Palisade and the Longest Day

As I think about my upcoming long road trip in June, my mind inevitably goes back to the world’s longest day.

It was early October 2014, and we’d committed to moving to Seattle. My husband stayed in Manassas, VA, to sell our townhouse, and I put two cats and my best friend, J, in my sedan and drove across the country. Later, between Christmas and New Year’s, my husband would drive his car (a manual transmission, which I can’t drive) across the country with me keeping him company. For now, J (who doesn’t drive at all) would keep me company and awake on the long drive.

It was such an odd, unsettled time: J was mourning his wife, who’d recently passed away from cancer, and I was leaving everything I knew. We spent many of the days on the road in near-silence, me absorbing unfamiliar landscapes and him playing Theatrhythm connected to the car stereo, the familiar songs of the Final Fantasy games punctuated by the pings and beeps and bloops of J’s gameplay.

I’d just started a new job based in Seattle and had no vacation days, so I’d made a deal with my boss: I’d drive for a day, then stop in a hotel and work for a day, then repeat till I made it to Seattle. That meant we were on a fairly tight schedule.

The longest single day involved the drive from Denver to Salt Lake City. Eight hours of driving, not including traffic slowdowns, bathroom breaks, or stops to marvel at the changing landscape.

Possibly Carbondale, CO?

Appalachia is old, sleepy and not often moved. The Rockies are young, full of restless motion, but still mostly swathed in green. Exaggerated and far more dramatic than the land I was raised in, but still familiar.

The weather was perfect, just slightly crisp and with enough breeze to stir the yellow aspen leaves into hillsides full of flutter. Other than some construction-caused traffic backups, the roads were good. I remember having issues finding a public bathroom in Vail, and staring amazed at Glenwood Canyon, its sides veering in to tightly enfold the road so that it was just us, the road and the river within its walls.

When we left the canyon, everything changed. The land began to shatter and drop away in chunks and ridges, leaving nearly-barren cliffs. I wasn’t prepared for it. Of course I knew intellectually that parts of the American west are dry, but it seemed somehow fundamentally shocking to see the land stripped bare, denuded of life.

Palisade, CO

That was when the migraine began. By the time we reached the little town of Palisade, Colorado, I had to stop. I remember pacing slowly around the dusty Super Stop parking lot, nauseated, eyes nearly closed, clutching a bottle of cold water from the convenience store, trying to hydrate and hoping the meds would kick in. We still had a long, long way to go that day.

I couldn’t keep my eyes off the dry cliffs, rearing upward spectacularly at what seemed to be the very edges of the completely flat town. They were so different from anything I’d ever experienced that, particularly through the migraine haze, they seemed like a mirage.

The view from a rest area somewhere in eastern Utah
The view from a rest area somewhere in eastern Utah

Back on the road, medicated and with better hydration levels, my headache eased slightly, especially as the sun began to set. But we still weren’t anywhere near Salt Lake City, and I was exhausted. “Fine,” I thought. “At least since we’re through the Rockies, the rest of the drive should at least be nice and flat.”

I was wrong. Surprise mountain range! In the dark!

In general, I adore mountain driving. Give me a curvy road and I’m happy. But maybe not at night, with a migraine, after an exhausting day. (From looking at the map now, it seems the area was Price Canyon.)

The only other thing I remember now about that longest day is pulling into the front driveway of the hotel J found for us in Salt Lake City, which happened to be next to a busy road; picking up the handle of the carrier in which resided the more nervous of my two cats; and having the plastic carrier fall apart. It was sheer luck that the cat froze rather than darting out into traffic. Phew.

We would spend the next day in a Salt Lake City hotel with a lovely view of the surrounding mountains while I worked, and reach the shore of the salt lake itself just in time for a couple of sunset photos.

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