Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Driving I-70 (Also: Running The Colorado Winter Road Gauntlet)
For the second (or is it third) time this week I hucked my pack into my Red Rocket, an ’05 Subaru, and joined the jihad of Weekend Warriors to the ski resorts of central Colorado in their descent to Denver on the dreaded I-70 corridor. I-70 is a daily battle between overly confident Coloradans, overly paranoid tourists and long haul truckers who could give a shit about anyone because they’re the biggest thing on 18 wheels. The Coloradans, thinking nothing of doing 85 in a snowstorm, over 10,000-foot Vail Pass around the bends and twists of I-70, terrify the white-knuckle tourists whose license plates are routinely from Arizona, South Carolina or Texas (sorry T$, not you). Woe is he who is caught in a swarm of Texans in a snowstorm. A black Escalade in front, an 18-wheeler to the right and a Tahoe behind. All bearing the blue star and cowboy on a horse that brand the loud-voiced, boot-wearing, big-haired virgins to snow driving. Rather than maintain a logical distance between cars and pursue a consistent speed, the Texan muscles through in their outsize SUV and then slams on the brakes when they near the unsuspecting car in front of them. For this reason, 30-car pileups are not uncommon along the I-70 gauntlet.
Despite being a Midwestern transplant to Colorado I crank up my Credence on my iPod and ignore the pending disaster around me. After all, I learned to drive in Cleveland. And the Cleveland driver thinks nothing of scraping a 4 by 4 holes in the ice on their windshield and hoping behind the wheel with the defrost cracked all the way up. Who needs to actually see the road? It’s all drive by feel in Cleveland. The idiot factor on I-70 is the highest I’ve seen it all season. There is no snow. Literally, no snow. Not a dusting. Not the remnants of a snowstorm. No snow. Dry roads. Yet, in preparation for the promised upslope storm (comes from the east), CDOT already has chain laws in effect for Vail Pass and truckers are diligently slinging 20 pound chains around their drive wheels. Of course the Texans have to slow to a crawl to observe (or oversee perhaps) this activity. Somehow one such driver finds a way to smash his SUV into a parked semi chaining up. Like I said, the idiot factor is at an all-season high today thanks to increased Easter traffic.
Since it’s Colorado in the springtime, we think nothing of the fact that it was 72-degrees and sunny at 9 AM and that now, at 6 PM, husky snowflakes have begun to drip down on the city of Denver like Cinnabon frosting. I have a smattering of friends, both old and new, to grab drinks with. Crashing on one of these couches won’t be a problem. I call Lauren. We’ve been great friends since we were five years old and are supposed to grab dinner and drinks.
“I’m stuck on the highway.” She’s pissed.
“36 hasn’t moved in the last 40 minutes. I actually put my car in park and started reading my book.”
“No worries. Just call me when you make it back.”
I call Amber, my friend from the mountains. She’s in the wine business and regularly runs the I-70 gauntlet.
“They closed I-70 at Eisenhower Tunnel. I can’t stand this road. And the moron factor is out of control today. I think I might just die. Right here.” Amber tends to be theatrical. That’s why I love her. It keeps life interesting.
“No worries. Just call me when you make it back.” Déjà vu?
Lauren texts me. I’m running out of gas. My light came on 30 minutes ago. Help?! I tell here to drive in the emergency lane. Sounds like an emergency to me right? CDOT would be ticked if her dead car blocked a lane of the Boulder Highway.
I try Whitney. She and Lauren and I are all native Clevelanders. Transplants to Colorado. We drove west on I-80 until we hit the mountains and decided to stop there. Her phone’s off. “Shit.” She is still on the plane and the prospects for DIA actually staying open are not looking good. The Frosty Flakes have laid down about 8 inches in two hours.
My phone beeps again. Lauren. I am in some random girl’s car. Will probably sleep at B’s tonight. So sorry. Highway closed.
I’m not surprised. Rather than deal with the idiot factor, CDOT usually elects to shut down entire highways to deal with snow removal. Eisenhower Tunnel usually shuts down because of avalanche risk. The roads around Denver and Boulder usually shut down because of idiot risk.