Rendered Fat Content


Thomas Moran: Mosquito Trail, 1874
" … a full immersion experience one can almost bring back home with them."

This Damned Pandemic encourages a discernment and detachment in me. I no longer feel free to enter just any establishment. As if I possessed a picky palate, I simply will not enter any restaurant, not yet. I might consent to a drive through or an accelerated step in to grab something to go, but I will not slow down long enough to even leave a footprint on my way through. I wake some mornings aching for a decent order of hash browns smothered in green chile gravy like only an authentic greasy spoon diner can produce, but I will not reduce myself to enter any such establishment. Not yet. Not now. I sense that I'm becoming somewhat of an expert at TakingAPass, just driving past though my desire might compel me to stop. I sense myself a budding aesthetic, like a solitary mountaintop meditating wise man, though I know for certain that I remain a simple wise guy deep down inside. I'm TakingAPass because I've grown to distrust all reassurances that we're bringing This Damned Pandemic under any sort of control. We're still learning how this devil works, and until we deeply understand it, I will continue to choose to just drive by most roadside attractions, even when I'm starving for that plate of smothered hash.

Living in Colorado offers some some compensations.
The Muse, GrandOtter, and I live in close proximity to some of the most remarkable country. Purple mountains' majesty proves to be no allegory here, but an everyday lived experience. We can see thirty miles of Front Range rock faces from The Villa's deck. A short trek takes us up, into, and through what's locally referred to as The High Country, by which a genuine Coloradan means fourteeners, peaks exceeding fourteen thousand feet of elevation. The truly obsessive keep count of the number of these monsters they've climbed, though I proudly report that my count remains as precisely zero. I'm not a native here and I firmly believe that climbing barren rocky peaks amounts to acts of self debasement if not destruction. Still, The Muse and I won't turn down an opportunity to take a Sunday toodle up there, into the high country, if only to temporarily slip further from the city, which resembles an HO scale town when viewed from down our street.

The egress west out of Denver along the infamous I-70 corridor presents a medium within which city dwellers can comfortably act out their road trip fantasies. The road surface, subjected to seasonal extremes, prevents safely driving near the speed limit of 3,483 MPH, but while I toodle along at mere mid-double digit speeds, everyone else gleefully exceeds, g-forces nudging them around each hairpin turn. Our own fantasies encourage us along a couple of dozen hectic miles until we reach a small mountain town, where we exit with deep gratitude. The town's decked out for tourists who will not be coming this summer, a steam whistle beckons a little further up the mountain where an authentic small-scale steam train attempts to relive the "good" old gold mining days. We're headed up and over, and TakingAPass at stopping, though The Muse reports that the train ride is supposed to be worth taking. Another time, after we've learned how to stand in line and safely sit in a rail car again.

A sign promises twenty-five miles to the other side, the peak altitude on this drive stated as about twelve five, high enough for us Sunday drivers. I drive slowly, hoping the excursion might last, while, predictably, everyone else seems to need to speed through this scenic part, like speed-reading sublime poetry. Groups of sports cars zoom by the other way, having successfully rallied the twenty mph road with ten mph curves, at fifty, probably, or more. I consider excessive speed a chore and ultimately boring. If I drive slow enough, everyone passes and we're left all alone while the faster drivers extend the Cluster Up they might have grown used to down in the city, apparently unwilling to drive without riding on somebody's tail. Wildflowers still border the narrow blacktop and wooden guard rails prevent us from slipping off cliffs hundreds of feet high. Majesty takes over and we fall into a pleasant, relaxing trance. We're going nowhere and slowly.

We pass a campground nestled beside a catchment reservoir. Every ounce of water coming off these cliff faces gets captured for multiple use, none deliberately wasted. Cars border the roadway near campgrounds producing little traffic jams more suitable for some suburban strip mall. Near the crest, scores of cars line the road and I wonder where all those people go up here until The Muse points out innumerable dusty trails heading up toward what probably is another fourteener. The trails have been trekked into ditches, very probably water courses during and after monsoonal downpours. We toodle on. The backcountry looks perfectly groomed and I fully expected to see a moose as we passed through a meandering creek's headwaters. We spotted chipmunks instead.

An hour later, we entered a typically disheveled little Colorado town and found ourselves re-encountering what passes for civilization again, a seemingly endless line of vehicles heading north toward Denver and an equally endless stream of vehicles heading south toward New Mexico. US 285 exists as a manic moving psychosis, highlighting all the worst characteristics of man, especially including diesel pickups with engines especially tuned to maximize their coal smoke output. Every other truck's pulling a trailer taking sharp turns on one wheel. I finally slip into the stream as The Muse asks if I don't just want to head back over that sublime pass again. I say that I would, but I want to avoid having to drive I-70 eastbound while surrounded by three lanes of people returning from their weekend high country vacation. It's damned whatever I choose when headed toward Denver. At least I'm not pulling a trailer.

By the time we reenter the megalopolis much of the tranquility gained in our high country toodle has disbursed. I'm jittery from dodging rampaging trailer homes, hungry, and ready to get back home. We'd packed a picnic lunch but, typical for us, fell into the sort of toodling trance where hunger and thirst never entered our minds until reawakening, starved and parched, too close to home to imagine stopping. We'll picnic at the reliable old kitchen table. I'll wander off for a read and a nap. The Muse will make up some Maraschino cherries from those Flathead Lake babies we'd bought the day before, and all will be right with this world again. Sometimes, TakingAPass produces a full immersion experience one can almost bring back home with them.

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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