Pikes Peak and the Rental

Any time we are planning a long trip out of town we
will generally rent a car.  It's not that I don’t have full
confidence in our personal vehicles, but if something
would go wrong I know exactly who’s the lucky guy fixing it. 
Instead, I’d rather make a phone call to the
rental agency and tell them to bring me another car. 
It always seemed a little strange to me that someone would
purposely lend you a brand new car with nothing more than
a driver license.  But, they do it every day, and I doubt they
really know what goes on with those rentals once they’re
out of sight. I’ve heard of people renting a car and taking
them to the track, or removing the engine and replacing it
with something else.  Me, well I didn’t go to that extreme,
I just took my rental up to the summit of Pikes Peak.

The whole purpose of this trip was to take our son and all his belongings to college.  It took a full size van this time, and it was loaded down with everything from clothes to his bike, as well as all the stuff we would need for the trip. The University Of Denver was our destination, so with a full tank of gas, a couple of road snacks, dogs at the kennel, and the GPS fired up we were on our way.

Being in the repair business, of course I’ve got to check the car out myself.  Even though it’s practically new I still had to poke around under the hood and chassis. The van wasn’t one of the high end models, just a basic van, but it would serve the purpose we needed.  But, with every trip like this my wife will always ask if I have one of my pocket screwdrivers with me, and it’s not because she is thinking about any emergency repairs or something else that might go wrong that requires the use of the most versatile tool there ever was, no… that’s not the reason at all. She knows if I get bored I’ll start taking the car apart while she’s taking her turn driving down the highway.  So, to keep the sanity in the family I’m not allowed to bring one.

The trip took about 11 hours from our house, mostly uneventful, other than I didn’t care too much for the cruise control.  It seemed to vary way too much from the set speed before it would kick in. Not a big deal, but I’m sure at some point I’ll run across a customer who will have a complaint about one of these models doing just that. Most people probably wouldn’t notice it, but if they did I don’t think there’s much I could do about it. 

We arrived at the hotel with plenty of spare time on our hands, which was our plan in the first place.  We have a daughter who lives in Boulder, which is not far away from the college, and we definitely wanted to spend some time with her,too.  In the meantime the plan was to get up the next morning and check out some of the local sights.  One in particular was Pikes Peak. 

As it wasn’t far from the hotel, it seemed like a pretty good way to spend the afternoon.  So, we headed to Pikes Peak with typical tourist interest and our fully loaded rental van.  As we got closer to the mountain range the roads began to twist and turn even more than before.  A few of them had some really blind turns and steep drop offs on the edges.  The only comment from the wife was, “Boy, that’s a long way down.”  Soon, we were at the large wood framed entrance to Pikes Peak.  The signs said there wasn’t any snow fall problems or issues that should concern anyone that wanted to drive to the top.

The park ranger gave us some information about the two to three hour drive we were about to undertake, and about the many switch back roads and very tight turns.  It all sounded like a casual drive into the mountains to me.  Thus, our journey began.  At first it was just a winding roadway with a gradual slope, but that was all about to change.  The ranger did remind me to keep it in 2nd or 1st gear most of the way, and before long I found out why. The road became even more twisting and steeper than I thought was even possible to get an asphalt paver to negotiate.  Most of the switch backs changed grade right in the center of the curve, and there are hardly any guard rails on most of the steep drop offs.  The edge of the road just disappears down steep canyon walls.  I’m not too sure the engineers of this rental ever thought of using Pikes Peak as part of their testing, but onward and upward we went. 

As we neared the tree line I could see up to the next set of switch backs. There was one car that didn’t make it to the top.  A roll back wrecker was coming down from the summit with a VW Vanagon strapped down to the bed.  As the driver negotiated the next set of switch backs, the entire wrecker would lean out over the 10,000 foot drop off just off the edge of the pavement.  I did my best to give him as much room as possible, as the wife leaned towards the center of the van terrified that the next inch of ground that I used to get closer to the edge was going to be her last. I firmly believe this guy has to be the bravest tow driver I’ve ever run across, because there’s no way I would have tried that.

The rental van was getting a bit warm, not bad yet, but holding it down a gear or so and keeping the revs up wasn’t helping.  But, we didn’t have much farther to go.  With one last turn and one more switch back we made it to the summit.  The overloaded rental could take a break while we did the tourist thing. You know, look over the edge, buy a few souvenirs, and stand in front of the large stone sign while having our picture taken.

Going down was going to take a whole lot more care than going up.  As we made the turn to the first switch back from the parking lot, there was a small pickup trying to tow another small pickup up to the summit with nothing more than a web strap.  Now you have to image...you’re at better than 14 thousand feet, you’re on a road with no guard rails and a drop off well past 10 thousand feet, and you’re using nothing more than a tow strap.  If it broke, you’re going straight down to oblivion. And, I thought I was crazy taking a rental to the top.  This has got that beat.

At about half way down there is a mandatory check point.  The park rangers pull out a temp gun and check your brake rotor temperature.  Sure enough, our brakes were at about 450 degrees, and they won’t allow you to continue down until they’re below 300.  So we stopped at the check point for about an hour to allow the brakes to cool down.  Not that I was surprised at all, a fully loaded van, going down an 11 mile 7 percent grade what did ya expect? Oh, and yes… the rotors all had this nice shade of blue.

Needless to say, we made it to the bottom without any incidences, other than the wife leaving a death grip embedded in the passenger side grab handle.  I did have a chance to ask one of the park rangers if anyone every fails to negotiate one of those curves up there on the mountain. He said, “Yes, usually about 5 a year.  Sometimes we might have to rescue one of the racers that go up when we hold the rally,too.”  The entire trip takes well over 2 hours of slow and steady driving. The racers make it to the top in about 10 minutes, with speeds reaching 120mph!

The trip home had even more surprises for us.  As we came through Kansas we ran smack into a huge hail storm.  Huge chunks of hail were pelting the van like a sledge hammer.  It got so bad we stopped at a restaurant to wait out the storm.  Things were blowing all around us and the restaurant even lost power for a moment.  After the storm passed I checked the rental out, and not a dent could be found.  Lucky to say the least, but we still had a long way to go. 

We turned the rental back in when we made it home, and of course I didn’t mention a thing about Pikes Peak or the hail storm, nor about the cruise control.  I was just happy to have made it home in one piece. Needless to say, if this car could talk, what a story it could tell.

So, if you’re ever wondering whether or not buying a used rental car is a good idea, well for the most part, they probably are but, you might want to have it checked out first, cause… ya never know where one of them might have been.

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