Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Top of the World: Colorado Road Trip Part 2

[Previously on the Thinkware Colorado Road Trip: I flew to Denver, CO so I can drive to Colorado Springs, CO so I can drive up Pikes Peak, CO in a soccer-family-special Ford Explorer. I also got altitude sickness.] 

After recovering from said altitude sickness, I looked at the map and pondered my options. I knew that I wanted to go to the Rockies, because a) it's the Rockies; and I knew that I wanted to spend my last portion of the trip driving up Mount Evans as well. However, the portion between Colorado Springs and the Rockies were very much still up in the air.

As far as I was concerned, I had two options:

1. I could either take the I-25 through Denver to the Rockies, which would be about 2 hours and 40 minutes of driving. We will call this the "boring" way;
2. Or, I could take a "slight" detour through the state highways, taking in the scenery, through Aspen, a world-class ski resort town, and eventually circle back to the Rockies, before stopping in Denver. This would take me about 12 hours. We will call this the "fun" route.

Guess which route I took?

In the morning, still feeling a little groggy, I set off from Colorado Springs, heading west towards the Independence Pass -- a stretch of highway in Colorado that cuts across Mount Elbert, and takes me to Aspen, the land of weird police vehicles.

Independence Pass, in case if you haven't noticed from the F770 video, is probably one of the single most scenic drives in the country. It has everything you can ever ask for as a driving enthusiast -- long, curving sweepers; sharp turns; long straights; narrow sections; and most of all, an incredible scenery.

Who needs Monte Carlo or Italy? Colorado mountain passes, in terms of sheer driving pleasure, is just as good -- and much closer to home. Too bad I wasn't driving a car that is a little sportier.

That said, as the miles rolled by, the Ford did a very good job of keeping me in comfort -- something that is appreciated in a long 12-hour drive. The V6 engine hummed quietly and gave me reasonable fuel economy all at the same time. Is it powerful? Not exactly, but it does the job.

Car spotting in Aspen: Don't know what this is... Don't think I'd want to know. 
By the time I got to Aspen, it was already lunch time. I grabbed some food at one of the many crowded restaurants in town, and went on my way quickly -- the Rockies part of the drive is best done when the sun is still up, you see. As nice as Aspen was in the short hour and a half I was there, I had to put my foot down.

Relying solely on Google Maps, sometimes you'd have to prepare yourself for nasty little surprises -- one time, I discovered (the hard way) that the side road I chose to head back from the Oregon coast back to the Interstate was through an unpaved mountain pass -- I was practically going off-road in my regular car.

So I guess I should've seen this coming.

Little bit of off-roadin'.
Half way there, the road simply disappeared and turn into soft gravel. This was no short stretch of road either -- I was driving on this unpaved road for close to an hour. I was finally glad that I picked the right vehicle for the job.

The second part of the trip is quite different -- rather than driving through canyons and heavily wooded areas, the drive on the Rockies is considerably more open.

At over 10,000 feet, I was practically driving on top of the Rockies. Having learned a lesson from my previous excursion to Pikes Peak, I kept myself hydrated and tried not to exert too much energy. The much more gradual incline also helped.

Roads around here are definitely more relaxed -- no touge driving here, but I had enough fun on the Independence Pass to appreciate the laid back drive for the second part of my voyage.

The roads here are also slightly more congested (as you'd expect), but overall, traffic condition has never been bad to the point that I felt I was being held up by a slow-moving tourist (or a tow truck... more on that later).

The roads even got more, shall we say, "poetic" as we hummed along. One of the street signs near a scenic overview helpfully informed me that this is a fragile world and to "use it lightly". A little cheesy? Sure. But in this environment, with this glorious back drop, it works.

As I made my way across the Continental Divide, the sun was heading down. It was time to head towards Denver.

So the X330 was on the Atlantic side, and the F770 was on the Pacific side. You don't get to say that everyday. 
This is where I was faced with another conundrum -- I haven't had a meal since lunch, and it was already close to 8pm. Denver was at least another 100 miles away. Do I stop in a small town to pick up some food, or should I just lead foot it until I get back to civilization?

I wasn't too hungry at the time, so I decided that heading straight for Denver was probably the wisest choice. I gunned past the nearest town and stayed on the highway.

Alas, this was the wrong choice.

First sign of trouble. 
The traffic started building up on the road, and the average speed crawled down to the single digits in some sections. I thought that this would just be a temporary snag in my otherwise smooth journey.

Nope. 20 minutes later, I was still averaging at 25 miles an hour, behind a parade of frustrated drivers, with no passing lane in sight, and no gas station to fill myself up with cheap hot dogs and snacks. The only thing I was full of was absolute regret. And then, as if the motor Gods were making a cruel joke, the stereo in the Ford Explorer started blasting "Don't Stop Me Now".

Turns out, there was a tow truck ahead, leisurely driving at 30 miles under the limit, while people behind him were itching to get around him like NASCAR drivers do to pace cars.

Another 20 minutes went by before a passing lane appeared before our eyes. We all lined up and full throttled our way past the truck, presumably uttering some choice words for that driver in the process (I certainly did).

Eager for some good food, I aimed straight for downtown Denver to explore my options -- only to find myself surrounded by traffic. Turns out, the Rockies were playing, so the roads were a little congested, and parking was just a little hard to come by, seeing how all the restaurants and pubs were filled with slightly depressed sports fans (the Rockies lost 9-2 to the Cubs that night).

At long last, I found a parking spot and dashed towards one of the nearby restaurants, and proceeded to stuff myself with food and a cold glass of local craft beer. It was 10pm.

I'm never again taking a road trip without making sure my car is stocked up like a Safeway.

Up next: The highest paved road in North America.

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