As I sit at the kitchen table admiring the view of Pikes Peak, I remember years back my first drive across the Rocky Mountains. Having grown up in the Chicago suburbs, altitude and elevation were a bit foreign to me.
Al had previously (long before me) lived in the San Francisco area and would frequent the Sierra Mountains. Our relationship was relatively new and he was excited to share some of his past with me. Now keep in mind, we are both in the airline industry and can fly just about anywhere free, but we wanted to camp and explore nature. So we loaded up the car with all the camping gear and drove from Chicago to California, first camping destination Lake Tahoe.
It wasn’t until we were west of Cheyenne, Wyoming, that the terrain finally started to change. I thought Nebraska would never end. It was also somewhere west of Cheyenne I learned about a cattle guard and free ranging cattle. We were pulling out of a rest area and there were cows all along the side of the road. My response, “Oh no, someone’s cows got out. Should we let someone know?” Laughing, Al pointed out and explained to me what purpose the cattle guard served and how it was ok for the cattle to be in the area.
Our second night in a hotel was in Utah. We got up early to hit the road. While checking out, the clerk informed us we may want to wait awhile before heading west, as there had been a snow storm and the interstate might still be closed. My response to Al, “Yeah right, I was born at night, but not last night. Who’s he trying to kid?” Interstates do not close. I’ve been in plenty of snow storms in Chicago, New York, Boston, D.C. and Phillie and the interstate does NOT close. Once again, Al pointed out the gates/guards on the side of the interstate used to close access to the interstate during inclement weather. I guess mountain roads can get treacherous during snow storms. Ya think!
We continue on our trek west and the snow-covered mountains were beautiful. Late on day three we arrived at a State Park in Lake Tahoe and proceeded to set up the tent in freezing rain. Although I grew up camping in Wisconsin, it was always warm weather, campground camping. I didn’t sign up for freezing rain. I wondered what I had gotten myself into. Note, we were the only ones in the campground and it’s mid September ….we wanted to enjoy the fall colors in the mountains. We awoke the following morning, after a very cold, restless night to an inch of snow on the now sagging tent. It was a wonder it did not collapse on us sometime during the night.
We quickly change out of the layers of clothing we slept in into fresh clothing and go into town for breakfast. This has been such a romantic trip thus far for this new relationship (sarcasm). At the restaurant, the waitress informs us more snow is expected and there’s a mandatory chain restriction for the passes. I’ve since learned what they mean by “pass”. The snow is more than three weeks early and temps far below normal. I hear the word chains. Chains are illegal. Oh, Ingrid’s education continues. Al explains how chains may be illegal on the roads in Illinois, but mountain driving is different. We do not have chains or snow tires on our vehicle and with more bad weather on the way, we decided to avoid trouble and turn around to head home. So much for seeing fall colors in the Sierra Mountains!
Instead of returning on I-80, the way we came, we chose to head east on Highway 50 through the middle of Nevada. This was definitely an adventure. We saw wild horses, had to stop for cows in the middle of the road, traveled for hours without seeing another vehicle, and no services for a hundred miles. For this city slicker, seeing the wild horses made the whole trip well worth it. I never realized the amount of raw, untapped beauty that was still around in this country.
In Utah, we picked up I-70 and continued east through Colorado. I was totally enthralled with the beauty of Utah and Colorado, not realizing later in life I would be privileged to live in Colorado. I guess most people would have viewed this trip as a bust, but we’re not most people. Al and I learned a great deal about each other, our relationship, and the direction of our future as individuals and as a couple. You see, the radio broke which left us with no music. Cell phones weren’t invented yet. Our only source of entertainment was talking to one another and looking out the window enjoying the scenery on this seven-day road trip.
This was just the first of many trips together, but this was probably the most memorable and special……the beginning of our future.