My Colorado trip ended with a beautiful full day of skiing on Wednesday at Snowmass, getting on when the lifts opened at 9 am and not coming off the mountain until they shut down at 3:30 that afternoon. The sun was beginning to fade as my comrades Tyler and Matthew and I unbuckled our boots, shoved the gear in the car, and got settled for a very long drive back to Minnesota.
We took Interstate 70 across Colorado, which can be tricky in the best of situations. We had to go over Vail Pass, which as 10,666 feet at the summit can be not as fun when the weather takes a turn for the worse...
which, of course, it did.
It started lightly snowing as we gassed up the car at the bottom of the pass, and we brushed it off since we were hearty Minnesotans who grew up driving in crap weather. Snow? Bah! Not even a problem.
However, the snow only got worse as we drove higher up the pass, with Tyler in the driver's seat and me in the passenger, watching each semi that we passed slog through the slush and snow that was fast accumulating, and hearing the chained tires clicking against the pavement, slightly ominous. Tyler was great at keeping cool, taking it nice and slow up the mountain, letting my car slide when it needed but keeping a grip on the steering wheel. We summitted the pass with nothing worse than frayed nerves, knowing that going down was going to be the hard part. Little did we know...
Since my car is a front-wheel-drive boat stuffed to the gills with ice and ski gear, Tyler popped it into 2nd gear to cruise down the mountain, letting the engine keep us going slow and steady so we wouldn't fry the breaks, also maintaining more control than what seemed like a lot of people around us. He stayed that way for a very long time, barely able to make out the shapes of the cars ahead of us, following red tail lights to stay in a lane.
Trouble only hit when the road flattened for a little bit, causing Tyler to pop it back into drive and push on the accelerator to stay with traffic. The problem occured when he realized that the accelerator was already down... all the way down to the ground... and the engine was revving higher and higher, making us start to fly down the mountain. At first he had both feet on the breaks, straining just to keep us from smashing into the cars in front of us, but he thought fast and popped the car into neutral, starting to ease towards an exit that miraculously appeared ahead of us,with the waiting lights of a gas station glowing through the snow. As soon as neutral hit, the engine went into overload and sounded like a race car gunning for the finish, scareing me out of my wits. He got us up the ramp and into the gas station parking lot before throwing the car in park and pulling the e-brake, shutting of the engine and leaving the three of us breathing heavily, just comprehending what we had just escaped.
Turns out because he hadn't been pressing on the accelerator the entire time, the lever it was connected to froze into the down position from the cold, fast winds as we were going down the pass. Being in second gear keeped the engine at an okay level until he put the car in drive, which is when it started to careen out of control.
After we settled down (I was shaking like a leaf) and we all grabbed some coffee, we went back to the car, where after testing found that the pedal was no longer frozen, which was good, but also meant we couldn't use lower gears or cruise control. Since we didn't want to be snowed in, Matthew continued to drive through the night across Nebraska, following a Semi-truck as it bowled down giant drifts of snow flung across the road by the blizzard. Tyler stayed up with him most of the time, and I grabbed a few nervous hours of sleep as the wind howled around, pushing the car around the highway like a toy.
We passed through Omaha, Nebraska around 5 am, taking a break in the first exit across the border of Iowa to grab some breakfast and coffee as I got ready for my own turn to drive. We took a little longer in this particular rest stop, brushing teeth and unwinding from a very long night.
When we went back out to the car, I turned it on and realized that the gas pedal was all the way to the floor again, only the engine wasn't reving this time. It had frozen yet again, and after hunting around under the hood to see if we could warm the ice off or do something to fix it, we called in the mechanics to hopefully fix what we couldn't.
Turns out it was worse than we thought- when it had frozen the first time, it expanded the sheath holding the cable and would therefore be open to freeze at will. This time it just happened to freeze in the off position. They hauled my car to the garage to order a part. It wasn't until we had been waiting for awhile before they informed us that they had to special-order the part, since my car was a '98 and the part wasn't made any more. The soonest it could get there was by lunch the next day. Exhausted, hungry, and badly needing showers, we just didn't care at this point.
Luckily, because the problem stemmed from a screw-up by Firestone in Duluth in the first place (the backstory is long), Firestone was going to not only pay for the tow, the part, the shipping of the part, and the installation, but they put us up in a nice hotel for the night. After napping and showering, we even went and saw Avatar in Imax 3-D that night!
The part got fixed in record time, and they shuttled us around from hotel to the car place when it was ready and we finally got on our final stretch back home.
Cheering was abundant when we saw the sign for Duluth, Minnesota, let me tell you.
All in all, it was an... exciting way to end the trip. :)