Mar 5, 2009

Tales from Sky-Dads Youth

I found a new blogger to read, Scope, who has some great stuff over at his place. Go check him out! He ran a series of stories that were great about an old car of his, and it reminded me of an old story from my days of growing up in Idaho Springs. I linked to the last story, there are others. I could link to those also, but I know most of my readers have mastered the fine motor skills needed to go back through posts.

Some background is needed for this story. First of all, Idaho Springs is a small town west of Denver up in the mountains. It was a great place to grow up since you got the small town benefits of knowing everyone, but being fairly close to Denver you could always get down there for different things you needed. The elevation is high there, officially 7500 feet. Winters are long, summers are short, pretty much no growing season at all.



There was one spring day that one of my closest friends, Jim and I were running some errand down to Denver. I can't even remember what it was, all I remember is the aborted trip down there. Jim owned a 1973 Jeep CJ5 that was a wonderfully customized 4X4 made for 4-wheeling. This was the days before the term "Sport Utility Vehicle" came into vogue. Growing up in the mountains, you had 4 wheel drive to get around, and it was high clearance, low range and high range transfer case 4 wheel drive. Jim's Jeep sat a little higher than most for good ground clearance, and both the front end and back end differentials had lower gears for good climbing ability. This made for a Jeep that was a great 4 wheeler, but not the most stable at high speeds going down the Interstate. But it was better than my 1962 International Scout, with it's little 4 cylinder engine that topped out at about 45 MPH. But I digress, this is about the trip...

Jim and I headed out pretty early as I remember, there had been snow the past few days, and there were a few patches on the road but mostly dry. Just east of Idaho Springs on I-70 is what everyone calls the twin tunnels. When the built I-70, the canyon through there was way too twisting for the interstate, so they built the tunnels to help straighten out the highway. The tunnels are very narrow though, and to this day create a backup on the highway during busy traffic times.



We headed east on I-70 and headed into the tunnels. The road had been dry, no snow so far, and traffic was up to and over the speed limit so far. The tunnels at that time were not lighted, and it was dark in there. Up ahead we saw brake lights come on, and then something weird - sparks! Somebody had gone into the sidewall of the tunnel. As it turned out, all the ice and snow that cars and truck carried into the tunnel had melted, and then re-froze, creating a skating rink inside the tunnel. Jim said shit right at the same time I said fuck (he always had the cleaner mouth) and to his credit he just let off the gas, didn't even touch the brakes. But due to the high compression of his engine, and the lower gears, that was enough to lock up the wheels on his Jeep.

As I watched the cars hit the walls in front of me, we headed into a spin, turning ever so slow as we headed on through the tunnel. This is one of those times in your life that everything seems to be in slow motion. Jim is a great driver, and he went with the spin instead of fighting to get it back forward. he later told me he thought we had a better chance of not rolling if he could get it backwards instead of sideways. Who has that mental clarity during a spin? I was just concerned about hanging on and not voiding my bowels!

Jim got his jeep around backwards, and we came out of the east end of the tunnel. Good thing we were facing backwards instead of sideways, because now we hit dry pavement. It's hard to describe the sound, other than you know the sound airplanes make when they touch down and the wheels hit the runway? Yeah, that sound, only a lot longer screech. Then came the really fun part, as we were going backwards at a rapidly decreasing speed, due to the short wheelbase of Jeep, the front end started coming up. Now we have a new problem, a reverse wheelie! I have no idea how far of an angle we came up to, but in our increasing panic it seemed way high. We lost sight of the cars in the tunnel, it was that high. The constant squeal of the tires turned into a chirp as we slowed and the front of the jeep returns to earth with a thud, and now we face yet another problem. Sitting dead in the middle of Eastbound I-70, facing westbound traffic inside the tunnel. What a sight, all the cars in the tunnel were spinning like we were, all you saw were headlights/taillights/sparks as the carnage was heading towards us. My mind formed the sentence "They are going to come out of the tunnel and hit us Jim, get the Jeep started and get us off the road". What came out was gesturing like a caveman, and I am sure a grunt/squeal combination that would make a rhesus monkey proud.

Fortunately, Jim being to bright guy he is was way ahead of me and didn't need my careful guidance. He had already tried to turn over the motor, gave up on that and threw the Jeep into reverse. Then he did this brilliant maneuver of using the starter motor to jerk the Jeep off to the side of the road, as the rest of the cars/carnage came out of the tunnel. The State highway police wound up closing the road, and getting the tow trucks in to remove all the cars from the tunnel. I never did find out how many were involved in the wreck, but we were the only ones to come out of the whole thing completely unscathed, well, except for Jim's passenger seat. I think I peed a bit on it.

14 comments:

  1. Holy crap! I was on the edge of my seat reading this and found myself holding my breat until you were safely off the road. You recalled it so well.. I could see it happening. You and Jim must of had a TON of guardian angels with you that day.

    I never understood why our moms wanted us to wear clean underwear "in case we got into an accident" If we were in an accident, first we'd say it, then we'd do it... no one would be able to tell whether or not they were clean to begin with!

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  2. Wow. I can see why that is permanently seared into your memory, even -- what, like 30 years later!

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  3. Oh how terrifying! I would have been screaming for sure! I twice lost control of a Fiero on ice and spun around a bunch of times, but NOTHING like that incredible tale of yours, Sky Dad!! Woo!

    And, yeah, isn't Scope cool?!?! :-)

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  4. I would have done more then peed on the seat!!!! Glad the adventure turned out well......

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  5. You do know how to tell a gripping tale that's for sure! I almost peed myself reading it!

    Doc

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  6. I need to read this, font it too small , can't find my glasses. Help a sista out, will ya?

    #1

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  7. Sounds like a scene out of a movie, maybe starring Bruce Willis?.
    Good thing it wasn't me, I would of panicked if I was the driver and my poor passengers prob would not have made it.

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  8. YOWZA! That sounded freaking AWFUL! I'm glad you guys were ok, but I totally would have emptied myself as well.

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  9. I remember getting into an accident on the way up to Breckinridge once because of some ice. Man, that's some scary stuff.

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  10. Zoinks. Did it wreck the transmission, or were you eventually able to get her running under her own power.

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  11. Holy shit! That was an awesome story, Skydad! I am glad you both walked away unscathed and lived to tell such a story. The tunnel can still be a scary place, despite the upgrades over the years.

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  12. Holy cow! Just driving in mountains scares me. I'm can't handle anything more hilly than a street curb.

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  13. That which does not kill us is exhilarating.

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  14. Oh man. I remember losing control on ice one time me and my better half were out Christmas shopping in a bad storm, and spinning out and it was the most sickening, helpless feeling. Miraculously we didnt hit anything either.

    Great story!

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