Thursday, April 3, 2008

Day 16 - Ogden, UT to Denver, CO

Big Truck Country

Dick Cheney is from Wyoming, and this should have been my first clue that I would neither feel welcome or enjoy my time there, even if I was just driving through it. But I had no idea it would go down as the single worst driving experience of my 4000-mile journey.

Days earlier, when I told people at World Horror that I'd be driving from Salt Lake City to Denver, they all recommended taking I-70 east, through Utah, instead of I-80, through Wyoming. But I'm an Iowa boy, and grew up with I-80, so I felt I could trust it.

Southern Wyoming borrows a lot of charm from northern Utah, but once those first 30 miles or so are in your rearview mirror, it takes on a whole other feel.

The first indication were the great plumes of smoke or steam I saw rising off in the distance. They looked like huge fires, burning somewhere just past the horizon, but are turned out to be a cluster of factories.

Second, it seems Wyoming doesn't believe in plowing its roads, because even though it had snowed two days earlier, the interstate in Wyoming was covered in snow and ice and sand and dirt.

Third, semi-trucks outnumber regular cars by about 20:1 on this stretch of road. Now I know, from all the billboards I've seen on this trip, that "Trucks bring good things!" -- things from faraway places where wages are lower, things that are vital to our always-low-prices, disposable culture and unsustainable way of life. And I know semi-drivers are regular people just like you and me who have a job to do and only want to get it done so that they can go home to their fat wives and ugly children.

But the trucks in Wyoming were some of the worst-behaved road bullies I've ever encountered. Sometimes they passed me going 80 miles an hour; at others they pulled out in front of me with no warning and drove just 45. And they traveled together in packs of 40 or 50 at a time, going down the road in long, road-hogging lines, looking like the world's fastest, ugliest parade.

And every time I found myself beside or behind one of these trucks, its tires threw up great sprays of the aforementioned snow and ice and sand and dirt, along with a few rocks. Believe me, this shit will mess up your car and leave its hood looking like the surface of the moon.

All of this goes on for about 350 miles, leading up to and away from the continental divide. It's a white-knuckled driving adventure not for the faint of heart. Or me. Ever, ever again. If I ever head west again, I will drive around Wyoming. It was that bad.

On the bright side, however, I did find a state to hate more than Texas.

A few miles past Laramie -- which is a gray, muddy pit populated by people who seem well adapted to the environment -- I turned on to I-25, south to Denver. Almost immediately, the sky and road cleared, and from there it was just a couple hours more to the home of my former college roommate, Daren, and his wife, Becky.

Daren and Becky were great hosts, and provided me with a terrific meal along with no small amount of vodka, which I definitely needed. Unfortunately, I got sick the next morning -- the achy, icky, sore throat, stuffy nose kind of sick. Not wanting to pass it on to them, I left to head further east.

Truth be told, I was more than a little homesick as well, and thought I might be able to drive the thousand miles between me and Chicago in one day. But this did not happen.

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