Rules of the road

The gods must be angry, I thought, as my car power-slid into the oncoming lane. I white-knuckled, tapped the brakes and over-corrected before admitting that I couldn’t really blame them.

After all, I had shamelessly violated several of the rules of mid-winter:

– Thou shalt offer praise for every snowstorm and worship subzero temperatures

– Embrace thy snow shovel and honor the plow driver

– Thou shalt spend every moment of leisure time atop skis or skates

– Do not (under any circumstances) covet thy neighboring state’s barometric pressure

– Thou shalt mothball shorts, bikes, paddles and cotton clothing until the spring equinox

The truth was the missus and I conveniently threw out the winter rulebook two weeks ago. Together, we made a secret pact and managed to break every single one of those hallowed commandments.

Ignoring the forecast and embracing the desire to feast our eyes on soil (that’s right, genuine, unadulterated dirt), we loaded the family and our fat tire steeds into the truckster and pointed it for sun and slickrock. On that fateful afternoon we steered down our snowpacked driveway and out of the city limits, touching down three hours later at our destination – the garden state of Utah.

I knew that savoring two days of epic Moab singletrack in early February would carry karmic entanglements. I also knew two afternoons poolside with my bikini-clad wife and ice-cold Reposado would guarantee a dose of divine wrath. But blame it on the cursed second commandment, I just couldn’t resist. Half-way home I figured we dodged the bullet. Then it hit.

Two minutes into the white-out at the foot of the Abajo Mountains I would have given it all back again – slickrock, spaghetti strings, Sauza and all. Nursing sore legs, a fresh saddle sore on the left cheek (yes, that cheek) and a February sunburn, the black-ice road was the last thing I expected or wanted on my return to the homedale. And two minutes in the price was already feeling too high.

For the record, the man piloting family rig up out of the Utah desert was no winter road neophyte. I got my early education from Lizard Head, Dallas Divide and Keystone Hill and received my black ice driving credential only after ditching my Jeep (a 1972 orange and black CJ5 – the former love of my life) and my mom’s silver Subaru (the only car in Sands family history to boast the word “turbo” and the love of her life) a half dozen times.

However, those skills were curiously absent as I skidded, slid and swirled over the potholed road and past the LDS bookshop in Monticello. Just enough snow had fallen on a thin sheen of ice to put my AWD to its ultimate test, and I was by no means alone. Everything from black sport utes with New Mexico plates to semis hauling Durango’s groceries all found themselves roadside in the prone position.

To make things worse, an especially black cloud had just crested the Abajos and the snow started falling so rapidly the line between asphalt and ass-end had vanished. At that most desperate of moments, I chanced upon not one but two guardian angels.

The first sported a large, off-white beehive and happened to be driving a bronze, Reagan-era Buick Skylark. A Vanillaroma Tree hung from the rearview, and this veteran of many a plateau white-out was setting the pace at a calm, collected and mature 33 mph. Close inspection revealed a “If God didn’t want us to eat animals, why’d he make ‘em out of meat?” bumper sticker and four incredibly bald, Avon Tech tires.

Trailing just behind was the second lemming in the line – a rear-wheel-drive, aqua-colored Pontiac Sunbird. The two-door rig was clearly the pride of some nail technician’s life – sporting heavy tint, a slick black bra in the front and spoiler fin in the rear. You could almost hear the Shania thumping through the factory speakers, as she followed with hands perfectly positioned on the wheel. A king-sized cancer stick dangled casually from her lips, sharing space with occasional hits from a bottle of diet RC Cola.

I happily slid my bike-decked Durangomobile into the third position, deferred to age and wisdom and let the queens of the road lead the way. With me trailing, the pair deftly navigated their way up and down rises, through vicious cross winds and over invisible pavement with nothing but four cylinders and four decades of practice. My personal snow mobile spun, sputtered and slid as I worked to keep up with the two Beehive Staters.

And just when I was about to fall off the pace and into the loneliness and desperation of the white room, the gods forgave my weekend in the dirt and shifted their eyes to some other hapless soul. The sun broke through as my new companions pulled within sight of Dove Creek. The Pinto Bean Capital of the World – replete with its Piccadilly Pizza, New Holland dealership and Kenpo Karate studio – had never looked so good. There at the crossroads, we three went our different ways. My path led back to the Animas Valley, where I happily brandished my snow shovel and swore to adhere to the midwinter commandments through mid-March….

Oh but how quickly I have already forgotten that drive and that promise. Here just 14 days later, I once again find myself surfing virtual sandstone, tuning bicycles and driving the car further and further out Hwy. 160.

That said, I do have good news for those of you itching for an end to the February fifties. If there’s one thing that’ll break a dry spell, return dark and stormy to the short-term forecast and ice-up the region’s highways and byways, it’s a Sands family road trip. As I sneak out the driveway one of these weekends, I only hope the gods aren’t watching. If so, maybe that Sunbird and Skylark will meet me in Monticello.

– Will Sands