Barbara Lawlor, Gilpin County. This is the time of year when we long for sun, sand and sea; when the winter seems unending, even though it is just beginning in earnest. We know March and April can be the spirit crusher, bringing on the yearning to get the heck out of town.
So how do we do that?
It just got easier for mountain residents.
Kerri Aungst and her travel agency, Beaches Etc., have moved into Mid-Gilpin County, across from the Gilpin County Fire Protection Station 7, on Hwy. 119. Kerri has been in the travel business for 26 years and is in the process of rebuilding her health and rebuilding her career, and she has chosen to do it in Gilpin County, her new home since November.
Kerri, and her husband Edward, are still unpacking boxes filled with pictures of stunning island vacations, as their black lab Shadow discovers the best sniffing places. They are eager to meet their neighbors and start sending people on once-in-a-lifetime vacations. An office is growing as the boxes are unpacked, and Kerri gets to find places for her sea shells and sculptures, mementos of her trips.
She was born in Salt Lake City, where she lived until her family moved to Denver in her freshman year of high school. She struggled in her classes, discovering that she was behind in her education. “I started hanging out with stoners and ran into trouble in my English class and I decide if the teacher wasn’t going to help me, if I wasn’t going to pass, then why should I be there?”
At the age of 22, Kerri was diagnosed with diabetes. She was put on meds and insulin and began a diabetes diet. At this time she was working at an Amoco Gas Station and noticed this one customer who worked for United Cable, and never smiled. In 1988, he broke down after some pretty hard teasing and gave her a grin. They have been together ever since. She said she told him, it didn’t matter if they got married or not, she planned on making him miserable for the rest of his life.
So they got married. She planned her own wedding and it was a great success for $600 and those who attended said she should become a wedding planner.
Edward insisted she go back to school, to get her GED, as well as to develop a career for herself. She enrolled at Parks Junior College, still not sure what she wanted to do, but travel appealed to her so she went after a degree, earning A’s in her travel and tourism major. She graduated in 1990 and has been in the business ever since, beginning with intern work at various agencies.
She moved on to tour operators, taking reservations over the phone and making bookings. She then worked at several travel agencies, gaining experience and knowledge with each step. Kerri booked packages to Mexico, the Bahamas, the Caribbean, and Hawaii.
“It finally dawned on me that I could be doing this for myself. My boss hadn’t wanted me to go to the places I was booking, but I wanted to see them. Edward told me good, do it, but start with research. I began selling beach vacations and cruises. I put a little ad in Westword Magazine, got a second computer and fax machine and put up my own web site. Six months later I knew more about software than Edward did.”
By 1998 her business was a success, it took off, until the bottom dropped out of travel after 9/11 when everyone was scared to travel. However, Kerri and Edward continued to visit the places she told others about. She took courses and became a Certified Travel Professional, a trained specialist with resorts, hotels and cruise lines. She attended trade shows, seminars and workshops and has been certified with many tourism boards, as well as completing a Certified Hawaii Destination Specialist Training Program.
To be a certified specialist means that she has travelled to most of the destinations and experienced the places, gaining first-hand knowledge and tips about each location. She has sailed on a catamaran, rode horses on the beach, swam with dolphins, snorkeled, jet boated, and zip lined. She has tasted rum in the Caribbean and Tequila in Mexico. She and Edward honeymooned in Hawaii.
“I love what I do and enjoy sharing the experience with my clients.”
The marriage worked perfectly for her financial plan. Edward paid the bills and she made the play money for them to travel. During these years, the couple would often drive through the mountains, and even though they traveled all over the world, their goal was to live in Gilpin County.
Then, the perfect world started crumbling. In 2014, Kerri began having anxiety attacks followed by pain in her arms. Her doctor said there was nothing wrong. During a trip to Mexico, her ankles swelled up and a doctor told her to take water pills to take the salt and sodium from her body. They were traveling and she was hot and miserable and the doctor didn’t catch the problem.
When they returned, she went to a cardiologist who diagnosed the heart condition. She had never been to a hospital in her life and because of the diabetes had tried to maintain a healthy diet, making everything from scratch. She had an angioplasty done and then had four stints placed in her heart to open the arteries. After that it was rehab.
“My heart was weak and I was so tired. I had to walk on the treadmill and it took a long time to get the water weight out of me. People began to notice when the color came back into my face. I had to change my diet again to bring my heart health back. No salt or fat.”
On Dec. 30th, Kerri had an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator put in her chest under the skin. An ICD keeps track of one’s heart rate. If an abnormal heart rhythm occurs, the device delivers an electric shock to restore the heartbeat to normal.
Kerri began to feel good again, keeping up with her walking, and the desire to leave the city grew stronger. She said realtors told her she didn’t want to live in the mountains, that mountain life was too tough for many people who ended up moving back to the city after a year or so.
“But we wanted space, peace and quiet. We lived off I-25 and the noise from the jets heading to DIA, the constant sound of traffic, the honking horns and the neighbors arguing became too loud, too chaotic. We lived 28 years in the same house and then we found this awesome place. It is a blessing. I can work out of the house and Edward works right off of I-70. We packed and moved in one month.”
After phone line issues, website hacking and having to give up her Beaches license plate, Kerri adapted to a SANDSEA plate, undid all links and got past the struggle.
“God is rebuilding it all better,” she says. “We love it up here. Now I am rebuilding my health and business and plan to serve the community with what they need and get the firewood in.”