All Rights Reserved © 2012 Thomas W. Day
(First Published in Rider’s Digest #189, June 2015)
Back in my Colorado days, I used to hang out with a trio of guys who had a variety of motorcycle skills. The leader of the pack was Brett, a guy who practically grew up on motorcycles and who is one of the nicest, most patient and loyal people I’ve ever known. I have considered Brett my best friend for two-thirds of my life, even though I haven’t seen him more than a couple of times in the last ten years. David was a newbie to motorcycling, but he had taken an MSF course and had a pretty good grip on his skills and physical and mental limits. Richard was slightly less new to motorcycling than David, but had started off thinking motorcycling was going to come naturally to him and discovered it didn’t. He’d crashed his bikes a couple of times, trying to keep up with Brett and me, and had moved from overly confident to massively paranoid. By that time, I’d been riding for twenty-five years and had way more confidence than skill. I’d moved to Colorado from California by myself and was wallowing in my independence and a relatively responsibility-free, semi-single-guy life. So, my moto-motto was “Shut up and ride.” I even wore a t-shirt with that printed on the front and back.
One “feature” of this collection of diverse skills was an assortment of different start-up times for a ride to anywhere. If we were going to ride to downtown Denver for coffee, it would take anywhere from five minutes to an hour-and-a-half for the four of us to be ready to roll: five minutes for me and ninety minutes for Richard, for example.
One weekend, we decided Pikes Peak needed climbing one more time before the mountain riding season ended. Brett and I did most of the planning and we picked a filling station on the south end of Aurora for the rendezvous. Our start time was 7:00AM with some margin to accommodate the late risers and slow movers, but 8:00AM slipped by with one of the guys still “on the way.” The first part of our route was going to be Parker Road (Colorado Highway 83) south to Colorado Springs. It’s about 80 miles, via 83, to Colorado Springs and another 35 miles to Pikes Peak Park through some backroads around the Springs. Two-and-a-half hours on a slow day. Once you got into the park, the old road was 19 miles of beautifully unpaved twisty mining trail to the top. (This year, they finished widening and paving the whole thing and there is no more point in seeing the damage done than there is hoping that Newt Gingrich is married for life, this time. When the Peak was unpaved it was “America’s Highway.” Now, it’s just a tourist path.) We had a breakfast plan for Colorado Springs, but with the late start Brett and I decided to move the meal to the café at the top of the peak. An hour after our start time, we had a mild disagreement about waiting or going.
Since I hadn’t planned on plodding along at the pace the two newbies would be setting, I decided to meet them at the park. We’d done this a dozen times in the past and Brett and I sorted out where we’d be about when and agreed that if the pack didn’t catch up to me at the base of the park by 11:00AM, we’d meet at the top. That settled, I hit the road. I’d loaded camping gear and a change of clothes, in case I decided to take the long way home after the Pikes Peak trip. I took a few deviations from the short route to the park, hoping that the guys would catch up or pass me. Still, I arrived at the base of the park on time and waited a half-hour in the tourist center before I bought a pass and headed up the mountain. We had some late season rain that year and the road was pretty torn up from traffic and erosion, so it was in perfect condition and I pretty much had the Peak to myself. I got to the top pretty quickly, for me, and figured I had an hour or two to myself before the pack arrived.
My bike, a 1992 Yamaha 850 TDM, was coated from the wet road and my chain was bone dry and caked in clay. I found some rags in the tourist trap’s dumpster and filled a milk bottle with water to get started on some maintenance. I scrubbed off the muck from the chain and gave it a WD40 rinse before applying fresh chain oil. It didn’t need it, but I went through the chain freeplay adjustment routine. After cleaning up the frame and engine, I made the rounds of all the fasteners, making sure everyone was in place and tight. I was parked right on the edge of the old tourist center’s parking lot, so the workshop view was spectacular. I pulled the air filter, which was clean, and reapplied some fresh filter oil for no reason other than that I had it out and I had the oil with me. Short of checking valve clearances, I’d done everything I could think of to the bike.
So, I went back into the tourist center and had breakfast; a couple of donuts and a large cup of coffee. I walked out back and got into a conversation with a cog railroad conductor about the first and last train trip of the year, which often involved pushing a lot of unexpected show up or down the track and a lot of scared passengers. He went back to work and I was bored.
As long as you don’t exit the park, you can ride up and down the mountain all you want for your park pass. So, I decided to ride down the mountain and meet the guys on their way up. I did that, twice, and, still, they weren’t anywhere to be found. In 1992, none of us had cell phones so calling wasn’t an option. I wasn’t really worried, but closing time was approaching and I didn’t want to be stuck on the mountain in the dark. Finally, just a few minutes before the visitor center closed, the three guys rolled into the lot. Brett looked pissed. I couldn’t figure out the other two guys’ expressions.
It turned out that, in spite of the late start, Richard and David insisted on stopping for breakfast, which burned an hour-and-a-half. After eating, they plodded along at a barely faster than walking pace until they got to the park. To “celebrate” riding the mountain, before they’d ridden the mountain, they stopped at the park store and bought “I Rode the Peak” patches for their jackets. Once they started up the mountain, the pace slowed even more. The switchbacks, the wheel ruts, the deep drainage ditch on one side and the steep drop-offs on the other combined to make the last few mile sheer terror for Richard and David. Brett stuck with them, dedicated friend that he is, and had about as much fun riding the mountain as he would have had in a dentist’s chair; although the chair might have been a faster ride.
As they rolled into the lot, a park ranger was herding the straggling tourists to their cars so he could close the lot’s gate. The guys didn’t even have time to take off their gear before they were being hustled off of the summit and back down the mountain. That might have been a good thing, since riding downhill scared is much worse than riding uphill and they didn’t have time to work up a good batch of fear before they were on their way down the mountain. The first few miles were the roughest, especially with the road in end-of-season condition and some pretty energetic bursts of wind near the top. They paddled around the sharpest of the corners and I took up the rear so that Brett could at least go down the mountain without herding sheep all the way. After we left the parking lot, I shut off my motor and coasted behind the guys, stopping every mile or two to let them get a ways ahead of me so that I could collect enough momentum to roll through corners without having to push. It took a good bit more than an hour to get to the park entrance. The gate was closed, the park was abandoned, but it was easy enough to get the bikes around the barrier. Just before the park road merged into Manitou Avenue, I saw Brett parked just off of the road. He was in much better humor, since he’d had time to find an ice cream shop and had drained a large milk shake while waiting for us to crawl down the mountain.
It was dark and riding back home via I25 was the only practical option, since Parker Road would be filled with deer and antelope for the next few hours and none of us was up for picking antlers out of our teeth. The guys settled for finding a cabin in Manitou Springs for the night. I was all for snagging a campsite in Garden of the Gods or just heading out Colorado 24 for Buena Vista and finding a campsite where ever one turned up. David and Richard convinced me that I wanted to hang with them for the night by insisting that they would cover the cost difference between a campsite (free, if I camped between Manitou and Buena Vista) and the cabin. Like an idiot, I became a follower.
They had a cabin site in mind and found it quickly. It was a two bedroom cabin with two fold-out beds in the huge living room. I took one of the living room beds. Our plan was to get the room sorted out and walk to a nearby restaurant for dinner. So, I was going about that when I dropped the damn bed on my left foot. I was pulling out the frame, expect it to swing up before it lowed to the floor. Instead, the thing shot out about two feet and dropped like a spring-loaded anvil; right on my big toe. I’d pulled off my boots at the door, so there was nothing between my foot and that assassin’s weapon and it almost amputated my toe.
In moments, the toe turned black. It was bleeding like a stuck pig, so I used up all of the stuff in my medical kit to medicate and bandage the bit toe to it’s nearby partner. We went to dinner, me shoeless on my hobbled foot. I drained a bottle of some kind of painkiller to try to sleep that night and woke up to find that the toe nail had lifted off of the toe, in spite of my having drilled a neat pressure-letting hole in the nail and taped it tight before I went to bed. I could not get my left boot on, so I had to cut the boot and gaff-tape it together; once my foot was in it. Walking was miserable and awkward. Shifting was painful and had to be done with my whole foot or heel. Buena Vista was out of the question. Getting back home would be an achievement.
We had breakfast in Manitou Springs. I set out ahead of the guys under the assumption that they’d probably catch me and, if I ended up stuck on the side of the road unable to ride, we’d work out a plan to get my bike and me home. Once I hit the interstate, I was pretty sure I’d make it home and that didn’t turn out to be a problem. The next day, my doc pulled the toe nail, stitched a patch over the exposed toe, and put my toe in a brace that would be my hobbling partner for about two weeks. The bone at the end of the toe (distal phalanges) was crushed.
For the next several months, I took a lot of crap about being the “big bad bike racer who was crippled by a hide-a-bed.” Obviously, the real reason I ended up crippled was that I stayed back to be a nice guy and escort the slow guys down Pikes Peak. Not only do “nice guys finish last,” but they might even get hurt for the effort. Screw being nice. “Shut up and ride.”