Friday, December 22, 2006

we don't care if the weather is frightful

While the drive from Utah to Kansas is always long, this year it was exceptionally so. Perhaps we should have modified our plans when we heard tales of the Holiday Blizzard of 2006. We should have taken caution when we knew we would be traveling through an area that had just been labeled a disaster emergency, with the Colorado National Guard being activated to rescue the people already stranded on highways. Thousands of people were stranded for days when the Denver International Airport and the Interstates out of Denver were closed. "This is a dangerous storm," Castle Rock Fire Chief Art Morales said. "Conditions are very dangerous for driving, for walking and being outdoors. Stay inside until the storm passes." So, what did we do? We drove right into it.

On our way to Kansas we changed our original plans of leaving late Thursday night and instead left early Thursday morning so that we would be driving during the day. We planned to arrive in the Denver area that evening and stay overnight with my friends Zach and Ginet in Colorado Springs. All day on Thursday, as we drove through Wyoming, we saw signs letting us know that all roads out of Cheyenne were closed because of the blizzard? Blizzard? What blizzard? Our roads were dry, the sky was blue and clear, and there was no snow. My dad was calling us periodically with road condition updates, and about half and hour before we reached Cheyenne, the Interstate into Colorado opened up. Nice, but still, we wondered where the blizzard was. Fifteen minutes into Colorado we realized that, uh, the blizzard was here. Travel slowed to 30 mph, and never increased. The drive from Cheyenne to Denver that normally takes just under an hour and a half took us three hours.

Luckily, taking that much time allowed for the road between Denver and Colorado Springs (which had been closed all day) to open up just in time for us to continue our trip south. The roads heading east into Kansas were still closed, so heading south was really our only option. It was eerie driving along the Denver highways during what should have been rush-hour traffic but was instead a quiet, snow-covered car graveyard. It’s only a slight exaggeration that there were more cars stranded on the side of the road than on the road. Malls, movie theaters, and restaurants along the road were closed; parking lots empty; everyone with any sense or option was sitting at home. The cars that were left on the road had drifts that were often as high as the driver's window. Cars left in the middle of the highways were just plowed around because the plows were out sooner than the emergency crews.
We crawled into Colorado Springs late in the evening and were welcomed to a waiting dinner with Ginet and Zach. It was the first time since they left Utah that I’ve been to visit them, and was delighted to be reminded of just how much I like both of them. Their home was beautiful (when is exactly what I expected from Ginet) and they were very gracious hosts—even pushing us out of the snow drift we ran into while trying to park on the street.

There is just no way to describe all the snow. When we left the next morning, (because the roads had finally opened up) there were drifts along the road higher than our car. Safe movement was almost impossible. We continued to crawl along the Interstate, but this time we were traveling bumper to bumper with all the other travelers and truckers who were finally able to leave Colorado. It’s a super-fun experience to have that many cars traveling on that horrible of a road. Even at our 30 mph speeds, we still saw several cars and trucks slide off the road.

After crossing the border into Kansas the road conditions improved somewhat and the scenery changed from five-foot snow drifts to ice sculptures. Every branch, fence, and blade of grass was covered with a thick layer of ice. Nice, Kansas. Nice.
Somewhere in the middle of Kansas we drove over the tiniest of hills, and on the other side was green everywhere. I have never seen such a distinct storm line. Driving conditions were smooth from there on, and we made it home with only a few pictures and our tense shoulders muscles to prove our journey. The trip that normally takes 17 hours on the road had taken us almost 24 hours.

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