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August 13, 1999
a year ago
two years ago

A Road Less Traveled

Pictures of this day can be found here.

We woke up to an alarm and this time I actually got up the same time that John did, miracle of miracles. Eventhough I'd gone bumping around in a truck all of yesterday I was feeling better, cold-wise. I was also feeling really sore all over, body and muscle wise. It seems that the bumping about really relies on a bunch of muscles to keep the body up straight, to not bang into the sides or each other, and to basically see what's going on.

We were both really sore, but from the experience of the day before we managed to get up a good deal earlier, get ready pretty quick and so we had time to go out for breakfast. Borax got parked in the main parking lot for meeting folks and we wandered off into town to find both a fleece vest for me and a place for breakfast. Last night, some lady told me that Get Fleeced was having a sale, so when we wandered by there and the store was open that early in the morning, I went in immediately and bought myself a fleece vest for about a quarter the price of every other fleece vest I'd seen. It was solidly made, warm as anything, and really good to wear.

The Blue Moose was our chosen breakfast place because it served breakfast all day. It was okay, the service was slow, and my cinnamon raisin French Toast was a bit dry, but they kept John's coffee mug filled and his breakfast disappeared in four minutes flat. So he loved it and I actually was happy with the amount I had as I didn't want a really big breakfast.

Next door was a bagel shop that did sandwiches to order, and the lady built them really solidly and then wrapped them in paper and a bag and we took them back with us to the parking lot.

When we got there, we found out that several of the trails had already filled up and were already leaving when we arrived. One of the trails we'd heard about the day before was one called Red Cone. Discouraging words were said the day before about how the Chief lost three Discos in one day on Red Cone. One girl had taken her truck way too fast down the slope and ended up going over an embankment, luckily, the end of the long trail's embankment went onto a ledge so she just came back up from there. One old man mistook the accelerator for the brake and lost complete control, where he had to bail out and the Discovery just got lost over one side edge. These are not terribly reassuring things.

Thing was that the leader of that trail was someone that John had driven with before, Ali, and John was fairly confident that Ali's skills were about on par with his own, so that if Ali got through it eight different times, then John could probably do it too. That was more reassuring than the stories of the day before. Then again, the stories yesterday were mostly about entirely inexperienced folks trying to do far more than their skills really allowed them to do in situations where panic was very likely. So I could see why they'd lost the other trucks. This was rather different. We all lined up pretty easily and followed Ali out of the parking lot. Unbeknownst to us, there had been another line all lined up and ready to go with Ali and they all fell in behind us.

The first thing we did was get on a road for just a little ways, then we hit a trail that went up in to the woods and up a mountain. The trail was rocky, rugged, and bounced me around really well. That's when I realized that all the sore muscles from yesterday were the ones that I had used to stay upright and in my seat while the truck jounced about. Found it out the hard way, so to speak. We just went up and up and up and up. Halfway up, someone behind us was having some problems so we all stopped on that incredible slope at any halfway level spot and when I tried to get out the door was so heavy from having to be pushed up that I just gave up and settled back into my seat and relaxed a bit. We moved on soon enough.

We hit the continental Divide a bit after 10:30, and then kept going, back down, over the mountain to some roads that then took us over to Red Cone. Blacktop was mercifully smooth after all the bumping about, but there was a whole lot more bumping as we entered the Red Cone area. Up and up until the trees all faded away and we were well above the treeline again. It's so odd, in Seattle, there was only getting over the treeline, here in Colorado, it's getting *to* the treeline, first, as in getting where it's high enough that there's enough moisture that trees naturally occur. Then it's going up past the treeline again. So we were over all that and into tundra lands.

It's so high and so old that so little actually grows that it's very, very delicate. Tiny flowers, little bits of plant life here and there in the thin air, the close sunshine, and the high altitude. So staying on the path is very important as it would take years for things to grow back from what the weight of a truck can do.

Lunch was in the middle of the tundra lands, with all the trucks lined up obediently on the dirt track. We all piled out and wandered from truck to truck, talking and visiting and eating out sandwiches. The mosquitos were biting a bit, so I eventually ended up back in the cabin of the truck. Water really tastes good when your thirsty. The higher altitude had affected both my breathing and the lack of air pressure also served to ease evaporation off the skin, so that I was thirsty all the time. The sun was closer as well, so we also put a lot of sunscreen on to be sure we wouldn't get burnt.

The track was visible from the lunch point, and all it did was go up and up and up, following two main ridges that we could see. Red Cone is a volcano, and the track up the cone eventually hits the edge of the cone, the edge around the rim of the volcano. The rock sliding down to either side of that edge had worn away the surface of the cone so that blood-red to gold rock could show through, resulting in the very distinctive colors of the red cone. Most of the mountains to all sides were covered and anchored by the various bits of vegetation, vegetation that darkened the surfaces of the mountains and which kept it stable. Red Cone's sides were so steep no vegetation could grow, and it fell off that steeply from either side of the track we wound up.

The track itself wasn't all that reassuring either. Big, lumpy, loose rock that slide and slithered as we rolled our slow way up. Occasionally steps were slippery and rocks sliding out from the trucks before us and above us would roll and tumble towards us. The slopes weren't quite so steep that there were rockslide possibilities on the track; but it was a close thing as rocks would slide and tumble a few yards behind every truck. We rocked and rumbled our way up and up and up and eventually the track was clear to both sides for views that looked like we were on the very top of the world. The wind whipped hard up there as well, nothing to stop it and nearly everyone with a canvas top roof put on more clothing. I was glad that we could just close Borax up tight with it's hard top and we were out of the high altitude winds. Both of us drank from the water bottles pretty constantly up there. But the land just fell away to all sides. It was easy to not even see the ground on looking out. It just fell away to all sides and there were mountains to all sides to see in a view that panoramic doesn't even begin to describe.

The world spread at your feet. Green mountains, plains, lush valleys, rivers winding away to the edges of the continent and the view spreading further and further and further until it just couldn't be seen anymore. Lost in haze in some directions, lost simply in not being *able* to see in other directions, others were blocked by the nearby mountains, one plains view went so far it looked as if I could actually see the curve of the earth come up to hide it away. It was awesome and awful in the old sense of the word. What was really scary was knowing that the world slid away so closely to our tires and all it did was go *down*, steeply, in all directions.

Eventually all ten trucks got to the very, very top. The pictures 'You want us to what?' to 'Here they come' were around and on the first awful steep slope. After the briefing, where everyone was huddled about strategy at the top of the slope over what could happen and what to do, folks started picking their way down the slope in their trucks. The slope was so steep and so slippery with rock there really wasn't any way to walk down and, basically, none of the trucks *could* stop on the way down because it was so steep. The trick was to stay slow enough to stay in complete control. The problem with the moguls was that if one started going fast into them, the truck could start bouncing, and once it started bouncing the moment it started to catch air, it would lose all traction and all control. One Chief Grand Cherokee, just in the spring, had lost control like that, the driver bailed out in the first 100 yards before the reallly steep stuff, and his truck bounced over the last edge and pancaked in the valley below.

It was a very good warning story. Warning that it was possible. Warning and story that it was much better to lose the truck than yourself. But it was still pretty frightening to have John ask me to choose wearing the seatbelt or not, as if you wear it it is more support against sliding downhill in the car, but it's one more thing to remember before bailing out. Just making the bail-out that real was nervewracking. But it was also good as it kept me alert. I didn't dare take my camera out for the slope. The scary part was that for the upper section I could see the road and I could see that it was something that John could easily handle and it was really a lot like something we'd done before; but as we headed towards the drop into the moguls, I could see the drop-off of the road, could see it just disappear. Out of sight.

Then we were on it.

I still remember from the time I drove, John yelling at me to get my foot off the brake. On the top part, I could hear the squeak of the brakes as John used them for parts of it; but when we hit the moguls, there was no squeaking at all. John just used the braking power of the engine and concentrated on keeping the truck pointed in the right direction and using the slope and break of the moguls to slow the truck down on each little uphill bit. It was insane to feel. Controlled falling, as John puts it.

We made it. Easily. Completely in control, and John noted that I probably had more of an adrenaline rush from it than he did as he knew it was completely under his control, and I had absolutely no feedback other than the way the car was moving.

That was amazing.

We watched the other folks come down, took pictures. I eventually perched in Borax, just watching folks coming down. Everyone made it, nobody was stupid, and it worked out really well. We actually had made it down only to go up another part of the rim, and then go down another steep section. This one still had the dropoffs on either side, but the moguls weren't quite as bad or as long, so less probability of slipping. So, this time, still scared but not as scared as the last time, I actually got the camera out and snapped pictures of the downhill slope, John and the view beyond his window. That was really fun. I think that the best picture from the whole 200+ I took over the weekend was the DOWN one on the page. I only wish that I'd taken it at a higher resolution.

Maybe next time.

The next leg of the ride was an excellent example, for me, of why one might ever want to go off-roading. Especially when it's on established tracks that are simply too rough for normal cars, but good for trucks like these that also don't go off the roads that are established. All the bumping about and rough riding was well worth the spectacular views, being in places that so few people really had been, out in country that few folks explore. Taking the road less traveled really made a huge difference in what we saw and how we saw it and experienced it, even. That was really, really keen.

We followed a ridge for a while, with mountains on either side, and eventually worked our way down one mountain side down to a valley, where we met up with another group of folks, that we took some of them up again, over the mountain back towards Breckenridge. By the time we came out of the woods and off the dirt we were only a bare five miles from town, so were able to go, get air into our tires, get back to the room and shower before running into town to join everyone for dinner at the Mexican restaurant that everyone was sharing. Since it was still Friday, not everyone had shown up for the trails, and membership was still in the tens, i.e. they'd only sold raffle tickets 00 to 80 or so, one per person that had arrived and signed up. So the evening's raffle was very, very good for most of the folks that were there. John won stuff, and we both bought keen t-shirts from the dealers that were there.

The food was good, we got to meet people, talk with them at dinner. That was fun. But we were both pretty exhausted from the sun and bumping about, so we almost immediately went back to the hotel after dinner and went to sleep. The plan was to get up earlier tomorrow so that we wouldn't miss any of the sign-ups or trails we might do, since it was going to be Saturday and some of the most popular things would be pretty crowded. I was still mildly sick, so very glad to just stop and rest.

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