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Out of My Mind On the Road

May 18, 2013

May 5 was Loveland Ski Area’s last day of business for the 2012-13 season, and it closed on a happy note, with some snow still left over from the 24″ pounding from a few days before. But as much as I enjoyed the discounted food and beer and the expansive view of the Great Divide from the top of Loveland’s Chair 9, which takes you to this monumental watershed division, I couldn’t help feeling a bit grouchy and suddenly devoid of meaning.

Sure, there’s still one area open for business in my home state, and thanks to my employment with Vail Resorts, I can get $10 tickets. But Loveland’s closing signifies that ski season is effectively over. It means that the snow has mostly retreated from all but the highest peaks for the year, and that it’s time to put the ski boots in the closet and air out the hiking boots. The snow will be melting off those trails soon enough.

But as much as I enjoy hiking, it still doesn’t give me the same rush as skiing. I needed to liven things up a bit. I needed to get out of Denver and away from my mountains that I couldn’t fully appreciate in the full swing of mud season anyway. In short, I needed to take a road trip to California.

It wasn’t a totally random decision. My godmother, best friend to my mother when she was alive, lives in Carlsbad, and my elementary-school friend of ding-dong-ditch silver fame had a dance performance in San Diego that I’d said I wanted to see. Plus, Colorado has everything a person could need in life…except beaches. We haven’t had a coastline since there were dinosaurs worrying about their pallid complexions. So I had my reasons and places to stay.

Due to the last-minuteness of my decision, however, I hardly had time to book a plane ticket. But that was okay. Like Colorado, California’s a hard state to get around in without a car, and driving out and back would surely not add up to the amount of money it would cost to fly and rent a car.

And the more I thought about it in the two days before I got my bags packed and the car loaded, the more I realized how good for the soul a solo long drive would be. I’d be taking I-70 until it ended in Cove Fort, UT, completing the same interstate highway that Jack Kerouac traveled before continuing southwest on I-15. It’d be like a reading of On the Road with “All the Single Ladies” in the background!

If I secretly harbored any illusions about coming back to Denver a changed woman, someone reborn with a vivid adoration of smiling babies and a newfound desire for romance, they went unmet. I spent a total of four days with my main human interaction coming from texts and brief chats with restaurant waitstaff and late-night motel staff, and that level of forced introspection led me to two conclusions about myself: I need to aim better if I have to take a piss on a lonely dirt road that gives no warning about its lack of restrooms, and even SPF-50 sunscreen won’t stop me from turning a lovely shade that Home Depot’s paint sample book would label “Enraged Lobster Red” if I spend four hours on the beach.

Even a different route home than the one I’d taken led to no revelations that could inspire a new generation of poets and poetry readers. I chose a method that would allow me to stop in my ex’s hometown, where he currently (or at least, as far as I last knew) resides. The city’s a good stopping point, and it has the best red chili I’ve ever eaten. Sure, Denver has tasty chili, but we’re all about going green here.

The specific breakfast place I had in mind is but a few blocks from his parents’ house, a distance that caused my poor dancing friend and compatriot in relationshits to give me a raised eyebrow. And even I had to question my motives a bit. Sure, it’s got the best red-chili huevos rancheros I’ve ever eaten, and it’s the cheapest breakfast I’ve ever paid for. But one would be justified in asking if I was subconsciously hoping for a run-in with the ex and/or his family.

Truthfully, I might have been. Since we broke up, I’ve secured a great job that gives me plenty of flexibility for skiing, hiking, and road trips, and I know that I still look damned good, muscle-tone-wise, after a healthy ski season. I’m still close to my friends and family, and I’ve even dabbled in property ownership. So even if I would have had to preface any interactions with a quote from Death to Smoochy, “Sorry I smell like piss. You know how it goes” (the aforementioned bad-aim incident having taken place the night before, and there being only so much scrubbing one can do to a skirt with a bar of soap and a sink), I could’ve rested easily knowing that I’d put truth in the saying that the best revenge is to live well.

Fortunately or alas, depending on how you view these things, there were no Close Encounters of the Ex Kind, so I made my way back to Denver with blood pumping through my veins after a close listening of Adele’s 21 for naught but an enjoyable sing-along session.

None of which is in any way to diminish the excellence of my trip. The sheer restorative power of having only Bruce Springsteen, Pink Floyd, The Who, The Moody Blues, Elton John, and yes, Adele (among others) as company for a few days gave me the ability to forge ahead through the worst of mud season, and seeing those among my dearest but not nearest, given how coastal they are, was outstanding. Plus, of course, the novelty of an ocean. Colorado: all of the sand and none of the water.

Furthermore, I can now claim to have driven an entire interstate highway, a claim I suspect few outside the trucking industry can make. Yep, I’ve driven all 2153.13 miles of I-70, from its ignominious eastern end at a Park n’ Ride just outside Baltimore city limits to its puzzlingly human habitation-free western end in Cove Fort, UT, if not all at once. This totally needs to be something advertised on a t-shirt somewhere, because I would buy it and wear it proudly on my next road trip, where it will soon start to smell like armpits (but not piss. My aim isn’t that bad).

So if there were any major troubling questions to be gained from this venture, they had nothing to do with where I’m going in my life and how I’m going to get there (the answers at the time being either San Diego or Denver, respectively, and via some interstate or federal highway). They had more to do with highway engineering: Given all the difficulties involved in constructing it on the path chosen, why did they decide to make I-70 through the mountains follow the paths of US-6 and 40? Wouldn’t 285 and 24 have been less unpleasant choices? Why was I surprised that it was snowing in May at the high point of the entire interstate system, given that it was raining in Denver and I know what happens to rain at 9500 feet? And seriously, why even bother having a highway exit if there’s no goddamn bathroom anywhere in sight?!

But such queries do not generation-defining poetry nor life-altering revelations make. It will have to be enough that the change of scenery helped me appreciate my own that much more. And for the next few weeks, as the snow trickles down hillsides in the form of ungainly mud, that appreciation is all I need.

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