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 . . .

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