The way is rocky, the risk is death, all in good fun

On the edge, cold crosswind blasting and we’re barely moving at all. Bouncing up and dropping down, one set of tracks against the steep slope, the other set on the edge of a thousand-foot drop. Last week I got to spend lots and lots of time, doing something I love. Yes, I love to be perched up on some high altitude 4×4 trail, exploring and enjoying the “summit’ing” ┬áexperience.

I love that stuff so much, that the transition back to the ‘real world’ this week has been quite tough.

I did learn a lot last week, while on vacation in the Rocky Mountains. I finally got to spend a good amount of time driving the upper pass roads and rocky trails. I again thank my wife for letting me have my fun ­čÖé

I keep talking about how much fun it is to be up there. I have told lots of people how I enjoy the thrill of piloting my beater ‘Yota up and over the mountain. I also hear feedback that not everyone thinks this would be a ‘fun’ activity.

Some say it would be scary, or crazy, or risky. Some ask, what would happen if you broke down up there? Others, remind me that you can still see perfectly beautiful views from the bottom, with no need to drive to the top ­čÖé

Well those things are true. It is risky. I could break down up there. I also see the beauty in the streamside winding paved roads at the bottom. Much smoother to drive too, than those no-maintenance rock trails above.

We all have different tastes don’t we ­čÖé

I do need to notice and share a couple insights though, about my drive on Mosquito Pass, or Richmond Hill Road, or especially Express Creek. These roads are ROUGH, my friends. These aren’t roads in the sense that the ground itself is a smoothed out cleared stretch of land that is covered in pavement, or even little gravely-sized pebbles. Nope.

These roads we played on, are well worn, but all the soil, in between the rocks that ever was there, is now gone. The rocks range in sizes. Sometimes they are gravel yes, but many times bigger too. Baseball Size, grapefruit size, sometimes a basketball or two. Usually you are driving around the bigger stuff, like chest-freezer size or car-size. Anyway, this kind of driving is much different than our normal cruise.

Even though it’s not muddy, I use 4 wheel drive. The steepness is easier to climb with two wheels pulling and two wheels pushing. I use low range in the transfer case. This reduces the output speed of the driveshafts and lets the motor torque it’s way up the mountain. It helps going down too. Using the lower gears reduces the wear on everything. The truck is happier, and so is the driver. I try not to use my brakes, so I shift a lot too. Even though it is an automatic transmission, many times I want to use only the lowest gear. Also, I could want to prevent too high a gear from kicking in, so I shift constantly back and forth throuh L, 2 and D.

Advice I got way back in 2012, out in Ouray, on my first ever 4×4 mountain drive, was simple. Go Slow. Slow is the key. Slow feels better on you, and the machine. Slow is the only way, to take a stock suv, up these trails and return in one piece.

I’m not talking about the slow in the driveway on Sunday stuff here. I am talking, barely moving. Sometimes, you want the vehicle to just simply inch forward, and you don’t care how long it takes. You just care that you stay slow, steady, in control. Gravity can be pulling you severely, either forward or backward, or sideways too. You just sometimes want to stay upright, and let the movement happen at the slowest (and safest) possible rate.

Yes, I really enjoy those moments too. Sometimes after climbing a spooky little incline, or skating some off-camber dipty-doo, or dropping ever so slowly down a cliff’s face, I would cackle and rejoice and laugh out loud, a hyena crying into the mountain air. I would amaze myself at the obstacle we just conquered and joy was coursing through my veins!

Funny huh! Funny how back in the ‘real world’ I don’t treat my life in the same way as these mountain roads. Funny how, I detest and scour every time I hit a little bump. Funny how I hate the razors edge, climbing toward an obstacle or dropping down into a valley. I seem to despise every and any pebble in my way.

Nope, in my ‘real life’ I want things to be smooth. I want them paved with glass. I don’t want turns or hills or have to stop. I seem to want a perfectly-paced highway all to myself, wide and clear. I don’t want to stop to refuel, I don’t want to maintenance my ride, and I don’t want anyone or anything in my way…


Yeah, we know different don’t we. Traffic is busy, others are all around. In my ‘real life’ I rarely feel that I am on some thrilling adventure. Instead I’m bored with the mundane-ness, yet rarely┬ásteer away from my normal route. Road-rage happens all the time in my ‘normal-life’. I loose my temper, in fact, right now I’m boiling-over, and seething.

I see the irony here. On one hand, I want the challenge and thrill of a difficult road to travel. On the other hand, I want it easy, without stress, I don’t enjoy this version of it, I say to myself, I would rather be on some other road.

That is another thing about the real mountains. Up high you can see so far. Up on Mosquito Pass, outside of Leadville, Colorado, I could see many other roads to travel. We spied them from afar and then made our way down and over and up to them. From far away those tracks looked so smooth. The pitch looked gradual and shallow. The rocky obstacles just blended into the trail from far away. A simple and fun dust covered byway to the sky. That is what we see from a distance…

Not true, once you finally made your way there. Just as many bumps, just as steep up, just as slanted down. The roads were pretty much the same all over those mountains. They are ROUGH. That is the advice we always got, when asking about a new trail. “It is ROUGH”, they would say. “Go Slow! You’ll enjoy it if you take is easy. The views are spectacular.”

They weren’t just talking about Hagerman Pass, or trail to our lunch spot above Leadville to the East. Life is rough. My normal everyday travels are rough. There are many obstacles big and small. There are lots of ups, and lots of downs. This moment includes all same characteristics as those bumpy tracks…

Except. Except, I don’t usually slow down, in my real life. I don’t usually drop to the lowest possible gear. I don’t usually inch my way through anything. I go too fast. I am bouncing and crashing and smacking into the debris. I am tense and stressed and worried about never making it to the top. I am looking all around at the other roads, other people’s roads, and thinking they are all so smooth and attractive. Not like mine. Not rutted and rocky, like mine.

I am abusing myself, abusing the vehicle that got me this far. I bang it up and bruise it. Dents are all over, from the reckless ways I drive myself in my ‘normal life.’ I am mashing the gas, and stomping the brakes, all at the same time. I want to get to the end, and I’m terrified of moving foward too. It’s a discombobulation. The transmission grinds, the tires squeal and the motor races. Meanwhile, the mountain abides.

The mountain and it’s road is rocky, yes. But it is not going anywhere. It is stable. It is solid. It provides a foundation to view spectacular grandeur. The weather can be harsh up there. It will turn on a dime. I must be prepared for it, but If I go slow, and don’t panic, it will all be okay. I forget that too often.

Steve Chandler is a world-class life coach and author. I have talked with him many times. Not recently though, it’s been over a year. His words were fresh in my mind, up on those granite ridges last week. ‘Slow Down,’ he would say. If things are not going well, you are going too fast. ‘Slow Down’. I get it now, more than ever.

At the slowest pace, these bumps are little thrills. In the right gear, with the right speed, any of these roads are doable, in even the most modest of 4-wheel drive cars. A jacked-up Jeep is not necessary. The view are stupendous, from 13,000 ft above sea level. Of course, you can only see them, if you are going slow enough, to look up from the road. Otherwise, you just stare at the rocks ahead in fear.

Speed is one of my biggest problems. I want it all now. I don’t want to go slow. I am ‘over’ the bumps of life…

Except, they will keep coming. They will always be there. Even in the flat lands of Kansas, our inner worlds, can be continental ranges of peaks and valleys. Right now, in this very moment, I need to ask myself if I can slow down. I need to define the way I want to travel the road I’m on, or if I want to detour, and find another. I wonder, If I will take the advice that I got from the camphost at the Ouray KOA, or from Steve Chandler, or from the guys at the Aspen forestry office. I wonder if I will even take my own advice, and Slow Down??


Aaron Nichols



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