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Colorado’s I
Colorado’s I
Jul 24, 2024 3:09 AM

  Originally, I had a vision. It involved getting into a car with strangers.

  The idea struck me a few weeks before I left for Colorado, where I was going to report on the state’s notorious Interstate 70 traffic. Each winter, I-70 makes headlines and stymies skiers attempting to drive from Denver and the urban Front Range to the dozen or so resorts that lie west along the scenic and beleaguered 144-mile mountain corridor. The highway has even inspired its own Instagram account, @i70things, which features scenes of Corvettes squirming in the snow, semis jackknifed across the road, and the cherry-red ass ends of countless vehicles, all filmed by frustrated travelers.

  I’ve been mired on I-70 myself, having lived on the Front Range until last year, when I moved back to my home state of California, to the mountains around Lake Tahoe. On my upcoming trip, I hoped to answer some of the questions I’d pondered as a Coloradan: What causes I-70 traffic? Could it ever be fixed? And what did traffic on I-70—and other infamous recreational arteries like Utah’s Little Cottonwood Canyon to Alta and Snowbird ski resorts or the Montauk Highway to Long Island’s beaches—reveal about our relationship with nature?

  At the moment, though, I was specifically puzzling over who, exactly, wandered innocently into the I-70 gridlock each weekend. Everyone I knew in Colorado seemed to understand that you could mostly avoid traffic if you left the Front Range early in the morning and the resorts early afternoon. We set grim alarms that began with the numbers five, four, or even three to go skiing. Who were all these snoozers caught in the 8 A.M. swell each week? And wouldn’t it be great, I mulled, if I could somehow get into one of their cars for this story?

  That’s when a synapse in my brain either fired or short-circuited. Maybe I could.

  The initial plan was rough: I would trawl the popular Dinosaur Park-n-Ride lots outside Denver and talk my way into a vehicle with a group of these hapless pilgrims. We would wade into traffic together, brothers and sisters in arms, and I would bear witness to their arduous journey. Hard lessons would be learned, but good times would still be had, in the Rocky Mountain spirit of adventure.

  I briefed my fiancé. He politely lauded my out-of-the-box thinking, but expressed valid concerns, including the offhand chance that I got murdered, or a more likely scenario in which I failed to convince anyone to let some rando into their car. He suggested I arrange a ride in advance.

  I took to the keyboard with optimism. “Hi all!” I posted on three Denver-area skiing Facebook groups. “I’m looking for a fun group to hitch a ride with on Saturday January 6. Looking for folks who were already planning to leave the Front Range at 7 A.M. or later.” I left my phone number, converting a few digits to text (“seven2zero…”) to foil the spam bots, and waited for the invitations to roll in.

  The response was swift and derisive.

  “That’s literally the worst traffic weekend of the year. Hard pass!”

  “Anyone leaving at that time of day, on that particular weekend is clearly a sadistic psychopath and should not be trusted to drive you anywhere.”

  “This is literally the first man [note: I’m a woman] that is actively trying to get stuck on i70.”

  And the most humiliating:

  “You can write your number out this isn’t bumble or match.com.”

  For the next several days I cringed at the sight of new Facebook notifications. I questioned my entire plan. Colorado was having an unusually dry season, and for the week preceding my trip, the snowfall forecast looked like a line of binary code: 0, 0, 0, 0, 1, 0, 1 inches. What if it didn’t snow? What if ski conditions were so bad I didn’t even see traffic?

  By Thursday, things were looking up. OpenSnow forecasters were baiting skiers with “soft/powder conditions” for Saturday morning. The mountains were calling, and everyone in Denver would go. I packed my skis and flew to Colorado to get stuck in traffic.

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