About 60 miles outside of Denver on westbound I-70, you will reach the Continental Divide. If you elect to follow US Rte 6, you will travel through Loveland Pass at an elevation of 11,990 feet above sea level. If you follow I-70, you will pass through the Eisenhower Tunnel at 11, 158 feet above sea level.
I chose the I-70 route, mostly because I knew I was traveling through the Pass in (what I thought was) late Spring, and the weather could get ‘interesting’. I expected rain, maybe thunderstorms, and I did not get any of that weather.
The snow flurries of mile mark 233 had already turned into light snow, and the National Weather Service was advising that between 6-12″ of late evening snow could fall in the higher elevations. It was eleven in the morning, and so I figured I was likely safe. Not taking anything for granted, but not freaking out over nothing either.
Grey skies, storm clouds building, and a whole lot of fuck you on the way.
The Universe, on the other had, often thinks She’s awfully funny.
As I crossed into the Eisenhower tunnel, my weather radio bleeped out an emergency tone to advise me that “radar had detected a fast-moving disturbance traveling along the I-70 corridor west of Loveland Pass.” Great.
The alert continued, “This disturbance could produce up to 14″ of heavy wet snow in the higher altitudes, wind gusts to 60 miles per hour, and occasional white-out conditions. It should clear the area by 4pm.” Great, I say again. Just frackin’ great.
As I emerged from the Tunnel, I looked at the scene in front of me – the traffic, the emergency run-off/brake fail ramps, the police cars, the white-out skies a mile off – and I said to Hobbes,”Shit. Shit. Shit. Hold on buddy, ’cause this is going to fucking suck.”
And suck it did. I was in the far right lane, driving in the tire ruts of the semi trucks ahead of me, windshield wipers blaring, at 20 miles per hour down 6%+ grades through hairpin and switchback turns. For fifty-five miles. At twenty miles an hour. Just let that sink in for a moment.
I had been coasting on the emtions that followed the revelations of Life Before The Tunnel, and now I was having my hard-won faith tested. It is not that I expected the tangible Hand of the Divine to lift me out of the storm – but rather the mindfulness and prayerful attitude I had so carefully crafted was now absolutely essential to my safe navigation of the mountain. There was about eleven inches of snow that fell on my way down the mountain, and the entire time there was a single song on repeat in the Roadwagon: Rich Mullin’s “Sometimes By Step”.
In that three-hour ordeal, I listened to that song probably thirty times. I didn’t dare take my hands off the wheel, and the CD player just kept playing – and this was not something I consciously did. Last time I remembered touching the radio, it was to tune in the National Weather Service station. Weirdness abounds.
Slight detour – Rich will always hold a special place in my heart. He was/(is) a huge name in Contemporary Christian Music, especially at the time when Christianity was the whole of my lived experience, when I still burned with a fire of commitment to ordained ministry…and before the United Methodist Church stabbed a dagger in my back. Rich’s music was always larger than the typical Praise and Worship stuff, and it spoke to a much broader worldview, one that encompasses respect and care for the Earth. After all, God is in everything and of everything – so why shouldn’t we celebrate that and sign with the rocks when they cry out?
When I reclaimed faith for myself, I did not return to being a Christian. Rather, I reconciled the Christian parts of my heritage to my current understanding of the Divine, and forged a new path with a broader understanding. Much as Rich once said, “You’ll never understand it all, so don’t try.” ‘Tis best to love, live, love so more, and fight the good fight for those who cannot fight.
When I got to Edwards, I stopped for gas, the restroom, and a chance to relax. I had driven nearly three hours down the side of a mountain range, through a freaking blizzard, and, like most of the women I know, I wanted a gorram chocolate bar. Pretty sure I earned that bastard, too.
I got out of the car, and witnessed the after-effects of driving through the aforementioned blizzard. My car had grown an ice wing, made from the wind blowing perpendicular to the car and my wipers trying to move the heavy wet snow off the windshield.
The view from inside the car.
The Roadwagon’s ice wing, viewed from outside the car.
Also visible is Hobbes, who is D-O-N-E.
It took me about an hour to recover enough to start the journey towards Grand Junction, which was my planned stopping point for the night. Two cups of coffee, several cigarettes, a Hershey Krackle bar (gluten free, chocolate, and $.75 on clearance!), and I was finally ready to be back on the road.
But first, a side trip.
As I was finishing pumping gas into the car and before I went back inside, I had the opportunity to talk with a wonderful Carmelite Sister who was traveling east. We talked about the (actual and literal) road ahead for her, and she advised me what things looked like for the next hour or so westbound. We exchanged favourite candy bars…and she ran interference for me in the women’s bathroom. It was a lovely thing, and one I will cherish.
With that, I had a full tank of gas, hours to drive, and many miles to go before I slept. Next up in Part IIIc, Grand Junction CO and Utah.
Now ya’ll understand why this part took so damned long. 🙂