Don’t look down, don’t think about it, you can do this…

 

Seriously.  Do NOT look down!

 

Thank goodness for the guardrails… although I doubt they’d stop a car from falling off the mountain, they offer a bit of security…

 

Oh geez… how’d I get here?

 

 

Rocky Mountain rapid pulse.

I am a bit of a white knuckled, turn off the radio so I can concentrate, don’t really love this but will do it because I have to, kind of driver.  If he’s still alive and if he could remember, I’m sure that my driver’s ed teacher, Mr. Hankins, would agree with this.   Perhaps it was the afternoon when I was required to demonstrate my mastery of parallel parking on the busiest downtown street in the small town I grew up in,  that reinforced my apprehensions with being behind the wheel.  My unmastered skills landed me on the sidewalk, smack dab in front of the TG&Y store. Being in the driver’s seat in the well-marked drivers ed car is embarrassing enough at that age, although I’m not sure why as it is a rite of passage for most, but having to get out of the car and trade seats with your teacher so he could maneuver the car off of the sidewalk and back onto the then getting busy street due to the side show, is not a feather in one’s driving school cap.  I passed the written test with flying colors, but barely eked by on the driving section due to the parallel parking incident.  Today, many decades later,  I’m still more than happy to walk the necessary blocks to avoid the whole parallel parking fiasco.  A city girl, I am not.

I’ve had face a lot of my driving fears head on simply because it was my only choice, short of staying home, my fears of mountain driving trumping all.

Several years ago while in Santa Fe on a ski trip with the family, I had to face those fears straight on and I’m happy to say that I triumphed.  After suiting up in our ski gear,  driving up the mountain to the ski resort, my youngest, Emery, who was 6 at the time, decided that she was done with skiing and wanted no part of it, that day or ever.  Period.  End of story.  Given that Charlie had already promised to ski with the boys all day, that left me with the choice of staying in the lodge with Emery and waiting, or having a day in Santa Fe, which ultimately meant having to drive down the mountain, then back up again to pick up Charlie and the boys at the end of the day. With the options of drinking coffee all morning, which no doubt would roll into beer early afternoon due to frustration, or putting my big girl driving pants on and forge ahead with some mountain driving  I opted for the latter.  So here I am, the mom, the one in charge, the all knowing,  explaining to my 6 year-old as we inched our way down the mountain, that I was absolutely terrified and could she “talk or sing me through it”?  She seemed to know exactly what I was asking and chattered and sang and kept the distractions going, hairpin turn after hairpin turn, until we made our way to the bottom of the mountain, then repeated the performance on our way back up again.  Round two was a lot easier and I swear, when I stepped out of the car and onto the parking lot at Santa Fe Ski, I was just a little bit taller.

A similar request was made of my right seated passenger while on the long and if memory serves me correctly, in the sky bridge to Coronado Island, south of San Diego.  Barely into the drive, my fear of driving over bridges overcame my rational side and my poor sister, Robin,  had to talk me through the process all the way to the other side of the bridge.  The memory comes up every time I’m on a bridge with her, but fortunately, my fears, although still present, have waned quite a bit.  Still, I don’t think she enjoys riding right seat while I drive her across bridges.  Memories shape us, whether they’re no longer accurate or not.  Sorry about that, Robin.  If I could have pulled over a switched seats with you, I certainly would have.

Fast forward several years and once again, I find myself on roads that have my pulse speeding… mountain roads in Rocky Mountain National Park.  Mountain roads I of course expected while driving through the park, but being on a narrow shelf roads that had me feeling like I was driving in the sky, was totally unexpected.  I’m a flatlander who has spent most of my life in Kansas.  I don’t think of these kind of driving scenarios.  Thankfully, there was very little traffic and I could hug the mountain side, often putting me in the wrong lane, while keeping careful watch out for oncoming traffic.

“Don’t look down, don’t think about it, you can do this…”

With no one in my right seat, I had to take on the process of “talking her down” routine to myself by myself…

I returned home a different route, avoiding the shelf roads all together, but with a smile on my face for having done it.  Even after having done this multiple times now since I started spending so much time in Colorado, it is still a big dang deal for me that adds another layer to my driving badge of courage each and every time.

Last week I drove to Aspen to see a friend of mine and thinking I was so tech smart and clever, I simply put her Aspen address into my phone and drove, not giving a second thought to the route Google Maps would choose for me.  In my car with good music, a full cup of coffee in the holder and nothing but blue skies ahead, it was simply perfect… until the roads got tighter and narrower and the hairpin turns began.  I thought it would be for just a short bit, then back onto easy, straight, no hairpin roads, until I saw the sign….

“INDEPENDENCE PASS”

Seriously?  The Pass I hear people talk about and most of them not in a “cool, let’s drive Independence Pass to Aspen” kind of way.  Again, I pulled myself up to the steering wheel as close as I could get (no idea about this, but it seems to make me drive better), turned off the radio so I could concentrate and started “talking myself down”….

“Don’t look down, don’t think about it, you can do this….”

And I did.  When I arrived at my friend’s house and my first comment out of the car was in regards to the white knuckled drive, she said,

“Oh Laurie, that’s a PASSENGER drive!  You don’t drive that!  It’s too scary!  You let someone else drive it, while you’re the passenger.”

Again, I think I may have been just a tad bit taller when I pulled my shaking limbs from the car.  It would appear that I am now a somewhat experienced, albeit not liking it, mountain shelf driver, who will do it if she has to, but has learned the hard way to find an alternate route rather than simply let Google Maps make the decision, because Google Maps does not know me, otherwise they’d probably suggest I look into the bus schedule.  I took a different route home.

I will never be the one to quickly say “Me!!” when the question as to who is going to drive is thrown out, nor will I ever purposely put myself in a driving situation that raises my pulse, unless I have to and although those “have to’s” are coming more and more often during my times in the mountains, I still don’t enjoy them.

I realized that I may have passed this driving fear trait onto my daughter the first time I had her out on a parking lot the size of a football field, with nary a car in sight, and she began to maneuver her way behind the wheel for the first time.

“Why are you slowing down so much, Emery?”

“Because, I’m about to crash into that light pole!”

That would be the light pole that was a dot on the horizon, barely visible it was so far away.  Bless her heart; she’s the recipient of yet another one of my traits that has worked its way down to her via genetics, the good with the bad, and she lives in Colorado of all places.  Unlike her fearful behind the wheel mom, who put her time in on the flat roads of Kansas at her age, she will conquer this fear with a lot more speed than I did because she’s will be thrown into the deep driving end of the pool on a far more regular basis than I was.  Bless her heart even more.  I have not doubt that just like her mom when the knuckles turn white and the radio goes off to concentrate, she’ll begin to talk, sing or mumble her way around every mountain pass until the comfort sets in.

“Don’t look down, don’t think about it, you can do this…”

Or maybe she’ll geographically personalize the mantra and go old school Colorado and sing John Denver.  Whatever works.

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