Wednesday, April 25, 2012

No. 771 – Stormy Monday

Performer: The Allman Brothers Band
Songwriter: T-Bone Walker
Original Release: At Fillmore East
Year: 1971
Definitive Version: The Fillmore Concerts, 1992

I had a day to kill before Jessica’s wedding in Colorado Springs, and I decided to spend it by driving to the top of Pikes Peak outside town. If it isn’t the highest drive of anywhere in the country I’d be surprised to learn of one that’s higher—and I’ll never take it. But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself.

I can’t remember exactly how this happened—there must have been a party the evening I got into town—but I met a friend of Jessica’s and we kind of became a wedding couple (without any consummation, alas). Anyway, I asked her if she wanted to go with me to Pikes Peak. She accepted, but before I knew what happened, I had a third party in the car, and I have no recollection as to where she came from. If I had to guess—and I do—I’d say it came from the interesting roommate situation I had gotten myself into when I arrived in town.

Jessica had friends at the wedding who were from Europe and didn’t have enough money for a hotel room at the local budget joint where I was staying. So, being the good friend that I am, I said, sure I can take on a roommate. Just my luck, it was a dude; his girlfriend was rooming elsewhere. Anyway, the girlfriend wanted to see Pikes Peak, too, so she joined the expedition.

We started out early in the morning—well, OK, before lunch. It would be an all-day trip, first to get to the entrance to Pikes Peak and then to make the climb to the summit, 14,000 feet above sea level and about 8,000 feet above Colorado Springs.

Have you ever been on Highway 1? It’s a two-lane road that winds from the Oregon border to San Diego along the California coast, of course. But between Carmel and Santa Barbara, it’s cut right into the side of the coastline itself. It’s a breathtaking drive, and for large sections of it, there are no guardrails. If you’re driving south, you’re on the edge of the cliff: next stop, the Pacific Ocean—300 feet down. Anyone who wants to commit suicide could do so very easily along Highway 1. There are huge stretches where nothing is stopping anybody from literally driving right off the side of the road.

Now imagine the drop is something like 4,000 feet, and that’s the drive to the top of Pikes Peak. Oh yeah, throw in the fact that the hill grade is 10.5 percent in some spots. And did I mention that the last half of the drive—at least back then—was dirt and gravel? I didn’t find any of this out until we were already on our way up the side of the mountain, when it was too late to turn around. Does anyone feel like dying today? No? Well, then the car that I’m driving better make it to the top.

That part was very touch and go. The Magic Mazda had the power of two hamsters running on a wheel with one of the hamsters taking a break. While going uphill, I was concerned a couple of times that the car was going to come to a stop and begin to roll backward down the hill.

I couldn’t think about that—or the cars and trucks piled up behind me—so I kept my foot to the floor silently urging the car to keep going. It was going to make it. I can’t imagine there was much in the way of conversation going on in the car at this point, and I suppose any thought I had of wedding-couple consummation had long since driven off the edge of the mountain down to a fiery death.

And then suddenly, we were at the top. We made it! The temperature was about 20, maybe 30, degrees cooler, and I have a photo of myself on the top of the mountain—the top of the world—with my shorts, a jean jacket and a Minnesota Twins hat on.

The drive down was easy, just ride the brakes and let gravity do the rest—and make sure not to drive off the side of the road where there aren’t any guardrails, of course. That descent was a blur, but I don’t recall that I was nervous about the brakes giving out or anything like that, like I had been going uphill. Still, I was very relieved once we reached the bottom and both sides of the road had grass and trees on it as opposed to rocks and nothing else—and on just one side.

The Pikes Peak climb is the thing I remember most about my Colorado Springs jaunt in 1989, even though I don’t recall a lot of the details—like, for example, the names of my traveling companions. The wedding itself was very nice—and fast. I’m not sure I’ve ever been to a ceremony that was more brief.

As to how it was to see a former lover get married to someone else, it was totally cool. Jessica and I were essentially a rebound relationship for each other. It was good while it happened and fine when it ended.

And as for the Magic Mazda? Well, it made the drive home, but as soon as I turned off I-90 to get to my apartment complex a couple days later, the engine started making weird sounds. The shop I took it to the next day confirmed my worst fears: Transmission No. 2, age 1 year, was shot—$1,500 down the drain.

I wasn’t surprised. I knew I had driven it into the ground. But it got me to the top of Pikes Peak and back. It died a champion.

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