The mountain had subsided to smoldering while I slept, and the next morning, it was time to go.
I ate green chili and made bad jokes, and the last part of Denver and Golden slipped away under Natasha's wheels like so much past. Instead of following I-70 west, I saw forecasts of snow and went north and then west instead, hoping (somewhat foolishly) that Wyoming would be kind to me.
When I talk about the drive west, I find myself talking about Wyoming and Reno the most. Wyoming, I had the most amazing sunset story and the worst weather story. Reno… well, Reno was like being slowly strangled to death.
Honestly, once the winds hit north of the Colorado border, I should have turned back. But I didn't want to lose any time on my trip westwards towards San Francisco, and I really didn't want to go through Texas. Cutting west through Colorado was a non-starter - at least there was no snow forecast for Wyoming.
I should know better than to trust good weather to hold.
The wind howled over I-25 and I-80 like something living and vengeful. I ignored it and drove west, up through the flurries, through Buford, through the first of many passes. I'd gone across buttes and lowlands, as much as the state has lowlands, when the blizzard hit.
Natasha is not ideal for wintry roads. A rear wheel drive pickup, she has nothing heavy in the back, and at that time, no chains. For two hours, then, I was marooned on I-80 in a mountain pass near Arlington, a tiny town with not even a gas station to mark it. Outside, the wind whipped the snow into a whiteout conditions. The tractor trailers, still on either side, were emptying. Some of the truckers walked their dogs: others simply shuffled out a bit to use the bathroom in the ditch.
I gnawed my fingernails and swore softly. Claustrophobia kicked in after the first hour and subsided within half of that. I shut the truck off for a bit and let it sit, cooling, while I wrapped myself in a blanket and hoped. After another hour, I turned it back on to warm up.
Twenty minutes later, the semi in front of me begin to move.
The line of trucks crawled west, and I followed, slipping and sliding on the ice from lane to barely-plowed lane. In time, we passed another truck, jackknifed off to the side and in the ditch. Past it, I-80 slumped down, and the snow slowly passed until there was nothing more than wind, and then, signs for a federal penitentiary.
I stopped for food and gas, and the woman at the counter eyed me. "Just you alone, then?" Yes ma'am. "Well, don't you be picking up any hitchhikers." Oh, no, ma'am.
In Nebraska, in Wyoming, in rural Colorado, the clear subtext of almost every single one of my conversations had the ring of "you ain't from 'round here, are you?" I didn't get too many stares for the Virginia plates, but I did get some rather long, considering stares from clerks.
This particular one seemed to be wondering if I was an escapee from the jail. I bought my gas and moved on.
My appetite for trouble was severely depleted by this point.
Onwards. The sky was green and blue and intensely purple with crimson and gold highlights. The sun was going down ahead in a pillar of brilliant scarlet fire that spilled over the road and made sharp, stylized paintings of the Wyoming landscape. The lines of the buttes became folds in origami paper, then watercolor impressions.
I pulled off at the first McDonald's for WiFi. The rest of the passes were clear, and once my hands stopped shaking, I continued west and then south, cutting down through the mountains again to Salt Lake City and a place to sleep.
By this time, I was praying for a smooth ride through to the coast. Whatever I was praying to didn't answer.