"Our Mother/Daughter Road Trip"

Wendy Larsen

My mother and I booked a last minute trip to Denver, to go to a highly recommended doctor regarding my back injuries. We flew into Denver on Monday, picked up our "compact" rental car, which in Denver happens to be a lovely SUV with great tires, anti-skid features, four wheel drive at the push of a button, and a huge snowscraper on the dash. We looked at each other on entry, thinking that we hoped that was not a sign of things to come.
Tuesday was a beautiful 50-60 degrees and sunny. We finished my appointment, including a simple but effective treatment, and left the area just north of Denver. We got a little lost, as neither of us had ever "prowled" in Denver, and finally found a pharmacy in Boulder. We stopped in, got the necessities and grabbed a bite to eat (on the go, of course...it's what we DO.)

I had previously looked at my CO maps, noted some areas I thought she would enjoy, and headed toward a place called Blackhawk and Central City. The info alleged many casinos, which she likes and it was not many miles from where we were. We had to stop and ask directions a time or two, as we circled Boulder proper at least 3 times, and finally headed there on HWY 119.

In a short while, we began winding up a mountain. The roads were good, the speed limit was only 40-45, the traffic was light, and it was just gettting dark. We saw on our maps that between us and the sought area was a town called "Nederland," allegedly 18 miles from us. We circled and wound and it started to snow. It was just beautiful. Occasionally I would flip on the brights, and the most beautiful big sticky snowflakes were just floating toward us. With the dims, we could see the accumulation beginning.

Mom was getting uneasy, and said, I think we shoud turn around...(the first of many, many repititions over the next couple of hours!) I kept telling her to enjoy the view, and marveling over how beautiful it was. (Even moreso because I was driving for the first time in SO long without the burning pain in my right shoulderblade!) It was THE most beautiful drive of my life.

I was not at all concerned, as we could see that homes along the way, while sparse, still had power, and occasionally vehicles would pass us, and the car wasn't sliding at all, and the Colorado road people are just genious--when you couldnt' see the pavement anymore, they had grooves, so that you could feel when you were not only to the right of the white line, but also when you touched near the center line (so Okies like us didn't have to worry WHERE the road was!)
After about two hours, on and on, of just seeing the intermittent light or car, and listening to our own ears hum and pop from the elevation, we finally found Nederland. It was like driving into a beautiful little winter wonderland all our own. There was a gas station, a handful of homes, a log lodge and a little tiny roundabout with a statue in the middle of it. We of course, stopped and took a few pictures around and noted that the statue had a 2010 date and some words about a "Day of the Dead" celebration. By this time, we were giggling like school girls and Mom was again saying she hoped this was not a "sign" for us. I told her, of course not, and we were having a ball.
We trudged on. I think I only convinced her because she didn't want to go back the way we came! She worried that we couldn't get back from "whereever we were going."
After some time further, we finally hit a place (the top of whatever mountain it was that I haven't looked up yet) where we actually went a bit downhill. Without much signage, we emerged from the trecherous road and like a mirage, saw the most beautiful winter scene I had never imagined, a little valley with hundreds of sublime vertical yards of snow topped pine trees surrounding it, the lit little snow covered street, and the neon of a little casino town reminding us of Vegas, only smaller, quieter, lonelier and much, much prettier. We were just in awe at the unexpected beauty.

We found a place to park and went into our first (of many) casinos. What I had not told my 72 year old Mother/best friend, was that by the time we got there, the temperature had been reported by our vehicle to have reached 21 degrees. (It was around 40 when we left Boulder!) We decided to play around a little, and did. We walked between the places on the frosty walk, but the guys were out with their salt machines, so we didn't have much trouble. There was also a bus that took you from place to place, which we used until they stopped running, at 2 am.

We had the run of the town, the run of the casinos. In every one, there may have been 10-12 men playing cards, and maybe 2-4 people playing slots, plus US. We could act silly, laugh as loud as we wanted...and enjoy ourselves, in public, yet due to weather, strangely semi-private splendor.

Finally, I told her that we needed to talk. I told her that we could go, but that I though, if she could "make it," that we should just stay until light, and then head back to our hotel in Denver. After some convincing (and/or skewed judgment due to lack of sleep), she agreed. We called the respective husband and Dad, so they wouldn't have tried our hotel and worried, and decided to stick it out. We debated about getting a room there, but decided it was simply too much fun to sleep through.

Periodically, we'd play some silly machine together and at one point I won around $100 and she won about $50. We aren't big gamblers, so that was enough for us to play on for the whole night for free. In addition, some nice soul of a man comped us breakfast at one of the restaurants, just icing on the cake.

We played and laughed and laughed and played until at one point, I went out to smoke and said, "Holy Crap!" It had become light, and I actually got to look at WHERE we were! Although the sight at night was spectacular, we had NO idea of the exquisite view of our new place. I immediately went in and grabbed her, drug her outside and said, "LOOK! No, Mom, LOOK UP!" I saw her eyes eventually move upward and the smile on her face would have lit the whole town, I'm sure.

I had to comment that I'd "never saw the sunrise from a place I was too high up to see the sun, that it was just automatically 'light' suddenly." We drank it all in, and somehow it was a funny feeling of accomplishment. It was around 7am, and we decided to take the nice man up on the breakfast. I had a traditional breakfast, and my sweet Mom had some sliders.

Before we were done, we had seen the local news, and that the road crews in Denver had already done their work--the morning commute was going smoothly. (Again, I was totally impressed with thier crews during the whole trip--Many cudos!)

I'm sure I heard a sigh of relief from her side of the table...right before I heard her order a banana split! I was so happy and proud of her.

Before too long, we asked around and found the "good way" to get back to Denver, which would take less than an hour in the light. We set out, and the roads were fine. The funny thing was that now that she could SEE where we were, she was bracing herself more in the car and attempting to hold on, even though I was driving the same speeds as I did on the way in. She began to marvel in how the tunnels through the mountains held... I encouraged her to just relax and enjoy the view.

We got back to our hotel, found the big boy shade (not the frilly curtain on the inside, but the tarp of a thing next to the glass of the room) pulled the sticks tightly together and crawled into our beds and had the best sleep either of us had in years.

She is still saying how glad she is that we did it, and that we'll probably never be back there, or at least never drive back in the snow...get "snowed in" with almost no one else...and the best part--that we got to do it together.

It's times like those where we live, and live and live...and appreciate the fact that such days together are not infinite. The simple, solitary fact that we didn't stop, hotel up, or turn around, but instead CHOSE adventure, made for a night we'll never forget.