The holidays are over and it’s back to work. Surprisingly, I was ready to return to a semblance of normalcy after a rather hectic week in which my wife, child and I visited both sets of grandparents, opened a lot of presents, ate too much food, got too little sleep, circumvented grass fires, drove through a snow storm, crossed the continental divide, dodged a few deer, worked in a round of golf, watched a few basketball games, nearly fell off a mountain, drove 2,189 miles and spent $245 on gas.
Was it worth it? Absolutely … except perhaps the part about nearly falling off a mountain.
After spending Christmas weekend in Norman, Okla., with my in-laws, we loaded the van and headed west for Grand Junction, Colo., where our college basketball team was playing a few games. We apparently got out of the Oklahoma City area just before the fires started on Tuesday.
The drive to Grand Junction was uneventful and gorgeous as we followed highway 50 through Colorado which runs alongside the Arkansas River for several miles. The drive through Gunnison was gorgeous as the snow-covered mountains overlooked the frozen lake.
My daughter kept asking if we were “stuck,” or “driving in circles” since we crossed the lake several times as we wound through the mountains.
We made it to Grand Junction with no trouble at all where we watched the basketball team play a couple of games. The team played really well even though it lost one of the two games.
My favorite player played great. I didn’t really get to tell her that prior to leaving Friday, because we were in a hurry to get on the road, but I’ll make it a priority to point out to her that I thought she played great over the weekend. She boosted her scoring average by more than a point and played solid defense. She also didn't make any big mistakes which has always been one of her strengths as a player.
The final game finished around 8 p.m. (Texas time) on Friday night. I knew the bus was returning home that night, so I had made plans to leave after the game as well. We were heading different directions because the family and I had to drive farther south and decided to cut across New Mexico.
While the bus had a rather uneventful return trip, aside from the stench of a loaded restroom tank and one player’s illness, our trip was far more taxing.
We had to dodge a herd of deer on a two-lane highway at one point. We came through unscathed, although a little rattled, but that was nothing compared to what we were about to face.
When a mountain pass becomes treacherous, highway departments should really consider posting signs that read “Stupid flatlanders must stop now!” There were plenty of signs reading “Chains required on all commercial vehicles.” But what the heck does that mean for me?
At one point as we trudged along in the snow and ice, we passed a sign that said the summit is 13 miles. “Good,” I think to myself. “If we can reach the top, we should be OK.” It took us an hour to reach the top of the mountain from that point.
And just to add anxiety to the already harrowing trip, as we reached a flat area on top of the mountain, we passed a sign that read “Chains or snow tires required on all vehicles beyond this point.”
Great! Here we are at the top of the mountain in a vehicle ill-equipped to continue the journey. My options are to turn around and go back down the way we came or break the law – and it was pointed out that proceeding without the proper equipment was unlawful – and go down the mountain by continuing forward.
I decided that if I had to go down the mountain one way or another, I was going to continue going forward.
The minutes passed into hours and the anxiety never lessened as we continued down the mountain only to discover that we had to reach the summit two more times before truly beginning the trek down. But our trusty van and its front-wheel drive, never slipped and never skidded on the ice, for which we gave much thanks to God. We were also lucky enough to fall in behind a snow plow and follow the freshly plowed highway much of the way down.
We were fortunate that after a long, hard day of cheering for her favorite team, my 5-year-old was asleep the entire trip. Had she been awake, I’m sure she would have constantly been asking … “Da-da, are we going to boom?” You see, the word “crash” has been outlawed in our van after we bumped bumpers with another vehicle backing out of a driveway one day a year or so ago.
After several days of hearing our 5-year-old repeat the story and reprimand us for “crashing,” my wife finally told her that the word “crash” is a bad word and must not be repeated in the van. She has stuck with that rule, occasionally correcting us if we use the word in casual conversation.
But we didn’t crash or boom.
By my calculations, it is approximately 170 miles from Grand Junction to Durango. For a West Texas boy, 170 miles means about 2 and a half hours of road time. But on the fateful night in the driving snow, it took us more than five hours to make that trip.
We eventually stopped about an hour south of Durango, in Bloomfield, N.M., where we stayed at a Super 8. Our room smelled as if it had housed someone’s hunting dogs the night before. The smell was probably similar to what the team was experiencing on their bus ride home with the loaded sewer tank. But at 3 a.m. and completely exhausted from the tense travel, what else were we going to do? If we passed up this motel, it was another two hours until we reached civilization.
We decided to sleep for four hours before returning to the road. After all, we still had roughly 11 hours of road time ahead of us before reaching my parents house on New Year’s Eve.
Needless to say, that 11 hours was nothing. We even killed an hour in Albuquerque eating a late breakfast. We traded our 10 to 20-mile per hour drive the night before for a pleasant 80-mile per hour pace on Saturday and finally came to a stop at 5 p.m.
The next day we took communion at my father’s church, dug into a big pile of world famous steak fingers then drove the final 2 and a half hours home. It was nice to get home and see that our cats were still alive and hadn’t destroyed the house. It was nice to finally sleep in our own beds, and it was nice to look around and see nothing but flat land, albeit burning out of control in several places.
After 2,189 miles in eight days, one gets a little road weary. But it won’t last long. After all, I have to get back on the road this Saturday if I’m going to watch the team play in Oklahoma City.