Off I went, driving the big county van down the canyon. Sitting high, and driving a county vehicle, I had to be much more careful than my usual drive down the canyon. I actually ended up driving the speed limit, and being mindful of a controlled navigation of the many curves between Nederland and Boulder.
Still, I arrived at the bottom well ahead of my friend who drove directly behind me. Of course, being from Fort Collins, her experience driving canyon roads was far less than mine.
“Well, you really left me in the dust!” she teased me.
“I didn’t even think I was going that fast. But then again, I could pretty much drive that road in my sleep! As it was, I couldn’t even come close to driving Nederland Commuter Speed.”
Nederland Commuter Speed. In Boulder Canyon, there is the posted speed limit, there is “Turtle speed” and there is Nederland Commuter Speed.
For those of us living in our tiny mountain community, we will drive Boulder Canyon hundreds of times over the course of the year. There are even days I have driven three round trips in the span of a single day.
I know where every curve is, where every passing zone is, where the one and only turnout is going uphill, and how long it will take me to arrive at my door when I pass Boulder Falls. I usually average around 50 miles per hour, but even at that rate of speed, I still have other commuters hot on my tail, who drive 55-60 miles per hour.
“Turtle speed” is anything that is below the speed limit, and super slow turtle is those driving 10 miles per hour less than the speed limit. But who can blame them, on an an unfamiliar road with soaring granite walls to look at?
Mountain commutes on windy, curvy roads are not stranger to me. I spent three summers at Sequoia National Park, where I would drive once a week almost two hours each way to the town of Fresno to stock up on groceries and splurge on a meal out. Oftentimes, I drove back up to the park in total darkness. What scared me the most was not other drivers, but the wildlife. Fearing I would hit a deer that would jump out of me kept me alert and focused most of the way.
Then I spent 43 miles of driving the Peak to Peak Highway each way from Estes Park to Nederland for four summers, and one long and cold winter. It’s the only time that my NPS job ever got me a special perk, getting me out of a ticket. One night, feeling particularly tired, I got going a bit too fast on a straightaway and got pulled over the local county sheriff’s deputy. Seeing I was a National Park Ranger, he allowed me to get off with solely a strict warning, instead of a costly ticket.
The thing that sometimes scares me the most about becoming so familiar with driving Boulder Canyon is that familiarity leading to a lack of presence, of being in the moment. I’m embarrassed to admit, there are actually days I leave Boulder, and arrive home without remembering one second of the drive.
Maybe it’s good to get behind those “turtles” sometimes — they remind me to see the beauty of Boulder Canyon through a tourist’s eyes and remember what a beautiful place I live in.