Everyday entropy: the saddle road

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the saddle road
Hunter S. Thompson, Driving the Saddle Road (the Curse of Lono)

We were coming into Hilo very fast, running downhill in the rain through a residential district at just under a hundred miles an hour. The speedometer went up to 180, but I was not in the mood for unnecessary risks at this point, so I hit the accelerator and shifted down into second gear. . . . Ackerman screamed something at me as a tin mailbox suddenly appeared right in front of us, but I missed it and punched the gas again as we hit the inside of the curve on a straight bounce and kept going. I had never driven a Ferrari before and it had taken me a while to get the hang of it … but now that I finally felt comfortable with the machine, I wanted to push it a bit, lean back and let it run. (Any car that costs $60,000,1 felt, was built for some special purpose—and until now I had not understood just exactly what this one had been built for, what it really wanted to do.)

The numbers on the speedometer had fooled me, for a while, into thinking that the Ferrari 308 was made to go fast. But I was wrong about that. A lot of cars will go fast, and I have driven most of them—-But I have never driven anything that I would dare to put through a five-mile stretch of downhill S-turns at 100 miles an hour in the rain on a two-lane blacktop highway from 10,000 feet above sea level down to zero in less than ten minutes.

The drop is so steep and so fast that every once in a while, at 100 miles an hour, you get an eerie sense of freefall. It is almost like flying, or falling off a cliff. All the outside noise fades away and your eyes feel big in your head and the focus gets very, very sharp.

We had already broken the record—or at least I thought we had—but I couldn’t be sure and Ackerman had gone rigid in the passenger seat, no longer keeping track of the stopwatch. He had been yelling numbers at me every ten or fifteen seconds for almost an hour, but now he was getting nervous. His eyes were wild and his hands were braced on the black leather dashboard. I could see that his confidence was slipping. What he wanted now was a handle, but that was out of the question. We had left all our handles at the top of the hill, in the shadow of Hilo Prison, two minutes ahead of the record and miraculously still alive.

Concentrate, I thought. Stay on the fall line, don’t touch the brakes, use the gears and don’t blink.. .. This is dangerous, we are almost out of control.

But not quite, and the car had amazing balance. It was finally on its own turf, functioning at the top of its form, and I didn’t have the heart to slow it down. Far out in front of us I could see, through the clouds, a white line of surf hitting up on the rocks around Hilo harbor. It stretched off in both directions like a line drawn with chalk, the lush green coast of Hawaii on one side and the deep gray swell of the Pacific on the other. The bay was full of whitecaps, and no boats were out … a bleak Sunday morning in Hilo, the capital city of the Big Island. The population is mainly Japanese, who tend to sleep in on Sundays, and not many of whom are good Catholics.


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