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    Snow Camping (Phoenix-Toronto)

    - [first draft: 2002/12/25]
    2000/12/16 - 2000/12/24
    -  +
    .First Posted: December 10, 2002.

     
    Why fly if you can drive? You see so much more. You feel so much more. 2,500miles (4,000km) one way. Through Colorado, of course. Snow camping. How bad could it be?

    Time: 22:10
    Temperature: 32F (0 Celcius)
    Altitude: 3300ft
    Lake Powell, Utah
    Day 1Phoenix, Arizona
    I got to Lake Powell at night, 5 hours after leaving Phoenix. Journal entry - "Lake Powell. Wow. What an awesome place. Lone Rock specifically. It always surprises me how quiet and beautiful it is at night. The sky is clear and stars always fill the sky." Lake Powell is not really on the way, it's a detour of at least 100miles. But it was part of the plan, a transition from 80F bed and whatever temperatures Colorado nights bring. I don' recall if i used a tent that night. Probably not. Lake Powell, Utah

    Day 2Lake Powell, Utah
    The day went by quickly, maybe because it took 500miles to get to Colorado. Along the way, still in Arizona, I picked up a Navajo hitchhiker. Very nice fellow, around my age. He worked in town on some Alien movie, and was hitchhiking home. He talked about having a business one day, guiding tourists on horseback. He showed me the nice mountains around his home. Navajo land. Too bad my mind was somewhere else, i should have kept in touch with him. There are places in Arizona/Utah where a white man can't go without a Navajo company. It's a protected land. Camping by Aspen was cool. Very cool. +8F cool.

    Day 3by Aspen, Colorado
    Camping - morning at +6F It was +6F in the morning. The tent went down quickly and i was on my way. The winding downhill road was covered with snow, packed hard snow. I turned off 4x4, no need for it going downhill. No need for much gas either. Then i started spinning. Maybe a little too much speed in 3rd gear, maybe the snow was too slippery, maybe it's a good idea to have chains and snow tires.... I was turned 360 degrees. I stopped next to the rock wall on the right, which was a lot better than the dropoff on the left. If i was thrown there, I would be sliding for a thousand feet before hitting the trees below. But no harm done. I was stuck though. Right side wheels were in snow, and the left side was slipping on ice. I found some branches to help me...... but, they didn't help. A fellow with F-250 showed up and offered to help. He pulled me out, front first. "Nice. But i need a shovel." Those were the words of the day.

    Independence Pass Rd closed 24 hours of Aspen Independence road was closed. Of course, they close it around November 15, after the first big snowfall. It would be nice to keep going, with skiis or snowmobile... once with each. A group of 20 snowmobiles was lined up along the side - "For Rent". Aspen loses sun around 3pm in winter, and it was totally dark when i stopped to eat there. Afterwards, I went to look at "24 hours of Aspen", an international skiing competition. The mountain was lit up with huge, tall lights the size of construction crates. It was freezing cold to stand there, I was shaking.

    On the way "home", the camping spot i was going to use for another night, i stopped for a show. A fellow parked his SUV in a stream, 50feet below the road. The temperature was 0 Fahrenheit. The tracks showed he was going uphill at the time. The 4-Runner landed tires first in the stream, and made a U-turn during landing or after. Nobody there, just the car with lights on and engine running. Sheriff showed up soon, tow trucks too, they blocked the narrow road, and were pulling out the car. The fellow made his way to town earlier, but left the lights and engine on...... just for show perhaps.
    4-Runner cooling off .... by Aspen, Colorado Sheriff and his jeep .... by Aspen, Colorado Doesn't look like a 4-Runner, does it? .... by Aspen, Colorado

    Day 4by Aspen, Colorado
    Road to Snowmass, CO The morning came, and i crawled out from my warm Mountain Hardwear sleeping bag, on top of which was my old sleeping bag, on top of which was my comforter, the one i pulled over my head at night. Below me was another sleeping bag which was on top of 2 Ridgerest foam pads. It was 0F at 8:30am, warmer than -6F at midnight. I threw all the camping stuff into my jeep, on top of the guitar in its case and next to the 19" amp too -- hey, i had the room for it. All my water was blocks of ice - hmmmmm. All 3 gallons. Jeep felt the cold too, the way it was starting... and transmission was stiff too. After a nice breakfast in Aspen, sitting in the sun outside of course, I was on my way. I was going by Snowmass, and I had to turn towards it -- the picture above is from there. I got on the highway, which was totally snow free. At 60mph the steering wheel was shaking a lot, probably wheel balance messed up........... nope. It was the snow stuck to the rims from the inside. I used a screwdriver to get it out. I bought a shovel that day, and a good thing i did too, because the days to come brought more snow-stucking opportunities. The shovel fit nicely in my bike rack, not too far from the skiis on the roof.

    Camping by Gunnison I only made 200 miles that day. I found the campspot for the night, at the end of a sideroad, with nothing but farmfields covered with snow. I took another sideroad -- except that it wasn't a sideroad in winter. 10 feet into it, I knew it was deeper than it looked. But what's the diff, i'll just turn it around, so nose is facing out. Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight. After 2hours of shoveling, i was 20feet deeper but nose was still pointing the way i came in. It was a warm night at +20F, and i really warmed up with the shovelling. A clothes change was in order. All of it. I was sweating like a monkey by the furnace. Sure was a nice workout though. I slept nicely, and in the morning after a little breakfast, i was playing in the snow again. I learned that backing out was bad idea. I learned that "low-gear" or high-power 4x4 does not work in soft snow. A nice side effect was getting thrown sideways instead, burrying the wheels more. The way to get out was front first, regular 4x4.

    Day 5by Gunnison, Colorado
    Camping by Gunnison Road to Snowmass, CO After 2 hours of morning shoveling, I was out. What did the shovel sign say? "I'm ok, i do this kind of stuff for fun." Something like that. I didn't want someone to try to help me in the middle of the night. Because I really was having fun with this. Early mornings are a beautiful time for pictures. The sun was peeking from behind the clouds from time to time. Each time it did that, I had a few minutes to take a picture. I was using "slow" slide film (Fuji Velvia 50), and i needed some time to setup the tripod, and also find the picture. If jeep was mobile, my choices would have been greater :-).


    Scenery by Gunnison Scenery by Gunnison Gunnison area is very scenic. There are several lakes with little mountains behind them. Fourteeners (or so they seem) can be seen far in the distance. There are open spaces, and normally sunny skies. On some lakes people were ice fishing. I pulled off the road once, where it didn't look like people would pull off. Sure enough, i got stuck. I was doing my shovel thing when some nice people showed up. "Front or back, I'll pull you out any way you want to." They pulled me out backwards. Good thing they had a tow rope, an item i didn't purchase until 1,000miles later.

    I was listening to music, driving at night in a slow moving traffic. It must have been somewhere by Buena Vista. A guy, around 20, was hitchhiking with a pizza in his hand. Along the way, he told me he was going back to his friends' place with the pizza. I dropped him off at his destination a few miles later. It was about 8pm and i started looking for a camping spot. I wanted to find a place i stayed at 2 years earlier when i was moving from Chicago. I couldn't find that spot, probably access to it was burried with 8 feet of snow... but i did find a road, way outside the city. The road, or rather trail, went uphill, but not really steeply. The trail was 8 feet wide and it had snowbanks 2 feet tall.. The first part was easy, not too steep, but soon enough i got stuck. The trick to moving in snow (or mud, or sand) is to keep the foot down, keep moving. It's harder to get moving again once you stop. Stopping uphill was bad news. I couldn't move again, i had to back down to flatter rea. Did i mention it was night? I hit the bank with the right rear side. Now i was really stuck. Can't turn go backwards anymore. Can't go upwards either. Oh, I wished for chains and snow tires. It was shovel time again, the only way out of this was to move backwards, more down. And then get a run at it, and keep that foot down.

    After 1 hour of shoveling i was out. I backed down and that's when another Jeep showed up. We started talking. It turns out that Barb and Jerry use the trail all the time to get to their cottage. We started driving up the trail. I was slipping and sliding, but moving all the time; I kept that gas pedal down. After a few minutes we came to a flat area, a great spot to camp. I was invited to their cottage, but i politely declined. I was already psyched out for snow camping that night. I took a raincheck though.... a very smart thing. They boarded their snowcat and drove off into the dark night.

    Day 6by Leadville, Colorado
    I woke up at 7:30am to a cool, overcast morning. I measured +2F on my trusty thermometer. My boots were frozen solid -- they got wet the previous night during shoveling. I had to wiggle my toes to keep my feet from being numingly cold. I felt like hiking up the hill -- being cold had some influence on it too. The only option was on the trail, unless i wanted to experience waist deep snow. Everywhere the snow covered the land. It was beautiful. I was far from the sounds of roads and civilization. The only sound came from my footsteps. I stopped now and then, caught my breath. I was at an elevation over 10,000ft. After one hour of hiking and wishing for sunshine to bring photo opportunities, I heard something. It was the sound of snowcat chugging along. It was my new friends returning from their cottage. I took a ride down with them. I got to sit outside, sitting backwards. It was so cool! I felt the snow blowing around me, as the snowcat made its way down the slope. I had to hold on with both hands. A bump here and there added to the thrill. It must have been comparable to driving a snowmobile -- something i haven't done yet.

    Morning at 10,500ft +2F at 10,500ft Morning at 11,500ft Morning at 11,500ft
    Around 2pm I was on the road again. After 4 nights in Colorado, my time was running out. So far i have been travelling mostly north, but past Denver I turned east. I still had 1,500miles ahead of me, through Midwest - Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, bit of Indiana and through Michigan to Ontario.I slept in a Nebraska motel that night. No camping opportunities, and I didn't try to find any. It was cold but a different kind of cold. Not the sweet kind of Colorado cold.

    Day 7morning: Nebraskaevening: Chicago
    Downer's Grove, Illinois Downer's Grove, Illinois
    There were many cars off the road along the highway. Some in the ditches of the median, some on the other side, some snowed in, some plowed in. The road was clear of snow, but there was plenty of snow elsewhere. I spent the whole day driving on I-70. I counted at least 50 abandoned cars along the road. I arrived in Chicago suburbs at 10pm. I visited all my favorite spots there, took some pictures, and headed for downtown.
    I took more pictures along Lake Michigan, and then by Hard Rock Cafe.But I never took the picture I had in my mind for a long time. A police horse with a red Santa hat, policeman on his back, in the middle of a busy Chicago street at night. I have seen that scene in Chicago before.
    Chicago Chicago Chicago Chicago
    There was no point looking for a decent (and affordable) motel in downtown Chicago. I slept in jeep. The backseat was flat since Phoenix, and I used the back before for sleeping. Not a comfortable place for sleeping (oh why couldn't they make Cherokee 15" longer?), but usable.

    Day 8Chicago, Illinois
    Chicago I got up to an overcast sky, no sign of clear sunshine. It snowed a bit on the car at night, and it started snowing a little now. Everything looked gray and lifeless, and I had to be going anyway. Still 500miles left to destination. Back on I-70, past Illinois and past Indiana, I was moving slowly in the fast lane. Either inspired by someone else, or from own inspiration, I got into the left "shoulder lane", turned on 4x4 and weeee. I was doing 45mph, with others barely moving, the traffic was mostly stuck or moving under 20mph. I was constantly driving on snow, but it wasn't deep, and I was in total control. That fun lasted for a while, and eventually I got back into a real lane. A good thing too, because minutes later a cop car wizzed by, using the same "shoulder-lane" I left not too long ago.

    I saw a 2 door Buick, off the road and way inside the median. A couple of guys in their 20s were kicking the snow around it, trying to clear the tires. That's were I came in, made a U-turn to get to them (they were just next to the U-turn median-crossing). We took turns using my shovel, and using our hands too. There were 4 guys, Michigan boys, driving along at maybe 50mph. "Way more than that." Was their reply. When they had to brake, they preferred the snow bank and median, to hitting another car. As I found out earlier, the roads were icy, and hard braking meant hard sliding.
    We cleared around the tires, all 4 of them, dug out the snow we could from the middle of the car too (and the car did sink a few time too)…. But still the car wasn't moving. The boys burried it good. The tires just spun and spun but the middle of the car was still sitting on hard, packed snow. A semi pulled over, and a little hopped out, just trying to help. We needed something to pull with, some rope, some tow belt. He didn't have any, and neither did I. He brought some strings, maybe 10 of them. How can you pull a 4000lb car with a few strings? It took seconds for the strings to break. A cop showed up, yelling at the trucker that his truck has to leave, it will freak out people. Hmmmm… the traffic was barely moving, and the semi was totally off the road, on the shoulder.
    I told the guys I'll try go gest some rope, and I drove to a little town just a few miles away. I found a store, got a rope, got back, car's gone. Ok, no pulling today. I found the guys at a gas station, a tow-truck pulled them out. Oh well, I wanted a tow-rope anyway, just didn't really have a need for it yet.

    Night already came to Detroit when I arrived. I roughly remembered where my friends lived. A few U-turns, and a few gas stations later, I found their house. I surprised them with my visit, I haven't seen them in 2 years, and they didn't know I was passing through. After some food and laughs I was invited to stay the night… why not. The next day was my deadline to arrive in Canada, not a problem.

    Day 9Detroit, Michigan
    I passed the border, getting closer and closer to my destination. "No cars in ditches around here." That's what I noticed first. Later I noticed a little car, the size of a Geo Metro, with its engine off. The two nice people (I only meet nice people, I know) had some engine problems. I offered to tow them, but there was nowhere to attach the rope on their car. I drove behind them for a few miles until we got close to a little town. They were ok there, with a coffee shop and phone nearby. Tally-Ho, off to Oakville, I go!!!!!!!! Just one more thing made me stop along the way. First I passed a stopped car, and then I saw the driver walking along the road. Male or female, I couldn't tell with all the clothes on. It was a lady, not a very happy camper, but thankful. Gas station was not too far, and that’s where I dropped her off.

    Oakville, Ontario I didn't really tell my parents I was driving from Phoenix. I told them I was flying, and plane was arriving on Dec 23. When I called them on the 23rd from Detroit, I think they got the point that I wasn't really flying. I made it home ok on 24th, over 3,000miles behind me (should have been 2,500miles straight), apparently some detours made my trip longer. Christmas came and went, and so did New Year's.





    Toronto-Phoenix - return trip
    I took my brother with me back to Phoenix. He was going to fly back home after 1 week of stay. We left Oakville, Ontario on January 2nd. We slept in Detroit one night with friends, but Chicago and Midwest were uneventful. The first memorable event happened in Kansas. We left Missouri at night, trying to get as close to Colorado as possible. I was hoping to find somewhere to camp, but I wasn't hopeful. I was driving the whole time, and we started getting tired, but kept driving. Suddenly there was an exit for "Wilson's Lake". There was a camping sign too! You never know, it might be open. It was open. Nobody there (of course), but it was open. Yes!

    Wilson's Lake, Kansas Wilson's Lake, Kansas In the morning we found a lake nearby and it was quite scenic. For Kansas. I declared it the most scenic part of Kansas. There was an area with trees along the lake, and a few rolling hills. We could not have asked for a better place. In Kansas. Ok, so maybe I was a little hungry for Colorado. The snow and mountains. The weather in Kansas was incredibly warm. We came from gray skies of Midwest with snow everywhere and temperatures around +20F if not less, to sunny Kansas. The weather felt like 80F, it was so warm. It might have been only 66F, but it sure felt warm to us!

    Finally Colorado! We were at the base of the mountains, in Colorado Springs, when we stopped to gas up. "What's that steam?" Peter asked and pointed to the front of the car. It was the water pump spraying coolant everywhere. "holy shnikees" We found Pep Boys open, but "no time to do it tonight". We made 3 miles, stopped once to add water at another gas station, and found a motel close to Pep Boys. It felt like the ghetto part of town, but it had to do. At 1pm the following day, jeep was ready to go. Ok. Here we go.

    Colorado Colorado We had sunny skies and a warm day along the road. I found a side road which led to a snowy side road -- I had to show Peter some 4x4 in snow. We got a little stuck in hard snow, but a few gas pedal rockings got us out. The 90 degree turn was tricky because we had to slow down in the turn, but we got past. We drove more up on the road, and then parked and started hiking. There was little snow on the ground in the woods, mostly just leaves and forest were showing. We even lied on the ground in the sunshine, it was so warm.

    We rendezvoused with Jerry in Leadville that night, as planned. We drove up the little hill again with jeeps, and from there we took the snowcat. I sat outside again -- of course. Barb was already at the top -- the 4 of us would not have fit on the snowcat. Their cool little cottage had a gas-powered generator for electricity. There was a cozy kitchen with a chimney, and a living room with a 2 sofas, a table and chairs. There were 2 big windows facing east. A ladder went up into the master bedroom with a queen sized mattress. It looked lovely inside. The generator ran the lights and the radio. The fireplace provided heat. Bedtime came too soon. I wanted to hear more stories from Barb and Jerry -- about the house, how they built it and other things too. They were very friendly, pleasant people.

    Morning at 11,500ft
    Morning at 11,500ft
    I was freezing at night. The generator went to bed when we did, and since then all the heat must have escaped through the cat door. The blankets i had weren't enough. I needed a sleeping bag which stayed in the car. It was 32F (0C) inside at 7am. Everyone else was still sleeping, so i took my camera and went hunting for pictures. Just after i'd warm up by walking. It was beautiful outside. Snow, snow everywhere. I wished for wintergear... and a snowmobile wouldn't hurt either.

    When i got back to the cottage, the chimney was already smoking and Barb was making pancakes with chopped up strawberries. They were yummyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy. We borrowed a little sleigh for the way down.

    7 days after leaving Toronto, we arrived in Phoenix.
    Morning at 11,500ft Morning at 11,500ft
    Morning at 11,500ft
    #Pursue Passion#
    .First Posted: December 10, 2002.

     
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