Archive for November 2nd, 2009

Rocks and Rolling

Shortly after noon on Monday, ten minutes out of Arches (following the first nosebleed of my entire life), I checked the odometer on the Blubaru:  we’d logged over 3,100 miles between Saturday afternoon October 10th and Monday morning the 19th.  Remarkably, I still felt pretty good.  The first few days were hard on me physically, but after a good massage in Dallas and a reassessment of my driving posture, I’d been holding up better than expected.  I think there is something about being my father’s daughter that has rendered me capable of all this driving.  I am definitely Fred Freedman’s child.  He could drive for days on end, happy as can be, just keep him stoked with black coffee and keep that supply of Trident coming.  My dad loved to drive and seemed able to do it endlessly, always chewing gum and humming.  He’d hum constantly, usually rambling tunes that were playing only inside his own head.

Upon entering Arches, I was thinking about seeing all this geology, all these different rocks – which I’d been seeing for days now – and was thinking about how Daddy was a geology minor, a fact that always struck me as odd, and indeed made other people laugh:  after all, who is a piano major and geology minor?  But after all these days of rocks, I was starting to get it.  He’d seen parts of this country, though I don’t think he’d been to the southwest, or to the Grand Canyon or Arches; but I found myself wondering, and actually feeling pretty certain, that had he lived, he would’ve taken us to see these things.  We went on family road trips and vacations often when I was little (probably because we had no money for anything fancier); and I think we would have visited these places as a family before my brother and I reached adulthood.  As I entered this stunning and sacred place, I was a little surprised that my thoughts went there; and pondering that notion under the Utah sky was very much a sweet and sour moment.  I looked up into the endless cerulean and told him he would’ve liked to see this.

Then onward Fred Freedman’s daughter went, north on Highway 191 a little longer in Utah, before turning back onto the interstate, headed east to Boulder, Colorado.  Turning onto I-70 was a moment of disorientation for me:  I had been so implacable in my westward momentum for so many days, that when faced with the signage proving that I was actually pointing back EAST, I was momentarily confused, and even briefly angry!  Part of me was crying out “Nooo!!!  I’m not ready to go back east yet!!!!  West! West! We’re supposed to be staying WEST!” Then the other part of me (my non-reactive self?) observed me and thought, “Hm…isn’t that interesting?”  I reminded myself that I was only going east for a relatively short ways, both through and to unknown territory at that, and that I had many days of new things to explore before placing my focus on thoughts like “going back east.”  And so it was, and so both of me proceeded with willing curiosity intact.

If you’ve ever looked at a map of the American southwest, the borders between the states are very straight, and therefore seem pretty arbitrary.  However, if you’ve ever driven I-70 from Utah to Colorado, you, like me, were probably startled to see the landscape begin to change substantially almost the moment you crossed the state line into Colorado.  The mountains seemed to begin rising out of nowhere, right then and there.  I then wondered which happened first, the drawing of the lines, or the observation of the changing landscape.  Regardless, almost at first sight, I loved Colorado.  I’d been in the state for about 45 minutes when I began thinking I might be falling in love with this place.  I stopped at a rest area around Grand Junction, where there was a tourist office and picnic grounds at the cutest little traffic circle right off the highway (I didn’t know yet that Colorado has a thing for those little traffic circles).  There were picnic tables, so I picnicked.  And looked around me at things I hadn’t seen in a while, like grass, and deciduous trees.  Back on the interstate after lunch, I was shortly lured by the siren sign of Starbucks, which I hadn’t seen since Albuquerque.  Reeled in, I exited again east of Grand Junction, driving a whole mile-and-a-half off the exit for the comfort of the green mermaid.  Inside the cafe, I was further seduced by Colorado.  The signs on the bulletin board, the people having “business meetings” in the big comfy chairs, the friendly staff, and pleasantly-relaxed, casually-dressed patrons, all united to greet me with a vaguely hipster-lilted “Hey there, Welcome to Colorado! We’re really groovy,  relaxed, liberal, and friendly, and hey, glad you could make it!”  I could swear I heard it.  Perhaps, like Odysseus, I should have been lashed to my steering wheel and had wax shoved in my ears.

Colorado’s Interstate 70 is also full of trickery and seduction:  it starts out lulling you into a false sense of ease, with its long, straight, level stretches for dozens of miles, before hooking up with the Colorado Riverbed somewhere around exit 44.  But by then you’re committed, drawn in by ever-more-lovely vistas that keep murmuring “More!  This is just the beginning!  There’s more!” As I drove deeper into the state, the red rocks of the southwest made fewer and fewer appearances, and mountain peaks in the far distance began to dance among the furthest clouds, causing me to blink and look again, uncertain what I had actually seen.  Eventually, the interstate gets right down into bed with the river, and I was white-knuckling it through the Colorado River gorge, forced to drop my speed and hug the canyon walls for dear life, all the while looking up over my steering wheel, hollering “OH…MY…GAWD” (yes, again) over and over in disbelief.  The scenery in that gorge was beyond mind-blowing.  The browns, greys, and reds of the canyon’s rock walls contrasted with the glorious blue of the sky, which reflected brilliantly into the greens of the river, with sunlight pouring into the riverbed and glancing like a million fireflies off the water’s surface.

After passing through ski town after ski town, on a road squoze improbably tightly between mountainsides, and between towns that seemed impossibly small given how famous their names were, I thought perhaps I might loosen my grip on the steering wheel as the elevation increased.  But sweet Colorado had more charms in store for me.  As the lateral twists and turns finally gave way, the vertical rolling really got started.  This time, it was my poor Blubaru who had to do the hard work.  Laden as she’d probably never been laden before, my dear Blubaru trundled valiantly up mountain after mountain, only to have to descend, hold back her momentum, and do it all over again.  We hit Vail Pass at some 10,000-odd feet, me again driving slack-jawed, chin on the steering wheel, wonderstruck at the view.  Victoriously conquering mountain pass after mountain pass, I patted the heroic dashboard gratefully as we entered the Eisenhower Tunnel at 11,158 feet, crossing at last beneath the Continental Divide.  It was the highest elevation my three-year-old car had ever seen, and certainly the highest elevation I could recall seeing anywhere outside the Alps.

As we began to descend from the Divide, I felt that fullness of heart that comes when you love uncertainly.  My eyes, tired from driving and stunned full with beauty, felt the pressure of tears that would not come forth.  I had been feeling this fullness build for days, and didn’t know where the tears could be.  I could only know that all that I saw and was now seeing made me want to weep, and yet I did not.

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