Monday, October 24, 2016

From Cliffs To Craft beers: My Unbelievable Story

Monarch Pass, Colorado 2011
It was a cold brisk Friday evening in Colorado the night my life flashed before my eyes. I was on a frozen tundra two-lane road in the mountains headed back to Texas after a work assignment. Little did I know this near death experience of mine would form a inseparable bond with craft beer and the thrill of adventure.

It was March 4th, 2011 I was in a hurry to drive back to East Texas to attend my dad’s wedding that weekend and pack up my belongings to move to Colorado. The route from Grand Junction, CO to Longview, TX is 1,300 miles. Approximately 400 or so miles can be dangerous and shouldn't be taken lightly. I've been this way twice before so I knew what to expect. Many locals have warned me about the driving conditions even to the point of recommending that I take off my seat belt when going down a treacherous mountain pass. I've heard all the stories and shrugged it off as just an old folk tale.

Monarch pass is a popular spot for avid skiers in the area, not for rookie snow drivers like myself. Many people choose not to go this route because of the conditions of the road. It could be 40 degrees on the bottom and -10 degrees on top. I thought off all the warnings and decided to proceed anyways. After all, I had been this way already. This time was different. It was around 5:30 a.m. when I approached the summit of Monarch. The road gradually turned from a dry road to snowy and icy conditions. I assumed I was okay since I was following traffic in front of me. Usually it's wise to drive slower than the posted speed limit. I don't remember how fast or slow I was going, but obviously since I lost control, it was too fast. I was only a quarter of a mile from the top of the summit (11,120 ft) when out of nowhere... it happened.

I started to slide to the right, I panicked and made the horrible mistake of slamming on the breaks, the one thing that you never want to do on a mountain pass. As I started to turn even more, I realized that there weren't any guard rails, snow banks, or even any trees to slow me down. It was "straight off the edge". I clearly remember my white knuckle grip on the steering wheel and trying turn the vehicle the best that I could. I knew that if I went over sideways, it would cause the truck to flip and roll several times. Like something I've seen out of the movies, I went air borne over the edge only to be welcomed by a "runway" of snow. The truck dug in the snow and drifted for about 200 ft before coming to a stop.

I typically like being comfortable when driving long distances. Certainly a t-shirt, shorts, and flip flops is comfortable, but not so much for this experience. I reached over the seat to find socks, waterproof work boots, and my insulated coveralls. I couldn't open the door because the snow was so deep that it was up to my windows. I rolled the window down to escape the disabled truck and climb back into the truck bed to put on my clothing. I grabbed my wallet, proof of insurance, and cell phone and headed out of the window to start my self-rescue.

The truck couldn't be seen from the road, local’s going home from skiing that day wouldn't be able to see me. This was a big problem since it was nearing night fall. Somehow I had to be a man and get to the top. I knew I couldn't get to the top without sliding and creating an avalanche on top of my truck. My hands were already numb and bleeding from clawing in the snow to get a grip. After several minutes of attempting to reach my highest point I did what is foreign to me, I gave up. My hands where on fire and felt like a frozen fish. Not nearly defeated yet, I was at least high enough to wave at cars going by.

After a few minutes I heard breaks squeal to a stop. A vehicle had seen me waving and stopped 50 feet above me. A skinny hiking looking guy approached and asked if everyone was okay. I said "Yes, I'm the only one, do you have a rope? I can't get up." He returned a few moments later with a 10 foot rope and tossed it down to me. He crawled down as far as he could go, held onto the end of the rope and stretched his arm out for me climb up his body as if it was a rock wall. Although, I still was about 10 ft from him. I dug into the snow, found some rocks sticking out, and prayed that my dead fingers could grip enough for me to make my way up the vertical incline. Finally I was making progress and he reached his hand out and I maneuvered around him to the rope and climbed my way to the top. It was such a relief to be out of the misery that I was in.

Salida, CO
I met Scott officially when I was warming up in his vehicle. Scott was traveling with his wife and two friends. They lived just over the pass in Salida, CO where they both where part owners in a local pizza place and brewery called "Moonlight Pizza and Brewpub". I was so relieved to be alive I was indebted to them. I wasn't into craft beer at the time, but I made a vow that I would always stop by Salida and pay my respects, eat some pizza, chat with Scott and drink some craft beer.

Many times, I have stopped by over the years and each time Scott has remembered me and that fate of a night that merged our lives together. Our stories have changed some since that night and I started a new life in Colorado surrounded by some of the best craft beer in the entire world. Moonlight Pizza expanded into a brewpub and has become one of the must see restaurants spots in the Colorado high country. 

Scott and his wife are on the right

Looking back at my time in Colorado, much of my crazy adventures can be attributed to knowing that I truly have lived life to the fullest and have never settled for the mundane life. I attribute that to my pursuit of craft beer and the never ending journey of discovering the next hand made craft beer from local people just like Scott.

 Putting a face with a beer not only what makes it personal, but it also allows you to see the other stories behind the pint. I'm thankful for Scott and his friends coming back from Vegas that night, if it wasn't for their generosity I don't know if id be around to discover the art of craft beer. So next time you are in Salida, stop in and say hello to my friends and get one of my favorite beers there- the Moonlite Cream Ale!

The Happy Chappy (Jeff)  

"The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing"

No comments:

Post a Comment