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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The OMG Road

I have written many times about my Gram who raised me. Her husband had at one time lived in the gold mining region around Central City, Colorado. In fact, his mother and a younger sister who died as a toddler are buried in a lovely mountainside cemetery in a place called Russell Gulch. When I was growing up, we would make day trips into the mountains, and sometimes would stop and visit this sad, beautiful place. So when Gram's nephew Ted came for a visit to Colorado, it was inevitable that Gram's son, Harold, would take him up to see where his grandmother was buried.

Gram and I joined Harold, his wife Roberta, his daughter, Carole, and cousin Ted on this day trip. It was a beautiful day, and we had a mountain picnic, which the men washed down with liberal quantities of beer. For people from lower elevations, drinking at an elevation of about 9150 feet can result in a state of impairment pretty quickly. In less elegant terms, by the time lunch was done, Ted was well on the way to blotto. Harold was enjoying the company of his cousin, and was getting a bit of a buzz as well. Nobody worried about it much; the family had driven to and from there many times.

But I don't think any of us realized Harold was going to take a road down the other side of the mountain, one called Virginia Canyon Road. It is more commonly known, however, as the Oh My G-- Road. There is even a sign at the top of the hill describing it as such. Why such a name? Imagine a road that begins at an elevation of around 9150 feet. Make it less than one lane wide. Seriously, just wide enough for one car to travel with a clearance that is at most a foot or two between the car and either the rocky face of the mountain or a drop-off of over 1500 feet.  Oh! And it is partly paved and partly packed dirt. Sounds fun, right? If driving on this road were the only thing separating me from death, I'd be the dead woman on the side of the mountain. It's that scary. Just the thought of having to drive in reverse until you find one of the few "wide" spaces in the road in order to yield to another car that has the right-of-way is enough to make me say, "No thanks, I'd rather walk."

So, here we were, headed down the OMG road with a tipsy driver and a merrily toasted passenger from the flat lands of California. I was seated behind Harold, and Carole was seated behind her mother, who kept saying things like, "Oh, look at that tree!" or "Aren't those clouds pretty!" Naturally, Harold would look, and when he did, the car would swerve a bit from the center of the road. When you swerve from center on a road this narrow, it can get pretty awful very quickly. Carole and I about lost our minds. I was holding onto the driver's seat so tightly that my knuckles were white. We were telling Roberta to quit pointing things out. Ted grew very silent. When Carole started shouting, "Daddy!" I was so scared that I started yelling "Daddy!" too! Yes, I was that scared!

By the time we had descended to Idaho Springs, a mere 7526 feet in elevation, I wanted to get out of the car and kiss the ground in celebration of still being alive, but my knees were too shaky to hold me up. I think Carole probably felt the same way. Harold was still smiling and enjoying himself. And Ted? He was stone cold sober and as white as a ghost. I had heard the expression before, and seen people get pale, but his face was completely colorless. The rest of the journey was boring in comparison, which made both of the girls in the back seat very happy and relieved. 

I have ridden on the OMG road a few times since then with drivers I really trust. It is always a beautiful ride. Once, when Trent was driving down the mountain, there were some mule deer so close to the road that you could have reached out the window and touched them. But every time I get on that road, I think of that hair-raising ride with my uncle. And I enforce a strict rule: anyone who gets caught distracting the driver has to get out and walk!