We took a little trip to ski town so I could get a bunch of tiny xmas trees, and having got a late start we didn’t begin the return trip until dusk. I didn’t tell Amethyst what I knew was coming — there was no reason to start her worrying early.
She’s not at all fond of night driving, multiplied by a factor of several jillion when it’s wintertime night driving, and then raised to the bazillionth power when there’s any more than occasional oncoming traffic. And that’s what we got: a lot more than occasional oncoming traffic. It’s the Saturday before xmas and we were heading away from ski town after dark while all of the tourists were getting there by all means possible because there’s a fine storm coming in tomorrow to make travel tricky.
Funny people, ski tourists. They obviously don’t live around here, or they wouldn’t be tourists. They probably don’t live in places anything like this, either, or there’d be little reason to come to this place (except for our world famous snow, I suppose). But they’ll take to the highway telling themselves that they’ve made this same trip twice before and survived it so they’re suitably proficient mountain winter drivers. When you see their faces as they pass by, though, it’s clear that they’ve long since forgotten that silly notion just as they did the last time they made this trip and survived. And some of them, for some reason that I suspect may be sheer terror, just will not turn off their high beam headlamps for any reason. They’re following the cars ahead too closely, can clearly see the oncoming traffic’s headlights, and surely must notice that some number of them are flicking their high beams asking them to please turn theirs off. Nope, nuthin’ doin’. If I’m going to crash through that guardrail into the wilderness below, it’s by my high beams that my rescuers will find me. I guess that’s what they’re thinking, anyway, because there’s really no other explanation I can find for it.
And I’ve just recently spent about an hour thinking about it. One vehicle came at us with some very intensely bright lights and for the next four or five miles I had to keep my eyes moving more than usual so I could see what would otherwise be hidden behind the purple spots in my vision. If I could have pulled over safely I would have stopped to rest my eyes, but under those conditions the road shoulders are death traps. My vision would have recovered within minutes if I could have stopped, but instead my eyes were assaulted by the headlights of a holiday stream of cars and some of them, naturally, with their high beams on. I found myself wishing that the storm had blown in early and hard while we were on our way up the mountain, which would have stopped a lot of the tourists in the hotels and motels further down and stacked the rest in safe enough parades following snow plows. But we had no such luck.
The oncoming traffic finally thinned enough to allow my vision to recover, and then we encountered a slowpoke rolling five to ten under the limit. Amethyst really needed the break and I wasn’t about to pass up a good excuse for it, so I just turned off the cruise control and settled in to relax and enjoy the ride. There wouldn’t be many, if any, coming up behind us to be inconvenienced by it.
That lasted about two miles. A nice big cow elk had some reason to put something just as far behind her as she could just as fast as she could, and that’s pretty fast for an elk. They top out at around 45MPH, far faster than any horse can run, and this big girl was going flat out. I first saw her illuminated in the headlights of the car ahead as she cleared a fence about thirty yards off the left side of the road, so I let up the gas and looked for a sign that she might be thinking it best to avoid crossing the highway. She showed no sign of having chosen that option, so I went for the brake anticipating that the driver ahead would either brake, too, or get broken.
I’ll bet that driver’s butt puckered so hard that it bit a hunk of foam out of the seat. He or she apparently didn’t see the critter until it was on the pavement because the brake lights didn’t come on until the animal was just past the car. I couldn’t see it from where I was sitting, but Amethyst said that there wasn’t quite a foot separating car fender from elk butt at what wasn’t the point of impact. That driver has quite the story to tell tonight.
And I’ve got this one. And the elk, well, I figure that by the time we got home an hour later she was stopped to tell her story at a Tim Hortons.