Driving 507 miles in a single day is not, in the broader context of human history, a great endeavor. But when you’re in the middle of moving your life across North America in the back of a Subaru, driving 507 miles in the wrong direction is a serious detour.
As Sesko and I headed north out of Aspen and the realization sunk in that we were now officially driving in the wrong direction, the Subaru gave a violent shudder. The sun poured down from a cloudless Colorado sky, but as the pressures of real life crept into our minds, the car felt airless. Less like a ship on open water; more like a tin can heating up on a city sidewalk. Worries about our responsibilities mingled with questions mechanical (when was the timing belt replaced?), logistic (do we have enough clean underwear?) and existential (do I even need clean underwear?).
Less than ten miles from the St. Moritz, it was time for a break. We veered off the highway and right into Woody Creek, Aspen’s misfit hideaway. The Woody Creek Tavern was Hunter S. Thompson’s storied watering hole, and despite some of the grousing we heard from Aspen locals about the wear and tear of Gonzo tourism, the bar was just as inviting and weird at 10:30 on a Wednesday morning as we hoped. We ordered two beers and pondered the booze, drugs and fame that made Thomas infamous and brought an early end to his life and career.
An older man at the far end of the bar took out a small Tupperware container and offered up some fresh cubes of walnut fudge to everyone in the bar.
“Is this funny fudge?” another old-timer asked.
“Nope,” the first said with a laugh. “My wife made it yesterday.”
Back on the road to Glenwood Springs and feeling energized, we agree that there’s no better way to prepare for a long day’s drive than a cup of strong coffee, a cube of fudge, and twelve ounces of cold beer.
Our route strung us briefly along Interstate-70 West and then north 180 miles through the mining towns, cattle ranches and immense empty spaces of Rio Blanco and Moffat counties. Northwest Colorado is just one small corner of the West, but it’s a clear reminder that out beyond the nodes of ski towns and big cities, there lies an endless void. Hundreds of miles between gas stations. Radio is non-existent. You can forget the noise and distractions of society. You can forget you’re in America at all, and you can fairly ask how and why anyone settled these places to begin with.
To pass the hours, Sesko had stacks of mysterious mix CDs, but no way to listen to podcasts, iPods or anything invented after 1999. I started scanning the radio dial in a fruitless search, first for music, then talk. Anything. The AM static was hypnotic with white noise, an ambient emptiness that complemented the passing landscape.
“You’ve done two whole scans of the AM stations. If you do one more,” Sesko said, “I’m going to cut off your hand.”
We pulled over to inspect a long-abandoned mine house, a rusted out and picked-over relic and another reminder that skiing was not the first reason the West was settled. When Sesko started walking towards a shaft-house with his camera, I told him it might be a dangerous idea. I said The potential risks of an abandoned mine, I said, include concentrated ponds of toxic waste and blind holes that descend hundreds of feet into the cold dead earth.
“I’m not your child,” Sesko replied, and walked towards the little shack. I watched as he trudged through knee deep snow, muttered something about my attitude, and eventually gave up and turned around.
We stopped at the Stage Stop Meat Market and Deli in Meeker, Colorado, and we ordered sandwiches for the road under the watchful gaze of rows of elk, deer and antelope heads. We thumbed through dozens of business cards and brochures for local taxidermists. Sesko bought a bag of imported Spanish corn nuts. I paid for a quarter pound of imitation “krab salad,” and we were off again.
A long drive through empty spaces is best done with company. As the author and skiing icon Dick Dorworth writes, talking is “one way to make it through.” Sesko and I covered a lot of topics: our work and our families, moving across the country, libertarian politics, and where we might sleep in Wyoming when we get there.
In Dorworth’s book, “Night Driving,” the former speed-skiing world record holder recalls the countless all-nighters he pulled driving between ski races and ski towns along the West’s lonely highways. Many of these drives he suffered through on his own. But, he writes, “talking through the night with another human is admirable relief for the unremitting, lost loneliness of the long-distance driver.” When Sesko asked me along on this trip, I thought back to my own long and lonely drives, to late nights in Alliance, Nebraska, and Winnemucca, Nevada, and I thought how much better those nights would have been with some company. The all-night solo drive, says Dorworth, “is a loneliness deeper, wider and blacker than the casual thinker might think.”
Past Rock Springs, Wyoming, with the sun long set but more than 150 miles left to go, a text came through from Liftopia HQ. “Winter storm headed for Jackson Hole. Gandolf is on his way!” Sesko and I looked at each other and cracked broad smiles in the dashboard’s green light. The Mountain Collective was invented for days like this. An endless drive through nowhere, with promises of fresh snow when you arrive somewhere.
Next Chapter: A Storm in Jackson
Editor’s Note: Liftopia travel bloggers Michael Ames and Michael Sesko have just embarked on the road trip of a lifetime. In a mere two weeks, they’ll be hitting up all four Mountain Collective resorts: Aspen/Snowmass, Jackson Hole, Alta and Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows. They’ll be documenting their journey right here on the Liftopia blog in a series called The Mountain Collective Chronicles; from early mornings to late nights, from snowy slopes to ski towns, from meetings with Mother Nature to close encounters of the local kind, follow along each week as bits and pieces of Ames and Sesko’s story are revealed. Want to play a hand in shaping their adventure? Keep an eye on the Liftopia blog, Facebook page & Twitter handle— we’ll be asking YOU to suggest the gnarliest trails, the best places to grab chili cheese fries, and the coolest après bars near each of these four legendary ski areas. Now, without further ado… The Mountain Collective Chronicles! For the first chapter, click here.
About Michael Ames: Michael Ames is a reformed Idaho ski bum. But thanks to Liftopia and the Mountain Collective pass, he recently fell off that wagon. To see his non-ski-related work, visit www.michael-ames.com.
About Mike Sesko: Mike is a sustainable agriculture entrepreneur with a penchant for discount lift tickets. He grew up skiing the icy peaks of southern New England but often hopped on planes, trains and automobiles to get his Western fix. Sesko often dreamed of making these bigger and steeper mountains his home but could not leave his roots behind. After 32 years of New England clam chowder, he is ditching the double agent lifestyle and moving to the Bay Area in search of more fertile ski fields.