Crawling along I-70 East toward Denver, the rented Ford Fusion clung to patches of pavement peppered beneath the ice. Winter Storm Decima dumped nearly a foot of snow, plopping down fluffy powder for skiing and blanketing the interstate with ice.
Departing under the cover of darkness, within five minutes we tasted the pace at which we’d be able to move. The day before, sections of I-70 were shut down. Under normal conditions the drive from Vail to Denver International Airport takes less than two hours, but I budgeted three. We used every minute.
For me, driving on ice and snow is like watching the ninth inning of game seven of the World Series when your team is up by one run with two outs, bases are loaded, and the opposition’s slugger kicks the clay off his cleats and steps into the batter’s box. Hands strangling the steering wheel, under black leather driving gloves my knuckles matched the color of the flakes falling onto the windshield. I only snuck past 40-miles per hour when the downhill gradient surpassed five percent.
Ambling along the Interstate under an inky sky, I caught a glimpse of sunshine splicing through the clouds. At that moment an LED sign flashed a message that said, “Bright Sunshine 12-Miles Ahead.” Excellent, I thought, in a few miles the roads would be clear and the fine folks at the Colorado Department of Transportation wanted to let us know hope was a dozen miles ahead.
Fluttering through the mountains like a moth toward a flame, the Ford Fusion exited the mountain’s shade and broke into the bright sunshine CODOT had promised. Reaching for the windshield wiper fluid, I pumped the lever and flipped down the visor to shade my eyes. Grime caked the windshield, blocking my view. The bright sunshine had revealed the muddy mess that remained hidden until I left the darkness. “What a fake out,” I said to my wife as we craned our necks to peer through patches of clear windshield. “I thought the bright sunshine 12-miles ahead was going to be a good thing.”
A decade earlier, I was traveling that same stretch of I-70 when my windshield washer fluid froze. The mountain was in meltdown-mode, snow and dirt slopping the road. In the absence of a way to clear my windshield, a film of brown road spray formed and froze into place. I pulled to the shoulder as drivers blasted horns. Even though I was in park, my Honda Civic was slipping. I cranked it into gear as I stuck my head out the window and saw a 40-foot crevasse near my front tire.
For the next 10-miles I drove with my face out the driver’s side window. A gas station attendant told me to blast hot water at the car wash to unfreeze my lines. After thawing the pipes, I filled up my washer fluid, merged onto I-70 and 12-hours later coasted into Kansas.
If experiences fail to teach you lessons, then adversity contains no meaning. That’s why I like looking at life’s challenges and finding wisdom. To encourage a reflective life, one in which you connect disparate ideas and learn from seemingly disconnected events, Doug Stewart taught me to ask a simple question: How is this like business or life? A few things come to mind.
Be ready for the bright sunshine.
To me, the sign that said Bright Sunshine 12-Miles Ahead was good news. If I would have been prepared, those rays could have been a positive. How often do we assume life is going to be awesome when a certain event happens? Once we crack a million dollars in sales, it’s going to be great. Or, opening that fifth store is going to be a game changer. If you are not prepared, the sunshine is a curse. Unless you have developed processes to take you to $10 million, that million in sales could be your cap. The sunshine brings warmth and visibility. But that warmth may turn to fire and that illumination may reveal problems. Winterize your Ford Fusion, fill up the windshield washer fluid, and be prepared for the sunshine.
Learn your lesson the first time around.
Ten years passed and I ran into the same treacherous sunshine. Had I dissected the original event, I would have realized the circumstances leading to the hazardous conditions. The one thing I failed to account for was the sun’s impact. I blamed the frozen windshield washer fluid and the road spray. In reality, if it had been dark, I probably would see well enough to make the trip. When you take your knocks in life and feel like you’re learning your lesson, stop and think, have I observed all the variables and their independent impact on this bad situation? Break apart the bad events to ensure you consider everything that went wrong. By doing this, you’ll know how to avoid making the same mistakes in the future.
Bumping over the spike strips at the Alamo rental car lot, I loosened my grip and breathed into the bottom of my lungs. Even though the opposing forces of snow and sun had wreaked havoc, we budgeted enough time and caught our flight. This year, I went home with memories from the slopes and lessons that translate beyond the Continental Divide.