The Mountains Before Me (Part III)

This is part of an on-going piece. Read Part II.

My second day of driving was as uneventful as the first. My naiveté showed when I reached Colorado. I had definitely thought I would be able to see mountains the minute I crossed the Nebraska-Colorado boarder. Of course, that’s not true at all. Eastern Colorado is actually more boring than Nebraska. Nebraska at least had farms and towns right off the highway. There were signs for towns on the highway in Colorado, but they must have been miles away because I couldn’t see anything but hills and ridges and plains from my car.

Just like the day before, my doubts bounced around in my head, especially out in the middle of Eastern Colorado with its brown-green landscape and desert-like feel. I blasted music from old CDs I had in my car to distract me, but every few minutes or so I couldn’t help but wonder where the hell I was. There was nothing around; even if I wanted to stop, I couldn’t. I felt untethered and disconnected from everyone and everything I knew. There wasn’t the feeling that I was the only one in the world because there were enough people on the road, but there was the feeling that, if anything were to happen, it would be a long time before help could come. Naturally the same thoughts bubbled up as the day before, Why am I doing this? What the hell am I doing?

I made it to Denver without any problems except a small detour because my GPS directed me to an alternate route that turned out to be a one-lane highway. I turned around and went right back to I-80.

When I got to the city, I parked in a garage near the football stadium. Downtown was to the left and the Rockies, tall and mighty and gorgeous were to my right. I spent an hour or so wandering around downtown, walking up and down the 16th Street Mall and weaving through sidestreets. I was killing time, exploring while I waited for my friend to call.

When I was a senior in college, I was the captain of the swim team with the only other senior, a diver named Jade. She lived in Denver at the time I was passing through and so invited me over. Spending an hour or so with her was cathartic and amazing. I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed her until she opened the door to her adorable, one-floor house. We lounged on her couch and drank a couple beers and talked about our college years, catching up on what we were doing and what people we knew were doing. It was by far one of the highlights of my road trip.

I left Jade’s and traveled another hour south to Colorado Springs, where I spent the night with the mother of one of my best friends from college. Barb was so warm and generous, despite being exhausted from her long shift that day. She works as an ER nurse. We talked for a little bit before she showed me to Meghan’s room, gave me towels, and said good night.

I slept the night on Meghan’s waterbed and shared a delicious breakfast with her mom the next morning. She told me the best way to go to get to Salt Lake City, my destination for the day. “Best” here didn’t mean fastest but prettiest. After two days of looking at plains, corn, and the occasional wind turbine, I wanted a more scenic route.

So I took I-70. It wound me up into the Rockies as opposed to going straight north and cutting over through Southern Wyoming, and I knew, almost immediately, that I’d made a mistake. I’ve never driven through mountains before. My Corolla isn’t fast and weighed down with probably 200 pounds of extra weight, she wasn’t getting any faster. She whined and hissed as I pressed the pedal to floor, trying to make it up the steep inclines. The downhill inclines were steep as well, and they scared me just as much since they had turns that I couldn’t see around. Plus, other cars and big tractor trailers were flying passed me. Once I got deeper into the mountains, there was less up and down and I was better, but those first hundred miles or so were pretty intense. I was laser-focused on the road and stressed about the vehicles around me. My nerves were starting to fray a little bit, and I wished someone was on this trip with me to help take some of the burden of driving off me.

Don’t get me wrong. Barb was 100% right. This was definitely a beautiful route. The mountains were stunning. I stopped at a rest stop right off the highway; it was a parking lot right next to a river nestled between three peaks. That made some of my earlier stress worth it. It was by far the prettiest rest stop I’d ever been to.

The day’s drive seemed to be taking forever. It stopped at a Wendy’s in Fruita, Colorado, just a few miles from the Utah border and realized I still had four hours to go. At that point, I felt drained and tired. The whole trip, I hadn’t been eating much; stress does that to me, just takes away any appetite. I also didn’t want to spend 10 days eating my way through all the fast food restaurants in America. Looking back, I definitely should have eaten more. I wouldn’t have burned out as quickly if I’d kept my strength up.

Utah turned out not to be too much better than Eastern Colorado. There’s a whole lot of nothing out there in the middle of our country. Don’t get me wrong: it’s absolutely gorgeous, but I went miles without seeing any type of civilization. As a self-proclaimed “city girl,” that kind of freaked me out.

I turned off 1–70 on to US-191 North/US-6 West, which turned out to be a two-lane highway. I hated every second I was on that road. By this time, I’d been driving for nine hours. Whereas before, there’d been signs and exits, this highway had neither. There was nothing in front of me. Even if I had wanted to turn off and rest, I had no choice but to keep going. I was miserable. After about fifty miles driving on that road, I drove through a small town, found a Wendy’s, and called my mom. I cried into the phone, exhausted, my nerves pretty frayed. She calmed me down, encouraged me to get a motel room or something if I needed to stop. After checking the mileage left (about 80 miles or so) to Salt Lake City, I felt like I could make it.

I rested at Wendy’s for a half hour, had a cheeseburger and a large Coke and then hit the road again. The only thing I was really thankful for was that it was still light out. I had more mountains in front of me and I was scared by the thought of driving through them in the dark. However, the sun had set to a point below my visor. It was hitting me right in the eyes and blinding me as I went through the winding road, up and down mountain passes. I drove annoyingly slow, unsure if I was going to turn right off the highway and into the side of a mountain or worse, off a cliff.

Google Maps told me I had 40 minutes left in my drive when the road finally opened up into four lanes. There were lights and buildings on either side of me; the city of Provo, Utah. No more mountains to climb that day. I let out a little sob of relief and told myself I was nearly there, just a little left to go. Keep going. Almost there. You got this.

Twelve hours almost to the minute after leaving Colorado Springs, I arrived at my friend Meghan’s apartment in Salt Lake City. She laughed as I tumbled out of the car and into her arms. I was so tired, beyond stressed, and incredibly thankful that I hadn’t fallen off a mountain. I was also immensely grateful that I didn’t have to get in my car the next day. I was spending the weekend in SLC with Meghan. A much needed break.

Read Part IV now.