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“It’s my birthday in 12 minutes,” Ludacris shouted. “Y’all know what we do on birthdays!”

We put our hands in the air. And they stayed there.

But long before James and I wound up at an unexpected southern hip-hop show in downtown Denver, we were lost in a world of jagged rock known as the Flatirons.

The Flatirons need little introduction. The famed rocks loom over the University of Colorado’s main campus in Boulder, just a short drive northwest from Denver. If you’ve seen a CU football game, you’ve seen the Flatirons peering in from the background. And with a world of social media-savvy college kids at their feet, these slabs are some of the most widely photographed in the country.

Still, they were an adventure we couldn’t pass up.

From afar, the Flatirons seem manageable. Their true scale doesn’t come into play until you’re on the face of the rocks—in our case, the largest and tallest, first Flatiron. Once you break the tree line, the swooping meadows and shaded, dirt trails that criss-cross their bases give way to a barely distinguishable rock ascent. Climbing a flatiron is the closest thing I can relate to scaling the Aggro Crag from GUTS.

James and I scrambled up a trail that gains 1,200 feet in just over two miles. It was enough to knock the wind out of us, but not the dog.

Up and up Blanche went, undetered by altitude or blazing sunlight or anything but the slow stream of other dogs making their way up and down the trail. The little terrier/spaniel mix practically dragged us up the peak, and she blew by dogs three times her size in the process. When we neared the top, Blanche let out a bark.

“I don’t know how she still has the energy,” James gasped.

Blanche didn’t know we still had to go back down the mountain. But at the time, it didn’t matter. The humans were tired and battered and out of breathe. But Blanche’s face said it all.

We had conqured the flatirons.

Back downtown, the bass from Luda’s DJ rumbled, and I thought back on the Flatirons. I thought back, for a moment, on the entire journey. It was nice to be in civilization for a few nights. It was great to have James and Ellie and a crew of new friends in the Mile High City.

Tomorrow, it’s on to Rocky Mountain National Park; it’s back to the tent. And with a precious few weeks left on this long road home, I can’t wait to get back out there. For most of my life, I’ve been an expert at coming in 2nd place. But on this trip, I’ve finally started to piece together 1st. On this trip, “all we do is win.”

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When an urban developer bought my apartment building in 2016, it pushed me out of the soulful streets of Memphis, and outside, into a life on the road. I soon found out that travel was both a cure and an addiction. And I plan to keep going, with readers alongside, for as far as this road can stretch.

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