The first year we went out for Christmas, we had a BMW 525i Touring, which is the sportswagon version of the 5-Series. I had purchased a Thule roof carrier just for the trip. The Thule was huge, I probably over bought. Once installed, it poked out in front of the sight line above the front windshield. It looked kind of omnious, like a black shadow just at the edge of your perpherial vision. But it held a lot of stuff – presents, clothing, ski equipment, pillows, you name it! Inside the car we had the four of us and our puppy, an American Eskimo named Crockett in a large travel pen. It was quite snug inside.
I am old enough to remember when I was a kid and travelled by car, we had to entertain ourselves – read, play card games, count blue cars, spot license plates from different states, sing songs, you know…the classics. Not our kids – we had a PC hooked up to a AC power converter and they had a ton of movies and PC games. Still they wondered aloud when we would get there. “How long until we get to MawMaw and PawPaw’s?” “Thirty minutes sooner than when you asked last time.” I bet you all have said more or less the same thing a few times…
We left a bit late, not sure why, but we probably left about Noon. Normally it is a nine hour drive from our house, so that would put us into Ruidoso about 8:00 PM (we gained an hour as we went west). What were we thinking? We stopped in Abilene, Snyder, Post and the infamous Brownfield (read the story about when we left town without paying for gas in an earlier blog post titled Bad Boy Part IV or The End of the Line) and of course Roswell. Problem is the temperature was diving as a huge cold front was pushing through. We kept having to take our puppy Crockett out of the pen so he could do his business. It had also started lightly snowing. It was getting worse by the minute. In Brownfield, we stopped at a Mickie D’s and I took Crockett for a walk around the parking lot, while my wife and boys grabbed something to eat. We pushed on.
Just west of Brownfield, the last rays of sunlight were retreating into the western horizon, a small crack in the clouds giving the sun rays the last chance of day as light snow swirled around the road. Out in front of us a small group of three deer decided it was the best time to cross Highway 380. I had to swerve nearly running off the road to avoid them. Needless to say the pulse rate spiked a bit and I probably lost two or three years off my life in the moment. Still we pushed west. The dark night west of Tatum, New Mexico so black you could feel it seep into the car. The temp still dropped, now getting into the low teens. The BMW soldiered on, problem was the car tended to run cool and the low outside temps made the coolant in the engine run cool too, meaning the heater was not exactly putting out a lot of heat. We had to direct what hot air we could get onto the front window so the rest of the car was pretty cold. I had on a heavy sweater over my two shirts and was wearing gloves. My wife who tends to be cold all the time, probably had at least three more layers on than me. The boys in the back were so bundled in blankets there were very snug. And Crockett? He is so fluffy, he no doubt liked the temp inside the car.
The blackness of the night got even deeper. There were few cars or trucks on the road. I do not recall if we even passed anyone…or got passed for that matter. The handful of cars coming in the other direction announced their presence as a tiny speck of light miles in the distance. It was so dark it was hard to judge the distance to the approaching vehicle, but minutes later, we would pass each other in a brief blaze of headlights. Then the tiny dots of retreating taillights would quickly disappear. It was eerie. We drove west into the far reaches of night, eventually we finally saw the distant faint glow of Roswell, New Mexico.
It is kind of disquieting, but the dessert surrounding Roswell is so black at night it can be felt, like a veil that pulls you in and encases you. And out little car; that speck of moving head and tail lights almost feels like a alien visitor, an intruder in the vast blackness. The soft glow turns brighter, growing from a line on the distant horizon to a small city that feels like a refuge to the penetrating darkness. You can almost believe the alien tales that have grown up in the Alien Capital of the World. Almost.
We stopped for a break at a hotel on the western edge of the city to let Crockett out. He bounded onto the pavement and started barking. Soon another dog answered, then another and yet more still, a quickly spreading symphony of barking. It seemed that every dog in the city took up the challenge to be heard above all the rest. It was amazing, as I am sure all the local dogs were letting this intruder know that he was in their town, on their turf. I shook my head at Crockett as he pranced around looking for a place to do his business. “Dude…now see what you have started?” Time to head west once again. My wife used our cell phone to update her family, they were starting to get worried.
The distance between Roswell and Ruidoso is about 74 miles. There is a huge climb out of Roswell along a dark highway that for now at least was a four-laner. Then a plunge down a very steep grade onto a twisting narrow two lane highway that hugs the valley floor as it climbs towards Ruidoso and Sierra Blanca mountain range (thank goodness it is four-lanes now). It was getting colder still. The temp now in the single digits, the boys announcing that they were tired and cold and asked for about the 80th time when we would arrive. The snow was starting to fall in earnest and the conditions were rapidly deteriorating. The last 74 miles took almost 2 hours as I carefully threaded the car along the twists and turns.
It was very quiet in the car, my wife leaving me to focus on the task at hand. Slowly, slowly we moved ever closer to Ruidoso slotted behind a highway department snow plow until we started seeing the billboards announcing everything from steak dinners to comfortable hotels, cabins and even a casino. Yeah, the end was in sight and at midnight we pulled into drive where my in-laws live. Spending the next 60 minutes unpacking the car and getting settled in their house, I threw myself into bed at about 1:15 and passed out. I was totally spent.
I woke up the next morning to a huge snow storm, it snowed for two days and dumped two plus feet. It was the first time our dog had seen snow and he did not like it. He was still a puppy and the snow was deeper than he was tall. I had to carry him out multiple times a night for him to do his business and because he was a puppy, it seemed he had to do his business all night long. On top of that, he was not the best house guest either, barking and chasing the in-laws cats. What were we thinking bringing him along?
The BMW was burried under a white blanket. It looked like a car shaped blob under all the snow. Thank goodness my in-laws have a very solid 4WD SUV, I was able to take that up to the Ski Apache for two days of glorious skiing. The trip back? We were just on the western edge of Roswell, the snow mostly having melted when I heard that unmistakable sound of dog about to puke, we pulled over to a goat ranch by the side of the road and I tried (unsuccessfully) to get him out before he puked. Too late. It was a long trip home too.
We never took Crockett on a road trip ever again, once was more than enough. We boarded him or had someone dog sit. He was not born to be a travelling dog, but a stay at home dog. We had learned our lessson. And now? For this years trip, we rented a 4WD SUV, a very nice and new 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee. It is very comfortable and drives great on the highway. PC’s and TV’s have been taken over by 3G enabled iPad’s, iPod’s and smart phones and the kids do not ask when we will get there. They just figure we will. This time we left at 6 AM and made the trip in 8 ½ hours, stopping only three short times for bio break and gas. Once again we faced dropping temps and the threat of snow, the first flakes starting to drop and stick as we arrived at my in-laws. I’d like to think that we learned a few things about long distance drives over the years. At least there will be no puking dog in the back.
We had a very wonderful and white Christmas! And hope that everyone reading this is having a great Holiday season too!
And on that exhaust note, see you all next time.