hills and majestic beauty everywhere. OK, let’s not sugar coat this. The drive across Nebraska is flat, uneventful and normally, you just can’t wait to get to the other side. I can’t imagine what was going through Shailesh’ mind as we crossed Nebraska. Maybe to him, it was beautiful. Or, maybe he was wondering why he traveled so far just to see 1,316 corn fields. Me, I just wanted to get through Nebraska and into Colorado where eventually, I thought, we would begin to see the beckoning outline of the Rocky Mountains.

Welcome to Colorado

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Eventually, even a drive through Nebraska, with all of its grandeur, must come to an end. And finally, it did. When we reached the Colorado border we stopped for our first picture together. Now, I was excited. I knew that soon Shailesh would be seeing beautiful mountain views and enjoying experiences  that would forever be imprinted in his mind.

As we drove deeper into Colorado, I kept looking for that moment when you first see the mountains in the faraway distance. At first, you are not sure if it’s just the clouds or if it really is the outline of the mountains. Oddly enough, that time never came. As I was driving towards Aurora Colorado to meet with the Aurora Police Department K9 Unit, who are one of our customers, I heard the radio DJ talking about smoke haze coming in from a forest fire in Canada. So, the first part of our trip would contain a much diminished collection of mountain views until the smoke haze lifted on about day number three of our trip.

Once we arrived in Aurora, we located the Aurora Police Substation where a few members of the K9 team were waiting for us. Here, for the first time, Shailesh was able to meet some of the users that use the software that he works on each day. The officers were nice and the meeting was just basically aimed at making sure that the software was working well for the unit and to answer any questions that they had about the software. After meeting with the unit, we headed to our destination at the Embassy Suites hotel in Colorado Springs.

An Indian meal In Aurora

After leaving Aurora, both Shailesh and I were so hungry that our stomachs were in danger of eating themselves. So much so that Shailesh actually got a headache from being too hungry. So….where to eat?? Now, keep in mind that Shailesh does not eat beef or pork and so, meals have to be well thought out. Today, we decided to try to look for a restaurant serving Indian Cuisine. And, in doing so, I located the Star of India in Aurora. Here, Shailesh ordered our meal and in the end even paid for it. He enjoyed sharing a piece of his homeland, and I enjoyed trying something new. See the picture below of the Matar Paneer that calmed our stomachs and gave me some insight into Shailesh’ world.

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Matar Paneer and naan from our meal at the Star of India in Aurora Colorado.

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A painting depicting an Indian wedding.

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Star of India restaurant Aurora Colorado.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 2. Colorado Springs and the Garden of the Gods

Next, it was off to our hotel in Colorado Springs. When we first arrived in Colorado Springs, the smokey forest fire haze prevented us from seeing much of the spectacular mountain views that are available there. So, we relaxed and recovered the first evening. The next day was a full work day in the hotel and then afterwards we headed off to the Garden of the Gods, which was only about 6 or so miles away. Im’ pretty sure that the drive to the Garden of the Gods was just as beautiful as the park itself.

Our first hotel stop where we would spend two nights.

Our first hotel stop where we would spend two nights.

 

The Garden of the Gods was, at one time owned by a single man named Charles Perkins. When he passed away,his children honored his wishes to make the land public and it was donated to the city of Colorado Springs. Natural red rock formations make this park an awe-inspiring and beautiful place to be. It was a great experience for both of us.

The park is open to the public and is filled with well manicured walking paths that take you all around the park so that you can completely consume all of the memory in your phone or camera with photos that appear to have been taken by an expert photographer. Of course, when the beauty is this unmistakable, it’s rather difficult to actually take a bad photo.

As you walk through the park, you sort of lose your words. You walk and you look and you simply cannot come up with any words that really describe the beauty that you see. So, mostly silent, except for an occasional ‘wow’ or ‘Holy cow’, you walk through the park, with only reverence and pure awe filling your mind, but never quite making it to your mouth.

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 Day 3. Pikes Peak and Mueller’s State Park

Driving from Colorado Springs to Pikes Peak took us from around 6000 Feet to more than 14,000 feet. Making a journey like this is sure to be full of winding mountain roads and amazing mountain views. And, this journey was no exception. The entire trip took us a couple of hours with tight turns and roads that overlooked cliffs with very little room for driving error.  As the driver, you definitely need to keep your head in the game and simply ignore the fact that you are missing some of the most beautiful views of your life, while trying not to drive off a cliff.

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Looking down from Pikes Peak, well above the clouds.

Once we reached the top, and stepped from the truck, we could immediately feel the drastic change in the availability of oxygen. Breathing, at this altitude becomes more, well, deliberate. I would definitely not recommend this visit for someone who has any difficulty breathing at normal altitudes. At any rate, we walked around the top of the peak and took in the views and again, were in awe of the mountains in all of their beauty, danger and glory.

There’s something almost heavenly about looking down at clouds. It’s a view that simply does not seem possible and yet something everyone should see. Here, at Pikes Peak, the view is far different that the view you might see from an airplane. You can actually see the clouds rolling across the top of the peak. And, unlike the view from a plane, you can enjoy the view in a semi static state for extended periods of time, if you want.

As we were walking around the peak, it began snowing, Not all that strange to me seeing as we were so high up in the mountains. However, for Shailesh, this was the first time he had experienced snowfall. I started to worry just a little that enough snow would fall that we would be in danger of sliding off the road on our way back down the mountain. However, as quickly as the snow began, it slowed down to a stop. And, after getting our fill of mountain top views at Pikes Peak, we began the hour-long decent back down to the elevation of mere mortals.

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Winding mountain roads with tight hairpin turns take you to the top of Pikes Peak.

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Mueller’s State Park

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Our campsite at Mueller’s State Park

Around supper time we arrived at Mueller’s State Park near Divide. We knew, by the sound of thunder in the distance, that we had to get our campsite setup quickly and get some supper going. Ours was a walk-in site (which I recommend if you are tent camping here) so after several trips back to the truck, we were able to get our site setup and dinner was officially on the stove.

For dinner we had skillet chicken covered in Indian style spices, spicy shrimp and fried potatoes. It wasn’t perfect, but it most certainly hit the spot. After supper we took a walk through our part of the park looking at the various campers and campsites.

About bedtime, the rain began falling on our campground. Slowly at first, but then steadily heavier. I’m not exactly sure how long it rained because at some point I drifted into sleep until morning. And, like most tent camping I’ve done in my life, I was awakened by a pair of very loud birds that had no idea that it was only 5:30 am Iowa time. I did file an official complaint with the Park Rangers and truly hope that those unruly birds get whats coming to them…

After a good breakfast, we packed up our campsite and prepared for our trip to the Best Western hotel in Dillon. If you are looking for a nice campground with all of the necessary amenities, take a look at Mueller’s State Park and you won’t be disappointed. The park is well manicured and is buried in wonderful smelling Aspen and Pine trees. But, I highly recommend making an online reservation or you might not have a spot.

This was Shailesh’ first time camping and definitely his first time camping in the mountains.

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Day 4. The best drive ever

From Mueller’s State Park, I set the GPS towards Dillon, and we began our trip north, as shown on the map below. I’ve never traveled this route, and had no idea what the two-hour drive would be like. It started out innocent enough, but as we drove we encountered one amazing view after another. In fact, at one point in this drive you find yourself on a flat the goes for several miles where you are completely surrounded by beautiful mountain views in a directions. If it’s true that the journey is the destination, then I think this was my destination.

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As we were driving along I told Shailesh, ‘This is why I love Colorado‘. I imagined building a house somewhere along this flat, mountain plateau and wondered if you would ever tire of the view. Somehow….I don’t think so.

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This drive reminded me of Psalm 46:10. ‘Be still and know that I am God’. Argue as you may, I have a hard time believing that beauty like that was an accident. And when making this drive, it’s pretty hard to be anything but still as you gaze, in awe, at the beauty unfolding in front of you.

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As we drove along, trying to catch all of the beautiful views, I noticed a group of vehicles parked along the side of the road and began looking to see what all of the stink was about. Then….I saw the sign that read ‘Continental Divide’. Immediately I gave a yelp and jerked the truck to the side of the road, telling Shailesh that we had to get a picture here. I explained what the continental divide was and then we took turns snapping photos of each other by the iconic sign. Another first for Shailesh.

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After a beautiful 2-3 hour drive north, we arrived in Dillon. I explained to Shailesh that my dad had, at one time, lived in Dillon. As we reached our hotel (Best Western), which was right on Lake Dillon, we both agreed that we would have had a hard time leaving here. The mountains and the lake, together, seemed to sing a song that was somewhere in between a lullaby and a full fledged Symphony masterpiece. The view grabs you, like a mistress, and promises to hold you until you’ve once again found your peace.

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Lake Dillon in Dillon Colorado near our hotel.

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While we were in Dillon, we took in the view from the boat dock that was near our hotel and I took a long  run along the lakes bike trail. Here, our hotel was nice, our meals were good and there were no timelines. We simply enjoyed being at Lake Dillon.

Day 5. Last Day of our trip, Glenwood Springs Co

The last leg of our journey took us west from Dillon, through the Glenwood Canyon and into Glenwood Springs. There was no specific sights that I wanted to see here. The plan was just to drive through the canyon, spend a day in Glenwood Springs and then have the final experience of driving completely through the mountains on our return trip home.

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While we were in Glenwood Springs, we visited their beautiful downtown area and ate at Juicy Lucy’s Steakhouse where we had fish and chips. As we finished our meal a pretty hefty storm blew in and the rains were reminiscent of a monsoon somewhere in the Caribbean.  So, we hunkered down for a bit, until it was over, and then headed to our hotel. After a relaxing day spent in Glenwood Springs, it was time to begin the trip home.

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 Day 6. Driving back to Iowa

Sunday brought a mixed feeling of homesickness and sadness. At last, the amazing journey had to begin to come to an end. We began our drive through the canyon, up the mountain to Dillon, through the Eisenhower tunnel and then started the decent back to Denver.

Driving back to Denver, I went over the trip that we had just taken in my mind. And, feeling satisfied that we had just lived an adventure, I smiled to myself, knowing that I could not wait until the next time I would have the opportunity to breathe in the mountain’s air and views.

As we passed through Nebraska, we agreed to stop and take a look at the ‘Archway’ monument near Kearney Nebraska. Personally, I’ve passed by (or under) the Archway several times and it always seems that we’re in such a hurry that we can never actually stop. Today, we decided to take the time to stop and see what the Archway was all about.

A well put together headset based story tour of sorts, the Archway tells the stories of the pioneers that crossed the plains. This place is a lot bigger than it seems from the outside and will take you nearly an hour to walk through and listen to each of the stories. Entry into the Archway is, of course, not free and you can expect to pay between $6.00 and $12.00 for anyone over the age of five (5 and under are free).

 

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Eventually, all good things have to come to an end. And so it was no different with our Colorado adventure. The remainder of the drive was without incident, and of course ‘super exciting’ as is every trip across Nebraska. Shailesh and I both agreed that the trip was a success and truly a once in a lifetime journey for both of us. And, not only did we have a plethora of memories, we also gained a better understanding of each other and our individual cultures.

Journey’s end

On Wednesday July 15th, Shailesh boarded the plane back to India where he could not wait to tell his story to his family and friends. A story about two people from completely different parts of the earth that took a trip of a lifetime into the mountains of Colorado. He expressed to me that because so few of his friends and family had not been to the United States, that everyone would be excited and anxious to hear every detail of his trip.

Me. I’m just thankful that I had this amazing opportunity. Any opportunity to visit the mountains is, to me, amazing. However, this visit was so much better than normal, because it was shared with a guest who was visiting America from someplace far, far away.

So…feeling like you need your batteries recharged?? Maybe you should grab a friend and drive in whatever direction takes you to the beautiful Rocky Mountains. Somehow, I think you’ll find that your inner peace is waiting there for you to reclaim it. Just remember, when you find yourself on a peak, looking down at the clouds and feeling just a bit closer to your creator….don’t forget to take a second and just breathe.