Friday, July 2, 2010

Clinging to the Curves

View From Berthoud Pass.
It was my 19th Fourth of July weekend and I was beginning to feel grown up in ways I'd never known. Up until then, my uncle and I drove across the mountains together to visit family over the holiday, frequently in his 1966 Mustang GT. The GT model had a 289 cubic inch V-8 with four-barrel carburetor, four-speed stick shift, and a nice, tight suspension that made the curves on Berthoud Pass a teenager's delight. This particular year, however, I drove myself in my own 1966 Mustang.

It struck me as appropriate to be driving through the mountains in a car designated the "High Country Special," though I never figured out what made it "special" except that it was mine. I could have ridden with my uncle and he offered, but the idea of being "lost and alone on some forgotten highway, traveled by many, remembered by few," was too great and I yearned for the freedom of the open road.

I've written about my Mustang on other occasions and if you recall, I mentioned it had a 200 cubic inch in-line six cylinder engine. In-line means the cylinders were quite literally placed in a straight line, front to back, unlike the newer V-6s that place three cylinders on a side at oblique angles from one another. Like my uncle's, mine had a stick shift, but only three forward speeds and first gear was non-synchromeshed, which meant double-clutching to downshift from second. I guess you could say it was a transitional gearbox, incorporating elements of the old and new, perfect for someone in transition from youth to manhood.

Anyhow, my Mustang, with its Dunlop radials, clung to the curves with the same smooth grace every woman wants in a slinky black silk dress. Uphill was another matter, because those six cylinders couldn't generate enough power to get me out of second gear. So, there I was, being passed by everything from eighteen wheelers to grandparents towing aluminum Airstream motor homes behind massive Chevy V-8s. It was embarrassing, for sure, so I kept my eyes straight ahead and waited for the downhill when I'd make them eat my dust.

I knew the route by heart and every stop and start was like an old friend, but it still felt as though we were being introduced for the first time. At long last, the road was mine and I was meeting life head-on in a rush of cold mountain air. I'll never forget that first trip -- it was like my first date, only better. There was no kiss at the door -- neither had there been on my first date, by the way, but since I didn't know how to kiss it would have probably been a let down for both of us. Still in all, each one left me feeling I'd done something meaningful and in a perhaps small but decisive way, I was becoming a man.

(Creative Commons image of the view from Berthoud Pass, Colorado by ajaswa via Flickr; Sweet Surrender, words and music by John Denver, copyright 1974)

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