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.