The trip to Aspen was pretty un-eventful. John figured that the trip there would take about 5 hours. He had hoped that the pass was passable, but clearly he wasn't familiar with the snow conditions in Colorado! The weather for the trip North was great and the roads weren't too bad. After turning off for Leadville, the roads became more slick and they wound up and down cliffs and that certainly slowed things a bit. In retrospect, it would have been quicker to ski at Breckenridge, Keystone, Copper Mtn., Beaver Creek or Vail.
The trip back was going to be an adventure. John thought that it would be easy to take 133 down South from Carbondale and cut over to Crested Butte. First of all, the road conditions and speed limits slowed them down considerably. They also didn't leave until about 5 PM. By the time they gassed up and headed out it was getting dark.
The scenery was beautiful and one could only wonder who could or would choose to live in this remote desolate area. This was especially on their minds as they cut across on ice covered narrow roads to Crested Butte. John thought he might have seen a "Pass Closed" sign, but he couldn't be sure until he actually came upon the 6 foot wall of snow. They then turned back, having wasted 40 additional minutes.
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It would have made sense to cut across to Gunnison and then down to New Mexico. However, John remembered how those mountain roads were from 2 years previously when he traveled to Grand Junction for a project at the lab. Therefore, looking at the little paper Colorado map he had bought (that already didn't have enough detail to save the trip to the last closed pass) he decided that he could cut straight down to New Mexico, through Durango and average 65 MPH.
Hah! As John speeded South, the road became more narrow. Not what he expected. Then, after Montrose the road turned into 2 lanes. At Ridgway they came upon a sign that said "4-Wheel Drive or Chains Only!" John always feels that the Beretta can do anything, so he went for it. Winding up into the dark misty night. Faint lights could be made out in the far distance as John drove around the mountain roads. Inches from certain death and a plunge thousands of feet. The ice and snow covered roads were only shared with a couple other foolish drivers and a semi-truck.
The silence was eerie. But the car continued winding up and up the mountain. A precipice to one side and a potential avalanche as the mountain sloped yet further up on the other.
Jarrett saw faces in the dark and wouldn't stop to relieve himself of his Big Gulp. The only unavoidable littering of the whole trip came as that Big Gulp cup was thrown full from the window of the speeding blue Beretta.
Eventually the road started to slope back downhill. John thought that uphill on ice was bad, but rode the thinning brake even heavier on the way down. Frequent downshifting and coasting and eventually they passed through the peaceful town of Silverton and then they wound around past Purgatory Ski Resort. John cruised through Durango and onto Pagosa Springs.
The one thing that was missed in all of this was getting more gas. As the take was running low, with only a few miles to empty, John pulled into an abandoned (at least at this hour of the night) gas station 19 miles from Pagosa Springs.
It was pure luck of the Christmas season that a stranger, with his young boy hiding behind him, poked his head out and asked John if he needed anything. This man was not affiliated with the gas station, however he happened to have a couple gallons of gas. John, as usual, had no cash. This trip had tapped him out and he thanked the man for his gesture of kindness and repayed him with a root beer, a sprite and a Coca Cola. The man watched bewildered as the taillights of the Beretta sped off into the December night.
After gassing up in Pagosa Springs, John headed South on 84 to New Mexico, dodging great herds of Elk along the way. Nodding off and on, sometimes applying the breaks too harshly and having to tell Jarrett to go back to sleep, John made it to Chama. There he just had to take a nap. Twenty minutes later they were headed back on their way to Los Alamos.
They arrived in Los Alamos in the wee hours of the morning. Having spent roughly 10 hours on the return trip that should have taken much less. It was a surreal trip, winding through brooding ice covered mountain passes in the middle of the night - barely able to make out features beyond the headlights on the moonless night. Perhaps the trip would have taken even longer if they had known what dangers lurked mere inches away as the cliff dropped off. But they had made it home safely and worn out. John called in sick the next morning and Jarrett missed school. But that was to be expected, after all, they'd had quite an adventureous and exhausting weekend.