GOLD AND GIRLS

If you value your personal safety above having fun, I wouldn’t recommend traveling with Gail in the mountains in the midst of a snowstorm.

If, however, like me, you value both, you may not have a choice. She was driving, it was snowing (blizzarding?), and I was trapped. She wasn’t the slightest bit scared, and I was white-knuckling it in the back seat. Margaret was in the front, not saying much. She didn’t have to. I was saying it all: Gail! We can’t go any further! Gail! Look at those cars in the ditch already! Gail! We can’t see the road! Gail! Slow down! Gail! Even the locals at that convenience store said we were crazy to go on! Gail! We can’t go 18 more miles on hairpin-turn roads in this weather! Gail! March 4th is not our lucky day! You get the idea.

It may as well have been sunny and 70 degrees, for all Gail cared. The treacherous driving conditions didn’t faze her one bit.

“Kathleen, it’s fine. I can drive just fine. Don’t worry one bit. I’m not.” And she truly wasn’t one bit scared.

Margaret remained silently stoic. I’m not sure exactly how she felt. It didn’t matter, Gail was captain of our ship, and she was captaining forward. Forward through the blowing snow, slush and ice, forward on the road with no center line visible, forward to our Cripple Creek, Colorado destination.

“All I need is my rosary and my rear-view,” Gail said. Apparently, she was right.

Apparently, Gail really is invincible. She thinks so, I think perhaps she is most of the time, but this time, I wasn’t sure. Much like when I am trapped in an airplane and scared to death–for no reason when I’m in the air–I felt trapped in the car. I couldn’t get out and freeze, and I couldn’t exactly hitch a ride either. And there was no place to stay at this point.

Obviously, we made it. And, several hours after we arrived, with several more hours of snow accumulation, several more hours of daylight gone, and several more hours of wind, Mary and Cindy made it, too.

I wasn’t feeling any form of Rocky Mountain High like I normally do when we are driving through the mountains on that last leg; I was too scared. The John Denver CD was ready and waiting, and finally, with just a few more of the last 18 miles to go, I loosened up a bit, dug out the CD and sang along. I let myself think that perhaps we really would make it there alive, and for that, I was feeling a bit high. Gail and Margaret sang, too, and we coasted slowly into town.

It is always a bummer when Suzanne can’t join us, and there is no replacing her. We weren’t trying. Her altitude intolerance makes it miserable for her, and we get it.

It seems Gail has touted this destination among her peers back home as a great place to spend time and money, and several of them wanted to check it out for themselves.

So, since it wasn’t officially an exclusive sister trip without Suzanne, we included several new adventure-seekers. Margaret went last year, and apparently had enough fun for a repeat trip. Mary and Cindy had never been, which made their arrival all the more wondrous. The last 18 miles are normally splendidly beautiful, but this time they were treacherous. Mary, however, is apparently a skilled snowy-mountain-road driver in her Jeep, even when she has no idea where she is going. They blew in with the snow and the wind in the dark several hours after we did, and the fun commenced.

And it really never stopped.

It actually started for me Wednesday evening, when I arrived in Atwood to spend the night at Gail’s before we departed Thursday morning. Margaret conceived the idea for this sign for her beloved hometown, and she worked to make it happen.

We hit the road Thursday morning, and made our way west. Gail’s favorite stop just outside of Colorado Springs–The Pop-a-Top Saloon–was on the agenda, as it always is. However, as we approached, something didn’t look right. It wasn’t. It was closed due to a fire in January.

We continued on, with the snow just beginning to blow as we approached the Springs. It became slush by the time we were on the other side of town, climbing up the mountains on Highway 24. There were several cars in the ditch along the way, and even with the snowplow just in front of us, it remained slushy and slick. We turned the corner for the last 18 miles, and the highway was white. It didn’t get much better as we went along. Mercifully, there were no idiots speeding at us from the other direction on this two-lane, mountain-hugging highway with sharp drop-offs on the side opposite the mountain. We met a few cars, but most people probably had the good sense to stay put. Below is a picture from Google Earth of the road this weekend, with more snow headed there.

The storm this weekend in Colorado apparently opened up for the travelers to arrive safely to Cripple Creek.

We were the only guests on the first night at our favorite inn, the Cripple Creek Hospitality House. It is the former Teller County Hospital, and it is reminiscent of the early days of the last century, complete with authentic equipment and remnants from its days as a hospital. I turned in before all the others, and, as I understand it, they celebrated in the hallway well into the wee hours of the night. Sleep is always my first priority, so I didn’t join them. I wish I had their stamina.

The next morning brought sunshine and warmer temperatures, as if the snow squall from the night before never existed. The wind went down, and the streets were quickly cleared.

We shopped, hitting our favorite jewelry and gift store, 9494, as well as the second-hand store, where–woo-hoo! I found a few more Fiesta ware pieces. It wasn’t the jackpot I gave away last time to Suzanne and Gail that I wrote about in my last blog, but I found a few nice additions to add to my collection waiting in boxes from Kohls.com when I arrived home. There are several more must-shop shops there, and we made our rounds. We donated to the local economy in the casinos as well, with a few of the others hitting a few small mother lodes, but no large fortunes.

And, of course, we ate. And we ate some more. We are sure to hit our favorite Irish pub each time; this time we hit it twice.

The donkeys that have freely roamed the streets of Cripple Creek for years are descendants of the original donkeys used during the original gold rush there, and are safely sheltered just outside of town during the winter months. Visitors are encouraged to visit and feed them, so we did.

Gail doesn’t normally kiss ass…

We took the four-mile drive to nearby Victor, another gold-mining town. The large mining operations along the way are an educational sight, and, because I am a trivia nerd, I wanted the others to know all the uses for gold besides jewelry, and I want you to know, too:

*It is used as currency worldwide.

*It is used in dentistry for crowns and fillings.

*It is used in computers and other electronics because it is a good conductor of electricity. It is likely in your cell phone, too.

*Winning the gold medal is recognized as the top honor, and it is used in religious statues and idols as well.

The mother lode was struck in the Cripple Creek/Victor area in 1890, and Cripple Creek’s population swelled to about 50,000. Today, Cripple Creek’s population is just under 1200 people, and Victor is home to about 400. Mining jobs remain an important element of the local economy.

It was in Cripple Creek that the idea for this blog was conceived. We have been taking our sister trips to Cripple Creek twice each year for the last ten years, and it became obvious to me a few years ago that I had indeed struck the sister lode. This time, we hit the friend lode, too.

We enjoyed lunch at a local veteran-owned bar and grill in Victor, then shopped some more.

We had a 5:00 date in Cripple Creek, and after an hour and then 12 extra minutes of grace, we found our way out of the escape room in the Cripple Creek District Museum. As well as enjoying our collective brainpower in this adventure, we learned a lot about the gold-mining history of the area; we had to in order to get out.

These adventures will stick in my memory, but I am most fond of this memory: I made new friends. It is no secret that when women gather in groups, as the numbers increase, so does the potential for discord. Not among us. I am looking forward to gathering again with Gail and her three friends, whom I now call my friends as well. We talked, laughed, cried, bonded, “relieved wind,” did yoga, did a puzzle, ate, drank and were merry–with Mary, Margaret and Cindy.

Bonnie and Judy, the sisters I found at a garage sale last year, joined us once again. They are quiet, but good company.

Mary and Cindy left a few hours before Gail, Margaret and me on Sunday. The weather remained bright, sunny and safe for traveling. While we have never wished for a snowstorm to keep us from arriving–which we almost didn’t this time, we always wish for a snowstorm to sock us in to keep us there for an extra day or two. As I write, the area is getting pummeled by a monster snowstorm, and I wish it would have been a week earlier. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be and we were all able to hit the road.

Rocky Mountain High blared again on the way out, and we all sang along.

There’s no place like home…

***********

It has been 13 years since March Fourth became March Forth for our family, and while the pain of loss never fully subsides, each passing year strengthens our sisterly bonds, as well as our fortitude to continue to live our lives in honor of the legacy our parents left us. We celebrate life and their lives on or around the anniversary date with this trip each year, and again in the fall. We know that we hit the mother lode and the father lode with our parents. As parents and as people, they were golden. Something tells me Mom and Dad are smiling down upon us and our adventures, and while they never met Mary, Margaret or Cindy, I’m pretty sure they are smiling down upon them as well.

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