Hey, altitude, haven't commented on you in a while!
Aspen: 7930 feet
La Paz: 11811
highest point on my drive: 10424 (on the pass after leadville, co.)
(independence pass, the more direct route to aspen, is closed for the winter but stands at 12095 feet)
So my stay in Aspen is already up! Got in on Wednesday night as planned, which I still can't believe. At this point I consider myself something of a veteran driver. 10 hours on the interstate? no problem. But unfortunately the drive from Austin to Aspen is not that simple. Well, til Amarillo it was no problem. (The most eventful part of that drive was my visit to Walmart. So, I know Walmart is eeeevil, but it's hard to remember that when I'm able to stop at 10 pm in the middle of nowhere texas and buy my tom's of maine spearmint toothpaste and my kashi honey almond flax granola bars. At a serious discount. And the store was spotless, uncrowded, and the staff was superhelpful. I'm still holding onto the receipt to prove it really happened.)
After Amarillo things got much less fun. There's no interstate, just cutting back and forth between random 2 lane highways. Where I narrowly avoided a $190 ticket, despite barely going above the speed limit while people passed me all over the place. So after that I steadfastly drove the exact speed limit, which meant constantly decelerating to 55, 35, etc as you pass through towns. Then I hit the mountains. I knew there had been crazy snowstorms lately and it was getting dark, so the smart thing to do would have been to just spend the night in one of the friendly budget motels in the small towns in southern colorado. But I was anxious to get on. So I kept on up and over lots of mountain passes. Despite driving 20 mph and braking the whole way down, I still managed to skid at one point and dent my fender on the guardrail. Nothing at all serious, I was totally fine, I was just pissed at the money it will eventually cost me. At that point I decided I should just get off the road. But it took another 30 min to get off the mountain and finally back to an interstate (70). And at that point I was in crazy resort land, near Vale. Every place I inquired at was over $100. Sooo I pressed on. Through the national park. Finally I'm at the turnoff to Aspen, so it seems crazy to stop there. Another icy country road. I survive, near Aspen and make call #16438 to MP. She gives me directions. When I get to town I can't read a single street sign, my poor car is barely pushing through the heavy snow, snowplows are driving indiscriminately both ways down the street. I pull into a shell station to make call #16439 and try asking directions. Despite being past midnight and having parked in the appropriate parking spots, the giant gas truck pulls up to fill up the station, and starts yelling at me "you have to move your car! hurry!". Flustered I pull out and await better directions from MP. Finally get the directions and set off for her apartment (at this point about 2 min away.) The first turn and - I'm stuck. Perpendicular in the middle of the street. Fortunately before the hyperventilating took hold, the kind snow plow men had to come to my rescue and tow me out. Another call from MP wondering how I possibly hadn't gotten there YET, and I start off again. I was shocked when I was finally able to pull into a parking spot in her apartment complex. Fortunately no ones drives around Aspen (hmm, i wonder why) and they have a great free bus that goes right by the apartment here and into town, so my poor poor car has been getting a much deserved rest.
The one thing about that drive is that I must say it was STUNNING. First I passed through the Texas panhandle - starkly beautiful backcountry, red rock formations, dust storms, so much tumbleweed it quickly became less than charming. Was immensely happy it wasn't quite tornado season yet. Then into the Rockies, which need no introduction. So strange to start out the day in flipflops and 80s weather, and end it as mentioned above. That kind of climate variation in a day's drive seems normal in Ecuador, but in our giant country it's really surreal!
As for Aspen itself, it's a cute town with laid back skibums on one hand, with free hybrid busses, vegetarian restaurants. Then on the other hand you have foreign tourists in furs shopping for louis vuiton and jewels. Throw in crazy festivals always going on (right now the HBO Comedy Arts festival, so posters everywhere for stephen colbert's appearance, and cell phoned network execs roaming the streets.) The ski lift takes off right from town. MP has this amazing mountain view from her apt. It's a bit of a change from Austin. Not sure if I could ever live here, but MP loves it. She skis almost every day (goes into work early, then gets in a 9 am run, and back to work.) and there's ridiculous nature everywhere for hiking, running, climbing, etc. She's mostly been working but we went out to a great restuarant on thurs night, and had some drinks with some people from her work yesterday.
Next stop: saturday night in Vegas! Uh, how did that happen? I think most of you know that's probably my last idea of a good time, and I've watched way too much CSI to ever feel safe sleeping in that town. Since I don't fancy sleeping in the desert or the many state/national parks, I have made a reservation at this gem. No kidding. Again, this was definitely not part of my plan. But it was either there, or Motel 6 again for the same price! So assuming I don't hit it big and hole up in the penthouse, I'm aiming to put this roadtrip to an end in Orinda, CA, on Sunday night!