Columns » Ranger Rich

Here's to our highway

Ranger Rich

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I stomped on the gas pedal and the 1973 Ford Pinto touring sedan roared to life, climbing the Woodmen Road on-ramp to northbound Interstate 25 with pure, raw power.

I reached the 65 mph merging zone with the Pinto's engine shrieking at absolute full throttle — the speedometer boasting a cool 34 mph — but even then I refused to back off, the adrenaline surging.

It was last Friday, and I was about to drive the torn-up, uneven, rutted, scarred and pothole-riddled 11-mile stretch of I-25 from Woodmen Road to Monument and back again.

And I'd do it in my '73 Pinto, the iconic pride of American automakers, the top-ranked vehicle of all time in the category of Cars That Will Very Likely Explode.

As you know, road crews have been widening that stretch of the interstate from two lanes to three lanes on each side, giving us, the highly skilled motorists of Colorado Springs, more opportunities to speed up and prevent other motorists from merging from the on-ramps — those whiny bastards.

Sadly, the final layer of asphalt will not be applied until this coming spring or summer when temperatures rise again, leaving the road with the relative smoothness of the moon for the rest of the winter.

So I roared into the construction zone from Woodmen and was quickly greeted by a cement-mixer driver who, in accordance with city ordinance, refused to allow any cars to share his lane.

I tucked in behind the cementhead and was rewarded with a shower of small rocks and gravel, which caused the frightened Pinto to rear up on its back tires or "hind legs."

Soon a front tire found a long ragged scar in the pavement, producing a steady and sometimes violent vibration that caused the dashboard radio buttons to fall off. (On my dashboard, the statue of Saint Christopher lowered his hands and placed them over his eyes.)

As we zoomed northward — the speedometer had stopped displaying numbers and now spelled out the word "HELP!" — the road became even rougher, the ruts and uneven lanes trying to tear the custom-made Pinto steering wheel (a Hula Hoop and duct tape) from my hands.

I settled into the middle lane just in time for a black pickup truck to pass on my left at what I estimated was 287 mph, the vortex sucking two hoses, the washer fluid container and some sort of a clamp out from beneath the Pinto's hood.

As the Air Force Academy's Cadet Chapel loomed to the west, I bowed my head and thanked the Lord that the swarms of vacationing drivers from Texas had already arrived at their resort destinations and were now skiing into trees.

I-25, with its 65 mph construction zone limit, was now a mix of roughly scraped and milled asphalt, lanes of differing heights, potholes, ruts and the occasional large clump of asphalt. Toronto Mayor Rob Ford's news conferences have been smoother.

At 70 mph (OK, OK ... 46) the ragged surface caused my tires to make a loud, horrible noise, a high-pitched whine that was terrible and yet still much better than listening to Miley Cyrus sing.

I somehow managed to pass a car with Montana license plates that was traveling in the middle lane — and I am not kidding — at 45 mph. (Frankly, I wouldn't be in any great hurry to get back to Montana in the winter, either.)

The Pinto made it to Monument in 15 minutes and, after a quick bag of oats, we turned around and headed south.

As a bonus, heavy concrete barricades lined both sides of the southbound roadway, in some places no more than two feet from the travel lanes. The barricades were festooned with black tire skid marks where, you'd guess, astute Springs drivers have run into them while texting, applying makeup and looking under the front seat for their shoes.

On that noon hour last Friday, it was clear and warm. Saturday night it turned bitterly cold. The TV news people said I-25 was coated with snow and ice. I suggested to the Pinto that we check out the road in those conditions.

He tried to kick me.

Rich Tosches (rangerrich@csindy.com) also writes a Sunday column in the Denver Post.

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