Travel

Cruising up Pikes Peak in a Mustang

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“I can get you a good deal on a convertible Mustang.” How did the Budget rental car agent get inside my head?

It was after 1 a.m.—and two flight delays. My husband and I were going to pick up a Ford Fiesta at the Denver International Airport car rental office. But then the Mustang offer was dangled in front of us.

I’ve checked the cost of renting the sports car in the past. And yes, this was a good deal.

My husband smiled. Shortly thereafter, I was holding the key to a bright orange Mustang. We could have gone with white, but if you’re going to be bold, why not be truly memorable?

Now, there was a slight wrinkle in our plans. We needed the car for our trip up Pikes Peak Highway. The road is a heart-thumping-in-your-chest, sticky-hands-sweating-on-the-steering-wheel climb. It is 19.5 miles long with 162 turns. Corners can be blind, and many lack guard rails. The speed limit is 25 miles per hour.

Almost immediately after posting on social media that we had rented a Mustang, I started receiving warnings about low gear and avoiding burning up the brakes on the way down. Brake overheating and failure on Pikes Peak Highway is such a concern that there is a mandatory checkpoint on the way down. If your brakes are too hot, you’re forced to pull over until they cool.

My husband is a European who didn’t learn to drive until his 30s. I grew up in Kansas. I was behind the wheel at 13. I had a learner’s permit by the time I was 14. I can drive an automatic, I can drive a stick shift. In fact, I’m a fairly good driver. But I’m not so crazy about heights. No, not good with heights at all.

Nevertheless, we persisted with our plan. I would drive. Two days after we rented the car, we were paying the toll to get on the highway.

As our Mustang climbed up the mountain, my stomach tightened. I forced my eyes to focus on the yellow lines. I refused to look over the side of the road. If I glanced down at the abyss, I was afraid I might not continue.

Up, up and up our Mustang went. I selected the car’s wet-and-snow mode to control the acceleration. The sports car hugged our lane, never veering outside the lines. The steering was crisp and responsive. We made it all the way up to Marker 16. At that point, we parked the car and took a shuttle the rest of the way to the top. Then we hiked for a few hours afterward.

It was late in the afternoon when we ventured back down. It was time to test my braking ability. I was careful not to ride the brakes while simultaneously preventing the car from gaining too much momentum during the descent. About halfway down, we reached the brake checkpoint. Two cars in front of us were forced to pull over because of high-temperature readings.

My Mustang’s brakes? As cool as the mountain air. I high-fived my husband. Later, I bragged on Facebook.

Driving the orange Mustang was one of the highlights of our four-day vacation. The color made it easy to find our parked car. The power and handling of the vehicle made it fun to drive on the highway. If another car challenged me, well, I was only too happy to race. I told my husband that the Mustang had brought out “my inner a—hole.”

I loved every minute of driving it.

Would I buy one? I have considered the possibility in the past. But I also love our electric car. I don’t like spending money on gas. And I worried quite a bit about the Mustang when we had to leave it overnight in parking garages.

I think a vacation car rental is enough to satisfy my urge for a little speed and a lot of fun.

How about you? Would you rather own a sports car or just borrow one for a few days?

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