Autumn Phillips: Commute-challenged

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I'm a commute weenie.

If you've talked to me at all in the past week, I've undoubtedly mentioned "the drive," and I've undoubtedly followed my mention with a deep sigh.

I've been sighing a lot lately.

I'm adjusting to a new routine, but my infinite ability to adjust is matched with an equally infinite ability to complain through the adjustment period.

For most of October, I've been housesitting in North Routt, and for the first time since moving to Steamboat Springs, I'm experiencing the daily commute to and from work.

For years, the only time I've crossed paths with the commuter world is at about 5:30 p.m., when I'm innocently heading back to the Pilot and I forget to take a left at the library. By the time I'm inching my way in a line of Los Angeles-worthy traffic, it's too late to turn around. By the time I've 5-mile-an-houred it as far as the Stock Bridge Transit Center, I'm tempted to pull the "I'm too good for this" drive down the centerline that I see so many others take.

But I don't. I single-file it with the rest of the people heading back to Hayden, Craig and Clark. The line of cars moves in and out of Steamboat as if the beast were breathing.

This morning, I saw myself snaking along Routt County Road 129 in a line of Toyota 4-Runners and Subaru Outbacks heading to work. And as I sigh my way around the curves, I am gaining a new respect for the people who do this every day, year in and year out.

I know that many a modern-day Routt County rancher gets up early to do chores, then loads up the truck for a drive into town for a day of work and then back out for more chores in the evening. It's all part of the "New West."

The sun is coming up, and I'm halfway to town, musing about the changing West and how beautiful the empty hay meadows look, gray with frost, when I realize there's an F-150 driving close enough to my bumper that I could be towing it. I'm not commuting fast enough.

I speed up a little and hope we don't see any wildlife around the next curve, but sure enough, a few deer are enjoying a leisurely walk across the warm asphalt. I slam on the brakes, and they continue to walk as if protected by some invisible crossing guard.

I honk to get them off the road, and the truck gears up to pass as soon as we're going again. I roll my eyes and think about how this never happens on my five-minute drive from Old Town to the Pilot.

Part of the impatience experienced by someone like me, the temporary commuter, is that I never settle into the routine.

If I were smarter, I'd have my cup of coffee from the Clark Store and some kind of pastry. I'd probably know that person in the F-150, and he'd wave as he passed instead of giving me the "Why are you still allowed on this planet?" look.

I'd have the radio tuned to NPR for the morning news, and I'd relax into a morning that includes appreciated alone time in the cab of my truck.

Commuting well, someone said this week, depends on your phase of life. It's a sacrifice you make to live in a beautiful place or, more often, an affordable place.

It's something you don't mind doing when you want to live in the country as newlyweds, but something you don't want to do when you have a couple of children you have to haul back and forth for school and soccer practice.

I've always envied people who lived far from town with views of the mountains unblocked by rows of neighbors. But now that I've tried to live that life, I realize it's not as easy as it looks.

I came. I commuted. I was defeated.

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