Driving Through Western Colorado: A Story

John Hendricks

We'll be featuring stories now and again written by our local writers group. Stories, poems and art can be found in their Rough-Writers, Ink  publication available for check out.

This story was originally untitled by John Hendricks who died November 24, 2007.

Driving through western Colorado - driving west on into Utah - watching the interstate flatten out and the rolling hills rush past - driving alone - I found myself smiling.

I'd been ill the previous summer. Two operations kept me from some of the things I really enjoy - some of the activities eighteen years of retirement have almost conditioned me to: golf, canoeing, fishing, gardening, skiing, driving. A visit to a drive-in three miles from home for a milkshake, required a driver to get me there and back. Now, a year later, I could enjoy the speed, the power, the control of this driving machine.

I pushed the button to turn the radio off and watched the antenna lower and disappear into the cavity near the trunk.

I loved the quiet roar - the feel of the powerful engine pushing me across flat Utah at 80 miles per hour, 2300 RPM's - the hum of the new tires making 1000 revolutions per minute. I gave the cruise control two quick punches - now 82 miles per hour. The car noises raised a few notes.

Nothing in front of me. I lowered the back of the driver's seat and settled down a bit. I hesitated. I wondered how long my journey will last. I adjusted the rear view mirror for a better view. No one behind me. I glanced again - a straight road. Far behind me, behind to the east, was a ridge of mountains. My thoughts drifted to the past as though I was looking into a rear view mirror of my life. Those mountains - now just a blue line stretching along the horizon had appeared far different from the other side. The road, now so straight, had had many turns. That road traveled now so long ago had led into box canyons, dead ends, no forward progress. Back the wagon around - the wagon filled with my wife and three daughters, our home - swing the team around - try new trails, new trades.

The new trails led to new meadows, to new homes, to new ways to provide food and comfort.

I smile - and then laugh - as memories surface. Interestingly, preceding most memories come names - names and faces of friends - friends sailing - friends skiing - friends raising children - friends working - friends carousing - always friends. And behind me, supporting me were those four that shared the wagon with me.

A scene comes to my mind. The scene, an occurrence probably repeated a number of times. A young daughter with a bruised knee comes running to me for help. The tears slow as she climbs into my lap. A young thin arm tight around my neck. The tears change to sobs as the mercurochrome is applied along with some soothing words. The largest band-aid I could find aids the healing and displays the honor. Love between an injured daughter and father is there. Far more important, at that moment, is a little squeeze of trust from the small arm. She slides from my knee and back into the fray, smiling and confident.

And the mountains that are now behind me, perhaps rightfully called hills that seem like mountains with their exciting paths to the crossing, and to the other side.

An analogy with skiing breaks into my philosophical musings. Those paths were not unlike some days of skiing, when the boots are hard to buckle, the weather is raw and cold, the skis seem on the wrong foot, until...until the second or third run. Then that God given Colorado sun bursts through. I can see the whole world - and it is beautiful. Some falls are inevitable as I want to go fast, but the glory of the day remains.

For a short time, it was "Hurry up kids, I'll race you to the cutoff." Then only moments later it became, "Daddy, can we go ahead of you, you are too slow." Moments of closeness and true love with family and friends, moments then and now. Moments that last a lifetime and mean a lifetime.

Then a day came. A dinner. A watch was given. Some handshakes saying goodbye. Some handshakes without words, but with feeling - eye to eye with memories, with a little moisture in our eyes.

The next day the keys to the plant and the Company car no long hang by the back door - the two alarm clocks set for 6:00 a.m. are turned off. The time is late. I've traveled a long way.

Behind me, the mountains have turned gold. The time is late. I've traveled a long way.

I've tipped sailboats and canoes. I've gone fishing without fish, lots of times. I've broken bones, lots of those too. But those memories do not surface, they are insignificant. Psychologists explain that the human mind is forgiving, far more capable and willing to retain positive thoughts than negative.

Alpenglow on the eastern mountains has announced the lateness in the day. Was the other side just as beautiful, the sunrises on lakes; on mountains, the full moon rising out of Lake Michigan; summer storms and rainbows; the happy smile of accomplishment on a child's face; morning fog rising from a stream; a loon's call; a light colored fawn hiding in the dark maples?

But as the Captain of the vessel tells me, I must stay the course. One last glance backward and I turn from the mountains and the path long traveled.

I straighten the car seat. It is almost dark now. The evening fog almost obscures the road ahead. No cures, no mountains, just the deep chilling fog. What lies ahead? How much farther? As a noted artist and writer has stated, "Appreciate the gift of life."



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