10 Inches? Maybe I Should Stick My Tongue to a Pole (Not That Kind, You Perv)

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.

Tony Montana would be so jealous.
Tony Montana would be so jealous.

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.

Long Road Trip Haiku

Driving through Wyoming can be terrifying, even when the terror comes from factors not of your own doing. I’ve gone through a white-out blizzard, two zero-visibility rainstorms (in the same trip, mind you), and snowy mountain passes in June. The eight-and-a-half hour trip from Denver to Jackson is more fraught with peril than a trip on modern roads really ought to be, and yet, I’m sometimes grateful for the occasional surges of adrenaline. This is because the alternative is eight and a half hours of mind-numbing boredom.

Up until the last hour and a half or so of the trip, Wyoming is bleak. A traveler crosses the Continental Divide twice, but both times leave a weary mind thinking WYDOT is playing some kind of practical joke. As a native Coloradan, I’m well aware that this is what most people have in mind when they mentally picture the Great Divide, and southern Wyoming looks nothing like that.

So when my last drive up to Jackson passed fairly uneventfully, my mind began to wander. I’d seen the landscape so many times that even the more majestic, mountainous region where the Wind River range peters out and the Grand Tetons are about to begin failed to inspire me. Instead, I started looking at road signs. And thinking how poetic they could be. And sharing the resulting poems with poor Ethan, who knows it is in his best interests to keep the driver happy.

“You should write those down,” he murmured, perhaps with some air of sincerity.

So here y’all go. Blame Ethan if you don’t like them.

1. Winter Dangers

Roads may be icy

Bridges freeze before roadways

Slower speeds advised.

2. Wildlife

Cattle guards ahead

Deer crossing when lights flashing

No fishing off bridge.

3. Recreation

No hunting allowed

KOA campground, next left

Services ahead.

4. Mountains are fun!

Rockslide area

No stopping, slide area

Avalanche danger.

5. And, finally, some National Park haiku:

Do not feed wildlife

Bears are wild, do not approach

Leave bison alone.

Ponder on that while you endure your next long road trip.

EPIC POW!

In the first week of last November, Ethan and I went hiking. It was a beautiful, 70-degree day, and we worked up a good sweat. Two days later, it was snowing. Such is the state of affairs in Colorado.

This year, the first storm hit two weeks earlier. Monday’s high was 78. I wore short sleeves to work. When the sun set on Tuesday night, the temperature dropped to nearly freezing and a persistent rain fell. By 11:00 p.m., it turned to snow.

The storm hit the entire state. Given that Loveland had just opened its third run, we weren’t going to go skiing. Yes, there was the promise of fresh powder. But none of the bowls would be open. Since we already had quite a bit going on Wednesday afternoon, we were content in the knowledge that this was only a foretaste of epic gnar-shredding to come.

Then Wednesday morning arrived. Snow piled up outside our window. I checked the snow report on my phone. Loveland had ten inches. Even one to two inches is enough to invoke what my father and uncle call Powder Rules during the regular season (back before we had the kind of skis that were made to handle powder, my cousin and I couldn’t understand why it was worth getting up at 6 to hit the first chair). I turned to Ethan, who was solidly asleep.

“So, I know Loveland’s still only got three runs open, but ten inches!”

He groaned, trying to shake me off. When I continued poking him, he gave a wicked grin and said, “You can stay right here and have ten inches.”

I looked at him wide-eyed. “Really? With who?”

“Touche,” he sighed. He blinked at the ceiling for a few minutes. “I thought you had tutoring today?”

“I could call in with powder flu.”

He blinked some more. “You really want to go, don’t you?”

I nodded, waiting for him to talk me out of it.

“Okay. Let’s go.” He threw off the covers and started pulling on his long underwear. I got dressed and checked CDOT’s road information site.

“Huh,” I said as Ethan brushed his teeth. “‘Eastbound I-70 closed at Idaho Springs due to overturned vehicle and numerous accidents.’ That sounds great.”

“What about westbound?”

“Still open.”

We looked outside. It was still snowing gleefully here in Denver, and cars were honking and sliding in our flatter-than-a-pancake part of town. We’d be idiotic to push ourselves up multiple miles of 6% grades when we didn’t need to.

Ethan finished brushing his teeth. I got our gear into the car.

Predictably, the ride was miserable. We bumped over a highway in which at least one lane was little more than ice with occasional gravel thrown in for a wonderful paint-scratching combination. Cars got angry with my cautious driving and shot past me,  only to wind up overturned on either side of the highway a few miles later. After a while, I stopped clenching the wheel white-knuckled.

“This is getting to be kind of fun,” I mused to Ethan as we passed a truck that didn’t look so much jackknifed–rather, it appeared to have gone to another dimension and been spit back out as barely assembled components.

Finally, we got to Loveland and geared up. I went to take the skis off the rack. I’d locked them in while we went to get breakfast, but now, I couldn’t get them unlocked. The locks had frozen.

“Shit,” I murmured as I tried each lock three times. I was already sweating, and we hadn’t even hit the runs yet. I looked at Ethan. “You got a lighter?” I asked, though I knew neither one of us smoked.

He didn’t dignify my question with a response, but he did go over to two other guys who’d just pulled up and asked them the same question. Seems everyone with a ski pass except us smokes something, and he soon returned triumphant. A few seconds of holding the lighter up to the ski rack as though we were trying to commit arson, and the skis were free.

So to summarize: a grand total of three available runs, an unpleasant drive, frozen ski locks, and temperatures that were genital-retreatingly cold. Was it worth it? you must doubtlessly be asking.

The answer: Hell yes! It was the first time I’d been able to ski anything that soft and technically challenging in months. The feeling of deep snow beneath skis is a tough one to explain to all but the most devoted pow-hounds, but it’s like what I imagine gliding through champagne froth would feel like.

We got in seven runs before succumbing to screaming quads–turning in deep snow makes for one hell of a workout. We got back to the car, where I’d left the ski rack open. I unlocked the car so we could put our gear in the trunk. The trunk, however, wouldn’t open.

Both Ethan and I pulled and pulled and pulled. We brushed snow away from the edges, figuring they must have frozen. Finally, I gave up and decided to go in through the backseat. But that door wouldn’t open, either.

No way in hell all the doors froze, I reasoned to myself. Then I had a thought. I walked around the back, past Ethan, who was was gasping for breath after struggling valiantly to open the trunk. I reached the driver’s door, which was already open, and hit the unlock button.

“Try it now,” I told him. He fixed me with the most incredulous stare he could manage, then burst into maniacal laughter.

We loaded up the trunk and started back down to Denver. The roads, after all morning and the better part of an afternoon being plowed, were considerably better than they had been the other direction. And though I do not look forward to future drives over packed-down ice, yesterday did get me completely fired up (more so than my ski rack was, even) over the prospect of epic powder days to come.

 

Love the outdoors, hate the environment

There’s a reason (she begins, clambering up on her soapbox) why environmentalism never took off in a big way here in Colorado or in many of its neighboring states. Sure, the people who enthusiastically applaud new mentions of the Kyoto Protocols tend not to be the ones wearing orange blaze and loading the hunting rifle up for October, but I think there are deeper issues here beyond what the party on your voter registration suggests you really ought to believe.

See, I consider myself to be a liberal. I think corporations should be taxed, and taxed heavily. I’m all for raising taxes on the superrich. And I think oil companies should pay a 90% tax unless they can demonstrate that they are making adequate, independently verified strides toward alternate energy. I’m also an enthusiastic supporter of the pro-choice movement, LGBT equality, and tolerance for all who aren’t actively harming others through their actions. I love meat, but I’ll happily smoke a bowl with the vegetarians and vegans around town (note to all feds who might trip over this: words do not constitute actions, intentions, nor admission of prior activity. Freedom of speech!).

But damn, I hate environmentalists.

I put them in the same category that I put extremists of any stripe. Anybody who tells me what I need to do or how to behave in order to live up to their standards of a pure life is automatically on my shit list. And considering there have been studies contradicting some of the central tenets of the live-local, love-the-environment movement, I have no reason to trade my gas guzzlers (especially not when I’ve invested so much in them) for an $80/month bus pass when maybe the time and aggravation aren’t worth the possibly minimal reduction in environmental impact.

And I think this is the problem with the whole movement. It’s not that I love driving so much I’ll take it over any situation. If there were better public-transit options to get from my central Denver apartment to, say, my grandmother’s suburban home or the ski resorts I frequent, I’d take full advantage. Every popped blood vessel I get screaming at someone who cuts me off on the highway probably takes a year off my lifespan. By my reckoning, this puts me on borrowed time as of today. Other drivers are dangerous, and Colorado’s weather can be unpredictable, as many of the other entries on this blog can attest. If I had the option to let a trained professional consistently get me from Point A to Point B for a reasonable price, I’d take advantage.

But sadly for us outdoor lovers, no such system exists between any Front Range city and the mountains. I believe this is a pattern throughout the United States as well as that bastion of reduced carbon emissions known as Europe. So if the environmental movement is to be believed, I’m supposed to give up my access to the outdoors–stop skiing and hiking–because it’s somehow the right thing to do. Never mind how difficult promoting environmental awareness and preservation is if you can’t introduce urban dwellers to the very environment they’re supposed to be interested in protecting.

So to all the dreamy-eyed Prius owners up in the People’s Republic of Boulder (who are still greener than Hummer drivers, but still not proving themselves to be the saviors of the bunny rabbits), I offer this challenge: Find a way to make this movement practical. Get buses out of the cities and into the small towns that rely on car traffic. Start reviving passenger trains where tracks already exist, and expand where new tracks can be put. Less talking, more walking.

And until that day, stop telling me how unhealthy my cheeseburger is while gagging on your cigarette.

Fun facts you can impress your friends with so they can look at you cross-eyed and go back to their drinks!

I was going to write about seeing the 40th International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque this past weekend. I figured between the combination of spending the weekend with my in-laws, having to get up at 3:30 in the morning to get to the park and watch the Mass Ascension, and the pressure to get 500 hot-air balloons up in the air at once to make headlines, some kind of low-grade disaster would ensue, and I’d have blog filling for all five of my followers. Alas, the day was lovely and the balloons ascended without fuss. No one had to land on the highway or on the mountains or on my boyfriend’s parents’ house, and even the arrival and departure from the park went without a fuss.

But lovely days do not make for good stories. So I thought maybe I’d have something to write about with our drive home yesterday. Something almost always goes fantastically wrong with the weather when we drive to and from Wyoming, and since Raton Pass marks the border between Colorado and New Mexico, I figured there would at least be some kind of nasty thunderstorm or even a low-grade blizzard to write about. But no–the road stayed dry the whole way home, and we even made it back with enough time to get the cat and get me to my tutoring job in time. Amazing, but still not writer-worthy.

So I decided to fill this post with useless facts about the state of Colorado and its neighbors that won’t even get you much on Jeopardy!, especially now that that damned computer will take all your winnings. These probably won’t even come up at your local bar’s trivia night. They almost certainly will send your date screaming home. And with that tantalizing lead-up, here they are:

-Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah are the only states in the Union that have no naturally defined borders, just arbitrary lines drawn on a map of the country. I actually think this one is bullshit, since Raton Pass (as previously discussed) runs through the state line between Colorado and New Mexico. It may not be much of a natural border at only an interstate highway’s width across, but damned if it isn’t one! I’ll keep y’all updated on my attempts to get Guinness World Records or whoever the hell is in charge of this shit to agree with me.

-The Denver Post defines Colorado as the crown jewel in the Rocky Mountain Empire. This empire extends to many states that share a border with Colorado, including Kansas and Nebraska, which are famous for having no Rocky Mountains nor anything resembling any mountains, rocky or not.

-According to the Denver Post’s classification system, Oklahoma isn’t really a state. At least that’s my best guess for its exclusion from the Rocky Mountain Empire.

-According to the Whole Foods bag that Ethan’s mom packed a ton of stuff into and sent up with us, the Rocky Mountain Region comprises the states of Idaho, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas, Nebraska, and Missouri. The last three still don’t have anything resembling a Rocky Mountain in them, although this one bar in Hays, Kansas, does have a lovely painting of the Rockies. Montana, however, somehow got excluded from this region, despite having more of a claim to it than Oklahoma based on having an impressive segment of the Rockies in it.

That’s probably enough to impress your friends and make your enemies weep (or is that the other way around?) for now. Stay tuned later this week, where I talk about the intersection of the great outdoors with that other oh-so-fun Jewish high holiday, Yom Kippur!

“I’m Hemorrhaging Money Here!”

That the Subaru was shuddering violently even at Jackson’s posted 35 mph speed limit was not a good sign. That it only shuddered more violently on the highway was even worse.

“I wonder what the resonance frequency of a Subaru Outback is?” I mused out loud. Ethan chuckled nervously. We had just blown through Rock Springs and were 100 miles from any noticeable form of civilization, a position not uncommon for travelers trying to get through the bland southern Wyoming landscape.

But the vibrations kind of felt like a massage after a while, and they ran together so tightly after 75 miles per hour that they were hardly noticeable. We got to Denver without winding up as discrete Subaru parts flung across the highway. Still, I resolved to take her into the dealership the next day.

The nearest dealership to my house is in Aurora. As I’ve alluded to earlier, getting from my apartment to the ‘burbs is no quick errand, and the area in which the Shortline dealership is doesn’t lend itself to lingering for a few hours. Ethan and I were invited to visit the Village Inn while they figured what was causing the vibrations.

We went through one pot of coffee. Then another. Ethan had found a copy of the Denver Post, and we each went through the headline section, then Denver & the West, then the entertainment section. We were about a quarter of the way through the crossword puzzle–the New York Times puzzle, no less–when I finally got the fateful call.

“One of the tires cracked loose from its seal,” the cheerful voice informed me, “but it looks like they all need to be replaced. Also, both the front and back brakes are worn out, the drive belt has some tears in it, and the battery started leaking acid all over its casing. That’ll of course need to be replaced, as will everything that got corroded.”

“Nnnngh,” I groaned.

“We don’t have an estimate on the tires yet,” the cheerful voice continued, “but the other repairs will total $956. Plus tax, of course.”

Ethan watched sympathetically as I audibly dropped my head to the table.

“One grand!” I shouted as Ethan guided me back up Havana, where the dealership would arrange for us to get a rental from Enterprise. “And that’s not even including the tires! I’m gonna need to sell this car to pay for its repairs!”

Ethan patted my back. “She’s four years old. We drove her a lot last year. You needed new tires anyway.”

Always reassuring, my boyfriend. I blame him for the stares we attracted as I wailed into his shoulder, attracting the stares of people waiting at the light.

The rental car, at least, got covered by the dealership. I was able to fork over $1550 and regain my car the next day. Not a moment too soon, as my other car, the one I had inherited from my mother and kept around mostly for sentimental reasons (and because it’s too old to fetch a decent price), needed to be moved out of my stepbrother’s garage. Since it had been in there for so long, it needed to be jumped.

I jumped it once and got it out of the garage and into the alley, where it died. I jumped it again and got it almost out onto the street. The third time, a combined team effort of my boyfriend, my stepbrother, and myself were able to get it moved to a parking spot along the street. That night, I joined AAA, which said they, like most health insurance companies, would not cover “preexisting conditions.” I resolved to wait two days before calling a tow truck.

Fortunately, the tow was free. Unfortunately, replacing the alternator and drive belt on this car would not be. “Second verse, same as the first!” I thought to myself as the mechanic totaled up the damage. $750.

“These cars better be fuckin’ indestructible!” I screamed to Ethan as I got off the phone.

“It could be worse,” he pointed out.

“Oh?” I said through gritted teeth.

“Yeah, remember how we took the cat to the vet yesterday? At least he didn’t need surgery!”

“Just two hundred dollars worth of diagnostic tests and pills,” I sighed, looking at the lovely scratches across my hands from where the cat dug his claws into me as I gave him said pills. He’ll need two a day for the rest of his life.

So I hope neither car needs replacement parts again for a good, long time. I also hope cars and cats can live well with only Ramen noodles as fuel, because such will be my lot in life for the next few months. We all know misery loves company.