FREE FALLING

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN BOB WOELK
I grew up in a family that took its vacations seriously. And, that’s a good thing. Now, I wouldn’t even dream of letting a summer go by without taking a family trip.

This summer, the Woelk clan headed for Colorado. I’ve likely averaged at least one journey to the Rocky Mountain State every year of my life, but I couldn’t recall my last visit to Steamboat Springs and vicinity. So, we made that resort town our primary destination this year.

The late-June weather was outstanding, though it didn’t start out very promising. In fact, we made a game of watching the numbers in my rearview-mirror thermometer drop as the outside temperature fell.

We stopped for lunch in Limon, Colo., where the temperature was in the upper 60s. The rain had been falling periodically since the state line. As we started back toward the mountains, of which we could not see even a hint in the gloomy weather, we joked that the temperature would probably fall about a degree per mile.

We weren’t all that far off.

Within a few minutes, the number in the mirror had dropped to below 50 degrees. The closer we got to Denver, the colder it became. By the time we reached the airport east of town, we were down to 43 degrees.

So much for an afternoon of sightseeing we had planned. As it turned out, however, the weather the rest of the eight days was spectacular. I don’t think the temperature ever climbed above 75 degrees, and we never saw another serious round of rain during the daylight hours.

As we left Denver, we opted to drive west on good old Colfax Avenue. My dad spent a few years in alternate service in the Mile High City, and he often talked about Colfax being the main road through town, sort of like Broadway used to be in Wichita.

Of course, that was well before the days of interstates. Anyhow, we certainly saw some interesting sights along the street.

One scene struck us as particularly odd. A man was riding a bicycle with a pair of crutches across the front handlebars. Apparently, Coloradoans love their bikes. The guy couldn’t walk, but he could ride.

Later, in Steamboat, we saw a middle-aged man astride his mountain bike. It looked as though he had a water-drinking system attached to his back. Upon closer inspection, however, we were surprised to see he was carrying an oxygen tank. And, he was using it.

Now, that’s dedication you don’t often see in Kansas.

It seems like every town in Colorado has a system of biking and hiking trails. Sometimes, it seems to me the only real difference between towns like Steamboat Springs and Hillsboro is a commitment to providing recreational paths for their citizens.

I suppose the multi-billion-dollar ski industry helps with the funding. And, I guess it wouldn’t hurt to have a few million tourists come through your town each year.

Oh, yeah, and Steamboat has that spectacular mountain scenery. Those differences aside, however, Hillsboro and Steamboat are exactly alike.

We took a day trip to a couple of state parks and saw some pretty lakes. Interestingly, there isn’t much in the way of camping opportunities around Steamboat.

My wife, of course, wanted to stop at the visitor center before taking a look around. But stopping at a visitor center upon arrival is like reading the instruction manual before beginning an assembly project.

Real men just don’t do that sort of thing.

The weather was a bit dicey, with off-and-on showers in the area, so we had some time to look around.

One oddity we spotted was a store with one of the least creative names I have ever witnessed, “Things ‘N’ Stuff.” We didn’t stop, though we should have gone in to see what such an understated mercantile would have going for it. We already had a carload of things and stuff of our own.

We did a bit of hiking and picnicking, then headed back to our condo on the slopes of Steamboat. It really is a nice town to spend a few days, though I’m not sure I’d want to live there.

Basically, it’s the opposite of most areas of Kansas, about which it could be said, “It’s a nice place to live, but I wouldn’t want to visit.”

The second part of our vacation outing was spent at Frisco, a small town nestled in the middle of the Summit County ski areas.

One day, we climbed Mount Royal, which was actually a very tall hill on the outskirts of town. On the trail, we witnessed some odd signs that read: “Warning: Buried Pipeline.” Below that caution, was another sign that read: “Pipeline Not Buried Here.” Hmm.

On the trail up Mount Royal, we came across the ruins of a town called Mason City, or something like that. Apparently, the founders constructed the burg in the early 1900s near some silver mines, but they failed to read the mountainside closely enough. It didn’t take long for a snowslide to wipe out the entire town. All that remains today are some foundations and a chimney base or two.

All too soon, the time came to head back home. We continued to be blessed with strange occurrences.

Coming down I-70 toward Denver, a large pebble chipped our windshield. Within 10 minutes, another small rock bounced off the glass and left a second chip. Two separate incidents in such a short time seemed odd, especially in light of the fact that there was no road construction or large trucks anywhere around.

I commented that I had driven the same vehicle more than 6,000 miles the year before on a trip to Yellowstone and hadn’t had even one such episode.

Speaking of road construction-and I believe I was-this year proved to be nearly devoid of orange barrels along 1-70. We still had a few single-lane delays, but overall, we saw almost no road work. Is this the product of lack of government money to fund such projects?

The situation caused me to wonder what it would be like to take an entire road trip and encounter no construction inconveniences whatsoever.

I don’t think it will ever happen.

As a side note, I have definitely noticed an increase in traffic on our own U.S. Highway 56 now that U.S. Highway 50 has been termed a “killer road,” known nationally for its homicidal truckers.

Actually, the more likely reason travelers are avoiding the road is all the construction delays on the stretch between Newton and Florence.

I had to laugh when I heard a Kansas Department of Transportation comment that there is not a problem with the original construction of the road. He made it seem like such repair work only a few years after a highway is finished it common.

No wonder a family can’t take a trip anywhere without weaving through orange pylons and barrels.

On a bathroom break at a rest area in western Kansas on our way home from Colorado, my wife and daughter came out of the women’s restroom and reported there had been a man on their side. He had muttered something about wondering why there were no urinals.

The women were not particularly upset about finding a man where he obviously didn’t belong. I just hoped for his sake he had put the toilet ring back down.

Actually I gave him the benefit of the doubt, figuring he was just confused. His wife had probably made him stop at a visitor center or made him read a manual before a project.

That kind of damage to a person’s maleness is hard to overcome.

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