where my soul craves
Is there a certain kind of scenery you always want to visit? Do the crashing waves of the ocean or the tall buildings and streets of a huge city call your name? For me, it’s dark green trees, deep blue waters, sunshine, and mountains. My soul CRAVES this combination on a regular basis, and a trip to Crested Butte, Colorado satisfies this Midwest girl’s yearning to immerse herself in the wilderness for a few days. I hear people talk about how they think Colorado is overrated, but I think that for a trip within the United States, Colorado is so beautiful and definitely worth your time.
yes to the west!
While I will always say “yes” to a trip to the West (note: I haven’t had this opportunity as many times as I would like), I should say that the reason for this trip was for the support of my dear friend Sami at her wedding. Sami is my adventurous, sassy, courageous, intelligent, mountain lady. We became the best of friends because we both worked as wilderness guides together at an outdoor adventure camp in Texas (that has to be followed by a plug for Camp Eagle). We shared a bungalow together for a summer–one of the ultimate bonding experiences–on top of guiding trips of middle school girls on a backpacking or river trip. At least 90% of our friendship has been long distance, but our friendship is proof that long distance friendships are beautiful and can absolutely develop into something amazing if you put in the work and time! Sami’s wedding was set to be in a little mountain town called Crested Butte, Colorado so obviously I was going to do everything I could to travel to the West to stand by my lady’s side.
The rest of this post has pictures that make me drool, a few stories, some advice about weddings, and some tips about traveling to Crested Butte. If you’re interested, keep on scrolling!
Like most days, especially on days where my schedule is to sit on my bum in the car for hours upon hours, I woke up early to go on a sunrise run. If you follow me on IG, you know I’m obsessed with sunrise runs so it’s probably not surprising this is how I started my trip and journey. I did some last-minute packing which is really just me stuffing as many clothes as I can into a suitcase because I am the queen of overpacking. After the stuffing and zipping, Alan and I spent a bit of time together because he would not be able to go on this trip with me.
Note: Working full-time makes traveling difficult. It doesn’t make traveling impossible, but it creates the need to be strategic. I knew I’d be taking this trip so I started saving up my vacation days for a few months. Alan’s job was a short, one-month commitment which didn’t allow him to take time off. My advice overall: know your schedule and priorities, count up your vacation days since you will always be able to account for how many you’re going to have, and then decide how you will use them. I take advantage of every single day I earn and, to me, it’s absolutely worth it for traveling.
Balling on a budget requires both flexibility and creativity when traveling. Plane tickets are super expensive (no, I have never found the crazy $99 round-trip deals that other people somehow always find but I’m really good at finding tickets for over $400) so usually driving long hours is the most affordable for our family. With good ole ground transportation you always know exactly what you’re going to get… plus you can pack more snacks!
Since I knew I wouldn’t be flying, I had to figure out how to get to Crested Butte. Alan and I share a car, which he would need, so Sami’s family graciously let me tag along with them. They left from Washington, IL and planned to pass through Macon, MO (about 30 minutes from Kirksville!) so I got picked up there. The rest of the day was pretty predictable: driving….and then some more driving. All day. And mostly in Kansas.
We arrived in Woodland, Kansas (my first time in that particular city) around 8:30 p.m. and had a late dinner. There was a Steak ‘n Shake in the parking lot of the hotel so because of the easy access we went there. I ordered a grilled chicken salad and a jr. dark chocolate shake. I never had the grilled chicken salad at Steak ‘n Shake but it wasn’t bad — it had a lot of veggies, chicken, and even some avocado. I rarely order shakes but while at Steak ‘n Shake it seemed appropriate to order a jr for a night cap.
After dinner we checked into the hotel and went straight to bed by 9:30 p.m. It was the earliest I had gone to bed in weeks, and I wasn’t even a little mad about it.
Thursday was super similar to Wednesday except for the fact that we ended up driving through the mountains at the end of the day. We woke up and the drill was easy. Wake up, get breakfast, load into the car, and drive.
I woke up at 5 a.m. because apparently my body decided that is the time it wants the alarm clock to go off everyday. We still had two hours before we were going to leave so I snuck out of the room to get a quick work out finished in the hotel gym. Again, super important to me that I’m able to move on days where I know I will be sitting 90% of the day! I got to refuel on a hotel breakfast (greek yogurt with banana, peanut butter, and some eggs).
I bet you can guess what we did next…
Drove….and drove…and drove some more. The majority of the drive today was through the mountains which was AMAZING. It really beat Kansas. Sami’s siblings are super funny and genuine so it was really awesome getting to spend so much time in the truck with them!
When it felt like we couldn’t drive much longer (and note here that when I saw “we” and “drive” I mean “I” and “sit in the back seat”), we finally arrived! Jacob, Sami’s brother, was MVP and drove the entire way while all of us sat the entire time. I’m well aware that my complaining is petty and that I get super antsy. The last couple hours of the trip were weaving through a bunch of windy roads because Crested Butte is WAY up in the mountains. Though it added length to the trip being in such a secluded city, it added SO much to the scenery! Everywhere you looked there were mountains, trees, and the biggest and most beautiful skies. Unlike when I take a selfie, there just isn’t a bad angle where we were staying. Also, Sami’s family rented a big house that family members and a few friends were going to stay in for the trip, which was prime.
After unpacking and getting settled in, we all chilled for a bit. However, it felt like we had been chilling all day so after getting some dinner, Alan and I had a walk in talk. There was a little walking trail that went all across town so I explored that for a bit. Also, I love walking and talking. To me, it’s the perfect way to keep in touch with people and get your body moving at the same time. Watching the sunset fill the sky also made the walk and talk just that much better.
We all went to bed pretty early because we knew it was going to be a big, eventful weekend!
Cue my body’s natural alarm clock to wake up for an early morning run! This morning’s run was maybe one of my favorites of all time. When I started, the sun was starting to peak over the mountains and it was most beautiful. I didn’t really have a plan when I started running so I was playing it to ear to see where I would end up. When the walking trail ended I kept running on the dirt road and ended up at the edge of the Gunnison National Forest. You guys. I was all eyes on the surrounding beauty. As I was running down the road and looking around I had the thought “I think I could run right on this road every single day.” However that thought was abruptly interrupted when I turned a corner of the road and locked eyes with…..
A COYOTE. So I always had thoughts on if I was “fight or flight” kind of girl, but now that I’ve been in the situation, I officially know that I am a “freeze then flight” lady. Okay, but really guys, when I turned the corner, I looked up and there was a coyote about 30 ft from me and so I froze. We just were staring at each other. Also, making eye contact with animals just kind of freaks me out in general, so this had me ON EDGE. While I was still frozen, my mind was racing to figure out what kind of characteristics coyotes had with a million questions — Were they scared of humans? Do they charge? Would they make a noise? Should I make a noise? It turns out that I didn’t know a single answer to any of the questions I asked myself so that is when the “flight” kicked in and I ran as fast as I could back the other direction.
It turns out that in general, coyotes are scared of humans, just in case you’re ever in a similar situation and need to know. The whole situation made me very alert for the rest of the morning BUT it was still an amazing run and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
After my run and once I was back in the “city” for the cool-down walk, I called Alan to catch up before he left for work for the day. Whenever we are traveling we always make a point to talk on the phone for a little bit, even if it’s just for a few minutes.
After the run was a quick breakfast and shower before the day’s festivities began! We were planning on visiting the camp where Sami works, but we had about an hour before we had to leave so Hannah, Suz, and me (Sami’s bridesmaids) all went on a walk together. Like I mentioned earlier, there is a paved trail that goes all the way through the town so we just walked along there until we got picked up to head to Sami’s camp. Also, apparently Crested Butte is the wildflower capital of the United States so we enjoyed looking at those while we walked!
The bulk of the morning was spent driving to the AEI Base Camp, a remote Christian wilderness camp in the heart of the Rockies that hosts trips to challenge groups physically, emotionally and spiritually. Their wilderness adventure programs include activities like backpacking, rock climbing, whitewater rafting, fly fishing, ziplining, mountain peak ascents, and so many other cool things! Basically, the camp is doing super cool things. Sami and her fiancé at the time but now husband, Jake, both work there as guides.
In general, it’s really cool to visit the place where a friend works. You hear them talk about the place, the people, and the things they do so much that it’s really cool to get to connect the dots when you visit. I think if any of you get the chance to see a friend’s workplace, you absolutely should! Do it and you’ll get why.
Also, the coolest part about this was that I finally got to see Sami! Do you guys have a “reunited with a best pal?” kind of ritual? Like a “scream and run towards each other and squeeze each other until your head might pop off” kind of thing? Because Sami and I have a mostly long-distance friendship, we have locked in our reunited routine and today wasn’t any different than the other times. We hadn’t seen each other in a couple of months so the screams were louder than normal. It was heart-filling. Also, we don’t always get a couple of days together so I was really looking forward to an extended period of time with my lady.
So AEI Base Camp was super remote, about an hour and a half from Crested Butte, but the drive was amazing. We passed several rivers and reservoirs which looked like so much fun to swim in! Also, we totally packed swim suits for the trip so that we could swim while we were there, but it actually wasn’t hot at all. Most of the time the temperature during the day was in the 60’s and in the 40’s at night. We totally didn’t know the water temperature was going to be so chilly so we scratched that one off the list.
After visiting AEI Base Camp, we grabbed lunch at Brick Oven Pizzeria and Pub. People got burgers, pizza, and I enjoyed this chicken, guacamole, and bacon sammie. I also got sweet potato waffle friends because I always order sweet potato fries when they are on the menu because they’re my favorite. This lunch was for sure switching it up from my normal grilled chicken and veggies that I take to work every day, but it rocked my world in all the best ways.
After lunch, it was time for Sami’s bachelorette festivities to begin! I won’t say too much about her bachelorette party because bach parties are secret (are they?) and I don’t want to spill the beans. Isn’t supposed to be “what happens at a bachelorette party stays at a bachelorette party?” — I’ve been to a couple now and I still don’t know.
What I will tell you is that Sami and I are soul sisters and had the same idea on how to celebrate her in a soul-filling way. The four of us loaded into her Jeep, made a pit stop for some ciders, and took off for the mountains. We attempted to go to Elder Lake, a beautiful blue lake way up in the mountains in Gunnison National Forest. We drove a couple miles up into the forest and straight up off-roaded to get up there. BUT, we ended up getting to a road closure sign.
The fact that the road was closed because of snow really blew my mind, probably because I was so used to the 90 degree heat in Missouri. Just to double check the sign was actually accurate we asked the worker how long the road was going to be closed to which he responded, “I don’t know, until the snow melts” …….. sassy. We could have hiked the rest of the way, but we weren’t in a “hike through the snow in our coaches” mood so we popped a u-turn and changed our plans.
We set our sights on a new destination, Judd Falls. We still off-roaded to get there, which was an adventure in of itself. We parked the car and still had to hike a bit to get to the end destination, which was a huge waterfall. We spent a bit celebrating the bride-to-be and giving her a big cheers the best way we knew how. It was glorious.
Also, because I don’t know where else to write this but because it absolutely needs to be said, we saw a guy riding his MOPED through the back roads of the mountain. You guys, A MOPED. These roads were bumpy, rocky, and fit for 4-wheel drive so we all did double takes when we passed the only other vehicle in the Forest, which was the moped. We actually stopped just to tell him what he was doing was awesome. We also asked if he knew who Macklemore was to which he responded “no” but we still told him he needed to listen to the song “Downtown” by him anyway. I hope he did.
Anyway, after spending the afternoon in the wilderness, we met up with some more of Sami’s friends and continued the celebration with our favorite, mexican food and margs. We had dinner at Bonez Tequila Bar and Grill. Dinner was awesome. I don’t know if it’s because I’m so used to the small town Mexican restaurants, but this place was top notch. I split the chicken fajitas with Hannah and it was perfect. The grilled fajitas had grilled onion & bell peppers, pico-de-gallo, pickled jalapeños, cheese, crema and of course, chicken. Also, I can go ham on chips and salsa, and this place had super spicy salsa which was perfection. And of course, throw on some margs and tequila shots and you’re all set. However, I was DD for the night so I just enjoyed my fajitas, chips, and salsa with a Diet. Coke.
Again, I won’t say much else about the night except that there was giant ice cream cookies, games, gifts, and spending the night in a hostel. We all sure loved getting to celebrate Sami!
Sometimes when I travel I sleep terrible, which was exactly the case here. I woke up so many times throughout the night and then woke up at 6 a.m. It’s like clock work every time! Since I was awake, I snuck out of the room and started the day with a run on the Crested Butte Recreation Trail through the mountains near downtown Crested Butte. You guys, I can’t get over it. It’s just so different than the cornfields I normally run through! Anyway, I started the day with a slow 5 miles (the altitude is real!) and then walked around downtown while everyone else slept. Alan had to work early that day so I also got to talk to him on the phone for a bit!
After my run and shower, everyone else woke up. Once packed, we needed to do one more thing before heading back home… get donuts. We stopped by Niky’s Mini Donuts to pick up some donuts to enjoy with some coffee. They had a bunch of crazy flavors, but I picked chocolate coconut and maple glazed. I also had a really hard time discerning if I liked this place so much because it was donuts or because the donuts were mini. (I have an obsession with miniature things… I can’t explain it better except for that fact that I love food more when it’s bite-sized, small, mini, sliced, etc.)
We ate our donuts and then went back to the family house to actually fuel up on real breakfast (eggs, meat, and fruit). Once fueled, we spent the next couple of hours doing wedding tasks like making favors, organizing stuff, arranging flowers, packing, etc.
My favorite bridesmaid duty was getting to walk Scout, Sami’s dog! I love walks and Scout so it was so fun getting to walk her through the mountains.
Finding healthy meals while traveling can sometimes be difficult if you don’t make all your food like normal, but you can still choose healthy options! You might just have to be a little creative. Anyway, I had a random lunch/snack plate later in the afternoon which had fruits, veggies, and some deli meat.
After the afternoon of wedding tasks, I had a little bit of time to chill before heading to the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner. The rehearsal was at the venue, which you could actually see from the house we were staying in! It was the shortest commute to a wedding I’ve ever had as it only took two minutes to get there. Wedding rehearsals are pretty standard so we spent about 30 minutes doing that before heading off to the rehearsal dinner.
The rehearsal dinner was at a park in Crested Butte. The Brenner family rented a big pavilion and brought in a bunch of yummy food for the evening. It was pretty chill without any planned activities so we spent the evening talking, evening, and having a good time!
I actually really loved the food. There were HUGE bowls of salad with berries and nuts, plates of meats and cheeses, crackers, fruits, veggies — seriously so good. There was also a bunch of pizza. Anyway, the food was great. It really distracted me from the fact that it was FREEZING. I stood a lot of the night huddled around a heater because my pants and 2 layers weren’t warm enough. However, you can really get to know some people well if you spend long enough standing next to an outdoor heater with them. Seriously.
Also, I’ve decided there really is no such thing as too many pictures in front of some mountains with a best friend….
After hanging out at the rehearsal dinner for the night, we left because we still had to finish some wedding things before the big day, which happened to be the next morning.
Picture this: There’s a small room in the basement of a house in the mountains filled with 4 bridesmaids, a bride, two brothers, and a sister’s fiancé. Surrounding all of the people are buckets and buckets of flowers, specifically sunflowers, greenery, and an assortment of others. Squeezed in between the buckets are mason jars, vases, empty trashcans of water, and the occasional pair of scissors. It was like a chaotic garden, and it was amazing. We spent the next few hours arranging, cutting, and taping together bouquets, boutonnieres, and centerpieces. Our little flower arranging team was getting so much experience for the next wedding!
Once it hit midnight and the flowers were prepared, we all tapped out. Sami and us bridesmaids spent some time together laying down, talking and praying before calling it a night. It was super late by that point, but we were all so content and filled with an incredible amount of love through the community and opportunities the Lord was revealing in many ways. Praying together, with thanksgiving, was such a special way to end the evening.
It was my last full day in Colorado so I woke up with intention of going on a prayer walk/run BUT it was super rainy outside and I am not a run in the rain girl. So I passed on the run but not the prayer. I sat in bed and read scripture and got some solid prayer time in before the craziness of the wedding day began.
Also, I felt so thankful because I got to spend the early hours of the morning with the bride-to-be. We shared a bed for the weekend and when she eventually we woke up, we got to spend time in scripture and prayer together, which was such a special treat.
I also made her open her wedding present because I wanted her to open it when I was around, which was only going to be for the rest of the day. Alan and I ordered them a custom cross stitch of their new family as their gift. We thought this was perfect because since they are both wilderness guides, have a tiny home, and travel a ton, this gift would be easy to pack and hang up wherever they are! It couldn’t have been more perfect. Nicole from NorthernBuble did an incredible job!
From that point on, the morning and the rest of the day FLEW by. I’ve have the privilege of being in several weddings to have a few pieces of advice for things to do before the ceremony on a wedding day:
- Soak it all up. Look up constantly, talk and laugh with the bride and bridesmaids as much as you can, and try to take mental snapshots of the day.
- Look for ways to serve. Ask the parents how you can help, help the others get ready, watch the bride get ready, grab water or snacks for everyone, and be totally willing to step in whenever someone might need something.
- Take a picture with the bride. If you’re impatient like me, you will want to take a picture of you and the bride on your phone because you won’t get the professional pictures for a few weeks. Ask a friend to take it BUT don’t post it to social media until after the ceremony!
- Eat before the ceremony. There’s usually a long gap of time in between when the ceremony begins, ceremony happens, reception starts, and then when dinner is served. Eat snacks last-minute before the ceremony so you don’t get hangry and can enjoy everything as much as possible.
- Pray often. Pray with thankfulness throughout the whole day. Pray for how the Lord works, what He is doing, and what He plans to do. Pray by yourself, with the wedding party, and with the bride.
- Laugh and have fun. This day is so special and staying chill, having fun, and laughing often will make it that much more rememberable for the bride and her family. While they probably won’t remember too much as the years go on, they will remember the people there and how they felt.
After a quick breakfast, we spent the remainder of the rainy morning setting up all of the decorations at the ceremony and reception locations. The sky was dropping buckets of water all morning and the forecast for the remainder of the day was thunderstorms. This did not saw Sami’s dream of getting married in the flower garden of the mountains so we continued to set up decorations outside in hope that the rain would pass or at least let up for a little bit by the ceremony start time. After setting up decorations, we proceeded with getting ready!
We spent the later morning getting ready, curling hair, and taking pictures. The vibe was chill which was super rare for a wedding day. It rained throughout all of the pictures, but they still turned out INCREDIBLE. It was actually pretty fun taking pictures in the rain!
Erika Taphorn took all of the pictures and she actually killed it. Even if you don’t know Sami or Erika, do yourself a favor and look how beautiful these pictures are.
Basically, it was pretty rainy all day. However, the rain let up and the sunshine peeked out for the ceremony, which was totally amazing. The ceremony happened in the garden and it was filled with beauty and the Lord’s goodness.
Following the ceremony was a reception that rocked my world. The reception was filled with country music (George Straight, Chris Young, Randy Travis, etc.) and a southern two-stepping style of dancing. I can’t even describe how much fun it was. There was no pop music, no Top 50’s, or anything like that. As someone who grew up in suburban St. Louis, I had absolutely no experience with this kind of dancing except for a summer in Texas when I went to a two-stepping night one time. I sent Alan some videos and he said he would teach me ASAP, so I’m looking forward to that.
Anyway, other than the dancing, the reception was great. There was a taco truck (yes, you read that right…. a TACO TRUCK) so everyone could make their own tacos. This was paired with a chips, salsa, queso and guacamole bar. And just when I thought it was the most perfect reception food, there was a homemade ice cream cart from a little shop in Crested Butte. I had 3 cones because I wanted to try everything. You guys, the food was incredible and my favorite reception meal to date.
Other than the food and dancing, which are just a small part of the day, the time spent celebrating the bride and groom was lovely. Wedding days are so beautiful and fun, and this day was no exception. Sami was stunning, the mountains were breath-taking, and the Lord moved in big ways.
MAN. I’m looking at these pictures and remembering the day, and my heart is still so full. To wrap this massive post up, I have one more story, which is the story of me getting home, which was almost a huge mess. So I drove out to Colorado with Sami’s family with the intention of flying back to Kirksville. I bought a plane ticket from Denver to Kirksville for the day after the wedding. Well, Denver is 5 hours from Crested Butte and I thought I would be able to find someone driving to Denver to fly out. Well it turns out there wasn’t a single person making the trip to Denver so I looked in to other ways to get there but couldn’t find ANYTHING. Not a single method of public or private transportation (bus, rental car, train, etc.) would get me to Denver on time for less than $600. I realized this the week of the wedding and Sami’s family offered to drive me home, which was great. However, when we got to Colorado they said they weren’t going to be back home until Wednesday night, which would require me taking two more vacation days from work, which I couldn’t do. Again, starting to freak out UNTIL someone mentioned that the photographers who were driving from Washington, IL to Crested Butte, CO would be driving back in time to work on Tuesday morning, which is exactly what I needed. The photographers committed to letting me make the 18 hour trek with them before they even met me! YOU GUYS, people are amazing. People are good, kind, and helpful. Seriously.
All of this to say, right after the wedding ended, I hopped in the car with Erika and Drew Taphorn and we made the drive back to the Midwest. I heard their incredible story, got a sneak peek of the wedding pictures (which are now posted!), and made it back to Kirksville to work on Tuesday morning.
That’s a wrap! Well, I have just a couple of more final thoughts and things I learned from this trip and then this super long blog post will be tied up with a ribbon and ended.
- Serve and love as best as you can at a wedding. Look around for ways to serve the family, friends, and anyone who might need it. Love the people there so well, especially because chances are you’re not around them very often. Celebrate all of the little things and make it the most special for the bride and groom.
- Travel to celebrate your friends. It’s always going to be worth it to visit your friends and celebrate with them. Whether it’s a “smaller” accomplishment like getting a new job or making a big decision, or a “bigger” celebration like marriage or graduation, you probably won’t regret getting to be excited and joyous with your pal. It will probably not only mean a lot to them, but to you.
- Get creative to make it work. Sometimes making it work isn’t always going to be the most convenient for you. You might need to ride with a stranger, wake up early, or get creative to figure things out.
- Embrace the tired. These kind of trips might not be the most restful, but that’s okay! Wake up early to go on runs in the mountains, stay up late to pray with your friends, and soak up all the experiences you can. Your body will be fine with a couple of days of out of the norm.
- Take pictures. Snap pictures of the things you people, the food you eat, and the people you’re with. It’s so cool getting to look back and remember the feelings of your trip. You will also be able to make a list of recommendations in case people ask you advice for their future trips!
- Love the community you’re a part of. When I went into this trip, I didn’t know many people. I really only knew Sami, her fiancé, and then I had met her family before but never extensively hung out. By the end of the weekend, I really felt so cared and loved for. Sami’s family and friends loved me so well, and it felt like I had known them forever. It’s up to you to be vulnerable, be open, and let yourself be loved by others. It will be worth it and you might make some good friends because of it.
- Say thank you often. Thank the hosts, the drivers, the chefs, the dance partners, the hair stylists, the walking buddies, and anyone else who played a role in your trip. Thank anyone and everyone often.
- Save up your vacation days. If you’re in an office job that requires you to use vacation days, start saving early! It will be a huge bummer if you won’t be able to make a trip work because you didn’t save enough days.
I write these little mini travel guides as a reference fro myself and so that others are to be able to use them as recommendations for the future. I realize some things in this post are super specific to weddings and friends, but I hope it can still be somewhat helpful! Do you guys have any mini guides to share? Any places you think would be great to visit?