Yesterday we left the Denver Metro area at a bit past noon, headed over the mountains on our way home after helping out again with my mom’s hospice care. The forecast called for wind in the high country–guests over 60 miles per hour in some places–but it wasn’t snowing, and the temperatures were unseasonably warm, so we figured that we’d be okay.
The sun shone and the pavement was dry as we wound up Turkey Creek Canyon into the foothills of the Front Range, dry as we passed through Aspen Park and Conifer half a vertical mile above Denver, dry as we followed the highway up ridges and down drainages–Elk Creek, Wisp Creek, Roland Gulch, Deer Creek; dry as the highway dropped into the rocky canyon along the North Fork of the South Platte River, which the road follows to the first and highest pass of the trip home, 10,000-foot-elevation Kenosha Pass.
All seemed well. Until we spotted the orange caution sign: “Highway closed in 18 miles.” Kenosha Pass.
I called the highway department road condtions line. As of 1:20 p.m., a semi had blown over, blocking both lanes at the foot of Kenosha Pass and closing the highway indefinitely. It was then 1:58 p.m. There’s no practical detour for this route other than turning around and driving back to Denver.
“If they knew about it at 1:20,” said Richard, “It’ll probably be cleared by the time we get to Kenosha Pass.”
On we went, tacking into increasingly strong wind gusts. We didn’t encounter anything else indicating a road closure until the programmable warning sign at the last hamlet before the pass, broadcasting this unintentional haiku in flashing lights: “285 closed ahead/accident, high winds/poor visibility.” Still no line of stalled traffic–until we reached the very top of Kenosha Pass. There we stopped, along with dozens of others, semis pulled off on the road verges, cars and SUVs lined up, all very orderly.
We pulled behind the last vehicle in line, and Richard shut the car off.
“They’ll have it cleared soon,” he said. It was quarter past two. I watched the light change in the aspen grove beside the road. As the sun slid toward the snowy ridge, the shadows turned a gorgeous shade of blue. I got out my camera and shot a photo. Then I pulled out my laptop and began catching up on the journal writing I didn’t have time or energy to do while we were helping my folks.
I typed; Richard thought about the water feature he’s been commissioned to design and sculpt for a Louisville garden. The sun set behind the snowy ridge to the west. Gusts buffeted the car. A Park County Sheriff’s vehicle came down the line, stopping at each car: “They’re still working on getting the semi off the highway. No known time for reopening.” It was three-o-five.
A few cars in the line ahead of us turned around, speeding back down the pass. We decided to wait until four, and if the road wasn’t open then, we’d drive back to Denver and stay the night.
We watched a couple of ravens play on the waves of wind, swooping and tumbling. The light began to fade. Richard turned on the engine for a few minutes to warm up the car. The ravens blew by again. I typed; Richard thought about sculpture.
Finally, at quarter to four, a semi-sized wrecker came by. A few minutes later, the gate at the front of the line swung upward. Taillights came on in front of us, and the line moved forward. We were on our way!
As we came around the curve at the top of the pass, headed into a wicked wind, we could see what was ahead in South Park: ground blizzards, clouds of blinding snow formed when high winds blow across the surface of this bowl-shaped high-elevation valley.
Sometimes the snow blows across the highway in lovely white streams as in the photo above (streams that can leave a slick of black ice on the pavement); sometimes with a bit more snow and bigger gusts, it forms a moving white fog that obscures all but the nearest oncoming traffic.
We had both on the slow drive down the pass, past the semi, tractor, trailer and all, lying on its side just off the highway, and for the next dozen miles across the north half of South Park.
Then the roaring gusts quieted to mere wind, the evening sun came out, and the rest of the drive was lovely and uneventful. We dropped out of the high country into our own valley just as the sun set behind the 14,000 foot-high peaks of the Sawatch Range that form our western horizon, and all was well.
At home last night, it occurred to me that our drive home was no different than the figurative journey life takes us on: we set our course after making our best guess about the conditions; we go along until something stops us; we adapt as best we can; and when we can continue, sometimes conditions are miserable, sometimes just a bit stressful, and sometimes really lovely.
It seems to me that the important point of any journey, literal or figurative, is the spirit we bring to it. If we can adapt to the unexpected with grace–whether highway closures or brain cancer, appreciating the light, the aspens, and the ravens playing on the streams of wind, the trip will be easier and perhaps even full of gifts we could not have expected.