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Father's Day

Started: 2007-06-30 11:43:43

Submitted: 2007-06-30 12:28:00

Visibility: World-readable

This changelog began life on Monday morning, 18 June, the day after Father's Day, and the day before I left for a week in Washington, DC. My brilliant plan was to write while riding the bus into work, while gazing up at Sawtooth from the Diagonal, but it proved more interesting to talk to a Longmont-based, bus-riding coworker who uncharacteristically took a later bus than normal, which coincided with my normal bus.

I forgot to do anything to recognize Father's Day, but I think my father might appreciate this photo:

Sawtooth Mountain

For the rest of you, that's Sawtooth Mountain in the Indian Peaks Wilderness, just north of Mount Audubon, visible on the horizon on my drive into Boulder from Longmont. I took the photo on Father's Day, half a mile into the wilderness from Coney Flats.

While studying maps this winter, I noticed a handful of dashed-line roads leading to the wilderness boundary in a number of places. The one that interested me the most was Coney Flats Road, heading west from Beaver Reservoir to the edge of the Indian Peaks Wilderness, north of Brainard Lake and south of Peaceful Valley. My map identified the road as an "unmaintained" road, which was the sort of road I wanted to buy a four-wheel drive vehicle for.

On Father's Day, I set out for Coney Flats, hoping the road would be open even though the National Forest road status didn't indicate that it was. (It also didn't indicate that it had been updated for several weeks. I could have called them, as suggested on the web page, but that would have been too easy.) Beaver Reservoir was full; water was flowing over the concrete spillway that made up part of the road around the reservoir. I found the gate open and headed westward, following a Jeep Cherokee on the one-lane dirt road through heavily-wooded National Forest. The road was fairly flat and easy for the first mile, but then turned rocky and treacherous. I had to carefully consider one stretch of road with several large rocks with deep ruts between them; after several tries, I managed to get through them, but not without enduring ominous crunching and scraping sounds from Motoko's undercarriage. I pressed on and began to appreciate the technical challenges of driving on the unmaintained road -- I had to remember the terrain under my vehicle and visualize out where it was with respect to my wheels, plot the right course over the terrain, and execute it with the appropriate combination of gas, clutch, break, and steering. It quickly became apparent that I was thoroughly outclassed; most of the other vehicles I encountered were high-clearance Jeeps converted for four-wheeling, and I assumed their drivers had wetware upgrades I lacked. After three and a half agonizing miles, I finally gave up half a mile from the trailhead; I found something I could coerce into a parking space off the road and walked the rest of the way to the trailhead. (While parking, I caused the most visible damage: I backed into a small pine tree, denting the back bumper.)

Despite the difficulty I had getting to the trailhead, Coney Flats and the wilderness beyond were magnificent. (The trailhead itself was on the other side of Coney Lake; the road went through the edge of the lake, which my Googling told me could easily drown the air intake on a stock Wrangler. This led me to wonder where Motoko's air intake was, but the manual didn't have any insight.) I hit wilderness and headed west towards Buchanan Pass, frequently crossing large but well-packed snow fields on the way. As I entered the final valley leading up to the pass, I veered left when I should have veered right and ended up on the other side of a low but impassable willow thicket from the trail. I managed to circle around the thicket to the west and rejoined the trail. Shortly thereafter, staring at the north face of Sawtooth Mountain and the snow-packed eastern approach to Buchanan Pass, I wondered how much more abuse I could take and still have enough energy to drive back to Beaver Reservoir and the relative safety of maintained roads. I didn't want to turn away from Sawtooth after getting this close (especially because I was fairly sure I didn't want to subject Motoko to the abusive Coney Flats Road again), but I didn't think I could make it to the summit and back down again without depleting my reserves.

I turned around, returned to the trailhead, and hiked down the road to where Motoko waited for me. The drive back to the four-wheel-drive trailhead and the maintained dirt road beyond took an hour; my blood sugar was low and defied my attempts to elevate it through most of the road. I pulled over to rest several times, and had to consider several moves carefully, which proved to be different moves than the ones I had trouble with on the way up, since it's easier to plow through a difficult downhill move than an uphill move. I celebrated when I hit Beaver Reservoir and the roads any self-respecting front-wheel-drive vehicle could traverse without incident.

Despite feeling outclassed, I decided it was a credit to Motoko and my poorly-developed four-wheel-driving instincts that I could traverse the road at all; Yoda and any other two-wheel-drive vehicle would have fallen over before I got to the first difficult move. While it's not an experience I'm eager to repeat, it's something I know I can do if I feel compelled to do so. (Before trying again, I should take Motoko in for a check-up and get my own wetware upgrade.)

Back on the flatlands in Longmont, I bathed Motoko and surveyed the damage, which seemed minor: The running boards were scraped on both sides, the sides were slightly scuffed, and part of the rear bumper collapsed, but otherwise Motoko seemed to have survived the ordeal in one piece.

I sometimes refer to you by your real names to real people.
- Neelix, 10 March 1999