In addition to everything else, I’m pretty sure I have mild Asperger’s. I wouldn’t wear pants when I was a kid because they made my legs itchy, and certain kinds of long underwear and other clothing materials are still a clear, “Hell, no!” I don’t eat bread because I loathe the texture. I can listen to the same song on repeat for hours on end. Most damningly of all, it took me an inordinately long time to figure out certain social graces, and those only when my mother yelled at me that I was not supposed to, say, stir my tea while a waiter was telling us about the dinner specials. Even now, I’ll say or do something in a public setting that’ll result in me going, “Oops. Hope I’m allowed back into that establishment!” three hours later.
I also have a few obsessions that are apparently not shared by enough of the general population to make me anxiously page through revisions of the DSM when they arrive. One of those raisons d’etre is my combined love of maps and the US roadway system. Sure, maps are probably popular enough, but my inability to go past my RTD bus system map on the wall without perusing the route of the 83L to the point where I forget that I was initially walking past that wall to go to the bathroom…well, even I’d have to admit that it’s probably not what a mental health professional would deem typical behavior.
It’s been enough to strike terror into the hearts of those around me. On Monday, I took a bump clinic at Vail to see if I’d learn anything different from what I’ve been getting from Beaver Creek’s clinics. As far as the skiing goes, I now have a whole host of new techniques to try and balance with what I’ve been (re-) learning. As far as relating to others is concerned, I have learned that I am an intractable nerd.
“Don’t go over I-70,” I warned a classmate at lunch when she was discussing the best way to get from Vail to Winter Park in the raging snowstorm that had set in for the day for her certification exam the next day. “You’ll have to go over Vail Pass, which sucks, then the approach to the Eisenhower–actually, on the eastbound side, it’s the Johnson–Tunnel, which sucks harder, THEN Berthoud Pass, which will simultaneously suck and blow.”
My poor classmate’s face was now a shade of minty green. Our instructor frowned and pulled out her phone. “Hmm, surely there’s got to be a better way,” she murmured as she pulled up Google Maps.
“Not really. You can get off at Route 9 in Silverthorne and head north to reach US-40, at which point you’d just turn right. Can’t miss that one, since that’s where 9 ends. Still have to do Vail Pass, which is CDOT’s favorite part of the highway to close, and there’s one bridge ten miles north of Silverthorne that’s a straight sheet of ice…You have fairly new tires, don’t you?”
My classmate’s face was the color of the neon sign at one of our state’s numerous medical marijuana facilities. The instructor was shooting suspicious glances my way.
“Or, you could backtrack to 131 in Wolcott and avoid Vail Pass…but then you’d have to go over Rabbit Ears Pass, which is where I spun out one time when conditions weren’t even this bad.”
“Here’s what Google Maps pulls up,” the instructor said hastily, showing her phone to my classmate. The site’s first suggestion was I-70 to Berthoud Pass, a.k.a. my worst nightmare on a snowy day. Option # 2 was I-70 to Route 9 to US-40 with the icy bridge. The third option I’d suggested wasn’t even on the list.
Once we’d reached a grim consensus that Option # 2 was the least awful, the man next to me flashed me a look of wide-eyed admiration. “How do you know so much about the roads up here?”
I shrugged sheepishly. “Uh…I’ve lived in Colorado most of my life? You, uh, just kind of figure out alternate routes to places after a while.”
I neglected to mention that I could spend and have spent hours in the car with my Rand McNally road atlas poring over its guide to Colorado’s highways. He really didn’t need to know that I’ve gotten so caught up in that on occasion that I’ve forgotten what I was doing in the car to begin with, which might’ve been starting it to go to a doctor’s appointment that I’d had to wait three weeks for.
Luckily, I have other obsessions that keep me relatively healthy. I don’t know how my intrepid classmate fared on either the drive or the exam, but I do know that the snowstorm that was causing her so much grief deposited ten inches on Beaver Creek over the course of that day and night. Thanks to a friend who let me stay at his house so I didn’t have to brave Vail Pass myself, I awoke bright and early and eager for fresh tracks.
Larkspur Bowl was a breathtaking sight to behold at 8:45. I’d had, however, two encounters with fresh powder in recent weeks that left me bracing myself for the prospect of getting snow in every orifice I had and maybe some new ones besides. Not to mention that Larkspur Bowl was where, according to family legend, my dad had the wipeout of his life on a powdery day fifteen years ago. The bowl was all tracked out by the time he found his skis, poles, goggles, and hat, he said proudly, but those ten turns leading up to the yard sale were totally worth it.
As it turned out, my inner Cassandra needed to go pouting back to her temple. I had two runs in which I got to make beautiful first tracks, and I was able to find little stashes throughout the morning to claim as my own. To top it off, the stormclouds had briefly cleared away, leaving the fresh snow to dazzle beneath bright sunshine and bluebird skies.
I spent three hours skiing my ass off (almost literally. I’m able to fit into jeans that were a bit snug before ski season started) before my leg muscles turned the consistency of unrefrigerated Jell-O shots. It was only with effort that I was able to turn my legs at all on the last groomer down to my locker, but it was well worth it. My faith in first tracks has been restored long enough for me to find a new way to lose my shirt, skis, poles, etc. after the next big storm.
In the meantime, I’ll keep trying to find a profitable use for my detailed knowledge of Colorado combined with doom-and-gloomery. Maybe Fox News Denver is hiring.
My cousin’s boyfriend knew a decent restaurant in West Vail. I pulled off the exit and circled around the Holiday Inn lot, trying to find parking.
“Dammit,” I grumbled. “Looks like everyone else had the same bright idea we did.”
Fortunately, due to all the fresh snow being dumped on the ground, a parking space that probably wasn’t supposed to be appeared soon enough. I’m pretty sure I actually parked on a lawn, but with all the snow, nobody was able to tell.
The restaurant had a forty-five minute wait–everyone else had, indeed, gotten the same bright idea as we had.
“Put us in,” my cousin’s boyfriend (whom I shall now address as Milo, for confusion’s sake) sighed.
We got some coffees and a chai from the coffee bar attached to the restaurant. Milo paid for my chai to thank me for driving.
“Thank me if we get home in one piece,” I remarked, though I certainly didn’t turn him down.
My boyfriend hadn’t come with us to the Beav because he’d felt a little stuffy and lethargic. “If we were just going to Copper, where we have a pass,” he explained, “I’d do it. But those tickets are too much to waste if I’m not feeling well.”
Since I’d likely be putting the ticket on my card, I had to agree. Besides, my boyfriend eats the way perfectionists do everything: at length and laboriously. With him in the group, we wouldn’t have hit the slopes until noon.
I called to tell him he hadn’t missed much. When I relayed the story of the lightning, he made appropriate oohs and ahs.
“Shit, I’m glad I didn’t come!”
“No kidding. Especially since we can’t even get back to the condo. Are the boys back yet?”
“Nah, I think they’re still skiing.”
“Fuck, really? I thought there’d be lightning all over this side of the Divide!”
“Guess not. Haven’t seen any here. Oh, the Eisenhower Tunnel’s closed.”
I swore vigorously. That tunnel was our only conduit home–if Vail Pass opened back up, that is. First things first.
“Well, I’d rather be stuck in the condo. At least I have clean underwear there.”
We shot the shit for another few minutes. I checked the time on my phone. Another thirty minutes until we could conceivably get a table. I wandered over to the counter where my cousin and Milo sat.
“Anything interesting in the news?”
“Crossword puzzle,” my cousin said. I hovered over her shoulder to take a look. It was the New York Times Sunday edition, and I could only figure out a few of the clues off the top of my head.
I needed a break after fifteen minutes, so I wandered off to use the bathroom, taking my own sweet time getting there and back. I still only killed another five minutes.
My cousin and I worked on the crossword puzzle. Milo and I started a new hobby that would occupy us for the better part of the afternoon: calling CDOT’s hotline to find out if they’d opened up the damn pass yet.
“Anything?” I hopefully asked as he got off the phone.
“Nope. But they just shut down I-70 all the way to Georgetown.”
“Fuckin’ A! They’re supposed to open the highway, not close more of it off!”
He shrugged. “Well, if we manage to get out of here, we can at least get back to Silverthorne.”
“If we can get out of here,” I sighed.
Another eternity passed. Finally, we got called back to a table. In spite of our interest in taking our own sweet time here, too, we wound up wolfing down everything put in front of us. After lingering over our iced teas, coffees, and, in Milo’s case, beers, we figured we were running down our server’s patience.
We paid up and wandered into the hotel lobby. All the seats were taken, so we stood awkwardly by the window, anxiously checking the sky. The storm seemed to be lessening somewhat, although compared to “total whiteout,” this wasn’t saying much.
Milo dialed the hotline again.
“Vail Pass closed, Eisenhower Tunnel closed, I-70 closed to Idaho Springs.”
“Well, shit, if it’s moving east, we should be able to get out of here sometime soon,” I mused.
We all turned back to the window. Maybe the ease-up was just a figment of my imagination, because we couldn’t see across the highway.
“You think they’re gonna open it back up tonight?” my cousin asked.
“Christ, I hope so.” I stared out the window some more, looking for any sign of a clearing. “But maybe not.”
“Maybe we should get a room before they all fill up,” she said thoughtfully.
I glanced around the lobby. It had thinned out a bit, probably from people having that exact same thought.
“Yeah,” I sighed. “And the Holiday Inn is probably going to be our cheapest option in this town.”
We stared at each other, lips pursed. My cousin shrugged. “Up to you guys.”
Milo and I looked at each other, then at the window.
“It’s, what, 1:30 now?” I asked. They nodded. “I say we wait until 4:00. If it hasn’t opened by then, we’ll see if we can scramble for whatever they’ve got left. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather get back to the condo if that becomes an option.”
Nods of agreement. “I don’t have anything to change into,” my cousin said.
“Yeah, neither do I. Without clean clothes, I can guarantee I am not up to Vail standards. Not even West Vail.”
“The prices are bullshit,” Milo agreed.
“Besides,” I added, a new thought giving me a sudden ray of sunshine that the view out the window would not, “it’s Sunday night. They have to open that pass back up–this is an interstate highway! Can’t have all those trucks getting bogged down and losing big business money!”
And so we settled back into our crossword puzzle, content in the knowledge that we would be somewhere, anywhere besides West Vail by this evening.
2:00 rolled around and the lack of individual crosswords for each of us grated on our nerves. Milo, sensing that our pleasant camaraderie was soon going to be reduced to, “STOP BREATHING NEAR ME!” wandered out to get his own New York Times. We divided the sections amongst ourselves on his return.
At 3:00, we’d exhausted all the interesting articles in the sections we’d traded back and forth and were now going back to read about exciting new frontiers in the world of wallpaper design.
Periodically, we’d called for updates from CDOT. Not only were Vail Pass and the Tunnel still mockingly closed, the closure gates had been dropping farther and farther east on the highway, first at the junction with US-6, now at Floyd Hill. I stuck to my guns.
“If they’re shutting it down that far east, that means the worst of it has to have passed us,” I reasoned. “Hell, they might have crews working on the pass right now. They’ll open this up, we can eat in Silverthorne, and then maybe we can even get back to Denver tonight.”
Milo grunted. My cousin squinted at the crossword puzzle and asked, “Anyone know the name of a major European tributary?”
At 3:30, I called Ethan again. “Fuck my life!” I wailed.
“With a sixty-pound chainsaw?” he asked. I snarled at him. “So, the boys are back,” he said when I was done. “They had an awesome day. Epic pow at Copper, apparently.”
I applied my forehead repeatedly to the table and hung up.
At 3:45, we examined the road with a critical eye. Fifteen minutes to our self-imposed deadline, and still no word on when the pass might open back up.
My cousin and I had the crossword puzzle a quarter of the way done. Anytime my cousin stated a clue out loud, Milo would sit back, cross his arms, stroke his beard, and reply, “Oh, I don’t know. Is it…Poundtown?”
At 4:00, I had started drawing nonsensical patterns in the margins of the newspaper. My eyes had acquired a wild sheen, I had noticed on my every-ten-minutes trip to the bathroom.
Milo dialed 511.
“Nada,” he said.
We looked at each other, glassy-eyed.
“They have to open the pass back up,” I croaked. “I don’t think I wanna drive it if it’s dark, but it’s not dark yet.”
Milo and my cousin nodded solemnly.
At 4:15, 4:30, and 4:45, there was no new information. My cousin would ask for clues to the crossword–“It’s the capital of Uzbekistan,” “It’s an ingredient commonly found in West Indian cooking,”–and Milo would reply, “Poundtown.” Only instead of getting more aggravating with each repetition, my cousin and I would holler and guffaw more loudly, holding our sides and lowering ourselves to the floor to gasp for air.
“It’s gonna be like the sequel to The Shining if we don’t get out of here soon!” I screamed at Ethan.
“At least we have a TV,” he gloated.
“Fuck you!” I shrieked.
At 4:55, something was happening. Milo dialed 511, but this time, they were updating their available information. We held our breath as he hung up and dialed again at 4:56. Still updating. We agreed to wait until 5:00. In the intervening three and a half minutes, we stared intently at the phone, hoping by the force of our gazes to make this pot boil.
5:00 barely registered on the screen when Milo snatched it up and dialed. Confusion, then joy, spread across his face. We held our breath.
“It’s open! Eisenhower’s open, the pass is open! We can go home!”
We screamed for joy and ran out of the Holiday Inn, barely attracting the notice of the receptionists.
As soon as we got to the on-ramp, however, there was a problem. It was closed. “Must not have gotten the notice,” I said as I inched forward with the other five billion cars to Vail’s main highway entrance.
Ethan called. “Hey, so they opened the tunnel.”
“I know! They opened the pass, too!”
“Cool. So…mind if I go home with the boys?”
I was terrifically, horrendously jealous of him for being able to get home before us, but then again, it would be one stop I wouldn’t have to make on the way back. “Sure, go ahead.”
Meanwhile, Milo had dialed 511 to see what all the fuss was about. “Well, shit.”
“Shit?!” my cousin and I exploded.
“Turns out Vail Pass isn’t open. Everything but Vail Pass is open.”
I swore. By now, I was in the clusterfuck of a traffic circle that constituted Vail’s main entrance and exit, and I got in the innermost lane to turn back around to our West Vail haven. Just as I passed the on-ramp, however, I spotted most of the cars that were in front of us getting on.
“If the pass is closed, why are they letting people on here?”
Shrugs all around. I cursed even more vigorously. I’d missed the boat on getting on here.
I drove the mile back to West Vail and went through that circle again. The on-ramp was still closed. Once again, I joined a creeping length of cars making for the Main Village. This time, I followed the rest of them onto the highway. At 6:00, one hour after we left the Holiday Inn and nine hours after we’d left Silverthorne that morning, we were finally on the road home.
Traffic moved slowly over Vail Pass, but that was okay. Even with the plow crews still working the road, the road was slick. Traffic moved slowly past Silverthorne and screeched to a near-halt in the Eisenhower Tunnel.
“Why the hell are we going three miles an hour? It’s dry in here!” After fifteen minutes of what should have been a two-minute drive, we had our answer. Some asshole had neglected to fill his tank before entering the tunnel. He was pushing his Jeep Grand Cherokee out of the tunnel solo, his shoulder to the passenger side door. At least he was almost out of the tunnel when we passed him.
The rest of the road was snow-free.
“Why’d they shut this down?” Milo queried as we shot past Georgetown, Idaho Springs, the US-6 junction, and Floyd Hill, able to go the full 65 miles an hour on desert-dry pavement.
“Who the hell knows why they do anything around here?”
At 8:30, I dropped off my cousin and Milo. At 9:00, I staggered up my own stairs. Ethan was waiting in the kitchen for me. He looked me up and down, walked across the room, and gave me a heartfelt hug and kiss.
* * *
Going over Vail Pass is always a risky proposition. Not because there are a particularly large number of fatalities, but because the favorite hobby of CDOT operations managers is closing down that stretch of road for hours at a time.
This doesn’t mean, however, that I will refrain from further pilgrimages to stick my face into the Beav. Far from it–this year, I’m getting an Epic Local Pass almost entirely for the promise of ten days at the Beav and her big sister, Vail.
Coloradans. You can either admire our tenacity or admit the truth: We are just about the dumbest people on earth.