This a two part series from my buddy, John Ryland – Classified Moto. Check out their blog, like them on Facebook, Twitter and all of those things. To make sure that Classified Moto gets all the credit for these great blog posts – there is a click through to their site to finish each segment. Adam Ewing – these images are killer, can’t wait to see more.
These are a must read and will give you the best accounts of Pikes Peak I have ever read. Thanks guys – can’t wait to see you at the top next year. – GT
…spend a few days days at the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. If the mountain itself doesn’t serve up a healthy dose of humility, its heroic inhabitants surely will. Pikes is one of those places that feels overly dangerous, even to a mild speed demon like me. Guardrails seem to appear only when the drop-offs hit four figures. Every turn reveals a laundry list of conditions that would warrant a permanent closure anywhere else. The road changes from paved to dirt and back, snaking up the mountain like a trick question.
And we would experience it in all its twisted glory.
A few months ago, it was decided that I would tag along with Adam Ewing on one of his yearly speed-seeking pilgrimages. Neither of us had much of an idea what to expect. We would meet up with the Spider Grips Ducati Team in Colorado Springs. And we’d get a better-than-average view of the race. Good enough. Spontaneous folks that we are, we loaded up our bikes with cameras, disposable clothes and a bunch of camping gear that we’d never use. Oh, and we brought along our buddy Ricky Henry (on his modified Virago cafe rat) for good measure.
For the sake of focus, I’ll save most of the trip details for later. But I will say that we were compelled to ride to our destination and back — nearly 5,000 miles. It was a chance to step back from the minutia of a working garage and into a great expanse of country. To look up from spark plug gaps and timing marks and see something that went on and on. To fly into Denver and take a cab to Pikes would have left us utterly unprepared for this particular mountain.
Our first taste of the atmosphere came at 3:00 am on Friday, as we wound up the dark landscape with Chris Nazarenus of MyLifeAtSpeed.com. She and her team were there capturing the event, often from the point of view of six-time Pikes Peak winner Greg Tracy. We divided and conquered, splitting off to cover several sections of the mountain for a practice session that would begin at dawn.
Adam overcame the altitude woozies to nail some great shots of the bikes, as they made multiple runs on the middle section of the mountain. It’s hard to describe the contrast of the beautiful landscape with the near violence of high-strung engines in full primal scream. I was perched on a snowbank where I could see the cars practicing on the lower sections and the bikes above.
I did as I was directed and drank lots of water and took very small steps, as I snapped photos and searched for a cell signal. Why, I wondered, wasn’t the signal better when I was so high up? Who knows, maybe the other 5,000 vertical feet of mountain above me was in the way.
It took no time for me to understand the magnitude of racing at Pikes Peak. During a practice run, one rider passed another on the narrow strip of asphalt between the white edge line of the road and the dirt shoulder. Maybe it was Greg. He was on a Ducati, but he was simply going too fast to be identified. What I could tell, though, is that had he gone over the edge, the rider would not have stopped falling for a good long while. In poker terms, these guys and girls go all-in on every hand it seems. CLICK HERE FOR THE REST OF PART 1.
Of the many competitors we met at Pikes Peak, not one seemed cocky about being there. Some were more humble than others, but all projected a sober respect for the mountain. They’re all seasoned racers. In past lives, though, maybe big wave surfers. Or astronauts…
ALL DAY LONG drivers and riders cross the finish line in regular intervals and accumulate at the summit, talking to the media, reliving their runs, enjoying some famous Pikes Peak donuts. And by the end of the day there’s a palpable energy in the thin air — a celebration that culminates with a parade down the mountain, each of the class winners carrying a well-earned checkered flag. High-fiving the fans lining the course…
Squinting back to that Sunday afternoon, my hazy, oxygen-deprived memory reveals Carlin Dunne riding by on a spectral black Ducati, flag in hand.
Greg Tracy had introduced me to Carlin the day before, saying he was the fastest rider on the mountain in practice. At the time, Greg was in the process of bailing on a photo shoot we were setting up, at the quirky cool Rainbow Lodge. He was bummed, but curfew was fast approaching and he still had a couple hours worth of work to do. As he was leaving, I remember joking him about not knowing how to wish a racer good luck. “Break a leg” seemed too close to home.
And now, nearly 24 hours later, we were left to wonder what had happened to Greg on (or off) the road below us. I consider myself an optimist these days, but when you hear a world-class rider is unaccounted for on a course like Pikes Peak, thoughts turn dark quickly.
Like everything else on race day, just getting down the mountain proved to be a very big deal. Somehow I ended up in the driver’s seat of the Dumonde Tech Pacifica as we filed down the 150-plus-turn course towards the pits. Any other time I might have enjoyed it, but we were preoccupied.
At every turn, fans were straggling to the lower elevations, coolers in hand. Sunburned. Happy. Meanwhile, in the back seat, our producer Chris Nazarenus (MyLifeAtSpeed) was methodically trying to reach other team members by phone. By radio. Just then we got our first indication of what had happened to Greg. ClICK HERE TO READ THE REST OF THE STORY.