The First Trip in New Baleau- Autumn of 1981 A Leave of Absence Leads to a Most Memorable Trip: Part XVI

The next day I was streaking east on I-80 to Creston, a bar, cafe, and gas pump junction with WY.789/CO.13. Within a couple of hours I was back in Colorado, and it sure felt great…like coming home. I stopped at The City Market (I loved that name…strictly a Colorado chain) just long enough to smell the apples, that is, the Red Delicious kind which were home-grown on the western slopes, not many miles from Craig. Smelling was simply a figure of speech, but after actually feeling that hard, shiny surface, I knew those apples were ripe and ready. And oh, was that first bite delicious! They had an appropriate brand name, for sure.

I headed east on U.S. 40 through Hayden, the namesake of an 1870’s surveyor (Fredrick S.), and Steamboat Springs, where I stopped at the city park to watch and hear the rush of the cold Yampa River, and the rumbling of the Rio Grande coal train along the riverside roadbed. I climbed up to Rabbit Ears Pass, stopping briefly at one of those “Scenic View” pull-offs to get a gasping look at the valley below, remembering again the ’63 trip when 1 first experienced the incredible panorama. Somewhere between Granby and Winter Park I pulled off onto a National Park Access Road and found a near-perfect spot to construct a campsite…one last contact with nature before returning to the asphalt jungle. I had a canopy of evergreens and the sonance of the Fraser River, a God-given setting for the last half of the ninth inning. I had my own little private, premature giving-of-thanks dinner of toasted hotdogs over red-hot coals.

A blanket of white caught me completely by surprise the next morning…every star had been visible the night before. The whole scene was almost too perfect — it was so quiet and clean, as if the world was at peace with itself. It was sort of a let-down leaving-my little winter haven, but I had my mind set on being in Denver that evening. Besides, I had one more summit to scale, and I was anticipating that I might have to “chain up” before my ascension. I had been over Berthoud Pass (elev. – 11,314 ft.) before and I knew that it was no walk in the park, even in normal driving conditions.

As I approached the all-knowing, hazard-warning semaphore at the base of the incline, there was no “Chains Required” flashing across the dark, bulbous board. The unheralded and underrated snow-removal crew had outdone themselves again. Negotiating the hairpin turns and steep grades made me realize it wasn’t too long ago that ol’ U.S. 40, along with U.S. 6 which had to twist and turn itself up and over Loveland Pass, were the only vehicular accesses to Denver from the west. At least the Denver & Rio Grande Western had an easier time of crossing The Divide, thanks to the construction of the Moffat Tunnel back in the 1920’s.

I slid down to Idaho Springs and junctioned with I-70 which has the dubious distinction of having the most dangerous downgrades ever devised by the Corps of Engineers. The admonishing signs gave a very direct and personal testimony to the 18-wheelers of just what was ahead for them: “Truckers, don’t even think you’re through with the curves and steep downgrades!”. I took the warning to heart, staying in the right lane in second gear. Then the familiar skyline of Denver popped up from behind a mesa in suburban Golden, and I thought of Dick and Carol Anderson…”They were the last people I’d see leaving, and the first people I’d see coming back”. I had come full circle—the odyssey was complete.

 

Footnote: 5,440 miles driven in 57 days

 

William C. Early © 1981

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