It was the first super early morning of the Pikes Peak season today. We rolled out of the Mecca’s parking lot at exactly 3:30am. The schedule allowed time for a quick stop at the local Seven Eleven for some coffee and a chance to wake up the sleepy night clerk. The poor fellow is always astonished by the crowd of chatty and excited riders who rush the doors at 3:30 am on the first morning of practice. By next week he will be expecting us and have a fresh pot of coffee just brewed.
We drive up thru the gate where we sign waivers and begin the ascent to the starting line area. This morning the cars have the lower section of the course, from the start line to just past Blue Sky, which includes the newest paved area. We head up to Glen Cove where we will begin riding. The van is silent as we all check out the new area. It is a lot narrower than when it was dirt, and the corners are mostly all off-chamber. It looks way scarier than it used to, and also WAY faster.
On the way up we note the corners and how they have been slightly changed by the harsh winter weather and the snow plows. Engineers, Brown Bush, Ski Hill – the names help us to remember the unique characteristics of each one. Some names give you a sense of the history of the mountain like George’s Corner, and some tell you all that you need to know about riding at Pikes Peak – Ragged Edge, Bottomless Pit, Devil’s Playground.
We unload at Glen Cove in the cold and dark. In my opinion this is one of the prettiest places on Pikes Peak. The riders meeting is at 5:00am sharp, and the officials tell us that it snowed at the top of the peak yesterday and warn the riders to watch out for ice and snow. The first run is all the way to the top – the finish line – but mostly a sighting lap and less than full throttle, then each following run will pick up the pace a bit.
The engines rumble and the riders start off. Back in the pits the crews tidy up and watch the rider’s transverse above us. It seems like too long; then we see the medics roll. A rider is down. He is taken off the mountain and his crew scrambles to follow. [edit 6/3 – Later we hear that he had a bad break of the leg requiring surgery and a hospital stay.] Pikes Peak is unlike any other race in the world – the extremes of this course are really beyond description. Although the dirt is gone, the risk is still there and in fact heightened.
The runs start up again. Greg and Carlin begin the hard work of racing Pikes Peak – mastering the lines of each corner, the ballet of shifting the weight and heft of such a powerful motorcycle, the art of throttle control. When they come back down we make small changes to try for the next run. Tire pressures, foot control positions, suspension rebounds, the little things that add up – we make adjustments and more adjustments.
After a full four hours of runs, our time is up and we need to release the road to the tourists who come to marvel at the beauty here. We head back to town with plans for breakfast, more wrenching on the motorcycles, and if we are really lucky, a shower and a nap. Call time tomorrow? 3:45am.