Friday, September 22, 2006

No more snow, pretty much EVER for me, thank you!

colorado-kansas 002 I sure hope that what we found today was that which the Westy was warning us about. The tourist office in Chama told us that the passes were very dangerous; people were turning around, there was ice and snowpack (but strangely enough, the pass was open with no warnings). They said that La Veda was open, dry and snowfree. We could get there by going back some 70 miles, just before Espanola and take 285 around the mountains. That would eliminate La Manga and Cumbres passes but add about 140 miles to our day. The forecast was for sun tomorrow, but the forecasts had been terribly wrong so far, and the heavy snowfall on top of Cumbres today was forecast as “sun” yesterday. We checked again in Antonito, after taking 285 all the way back to Colorado and after they checked 5 different numbers, agreed with Chama tourist information that La Veda was dry, clear and snow-free. We knew we were chasing time; it was 4pm when we left Antonito and the other side of La Veda (under 10K ft) was about 100 miles away. We didn’t want to cross La Veda in the dark or at night just in the event that snowfall could be possible. Just outside the pass, at Ft. Gardner, we tuned into the tourist information radio station which was very quiet. The pass was light and we could see the peaks of surrounding mountains. We never imagined it could be as awful as it turned out.

We headed up the pass with dry roads but watching the windshields of approaching cars, I noticed some had snow. I hoped that they had come from roads off the pass as the majority of cars were dry and didn’t even have dirt around the tire wells. Just before the summit, the road turned slushy. At the summit the road was pure ice. Everyone had dropped their speed to 5mph or less. Enormous trucks were inching down the pass. A fifth wheel pulling an additional trailer pulled off at the pass (into deep snow) and joined two other 5th wheels waiting there. I figured they’d all head down together but we never saw them again. I assume they are still up there, surrounded by white. After beginning down the pass, I saw a sign indicating the grade would last 4 miles and was hopeful but the icy road too soon turned to thick pure ice and I had no control over the vehicle. I had the Ford in 1st gear and was going less than 5mph but I almost lost all control when I saw the trailer inching into a jacknife. I had already hyperventilated by then and tried deep breathing and telling myself to “relax, calm down, breath deep” to keep from falling apart. We actually jacknifed but it was so slow that I was able to get straight again. I headed the the middle of the road where the slush was thicker and the ice seemed to be less. A sherrif’s car drove by and berated me, telling me I should pull off the road (WHERE?? and I had little to no control of the van+trailer) before zipping off to presumably berate someone else. I literally inched down the mountain. I’d let off the brakes; the wheel cranked to the right and move a tiny bit, then hit the brakes to eventually skid to a stop, inch again to the right or out of whatever skid I was in at the time, and slowly, quite literally inches at a time, made out way down. Jamie jumped out of the Westy and stood at the driver’s window with me, encouraging me on and getting splashed by oncoming snow spray. I took the middle of the road and eyed the oncoming lane, so wishing I could use it; it was dry and plowed and had neither ice nor snow nor slush. Finally, I got to the point where the oncoming uphill traffic had 2 snow, slush and ice free lanes (and our sole downhill lane was thick ice) and I took over one oncoming lane. It was terribly dangerous, but the oncoming traffic was slow. We hit a wall of fog and a Sherrif’s car drove by to berate me once again. I was in the oncoming lane but the downhill lane was thick ice. He told me I was holding up traffic (there was none behind me, but perhaps they had stopped it somewhere, waiting for me to crash) and to get off the road (again, WHERE?? no pullouts…). Finally, after what seemed like hours (we headed up the pass at 5:15 and got down at 8:30), I got to slush. Then the snow began to disappear. Then the hail turned to rain. I had control of the van and trailer but I was still to scared to trust it to more than 25mph. It was a leap of faith to go to 10mph, then 15, then 20, then 25. I kept testing my brakes and when I stopped skidding I increased my speed. Then I lost my trailer brakes. Luckilly, I was only on wet highway and the trailer brakes held all through the ice and snow.

I used the gearing as brakes and really didn’t even use the van brakes and here we are in Walsenburg, Co; it can snow and rain all we care; we’re off the damn mountain. Tomorrow we need to figure out why the trailer brakes kept going off and on; perhaps it is a rain or snow or ice issue, but for now, we’re eating, relaxing and enjoying the fact that we did not end up pulled down the moutain by the trailer; jacknifed and completely out of control. And send some warm thoughts for the poor bastards spending the night in their trailers at the top of the pass. There is bad weather coming from Chama and they might be there a while (another reason I wanted to get down).

Now I am going to get quite drunk and fall asleep. And it will be a VERY long time before I have any desire to see snow, slush or ice.

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