Extreme Road Test - 2003 Hummer H2: Leg 2, Day 4
Vail, Colorado to Devils Tower, Wyoming
Recharged with a solid six-hour repose at the lovely Chateau at Vail, we felt ready to take on the world. Or at least Wyoming. No tantalizing food immediately presented itself near the hotel, so we elected to roll onward in hopes of later securing tasty vittles. Soon, our stomachs were grumbling and ready to self-ingest, forcing a food pit stop at a local Wal-Mart that housed a micro-sized McDonald's within. While Brian "Stick Boy" Vance was busy fielding odd questions from a jovial, blue-haired 70s-ish woman, Kiwi ordered mass quantities of cholesterol-rich consumables. Presumably she was concerned about Brian's slender, reed-like figure, but we were already working on a caloric, super-sized solution.
As West Coast elitists, we couldn't help but notice that the locals in this town were different from the people we live among in Los Angeles. One gent waiting for his Big Mac looked surprisingly proud to be sporting his finest attire consisting of a blank white T-shirt with its sleeves cut off, tight black jeans with a gaggle of keys clipped to one of the belt loops, and a well-worn "#3 Earnhardt" ball cap. This ensemble must be the accepted local norm, as we saw more than one guy with such a classily-coordinated clothes combo. But then again, we were starting to look rather haggard from our marathon trek, so who were we to talk to?
Heading east on Interstate 70, we had the first of four different sightings of camouflaged prototype vehicles undergoing validation testing when a disguised pickup truck raced westbound. Heavily cloaked, the truck appeared to be the tougher-looking 2004 Ford F-150. The second sighting occurred as we began our ascent of the twisty paved road that leads to the summit of Mt. Evans--the highest road in the United States. Lightly camouflaged, the 2004 Chevrolet Colorado pickup appeared to be undergoing high-altitude powertrain testing on the steep roads that lead to Mt. Evans' 14,264-foot summit. Unfortunately, we were ill prepared for these fleeting encounters and weren't able to document either of the test mules with our fancy digital camera gear. Hoping another sighting would occur, Kiwi armed himself with a Canon GL1 DV camcorder in one hand and his Canon 1D digital camera in the other, while young Stick Boy navigated the big H2 up the narrow, slithering roadway that led to the mountaintop.
When we arrived at the summit parking lot, we were disappointed to find only ordinary people movers. A short, wheezing hike to the actual summit was completed to record photo and video for "been there, done that" bragging rights. On the way down the rock-strewn path, we were delighted to spy two identical funky-looking prototypes pulling into the lot. Closer inspection revealed what appeared to be a revised Mitsubishi Galant, but our probing investigation was squelched as the engineers quickly installed car covers.
On the way back to our H2 we were treated to yet another prototype sighting as a heavily-cloaked GM product parked alongside a distant dirt mound. Kiwi and Stick Boy sprung into action, documenting what appeared to be a four-door mid-sizer sporting GM's new "global" Epsilon chassis. Kiwi swore the vehicle appeared to be the new 2004 Malibu, but Brian scoffed by saying, "Dude, clearly that's the new  Grand Am."
Regardless, the GM engineers driving the car were not happy with our shutterbug antics and threatened us by saying, "Hey, you can't take pictures of this car." Cocky Stick Boy fired back with, "Last time I checked, this was a public road...so I can shoot what I want." One obnoxious GM engineer got directly in our faces and countered our every move to block our photo efforts as two other engineers slipped a cover over the funky prototype.
We seriously considered staying longer in the attempt to spy even more cool factory Frankenstein creatures, but at that point we were already way behind schedule and desperately needed to leave. On the way out of the summit parking lot we gave a friendly wave to the GM guys, who responded with a vulgar "you're number one" hand gesture. Nice professionalism, guys. As we descended the mountain, it began to rain, allowing Kiwi to realize his mitzvah of the day: he offered a ride to two young hikers who had climbed the mountain starting at 4:50 a.m. and finally summitted to skies strobed by increasingly frequent bolts of lightning. The cost of the ride down to their SUV was an interrogation of their true opinions of the H2.
Though Kiwi wanted to take a tour of the U.S. Mint in Denver, it was decided that rolling north on Highway 25 towards Cheyenne, Wyoming, would be a more prudent choice. At a food-and-fuel stop in Cheyenne the H2 was surrounded by a herd of biker guys returning from the annual Sturgis Rally held in Sturgis, South Dakota. Initially the bruiser-looking Harley riders absolutely hated the H2, but after letting them crawl in, out, and over the Hummer, their opinions began to change. By the time we left, the crowd actually took a liking to our copper-colored ride as evidenced by one tattooed rider responding, "That's one helluva rig."
As we again traveled north on I-25 the skies opened up and turned our once-speedy adventure into a slow, rain-soaked crawl. Silver-dollar-sized raindrops splashed off the H2's cracked windshield, and we were treated to an absolutely amazing display of lightning and thunder accosting the nearby hills like warring Greek gods. The Hummer's tall, wide sides were regularly blasted by sizable wind gusts generated from the storm, but the weighty H2's on-road handling remained relatively undisturbed.
After hours of slow, eye-straining travel, we finally arrived at our destination -- Devils Tower -- to discover that every motel roomas sold out thanks to the annual Sturgis Rally. As our hula-skirted, bobble-bellied companion Homer Simpson would say, "D'oh!" After scouting out room availability in several nearby towns (with no luck, of course), we were told to go far out of our way to the town of Gillette where rooms would certainly be available.
Driving more than hour west in search of lodging, we learned that Gillette (and other nearby towns) were also completely sold out. We were flat out of luck. Sensing our pathetic situation, the friendly desk lady at the Holiday Inn Express took pity on us and slipped us a key card to the hotel's business center so we could write our Web update story, edit our photos, and check e-mails. Once again, at 2:30am, the technology demons conspired against us by confounding our efforts to send our story and photos to Los Angeles for posting online. It took an hour's worth of system sleuthing to transfer images and properly upload the "Leg Two, Day 3" content. As evidenced by this daily update, we finally got the material sent.
Dejected and weary, we lifted our spirits and energy level with a spicy microwave burrito chow-fest at a local gas station. In between bouts of heartburn, we reluctantly decided to head back to Devils Tower to spend the night--napping on the infinitely adjustable H2 front seats. Thoroughly exhausted, we arrived in town at 4:40 a.m. and scouted out a desolate sleep-worthy dirt road near the ominous monolith made famous in the film "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." Like a dog circling before lying down, a babbling and obviously sleep-deprived Stick Boy endlessly explored a bumpy dirt patch in search of the perfect sleeping spot. Was the Devils Tower playing mind games with young Brian, or was he just in a state of super stuper? Either way, we were both asleep before the H2's interior dome light faded out.