travel is broadening


I used to think I knew a lot because I had traveled a lot in the eastern US and Europe. Even made it to Australia.And I thought I was pretty fearless when it came to going to see those sights that sounded interesting.

Somehow however a certain fear of heights has snuck up on me over the years and I now find I am responding with what I would prefer to call a wee bit of trepidation when confronted with sights that involved a sharp increase in altitude – or decrease, if you’re the glass half empty kind of person. Discovering the glories of the American southwest has exposed me to heights I never imagined. And to my own discomfort with these heights.

I first noticed this discomfort when we visited New Mexico five years ago. We went looking for what was supposed to be a canyon formed by the Rio Grande. We were driving, however, on what seemed to be miles and miles of flat land. I am used to a canyon being associated with mountains or some sort of indication that there is topography. This area of New Mexico had none. Flat as a board. Flat as Kansas. And no sign of a river.

As we drove over what seemed to be an unnecessary bridge, I finally said What canyon?!?! And Lauren said GASP and I looked out my side window and looked down and down and down. The canyon was right underneath us. That’s why there was a bridge. Not exactly unnecessary. My palms started to sweat. Honest.

On the far side of the bridge, we pulled over into the official parking lot and joined all the people walking out on the pedestrian part of the bridge. Although we were the ones who were clinging to the inner rail. I didn’t even make it to the center of the bridge. I have no idea when I got so spooked by heights. It has snuck up on me.

I can tell myself that it would be a rare event indeed if someone, such as me, were suddenly to be hurled off a bridge by some magical force and into a crevasse of any ilk. But it makes no difference to whatever part of me is reacting.

My mother was terrified of heights. I remember driving up Mount Washington in New Hampshire when I was a little kid. Mount Washington is a big mountain especially for an East Coast mountain. Out here it would be a middle range but that’s just nit-picking. Anyway the road up was lovely and I seem to remember not all that scary, but at one point Mom declared she could go no further. Dad stopped the car and Mom got out, taking me with her. We picked wild blueberries and sat on a rock for the hour or so it took Dad to complete the trip to the summit, which my older siblings were eager to do.

So I vowed I would never be like my mom, in this regard. That’s why when I was a junior in college, I found myself clinging to a ladder in a fire watchtower in Massachusetts, unable to move in either direction. I had not wanted to be like Mom so I’d talked myself into climbing something I should have totally avoided. Eventually one of my friends talked me down.

But my memory can be very convenient so when we moved here to Colorado. I volunteered to drive a van full of our friends up Mount Evans. One of the highest peaks in the Rockies. A 14er. Which means over 14,000 feet high.

The road on Mount Evans is the highest paved highway in American and is closed for much of the year. In fact, it opened this June after the two-story -high snow drifts were cleared and had to reclose two weeks later, because of a late Spring snow storm.

To call it a road is to be generous. It is a strip of asphalt barely clinging to the edge of some amazing drops. At points, the “road” has sheered away and only one lane remains. At points that lane has had the edges gnawed off it. There is no guardrail. Probably because it would last about two weeks and then, also, fall off the mountain.

I started on it with élan. But at one point, as I looked at the road ahead, there was no visible road, just a curve into infinity. My palms started to sweat. Never a good sign.


DSC00405I made it up and we all survived. However then we had to go down again. I decided for the return trip that I would yield the inside lane to no one. Not even the cars driving up it, who could be said to own it. They would have to go around me. Because I was not getting any closer to the edge. Which was constantly crumbling.

We made it down. I had a tremendous sense of accomplishment. And of having dodged the proverbial bullet. Would I do it again? I have no idea. I can’t imagine how a road hugging the side of a mountain can be repaired so I suspect the road is still as narrow as it was when we went up. Although I know myself well enough to realize that I am fully capable of saying I’d be glad to do it again.

I would have to drive. Because frightening though that was, it would be so much worse to be a passenger and have to rely on someone else to keep us from certain death. Not that I over dramatize.

If I said I’d do it, the question is would I freeze at some point. Which wouldn’t really work on Mount Evans because there is no other way up or down unless you’re an eagle. I am not. And I have no idea how someone driving can be talked down a mountain, the way I was talked down that ladder long ago in Massachusetts.

At the Divide: Button, Luka, & LaurenJust  last summer we decided to go over the Berthoud Pass, another high point in the Rockies. It’s a passage across the Continental Divide. This road is wider (three lanes, even), more maintained, and more or less stays open all year, depending on whether there’s a blizzard (ulp). I drove up and up and up to until suddenly I felt the need to “take some pictures.” Then I told Lauren that if she were eager to drive, I would not stand in her way. In other words, I had had it with the switchbacks And I needed to unclench my teeth She got us to the official Divide parking lot and commemorative sign, where I actually did take some photos.  And then I looked down and down and down. And opined that Lauren could continue to drive, if she insisted. Never look straight down. Ever.

The day after we visited the Berthoud Pass, a truck fell off the precipice where we had been. Which validated my fears in a way I wish it hadn’t.

Anyway there are other heights to conquer.  For instance, train rides across trestle bridges in canyons here in Colorado that I’ve said I want to take but Lauren is skeptical. About both of us. Still I imagine we will work up our nerve. I want to see these places and they are certainly closer to us now than they were on Long Island. And Lauren is very good at talking me to safety. Or at least, clinging to me as I cling to the railing, which gives me a great sense of solidarity.