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August 28, 2007

The Hours At The End Of The Day

There’re a lot of hours at the end of the day.

I get off from work and have nothing to do so I’m racing up the mountain on my shiny new dirt bike. Front brakes. Back brakes.Lean. Downshift. Downshift. Downshift. Throttle up. Shift up. Throttle up. Shift up. The brain doesn’t notice all of this. It’s all automatic. I couldn’t tell you what hand is doing what. The brain doesn’t know but the hands know. The feet know.

And they’re taking us up the mountain. The hands and the feet are driving. The brain is just along for the ride. Listening to some stale songs on the iPod and sight-seeing. Sight-seeing mostly.

The motorcycle doesn’t have a lot of instruments. Only one, really. It has a trip meter that rolls over at 99.9 miles. No speedometer. No tach. No temperature gauge. No idiot lights.

I reach into my jacket pocket to pull out my new GPS receiver to check my speed, and I come out of the turn with my GPS in one hand and the other hand driving the motorcycle and there’s a herd of elk in the road.

There’s never a good time to encounter a herd of elk on a motorcycle, but this is an exceptionally bad time, with the GPS in my left hand and my right hand on the throttle and three huge elk cows standing in the road and I’m trying to thread the needle. Trying to find a space wide enough for an XR-400 to slide between these beasts but they’re not making it easy.

I’m braking and steering and they probably could have all made it across, but that one she turns back now and she’s flailing her hooves against the asphalt and she’s coming back toward me now and it’s going to be close and you’ve never seen an elk move this fast I swear and her hooves are just thrashing the asphalt and she can’t get traction and I can’t get traction and somehow she makes it back across in front of me and I thread the needle and the elk and the XR do not connect.

I should not be here really. I mean, I’m heading up to the top of Mount Evans because I rejetted the carburetor and I want to see how it runs at 14,000 feet. See, some bikes don’t run very well at 2 ½ miles above sea level. But, mine needs to. I don’t care how it runs at sea level. I want to know how it handles at 14,000 feet.

So, after work, I decided to take it up to the top of Mount Evens. They say it’s the highest paved road in the North America. I don’t know about that, but it’s pretty high. And I get away late and it’s warm at my house and I figure I won’t take any gloves. Big mistake.

Fifteen miles from the summit of Mt. Evans, my hands are completely numb. I got away too late and the temperature is falling fast and I’m at Echo Lake and the hands are having a hard time shifting and braking.

It is August. But, I know not to go into the mountains without gloves. I know this. I know this. But tonight, I wasn’t thinking. I was not.

My hands are numb. Shifting and braking is hard. Driving a motorcycle is a lot like flying a helicopter, in that both feet and both hands are working pretty much constantly. My feet aren't cold, but my hands are pretty much useless.

Hands are frozen now. They’ll hurt when they thaw out. At Echo Lake, there’s a little fee station, but Ranger Rick isn’t there. There’s an honor box instead. My brother once went across the country robbing honor boxes for cash along the way. He taught me how to break them open with a few innocent looking tools. Taught me how to do it without leaving blood or fingerprints. But there’s no time for that now. Light is fading fast. Temperature falling. 15 miles to the summit. Anyone with any sense would turn back now.

But that is not my style. I want to hear the engine run at 14,000 feet and if I lose a few digits, then so be it.

I hope there are some people at the top. I hope that I’m not alone when I get up there. Seriously, I’m afraid I’ll lose my hands. The road up is insane. Crazy. Unhinged. No one with any sense would drive up it. It is a paved road with switchbacks up a mountain face. There are no guardrails. Not one. No speed limit signs. Just you and a thousand foot cliff. And now the road is wet. I begin to think about ice. If this road freezes I’m dead. But surely it won’t freeze. Not in August, right?

I have no idea what the temperature is. Cold. I know that. I’m shivering now. Watching for mountain goats and trying to stay away from the edge. You really can’t imagine how scary this road is. I decide to buy a helmet cam so people can understand how insane this road really is. I decide to buy gloves and never get on the motorcycle again without them.

My hands hardly move now. I’m not sure whether to go faster or slow down. I’d try to warm them up, but I see lightning in the distance and if it starts raining, I will die for sure. So, I want to get the to top as soon as possible.

The bike actually runs very well. Only about three times, as I got above 13,000 feet, did the bike sputter at all. Finally, I reach the summit. The odometer says I’ve been 45 miles.

At the top, I kill my bike. I have my camera, but I don’t take a single picture. I hold my hands over my exhaust pipe for the heat. There are about eight people on top and I approach them all and beg for a pair of gloves.

“Dude. Seriously. I need some gloves. I think I’m going to lose my hands.?

“I don’t have any. Sorry.?

“I’ll give you $100 for a pair of gloves.?

But they were all caught off-guard, like me. No one was prepared. A thermometer on top of the mountain said it was 37 degrees F.

I went into the bathroom and imagined sleeping there. But, it smelled too bad. I wrapped my hands in toilet paper and put my socks on my hands for the drive back down.

Driving down from 14,000 feet at night on a wet road is crazy. Insane. I went really slowly. Somehow, I made it back alive. I decided to go have a drink and celebrate being alive. At 96 miles, I ran out of gas and had to switch over to reserve. Finally, when my GPS said I’d gone exactly 100 miles, I found myself at Tony Rigatoni’s.

There’re a lot of hours at the end of the day.

Update: You can view my path up Mount Evans as on Magnalox or with Google Earth. If you haven't installed Google Earth, you can install it here.

Posted by Rob Kiser on August 28, 2007 at 10:34 PM

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