There are a lot of places I would enjoy spending a Friday night. At a Foo Fighters concert. On my couch, watching a movie. Dinner out with my kids, or at a dive bar, watching my son’s band perform. Paris. Hawaii. Lots of places.
I-70 west of Denver, hauling a trailer, is not one of them.
I come from Texas, which, despite signs at our state lines imploring you to “Drive Friendly – the Texas Way”, is chock-full of bat-shit crazy, frequently aggressive, and most often non-friendly drivers. You can tell by the honking and the one-finger salutes. As a commuter, I deal with these folks on a daily basis.
But nothing prepared me for the insanity of I-70.
Take every busy freeway you’ve ever traveled, and add darkness, poor lighting, steep grades, hairpin turns, and reckless drivers. Oh, and make sure you’re hauling a trailer, just to make it extra exciting!
It’s a good thing Mark was at the wheel. If it had been up to me, I would have pulled over shortly after we left Denver and assumed the fetal position in the back of the car. By the time we reached Silverthorne and stopped for gas (again!), my normally unflappable spouse turned to me and said “white knuckles, anyone?” Having had a death grip on the armrests for over an hour, I could relate.
The inky blackness of the night served as both blessing and curse on I-70. Apparently, they’re not big on providing lights on Colorado highways, so you’re totally dependent on your headlights. This is a blessing because you can’t see far enough in front of you to worry about what’s coming next. It is a curse because everyone uses their high-beams, thereby blinding drivers going in the opposite direction.
Enter music therapy. I totally took the King-and-I-whistle-a-happy-tune approach to our musical selections. I ditched the shuffle feature, and began to pick through and find all my favorite songs. Lots of Foos, QOTSA, some Black Keys – every song I could think of that pumped me up. For one thing, this gave me something to focus on. For another, it calmed me. And besides, I figured if we were going to go barreling down a mountain pass at any moment, or sail into the rear end of a semi, I might as well die with Dave Grohl or Josh Homme in my ear.
Not long before midnight, we reached the town of Glenwood Springs, or as I referred to it, Mecca. It was there that we were finally able to exit I-70. The rest of the drive to Aspen was through quiet towns which had all gone to bed for the night, and this made traffic nearly non-existent. I began to notice a strange sensation, and realized it was me breathing normally again. All was well.
We called our client, whose car and belongings we would be transporting home. He told us to find the Aspen airport, where he would meet us and lead us to our destination.
We finally arrived around 12:30 AM, which was 1:30 by our body clocks. It had been 21 hours since we had slept, and about 12 hours since we’d had a real meal. There was pizza waiting for us. Gourmet pizza. It was heavenly. Of course, by that point, I would have happily eaten the box.
I was punch drunk by then, but still impressed by the condo. It was just the right amount of rustic mountain chalet, with plenty of luxury amenities thrown in – marble floors in the bathroom, a Jacuzzi tub and steam shower, big screen TV, vaulted ceilings, etc. The balcony featured a huge wooden porch swing and a view of the mountains. Not that I could see them in the darkness, but I knew they would be there in the morning.
Makeup off, pajamas on, a full stomach and a large dose of melatonin, and I was ready to hit the sack. During my grad school experience, I pulled a few all-nighters, but I don’t remember ever feeling quite as exhausted then as I did after 18 hours on the road.
Mark was asleep almost before his head hit the pillow. And we were smart enough to bring our own pillows, which I recommend to anyone who travels often. Sadly, our TempurPedic was too big to travel. Our luxury king-sized bed had what seemed to be an economy class mattress. You know those skinny, saggy mattresses on prison cots, like you see in the movies? Yeah, same manufacturer.
I couldn’t get comfortable. What’s more, I was suddenly wired for sound. I immediately regretted the Starbucks Frappuccino I’d bought in Silverthorne. And as soon as my eyes closed, and I would start to drift off, we were back on I-70, making another harrowing turn. Somewhere in the wee small hours, though, my body staged a coup on my brain and I drifted off.
And managed about three hours of sleep. But then Mark was awake, and our host was awake, and then the movers arrived. I resigned myself to feeling zombie-like, dragged myself to the steam shower, and prayed for an opportunity to nap later.
Hot coffee and a shower can do a lot to improve your outlook on life. So can a view of snow-covered mountains. I’m not a fan of winter sports, unless I’m watching someone else participate in them for a medal, but the view was invigorating. Our host gave us the keys to his Mercedes SUV and sent us off to explore Aspen. First to explore was any restaurant still serving breakfast.
Later, as we wandered around town, Mark got a text from our client. Would I be willing to follow Mark home, with him driving the Caddy/trailer rig, and me in the Mercedes? This favor would come with a cash bonus. Mark and I pondered. That meant 18 more hours on the road with no relief driver for either of us. But it would be over two days. We could take the scenic route through the middle of the state. Only a short stint on the dreaded I-70.
Mark proposed a sweeter deal: The cash bonus AND a week at our client’s OTHER condo in Vail sometime this summer – we’d been talking about coming back to hike anyway. He texted our counter-offer. Done! Hooray! I was still tired as hell, but I was going to have a nice little payday soon, and a hiking trip to look forward to. And a plan was beginning to gel in my weary little brain.
I never got my nap that day, but we took a four-mile hike in the afternoon, basking in perfect spring weather. That night, I took a hot soak in the Jacuzzi, had another dose of melatonin, and finally, slept like the dead.
Our return trip? Smooth as silk. We took I-70 – which is downright civilized at 6:30 on a Sunday morning – to just west of Vail, then turned south and followed State Highway 25 and the Arkansas River for the better part of the day. We didn’t see an interstate again until mid-afternoon, when we hit Walsenberg and I-25. We retraced our path back through New Mexico, and to the Texas panhandle. We arrived at Casa Greene-Bowman around dinnertime, with enough time to unpack, settle in, and have Domino’s deliver before “The Walking Dead” season finale. It was all good.
The only hard part about our final leg of the journey was having to give up the keys to that beautiful Mercedes. It drove like a dream. It was smooth and quiet, and by the end of the trip, I was hoarse and raspy from belting out rock tunes for two days in my own private sound booth. Except for that little hiccup on Day 1, I did enjoy my music to the fullest extent. And, as it turned out, driving that baby home presented me with an unexpected opportunity.
As for that plan I mentioned? The Foo Fighters will be playing two shows in Denver this August. We’re working out the logistics now. Luxury lodging, hiking a few 14ers, and the Foos live, all in the same week? Colorado may, indeed, be heaven on earth.
Congrats to Vicki, from somewhere here in the Metroplex, for winning the baked goods giveaway for February. She’ll be getting a pan of pecan pie bars, if she gets back in touch to let me know where to deliver them ☺. No response from the March winner, so there may be a re-draw. Stay tuned…