Mug Tom Hesse

It’s tough to rally support for drivers who aggressively pass other cars during harrowing road conditions, but I’m gonna give it a shot.

Colorado saw its first winter storm of the season recently and, despite a polite request from our friends at the state Department of Transportation, I took to the highways during the meat of the storm looking to traverse five counties.

My travel was not what you’d call essential, but “essential” can be a tricky phrase. Spend too much time analyzing what is and isn’t essential about your life and you’ll lose a whole weekend in a futile attempt to grasp the type of questions most deftly handled by philosophers and theologians.

I doubt that’s what CDOT was getting at when it advised against non-essential travel but, regardless, I was going to go elk hunting with my father and that involved a jaunt across northwest Colorado.

The roads were fine up through Rio Blanco County, but grueling by Routt County. By the time you got to Jackson County, well, Jackson County is the kind of place that’s still working on clearing last year’s snowdrifts.

During this six-hour trek, which is more like four hours when you’re not having fun, I encountered many a daredevil willing to push their land barge to the limit — conditions and fellow drivers be damned.

The horsepower and engineering of today’s carriages — particularly those driven by people who engage in such maneuvering — usually affords drivers the opportunity to not just pass you, but to do so in a way that announces their scorn at your tortoise-like approach to winter weather.

This is often where other drivers lament the existence of such road warriors, usually with a curse and a premonition that said vehicle will soon find its way to the ditch.

At this point, I diverge from my fellow timid motorists, for I do not take umbrage with these drivers, but rather solace in their existence.

You see, whether it’s fishtailing up Rabbit Ears Pass, sliding past Vail or hoping a Moffat County deer doesn’t test my stopping distance, I am heartened to know that a more steely-nerved motorist than I has already probed these conditions at a considerably brisker pace than I will and with greater aplomb than the uneven weight distribution of their vehicle warrants.

And, provided I haven’t seen their tailgate reaching skyward from the adjacent ditch, there must be hope for me in my travels.

Winter recreation in Colorado involves a great deal of this. It’s the cost of doing business in a state with world-class outdoor offerings.

The lesson, as always, is patience, a good attitude and putting your snow tires on earlier than you think.

It’s never the February storm that’ll get you; it’s those May and October ones. It’s the shoulder seasons that turn the highways into Mario Kart as RV drivers try to sneak in one last trip and sensible passenger cars look to make it up the pass one more time on summer tread.

Soon, our trips outside will involve things like mandatory traction laws and a batallion of red license plates that mark which skiers got snowed out of flying into Aspen and thought it wise to brave the summit via rental car instead.

As we enter this most sacred and slippery time on the roads, just remember to take it easy on the snowplows and let the wild drivers with more torque than sense lead the way.


Tom Hesse is the city editor at The Daily Sentinel.

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