The Big Trip: The Rockies, and then not ~

Streamside on Fall River cabin

Streamside on Fall River cabin

Fall River, Estes Park. In Southern Illinois we would call this a creek.

Fall River, Estes Park. In Southern Illinois we would call this a creek.

Beaver Meadows, Rocky Mountain National Park

Beaver Meadows, Rocky Mountain National Park

Rainbow Curve, Rocky Mountain National Park

Rainbow Curve, Rocky Mountain National Park

chipmunk at Rainbow Curve

chipmunk at Rainbow Curve

At Forest Canyon overlook, Rocky Mtn. Natl. Park

At Forest Canyon overlook, Rocky Mtn. Natl. Park

Heading home: eastern Colorado

Heading home: eastern Colorado

Day 12: Estes Park to Colby.

Yesterday evening was the sort of evening that reminded me of the disadvantages of solo travel, and today was the sort of day that made me grateful I was traveling alone.

After splurging on a cabin (technically, I had one-third of the cabin) on Fall River just west of Estes Park, I went into town, had a bite to eat, and then tripped on a step I didn’t see. Down I went on the concrete on my palms and knees. The only thing I remember thinking, other than “I can’t stop myself,” was “How will I get home?” I was close enough to the café to call for help; two of the wait-staff brought me ice and got me to my feet. I found out that I could drive if I was careful. I got back to the cabin just in time to catch the manager, who was on her way out, and she kindly brought me more ice and towels. I spent the rest of the evening feeling thankful that I hadn’t broken any bones or hit my head, and that it seemed I’d be able to drive a longer distance than the three miles from the middle of Estes Park to the motel.

The next morning I headed, somewhat gingerly, for Rocky Mountain National Park. I intended to spend only an hour or so. I wanted to visit the place where my sister and I had scattered our parents’ ashes 12 years ago, but I wanted to leave early and drive as far home as I could, because my calculations had shown me that, once again, I was due to reach Kansas City on a Monday or Tuesday, precluding a return visit to the Nelson-Atkins Art Museum for the sixth consecutive time. So I determined to drive two long days and get to K.C. on Sunday.

In the park, however, I took a wrong turn and found myself heading up into the mountains on Trail Ridge Road. That’s okay, I thought, I’ll just go as far as Rainbow Curve (the second major overlook from the east), see how I handle the altitude, and turn around.

I handled it fine. It felt so good, in fact, and the weather was so cool and delightful, that I made an abrupt change of plan: I’d drive all the way across the park, come down to I-70 on the west side, stay the night somewhere, do things in Denver for a day or two, and stretch out my arrival in K.C. to Wednesday.

By this point in the trip I felt that my 10-year-old Prius and I were practically fused, a virtual woman/machine hybrid. We were at one with each other, it seemed. Until Rainbow Curve. Shortly after I pulled out of the overlook, the car began laboring badly. I nursed it along, hoping it would shake off whatever the problem was. No such luck. At Forest Canyon overlook, 11,700 feet above sea level, I decided to turn around, get the Prius back down to Estes Park, and see if I needed to find a mechanic.

In town I got lunch at a place I’d noticed called “You Need Pie!” Yes, I did: that was truth in advertising. The car had no pie but seemed to be doing better nonetheless, so I headed toward Denver, a route that descends from about 7,500 feet to about 5.000. And soon the car was running normally again. I reverted to my original travel plan: drive like hell toward Kansas City. The car and I ended up in Colby, Kansas, together, reconciled, and back in our own time zone.

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