Dec 6, 2011
THE DEMON IN THE SKY
One of my favorite movies is The Right Stuff. I especially like the parts about Chuck Yeager and the other post World War II test pilots that flocked to Edwards Air Force Base to try their hands at flying experimental high-speed aircraft. In real life, the open skies of the California desert drew these fearless men from all over the country. They came in droves, yet it was the fierce, but friendly rivalry between Yeager and Scott Crossfield that stood out in the pages of Tom Wolfe’s 1979 book, The Right Stuff. In 1983, the book became a movie, and naturally, Chuck Yeager joined the ranks of Malcolm Smith, Mert Lawwill, and Bob Hannah as my childhood heroes.
In 1947, Yeager became the first man to fly at the speed of sound--supersonic speed – a milestone known to test pilots as the “demon in the sky.” In the years that followed, Yeager, Crossfield, and other test pilots would fly experimental aircraft, in a race to achieve speed and altitude records. Before Crossfield’s jets were even cooled from a record-breaking flight, Yeager would take off to set a new record, and vice versa. The rivalry nearly killed each man on multiple occasions; however many other pilots caught up in the action weren’t as lucky. They lacked “The Right Stuff.” One of the opening scenes in the movie is set at the funeral of an unnamed test pilot who met his destiny while chasing that demon in the sky.
It’s certainly not as historic, spectacular, or epic as the competition between Yeager and Crossfield, but it is space-aged and it does test man and how he pedals his machine. It’s called Strava, and using GPS, it measures the speed that you descend, ascend, and travel roads and trails, compares the data to others that have ridden or ran the same segments, and then makes that information available to the world at Strava.com. The geniuses (and I mean that in all sincerity, not sarcastically) at Strava call it “social fitness.” I call it war.
For example, I’m currently in a heated battle with any man, woman, or child in the greater Inland Empire downloading their workouts to Strava. The moment I get an email notification that someone ascended the Three Hawks trail at the Crafton Hills Conservancy faster than my previous record, I’m throwing a leg over the nearest top-tube to go win back my King of the Mountain (KOM) status. Meanwhile, over at Loma Linda’s Hulda Crooks Park, a skirmish between the people piloting trail bikes, and a couple of singlespeeders, has gotten messy. One after another, they’re taking downhill runs on trails called Jedi and Jackrabbit, and one after another, the runs are getting faster.
These same kinds of KOM confrontations are taking place on roads and trails all over the World. So, thanks to Strava, the iconic rivalry between Yeager and Crossfield is alive in spirit. Strava is revealing the “pudknockers” from those who actually have “The Right Stuff.”