Dad did all the driving on the family Sunday Drives. He had what Mom referred to as Secret Agendas, not disclosing all the myriad stops he had to make around town before we could set off on the highway to a destination, if any, he was yet to announce to us hostages in the car. Mom would sit in the front seat pouring invisible buckets of ice cold water over herself so she wouldn’t boil over in a rage. My two older sisters always got the window seats in back, I was sequestered in between their occasional jabbing elbows.
Our trips in the countryside outside of Detroit, Michigan took us across flat farmlands, Dad softly crooning along to the staticy AM radio music he and mother enjoyed. He was having a good time doing what he could afford to provide us on his only day off of the week. Sometimes the steam rising off of Mom would dissipate and she would crack a smile at him. My equally unamused sisters sat in unhappy silence, staring out the windows sharing nothing they saw pretty much because there really wasn’t much difference from one mile to another. I’d learned to keep my mouth shut, none of them open to listening to my amusing thoughts or curious questions. The sisters would dig their elbows into my sides, my replies to get them to stop rewarded them an admonishment from good old Mom for me to knock it off. Good times.
One trip into the country resulted in a feud between my parents that may have lasted for a couple of weeks of silent treatment. Dad stopped at a poultry farm that stank of chicken poop. We stood in the fenced area where the chickens lived and pecked at feed. The farmer grabbed one my Dad picked out, took the chicken to the chopping block and whacked off its head. Blood spurted everywhere and we kids were treated to the theatrics of a chicken running headless in the yard, a bird supposedly destined to become that evening’s supper. I didn’t need to look at Mom to know she was frying up Dad some pretty angry thoughts. When we got home with our headless chicken she sat in the basement of our hovel of a house, plucking feathers with the force of a titan and giving lessons on how to hate a husband.
There were a few Sunday drives we actually had some fun on. Usually took us out to a cider mill in the autumn. The cider mill had a waterwheel turning the apple press inside. Apples by the hundreds were crushed before our eyes, and I was transported into the magic of a round piece of tree fruit becoming a drink from heaven. It tasted like apple pie, the memory of its flavors I can muster up today, decades later. At the end of the cider mill visit, Dad would load up a crate or two of apples for us to eat over the winter months and for Mom to make into pies. Her approach to pie baking was a refreshing one hundred eighty degree pirouette away from gutting chickens.
Yesterday my own husband took us for a drive in the great wide open of the state we live in, Colorado. The sky was the blue of the state flag, nice summertime warm outdoors and different than the way too familiar stretch of road west from Colorado Springs across South Park (Yes, there really is a place named South Park.) We got to lay our eyes on scenery promised to most folks from the pages of calendars. His initial intent was to drive across Mosquito Pass, an old stage road, as in stage coach. The pass was described in four sentences in a visitor guide to Park County Colorado, the county he and his brothers own a cabin in and where we spend most of our time. “The Mosquito Pass Historic Auto Tour follows county road 12 west to the summit of Mosquito Pass. Signposts along the road correspond to nine historic sites that are interpreted in the auto tour brochure . Auto tour brochures are available from the South Park Ranger District office.”* The office, if you can find it, is closed on weekends. While Rand went to get the Rav4 an oil change and some cash from the bank, I googled up Mosquito Pass, Park County Colorado and it did indeed show up on a web page for the World’s Most Dangerous Roads. Oh yippee for me, a white knuckled passenger typically hiding under covers in the back seat during like circumstances.
Rand came home, I showed him the web page. That type of driving wasn’t exactly on his list of fun either, but he made an executive decision we should head out anyway and decide which of the other auto tours mentioned in the *285 Mountain Guide we would actually take. I like a game plan, and like a multiple choice test, I go with my first guess when I am unclear of an answer. He is a procrastinator to the point of impending disaster before taking action. Not my favorite quality about him. Choosing to be optimistic everything would end up in a good day, we left the house together.
Nearing Fairplay, Colorado my darling asked me which of the autotours we should take. Flummoxed as the descriptions were at most 3 sentences, I reread aloud to him what the guide afforded us. My tone attained a moderate pitch of sarcasm, simply because I had as much information as him, the page wasn’t giving up anything more we’d both read at least four times. I was resigned to his choice, as that is usually the way it works out so something, anything gets done. Shouting ensued, tears flowed, threats to just turn around and go home followed, I pleaded forgiveness and filled up all my purse sized tissues with snot. Somewhere in the middle of the madness and sadness we reconciled our differences and agreed upon Boreas Pass outside of Alma, Colorado.
Boreas Pass turned out to be a really good choice. The pass it follows is the old Denver, South Park and Pacific Railway grade across the Highline Route climbing to the Great Divide, aka the Continental Divide. We drove to the divide where an population of 150 people once lived. Three of the old buildings still stand, locked and curtained. Recently restored they are open for cross-country ski hut rentals in the winter. The Black Powder trail weaves its way into the area, trees stumps stand as testament to the hard work the settlers put in to build their homes and the other structures necessary for the railway. We were at an elevation of 11,482 feet, looking across at more mountains and an area known as Breckenridge.
Undaunted and acclimated to working above treeline, I headed out on the trail, iphone ready, feet happy and took about a mile walk in the woods. I wish I could give you great pictures of the wildflowers growing EVERYWHERE in great big bunches and vast areas of color, but there is only so much a 4s can do. We were up in high country during the peak of wildflower season, the reason I put up with winter months. I was happy. Rand was happy.
A sign at the trailhead explained we were in sensitive terrain, not just fields of wildflowers. Arctic tundra grows close by, some of it sprinkled in at the border of treeline and forest: it grows by the inch and gets killed by the foot. Tundra expands at the amazing rate of 1 to 3 inches every one hundred years. Tiny, dinky plant life visible from close up reveals miniature environments you have to see for yourself.
Along the path and into a forested area, I tiptoed uphill off trail, something I hate having to do. A girl has to do what a girl gotta do when nature calls. I spotted an area in the forest darken by spruce trees, camouflaged by rocks and fallen trees nearly reclaimed by earth. John Denver’s spirit sang softly, “he walks in perfect solitude through the forest and the streams, seeking grace with every step he takes,” reminding me to step carefully on my way to water a tree. I don’t believe I trampled a bit of lichen or moss. When I reached behind to steady my squat, the fallen tree I touched felt more fragile than a piece of fancy wrapping paper. I retracted my hand apologizing to mother earth for nearly interrupting the breakdown of what was once a solid piece of wood, accelerating the process, taking her job away from her.
During the meander back to the car I more than noticed a couple of not so nice things: pooper bags filled with dog poop waiting for the poop fairy to pick them up. For crying out really loud folks, there is NO POOP FAIRY. Kudos for packing it up, but crappy for you to leave it behind in its non-biodegradable plastic bags filled with stink and bacteria that is going to sit there until who knows when. If you have to take the dog along, pack its trash out along with the dog and yourself. Please.
It came to be time to go. Down the pass Rand sped. There were campers set up right alongside the road bed. Not my idea of getting away from it all. Lots of cars were parked along the pass and he oftens does, wondered aloud why they were parked there without checking it out. I explained perhaps there was a trailhead nearby or some couple “parked”, others having decided it must be a good place to pull over and have sex. I will always find a way to get the boy to chuckle.
We passed an SUV with a group of people carrying what looked like a body enshrouded in bandaging. On a closer look it was a group of 3 bridesmaids dressed in midnight blue sheath dresses carrying the train of the bride’s gown while the new husband dressed in a suit looked on. “Why would they be doing that up here?” Rand asked. I tried not to dwell on my own cluster-fuck of an ecclectic wedding, explaining to him getting their photos taken on the pass may have had some very special significance to them. “Huh,” my own get-‘er-done groom grunted.
Somehow or another we ended up in Breckenridge, Colorado at the other end of the pass. We ate at a brewery. He drank an Apricot Ale and I a very fresh Lager, watching the bubbles rise to the surface like champagne. The only table available to sit at was a communal table we shared with some folks from Denver and another couple also from Colorado Springs. Sort of like eating breakfast at a Bed & Breakfast we socialized for the first time in weeks. After the bill was paid we headed across the main drag in Breck to an outdoor Art Festival looking for a piece of art to fill an art niche Rand had built into a wall of our house last year. We didn’t find any art (we could afford), we both need to go back to art school and fill the niche ourselves.
It is Sunday and there are no Sunday drives planned for today unless Rand has a secret agenda planned for me. My plan is to get some groceries and a few odds and ends at the hardware store. We decided to divide and conquer, I ran out for the comestibles he took off to wanderlust in Lowe’s. I ran my errand, arriving home at 3:25pm to a note scrawled on a dinner napkin:
Here is my secret agenda: