Like many other commuters around the country on a Wednesday morning at 7 a.m., I found myself sitting in a traffic jam on an interstate highway. Unlike the rest of you, I am thoroughly baffled by this occurrence. Why am I sitting in a traffic jam on westbound I-70 near Idaho Springs? This makes no sense. When I got on the highway, there was little to no traffic. It’s near the end of the ski season, and most Front Range residents are trying to get to work, not to the local ski hill. It’s not even a powder day!
Inside, I am seething over this delay in my drive to Winter Park Ski Resort. It’s my last day of ski instructing for the season, and I had left early to give myself time to pack up my locker. While the drive is not short, it is usually not fraught with delays or traffic jams, and I enjoy the beautiful mountain views and twists and turns of the winding mountain roads on my typical journey over there.
The only thing I can think that would cause this delay is some untimely accident by a motorist driving too fast. Still, that doesn’t even make that much sense. With the warm temperatures we have had, the highway conditions were more like what you would find on a summer day than winter.
I know the mountain byways so well, that usually I can figure out some back way around. But this time I am stuck — there is no way to exit this gridlock, so like everyone else, I wait. I don’t wait graciously or patiently, as I don’t tolerate traffic of any sort very well. This a result of living in a small mountain town where our definition of traffic is three cars waiting to get through the local traffic circle. Or three cars in a row driving up Boulder Canyon behind a car not driving normal Nederland “commuter” speed. I’d rather drive 50 miles out of my way with plenty of open road in front of me, than sit in a traffic jam for 30 minutes.
But then as I inch ever so slightly forward, I see the cause of my traffic jam. This is where I realize how life in the mountains deviates so greatly with life in the city or suburbs. The cause of my morning gridlock is a rock slide that has covered the westbound lanes of the highway. Literally, a wall of rock has collapsed and tumbled down in a mass of rocks small and large. It must have just happened, because there is only a sheriff’s vehicle parked in front of it to alert motorists to this natural impediment.
I later find out that when it first occurred, it blocked both lanes, and industrious drivers with a can-do attitude stopped and started moving the rocks they could by hand to allow an opening large enough for cars to squeeze through.
That wasn’t the only natural obstacle I would encounter that day on my way to ski instructing. Once I got past the rock slide, I heaved a sigh of relief. Ok, pedal to metal, I’m home free now. As I’m passing through the town of Empire, the car in front of me grinds to a stop. Not again! What, this time? As they veer to the shoulder, I see a herd of Bighorn Sheep standing near the center stripe. This time, I smile. Ok, for sheep I’m willing to stop. How can you not feel a sense of gratitude living in a place, where as you drive to work, you encounter these amazing animals with their great curved horns?
The rest of my day and drive are uneventful. I realize how lucky I am to live in this place, and also how I can never move back to the city. The traffic jams alone would prove my undoing.