Living Lake Country Release

Local resident 'races to the clouds'
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By Kaitlin Phillips
Posted: July 16, 2013
The Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, also known as a race to the clouds, is in its 91st year in Colorado. The 12.42-mile course has 156 turns and is the second-oldest race for cars and motorcycles. It's pretty clear to see why competing on the mountain course becomes a goal for the most serious of racers.
Wes Orloff who lives with his wife and two children in the Town of Vernon has been racing motorcycles for more than 20 years. Now an engineer with Harley-Davidson, motorcycles are just in his blood.
"When I was a lot younger I was riding on the street and it was getting to the point where I was riding too fast for it to be safe. So I decided to go to the race track and I haven't really gone back since," Orloff said.
After having seen races at Pikes Peak in the 1990s, Orloff began to get the itch to participate on his motorcycle. It was in 2012 that he took his first attempt at Pikes Peak and suffered a season-ending crash. In 2013, however, Orloff received a much different outcome.
2012 race a game changer
"(In the '90s) It used to be about 90 percent and 10 percent paved and I was never really a dirt cyclist, I'd much rather race on pavement," Orloff said. "Every year they paved a bigger and bigger section. In 2012, that was the first year the entire thing was paved and that was kind of the final straw, I'd run out of excuses. I'd like to attempt to do this at some point in my life and it seemed like a good time to try it."
Orloff took a team of supporters and his Harley-Davidon XR1200 to Colorado and accepted the challenge.
"It was a bike I worked on at work. It wasn't the optimal bike for the class. It was down in horse power but it was my first year," Orloff said. "It's a street course so there are paint lines, there's not a lot of rubber so it's slippery and theres no runoff, it's just cliffs and trees and boulders and stuff. You have to approach it with a different mindset. You have to use your brain more than your heart; that's what bit me in 2012."
Orloff was having a pretty good race, running in fourth, when he tangled with his bike in a nasty, season-ending crash going more than 100 mph. He had a broken tibia and a torn MCL/PCL/ACL, but he was alive.
"I think it took them about 10 minutes to tell my wife it was non-life-threatening. She only knew there had been a crash and it had been me. I can't even imagine her stress," Orloff said "But once she found out it was a bit easier. By the time she met me at the hospital she was pretty calm, cool and collected."
Orloff underwent what he called "pretty much knee reconstruction surgery" last August. The doctors told him it would be at least a year before he was feeling more like normal.
"I really underestimated the recovery time and the pain and all that; I thought maybe six months," Orloff said with a reflective smile. " I was pretty much sitting down for three months before I could even really use crutches and walk around."
While Orloff's day job allows him to sit at a desk, his other full-time job as a dad wasn't as forgiving.
"It was a little brutal and it was an eyeopener to not be able to walk or run, or chase my kids (4 and 3) around. I give my wife all the credit she really picked up the slack I created," Orloff said. "There was a lot of second guessing about if I should attempt it again but my wife was really supportive. I hated having it hover over me that we almost made it but we didn't quite get through it."
Orloff spent more than six months in physical therapy and credits his therapist for getting him ready to return to road-racing in April.
"In April of this year I rode a road-race motorcycle for the first time. That didn't go well at all. I had movement in my knee but no strength so I went back to (physical therapy) and we came up with a routine to get strength back so I could ride a motorcycle," Orloff said.
By June, Orloff had trained to again race to the clouds.
Return to Pikes Peak
It was a difficult decision to venture back to Pikes Peak, but one Orloff made with a goal in mind and the support of friends and family.
"I'm a huge supporter of following your dreams so if that's one of those goals you want to achieve I'm going to support. I race motorcycles as well so I understand what it's like to have that challenge in front of you and want to go after it. I would definitely want my family there and people supporting me so I wanted to be there for him," said Wes's wife Leah. "It could be the last time you race but you could be walking outside and get hit by a bus. You just never know."
Orloff's only goal was to make it safely to the top. As the week of practice runs and qualifying wore on, Orloff gained the confidence he needed.
"I felt rusty during the practice and qualifying but the second day I was fastest in class and that was a huge confidence booster," Orloff said. "The third day we practiced in the section I crashed in and I slipped down to fourth. It was just mentally challenging getting through that section I crashed in."
A self-described "bundle-of-nerves" the day of the race, Orloff sailed through the turn he crashed in in 2012. Both him and his wife, who was watching it broadcast live nearby took a sigh of relief.
"Then actually, ironically enough, a few turns later I hit a paint stripe and I actually did crash again. But I was so determined to make it up. When I crashed I didn't even let go of the handlebars," Orloff said. "The bike just took me along with it."
Orloff quickly recovered, but after losing 40 seconds in a race that usually takes a little over 10 minutes, he reminded himself that his only goal was to finish.
By the end of the day, Orloff, who had hit a high speed of 145 mph in his approximately 11-minute run, had taken a second place finish.
"It was just a better result than I could have ever imagined," Orloff said. "First goal was to finish but to get on the podium was awesome. It exceeded everyone's expectations."
Orloff won a cash prize and a glass trophy, which he says with a laugh has numbered days in a household with two small children.
As for next year? Orloff said he has until December to decide if he will race again, but he's not ruling it out.