Badge of Honor

I have to admit that the word treacherous in the hazardous driving report psyched me out. So much so, that Peg and I spent 24 hours sitting in a hotel room waiting for the snow to melt. Our window view of Vail, Colorado made up for some of the time. I spent most of the day writing and answering e-mails. The Vail Pass was open on this day, but the day before the State Patrol shagged us off the I-70 because too many accidents had plugged it up. I also spent too much time studying weather reports and driving conditions.

We enjoyed an Egg McMuffin breakfast at the McDonald’s across the parking lot from our hotel. Later in the day we planned to move it up an inch by dining in the hotel restaurant. Since Vail is empty in April, none of the shops were open for us to do the typical touristy walk through the quaint shopping district. This led us back to our room to read, write, and relax.

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Later we learned that April is out of season and the dining room closes for supper. I inquired and learned of another restaurant immediately next door. We ventured forth. This place was equally deserted and upon entering I had to shout for someone to come from out of the walls. The staff, a man wearing shorts, sweat shirt and a baseball cap with an apron, and a waitress wearing a hooded sweatshirt appeared out of nowhere. The business definitely relied on a big crowd for its heat. Since we were the only ones there to enjoy the cold we left our winter coats on throughout the meal. The Bear Fish is by its decor a Sports Bar. They decorated the walls with skis standing on end. As an extra touch, antlers from a moose adorn one of the side walls. I got the idea that when Bear Fish is in season, and there are people, they are skiers. Genius deduction right? The menu specialized in smoked meats and sea food, mostly sandwiches. I ate a pulled pork sandwich with crispy sweet potato fries washed down with a Cabernet. Peg munched on a green salad finished off with a hamburger, and lemonade. We left totally sated and to our surprise several other people had ventured in and were eating in the main dining area. All of them kept their winter coats on.

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The following morning, we awoke to two inches of new snow covering everything, including the Death Star. We could barely make out the white car covered in white, and  parked on a totally white parking lot. We ate breakfast in the hotel restaurant. It is a quaint place with good food. The crowd in the room led us to believe we were not the only ones at the hotel as we wanted to believe. Many people did what we did, i.e. sit out a day of the bad weather.

By the time we loaded the Death Star with our overnight stuff and gassed up it was ten-thirty. I nervously drove through the town of Vail which is a canyon of ski chalets, lodges, resorts, condos, and tall buildings running up the side of the mountain, and merged the I-70. Vail is 8500 feet high, and the roads were dry. As we drove east the road began to ascend the Vail Pass and snow flurries began to swirl around us as we drove at fifty mph up the hill. I read that the pass is 10,500 feet high, so we had a climb ahead. We passed some parked snow plows, and I thought that is comforting to know that they do plow the roads. Further along we saw semi-trucks pulled off to the side with drivers attaching chains to their driving wheels.

We reached the level of two slushy lanes with somewhat cleaner tire tracks in each. I switched the GPS to show elevation, and surprisingly we were nearly at ten thousand feet. My white knuckles hurt from clenching the wheel so tight, and the right hand fingers kept pulling the washer lever to spritz the windshield clear. By now our speed was more like thirty mph, and some brave SUV’s passed spraying our windows with slush. I turned on the emergency blinkers to show that I was a slow-moving vehicle, but there weren’t too many cars passing me. We reached the tunnel, and I thought this is it, we reached the peak. Wrong again. The damn tunnel climbed and we kept on climbing to over eleven thousand feet. “We are two miles high,” I told Peg.

The snow kept blowing, the road narrowed to one passable lane and the windows kept getting dirty by passing cars. I finally passed a truck going fifteen mph, and he sprayed me with a stream of slush that moved us sideways. Just at that moment my cell phone rang. What the? “Sorry phone, but I am not answering you now,” I said out loud. My phone rings once a month and it happens now. I didn’t even look at it to see who called. No way was I taking my eyes or hands off this wheel for anything.

We finally crossed the Vail Pass and descended to nine thousand feet when we reached the Loveland Pass which is higher than the Vail. We went through the same white knuckle experience except this pass is higher than the Vail topping out at 11,990 feet. The descent couldn’t come quick enough for me. It finally did and we dropped down to eight thousand feet where the roads were dry and traffic resumed to sixty-five miles per hour. It was like nothing had happened at this lower level, but a raging blizzard was happening just a few feet above us.

A couple of hundred miles east of Denver I stopped for gas and couldn’t believe my eyes. The sides of my car were black with slushy road dirt. My beautiful Blizzard White Death Star had earned its badge-of-honor crossing two mountains in a raging spring snow storm.

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One Response

  1. I loved being stationed at Ft Carson…
    though I understand those white knuckles in mountain driving, my husband is from California and thinks I drive to slow LOLs
    )0(
    Great photos….!

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