We rejoin our tale of high adventure—en route to Golden, CO, for the purpose of taking delivery of a slightly used superbike—aboard a newly acquired and undertested first-gen Toyota Van. Having passed it’s first serious test—the midnight-to-dawn segment through southwestern Utah in a driving snowstorm (including a near-miss involving a concrete center divider) on the I-70—we set our sights on Grand Junction, CO and the Vail Pass.
Having made our descent to the high plains east of Moab, The Mint and I now had time to reflect on both my performance behind the wheel, and that of our rapidly appreciating and Bodaciously Beaten Van. We had to conclude that the proof was in the proverbial pudding in both cases: aside from the occasional stop to clear snow and ice accumulation from the wheel wells—checking on the integrity of the cable chains on the rear—our progress was confident and rapid, considering conditions.
I had to declare that the whole dynamic of keeping the mass in motion from the upright driving position perched just above the left front wheel, was really something completely different than what I had ever previously experienced. And quite a kick in the seat—very literally, when wheel well ice accumulation reached critical mass—at that!
Now, the real issue became managing our cable chain life—as the segment across the high plains to Grand Junction wasn’t going to be over completely snow-packed road. We figured that it’d be snowing up the Vail Pass, and we didn’t want to shred our only set of cables before we got there.
We didn’t know how correct that assessment was until we got back into blizzard conditions at the beginning of the climb up The Pass.
We had seen a couple of vehicles that had spun off the road coming into Grand Junction, but the frequency of these sightings got to the point where we flat-out lost count as we proceeded with the ascent. Although we were not exactly playing it tight-on-the-bottle conservatively, we were surprised at the generally borderline-frantic pace of our fellow motorists, including—and maybe especially considering—the Big Rig jockeys. All of these folks must have felt some measure of invincibility behind their respective steering wheels, to be pushing the limits as they were. Many of them—again including the truckers—were not running chains on vehicles that we could verify as not in possession of any kind of All or Four Wheel Drive system!
We began to be concerned that the local Highway Patrol might at any point close The Pass, thus scuttling our non-stop strategy.
As far as it went, though, was the enabling of warning signs mandating the installation of chains on Big Rigs and Two-Wheel-Drive vehicles.
Fortunately, ours were still intact at this point; and with the increase in traffic volume, and all of the surrounding vehicle carnage serving as a warning to the previously frantic, it seemed unlikely that we were going to run afoul of the maximum speed warning for our cables.
Just as we were considering this while passing by the Breckinridge Ski Area, a loud whack from the rear, followed by a rhythmic slapping, confirmed what we had just been denying:
Our cables were finished, before we were with their use!
There was nothing to do other than pull over and finish the removal job that centrifugal force had initiated.
We rejoined the traffic fray—now reduced to a snail’s pace—chainless, but thankful that there was enough grip on significantly colder snow, so as not to require their necessity.
When we made it to the Eisenhower Tunnel without incident, we knew we had passed through the worst of it, for the day. With the exception of a couple of still frantic, and soon to be self-neutralized urban Suburban drivers, we continued to Golden unthreatened, otherwise intact, and fairly close to on-time, all considered!
We’ll consider the acquisition of our intended cargo, and the less-than-uneventful trek back to LA in Part Four, next week.
Phil ran a successful independent repair shop on the West Coast for close to 20 years, working over a decade before that at both dealer and independent repair shops. He is presently semi-retired from the business of auto repair, but still keeps his hand in things as a consultant and in his personal garage.