Yesterday I drove halfway across the state of Colorado, or so it seemed, from Fort Collins on the northern Front Range south to Golden, and then up through the foothills and into the high country, across the wide and windy bowl of South Park, and then down into the Upper Arkansas Valley and home.
The trip is a smidge over 200 miles and usually takes about three and a half hours.
Unless there's bad traffic in the urban parts, which wasn't the case yesterday. I made good time all the way to where US 285 exits the interstate. I even made good time going up through the foothills. I was ahead of the evening rush hour traffic and the snow from Sunday and Monday had mostly melted off the road.
Until I drove over Kenosha Pass (10,000 feet elevation), and into South Park. Where the wind was howling in 40 to 50 mph gusts, the new snow was whipping through the air in white clouds, and the pavement was a slick of icy ruts for miles.
That's the other exception about the trip taking about three and a half hours: except when it's winter in the mountains.
When I looked out at the sea of white snow in motion and felt the first gusts, I reminded myself that the important thing was getting home safely, not getting home quickly. That's the first road-trip lesson: patience pays, especially in winter driving.
I sighed, and checked my rear-view mirror. The guy driving the jacked-up Dodge truck behind me with the huge tires and rumbling muffler saw the ice and blowing snow at the same time as I did, and moved back to a safe distance.
That was reassuring. On we went, slowing from 65 mph to 45, sometimes picking up to 50, sometimes slowing to 40 or 30, he keeping the same safe distance behind me, both of us okay.
Until the Lexus SUV came up behind him, pulled out to pass, skidded sideways, and just managed to stay on the road, got past him and tried to zoom past me because someone was coming in the opposite lane (some people don't learn).
The Lexus driver goosed the accelerator and did a full 360 just off my left front. I slid right and out-of-the-way, and watched as the Lexus sailed off the road and into a drift in the ditch.
The Dodge behind me copied my evasive maneuver. We were both slowing to go back to see if the idiot in the Lexus was okay when we saw that the "someone coming" was a State Trooper, and she already had her lights flashing. So the Dodge driver and I looked at each other, shrugged, crept back on the road and headed on.
I don't know what he was thinking, but I bet it was some version of "Poetic justice--and thank heavens I didn't have to stop and rescue that idiot." The Dodge driver and I stayed together, a little duo navigating the ice and the wind, until we got to Fairplay, where he tapped his horn, and when I looked back, he waved "good luck!" and turned off.
The ice and wind continued for another ten miles, and then the pavement was clear and I sped up, exhausted but relieved.
I made it home just after sunset, at five-thirty. A full hour later than I expected.
The other lesson? Be open to goodness. The guy in the jacked up pickup with the loud muffler and huge tires turned out to be good company for navigating through the white-outs, wind and icy roads. Thanks, buddy!