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THE USA – one of the most under-rated countries to travel to with kids

In 2015 we decided that altitude was the way forward for Braden and his career. I’d spent a bit of time in Colorado in my past life (pre-kids) and thoroughly enjoyed it. We had already been to Europe (from our perspective) and we knew maybe 2 or 3 people, which was a huge bonus!

There was also the USA Xterra circuit that provided the incentive of a 10k bonus for the tour winner. The only downside being that we somehow had to stay in the USA for just over 5.5 months in order to be able to complete the series.

I’m never shy of a challenge and love finding loop holes in the system, so I set to work figuring out how to bypass the USA immigration system. I know many Mexicans had tried before me, but I was optimistic that the Americans would love us so much they would not want us to leave.

However it did turn out that the USA 90 day rule was in fact well established and it was only going to be through a stroke of luck that we managed to by-pass the system. After already having booked our flights to stay for 155 days, I had to change them to make it look like we would not overstay. That was a couple of thousand dollars, but hey, another great travel learning ticked off the list.

For the first time, we all travelled together to Los Angeles. I can’t quite remember why but we decided to spend a few days on the beach. After vigorous research, we picked Hermosa Beach to start our journey. We found a classic American motel on the beach to stay in called the Sea Sprite Motel. It was surprisingly nice and a close resemblance  to the beach in Baywatch. Braden was highly disappointed that the lifeguards were men not busty babes, but they did run around with the red floaty things and they did sit in the life guard towers just like Baywatch. We had our first American meal at Scotty’s on the Strand the night we arrived in and it exceeded all expectations. Other than having to watch the Super Bowl through dinner, the service was good and the food was relatively flavoursome, affordable and almost healthy. The next morning we woke up feeling great and decided to set out on an adventure. We rented bikes and biked along the beach front as far as the Chevron Refinery and then headed back for an afternoon chill-laxing.  Hermosa Beach got the big tick of approval and we would highly recommend it if you find yourself stranded in LA for any period of time.

We then decided to head south down to California to see an old mountain biking guide we employed in Byron Bay. The vivacious and ridiculously cut Bianca Simonetti. Bianca had found herself a man and together they were running their own gym called Nakoa Fitness just out of a place called Encinitis. Again the USA was exceeding all expectation. Encinitis had a hipster, surfing vibe, and endless 50m outdoor pools. Braden was happy, therefore we were happy. We stayed two weeks. Both kids slept on the floor for two weeks in our 12 square metre room in the back burbs of San Marcos, but we were a mere 25 minutes from the beach, we had some mates, and it gave us time to sort our lives out.

We had dreams of buying a camping trailer or a camper van, so spent many hours trawling Craigslist (america’s backward version of Trademe) trying to find the dream touring wagon. I was slightly less excited about the prospect of living in a van with two kids for 5 months, but I was willing to entertain the process of deciding whether i might like it.

Fortunately we figured out that we couldn’t actually afford to buy a camper or a trailer, and instead we got on a plane two weeks later headed for Denver. I had found us a pad to live in via Air bnb in Steamboat Springs (2600m) alt gain, and a car to boot. The people with the house also owned the car, so all we had to do was get a taxi to a placed called Golden and pick up the keys to the pad and the keys to the Ford Explorer.

we were on our way to our new home and hugely excited about living in Colorado!  But its never that easy is it. The first challenge, one of which you will all face if you ever want to buy a car in the USA is insurance. Apparently if you don’t live in the USA you cannot get liability insurance. If you don’t have liability insurance then you are not allowed to drive. Luckily the other person I knew in the USA was kind enough to pretend the car was his and we signed up for joint ownership and he insured the car under his policy. so keep in mind that you will need to know a good guy in the USA if you ever want to buy a car. Also keep in mind that it is well worth getting an international drivers license before you leave NZ as in some states you may well be able to pull off getting your own insurance.

Steamboat Springs, we had made it! Our new pad was up on the mountain, and was warm, sunny and had a smoothie maker. Unfortunately we had all arrived slightly under the weather and within a day or so we were all sick as dogs. But optimism shone through and we knew that this too would pass. But it didn’t. Three weeks into the stint we were still sick. Bella had also developed ring worm and it had rained every day since we arrived. Braden was struggling to run around the block and our optimism was starting to dwindle. This was not quite what we signed up for. Braden’s birthday was approaching and we decided to see if we could get off this damn mountain and drive somewhere lower and see if we could shake the plague!  So we drove to Moab, Utah to meet friends! 6.5 hours later we arrived in Moab and shaved 600m off the altitude. Amazingly enough the theory worked and we all started to feel better. Braden had a few days of epic mountain biking in 35 degree temps and I got to hang out in the trailer park with the kids, bathing in the pool banked up to the main highway. It was a real authentic American trailer trash experience.

anyon Lands National Parkstand up paddle board Moab blew our socks off though, and we managed to make it out to Cdown the Colorado River, that runs through the outskirts of Moab. We shuttled a car to the finish and then drove up to the start. The local sup companies are hugely supportive of muppets on boards floating down their river, so they gave us a map and the low-down. It was a 2 hour float journey in the end. The water was not clear, more a muddy brown type colour, but you are floating through a spectacular canyon and its safe as houses. Bella at age 2 was in her element and tarn was leading the charge up front!  Day 3 we were out: back to altitude so braden could hopefully train for his next race in less than a week. There was a national park we missed out on seeing called Arches, and if I were to go back then I would definitely go and check this one out too. Its a photographers dream and I did manage to get the SLR out and pretend I was some sort of photographic genius. I think its the only time the camera left its bag the whole trip though.  on the first day. It was smoking out there, and quite intimidating to get amongst the hiking trails! It was hugely spectacular though and one of my favourite places in the USA to date. We were there in May, and it was hot enough, so if you plan to visit this epic spot then don’t go later than May. I’d pick March or April. Day 2 we decided to go back to Steamboat Springs. Things were looking up on arrival back to Steamboat. The sun had decided to shine and we had discovered a few fun ways to fill our days. I bought myself a Specialized Carbon Fate, and was ready to learn how to actually mountain bike. Ee also got Tarn a bike off Craigslist for $50, a Chariot from Amazon and a Balance Bike just incase bella was feeling at all motivated to achieve a milestone.

So…did we like Steamboat Springs? Yes we did. Its a stunning place and I think one of the furthest places from Denver which means it doesn’t get as much tourism as some of the other summer resorts around Colorado.

The mountain biking is indeed epic. The main place to ride was Emerald Mountain, which is the trail system just off the main street of town. I loved the biking here. It was single track on rolling terrain with super achievable climbs but endless loops and trails that meandered through a mixture of Aspen forest and meadows.  Braden also ticked off a fair bit of riding on the main Steamboat Springs Ski Resort.  This place was a downhill mecha and also offered an epic maze of trail running options. The Americans also know how to make life fun for kids and on the mountain they had designed a man made river that the kids could play in, with deck chairs beside that I could laze in.  Another highlight was a place called Strawberry Springs. By far the most incredible hot springs I have ever been too. It was $20 entry but you could literally spend the whole day there.  We also signed up as a family to the local pool Old town hot springs, which also had a monopoly of natural hot pools, a 25metre salt water pool and a kindy! Gold! Our days in Steamboat were simple yet effective. I would tow Bella to town along the riverside bike track (6km bike ride). We would then head to the playground, the library and then the local organic shop for a treat and a kombucha. Braden would often finish his ride and meet up with us. Then we would all head to the old town hot springs. We would ditch bella in the kindy and swim for an hour and Tarn would float around the hot pools. Then we would head home, build a killer lunch, I’d work and Braden would nap, run or watch Suits.

It didn’t take us long until we were bored of the monotony, so we decided to go for an explore. We headed south to a remote place between Crested Butte and Telluride and picked up my Mum from Denver on the way. The good bugger who insured our car lived up there so we had a place to stay for free. Always a bonus. Altitude was more like 3300m and my poor Mum almost died. We had to get her 4 tanks of oxygen and some nose tubes. She was bed ridden for 4 days and then finally came right. We managed a day to Crested Butte mountain biking. We thought steamboat was awesome. Crested butte was next level with 700miles of mountain biking trails and one of the coolest old school cowboy towns in Colorado. I was in love!  Braden and I managed a ride together (aided by a tow rope for me) on ride 401. At this stage I was still a mountain biking amateur but there was no possibility of me not enjoying the riding here. Again epic flowy trails interspersed with aspens and wildflowers, big mountains, big views, smooth descents. It was epic and I decided that if we were to come back to Colorado without kids, then we needed to come back here for at least a week.  But we didn’t have the luxury of endless time and although we could of stayed the night, we were being tight asses and instead decided to spend our money on dinner and then drive the 1.5 hours home. We had one of our best meals at the Ginger Cafe. Backed up by a home-made ice-cream and chocolate at the Third Bowl Ice-creamery. We would of loved to continue the tour of Colorado but the USA is not cheap and our key focus was Braden’s training, so much to my disappointment we headed back to Steamboat Springs. However, within a week Braden and I had the opportunity to head to Beaver Creek for the 3rd and final race of the USA Xterra tour.

Braden and I were amped to have our first weekend away from the kids (ever). We set Mum up with a bike and the chariot and directions to the local coffee shop. The plan was to meet her for coffee after we finished packing, however we couldn’t find her. Mum had had a mozza and somehow caught the wheel of the chariot on a rock, proceeded by her and Bella rolling down the bank into a ditch. A local do gooder had called the ambulance and the fire truck had turned up to rescue her. After a few hours in A&E and a few thousand dollars later, Mum was given the all clear. We dropped her home, a bit bruised and battered but in good spirits. Off we went. Lucky for us we didn’t stay the night to keep an eye on her as it turned out the race was on the Saturday not the Sunday as we thought. We arrived late afternoon and made it to registration. I decided to also race my first ever triathlon just for a bit of fun.

Beaver Creek was definitely a bit fancy pants and so was our room at the Beaver Creek Lodge – the most luxury I have ever enjoyed from a hotel. We had robes and slippers and cable tv. It was good times! Beaver Creek also had a series of amazing mountain biking trails. Colorado just seemed like an infinite nirvana for mountain bikers.

If you are travelling to Beaver Creek, stay a few days up on the mountain or in the town at the bottom called Avon. Either way you can pretty much step out the door and find a trail to run or bike on. Avon has more options for cafes and restaurants and if you want coffee than Loaded Joes is about the only place worth your $3. The americans don’t really get coffee, but every now and then you come across a cafe that can pull out something that at least slightly resembles NZ coffee. Vin 88 was our choice for dinner and as we got there at 5pm we were able to make the most of half price tapas. So we ate 8 tapas for dinner instead of mains. Travelling for us is all about minimising and maximising, so I am always on the look out for ways to experience the best on offer for the cheapest possible price.  This was a good deal! I’d also recommend you give up drinking whilst in the USA. The best wine is normally a $10 bottle from NZ, featured at the top of the wine menu for $50 plus a bottle. The beer is average, unless you buy NZ beer. Bud wieser despite being the all time American favourite, is worse than Double Brown. Food is normally pretty cheap, but you do have to add tax and you do have to tip about 20%. Braden really does not like tipping, and is bad at maths, so we rarely went back to the same place twice.

So that was about a wrap as far as Colorado went. Denver is one of the best airports in the USA. The roads are 6 lane highways. If we were to go back we would do our best to make it around every ski resort in Colorado. It would be an epic circuit to follow as it seemed like every summer ski town had chosen to maximise its summer tourism business by building infinite mazes of tracks and trails. Colorado gets the big tick and its only about 6 hours max to Moab, so make sure you tick that box too if you find yourself there!