While making a foray down to civilization, otherwise known as the City of Boulder, I became enmeshed in a giant traffic jam on Highway 36, the Boulder Turnpike. Highway 36 connects Boulder to Denver, and as you might imagine sees a considerable amount of cars going between the two metro areas each day. When we first moved to Nederland, I was confused about the commuter traffic, assuming that people who lived in Boulder commuted to Denver for work. In actuality, it’s the opposite, Boulder is a major employment center with many large tech companies, a large federal government complex, and is home to the main campus of the University of Colorado, while Denver provides much cheaper housing choices than Boulder.
As the population of Colorado has grown, so too has the amount of people using the Boulder Turnpike every day. Because of this, in 2004, the taxpayers approved a sales tax increase to build light rail between the two. Fast forward and somehow the State of Colorado announced to the good people of Boulder and Denver that the cost was going to be much more than what they estimated and gotten people to approve. So now, we’ve endured 4 years of them ripping apart Highway 36 to add in high speed HOV lanes to run bus service instead of said light rail.
So how does this relate to us residents of Nederland in the mountains? When you live in a town of 1300 people high up in the mountains, traffic is not something you deal with on a daily basis. Nederland doesn’t even have a single stoplight, it does however have a roundabout which three main roads filter into as well as a “Nedestrian” crossing for people crossing the street. You know it’s a busy day in Nederland when there are several cars inline waiting to go through the roundabout. This normally occurs on a few busy summer weekends, during the peak colors of fall and during Frozen Dead Guy Days.
There’s also a somewhat steady flow of cars that drive up and down Boulder canyon during the weekday mornings and evenings. Again, though a majority of Nederland residents do commute to Boulder, it’s nothing on the order of commuter traffic in the metro areas. Traffic jams in Boulder Canyon originate from getting stuck behind a tourist from Texas who is driving 25 miles per hour.
So, today as I was making my way on Highway 36, I got stuck in a massive traffic jam, due mainly to the roadwork shutting down a lane. What should have been a 15-minute drive turned into a 1-hour drive. For all you city dwellers out there, I’m sure you are not exactly feeling a great deal of compassion for me as this is just business as usual for most of you. But here’s the thing, when you move to a small rural mountain town, your tolerance for sitting in a traffic jam, moving 10-15 mph, is markedly lower than most. The longer I live in my small town, the lower my tolerance for dealing with copious amounts of people in any shape or form, whether walking, biking, or driving. In fact, I would rather drive three times the distance, but be driving the open roads seeing very few motorists, than sit in a traffic jam anywhere.
And that’s exactly what I did the last four years, when I was commuting from Nederland to my job at Rocky Mountain National Park. I actually drove 42 miles and an hour each way back and forth five days a week, even doing that one year during the winter as well as summer and fall. People I met were astounded that I would make such a long drive, asking how I did it? And I never really felt like it was a hardship as my drive included amazing views of the mountains, sightings of moose and elk along the way, as well as beautiful sunsets, but very few people. Instead, today I wondered, how do people cope with all this traffic day after day — that would make me crazy!
During my own life, I have lived right smack in the middle of a city (San Francisco), and lived in some of the most remote national parks in the country, as well as my current home off an isolated dirt road. Those experiences have taught me that we all adapt to whatever our circumstances are, whatever they may be. But the longer I live more off the beaten path, the more I wish to stay away from that path — today’s ire with sitting in traffic drove that point home once again.