“Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. SO…get on your way”
State 24: Colorado - December 20, 2017
We woke up at a Walmart in Monument, CO having a had a restful night sleep. On November 6, 2012, Colorado Amendment 64 was passed by voters and lead to the legalization of medical and recreational marijuana throughout the state. Today we were getting high! Very high!!! Although the Cross Country Couple commends Colorado for providing another freedom to it's residents and generating an additional avenue of tax revenue, this is NOT what this blog post is about! Today, we drive 49 miles Southwest to the Cross Country Couple's "Can’t Miss Attraction" for Colorado; “Pike's Peak” Ha! Ha! Ha! Admit it! I had you going there for a second didn’t I? LOL!!!
Named after the American explorer Zebulon Pike who was unable to reach the summit, Pike's Peak a 14,115 foot mountain, whose summit is higher than any other point East of it's longitude. Pike's Peak is one of Colorado's 53 mountains more than 14,000 feet above sea level, and rises 8,000 ft above downtown Colorado Springs. Pike's Peak is most famous as providing the inspiration for Katharine Lee Bates to write the lyrics to the enduring American Classic; “America the Beautiful”.
There are many available avenues to ascend Pike's Peak; hike, bike, train and drive. Since biking and hiking was not practical during December, we were left with the option to take the train, or to drive. The Manitou and Pike’s Peak Railway was our preferred method of ascent. On our cross country trip we had traveled by boat, trolley, foot, bus, air tram, and of course by Rosie, but we had yet to travel by train. This would be so much fun! Unfortunately, we soon discovered the train was closed for the winter for track maintenance! Since our train trip to the summit got derailed, we were left with one remaining option. We would have to drive!!! The Pike's Peak Highway is a 19-mile out and back road running from Cascade, Colorado at an altitude of 7,379 feet, to the summit of Pike's Peak at an altitude of 14,115 feet! The 19 mile road had a 6,736 elevation gain, a steep 9% grade, and seemingly endless treacherous switchbacks, called "The W's" named after their shape in the mountain! Although Lori and I were certain we wanted to summit Pike's Peak, we both questioned if Rosie was up for the task. She has a V6 engine, 135,000 miles on the odometer, and we have never taken her to that high of an elevation before! If we pushed Rosie too hard, we worried she may break down like she did in the West Virginia Appalachian Mountains.( to view our post on Rosie's breakdown in WV, click here). We looked at many other options including renting a 4x4 truck to make the trip up Pikes Peak!
Excuse my interruption, but there is something I MUST say!!! For those of you who may not know me, my name is Rosie, and I am a 2014 Dodge Ram Promaster High Top Van. I was entrusted to be Lori and Nate’s home and transportation for their year long cross country trip. To date, I have driven them over 20,000 miles, through 24 states, and 37 National Parks, and never once have I let them down! Well, maybe just that one time in West Virginia. How dare they doubt my capabilities, when they don’t even know what all of my capabilities are!!! After all we have been through together, I can’t believe I am being replaced on this adventure by a rental!!! My feelings are so hurt!!! I will show Lori and Nate once and for all what I am made of. Sure it will be a challenge to make it to the top, but when I do, they will never doubt me again! First, I need some inspiration to motivate me for the task ahead! I will quote my favorite author Dr. Seuss who said, “You'll be on your way up! You'll be seeing great sights! You'll join the high fliers who soar to high heights.” That is exactly what I needed! I am ready to take on Pike's Peak! I can do this…that is If Lori and Nate let me! How can I convince them I am up to the task?
I spent the next 2 hours figuring out the best option for getting to the summit of Pike's Peak. I looked in to buses! Nope! I looked in to rentals! Not going to work! I even looked into the carpooling: Not an option! It appeared as if we were going to either drive Rosie up the mountain, or not go at all! It was Rosie or bust! I was still not willing to send Rosie up until I had more reassurance she would be ok! After getting stuck on Mt Hood with Rosie I was quite hesitant. (To see our post about being stranded on Mt. Hood, click here) I started by reading the reviews of others whom had made the drive paying close attention to those whom ascended in a van and in winter. The reviews revealed the biggest challenge of the drive was not getting to the summit; it was getting back to the bottom the mountain! I read multiple reviews of other motorists whom burned their breaks out on the drive down! I suddenly had a vision of Rosie barreling down the mountain with Nate frantically attempting to slow her descent after which we all plunged off a cliff to our death!!! Clearly, I needed to get a hold of myself, and speak to someone more knowledgeable. I called the park and spoke with a Ranger who was very helpful and patient with me! She suggested I put Rosie in 1st gear for the drive down, and let the transmission instead of the breaks do the work! As silly as this is going to sound, neither Nate nor I knew how to put Rosie into 1st gear. She has an automatic transmission with no gear options on her joystick. The Ranger said she would help us when we arrived at the park! Off we went to Pike's Peak for a 19 mile drive up a steep and windy 14,115 foot Colorado mountain in December! EEEK!!! Soon thereafter, I arrived at the main entrance to Pike's Peak, but Rosie was too tall to make it beneath the entrance way. Nate pulled up to the 3rd entrance with no overhead clearance, but that gate was closed and unstaffed. I hopped out of Rosie and skipped over to the first gate. The female Ranger there was quite abrupt and rude to me! Clearly, this was not the Ranger I spoke to on the phone earlier. After paying the $20 admission, she told me to just drive Rosie through the 1st gate, which I refused as Rosie clearly wouldn’t fit. I also asked her to show us how to put Rosie into 1st gear. She screamed to the car waiting in line, “I’ll be right back, I have to go show these people how to drive their van!”. She stormed out of her booth, over to the 3rd gate, gave a brief explanation of how to shift, opened the gate for Rosie, and on her way back to her booth she screamed “Your van would have fit under gate 1”. What A Meany!!!
This was it! Finally, my big opportunity to prove to Lori and Nate once and for all I am able to meet whatever challenges the road ahead may bring!!! In the words of Doctor Seuss, “Congratulations! Today is your day. You're off to great places! You're off and away!”. Whoo Hoo! I Can Do This!!! The first 6 miles were relatively straight driving with slight elevation gains, but the farther up I drove, the more taxing the road became. At the mile 10 mark, the road became very steep, and the sharp hairpin turns came one after another after another! Nate is a very good driver, and I love the way he handles me! However, he does have one bad driving habit! Well… actually Nate has 2 bad driving habits. Sometimes, when he drives me out of the Walmart parking lot in the morning, he forgets to disengage my emergency brake! I have spoken to him about this over and over again how much it hurts me, but he still seems to occasionally forget. Put yourself in my shoes! Can you image how it would feel if you attempted walk around with your feet stuck to the floor, and being unable to lift them yourself? Can you hear that awful squeaking sound coming from soles of your shoes as they skid across the floor? I hate when he does that! This was not relevant to my trip up Pike's Peak, but it sure does feel good to get that off my chest! Anywho, I do apologize as I tend to get a tad sidetracked at times. Where was I? Oh yes! Nate's other bad driving habit. Occasionally, when Nate sees a beautiful view out my windshield, he takes his attention off the road! While the three of us have seen an infinite amount of beauty over the past 6 months, it is very dangerous habit, and usually Lori immediately snaps Nate's focus back to driving. As we were approaching mile 16, I felt my self-drifting to the right towards the edge of the road. There are no barriers on this road, and it teeters on the edge of the mountain the entire drive! With inches to spare before catastrophe, Lori smacked Nate on the arm, and said, “Pay attention, or your gonna get us killed!!!”. That was a close one! I like Lori! She is sweet but feisty! However, occasionally Lori forgets to put on her seat belt. I beep and flash my seat belt light on the dashboard to remind her, but she just says, “I know Rosie, I‘ll put the seat belt on in a minute”. I wish she just understand I am just trying to make sure she stays safe.
By mile 18, I was running out of gas; figuratively, and not literally of course. I only had one more mile to go, but I had nothing left! I was completely exhausted! Perhaps Nate and Lori were right to doubt my ability to ascend Pike's Peak! Perhaps I just didn’t have it in me! In my moment of weakness, I remembered the words by Dr. Seuss, “And will you succeed? Yes indeed, yes indeed! Ninety-eight and three-quarters percent guaranteed!” That was just the inspiration I needed! Nate and Lori put their trust in me to get them to the top of this mountain, and that is exactly what I am going to do! Failure is not an option! I am a Dodge Ram Promaster, and I can make it!!! I reached deep down and mustered all the horsepower I could! My RPM’S revved, my tires squealed, and 30 seconds later, I safely made it the summit of Pikes Peak! Elevation 14,115!
Initially, I was not thrilled about driving a Dodge on my cross country trip, but over the past 6 months, Rosie has more than proved her worthiness. I worried the ascent up Pike's Peak may be pushing her limits, but clearly I was wrong. Rosie was the best van for our cross country trip, and after her performance today, there is not a road in America I would not drive her on. After parking Rosie to give her a much needed rest, we hopped out to begin our exploration of the summit of Pike's Peak, and 3 seconds later we jumped back in to Rosie! It was 5 degrees outside, and extremely windy. BRRR!!! In addition, Lori and I were having a very difficult time breathing at this high altitude! The oxygen level at Pike's Peak is only about 60% of that at sea level. We had to take it easy and not overly exert ourselves or risk developing altitude sickness. There was no snow on the ground and the sky was clear! At least I had that going for me! We drove Rosie around the summit to the different lookout points. I rolled down the window to get the pictures, and even opened up her side door to snap a few. The view was absolutely amazing, and well worth the hair raising trip! I could see over 100 miles in every direction! Please see the pictures below!
Aside from the spectacular views, the summit of Pike's Peak as a few additional points of interest. Since 1969, the summit has been the home to a US Army research laboratory to test the impact of high altitude on human physiology. Unfortunately but not surprisingly, it was not open to the public. Too bad because I was feeling quite dizzy from the altitude, and was hoping they could help. Also on the summit is a stone monument engraved with the words to the song “America the Beautiful”. This is the reason I ascended Pike's Peak! Long at last, I was finally standing in the exact same spot, looking in the exact same view, which inspired Katharine Lee Bates to write one of our countries most cherished anthem’s! I felt proud to have shared in such a moment, and I felt proud to be an American! This will forever be one of the most memorable moments on my Cross Country Journey! Please see the pictures below.
What an adventure we had today! Best of all, I earned the confidence of Nate and Lori regardless of what the road before us may bring. Dr. Seuss was so very right when he said, “Today was good. Today was fun. Tomorrow is another one.” I can’t wait to see what adventures lie ahead! After successfully descending Pike's Peak in 1st gear, Nate drove us 72 miles South to a Walmart in Pueblo, CO where we spent the night.