Colorado Christmas

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Five days in a remote cabin in Colorado with my wife’s side of the family. Some of you may think “oh heck no” but thankfully I enjoy time spent with my wife’s side of the family. I was excited about the idea when it was first presented to a couple months ago. It was going to be our second family vacation and our first winter vacation. I would do the driving from our home in California to a remote cabin near the Flattop Wilderness in Colorado. Over 200 hundred photos were taken of our week long trip to the Rocky Mountains. Here is our story.

Photo Album

Day 1 – December 20 (Our Journey Begins to St. George, UT)

We had most of our stuff ready to go the night before. I went to bed around 11 PM and Diana went to sleep around 2 AM. By morning, with some last minute scrambling, we didn’t hit the road till 9 AM. The drive to St. George was going to be around 8 hours. We would need to stop for lunch and maybe a break for Jaden. Diana’s parents drove their truck and we took the car. A small caravan was on the way.

Around noon we stopped in Barstow. We were all hungry and In-n-Out was just a mile south of the 58 and I-15 junction on Lenwood Ave. The fast food place was packed, but what In-n-Out isn’t frantically busy around noon? Anyway, after moving around a bit, waiting for a table, and enjoying a quick bite, we were back on the road at 1 PM. The drive was quick through the desert to Las Vegas. No traffic or accidents impaired our trip. Jaden was asleep within 30 minutes of leaving Barstow. Unfortunately his nap was only 45 minutes long.

He was getting anxious to get out and we still had about 4 hours of driving. We brought some books and toys for him, but nothing could beat the iPad. He had plenty of learning games, movies, and digital books. We let him play it and he was content the whole way to St. George, UT. An occasional “I am hungry” would come up or if some task was completed, he would let us know. Otherwise a quite content boy to play on the iPad.

Around 5:30 PM we arrived in St. George. America’s Best Inn is where we stayed and it was a nice hotel for $50. We had a room on the second floor that overlooked the Red Cliffs. Zion Outlet Mall was down below the cliffs, but we didn’t go there. We grabbed a quick bite to eat at Chick-fil-a that night. It was good food and then we took Jaden for a walk. We all needed to walk and with our snow coats on we walked around the shopping areas just looking. We were in bed by 10 PM and ready to head out the next day. I was not able to get any photos the first day.

Day 2 – December 21 (St. George, UT, to Grand Junction, CO)

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Jaden woke up around 630 AM, which meant both Diana and I were up then too. We only had a 5 hour drive, so we were not pressed to get going. The weather was beauitful and more sunlight would allow us to see the scenery better. Plus it would warm up above freezing, so any ice on the road should be melting away. Breakfast was part hotel continental and Einstein Bros. Bagels. Jaden really preferred the bagel shop.

Diana’s parents left around 730 AM and we started driving around 830 AM. Google maps was our time guide and mileage estimator. Unfortunately it failed miserably at the time part. It said we had 5 hours to go at one point. An hour later it said 4.5 hours. There was no traffic on I-15 or I-40. The roads were in great condition and driving was a snap. Not sure what happened there.

We did stop in Salinas, UT, to get a subway and an early lunch. The cheapest gas was found in this town compared to any other town we passed by on our trip. Anyway, we filled up our car with fuel and our stomachs with sandwiches. Jaden crashed out sometime later for another 45 minutes. We did get a little rain, which created a very large rainbow around Black Dragon Canyon. Jaden was really impressed and, when it vanished, really wanted it to come back. He was upset when we told him it was gone. He didn’t understand it.

Around 3:30 PM we arrived in Grand Junction, Colorado. We had made reservations at the Econolodge. Diana was not really happy with the hotel or room. The reviews were high online (4.3 out of 5.0 with 2,000+ reviews). The America’s Best Inn was the same price but felt and smelt cleaner. Our heater didn’t even work properly. However we just needed a place to crash for the night so we made due. With the extra time on our hands, we needed to figure a way to entertain Jaden.

Discussing ideas on how we could “work out” Jaden’s stored up energy, Glenda came to the door. She mentioned Ginger needed us to pick up the food as they didn’t have any room. Diana was invited to come along. I stayed back to entertain Jaden. I later found out they went to Sam’s Club to get stocked up on supplies. That apparently was a nightmare during the check out process. In the mean time, I couldn’t find anything open to take Jaden to for fun. I created a few games in our hotel room to help. He learned how to pick up the phone and talk a bit.

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Jaden and I played some other games that involved me pretending to drop him on the bed. He loved it and then my obstacle course helped too. It was at this time Diana returned. She told me how their food gathering venture went and the craziness during the check out. We both were hungry and went out to buy Chipotle for everyone. Though Jaden did expend some energy, it wasn’t enough. We all were in bed around 9 PM, but didn’t get to sleep till 10 PM. Jaden had to vocally calm down a bit and that took awhile. I was reminded again why we enjoy having him sleep in his own room.

Day 3 – December 22 (Grand Junction, CO, to Wild Skies Cabin)

Once again it was 6:30 AM when I woke up. However, Jaden was still sleeping. I woke up Diana and we both started getting ready. We were going to leave earlier then yesterday as we had to be at the rendezvous point by 2 PM. It was only a 4 hour drive, but with the storm the night before we had no idea how bad the road conditions were going to be. Breakfast was a waffle, banana, and coffee. It was a quick grab at the hotel’s breakfast area. We were on the road at 8:30 AM and temps were in the lower 30’s.

The next town was Rifle for a landmark. There are other towns, but it was at Rifle that we were to take Highway 13 north to Craig and then Hayden. I had been to Hayden about 10 years prior for work, but could no longer remember much of the area. Anyway, the first hour of our journey was quick. We were rained on and then eventually snow came. Nothing was “sticking” at this point, so speeds remained 75 MPH. However, things were going to change quickly once off the interstate.

We started to go north on Highway 13. The road was clear so far, but the surrounding landscape was white with snow. As we continued north and climbed more elevation, the road was “shrinking.” A few miles later the road was a dusty white and the car would randomly slip, but quickly get traction again. Semi’s were flying south bound. We figured they were likely local trucks and knew how to drive these roads better then us. We were down to 35 MPH and was thinking about putting on changes when things changed.

As we turned around a corner the road surface was becoming black. The snow and ice was receeding back to the edges of the road. Within another 10 minutes the roads were clear and we were able to speed back up. The sun came out in this “pocket” for the remainder of the trip. It was the “eye” of the storm I guess you could say. We were not complaining and made it to Craig at noon. Here we stopped for a Subway sandwich. John and Glenda kept going to Hayden to pick up Hiedi from the airport at 1 PM. We meet them at the turn off in Hayden around 1:10 PM. Now we were going to the rendezvous point to meet up with the family who owned the cabin. They were going to take us in on a Snow Cat as the last two miles is no longer plowed.

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We pulled out our instructions and read where to go. John and Glenda were with Heidi in the truck leading the way. Andy and Ginger had joined us with their family and were in front. Myself and Diana were in the back. Once again as we proceeded further away from a major highway into higher elevations and “roads less traveled” the road conditions changed. I slide around ever so slightly, but so far didn’t need to break out the chains I bought.

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The drive in from Hayden, CO took about 1.5 hours. The weather continued to get darker, cloudier, and colder. We were driving 15 mph to the parking area and the last stretch, which we found to be about 12.6 miles, seemed to go on forever. We started questioning if we were on the right road and if it was “just around that ridge.” Eventually we did make it and we parked are vehicles off to the side of the road. You could clearly see where the plows stopped.

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The snow cat was there and a gentlemen by the name of Chip was going to drive us and our gear up to the road. We began unloading and getting dressed to be out in the snow. Jaden did alright with his first snow experience, but quickly wanted back inside of a vehicle. The first load took most of the gear and a few people. Myself, Diana, Jaden, Andy, Glenda, Davant, Jack, and JJ stayed behind.

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The snow cat took off and waiting in the Jeep and the truck. It was going to be a 50 minute wait, so no need to stand outside. About 20 minutes of chatting and grabbing a snack, another vehicle shows up with two Polaris 800 snowmobiles. Andy hoped out and I went with him to sign all the paper work. The snow cat returned, loaded up the rest of the group and gear, and up the mountain. Andy and I drove the snowmobiles to the cabin in the dark. It was cold, but about 10 minutes later we were at the cabin.

Once at the cabin, we began to unload and settle into our spots. By the time Andy and I showed up, rooms were “claimed” and gear luggage was being shuffled into rooms. Glenda was working on dinner and sorting out the kitchen. The kids were downstairs playing with all the new toys. The rest of us were helping where we could and unloading our stuff.

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Dinner was hamburgers that night and it was good. We were all hungry and it was about 8 PM. The kids were excited and playing till around 10 PM. Letting the food settle, we all went to our rooms for the night around 1030 PM. The fun would really begin tomorrow as we had no idea what the landscape surrounding the cabin looked like. We were in for a treat!

Day 4 – December 23 (The Fun Begins)

Sunrise was around 730 AM. This was also when the first signs of life in the house started. Kids were getting up as well as the parents. Diana and I woke up before Jaden this time around. Our view from our bedroom can be seen in the photo below. It was a winter wonderland alright. Absolutely quiet and still outside. No traffic, no cars, and nobody else. It was really nice.

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Breakfast was two meals for some of us. Cereal and then the main breakfast came when Glenda was up. It was delicious and I was full. Thankfully we soon were heading outside to start our day 1 at the cabin. I was planning to burn all the extra calories off by being outside as much as I could.

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Suited up and ready to go, most of us went outside. My nephews, who were used to snow, went right out and started to have fun. Jaden was not too sure about the snow. However, his cousins were having a good time and he wanted to have a fun too. I took Jaden to the playhouse area. There Jaden, Jack, and JJ enjoyed going down the slide, climbing the steps, and playing on the rock wall. Heidi and Andy were going to go on the snowmobiles. Unfortunately, there was an accident.

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I heard the snowmobiles start up. Heidi was going one direction and was waiting for Andy. Andy started his up and began moving. I then saw him jolt forward, snapping of wood, and then dead silence. He had gone over the edge and down towards the river. I told the kids to stay put for a moment and signaled Heidi to come on back. I then went to the edge to peak down the steep slope and saw that Andy was up and moving. The snowmobile was in a fur tree. He said he was okay, so I quickly returned to take all the kids back inside. After several minutes of accessing what happened and that nobody was injured, we all returned inside to share the news. The remaining portion of the morning was spent inside. Lunch was soon to follow.

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Once we finished lunch and some of the kids were napping, including Jaden, both Diana and I went outside to explore around the house. I did some photography of the surrounding area. Unfortunately it was lightly snowing so I didn’t get as many photo ops as I wanted. Diana experienced snow shoes for the first time. I am glad we bought some as trekking through the snow was very easy.

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Back at the cabin, we were able to relax a bit before Jaden and the rest of the kids were up. We took turns on the air hockey table, watched a video, and John started a fire in the evening time. All the kids liked watching the fire including Jaden. He was really excited about it.

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This time around the kids were in bed between 9 and 10 PM. All the adults soon followed as the close of day 1 was complete. It was quite the first day and we were all looking forward to doing some snow sledding!

Day 5 – December 24 (Another Day of Fun)

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Christmas Eve was here and every child could tell you that tomorrow was Christmas Day. Their excitement and energy levels were rising with the passing hour. After a bacon and pancake breakfast, we suited up to go outside once more. This time we were going to be sledding until we were tired. The kids came with us along with three different types of inflatable snow sleds.

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One would think all the kids would want be sledding all day. This wasn’t the case. After going down the hill about 2 times, Jaden and his cousins wanted to go back inside. The ride wasn’t too fast or not exciting enough for them. In fact, as I took Jaden down on his first snow sledding ride he laughed with excitement as we sped down to the bottom. This occurred both times too, but I think he just wanted to play with some particular toy back in the cabin. A few quick photos and we were heading back to the cabin. It actually was good timing too because Spencer, the gentlemen who met us two days ago with the snowmobiles, arrived to get the crashed snowmobile out of the tree.

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The process took about 2 hours to get out. We had to cut and limb up the tree holding the snowmobile. The idea was the five of us would push it back uphill. Unfortunately the weight and gravity didn’t let us budge an inch. The only other option was to push it further downhill and see if it would start. Thankfully it did and, with some straps to hold the one sled in place, we were able to direct it down the drainage. We ran into the sledding area shortly after getting it running again. Spencer kept the RPMs up and drove it all the way back to the cabin. Himself and his coworker Shawn were able to ride out and get it back for repairs. John, Andy, and myself returned to the cabin after saying goodbye.

Prior to dinner most of us went outside. There was a makeshift ice skating ring on the property. I was determined to get back outside and Jaden was going to stay with me. I took him to the playground where he really started getting into the slide. The warmer weather melted the snow and ice so it was really smooth. In fact he would slide about 3 to 5 feet past the end of the slide. He laughed and must have repeated this activity for 30 minutes. When his cousins came out, they all went to the ice ring. I escorted Jaden over and, although he didn’t skate around, he thoroughly enjoyed jumping in the snow banks on the side of the ring. It was just almost completely dark when we went back inside.

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Dinner was wonderful and the evening was spent socializing and playing with the kids. Jaden started getting the hang of air hockey. He wanted to play it often and everyone took turns with him and his cousins. It was a good time. Bed time was the usual 9 PM to 10 PM. Diana was sick, so she was not able to do much. However, being able to look at the beautiful scenery outside was better then being at home.

Day 6 – December 25 (A White Christmas)

Christmas was here and the kids couldn’t wait long to open their gifts. Actually, that wasn’t the case at all. I was up to watch the sunrise while others continued to sleep. It wasn’t till around 7 AM that the children started to get up. We didn’t open gifts right away either. This was surprising to me as growing up, we had to at least wait till 7 AM to wake up the parents. A nice breakfast ensued and around brunch we all gathered into the living room. Here, we had the traditional reading of scripture that lead up to the birth of Jesus. We said a prayer and then proceeded to pass around the gifts to each person. One gift at a time was opened until all the kids had opened their gifts.

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Now with the presents opened and the kids were off to play with their new toys, it was time to prep the Christmas lunch. Glenda made a few dishes the night before. This sped up the process as she just needed to put the dishes in the oven to took. Being at higher elevation, 8200 feet, it would also take longer to cook. It was a good cooking started 2 hours before lunch was served.

The table was set in advance while our food continued to cook. It started to snow again as it would throughout the day. In fact, the sun would even pierce through the clouds for a short time. Then the clouds would return and more snow was dropped.

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Lunch was delicious and I believe everyone stuffed themselves. The turkey was so moist. Some of the best turkey I have ever eaten on Christmas. Once the meal was over, many took a nap for a couple hours. Davant and Jack watched a movie while the JJ and Jaden napped. It was a relaxing afternoon. I decided to go outside to snap a few photos while taking out the trash. The snowing stopped and the sun lit up a few clouds along the way. It was very peaceful and quiet.

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Later that evening it was time to start another fire in the fire place. John started to work on getting kindling together. The kids all wanted to help and Jaden was particularly excited about having a fire. In fact, he was the most excited one in there. I guess the others are used to fires where Jaden isn’t. We will have to try camping next summer I suppose :). Anyway, the fire was soon roaring along and an evening movie of Miracle of 34th Street concluded Christmas Day for everyone.

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Day 7 – December 26 (Final Day)

The final day was a mix of relaxing, cramming in some time in the snow, and begin packing for the trip home. Everyone seemed to sleep in a little longer. Not sure if that was due to all the excitement the day before or all the food consumed or both, but even Jaden didn’t wake up till around 7 AM. It was a nice treat to enjoy a peaceful hour. I woke up around 6 AM and enjoyed a quite hour to myself. The sunrise wasn’t as spectacular as previous days. We had cloud cover for most of the morning.

Jaden was the first child to come out and soon the others would follow. Jaden doesn’t know how to be quiet yet in the morning, so a quick “here is an iPad” and he was happily consumed and silent for another hour. Then the rest of the household woke up and enjoyed a slower morning. Breakfast was whatever you wanted to fix yourself. Soon after, the kids were ready to head out for one of their last trips to play in the snow this trip.

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The morning was more relaxed, but the time was not. It was already lunch and time to put the some of the kids down for a nap. Jaden did well on being rocked to sleep. Diana was feeling a lot better then she had been for the past three days. She wanted to go sledding, so both her and I ventured out to the sledding area. It was just the two of us and it was a nice little get away. We chatted on our way to the sleds and did a couple runs down the hill. The first time going down Diana put her heels down and snow went flying in my face. I was yelling, “pick up your feet! pick up your feet!” She just started laughing when she realized what was happening. The second time slidding down we went faster and I didn’t eat any snow. It was nice to have her feeling better and enjoying being outside in the snow. We also did a snowmobile ride together, which was cold but a lot of fun.

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Dinner that night was quite special. It was going to be tacos, but not just any ordinary tacos. Glenda was making homemade flour tortillas. I helped prep the cheese and assissted mixing in the ingredients for a second batch of dough. I watched the master at work. She shared stories of when she was living in South America and if you wanted tortillas, this is how you had to make them. Needless to say, they were hearty and filling tortillas. Everyone over stuffed themselves and not much was left. It was a perfect last dinner up at the cabin as the remaining evening hours were spent packing. Oh and a little bit of air hockey when we needed breaks.

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Day 8 – December 27 (Wild Skies Cabin to Grand Junction, CO)

We had to be ready by 10 AM that morning. Chip was going to return with the snow cat and we needed to be ready. Thankfully most of the work was done the night before and we were all ready for him. I snapped a few more photos of the views. The storm had left and a beautiful blue sky with fresh snow could be seen for miles. It was a nice way for the weather to send us on our way back home.

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Chip was on time and the first round of people and luggage were loaded up. Diana, Jaden, and myself waited for the second trip. This gave us time to do a walk through with Lisa and get to know her and her kids a bit more. Chip returned about an hour later and it was our turn to load up and drive down to the vehicles. Diana asked Chip if he thought we would need chains. He mentioned with the weather being so cold, 12 degrees at the time, that the snow was very grainy along the road. It was plowed too, so our tires should hold well. We took his lead and decided not to use chains. We arrived and quickly loaded all the gear in the car. The car almost didn’t start, because of the colder weather. We needed a little push to get out and were soon on the road back to Hayden, CO.

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The ride back went a lot faster. We knew how long of a drive it would be, plus the clearer weather made helped. I didn’t slide at all and was able to drive at 25 MPH instead of 10 MPH. I only had one problem when going downhill. There was a hair pin turn up ahead. I had a hunch we might slide, so I started to break lightly and slow down early on. Sure enough, the vehicle didn’t make the right turn and slide off the road. It was like a gentle power slide really. The vehicle still had some momentum while we plowed into the snow bank. The front wheels gripped and the remaining momentum eased us back on the road. The rest of the drive wasn’t a problem.

When we arrived in Hayden, we stopped at the gas station to swap out luggage and gear. Some of the group went down earlier then when Chip arrived. A rental vehicle needed to be returned by noon and it was 1:30 PM when we arrived in Hayden. We did the swapping around, said our goodbyes, and left Hayden around 2:15 PM. It was a great time and we were all thankful for the opportunity to be a part of the Hubner Christmas.

The ride home was amazing regarding the views. The roads were good too, but both Diana and I were so impressed by how far one could see. I think we could see at least up to 50 miles out and further and some points. The drive home was snapping photos of the scenery and views. Our destination that night would be Grand Junction, CO. We stayed once more at the Econo Lodge.

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For dinner we ate at Chick-fil-a. They had a children’s play area and Jaden really needed to expel some of that energy. We ended up getting a free sandwich, which was pretty cool. Our try had a gift voucher on it. I guess they are randomly placed by the manager? We were not sure, but were thankful for the extra sandwich. I was till hungry after my meal. Anyway, Jaden played for about 20 minutes. Two other boys were there pretending to be Spiderman. They enjoyed us role playing with them. Jaden wasn’t sure what was going on, but he followed them around to be a part of the action. We returned to the hotel around 745 PM.

Lights were out around 9 PM, but Jaden was still trying to expel energy. Doing several tactics that failed, one worked and he fell asleep around 10 PM. It was nice to have it quiet and both Diana and I feel asleep shortly after. The rest of the night didn’t go so well as our hotel room neighbors wanted to inform us of their activity around 2 AM. I was up again but this time it was Jaden. Apparently doing circles at night in his sleep is what he does so a kick in the back or a push on the head just wasn’t cutting it. I was sleeping by him to make sure he wouldn’t fall off. Now I remembered why he has his own bed. What a crazy night sleep and we woke up around 6 AM to start our long trip home.

Day 9 – December 28 (Grand Junction, CO, to Home)

After a hard nights sleep, we toyed with the idea of just driving straight home. The drive would be around 14 hours, assuming no stops, plus we would gain an hour going from MST to PST. This was something we wouldn’t decided to do until we arrived in Las Vegas. For now, we grabbed a quick bite to eat and was on the road at 730 AM. Temperatures were 16 degrees, but I-70 was clear. We were flying along the highway. The views in Utah were beautiful as well. We could really see a long ways away. My guess was at least 100 miles. While we would take all this in, we knew back home the air quality would be bad and our visibility would be reduced down to a few miles.

Our first stop was a quick 10 minute break. It was at Black Dragon Canyon. It was windy and still about 18 degrees out. We read a plack and took a few photos before continuing on our way.

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Our next stop would be in Richfield for lunch. The views along the way were beautiful. The geology is quite amazing through Utah. Anyway, lunch was a Subway and the drive over the last pass did have some snow. No chains were required and we had no trouble staying at 60 MPH either. The descent provided some great views into Nevada.

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We did stop in St. George once more to grab a quick snack at Einstein’s Bagels. Found a great coupon on dealnews.com for free food if we bought a drink. It basically came down to 40% off the cost of our food, so we were happy about that. The remaining trip to Las Vegas was no problem. This is where we decided to push for it and head home. It was 4 PM at the time. Around 430 PM we were greated by traffic and congestion. The weekend holiday crowd leaving Las Vegas to return to the Los Angeles area was crazy. It ended up tagging on an extra hour. We arrived in Barstow around 8 PM and grabbed food and gas. One the road at 9 PM, we had no troubles with traffic and pulled in our drive way at 1155 PM. It was a long day, but it was quite the adventure.

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