Pikes Peak Part 1: Getting There Is Half The Fun???

Things started late in the morning with temperatures in the high 90’s and 500 miles of desert laid out in front of me, followed by another 300 miles of heavy mountain driving. I borrowed back a 1992 Ford Festiva I loaned my father about a year ago in order to reap the benefits of a 62hp, 1.3L engine. The consistent 38mpg were doing me well as I climbed full throttle over the hills of Nevada and Utah. The car was doing so well I decided to crank the A/C and really live it up. The needle for the coolant temp didn’t budge. I was living high until that needle started to creep up. Over the next 40 hours it would become such a part of my life that I would be able to see it’s outline every time I blinked.

More stress than racing Pikes Peak was staring at this needle for 40 hours.
More stress than racing Pikes Peak was staring at this needle for 40 hours.

As the needle touched the limits of the “ok” temperature, I kicked on the heater and cut off the A/C. Ironically this is when the needle raced up into the red. I limped it in listening to it pre-ignite under the slightest throttle setting. As I pulled into a truck stop the motor burst up coolant and steam and I coasted into a parking spot. Only the catch can had boiled over though so I let things cool and topped her off, not seeing any damage. 3 hours later I had managed 15 miles out, and 15 miles back, overheating to the point that oil smoke was pouring out from under the car.

Parowan Utah would be my home for the next 20 hours as I tried to figure out what happened. Finding a crack in the cheap plastic radiator gave an initial rush of confidence. I quickly made a repair.

The JB Weld wasn’t curing nearly fast enough so I kneaded together some Quick Steel and it did a fine job… of not fixing the problem. Water was blasting out the overflow hose with a frequency that put it right in with the rotation of the crankshaft. But why is there no water in the oil? Why no steam in the tailpipe? A search of the mechanic’s shop finds a friendly lady named Anne who only services commercial trucks. After hours of working through my options, Anne agreed to drive me to the Napa Auto in the morning when they opened. A fitful sleep in the crapped out car had me dreaming up ways to abandon it without having to pay for towing, and ways to get to Pikes Peak without it. The sun rose to a worried Johnny Killmore.

Anne wasn’t in yet, but Thomas aka “Russel” was happy to give me a ride over to the Napa where I bought several different block sealers and cooling system sealers. He set me up with a toolkit from his pickup truck and gave me a drain pan for my old coolant, which by now was showing the tell-tale milky color of a blown head gasket. It took several hours before I was completely covered in grime and slime, listening to the engine sickeningly tick over. She was water tight, but smoldering with burning oil and the smell of death. Screw it… I changed the oil and bid Parowan a fond goodbye; it turned out to be a fine place to break down.

Now on my way in the hottest part of the day I was transfixed on the coolant temp gauge.  Each hill was a mountain, each super-heated valley a level of hell. The hills gave way to grades, which gave way to longer grades, but still the temperature was stabbing at me. 65mph gave way to 35mph as trucks began to blow me all over the road. The needle stayed at the half way mark and I drove through the hottest part of Colorado. The sun finally gave up in Rifle, CO, and I started to see the needle drop down to near zero. In my trouble shooting I had removed the thermostat and now had to shove rags in front of the radiator to block some of it’s cooling ability. I turned south on hwy 9 and spent several hours negotiating a dark, deer filled highway, until about 1am, when I gave in and slept. By 730am I would be in Woodland Park and meeting my team for the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb . I needed to be rested….

Stay tuned for Part 2, we’re just getting started!!!

Johnny K-

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