Jet Planes, Storms, Twin Falls and Delta

This is a story from one of my past adventures that I thought you would enjoy.

OK, it is 9:30 AM and I just got off a conference call. I’m in Richmond, California and today is the day that I get to go home to my Wonderful Wife. I have a 1:00 PM flight out of the Oakland, California airport so . . . it is time to head that way. First, I check out of the hotel, “How was everything?”, “Nice, comfortable, enjoyed the visit to the Bay area. Hey, I even got to go to the world famous ‘Bubba Gump Shrimp Company’ at Pier 39”. It is a 20 or so mile drive to the airport. Now contrary to what you may have heard about California traffic, the trip is pretty much uneventful. I arrive and start following the signs to the rental car return. After a few zigs and zags due to construction I arrive at the proper place and check the car back in. Put the receipt in my computer bag and head to the terminal to check my luggage and go through what has now become the normal airport security screening. All goes well checking the luggage and going through screening only takes about 15 minutes. So I am off to the gate area with about an hour and a half to wait. Make a couple of calls, get a couple of calls and wow, it is time to start boarding.

I’m on a Delta Connection SkyWest flight to Salt Lake City, Utah. Flying on one of those great Canadair Regional Jets. The only problem with them is the overhead bins will only hold something about 8 inches high, which means that my computer bag will not fit. I flew from Salt Lake to Oakland on one going out and tried to put it under the “seat in front of you” as instructed and quickly discover that doing so didn’t leave much foot room. Having made that discovery, I pulled the computer out of the back of the bag and checked the bag at the end of the jet way. I knew I would get it back when we landed in Salt Lake. Based on experience I also knew that we would be getting off the plane on the tarmac and walking to the terminal so I would not have to worry about it getting misrouted.

It is now 1:00 PM and we are on our way to the out-bound runway. Nice takeoff, great climb-out, we are on our way to Salt Lake airport. Our estimated flying time is one hour and twenty-five minutes. About an hour and ten minutes into the flight we get the first hint that we might have a “slight” delay in our travel plans. Seems there are thunder storms in Salt Lake with 50 to 60 mile per hour winds, rain and lightning at the airport and we are now in one of those infamous “holding patterns”, you know where you make a 50 mile square 30,000 feet in the air. Right turn, right turn, right turn, right turn, things on the ground look the same again, right turn, right turn, right turn, you get the idea.

We make about four circuits around the square and the pilot comes back on the PA system to announce that we are getting a little low on fuel. Hey, “a little low” or low or whatever, 30,000 feet up is not where I want to run out of gas. He advised that we are going to divert to another airport, get some fuel, wait for the storms to clear and then head back to Salt Lake City. We are going to break formation and head there now so we can be the first in line to head back to Salt Lake. Sounds like a pretty good plan to me. So off we go to Twin Falls Idaho. Where? Twin Falls Idaho, I missed that one on Delta’s list of places they fly into, but whatever, if they have fuel, let’s go.

Twenty five minutes later we are on final approach to the Twin Falls – Sun Valley Regional Joslin Field. Now understand that this is not Twin Falls “International Airport”, it is a small regional airfield. The pilot makes a great landing, smooth as silk and as we taxi to the gate I see a fuel truck, so that is good. Seems that we can’t get off the plane, the airport only has two TSA security people and we are not the only plane diverted to this airport. There are 2 more already on the ground and then a good size Delta Jet pulls in beside us. Soon there are several jets and turbo-jets behind us. The pilot advised us, based on the airport layout and the fact that there only being 2 TSA people, that it would take more then an hour to get us through screening and back on the plane. He feels that if we stay on the plane that we won’t lose that hour. What a guy, looking out for us like that.

However, it seems that we have been a little bit misled. The pilot said we were going to get out of the pattern and head for Twin Falls earlier then the others so that we could get fuel and get back in line to be first to head back to Salt Lake. Well, now according to him, we cannot get fuel until the weather clears and we are released to go back to Salt Lake. An hour passes and still no word, another hour or so and finally, the weather has cleared and we can get our fuel. Anyone remember what FIFO means, in case you don’t it is “First In, First Out”, well that isn’t going to happen here. Remember we got here early to be the first in line. It seems that all those planes that arrived later and are parked behind and beside us now have us blocked in so we are told we are going to use the FILO procedure. That is “First In, Last Out”. One by one I watch the other planes get fuel and head out. Finally, finally it is our turn. They put 650 gallons of fuel on the plane. How do I know that? The fuel truck is on my side and I can see the meter as they add fuel. Anyway, that is just a little trivia for you. Now we have fuel and we are on our way. It is going on 7:00 PM and I had a 5:00 PM flight out of Salt Lake to Atlanta and my Wonderful Wife.

With all the activity, maybe, just maybe it was also delayed. We land in Salt Lake, not nearly as good a landing, but hey, we are all OK and we are now at the correct airport. We park at the E terminal gate 30 something. I get my computer bag and put my computer back in it (I knew that part would work). Once inside the terminal I check the boards to see what gate I need to go to now. Seems that my flight to Atlanta is going to be leaving from the D terminal so off I go. Oh, the boards also showed the flight as “Delayed” with no estimated departure time. Well, OK, I still have a chance of getting home at a reasonable hour.

Get to the gate and there isn’t even an aircraft there. Where is it? Seems the inbound flight was diverted to Boise Idaho and is on its way back. According to the gate agent, “It should be here in about 25 minutes; we will clean it up a little, gets some fuel and it should be ready to board around 8:00 PM”. Little did I know.

I call my Wonderful Wife to let her know that I am OK, that I have been stuck in Twin Falls Idaho, that I am finally in Salt Lake City, that the plane to Atlanta will be here shortly, that we are schedule to board at 8:00 PM (little did I know) and that I would see her in a little while. “Love you and will call if anything changes”. Not fifteen minutes later the airplane shows up at the gate. Delta is on it like a championship NASCAR pit crew. Luggage is going on, food is going on, fuel is getting added, and the people that clean the cabin are rushing to get on board to do their job. Wow, everyone is working as a team to turn this aircraft and get us headed to Atlanta (little did I know).

8:00 PM comes; the screens around the gate show the order of boarding. Everyone is ready. We are getting in line and waiting for the announcement and waiting for the announcement and waiting for the announcement. Finally, the gate agent gets on the PA system and says “there seems to be a slight problem with the aircraft, seems it was struck by lightning when it was in the Salt Lake City area during the storm and the maintenance crew is checking it out. Hey, did they not know that an hour ago. I walk over to the window and sure enough, there is a guy in a bucket-truck checking the horizontal rear tail section out. There is a guy standing beside me and we start talking as we watch this guy. Looks like he is taking pictures and then it appears that he sands on the damage a little. It appears that he has some duct tape in his hand and something else. Now I don’t have a problem with them using duct tape on a race car, but an airplane, that isn’t going to happen (I hope). I mean, it’s called 200 mile per hour tape, not 500 mile per hour tape. Based on this observation, I decide that the other item he is holding is bailing wire. Hey, this is not looking good as far as I am concerned.

OK, Delta makes a decision (a GREAT one in my view), the plane is not safe to fly and they are going to change equipment. Seems that they do have another Boeing 767 available, I mean doesn’t everyone have one of those just setting around. According to the agent they are going to board us at gate C04 shortly. So we all head that direction. Now, I have to stop by the men’s room (you do need to know that). When I come out the gate agent is running up the terminal trying to get everyone to stop. Seems that while he was talking that Delta put the aircraft at D03, right across the terminal from where we were. By now I should have known, but little did I know.

I am slowing discovering a couple of things about Delta and my getting to Atlanta. The first is that Delta does not want to tell us the truth about what is going on, second, that when they a forced to tell us something that they will only tell us as much as they want us to know.  Mind you, not all the facts, just those that they feel will protect their interest, not the ours. Additionally, they will make excuses and provide misinformation or misdirection that would make a magician proud. Anyway, several of us are standing talking and two stewardesses come up the ramp from the plane and walk past us. Now normally this would not be important. One of the guys asked, “Do you think that means anything?” I responded that at this point everything that Delta is doing is going to affect us and our ability to get to Atlanta in a negative way. Now, those that know me know that I am hardly every negative, but for some reason . . . anyway, “it didn’t take the “Physic Friends Network” to see what was coming next.

I watch the gate agent and can tell he does not want to talk to us, but that he has to. Sure enough, the PA system clicks to life and it seems “We are short two stewardesses for the flight to Atlanta”. Two walked by and now we are short two. He then states, “There are two on an inbound flight that will be here shortly”. By the way, I made another discovery about Delta, their favorite words of the day are “We apologize”, “We appreciate your patience” and “shortly”, seems everything is going to happen shortly. Anyway, one of the guys I was talking with goes to the gate agent to find out exactly why the two left and we are stuck waiting for two more. The answer, “If we could have left at 8:45 everything would have been fine, but since it is going to be after 9:30 they would have had to many hours in for the day.” I mean what does that mean, that Delta would have had to pay them some overtime or that they would have gotten in some kind of trouble or what. So it seems that they are willing to inconvenience 175 or so passenger to prevent whatever the problem with them working an additional 3 hours might be. Made me kind of worry about the pilot and the rest of the crew. I mean would they be the next to walk by.

It is now approaching 10:00 PM in Salt Lake. We just saw the two new stewardesses walk down the jet way. Click, the PA system comes to life, it is actually (really, really) time to board. We get on the plane and everyone gets buckled in and we are ready. We get pushed back from the gate and taxi out to the runway. Well, it seems we are number one for take-off, I mean WOW, we are finally going to get started to Atlanta. We roll down the runway picking up speed, the plane rotates upward and we are off. Nice climb out, get to 30,000 feet pretty quickly and we are cruising toward Atlanta.

Now, it seems that since we have been so “patient” and that they want to “apologize” for all the problems that we have had and that we will be in Atlanta “shortly” that we can watch the movie for free, wow, a free movie, no popcorn, just a movie. This normally cost $5.00, oh, Wow what a deal. I mean it is now after 12:00 midnight in Atlanta and I have been traveling for 12 hours and Delta is going to let me watch a movie free.

As I said earlier, “little did I know”. We are about an hour into the movie when it goes off. Seems that the pilot wants to know if there is a doctor on board, seems we now have a medical emergency. I can see several people around someone in the next cabin. A gentleman identifies himself as a doctor and they take him to the front. A few people come toward the back of the plane and settle into some available seats. The movie comes back on and nothing is said about what is wrong with the person up front. Anyway, it appears that whatever the problem that they are going to be OK.

It is now approaching 4:30 AM on Saturday (I left hotel at 9:30 AM of Friday) and it seems that we are in the process of landing in Atlanta. “Seat belts tight, tray table up, seat backs in the upright position” we are going to be landing “shortly”. Flaps down, wheels down, we are on final approach. We wiggle, we wobble, we bump a little, but we land OK. We taxi to the gate and start to make the turn to park and guess what. We stop. It seems that no one is at the gate to park the airplane. I mean, they have had better then 16 hours to get ready for us to arrive and no one is there. We sit and sit, finally someone shows up to park the airplane. Now one other thing, we have been trying to get here all day, as we taxied by the T-gates I noticed that almost all the gates were empty, but could we stop at one closer to the baggage claim area, no. We go to the last gate in the terminal building, as far as we can get from baggage claim. It just seems to me that they could have parked us closer and then moved the airplane if they had to, they do have equipment to do that.

Finally, in Atlanta. Go to baggage claim and wait for my luggage. As I expected it was almost the last bag off the plane, but I got it, so I’m on my way to the Parking Spot bus. Get to the bus and the guy takes me right to my truck, no waiting or anything. Guess my telling him that I had been waiting in airports and flying for better then 16 hours got to him and he wanted to help me get home. Get to the truck, load the luggage, start it up and I am on my way to my Wonderful Wife. Another 45 minutes or so and I’ll be home. Back in the garage, it is 5:30 AM on Saturday. Wake Wonderful Wife, hug and kiss, glad I’m home. Sun in just starting to peek over the horizon and I am going to bed.

As always, The Adventure Continues . . .



Alternate Times, Alternate Cities and Alternators

This is a story from one of my past adventures that I thought you would enjoy. 

Well, I really don’t know where to start. Let’s see, I go to South Plainfield, New Jersey to hold a training class for our Service Delivery Managers, all goes well on the flight there. Delta was ready when I was and got me there on time. Three days of pretty intensive training, some meetings and a few meals and its time to head home. I head back to the Newark, New Jersey Airport.

At this point a little background information is necessary. On my way to Atlanta’s Hartsfield Airport the alternator light on my truck comes on. I don’t have a lot of choices, so I press on and get to the Parking Spot with no other problems. Rick, one of the Service Delivery Managers in the class lives in Atlanta and is a friend of mine. I knew I could count on him if I had a problem when I got home. I had scheduled a Delta flight that left at 8:30 PM figuring that I would have some clean-up to do in the classroom and I also needed to meet with one of our execs for an hour or so. I probably didn’t need the “Physic Friends Network” to see what was coming, but being a positive person I figured that everything would be fine. If not I had Rick to help.

As I said, class is over. Ends right on time, 3:00 PM. I was able to meet with Joe during a working lunch so that is done. Everyone kind of pitched in and help clean up the classroom before they left so here it is 3:30 and I’m ready to head back to the Newark Airport. No problems so far. I get the rental car returned and take the tram to the terminal. Now, the next thing that happens should have made me take notice. I go to the counter to check my luggage and the ticket agent advise me that she might be able to get me on an earlier flight. Great. That would be wonderful, but as she checks a frown crosses her face and she says “the next flight just closed full, so the flight you have is the only other one available”. Thinking positive, I thank her and tell her that is OK. I’ll just get something to eat and do a little work on my laptop.

I am off to the gate area. No problem going through security. Go back to the Delta area and get a bite to eat then go find a nice place to sit, work and wait. I look at the board behind the gate check-in area and it shows the flight is going to leave on-time, 8:30 PM. I had talked with Rick and ask him to wait at the Atlanta airport for me to get in, just in case. He agreed to do that so I felt like everything was going to be OK.

I’m working away, it’s about 7:30 and I happen to glance at the board. I notice that the time still says 8:30, and then as I am watching it changes to 9:30, no announcement, just changes. I close the laptop and go to the counter to see what is wrong. Well, I’m told that weather is bad in Atlanta and the flight has been delayed for an hour. I call Rick and leave him a message; we are going to be delayed and to give me a call when he gets this message.

I go back to working on some documents. About 30 minutes pass and then the gate agent ask for everyone’s attention. According to Delta: 1) The flight crew that is going to fly this plane to Atlanta is on the flight inbound from Atlanta. 2) The Newark Airport is closed to all inbound flights because of weather. 3) We are now scheduled to leave at 11:15 PM. Now, as for item 2, I can see that it is not raining and every other airline has planes landing and taking off. So it’s off to the counter to see what is really going on, well, according to the agent, that is Delta’s story and they are sticking to it.

Rick calls, we discuss what is going on and I tell him to go ahead and go home. If I have a problem I’ll give him a call. Looks like it is going to be around 2:15 when we get to Atlanta. I wait and wait and wait. Finally the airplane from Atlanta arrives with our flight crew. After some checking of the plane we get the call to board. At this point about 40 very bored, very tired, “just want to just get home” passengers board the direct flight to Atlanta (at least that is what we think). It is about 12:00 AM.

We leave the gate, taxi out to the runway and with little lost motion take to the friendly sky’s. The pilot comes on the PA system and tells us we will have about hour and forty-five minute flight to Atlanta and should be there at about 2:15 AM. Well, at least we are on our way. About an hour into the flight the PA system crackles to life again, it is the pilot. It seems that Delta has called and asks that we divert to Dulles in DC to pick up 125 or so stranded Delta passengers. Now remember that we are about 45 minutes from Atlanta in an airplane, never had this happen, run by Dulles. Hey, it’s an airplane; you don’t just run by places, do you?

According to the pilot and Delta there are no rooms available for the passengers and if we don’t go pick them up they are going to have to spend the night in the airport. What do they think we have been doing? I mean, come on, I have just spent the last 7 plus hours in the airport waiting on Delta. So anyway we make a hard left and it seems head for DC to pick up the stranded band of fellow travelers. The pilot comes on the intercom, now what? Prepare to land and pick up our ‘friends’. According to him we will only be on the ground for 15 or 20 minutes. They are not going to worry about assigning seats; just let them sit where they want.

We are at the gate and people are coming on board. They are really happy to see us and I must admit we feel pretty good about helping them out, although we didn’t really get to vote on the decision. Well, 20 minutes have passed and we are not moving. Seems Delta needs to do a couple of things. Get the new passengers luggage on our plane. Get more fuel and file a new flight plan to Atlanta (I hope). Finally we are off, hey, I not complaining, we are number one for takeoff. Anyway, at about 4:30 AM we finally make it to Atlanta.

Got my luggage, board the bus to the Parking Spot. Get in my truck. Wow, it starts with no problem. Things may be looking up. Alternator light is on and the battery gauge shows that the battery is discharging. Well, maybe, just maybe, I can make it home. I hit I-285 and it everything seems OK. I then notice that the battery gauge is dropping kind of fast, faster then I expected. Just as I get to the exit for I-20, the airbag light comes on, I know this indicates that there is not enough current to fire the airbags if I hit something. Not a problem, I don’t plan on hitting anything. Another mile and the Service Engine Soon light comes on, now this could be a problem, but the engine is still running and the lights are still on, haven’t even dimmed any. Another half mile and the dash lights go out, not a problem, except, except, so do all the rest of the lights. OK, it may be getting close to panic time; at least it is time to get off the Interstate. I am about a half mile from the Bankhead highway exit, make it to the ramp, to the top of the ramp, truck is starting to miss, across the highway into a Shell / Store service station parking lot. Pull up under a street light and the truck quits. Good timing at least. It is now around 5:00 AM and I am stuck.

I have one of those portable battery chargers so I get out, raise the hood and hook it up. Maybe I can charge the battery. Maybe not. A guy comes up, says he is a mechanic and asks me what the problem is, is my battery dead? Well, duh, yes it is. Do I need a battery? Well yes, he says that he just happens to have one at his shop. No need for it as I have one on the way. I called Rick when I first saw I wasn’t going to make it. Got him up and he is on his way. So, thanks, but no thanks. Probably doesn’t have a warranty on it anyway.

About the time we get done with out conversation my cell phone rings. It is Rick and he has to go to another Wal-Mart to find a battery. It’s on the way so he won’t be delayed long. So I wait, and another guy comes up offering to sell me a battery. No thanks, I have one on the way. Then three guys pull up in a car, they have a trunk full of batteries, do I need one. No, thanks, got one on the way. Phone rings, its Rick he is at the exit, needs to know exactly where I am. I tell him, the guys with a trunk full of batteries leave. Guess they are going to look for others in need of a battery. I didn’t know that there were so many battery salesmen in Atlanta. It appears that if you really need a battery at 5:00 AM in Atlanta and having a warranty in not a big issue, you can get one.

I change the battery; a NASCAR pit crew could have taken a lesson from me. I want to get home. Truck starts, I pull out and Rick follows me. Make it to the house with no other problems. Back in the garage and shut the motor off. It is now close to 7:30 AM. Hugs and kisses with Wonderful Wife.  Make some coffee, have a couple of cups. Decide to take the alternator off and go get a new one. NAPA tests it, it is bad, well, I kind of knew that. New alternator, new battery, $230 later and the truck is running again. Now, if I can get some rest. It is Thursday and my wife and I are leaving for Colorado on Sunday. Hope Delta is ready when we are. Hope that we don’t have to run by anyplace and pick up fellow travelers (although that was the right thing to do). Hope that the truck is really fixed.

The Adventure Continues . . .

Goin’ Up – I Can’t Believe They Race on This . . .

This is a story from one of my past adventures that I thought you would enjoy.

Well, the Adventure Continues . . . When we I left off I was just getting back from South Plainfield, New Jersey. Remember it was a Thursday and my Wonderful Wife, Brenda and I were leaving on Sunday for a vacation to Colorado Springs and the Rocky Mountains. We had a great flight out to the Denver airport although Brenda thought it was a little bumpy. We arrived as scheduled and caught the bus to the Budget Rental car place. We managed to get a new Grand Prix to drive although it didn’t have all the gadgets that Brenda’s new one has. Still, we knew it would be a fun car to drive. So we load the luggage, and load the luggage and load the luggage. One thing that we can never be accused of is traveling light. I turned down a convertible in Hawaii one time because it wouldn’t hold our luggage, but that is another story and I digress. Luggage is loaded and we head for Colorado Springs. Now it somewhat of a hike, like 90 miles, from the airport to where we are staying.

We get to the Marriott Residence Inn and after some delays (we arrived early according to the person in registration) we finally get checked in. Rest is on the schedule for the remainder of the day, along with acclimation to the 6000 plus foot altitude. A little rest, a little shopping, something to eat and its time for bed. We get a good nights sleep and after some breakfast head out. Now the first thing on the agenda for the day is sweet tea for Brenda, this is a must. We had kind of a hint of this yesterday, but it seems that not everyone in Colorado Springs knows what sweet tea is, however I can be tenacious when it comes to something that my wife wants. Oh, one other thing it must be brewed tea, no instant for this family. So the quest is on, actually, it didn’t take long. Found an Arby’s around the corner from the hotel and they not only have brewed tea, they have “Brewed Sweet Tea”. Well, to say we got to know the people that worked there pretty well before we left would be an understatement.

Big sweet tea and a big diet coke (for me) and we are on our way. We head out to highway 24 which seems to be where much of what we want to see is located. We start to drive towards Divide Colorado thinking we might just head out into the mountains towards a little town called Cripple Creek. As we are driving from the hotel to highway 24 and on out highway 24 one thing stands out above everything else, Pikes Peak. It is snow capped and beautiful. We have kind of made part of a circle around it. We are going along and see a sign that says Pikes Peak Highway next left; we pass it but start talking about it. A couple of miles up the road we decide to turn around and go back. Additional information is needed at this point, that being that my wife doesn’t like really high places. Now I must clarify something, she loves mountains, just doesn’t like high places. An analogy would be I hate tomatoes, but love tomato ketchup. Got it. Anyway, keep this in mind, loves mountains but doesn’t like high places, especially driving to high places.

I had read a little about the Pikes Peak Highway, knew it was a toll road. Now this is kind of neat since it is a toll road to the top of a mountain, no where else to go when you get there except back down the way you came. We decide that we are going to drive up the Pikes Peak Highway. We get to the gate area, pay our toll, $10 dollars a person, buy a book and map for another $5 and we are on our way. I know there are some that would question the book and map, I mean, there is only one road, it goes to the top of Pikes Peak and then you have to turn around and come back down. So, why a map, well it gives you landmarks, altitudes, available oxygen and stuff to look for. Also, it shows the turns in the road just in case you feel like you want to try to be one of the Unsers or the like. After all this is the road that the famous and not so famous race on during the Pikes Peak Hill Climb held each summer. So with map in hand we are off.

It is 19.5 miles from the gate area to the summit. The road is paved for the first seven miles then turns to gravel. We stop at the point where it turns to gravel since it is the point where the annual “Race to the Clouds” starts. We are at 9,350 feet and available oxygen is down to 69.2%. Just to give you an idea of what we are taking about look at this.

We are still a long way from the top, but the sights, the views and vistas are amazing. It is hard to find words to describe this mountain. I guess that Katharine Lee Bates did it best when she penned “America the Beautiful” after seeing these same scenes. We have been on the road about 45 minutes and have gone 7 miles. We stopped a lot, took a lot of pictures. Anyway, onward and upward we go. We are now on gravel and the road has many more switchbacks and hairpin turns. I will tell you this, I do not see how the racers go up this road as fast as they do. It is just unbelievable that they can control a car at any speed on this type of surface, with the turns they must negotiate. This doesn’t even take into account the fact that if they miss a turn, it is a long way before you are going to stop. There is a two mile stretch between mile markers fourteen and sixteen called the W’s. There are eight switchbacks in this section alone and according to the book it has been known to produce more than its fair share of white-knuckled drivers.

We continue our drive; we cleared the tree line at about mile marker 13, so the view of the mountain had really changed. After about another hour we make it to mile marker 17. It is at this point we get the bad news from the ranger. The road the rest of the way up to the summit is closed due to snow, snow that the plow is not going to be able to clear today. Oh well, we tried, we are at 12,976 feet and the available oxygen is at 57.1%. Let me tell you, you can tell the difference. We take some more pictures, walk around a bit. There is a good steady 20 MPH wind with gust approaching 30 MPH. The temp is about 38 with a wind chill below freezing. Now remember that we didn’t pack light, we had our winter coats. Hey, I was a Boy Scout leader and Brenda was a Girl Scout leader, BE PREPARED.

Anyway, we turn around and head back down, so the prespective changes, going downhill the road looks different, for example check this out.

Or this.

As you can see, there are times that you would just sail off into the “wild blue yonder” if the brakes failed ot you just didn’t make the turn. We make it back down to mile marker 12 and stop at the Glen Cove Restaurant and Gift Shop. Have a bite to eat and it is at this point that we both start to see the effects of the high altitude, a little nervousness and a slight headache. We decide it is time to head on down to the low lands, if one considers 6000 foot low.

We make it back to the Marriott with no problems and only one regret, we didn’t make it to the top of Pikes Peak. However, we have a plan. Our plan includes a trip to Manitou Springs, some help by a fellow named Simmons, a cog railway, 25% grades and some prayers. Remember that Brenda doesn’t like heights. For now I will simply say, The Adventure Contines . . .

Goin’ Up – Take 2

This is a story from one of my past adventures that I thought you would enjoy. 

The Adventure Continues . . . As you might remember, our drive to Pikes Peak ended about 2 mile and 1134 vertical feet short of the summit, but I said we had a plan. First we made a short drive to the city of Manitou Springs which is just outside of Colorado Springs. There we found what we were looking for, the Manitou Springs and Pikes Peak Cog Railway, the way to the top of Pikes Peak or so we had heard. We go in and check with the ticket agent on the departure time of the train. Her answer, “One twenty”. I then asked, “Is the train going all the way to the top, to the summit today?” Her answer, “Yes, it is, the snow crews are working up top to clear the tracks right now”. OK, we buy 2 tickets and settle in for the wait until time for departure.

Now to give you a little background and explain the . . . Manitou Springs, some help by a fellow named Simmons, a cog railway, 25% grades and some prayers . . . from the previous post. Well, the Manitou Springs is easy, that is where we found the train depot. The fellow named Simmons, it was Zalmon Simmons and the time frame was the 1880’s. Mr. Simmons had taken a trip to the top the easiest way possible at that time, he rode a mule. While relaxing in a mineral bath after his trip and one must assume trying to relieve some of the aches and pains associated with that mode of travel, he started thinking about a better way to get to the top. His solution was a train. He felt that it would be mush easier and much more comfortable than the back of a mule. Although I didn’t ride up on a mule I truly believe that he was right. Mr. Simmons became the backer of the Manitou and Pikes Peak Railway Company. He was going to spend some of the money he had in mattresses, you see Zalmon Simmons was the owner of the Simmons Mattress Company in Wisconsin. Work was started in short order and the last spike was driven on October 22, 1890. The railroad to the top was complete. By the way, the top wages for working on the railroad were 24 cents per hour.

Now, you might ask, “What is a cog railway”? First, it is sometimes referred to as a rack railway. Simply, it is a drive system that uses a gear (cog wheel) and a rack to move the engine and attached cars or in the case of our trip the cars since they were self contained engine / car combinations. Unlike a conventional engine which at best can climb seven to nine percent grades for a short distance, a cog locomotive can climb grades approaching 40 percent. The Manitou and Pikes Peak Railway employs the Abt rack system which limits the steepest grades that can be climbed to about 25%. In fact 25% is the steepest grade we encounter on the way to the top of Pikes Peak.

The final item in our plan was prayer, well part of it had been answered already, the train was going to the top. The other part, remember Brenda loves mountains, hates heights, enough said.

By the way, this is what a section of the track looks like.

It is just after 1:20 when the conductor yells “All Aboard” and we, along with about 100 or so other adventurous souls, board the train. We pull out of the station for the top of Pikes Peak. The trip to the top is 8.9 miles and gains over 7500 feet in elevation. Of all the cog railways in the world, the Manitou and Pikes Peak Railway is the highest and has the greatest gain in elevation during the journey to the summit. Given all of this the trip is by no means a speed run. The entire trip up and back, with about a 40 minute stay at the top, takes over 3 hours. We start out going through Englemann Canyon with a great view of Ruxton Creek. We see many types of trees, hardwoods, pines and spruce, including magnificent Colorado blue spruce. The scenery is absolutely gorgeous with the flowing waters of the creek, waterfalls, rock formations and other wonders of nature beckoning for one’s attention. Pictures, got to take pictures of all of this. This is what we were seeing.

As we approach the middle part of the ascent we pass through a natural gateway in the mountain and at the 4 mile switch we get our first glimpse of our goal, the top of Pikes Peak. Two things strike me, one is the beauty and the other is that it still looks a long way off. At about the 5 mile marker we hit one of the steeper sections. Also, in this area we see many bristlecone pines. These are some of the oldest living things on earth with some of those on Pikes Peak estimated to be over 2000 years old. Shortly after we pass this area we move above the timberline. No trees grow in this area because just under the surface the ground remains frozen year-round. There is some vegetation, but it is limited to mosses, grasses and some wildflowers that have adapted to the harsh growing conditions.

We continue our climb. There is still a lot of snow on the mountain as you can see from this picture.

Finally, we reach the summit, we are at the top of Pikes Peak and here is the proof.

Well, we get to spend about 40 minutes at the top. We walk around taking picture and just trying to commit all of this wonder and beauty to memory. It is truly grand what God has created for us to enjoy. The Summit House is also located at the top. They have a lot to offer; food, beverages, oxygen bar, souvenirs, restrooms, oxygen bar, film (just in case you forgot to bring enough), cameras (just in case . . .), oxygen bar. Hey, I mean they have it all. By the way, although we did not partake of it, there was a line at the oxygen bar, looked like a real money maker for the city of Colorado Springs which owns the Summit House. Suddenly, we here the train horn sound, which we were told means the train will be leaving in 10 minutes. We once again hear the “All Aboard”. It is time to leave, our time at the top seems short, to short. We were told that you had to take the same train back down that you rode up, well there was only one train running, so duh. Also, it is a long walk back down so you really don’t want to miss it.

I did notice the effects of the altitude, but not as bad as one fellow that I talked to while at the top. He looked to be in his mid 30s and in good shape, but was huffing and puffing worse than I was. He sounded bad enough that I ask him if he were alright and he said he was. Then he explained that he lived on Key West in the Florida Keys and that his house was 8 feet above sea level. I understood, we were now at 14,110 feet and that was a huge change for him. Living in Atlanta it was a change, however not as much. Atlanta is the second highest major city in the US, second only to Denver. Denver is the capital of Colorado and the 15th step on the west side of the State Capitol Building is exactly 5,280 feet above sea level (just another tidbit of information for you). This is why Denver is often referred to as the mile-high city, but you probably already knew that. Anyway, my new friend makes it back to the train with no problem and we all start our decent.

As we start down the steeper section our conductor starts telling us about all of the safety features of our train. How the diesel engines are used to slow the train. How there are hydraulic brakes that can stop us and if these fail there is a pneumatic backup system. How if the train exceeds a certain speed all of these systems engage and will stop the train in something like 2 feet. He also explained how we didn’t want to be standing in the aisle if that happened. Train stops, man does not stop, man goes in water, sharks in water, whoa, wrong story. Train stops, man does not stop, man hits end of car at high rate of speed, man is hurt, made sense to me so I stayed in my seat. Anyway, he told us if everything failed that they had two large springs at the end of the track to catch us . . . Manitou Springs and Colorado Springs . . . it was funny at the time.

We make it back to the station just fine. It was cold at the top, remember those winter coats, well they worked really good and also made excellent cushions on the way up. Seat were wood with no padding, maybe Mr. Simmons wanted us to have a little of the same experience he had in the 1890s. We buy a couple of more things at the railroad gift shop, hey, come on we have grandkids. It is time to leave. One last picture . . .

. . . and we are on the road again. As always, The Adventure Continues . . .