Wednesday, September 14, 2011

They May Look Pretty, But They're A Bitch

The Colorado Rockies. Songs have been written about them. A baseball team has been named after them. Skiers revere them. Truckers fear them. OK, not really, but it rhymed.
The Rocky Mountains are beautiful year round, although I prefer them when they're covered in snow. Driving them when snow covered is challenging, but going through the mountains with a heavy load any time is no picnic. There's a lot of shifting involved, switching your jake brake off and on, making sure you don't use your service brakes too much, as I did on one hill, leaving a HUGE cloud of acrid smelling smoke behind me.

We were heavy, about 75,000 pounds. For me, climbing the mountain isn't as bad as descending. I don't mind staying in the right lane, creeping up the mountain, flashers blinking as cars, trucks and motorcycles speed around me. It's not as if I have a choice, so I just plug along. But going down? It's an intense ride that requires me to pay attention to several things at once; my speed, my RPM's, the percentage of grade on the hill, road conditions, escape routes in case my brakes fail.Signs are typically posted for what the grade of the hill is, but rather than having to do math (the increase in elevation per 100 feet determines the percentage of the grade), I just know that if I see a sign with a number and a percentage sign after it, there might be a crazy hill coming.

But here in Colorado, they not only tell you there's a crazy hill coming, they erect signs specifically for truckers. This sign is on Interstate-70, at the 211.5 mile marker. It's at the top of Loveland Pass, just after you get through the Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnel. With a maximum elevation of 11,158 ft above sea level, it's one of the highest vehicular tunnels in the world.

And just in case you didn't see the first sign, there's another to make sure they're getting through to you. This sign lets you know they're not fucking around. You better slow the hell down if you don't want to wind up over the side of a mountain in a heap of twisted steel. No matter how low your gear is, or how strong your jake brake is, a truck weighing almost 80,000 pounds is gonna roll. And sometimes, it's easy for it to get away from you. The longer you're driving, the better you are in these kinds of situations.

Ed is much better navigating hills than I am, but he's pretty good at helping me when I need it. Which is usually when he hears the engine screaming, so he sticks his head out of the curtain and says, "Shift!".

Uh, thanks, Baby.


MAE said...

OMG, I AM very impressed. I didn't know this road existed and you drove it. As Miss Scary-Cat I could never do this on a million-dollar bet.

Gil said...

This post reminded me of the drive down the Amalfi Coast! We drove to the Pacific twice, in the early 70s, and couldn't believe some of the roads. Didn't know what all of the flash flood warnings were about until many years later when the news showed people being rescued from the floods.