So I’ve been absolutely horrible about documenting my recent travels, which is actually quite a shame since I’ve done some pretty awesome stuff. Hopefully I will convince myself to go back and do a post on such things as the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, but for now let’s skip ahead to present day.
Yesterday I left Palo Alto, just outside of San Francisco, around 7:45 a.m Pacific time. This evening I arrived in Monument, just outside of Colorado Springs, about 9:30 p.m. Mountain time. In between I drove over 1,400 miles in about 21 hours, traveling across four (large) states and two time zones and going from an altitude of 0 feet above sea level to 11,158 feet, down to 5,430 feet and back up to 6,975 feet.
I had been dreading this 20+ hour trip pretty much since August, as it is the longest and by far the worst of the entire 4.5 month saga. Unlike several other long drives, I would be doing it alone, plus I would have to divide it into two days and I had no where to stay the first night. Plus there’s the whole driving-through-the-Rockies-in-November thing.
I mentioned to my world traveling sister that I needed a place to sleep somewhere in the general vicinity of Salt Lake City in the hopes that she would be able to work some of her crazy magic. And of course she was. She put me in touch with her friend Sarah, who lives just outside Salt Lake City. Sarah and her family made my trip so much better, not just giving me a place to stay, but making me feel really welcome and sending me off with the most amazing breakfast. Most importantly, they took very good care of my cacti.
The plan for today involved making it to the Denver International Airport by 8 p.m., when Cecily was flying in to see me. Because really we could not be allowed to hit the three month mark of not seeing each other. That is not okay. My original route was about 8.5 hours long and included going north through Wyoming and then back south. That made pretty much no sense to me, but I was prepared to go with it anyway, mostly because it meant visiting my 34th state.
But Sarah’s husband prevailed upon me the error of my ways and convinced me to go south on a state highway through absolutely beautiful country for about two hours until catching I-70. It added 30 minutes to my drive, which again seemed odd since it was actually less miles. But hey, I had some time to kill before I needed to be in Denver and there were no tolls on the alternative route so I was sold.
The drive was incredibly beautiful and I spent several hours wishing Cecily was in my passenger seat with her camera. Then I got on I-70 and began to climb. And climb. And climb. Suddenly there was ice frozen on all of the guardrails. Finally at 10,600 feet I thought I could go no higher. I stopped for dinner and decided to kill some time for a while since I only had 89 miles to go and over 2.5 hours before Cecily’s arrival. INSERT GIANT TACTICAL ERROR HERE.
By the time I left, it was dark and I had just wasted an entire hour of daylight. To my astonishment, my GPS was estimating my time to the airport as one hour and 40 minutes. How could it take that long to go 89 miles on an interstate with a speed limit of 75? I soon found out when to my astonishment the road began to climb even higher. Eventually I entered a tunnel that was 11,158 feet above sea level! And that’s when things got really scary. That’s when we started going down.
Suddenly I’m driving down a mountain in the pitch black with a 7% grade, going around curves I can’t really see. Then I hit construction with lanes so narrow the suggested speed limit was 25. Then I saw the sign for deer crossings. By this time my knuckles are white from my death grip on the steering wheel, my eyes are glued to the tail lights in front of me for some warning of which way the road may curve next, my ears are in a quasi-popped state, the smell of burnt rubber is in the air as I brake to below the speed limit, and I’m taking deep breaths to try and avoid a panic attack. I think I went down around 4,000 feet in elevation in about 50 miles.
Besides being in an accident, it might have been the most terrifying driving experience I have ever had. And yes, it did take me the entire one hour and 45 minutes to get there.