While my Honda made its way upward, I slowed a tad too much while climbing Bitch Hill and began sliding downward back end first. It was surreal at first, and I giggled at the thought of how funny this must look to any passersby. But, when my front end spun around 180 degrees and the scenery whirled around me, my brain registered: I had lost all control and was sliding toward the river below, nose first.

Now it was real. My hands clutched the wheel, and I pulled my shoulders up to my ears, squinched, and stared below. In the depths of my being, I prayed for my life.

In the past, the locals had given me advice, but nothing could replace experience and the right equipment. Or so I was told by Tom, the owner of the Notch Top Café, a local coffee house. He had grown up back east, steering on frozen roads in the Appalachians.

A few day before I went slip, sliding, we had visited at the counter while the coffee brewed. The aroma of the java and pastries wafted through the shop and warmed my heart––and my toes. In this toasty atmosphere nothing seemed dangerous. But, Tom had warned me. "Winter driving in mountains can be scary,” he had said. “You're gonna' need a special kinda’ tire for the winter."  

When he placed a warm cup in front of me, I drew a long sip then studied his sky blue eyes framed by short blond hair and wind-burnt cheeks to make out if he was kidding.

He said, ”The tires have small metal studs sticking out from the treads. Gives ‘em more traction to grip the road."  

"Really?" I asked, still skeptical.  

Tom shrugged and cocked his head, "Not everybody gets 'em," he said, "but since you're not used to driving in these conditions, you'll probably need 'em."

My new friend had no clue I had already gone slipping and sliding on these high-desert roadways but had always managed to stay on the pavement. When I first arrived in town, I had skid off Elkhorn Avenue which led onto the main street. Passersby took pity on me, and one of them shoveled snow from behind my tires then spread sand there so he could maneuver my car back onto the road. But, I had been stricken with the negative ion euphoria of the proverbial Rocky Mountain high.

After the ordeal, I headed to the Notch Top Cafe for coffee and comfort. "I heard you didn't get those tires yet," Tom said.

“Word sure travels fast around here,” I grumbled.

Persuaded I needed to give his advice more gravity, I put a question to him, “Tom, money is tight right now. What with the move and all. What if I economize and buy only two tires for the front?”

He shook his head, "Braking with two snows on your front end will slow the front down, but not the rear.  Your car's gonna' spin out."

My eyes opened wider as I studied his face for any sign of a ruse, but he stared back without flinching.  

Money was an issue. Since I had arrived in this rustic village above Boulder, CO, I'd been depending on retirement money from the New Orleans school system and money from a contract I had completed at Tulane University.

What am I doing in Colorado, anyway? Back in New Orleans, I had a contract providing psychotherapy with at-risk inner-city students.  After eight years, I had burnt out and needed to get away. I planned to land a contract in Colorado after a short, much-needed break, but, for now, I had to economize. I'll just have to be more careful driving. And I delayed the costly purchase again.

Now I was staring at the swift current below. If it hadn't been for the stony beanbag, I'd have been fighting for my life in the churning waters and ice floes. Once I collected myself, I stepped out of the car. The cold wind in my face revived me. Sounsd of rushing water and the smell of burning pinion reminded me I was in unfamiliar territory. I accept the facts––It's time to buy those tires.  

I placed my car in reverse; and, lucky for me, it churned its way out of the snow bank. I headed for the tire store, but lost my way in a blinding whirlwind which suddenly kicked up, as is often the case in high country. Flurries spiraled around me until I had to wince to find the road. My heart pounded, and I blinked back my tears. Did I make a serious mistake moving here? At last I spied the road and eventually made the right turn into the parking lot. My head still scrambled, I approached the counter. The balding, middle-aged salesman greeted me, "What can I do for you?"

I placed my shaking hands into my pockets and addressed the clerk, "I need four snow studs."  He gaped at me over his thick spectacles but didn't respond. I returned his gaze, trying to keep tears from welling up. What's wrong?  

Later, I learned the tires are called studded snows not snow studs, butI was oblivious. Snow studs were the last thing on my mind.

Eventually, he asked, "How many do you want?"

"Tom at the Notch Top told me I'll need two on my front end and two to cover my rear end."  Another stare. I scanned the room. People peered at me, standing still as ice sculptures. I chalked it off as curiosity about the new woman in their remote town who came from an exotic city like New Orleans. I had been warned this could happen. But, I had more serious business on my mind––staying alive.

    With the tires installed, I decided to stop by the Notch Top. "Hey guys, I finally got myself some snow studs.”

    A few seconds of silence then laughter.

    “What?” I asked still unaware.

    "That’s studded snows not snow studs," Tom said.

     I flushed from my neck, to my face, to the top of my head, while I relived my recent my visit to the auto store, the sheepish grins of the customers, and the hesitation of the man behind the counter.          

     Of course, the story made its way around the small village like the swirling winds swooping down from the Continental Divide. I said nothing and took it all in stride. But, that night as I snuggled under piles of blankets, I started having visions––that is, visions of snow studs dancing in my head.

-- Connie Hebert