5,351 km: Into the Rockies

I woke up in Kansas and braced myself for a couple more hours of boring driving. Speaking to a guy working at Subway, he empathized: “You need a really good sense of imagination to enjoy driving around here.”

My eyes are still red and burning so I break down and buy a pair of glasses. Getting into the car, I’m detecting some serious olfactory funkiness. At first I’m not sure whether it’s me or the car – it’s somewhere between bad meat and good cheese, but neither meat nor cheese should be in here – and I hope it’s me, since I’m easier to hose down than the car, but alas… it’s the car. Will need to unpack everything and leave the doors and windows open to let the SoCal heat burn off whatever this is.

As I’m headed toward the Colorado border I come over a very small hill and see that all of the traffic ahead is stopped. A pickup towing a camping trailer is all over the place – the truck is in the median and the trailer is on its side across the two opposing lanes, all traffic brought to a halt. It must have just happened a few minutes ago, there are emergency vehicles on the scene but it looks like they’ve just arrived and are figuring out what to do – I can see people are still in the truck.

I’m excited as I hit the eastern Colorado border, but there isn’t any dramatic change. In fact, eastern Colorado looks pretty much identical to Kansas.

Eventually I do see the Rockies (Mile Marker 312!  Woo!) and I also see some very ominous black clouds over them.  Hrm.  As I get into Denver the traffic seems surprisingly aggressive, especially considering it’s Sunday afternoon on a long weekend.  The level of aggression doesn’t diminish as I head out the west end of town and start climbing – and as the number of lanes is reduced – and I think to myself that I’m going to see another accident here soon.

And – not kidding – about twenty seconds later I do.  Two cars try to simultaneously pull into the lane I’m occupying, one from the left, one from the right, a few hundred feet ahead of me (both had just blown past me).  POW!  Neither loses control and both immediately pull off to the right, but I’m rapidly approaching a cloud of plastic body panel fragments and various other debris; maybe a mirror, and maybe what looks to be a piece of tire?  I slam her into third and lay down some fancy footwork to avoid hitting any of the detritus.

The limitations of the Wave’s engine are definitely on display as I’m climbing into the Rockies.  For the most part I’m just finding spots between slower-moving trucks and hanging out there.  Many people are climbing at 75+ mph and the Wave just isn’t going to do that in third gear.  By this point I’ve also hit the rain and I’d really prefer not to.

A camouflage-wrapped hatchback pulls up next to me somewhere along the line.  Anyone who watches car shows or reads car magazines will know what I mean – not military-style camo, but a sort of houndstooth pattern that keeps any onlookers from distinguishing the lines of the car.  Auto companies use this stuff to real-world test models that are still in development.  It’s roughly the shape of a Veloster, but I don’t think that’s what it is – it looks a little beefier in the rear.  It easily pulls past me, as does a second identical car.

I hit the Eisenhower Tunnel at 11,000+ feet.  I would expect my car to be struggling on the hard inclines I took to get here, but I was kind of surprised at how it felt here.  Even as the road leveled out, the car still felt gutless – I was in third gear on what was basically a flat stretch and she was just gasping.  I don’t really know why this is, I wouldn’t have thought there would be that much less oxygen to affect the car to that extent.  Oh well, I don’t think we’ll have to worry about that again until the Andes (my knowledge of Central American geography is pretty limited though).

My plan is to find a nice mountain town to camp outside of, so I pull into Frisco.  It looks like a really nice spot, so I pull in to fill up the tank before heading down any side roads.  People are wearing jackets… that’s interesting… I get out to pump and I realize it’s actually kind of cold, and this is in the afternoon with the sun out.  The gas station attendant tells me that he doesn’t know how cold it gets at nights, but he’s been scraping ice off his window.  I’m definitely not equipped for that kind of camping – I’ve got a three-season sleeping bag and lack crucial gear, i.e. a jacket, warm pants, long johns, etc…  I need to get somewhere that’s either warm or cheap, and this place doesn’t appear to be either.

I pass by Vail shortly afterward.  I’m still at 8,000+ feet so it’s going to be cold, and although I’ve never been to Vail, I don’t imagine it’s cheap.  I keep an eye out for a Motel 6 but to no avail.

I drop another couple thousand feet to the 5,500-6,000 range and decide to camp.  Labor Day weekend strikes though – campsites are basically all full.  I do find one place that wants to charge me $40+ to share a campsite with six or seven other groups of people – about two feet between our tents, with one fire and one picnic table between us.  Sucks to that.  I hit Glenwood Canyon and see a couple of cheap-looking roadside motels.  Most have no vacancy, but one does… It’s not awful but it’s nothing to write home about (as I’m sort of doing) either.  Two straight nights indoors, not what I’d planned.  Will be roughing it for sure tomorrow.  I find a place selling bison meatloaf for dinner, it’s pretty damn good.

Tomorrow I’m not even going to try to make distance.  The end of the Labor Day weekend means the I-15 into Nevada and SoCal will be a war zone.  Going to spend at least another day here in Colorado.  Checking a map, I’m only about twenty miles from the former home of Hunter S. Thompson (Woody Creek) so I’m going to have a beer or two at his old watering hole, see what it’s like.