Finding my edges on I-70… in snow, ice and fear…

Several years ago, while driving to Eureka Springs, Arkansas to celebrate my parents 50th anniversary, my brother-in-law, John, told me I was a good driver.  Who, me??  He could have told me that my hair looked nice or that my shoes were cool, both which would have likely been forgotten by now, but hearing “you’re a good driver”.. well, those words have stuck with me longer than any shoe compliment would have.  I’ve remembered it because it was something I had never heard before, possibly because it may not be true, but he simply caught me on a really good driving day.

The words that I usually hear sound more like this:

“You drive like an old lady, or… Mom!  Pay attention!  or… Do you really have to sit that close to the steering wheel???”  (which I think all three of my kids have asked me at some point).  Yes.  I need to sit this close.  It makes me feel safe.

Those were sentences that came with a history.  “You’re a good driver” was standing on its own that day, and with that newly found pride,  I tried my damnedest to prove him right the rest of the trip.

So, John may think I’m a good driver, but driving was never something I enjoyed nor did I feel like I was very good at it.  Those feelings may have been birthed on the day during driver’s ed when I was taught how to parallel park.  Obviously, the self esteem of an insecure 15 year-old were hardly considered when I was asked to demonstrate those newly acquired skills directly in front of the TG&Y store on a busy Saturday.  It’s not easy to parallel park with one eye scanning the crowds for the popular kids while the other worked solo on the parking task at hand.  And yes, that’s my excuse as to why I ended up with two wheels up on the sidewalk, while the remaining two were on the street. In the short amount of time that it took for me to trade places with my instructor,  have him get all wheels street side and trade back again, my self-esteem retreated straight back to the awkward 7th grade girl, who longed to be a cool girl who knew how to drive.

When in later years (my 20’s),  I’d dream with my girlfriends about what we’d do if we won the lottery, I was the only one who said I’d hire a driver. I didn’t even care what car said driver would be driving… just so it wasn’t me.

So back to my hating to drive but I’m evidently, I’m good at it…

The “but you are so good at it” got tested last Sunday, when two sisters (Robin and I) were taking the third sister (Susan) to the Denver airport from Frisco.  We had both bad weather and Sunday traffic,  so planned ahead and gave ourselves a large time cushion, which was smart as the weather began deteriorating rapidly once we got into Denver.  After a nice lunch and a stroll into a shop or two, Susan offered to get to the airport a few hours early with hopes that we’d be able to stay ahead of the bad weather on our return trip to Frisco.  I  tend to have a “I’ll deal with it when I have to” attitude and wasn’t really nervous until the 3rd or 4th flashing road sign that warned of ice and closed roads, which had me wondering if my cavalier attitude of “Oh no worries… I know how to drive in the mountains on ice and snow… you know, in my roots, born here,  and all that…,” needed to be re-examined a bit.   15 minutes west of the airport, Robin and I learned that I-70 was closed at Georgetown to the Eisenhower Tunnel, which incidentally had also been closed due to the weather.  The part of me that craves adventure, felt her pulse go up a bit at the thought of unplanned hotel stays and or sleeping in the car adventures that would make for a much more exciting blog post.  The other part of me, the one who had been pretty quiet with questioning confidence, began to worry about the whole driving situation.

And so the true test of my driving began.  With white knuckles clutching onto a steering wheel for dear life, Robin and I made our way through snow and ice and I-70 closing then eventual re-opening after we sat on the highway for a good 45 minutes and waited.  From that point on, we inched along with little visibility,  windshield wipers that were constantly icing up, and speeds that barely registered on the speedometer.  I was very thankful to have Robin in the right seat, reminding me to breathe, relax and go as slow as I needed to.  I was fine until I saw a 4WD vehicle turned upside with a couple of people trying to remove someone through the back window.  I made one of those of long, deep, profanity laden sighs followed by a “I can’t do this…” That’s when Robin told me to stop looking.

I couldn’t help but think back to shortly after high school when I was driving in the winter and slid on an entrance ramp to the highway.  I was driving a VW beetle, not great in the snow or ice, but I think the incident was more about the fearful me and less about the car.   I doubt my “slide” was more than a few inches, but it was significant enough to scare me to the point that right there in the middle of the entrance ramp I turned my car off, pulled up the emergency brake and walked up the ramp to a nearby gas station where I called my Dad and told him I needed help.  Twenty minutes later, without judgement, scolding, belittling or hesitation, he got in my car, backed it up off the entrance ramp and onto the dry street,  then got back in his car and was on his way. Saved.  Again.  Dad did a lot of that for me during my early driving days.

Although I’ve gotten a lot braver over the years, simply out of necessity, the combination of ice, snow and mountain roads had me returning to some of those feelings.  Whether in my teens in a poorly equipped car on an entrance ramp or in my 50’s in a 4 wheel drive vehicle on snow in the mountains, there is a point that it’s all the same.  Fear is fear and the feeling skips over any logic while it sends you back in history.

Four hours later, we made it to Frisco,  with hands cramped from a death grip on the steering wheel and shoulders that had inched their way up to the tops of my ears, where they remained until mid-way into my 2nd glass of wine.

We made it home, safe and sound, without a slide or a swerve and I felt both relieved and proud of my accomplishments to the point that I  began to think that John Clarke just may have been right.  Maybe I am a good driver…

I rode on that sense of accomplishment high for almost 48 hours, until I realized that a good driver may have paid more attention to the tire pressure light on the dashboard that lit up shortly before we even left for the airport.  Robin did a check and ended up putting some air in one of the tires while we were still in Frisco.  The light eventually went off and I just assumed all was OK.  Later, during our harried drive back to Frisco, the light went on again.  I have experienced this before and it ended up being an altitude issue (when in doubt, blame that crazy altitude…), and given all the rest that I had to deal with, I convinced myself that the tires and their pressure were just fine and that once we were down in Denver the following day on our journey back to Kansas, the light would more than likely go out.  It didn’t.  I learned the following morning at the Toyota dealership,  that I had been driving with three nails in my tire as I went to the airport in less than favorable conditions, returned to Frisco, then made the trip home to Kansas the following day… at least 800 miles.

No doubt we had a guardian angel riding along side us who thankfully, wasn’t scared off by the mountains or the weather…

Meanwhile, with every 677 mile trip I make from KS to CO and back, I’m continually trying to earn John’s assessment of my driving abilities.

Inching along I-70, east of Georgetown, where we sat and waited for I-70 to re-open.
Always a silver lining… photo opportunities.. icicles on bicycles
I didn’t take the photos, by the way…
About as good as it got…

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