Mountain driving is for the birds (and daredevils)

by Angelica Leicht

So, I made an interesting discovery recently. What I discovered is that I’m borderline terrified of driving over the mountains … or near the mountains … or on basically any elevated surface made of rock.

When I first moved here, I only brought with me a carload full of clothes, shoes, and other mostly useless stuff. As you might have guessed, I realized very quickly that things like pans and spatulas are essential if you’re going to live somewhere for more than a week. Problem is, all of my practical stuff is in Nebraska (don’t ask), so if I planned to stay here (I do), I would have to drive over a few passes, including Wolf Creek and Kenosha Pass, to retrieve it.

It’s bad enough when I have to drive on the mesa just above Durango. My hands tingle, I’m hyper-aware of the road’s edge, and I contemplate closing my eyes to climb it. (Don’t worry, fellow mesa drivers; I won’t actually do it.)

As you can imagine, that fear further snowballs on high mountain passes with steep grades. I dread crossing Wolf Creek Pass, and when I finally convince myself to do it for the sake of kitchen utensils, the process generally looks like is this: Me, wide-eyed and white-knuckled, gripping the steering wheel like a 90-year-old woman as I, well, drive like a 90-year-old woman. I do not care that the speed limit is not 6 miles per hour. That is the speed I am going until I’m no longer at death’s door.

There is nothing more harrowing to me than the idea of driving straight off a mountain. I know that the chances of doing so are slim; most people manage to drive over mountain passes without adding a “Thelma and Louise”-style flight off the edge straight to their deaths. Still, rationality does not enter the equation when I’m staring at a 7 -percent grade decline in a road. I just do not want to go out that way. I do not want to car-fly to my death.

Until this mountain pass debacle, I hadn’t really been afraid of much. I fall asleep to tales of gruesome murders on Discovery ID and my bookshelves are lined with true crime novels. I guess I don’t like spiders, but it’s a dislike more than it is a fear. Otherwise, and until this mountain-panic business, I felt pretty invincible.

You’re probably asking yourself why I’m telling you this. Well, to be honest, I’m not sure. It feels odd to be fighting a previously unknown fear of mountain roads – especially the ones with no guard rails (y’all are nuts, by the way) – at 36 years old. Perhaps there’s some sort of subconscious solace I’m seeking by professing my irrational fear of mountains to you.

Or, maybe it’s simply that saying it out loud (well, via printed words) makes the fear seem less gripping and more silly. Who knows.

What I do know is I will eventually have to force myself to get over this fear. One cannot drive over mountain passes at a turtle’s pace to retrieve the spare silverware from central Nebraska while fearing death; it is not a good use of time.

More importantly, though, the gripping fear of driving off the ledge is also robbing me of the awe I feel when I’m looking at the mountains, in all of their eerily bent tree and palatial rock crevice glory. I’d like to be in awe of them again.

I guess life is kind of like that, though. We have to get past the fear of failing – or in this case driving straight off the mountain – to find our appreciation for the experience.

But, you know, I’m not there yet. So, for now, I’ll take it at my own pace, even if that’s white-knuckled and panicked on the sharp turns. I won’t even side-eye you as you pass.

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