Our little teardrop

Last November we made a big purchase and moved from tent camping to a teardrop trailer! This has really changed the game for the Riffee fam.

We had been thinking about upgrading from our tent camping lifestyle for a while, but could not decide what would work best for us. We were torn between a rooftop tent, pull behind trailer, camper van or (to be honest) everything in between. Whatever we decided, we knew we had to be totally sure. Things like this are not exactly cheap investments.

it was fate

One night I was scouring Facebook marketplace looking for a gently used camper , and having no luck. I had even been searching for listings all over the U.S., thinking if we found the right one we could just make it a road trip and pick it up. Even with the expanded search, these things were selling as soon as they were listed. It was still 2020 after all, and many folks had the same idea during the pandemic. Let’s get out into nature! I was feeling pretty defeated, when I came across this adorable red teardrop trailer listed for a reasonable price.

I messaged right away expecting the trailer to be gone already. We received a quick reply stating it was available, and that they were located in Kingdom City, Missouri (so close to where we’re from)! This had to be a sign!

sold

We set up a call for the next day, and I learned this wasn’t the only camper they had available. It was a company called Hyk Outdoors (pronounced Hike) that focused on building and selling teardrop trailers. The camper I found was one they had rented for folks as “try before you buy”. After a great conversation he offered to sell us the same model only brand new for a very affordable price. Uhhh, yes please!

After a few weeks our little teardrop was ready to be brought home! Of course, we were itching to get her out into the mountains as soon as possible. The weather needed to cooperate though, since we were far from pros at this point and wanted our first camping experience to be epic. We obviously set very high expectations for ourselves.

leola bertha

Needless to say even with a busy Summer, we were able to get Leola Bertha out on the open road quite a bit. Oh yeah, we decided to name her Leola Bertha (LB for short) after Matt’s great grandma who had an awesome name and loved the outdoors herself. Perfectly fitting! Plus, that means I won the gender debate (please see previous post).

Over the Spring and Summer we took ski trips, served hot dogs for the soccer team and snuck in several family and friend camping adventures. LB is the freaking best!

Matt has also ventured out on quite a few solo trips with LB, which he is loving! Most recently Matt took her elk hunting, and I think it’s safe to say he enjoyed every minute of it.

layout

When we all camp together Matt and I sleep on the queen bed inside while the boys have PLENTY of room in the annex. The galley kitchen works amazing for us since Matt loves cooking on our camp stove. We also have a fridge now which is a game changer! A teardrop fits our lifestyle perfectly because it’s light weight (easy to tow) and fits right in the garage. No need to pay for storage!

My favorite part of camping this way is how easy it is to keep all our camping gear ready to go. The cabinets inside allow me to pack our necessities, games as well my clothes without a bag or suitcase. With the kitchen, all the cooking gear has a home in the back. Amazing! It’s so much less prep time and waaaaay less setup once we get there! Heck yes!

I mean, it’s even roomy enough to fit two full grown men, with a photo to prove it!

We absolutely love our little LB. We’ve had so much fun with her so far, and we cannot wait for all the adventures and memories still to come!

For an added bonus, here’s our adorable friend Saylor modeling how comfy the camper really is.

Our pandemic year in review

Wow, it’s been awhile…again.

I promised I wouldn’t wait so long in between updates, but guess what? Life has a funny way of throwing you a curve ball just when you feel you’ve got a handle on things. Turns out after my last post (when I thought we’d be camping every weekend) Matt tore his Achilles and was down for the count for quite some time. He was playing a friendly game of basketball in the street outside our house and out it went. It was a tough recovery including surgery, a scooter, crutches and eventually a walking boot, but Matt powered through like a champ. Thank goodness for streaming services because he watched a lot of movies over those months.

What’s better than family and camping?

Matt refused to let his injury keep him down for too long though. We were able to enjoy quick visits from both our parents, and we were so glad they were able to sneak those in while COVID numbers were low. Especially since that ended up being the only time we were able to see them during the all this craziness.

Toward the end of the summer, Matt couldn’t take it. He needed to go camping. We were still able to fit in several trips including one while still on crutches. This man let’s nothing stop him. We went to Buena Vista, Leadville, McConaughy Lake and Lake George over a few weekends. Each trip was the perfect getaway with friends in the outdoors where we were able to recharge our batteries.

Not so fast…

Once August came, it was back to school and the roller coaster of moving from hybrid, to in-person to remote and back again. Like many families, we dealt with the stresses of working from home, juggling remote learning, quarantines and COVID scares. We fit in activities when we could, but the fall and winter months were really spent at home or outside with our neighbors (who are quite awesome I might add).

In December just as everything was shutting back down, Matt turned the big 4-0. Our original plans got cancelled, but we did our best to make the birthday boy feel as celebrated as possible. I still plan to throw a proper celebration once we’re able!

Owen also had the luck of a December birthday. Thankfully Matt, and some of those awesome neighbors I was referring to, were able to take Owen skiing on his birthday. He had a blast, and I’m pretty sure he’s going to ask for that every year from here on out.

Light at the end of the tunnel

After the COVID spike died down a bit, sports started to begin again. The boys were really missing the old routine, and their mental health needed a sense of normalcy again. Owen was able to play in a condensed basketball season and then jumped back into soccer (his first love). Meanwhile, Jude is trying his hand at flag football and really liking it so far!

Jude turned 8 this month, so for his celebration he and I spent the weekend feeling pampered at a fancy hotel in Denver. We ordered room service for every meal, took in the city views and lounged for 24 hours straight. It was glorious. The smile on his face confirmed we definitely made the right choice for his birthday gift.

As of today Matt is fully vaccinated, and I’m a week away from being there myself. We couldn’t be happier!! I shouldn’t be surprised, but I can’t believe just how quickly the calendar seems to be filling again with trips and visits from friends and family. I cannot wait to hug and spend time with those we’ve been missing for so many months, but I’m also going to try and soak in these last few weeks of a slower pace before we’re on the go again.

But wait, there’s more!

Oh and to take our adventures up a notch we bought a teardrop camper from Hyk Outdoors! She’s a beauty, but has had a lot of garage time over the winter. We are planning to get her out on a proper trip just as soon as it stops snowing!! Winter needs to get the hint and move on. Also, Matt thinks the teardrop is a “he”, but I know better. Plus, I’m already way outnumbered by males in this household. She is going to love being a part of the Riffee family adventures. 😉

The summer of the family camp

I had big ideas of how we would spend 2020. Lots of visitors, trips back to St. Louis, concerts and festivals with friends, and overnight adventure camps for the boys. Well, just like everyone else, our plans came to a screeching halt with the spread of COVID-19. It turns out a pandemic doesn’t really care about what you had planned. It just grabs those plans and takes a big metaphorical sh*t on them.

As I’m sure you have too, I’ve had my fair share of mixed emotions during quarantine. One minute I’m scared of getting sick (or someone I love getting sick). The next minute I’m worried about the economy and keeping my job. Then I quickly refocus and I’m thankful I can still pay my bills and have a home with lots of space to quarantine in. I’m especially thankful for the chance to have a slower pace and spend so much time with Matt and the boys. As you can see, it’s quite difficult to keep up with all the thoughts racing through my brain.

Since quarantine started, we’ve done quite a bit at home to keep us entertained. We’ve had dance parties, cooked new meals, planted a garden, got a trampoline, taken family walks and turned the basement into a movie theatre. Oh yeah, and we moved into a new house (that was another cause of stress, but so worth it)! After a little over 2 months of being in the house together 24/7, we decided that a weekend in the mountains was much needed!

Friends of ours shared a spot they found that was open and available for dispersed camping. The campsites are accessed using an OHV (off-highway vehicle) route, so only vehicles equipped for off roading can get back there (limiting the number of other campers we ran into). It was exactly what we needed for a quarantine weekend getaway.

Going to be honest here- Friday did not start off the way we planned. Not even close. After a series of events that almost made us turn around and come home (late start, pulling over to repack, off roading up a mountain in the dark, and an overheating vehicle), we decided we’d come too far to not have a good time. We decided to come back down the mountain to a lower elevation and find another spot to camp. Once we found a campsite that was a little less ambitious of a climb, we set up the tent, got out our chairs and enjoyed the quiet night sky.

The rest of the weekend was absolutely perfect. Hiking, great food, lots of laughs and time relaxing in nature. It was just the reset we needed. It also helped us realize that even though our summer might not end up how we originally planned, our calendar is now wide open for more family camping adventures.

We’ve found a hobby we all enjoy, and Matt and I love finding new camping gadgets to enhance each trip. When we moved to Colorado we imagined we’d camp in the mountains all the time, but the reality was that it was hard to fit in to the busy schedule.

Thanks to this slower paced life we find ourselves in, this just might be the summer of the family camp. Be on the lookout for many more Riffee family adventures!

And just a little extra nugget to make you smile. Tired boys on the way home 🙂

Sunwater Spa

I am always down for trying a new adventure, especially one that includes relaxation. I have enjoyed Sunwater Spa twice now and both times were amazing! This is a place I would highly recommend when you need to slow down and find some balance.

Location and atmosphere

Beautiful views and a peaceful atmosphere surround Sunwater Spa, as it is tucked away in the mountains in Manitou Springs. Most of the spa is a whisper zone in order to respect everyone’s experience. As you might have guessed that can be quite challenging for me (and most people I associate with). haha! Nevertheless, we make it work, and it really does add to the calming experience.

Services

Sunwater Spa offers quite a few services. Some you might have already assumed such as massages or facials, but there are some more unique options that make Sunwater Spa stand out from the crowd. They offer yoga, meditation, saunas, water therapies and mineral tub soaking.

Mineral Tubs

Soaking in the mineral tubs is (in my opinion) the main reason to visit this spa. For only $25 you can do a 2 hour soak in any of their 7 mineral hot tubs. The tubs are located on all 3 floors of the facility, each with a beautiful view of the mountains. There really isn’t anything else quite like relaxing in a hot tub while staring right at the majestic Pikes Peak.

I could seriously go to this spa just for the mineral tubs (and I have before), but there are also other elements to enjoy. The meditation path is a quiet little walking path great for some solitude and self reflection.

Aqua yoga

You could also try out some aqua yoga. Don’t worry it isn’t as complicated as you might think. Let me tell you right now, you don’t have to tread water, and you don’t have to do downward dog underwater. Both fears I originally had. 🙂 Aqua yoga is great for any age. The entire practice takes place in the spa’s warm saltwater pool, and is a standing, low impact practice. Your hair doesn’t even have to get wet. Even though it’s much more fun if it does! It was so much easier to keep my balance in the water, and definitely easier to hold the poses. I felt like I could stay in chair pose for hours!

Turns out it is frowned upon to take photos while doing an aqua yoga practice, so there is no photographic evidence to post. You are just going to have to trust me that it’s awesome. 🙂

This place really is one of a kind! If you find yourself in the Colorado Springs area on a visit, I would suggest carving out time for a stop at Sunwater Spa. Your body and mind will thank you!

Avid 4 Adventure

We have found what might be the best summer camp ever! Last fall, Avid 4 Adventure came to the boys’ school and brought a rock wall, pool and other fun outdoor activities. The boys came home so excited and couldn’t stop talking about this “Avid 4 Adventure” organization.

Fast forward to the spring when we received a flyer home from school advertising the summer camp options through Avid. They had lots of day camp options that took place at the school, but they also had resident (or overnight camps) in some really cool locations throughout Colorado. Much to my surprise they had resident camp options for both boys! They are actually one of the only camps that has a session for incoming 1st graders. Getting them a taste of camp at a younger age.

We talked it over with the boys and showed them the promo video on YouTube . Owen was immediately pumped and wanted to go for as long as he could. Jude was definitely hesitant (as we knew he would be), but actually not nervous for the reasons we thought. We figured he wouldn’t want to leave his family, afraid of not knowing anyone, or maybe even scared to try some of the activities. Nope! He was solely scared of bears. Who knew?

Since Jude found out that Owen would be at the same camp while he was there, he got onboard. Before we knew it, it was July and time to take them to camp. We chose the Mount Evans location, which was a beautiful drive. It was great timing because Matt’s parents were visiting, so they were able to come with us to drop off the boys. The boys were so excited to have their grandparents there!

From the minute we pulled through the gate, you could tell this was going to be an unbelievable experience for the boys. Aside from the beautiful mountain scenery, the employees were pumping music and dancing while directing the cars to their parking spots. The employees looked like they were genuinely excited to be there, and loved their jobs! Everything was pretty well organized too, and everyone was definitely super helpful with questions from nervous parents.

We located the boys’ counselors and walked around the camp to find their cabins, the mess hall etc. I should mention that Owen walked around with us, but Jude chose to stay with his counselor. He was already done with us. And we thought he’d have a hard time letting us leave! Ha!

After taking some mandatory family photos, we waved good-bye and drove away. I was so nervous, but also so excited for the friends and memories they were about to make. And let’s be honest, a few kid free days at home!

While at camp we couldn’t talk to the boys, but Avid was amazing about posting lots of pictures each day. They had a photographer around for each and every activity capturing all the fun they were having. It definitely set my mind at ease seeing all the smiles. I could tell they were having an awesome time, and I had the photographic evidence to prove it.

Every day was a new adventure. They got a chance to rock climb, canoe, horseback ride, stand up paddle board, mountain bike, hike and (of course) camp under the stars. I was actually jealous and really wish there was an adult version of this camp! Maybe with the addition of some adult beverages at night. 🙂

We picked up Jude first since his was a mini 3 day camp. He was excited to see us, but more excited to show us around and introduce us to his friends. They did a little ceremony before wrapping up, where each kid received an award and some kind words. Jude earned the Olive Branch award because he was the one that tried to cheer up kiddos who were homesick, or invited others to play if they were by themselves. Yep, that one made me tear up for sure! He really is such a sweet boy.

A few days later we picked up Owen, and he was so proud to show us the pins he had earned throughout the week. He had nonstop stories from camp. Even now a random story will come up that we haven’t heard yet. Just a couple weeks ago Owen taught me a card game he learned at camp.

Needless to say, both boys LOVED Avid 4 Adventure camp and asked to go back next year. Owen even has dreams of being a counselor when he’s old enough. As you might have guessed they both crashed after all their fun. Hence the photo of Jude on the ride home. Owen (not pictured) laid on the couch for a good 24 hours.

Just for fun- This is the view of the Rocky Mountains from Castle Rock. The arrow is pointing to Mount Evans. It was pretty cool to know that’s where the boys were when I snapped this photo.

Grandma’s House

Last year Matt worked in downtown Denver, so he was able to find lots of fun places for an after work hang out. One of the best gems he found was Grandma’s House. We have now been several times, and it’s perfect!

Since I guess I haven’t mentioned it yet, Grandma’s House is a brewery. A brewery that’s designed just like your grandma’s house. It looks like my grandma’s house, Matt’s grandma’s house, everyone’s grandma’s house!

When you pull up outside, you will almost miss it (unless it’s nice out and they have the garage doors open). My mom actually thought I was kidding when I told her that was where we were going. She thought it was an abandoned building from the outside. Once you open the door though, you are transported back in time to the glorious nostalgia of being a kid at grandma’s house.

They have old wooden furniture (complete with a dining room table), vintage board games, video games, china cabinets filled with souvenir glasses and crocheted tap handle covers. On Sundays they even have cross stitching as their activity of choice.

Their menu has beer, non-alcoholic options as well as some pizza and snacks. We have the best time just enjoying a beer or soda and playing all the games. Last time, our particular favorites were Hollywood Squares and Racko. Taking me back!

Once you’ve enjoyed your beverages you might need to use the restroom. Even the bathrooms are on theme with filled medicine cabinet. Depending on the bathroom you choose, you might even see a note that scolds you for snooping! The best!

If you are ever in the Denver area, or staying with us for a visit, Grandma’s House should be on the list of activities. Talk about a unique twist on the local brewery!

P.S.- When you come here don’t miss the amazing Elvis memorabilia. This place truly is my grandma’s house.

The best Rocky Mountain National Park road trip

Twice this summer we did a day trip to Rocky Mountain National Park, a Colorado staple. The park is about 1 hour 45 min from us, and is almost all interstate until you get there. If you know us (especially Matt), the interstate route is not the path we choose to take on these types of adventures. So we found another route, and it’s the perfect way to see the park (plus a heck of a lot more).

We first start by packing a cooler with food, snacks and drinks. This is no short jaunt. You need to be prepared! Then we pack LOTS of layers! I wasn’t as smart about this detail on our first trip, so the second trip I was totally prepared. Throughout the duration of this day trip it can be a 40 degree swing, so blankets, coats and hats are needed! Especially when the mode of transportation is a jeep with no doors…

First stop, Empire, Colorado- mostly for gasoline and a bathroom stop. It’s a small town, and the first place I’ve ever seen a Dairy King (not Queen for those who thought I made a typo).

Then on to Winter Park- Winter Park is a big ski destination in the winter months, but it’s still beautiful in the summer (and not nearly as crowded). They have some cute souvenir shops, restaurants, photo ops and a great playground for the kids to get some energy out. Oh yeah, and super clean bathrooms. You’ll find that planned bathroom stops are also a necessity on this type of road trip.

From Winter Park we like to head to Grand Lake. Grand Lake is absolutely amazing. My favorite towns in Colorado are ones where they combine a lake and a gorgeous view of the mountains. Grand Lake is just that (so is Dillon, CO if you want to look it up). Just beautiful! Grand Lake is also the perfect location to stop for lunch, or at least an ice cream. There is a homemade ice cream joint everywhere you turn! So far, we’ve only made pit stops in Grand Lake, but a weekend stay is definitely on our list!

From there, we are just a few short miles from the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. Once you get inside it is easy to see why over 4 million people visit the park each year. Postcard views every where you turn, and you know I’m a sucker for an amazing view!

Aside from the curvy roads and picturesque mountains, it’s also a great place to see Colorado wildlife. We saw this gorgeous fox while on a short hiking trail right off the main road.

When it’s open, the Alpine Visitor Center is definitely worth a stop. Why is that, you ask? Because a good portion of the year it is BURIED in snow, and that is no exaggeration! The center sits at the highest elevation in the park (11,796 feet). From there you can walk up an incline that will get you just above the 12,000 feet mark. The views are definitely breath taking, and so is the hike up. See what I did there??

Once we’ve stopped at the many lookouts throughout the park, and have made the descent down to a more manageable elevation, we head right into Estes Park. Estes Park definitely draws in the summer visitors from all over! It’s so fun to read all the license plates to see where everyone is from, and I will say I find a Missouri one every time! (#homestate)

From that point we typically head home. That’s a full day of adventuring! Even though we do take the interstate on the way back, there is still a good portion of the trip home that is beautiful back roads.

This is one of my favorite day trips that we’ve done! Come visit, and we can take you too. 🙂

Red Rocks Amphitheatre

If you know our family, then you know we are HUGE music lovers! When we decided to make the move to Colorado, we were so pumped to have Red Rocks Amphitheatre as our local concert venue. We had grown up dreaming about someday seeing just one show at Red Rocks. It was a bucket list item for sure. It’s hard to believe that we’ve now seen several shows at Red Rocks, and we aren’t slowing down!

Of course, when you think of Red Rocks Amphitheatre you think of an amazing place to see your favorite band or music artist, and I’ll get to that part, but it’s also a gorgeous place to visit during the day!

We have taken many of our visitors to Red Rocks in the daytime, just so they can see the venue and the beautiful views that surround the natural amphitheatre. That’s right, natural. If you aren’t aware, one of the reasons this venue is so special is that it’s the only naturally occurring amphitheatre with the perfect acoustics. Nestled right between two giant sandstone red rocks in Morrison, CO.

Red Rocks Park offers a museum, hiking, biking, yoga and much more. It’s not uncommon to see wildlife throughout the park. If you visit you must also head to the top of the amphitheatre and take in the beautiful view of downtown Denver. Just wow!

Our boys had visited Red Rocks many times during the day, but this summer we took them to their first official concert Red Rocks Amphitheatre. They had a blast! We made to sure explain all the history and ingrain in them how special the venue really is. We want them to appreciate this experience, dang it! I think they got the message 🙂

Either way, they had a really good time (even though Jude did take a nap through a large portion of the show). We saw Michael Franti and Spearhead, which was the perfect pick for their first concert here. Michael Franti’s music has an amazing message. It’s all about love, acceptance and celebrating our differences. That’s something we want to instill in our boys, so his music is something we all enjoy.

Aside from unbeatable music, views and wildlife it’s also a great place to tailgate! Bet you didn’t think that’s where I was going with that one, huh? Before a show, everyone arrives early, gets out their chairs and coolers and enjoys the amazing scenery with friends. It might be one of my favorite activities to do at Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre. 🙂

Uncle Lindsey was pumped to tailgate 🙂

I’ve done a lot at Red Rocks, but my next bucket list item is to participate in their Saturday morning yoga during the summer. I’m just waiting for that perfect visitor to come, who wants to do it with me. Any takers?

Devil’s Head Lookout Trail

A few Sundays ago, we randomly had a free day with no planned activities. Those are some of our favorite days because we can just drive into the mountains and see where it takes us. That day we decided to try and tackle Devil’s Head Lookout Trail.

Devil’s Head Lookout Trail is a hike that leads to the summit of Devil’s Head. At the top is a fire watch tower, the last of the original 4 watch towers on the Front Range that is actually still in use. There is also a pretty decent elevation gain of over 800 ft and 143 steps up to the watch tower.

Starting out, we weren’t totally sure if we were going to make it to the top since we had Jude with us. We are determined to make a hiker out of that boy yet! The beginning of the trail has beautiful aspen trees (my favorite).

As we hiked, there were lots of great places for the kids (and Luke) to climb on the boulders. Owen also had fun documenting the entire adventure on video.

Once we reached the stairs, the boys and I started to get a little nervous. Owen, Jude and I are all afraid of heights. I totally pretended I wasn’t scared, to make the boys feel more comfortable. As we climbed the stairs Jude made it almost all the way up and got scared. Since he was so close he pushed through and got to the watch tower!

Inside the watch tower was so cool. The day we were there was super windy, and you could hear the wind just whipping against the sides of the old wooden tower. Around the tower you can find photos and notes from travelers that have made the hike before. Reading their stories was really inspiring.

The views from the top were so worth it! Gorgeous 360 views no matter where you looked. Unfortunately, I didn’t get many photos because I was just trying to focus on not falling off the mountain, but I did get a few.

The way back down the stairs was no walk in the park. When you are looking straight down it definitely seems much higher than when you’re on the ground looking up. Matt ended up carrying Jude down the stairs, and I just had my fingers crossed that Luke didn’t pull me down the stair case. Oh yeah, Luke made it all the way to the top too. He must have been nervous going down because he actually went slow and didn’t pull. Apparently we weren’t the only ones feeling a little shaky.

We all made it down and were so proud of ourselves! It was a great memory to make as a family, and now Jude can say he’s been hiking Devil’s Head since he was 6 years old. 🙂

P.S.- How adorable is this photo of Jude sleeping on Luke during the drive home?

Epic Sky Trek

One of the things we were so excited about when we moved was the Castle Rock Adventure Park. It’s only minutes away from our house and includes a zip line park, adventure tower and the Epic Sky Trek. Matt, Owen and my mom did zip lining last summer and had a BLAST, but we hadn’t had the opportunity to check out the sky trek yet.

Owen’s soccer team chose the sky trek as their end of season celebration activity. What a great idea! What’s even better is that we got a group discount, making the tickets pretty dang affordable. Parents and siblings were also invited to take part in the fun, so Jude was pumped!

The weather was pretty chilly compared to the 75 degrees we’d had in the days leading up to the event, but that didn’t stop this crew. These boys (and parents) had a blast tackling this elevated obstacle course.

This is definitely an adventure to help someone tackle their fear of heights ( Owen, Jude and myself included). It’s much scarier when you’re up there than what it looks like on the ground. Of course you are harnessed in the entire time, so you know you won’t fall. Although, that doesn’t stop your jitters from still kicking in every time you take a step.

I basically had to pretend I wasn’t scared to help the boys get over their fears, but I was still shaking inside. As you can tell, I’m a real dare devil.

Some of the boys (and dads) on the team were absolutely fearless going up to the highest levels of the course. Owen’s friend Jacob and one of the other dads even walked across a slack line that was as high as the roof. No easy feat!

We now have a new place to suggest for our visitors, and did I mention it’s only 2 miles from our house?? We will be back!