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Head in the Clouds

Head in the Clouds

Head in the Clouds


Carlin Dunne journals the difficult lead up to his recent 'Race to the Clouds' win at Pikes Peak.

WORDS Carlin Dunne IMAGES Larry Chen

Our friend Carlin Dunne, 36, died yesterday after he lost control of his Ducati V-4 Streetfighter near the finish line of the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. After the defending “King of the Mountain” hit a bump in the road less than a quarter-mile from the finish line, he crashed and succumbed to his injuries. We’ve shed our tears for Carlin Dunne, who was one of the people we respected most in this industry. He had recently sold his Ducati dealership in Santa Barbara, California, and was looking forward to chasing bigger, better things for himself; he would’ve been even greater than he was. Carlin was humble, open, respectful, and kind, always, and was one of the most talented motorcyclists in history. We know he died doing the thing he was made to do, but it doesn’t mean it should’ve happened, and it’s a terrible loss and a terrible sadness to feel. We miss you, Carlin, but we’ll see you again.

Carlin wrote the following article after the 2018 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.

Prior to 2008 I’d never been to Pikes Peak, and that year I attended the annual hill climb as a spectator ... a life-altering experience that set me on the path I’m still exploring. It’s been ten years since my first trip to Pikes Peak, and I’ve just brought home my fourth “King of the Mountain” trophy.

A battle of attrition started long before I rolled up to the starting line on my Ducati Multistrada 1260 Pikes Peak edition; a week of sleep-deprived days and violent sickness shocked my nerves. My team was great, my bike was good, my competition was hungry, and the race was the hardest it’s ever been. Flipping back through my journal from race week, I'm reminded that the journey defined my race, not the victory...I still can’t believe we pulled it off.

The following are some of my notes, which I never intended to share...


I'm out of sorts. I felt sick on the puddle jumper and met a gal who may or may not be a stripper. I mustered the courage to introduce myself at the end of the flight. She looked at me and said, “I already looked you up” and walked away. Strange start to Pikes Peak week.


Tech inspection went smoothly. Noticed the paint wasn't totally dry on my new Bell helmet. It’s funny...I’m comfortable around here only when I’m on my bike. The rest of the time is waiting...uncomfortable hours of thinking “what if.” It drives me mad, chasing imagined outcomes. You can lose the race in your mind before ever reaching the starting line. 


First 3 a.m. wake-up call of the week, first day of practice and qualifying. Woke up with a head cold, and I’m definitely not in the game...not feeling aggressive. Qualifying determines the start order, and I finish second for the day. Not the end of the world, but I’m off my mark.


I feel like shit. After finishing practice in first place, I rode down the hill, had breakfast, then vomited up a greasy garden omelet. I literally had egg coming out my nose. I took a two-hour nap, but woke up with a blinding headache and needed a couple bags of IV fluid. Had the doctor come check me out, says I have altitude sickness on top of a head and chest cold. They have me scheduled for media obligations today, I have to bail. Gotta kick this, mind over matter.


I woke up with a fever. I couldn’t listen to music on the drive to the Pikes Peak because my head hurt so much. Today’s practice was delayed after rider went off the course, then when big horn sheep wandered onto the course. On one run I caught a false neutral and almost went off the side of the mountain...a blown attempt, which meant the guys from KTM took the top spot. I always say, “It’s easier to lose time than make time.” Need to heed my own advice. Work at home is stacking up, over a hundred emails in the inbox. There's zero phone service or wifi here. Saw a guy with a tinfoil hat earlier, possibly not crazy, just trying to get phone service.


I had to be fast today. I had to let the team, my competitors, and myself know I’m still in the game, that I hadn’t come unraveled. I downed my meds and laid down the day’s top time, and surprised myself with the fastest-ever time for a motorcycle on the course’s bottom section. Unfortunately, I overexerted myself and needed another couple IV bags. I feel I’m not improving, and it’s stressing me out. Are the meds making things worse? I have to do media events this evening, but I just want to hide and sleep.


Hopefully my head cold clears up so I can think a bit...can’t dwell on it. Insane turnout at fan fest tonight. Cool to connect with people but had to bail quick...was sweating just sitting there. While I was signing his poster, a little kid asked, “What’s wrong with you?”

I’m so fucked.

Race Day:

I rolled out of bed moderately optimistic. After a little yoga and getting dressed in my Alpinestars leathers, I borrowed a bike and rode over to Starbucks, got myself a cold brew and some oatmeal, and sat there sweating like a pig in summer. I blazed back up hill to make the 7 a.m. riders meeting, then told my team I didn’t want to see anyone. I had an hour to put my Illness, self-doubt, and weakness in a box. Breathing, sipping fluid, and mediating. I started visualizing laps; if you start the race and things come at you too fast, you’re in trouble.


My team communicated with me in short hand—ten riders to go, five to go, one minute, thirty seconds, time to go—and I hopped out of my Sprinter van and got onto my Multi, waiting and running.

I rolled up to the start with a thousand people lining the chute. I couldn’t hear them. I could feel the thump, thump, thump from the helicopter overhead, pounding in my chest.

The clock counted down from 10. Big, deep breath. “Leave nothing on the table.”

Five, four. 

I clicked it into first gear, found my revs, and felt the engine. 

Two, one...go. 



Carlin Dunne went on to win this Pikes Peak race with a time of 9 minutes 59.102 seconds (Carlin's fourth win at Pikes Peak).

From the Iron & Air crew to Carlin and his team, we say thank you for taking the time to chronicle the lead up to this momentous win. See ya at the top!


Photos | Larry Chen  | Follow @carlosbandito



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