Copyright © 2016 David C. Hay

An Interesting Trip over Loveland Pass
David C. Hay

(Yesterday for me was what the Chinese must have been thinking with their curse, "May you have an interesting life." I apologize for the length of this story, but I hope the more patient among you find it amusing.)
Top of Loveland Pass
November 17, 2016
Earlier this afternoon, I was thinking about how much I am enjoying Colorado. I could move here after all. The weather was beautiful all week, but today the whole state got the first storm of the winter. I left early to get over the mountains, but even so, it was clear that Vail pass was going to be a parking lot. I decided to skip that part and go around it via Leadville.
This turned out to be a lovely journey. It was nice driving in the mountains at a leisurely pace on a real road-instead of the Interstate. The worst of the snow had been scraped off, and traffic wasn't bad-until I got closer to Leadville. As always, the slowest person determines the pace.
Altogether the trip reminded me of what it must have been like for my parents driving over Loveland Pass in the 1940s. US route 24 took me over Tennessee Pass to Leadville. State Route 91 was the road back north, toward Copper Hill, and was bigger and faster than the US highway. Well, it was, until we found ourselves behind a snow plow. Even so, the route was over Fremont Pass, which was particularly scenic.
I got back to I-70 by 3:00, and it was moving. Big signs said that chains were required, and passenger cars had to "comply with hazard laws". Unfortunately (fortunately?) I had no idea what that was.
I'm in a little KIA. Why not?
Apparently, a ferocious accident had taken place in the East-bound Eisenhower Tunnel. They closed I-70. (!!). At Silverthorne, they routed all traffic over Loveland Pass. Finally, I get to go over the pass during some interesting weather! My Kia worked hard, but we have made it all the way to the top! (I remember my folks' Crosley struggling in first gear.) Unfortunately, my camera is out of electrons, so I couldn't get a picture of the sign here. (This time it was covered in snow, which would make it a good partner to Monday's picture.)
I started down on the east side. I'm maybe 20 yards past the sign. I tried to stay on the right side, because of oncoming traffic. I moved over to the right edge, which had some snow on it.
Except that the snow was NOT in fact on the edge of the pavement. It was on a 45-degree slope into a ditch! The front of the car slid right into it.
Oh, Dear! (That isn't even close to what I said, but you get the idea.)
So, here I sit.
5:20 pm
I tried the usual bits of shifting back and forth between drive and reverse, and revving the engine. After all, the back wheels seemed out of the snow. That's when I discovered that the Kia is front-wheel drive. Oh. I tried shoveling snow out of the way, but you should understand that the ambient temperature was about -5 degrees Celsius. Various people stopped to try to help, but the back bumper did not seem to have anything to attach a cable to. One lady called 911 for me, and claimed that the people who answered would get to me. The problem of course is that, while I am, shall we say, inconvenienced, I am unhurt. The car's insulation keeps it warm, so I only run the engine periodically. I have plenty of gasoline. I am sure I am a relatively low priority for the emergency responders.
(Later I will discover that, in addition to the tunnel accident, there have been numerous other accidents all along I-70. After Loveland, you go downhill through Georgetown, and eventually Idaho Springs. After that is an elevated area (read steep slopes) called Floyd Hill. Just before 3:00 pm, they had a 15-car pileup in the westbound lanes.
The tow truck people have been very busy indeed. Of course, I don't know this, yet.)
6:00 pm
So here I've been for about half an hour. I am clearly not going to have dinner with Wally at 5:30. It is becoming a concern whether I will get to the airport by 7:30 to leave the car for my 9:30 flight.
Fortunately, I am a calm person who does not panic. I do not terrify easily. (I keep telling myself this…)
A snowplow is parked a bit away. I made my way over to him, and he tried to call a tow truck for me. The first one he spoke to didn't have a platform, but he found a second one. He's on his way. Or so he said.
It turns out that walking on the ice is almost as treacherous as driving. When I walked back, I got all the way to the car door, opened it--and slipped! Whoomp! Flat on my back, with my feet under the car. If anyone had been there to see it, that would have been really embarrassing. But luckily no one was. That is, there was also no one there to say "Oh dear! Are you all right? Can I help you up?"
That person wasn't there, either.
So, by myself, bit by bit, I pulled on the car door, folded and unfolded myself, and finally got back in the car. (No injuries, fortunately.)
One of the people who stopped to help later advised me that when I am pulled out, I should be very careful going down the hill.
This reminded me of the story of my Mom and Dad who nearly went over the edge in the forties. It was winter and Dad was in his timid car-one that never got out of first gear when they went over the Pass. At one point, he slid out and wound up with the front sticking out over the precipice. I've always included the successful denouement of that story in my list of incredible things in history that have allowed me to exist-that didn't have to! I've got a bunch of those that Pamela and Bob can credit as well. That any of us personally exist is truly astonishing.
Fortunately, if I've posted this, things must have worked out. But as I've always been fond of saying, "OK, Hay! Given that you're going to get out of this mess, I'll be really interested to see how…"
6:30 pm
A State Trooper stopped by. Turns out the tow truck the snowplow told me about was on the Summit County side of the pass. I am stuck just across the border into Clear Creek County. (Something about the continental divide as a boundary.) Summit County tow trucks aren't allowed to operate in Clear Creek County. (!!!) So, he made some calls and said that someone from Clear Creek County will be here soon. He said this half an hour ago.
While occasionally a few cars pass by in each direction, I'm up here on Loveland pass pretty much by myself. This gives new meaning to the term "squatter" on this bit of Loveland Pass real estate.
Yes, on top of Loveland Pass. You've all heard of it. It's kind of famous. I always thought of it nostalgically. My parents driving over it. Coming over it when I was a kid.
Here I am: This whole mountain all to myself (plus those few cars…) It's not quite as inspiring an experience as the Colorado National Monument story I told from earlier in the week. Part of that is because when I occasionally get out of the car (did I mention that the sun has gone down?) the temperature by now is WAY colder than a mere "DAMN COLD!".
Yes, the sun has now gone down. The moon is providing some light, but diffused through the clouds. Mostly it's really REALLY dark out--although with my car's parking lights cutting through it. And the trouble warning lights blinking on and off. On and off. On and off. On and Off…)
So, no wandering out in the woods… (Of course there are no woods. We are considerably above the tree line.)
I am reminded how much the world has changed in my lifetime. Both Grand Junction and my neighborhood (not to mention my house) have changed a lot in the 51 years that have passed since I lived there. Each of the apartments in New York I lived in have all changed - as have the neighborhoods they are in (thanks to "gentrification", so youngsters who come to New York to seek their fortune can't afford to live there anymore.) Warsaw has certainly changed since I first saw it-especially since 1989. Old London hasn't changed much in a century or so, but there are many new buildings scattered around.
Here, on the other hand, is a place that is not only unchanged in my lifetime, but hasn't really changed much in centuries! It is true that early in the 20th century, they built a primitive road over it, and in the intervening years they have have modernized that a bit. Even so, this place at the top is still the same. That's nice. Something is still the same, even after all these years.
I decided that it is time for me to contribute some of my DNA to the Atlantic ocean. With the air at this temperature, I was not about to go wandering around seeking a bush. (Note previous observation about tree line.) With some difficulty, I made my way to the back of the car and stood next to it while I did my business. I'm guessing no one driving by was embarrassed to see me. Did I mention it's very cold out? I had to snap off the flow when it froze.
7:15 pm
Not one but TWO tow trucks arrive. YAAAYY!!!
This is how I have now learned more about all the afternoon's and evening's serious accidents along I-70. As I mentioned, since I was in no immediate danger, I was a low priority. And rightly so.
(At 7:00, the radio announced that the section of I-70 from Vale to the Eisenhower Tunnel was now open. The collision between two SUVs in the Tunnel had been cleared. Interstate 70 was now completely open from the town of Vail to Denver!)
One of the tow truck drivers (the older, cranky one) was annoyed because apparently the dispatcher had sent them both. He was finally pacified by my allowing him to use his "tow truck" to tow my car out of the snow. Since it was now dark, the younger, friendlier driver then offered to pull my car onto his platform and drive me down the mountain. The lady warned me about the hazards of driving down when it was still light. I thought about that road--and what it probably looks like now that it's dark.
Driving down Loveland Pass on the East Side is tricky enough during a sunny snow-free day. My driving down a snow-packed road with kind of iffy borders winding precipitously (pun intended) down the mountain does NOT sound like a good idea.
(My dad's story about almost ending the family line comes to mind.) I had expected to do it when it was daylight, but by now I am not in a frame of mind to become a race car driver.
I happily accept his offer. He attaches a winch and pulls my car onto his platform. We are now headed down the hill. He leaves me at the Loveland Ski Resort at the bottom at 8:30.
8:30 pm
Driving at night, even on the Interstate, is kind of dodgy when it's snow-packed. One good result of my "adventure" at the top of the mountain was that by now the traffic was light, and you could sort of judge lane positions by the ruts. No more closures because of accidents. The bump involved in changing lanes was scary, though.
I learned some interesting things:

  1. ABS braking is way cool! With my Houston domicile, I had never had occasion to use it before. When I learned to drive in Colorado (back in ancient times), I was taught that you should always pump the brake gently, not slam it. Turns out if you do slam ABS, the car swerves a bit, but it jerks automatically, and stops in short order. I had a few "whew!"s.

  2. Even though most of an area is snow packed, that doesn't mean the dark area is dry. It is NOT! It's simply dirty ice. (See pt. 1, above.)

  3. If the water on your windshield is mostly from 18-wheelers, a windshield washer is an incredibly useful tool!
9:00 pm
I got to Georgetown and found a restaurant. (I was very hungry.) As it happens, they were closing at 9:00, but mostly what I needed was WiFi. I asked the nice ladies if I could use theirs and they said sure. I sat in a foyer at the entrance.
I got through to Southwestern Airlines at 9:15-just in time to reschedule my 9:30 flight. I then fired up Trivago and quickly found an Econo-Lodge relatively close to DEN.
11:00 pm
The Hotel is near the corner of Pena and I-70. (Pena is the long piece of freeway that goes from I-70 to the airport.) I have arrived!
I am returning the car to Alamo: This involves my checking in at the Hotel, depositing my luggage, and driving up to the airport rental area. I check it in, take the bus to the terminal, and from there get a shuttle back to my hotel.
OK, I am done with a most adventuresome day. Good night!