Burning up your brakes

Recently I was driving through some of the steep, winding mountain roads above Gatlinburg Tennessee and I wound up behind someone in a Nissan Altima. They were creeping downhill riding their brakes and smoke was literally pouring out of their front wheel wells. There was such a volume of smoke that I was surprised the brakes didn’t actually catch fire.

This reminded me of some lessons that I learned on Kilimanjaro from (figuratively) burning up my brakes going downhill. By the time we got to the 2-day downhill trek on Kili we were exhausted and were trying to gingerly step down the rocky path as if we were putting on the brakes the whole time.

The problem with creeping down a mountain like this is that your “brakes” are your joints and muscles, and after a while the constantly repeated eccentric contraction of thigh and back muscles, our “brakes” were smoking!

While we were using our muscles to try to slow our descent the whole time, the guides and porters nimbly sped down the mountainside only using their legs to keep them off the ground. They basically ran down Kilimanjaro.

After trying to creep down Kili, our legs were wrecked just like the brakes on that Nissan Altima I saw at Gatlinburg.

Hopefully next time we get on a mountain we won’t burn up our brakes – in our car or in our legs!