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Larry Banman: Lessons learned on the icy road home

Larry Banman " Without a Doubt

While traveling back from the Front Range late Sunday afternoon, I came to a fork in the road, literally. Faced with adverse weather ahead, I had my choice of staying on I-70 and going through Eisenhower tunnel or taking the Highway 40 option over Berthoud Pass. There was a chain law in effect on I-70, so I surmised that Highway 40 would be a better option. Wrong.

Working my way up over the pass, I had time to mull over numerous thoughts. That kind of thing can happen while averaging about 10 miles per hour. Those thoughts included:

Why did I make the choice to take Highway 40? Surely nothing could have been worse than inching along, hoping desperately I wasn’t drifting into the oncoming lane? As it turned out, my choice was probably no worse than staying on I-70.

The interstate was closed at about the same time as Highway 40, and apparently there were numerous accidents along that route.

The Berthoud crowd was really well behaved. Nobody was trying to gain a car or two advantage to get to the other side five minutes faster. Everybody was creeping along, just like me, and I even had to laugh at one point. I was leading a string of cars down the Winter Park side and was really beginning to feel like I was hindering progress.

I pulled over to let the trailing vehicles pass, only to have the entire line pull over and wait while I quickly snapped the ice off of my windshield wipers. Apparently, they were happy to allow me to blaze the trail down to Winter Park.

Who is in charge of road closures? At several points, I found myself wishing somebody had protected me from myself and my foolish choice. As it turned out, I made it home and was able to sleep soundly in my own bed. In addition, Berthoud Pass was closed shortly after I made it into the Fraser Valley.

That has got to be a tough choice for the Department of Transportation. People want to get home and, by nature, we invariably assume we have the driving skills and the perfect vehicle to get us safely through the storm. The alternative is to try and find lodging for another night or spend the evening on a gym floor somewhere.

When you have that alternative, however, it always seems that people have heart-warming stories of how well they were cared for by local volunteers. When I finally made it into Kremmling, the parking lot at West Grand High School was filled with the cars of weary, but safe travelers.

I was able to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of my 1994 Buick LeSabre. My front-wheel-drive chariot never once slipped or slid. It kept me moving safely along.

When needed, the brakes worked to perfection. The interior was toasty warm and the radio reception was perfect as I listened to the Broncos win an overtime game against the Vikings.

On the other hand, I hope whoever engineered the windshield wiper system has been demoted to sweeping floors somewhere. If CDOT wants to build a perfect snow catch system, they should consider the way my car catches (and possibly attracts) snow into that space between the hood and the windshield. That is also the space where the windshield wipers are stored when not in use.

When conditions are just right, you have to choose between that annoying wiper-clatter that happens when the windshield is too dry or scooping up snow and ice from the “snow catch.” The second option leaves you temporarily blind or sticking your head out the window to gain your bearings.

Thanks to my wife’s virtuoso performance on the heater and defrost fan switches, we were able to avoid disaster.

My final observation came while my eyes were darting around looking for clues as to the location of my lane on the road. At various spots, I keyed on guardrails, delineator reflectors, the tracks of previous vehicles, the lines on the road, oncoming traffic, the North Star, the windrow left by snowplows. Even the rumble bumps proved to be a help as they alerted me to the fact that I had drifted onto the shoulder.

It reminded me of the journey in life which we all take as individuals and as participants in larger groups. Sometimes we can’t really see the path directly in front of us and it is hard to determine if we are going in the right direction or even making progress. We have to rely or other indicators to tell us if we are indeed on the right path.

There were a couple of times on Sunday when I would have been in trouble if I had relied only on my perception of where I was or my memory of where I should have been. I had to overpower those assumptions and perceptions with the input I was receiving from some of those peripheral indicators.

On New Year’s Day, it is traditional to make resolutions about how we will improve some aspect of our lives. Instead of making a specific resolution, which I likely will be unable to keep, I am going to resolve this year to pay more attention to those more subtle indicators that tell me if I am on the right path. Often they are more accurate than the “in-your-face” input which often determines our paths.


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