Pikes and Turnpikes

Life seemed like an HDR, or high dynamic range, image. Surreal color saturation accented by high, gritty contrast left me staring in near unbelief. Blacks melted into inky darkness, highlights nearly blinded me. My senses greedily soaked up the view.

No doubt my perception was skewed. I was high.

In the continental US, its hard to be higher than fourteen thousand feet above sea level, but Pikes Peak is one place you can do it.


An interview for a documentary film had taken us to Colorado, and on a free afternoon, Pikes Peak seemed an attractive destination. Enthralled with the navigation on my brand new 4G iPad, I eagerly asked Siri to direct us to Pike’s Peak. Siri sent us past a big, obvious sign directing visitors to Pike’s Peak. Instead, we found ourselves on little neighborhood roads, but with a twist. Actually, the roads were incredibly twisty. And steep. From the back seat, I could only see chasm on my left side, where the glorified two track road dropped off so steeply that one could spit on the roofs of houses all too far below. Out the front window, only sky was visible beyond the hood, where a mighty V8 engine strained and screamed, pushing a massive suburban full of sightseers and camera gear up a grade that almost demanded technical rock climbing gear. On my right, a steep dirt bank whipped by, mere inches from the window. We were lost. We were running out of time. The gate to Pike’s Peak closed at 6:00. It was 5:38 and we had miles of steep twisty road behind us. Siri stubbornly directed us to a road which, we soon discovered, did not exist. Road conditions worsened. We barreled on, splashing through small lakes in the road, giving the suspension a hearty workout on potholes and speed bumps. Asphalt turned to red clay dirt.

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Drama and stress continued as we backtracked to the obvious sign. Quiet neighborhoods saw our black, CIA looking suburban pulling 50 miles per hour on roads zoned for twenty. But minutes before the six pm deadline, we pulled up to the tollbooth on the Pike’s Peak road. Stress turned jubilation, and we drove off, elated to have beaten the 6pm deadline.

Hairpin Curves

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As summits go, the top of Pike’s peak is unlike any I’ve ever been to. The road leads directly to the tippy top of the mountain, where a weatherbeaten, aging concession building sits to the side of a large, circular driveway with ample parking. Beside the self-conscious building clad in hopelessly dated attire, a nondescript concrete patio commemorates this significant high point. Frankly, there’s nothing particularly pretty about this summit. But coming up to the summit is quite another story. All the way, I soaked in the view. When I felt that I couldn’t absorb quite as much as I needed, I stood out the sunroof, to get a better look at my surroundings. Though our entire party wished to stay, none of us had so much as a sweatshirt, and a nippy wind scared us off.

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Our Crew on the Summit

Back in Denver, we spent another day interviewing a person of interest for a documentary, all according to plan. But the following day, a production assistant in Los Angeles contacted us about a slight change. We’d move from pikes to turnpikes. I shook my head in amazement as I stepped from a plane at Boston Logan Airport. Being a kid from the backwoods of Montana, Boston’s road system blew my mind. All I could think was “I wonder which ones are the turnpikes?”

Shooting an interview in Denver

Traffic took on a whole new meaning. Shortly after leaving the rental car facility, we approached a row of small booths in the road. When the producer, who was driving, asked what it was, I eagerly shouted out, “A toll booth!” Everyone had a good laugh at captain obvious’ response, and I realized they wanted to know how much the toll cost. I’d never seen a toll road before, so the novelty mitigated some of my embarrassment.

Withing 48 hours, I sat at home on the picnic table, enjoying a pork chop and drippy slice of watermelon. No cars or roads were in sight. Apart from our house, no buildings were nearby. No sidewalks, power lines, people, nothing. The environment was quiet and full of plants. Everything was opposite the city. Boston was now a memory. I thought back on a stroll through the crowded Harvard campus, a walk along the freedom trail, past Faneuil Hall and the Old State House, a fantastic fish dinner at the oldest restaurant in the country. Most of all, I mused over a fascinating interview with Dr. ElBaz, a scientist who is unquestionably one of the world’s foremost scientists in his field. The real reason for our Boston trip was an interview with the head of Boston University’s Remote Sensing Department, Dr. ElBaz. During the interview, we learned about his work with NASA’s Apollo program. We learned that Dr. ElBaz had pioneered the field of remote sensing, the use if satellite imaging to find underground rivers in places like the deserts of Egypt.

Interviewing Dr. ElBaz

Interviewing Dr. ElBaz

Though the scientific details he provided proved interesting, what really impressed me was his intellectual honesty and willingness to tackle issues other scientists brush under the rug. He simply looked at data and accepted it, regardless of the political correctness of the conclusions it led to. Though I was only a soundman, simply being present during the interview left me glowing with excitement and curiosity. This man gave science and data a personality, but in such a way that the veracity of the data was untouched.

pikes 16 pikes 15 Visiting Harvard

And then I came back to the present – a pork chop on my plate, watermelon juice dribbling down my arm, the rest of my family sitting with me at the picnic table. My future would be full of adventure. For now, I needed to come back to the present and enjoy time at home, time with my family.


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