Before I get into the article proper, a bit about my gear. Travelling by motorcycle limits how much stuff you can carry. For this trip I brought only three lenses. A Sigma 10-22mm f4.5, a Sigma 17-70mm f2.8-4.5 and a Canon 40mm f2.8 ASM (which I never used). Of course my Sigma 17-70mm was my workhorse lens. As far as Cameras go, I had a Sony HDR-AS100V Action Cam mounted to my helmet for all of my road shots, A Canon G-16 Point and Shoot for the shots I just want to get without having to dig out my mainstay DSLR a Canon 7D. Would my Sigma 150-500mm worked well for me here? Sure but I think the majority of these shots feel as close as they were taken and so I don’t regret leaving my longer lenses behind.
At a certain point in your life, you come to the realization that part of your brain (probably the bit that covers exposure to dangerous situations) got wired wrong or maybe left out altogether. This is the sort of thing that slides around in your grey matter as you wind your way up an unlit, narrow, two lane road to a place called, “The Devil’s Playground,” 13,700ft above sea level at 4:15am in the morning. The day before, you were riding through canyon and across desert in 110F heat and now with every thousand feet you ascend on your bike, it’s getting steadily colder. In fact I had my heated grips on. Our intial plan had been to stop further down the mountain but I’ve been slavishly following the tail lights of the pick up truck a hundred feet ahead of me and I figured we’d gone to far when the trees dropped suddenly out of sight and everything I could see in my headlights became bare rock and blackness. Guard rails aren’t a huge priority on this mountain. Getting back to the madness thing. I’m crawling up the mountain at 25mph, trying hard to get to where I need to be because at 5:00am you run the very real risk of having a wheeled object moving at high speed rammed up your backside. And while, your loss would be regretted, the time you’d cost the racer, would not be forgiven.
There are certain places that fire your imagination, The Bonneville Salt Flats, The Isle of Man TT, and Pike’s Peak. Where I now stood shivering violently in the pre dawn chill trying to zip up my rain jacket onto Kelly while I struggled to breath a thousand feet above the recommended minimum safe altitude for aircraft without cabin pressurization. I was wearing a T-shirt, a long sleeved shirt, my Titanium windbreaker, and my riding jacket with its liner zipped in, motorcycle overpants over my jeans, cold weather gloves and my neck sock pulled up over my ears and I was still freezing.
The race on the day, takes place from Mile 7 on the Pike’s Peak Toll Highway just past the Gateway entrance at the base all the way up to the top of the mountain. 12.42 Miles long but with 156 curves and 4,720 ft of ascension. Practice days are for the drivers to get a feel for the route and for their crews to dial in the cars. Running each entry the full length of the track would limit the practice runs to just one a day. To work around this, the different classes are staged at different sections of the track each practice day. Which makes for shorter runs but at least three of them in the short period of time they have to practice. I should have mentioned, the mountain is closed at 5:00am and practice is over by 9:30am when they open it back up to regular traffic and spectator and competitor alike make the long way to the bottom and to breakfast.
The benefit of The Devil’s Playground is it’s both an end point for one class and the beginning point for another. That morning, we were the end point for the cars and the starting point for the Bikes, side cars and racing quads. Of course I didn’t fiure this out until the Sun was well up.
Everything you do is a measured step, well more like a steady shuffle meant to conserve the limited Oxygen available to you in your blood. I wandered around a bit trying to get my bearings and figure out what I was going to start shooting first and even though there were a limited number of people in the area we were in, Kelly and I lost track of each other almost instantly.
I hope you’ve enjoyed looking at the first part of what I got to see on Practice Day. I’ll be posting up the Bike’s, Sidecars and Quads next.