Pikes Peak

I’d planned to visit Pikes Peak before leaving Colorado, but not this soon. Last night, though, I started feeling a bit too isolated. People had been clearing out of the area I was camped in all day, and while being out there all alone was what I needed to process the aftermath of the split with Honey Badger, I felt ready to move on. My next intended campsite, a dispersed camping area near Woodland Park, was only an hour and a half away. I woke up, made coffee, packed up, and hit the road.

The drive was uneventful until I got to the road the campsites are on. The washboard surface was terrible, limiting my speed to just 7-10 mph. I stopped frequently to let cars pass that were flying right over it. I’d try it myself, but I doubt the contents of the trailer would like it. I made a wrong turn toward the Rampart Reservoir, only to be told by a rude gate attendant that motorcycles were not allowed there at all, ever, even street-legal ones like mine. This is not what the signs say when entering this section of the National Forest, but with an attitude like that, I didn’t want anything to do with the place anyway. With difficulty, I got turned around, went back down the bumpy road, and found a decent place to spend a night or a few now that I was facing the other direction.

It was about lunchtime, which meant I had all afternoon to take the bike to Pikes Peak without worrying about work. So after eating that’s exactly what I did.

It was a short pleasant ride to the base of the mountain. It cost $15 to go up. That’s a bargain compared to Mount Washington back in New Hampshire. They charge $25 for a motorcycle, $39 for a car and driver, and $14 per passenger. This is why I almost never took the trip outside of a Climb to the Clouds race, where volunteers get free access up and down the mountain. Spoiler alert: As impressive as Mount Washington is, Pikes Peak is seriously next level compared to it.

I didn’t stop to take many pictures on the way up (and my GoPro is still missing, or this would’ve made an amazing video). My mind was completely occupied by the ride, the tight corners, and occasionally traffic driving so slowly that my motorcycle could literally tip over. I had to stop, let them get ahead a bit, then go around the hairpins at a reasonable speed. Sometimes people would wave me past them. Other times I stopped for a couple of minutes to let them get far ahead of me, then proceeded at my own comfortable pace. I wasn’t trying to go fast, just fast enough for the bike to be stable.

Though speaking of speed, as a racing fan, I also wanted to get a small sample of what the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb must be like. Motorcycles were banned from the race after the tragic death of Carlin Dunne during the 2019 running. Now that I’ve ridden it myself (MUCH slower than he did), I completely understand how such an accident can easily happen. Colorado doesn’t believe in guardrails, and Pikes Peak is no exception, with some dropoffs stretching thousands of feet down. I spotted a couple of helipads on the way up and down, no doubt for emergency medical transport for anyone hurt during the race. There’s no other way to get them out of there quickly.

It’s rare that I get shots of myself on my bike, but the camera at the summit did it for me. Inside the visitor’s center, there’s an exhibit where you can spin the dial back as far as a year to see what conditions were like on any given day. Believe it or not, there was snow on the ground up here just a couple of weeks ago! It was certainly chilly at the top, 14,115 feet above sea level.

I honestly wasn’t sure if the bike would make it to the top. It’s carbureted, and can’t adjust the fuel/air mixture on the fly to account for temperature or altitude the way a fuel-injected engine can. At the summit of Pikes Peak, there is only 60% as much oxygen as at sea level, where it’s tuned to run, so I had my doubts. While I did lose most of what little power I have on the way up, the engine did keep running.

Okay, here are the scenic shots from the summit you came here to see. I’m having trouble describing what it was like. One might say they took my breath away, but that was the altitude. I’ve taken a few airplane rides that didn’t go this high, and I rode my motorcycle up here. That blows my mind.

The ride down was tricky in a different way. Speed wasn’t a problem. Preventing myself from going too fast could’ve been! I did most of the descent in second gear, dropping to first for hairpins. That saved my brakes for finer control over my speed. They never faded or got hot on the way down. As the road leveled off near the bottom I used third and fourth gear since I could maintain a higher speed, and the deadly dropoffs were all behind me.

When I got back to the toll house, I had a stroke of luck. A ranger was just getting out of his truck to walk inside. I was going to call the local Forest Service office tomorrow to report the crashed, abandoned car I found, but instead, I flagged down the ranger and gave him all the information right there. He knew exactly where I told him it was, and with the VIN they’ll be able to track down who owns it, despite the lack of license plates. That’s one less thing I have to do tomorrow. Plus I know the info actually got to a ranger since I gave it to him myself.

The ride back to camp was uneventful. How could anything be eventful after riding up and down Pikes Peak? I parked the bike and popped open a beer because I was finished riding for the day. I don’t think anything’s going to top the epic ride up Pikes Peak for a long time.

I’ve now ridden my bike up both of the top two hillclimb events in the country, Mt. Washington and Pikes Peak. My Mount Washington hoodie is one of my favorites, mainly because it’s so comfortable. I’ve just about worn it out, so I splurged on replacing it with one from Pikes Peak. Appropriately, I bought both of these at the summits of their respective mountains. Though it amuses me that the beginning of the road up Pikes Peak is already at a higher altitude than the summit of Mount Washington.

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