January 3, 2010

Vail and Loveland Passes - Adventure in the Colorado Rockies

Sitting in Grand Island, NE getting a trailer tire fixed. It has a hole in it, and our plug job wasn't sufficient to ease Malcolm's concerns, so we're having the guys in the shop fix it up for us. Wondering how we got a hole in our trailer tire? Let me tell you the story.

Thursday afternoon we got loaded up with our sun dried potatoes that are headed to a feed mill in Illinois. That, my friends, is a huge pile of dried potatoes chunks.

They load it with a front end loader, dumping it right in the trailer.

Here's a closer look...appetizing isn't it?

So off we went, making good time. Spent New Years Eve in Baker, CA where we stopped for dinner at the Mad Greek, a restaurant we like that has truck parking and a sizable truckers discount, and went to bed because traffic going to Las Vegas was INSANE and scary!

New Years day we practically had the road to ourselves in Las Vegas, even after sleeping till 10:00am. Guess all those party goers were sleeping even longer. We drove up I-15, and got on I-70 east in Utah just as the sun was setting. We stopped about 4 miles from Green River, UT at a scenic overlook to spend the night. It was a relaxed and uneventful first day for the new year.

Saturday morning we woke to this view, the hills and mountains in eastern Utah. Just south of here is Arches National Park, Bryces Cayon, Zion National Park, and a number of others, not to mention the Grand Canyon. So you can imagine the scenery along this stretch of I-70.

Still on I-70, near the Colorado border.

We should have kept going Friday night, but I was wanting to drive through the Rocky Mountains during the day, so Malcolm stopped early for me. In doing so we didn't' get in the miles we should have, but Saturday morning's scenery was well worth it.

Eventually the mountains began to close in on us. Once you get into them, I-70 is squeezed into a gorge along with the Colorado River. Its so tight, they have practically built the west bound side on top of the east bound side. (please excuse the smeared look...the road was wet and I was taking pictures through the windshield.)

About 100 miles from Vail a state sign informed us there was an accident just below the pass. Malcolm called 511 to get more details. Not only was there an accident, but commercial vehicles were being required to chain up for the pass and again for Eisenhower Tunnel. We hoped that they would get it cleaned up before we got there...no such luck.

While we sat in traffic for the accident, we watched skiers enjoying the slopes of Vail.

By the time we got to the accident they had re-opened one lane, so traffic was moving...slowly. And then just past the accident site...

So we pulled off, with about 20 other trucks. There was hardly room to squeeze in. Some of you will remember when we got the new truck, we ordered it with "super single" tires. So we had to buy new snow chains too to fit them. It generally only takes 15-20 minutes to chain up (because he has me to help pull forward and back). So he got out the new chains and proceeded......to discover something very upsetting! The bags had our tire size printed on them. But inside were tire chains for regular dual tires. Way too small for our singles!

The roads weren't that bad, but Colorado has a $500 fine for failing to chain up when its required, and if you happen to get stuck and not be chained up, its a $1000 fine with a $300 surcharge.

The guy in front of us was having issues too. He was new, bless his heart, and thought he had the same problem as us, until he realized he's gotten out his chains for the trailer. He finally got things figured out and went on his way.

Eventually one of those ingenuous entrepreneurs came along selling tire chains to us poor stranded truckers (for an arm and a leg), and Malcolm bought a set from him, for $185, so that we could be on our way. It looked like the snow was setting in instead of clearing up, so there wasn't much point in trying to wait it out. So about an hour and a half after pulling into the chain up area, we were finally on our way...at a snails pace!

Nearing the summit of Vail Pass. Vail Pass is listed as one of Colorado's three most difficult passes. At the summit, it is 10,600 feet in elevation.

Coming down the other side, things looked more promising. There was only about a 10 mile stretch between the two chain up areas, so everyone just left their chains on.

As we reached the Eisenhower Tunnel area, traffic came to a screeching halt! It was evident that no one was going anywhere in a hurry. The road signs had suggested taking US6 as an alternate, so we decided to try it. US 6 crosses Loveland Pass, chains also required here, but we figured it couldn't be any worse. So, along with some cars and another big truck, we set off for Loveland Pass. Here we are winding our way towards the pass. If you look through the snowy haze, you can see the peak ahead. The above picture is deceptive. US6 over Loveland Pass is a two lane that winds its way around the mountain sides...with no guard rail to speak of (not that it would do us much good.) Also lacking in the above picture is traffic. Once we got closer to the summit, and within sight (had the sky been clear) of the interstate, the traffic got really heavy. It would seem that all of Denver and the metropolitan area went skiing Saturday and decided to return home early that evening. By the time we were at the summit, we were moving just as slow as we had been on the interstate, except now we are also on a two lane, looking down what must have been a mile long slope, and through the snowy haze, we can see itty bitty red tail lights...a whole long line of them....twinkling their way down the mountain.

We hadn't eaten and were really hungry. As we sat there, I started to wonder how appetizing our trailer load of dried potatoes would be if we got stranded out there. It was starting to snow heavier and nothing was moving. I figured we could live off those potatoes if we had to, maybe melt some snow and rehydrate them...but then thankfully traffic began to creep, and so we grabbed a couple of oranges from the back and ate them instead to hold us over.

While we sat on the summit I got my last picture of the day before it became too dark. I thought this was rather amusing...in a not so amusing kind of way.

There had been signs all along the mountain telling travelers of avalanche danger and to not stop on the side of the road, but park in designated areas only. And here we were...hundreds of cars and several trucks...all sitting in the road all the way down the mountain.

Basically it took us about 2 hours to go 4 miles, almost all down a very steep hill. We were barely moving, but by the time we stopped at the bottom to take the chains off, our brakes smelled like we had made a hard stop.

Back on the interstate...still at a snails pace...but it eventually cleared up and within an hour or so we were in Denver and passing through. Over on the east side of Denver we spotted a Chik-Fil-A, an old favorite from our southern home. I didn't even know they were out of the southeast. It happened to be on the outskirts of a Super Target parking lot, and since it was 9:00 at night, there was lots and lots of room, so in we went to park. And now we get to the hole in the tire.

If you notice in all those pictures above, there isn't that much snow on the road...well relatively speaking. The point is, you can see asphalt. Generally speaking, asphalt wreaks havoc on tire chains. They are, after all, designed for driving on snow and ice. So after all that traveling on the partially snow packed roads with our brand new $185 dollar snow chains, they were pretty messed up. Links were broken all over, and they had proceeded to chew up our mud flap, and beat to death our mud flap hanger and weight. Disgusted with that, we made our way out of the mountains to the Target parking lot, and Malcolm did a walk around before going in to dinner, during which he discovered we had run over a broken chain link, embedding it in the trailer tire. He pulled it out, and we plugged the hole, but today he decided he'd rather have it replugged in a tire shop because it was such a large hole, and we don't want to risk loosing the tire.

And so, $46 dollars later and another 30 minutes off the road, we are on our way again. All in all, we only got about 400 miles done yesterday, putting us even further behind, and so our 500 mile a day relaxing weekend, has turned into a Sunday afternoon with still 500 miles to go before tomorrow morning. Such is the life of a truck driver!

Might I add at this point...the size of the snow drifts here in eastern Nebraska are the likes of which I've never seen before. And they are all over a week old, left over from the Christmas storm that swept the country. Its 12 degrees.


Sharon Tachenko said...

You guys always have big adventures! I might add, many of them sound very stressful - Glad you're safe and see a break in sight.

Cindi said...

I was raised in CO....your story is soooo typical for the winter months driving on I70...glad you made it thru both passes successfully...whew!

Kirkland Acres Rabbitry And Farm said...

What a weekend, beautiful pics though. However may I ask do you know what they do with those dehydrated potatoes?

sea gull lighting said...

I love your pictures!

small farm girl said...

I'm glad you can look back at this and remain calm. I would have had a fit. You guys had better be careful going over those mountains.
Be safe,

Beck's Country Living said...

love the pitchers I will pray for you to have a safe trip. It is 4 here today and the wind is up to 20mp so the wind chill is -8 to -15, have a safe one

Tina Marie the Willow Witch said...

Yes, I know the Vail Pass, my first trip over it was October 27th, this year, moving Evan to NY and we hit it in a driving snow storm crawling... I white knuckled it....Not something I would like to do again anytime soon...:)

Jaime G. said...

the picture from Utah is BEAUTIFUL!
If I ever get back to Zion, I'll have to make sure I go find this place and spend some time with God there.

Glad you made it through CO safely!

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

What a nightmare! But the veiws sure were gorgeous!

Oh! And we have Chik-Fil-A's here in New Mexico...in Albuquerque there are several. And when I stayed with my friend in the Houston area 2 years ago, we ate at Chik-Fil-A several times.

I love their fries!


Anonymous said...

I loved your post and all the neat pictures. Snow is so beautiful! I'm just glad I don't have to be out and in it. Lucky Ed is in sunny California. :):)