I am a cyclist, genealogist, soccer referee, grandfather (x5), and cancer survivor. And I have ridden 90,000* miles cancer-free.
You have stumbled upon the personal blog of Barry Sherry. It is my private journal but made public. After keeping a journal for years I decided to push this out to the web. Maybe someone will find some information of value.
I have included the names, and in some cases, photos of others I have met in my journey. If you are mentioned and do not want to be, kindly contact me and I can change that.
Enjoy the blog. If you would like to know more about me, click my About Me page.
Slowly, many of the events that disappeared in 2020 started to come back in 2021, and more in 2022. Some were old, some were new. Above all, it was another year of living. Another year of life.
WHAT’S NOT ON THE LIST
Events that have become regular on my schedule disappeared this year. The Livestrong Challenge, after a two-year hiatus, returned but on the same date as Phil’s Cookie Gran Fondo so I could not attend. Sadly, I had no involvement with the Texas4000. The Ride to Conquer Cancer (Richmond, Va.) and the Alpine Loop Gran Fondo (Harrisonburg, Va.), but closed this year, and are uncertain whether they will return in 2023. And I think my annual Somerset to Punxsutawney (Pa.) rides are all in the past.
MY TOP TEN CYCLING MOMENTS/MEMORIES (In no particular order)
After ‘while Crocodile
Searching for Aurora Teagarden
A New Ferry Ride
Maryland Cycling Class
Sea Gull Century
Hanging with Mr. Miller
Phil’s Cookie Gran Fondo
No Longer Worst
10. PAN-FLORIDA CHALLENGE. In March I went to Fort Myers, Fla. for a two-day cancer ride. On Saturday we rode 100 miles from Fort Myers to Sebring. On Sunday we rode 105 miles from Sebring to Tampa. All of it was into a headwind. I was very anxious to see how I would do with back-to-back centuries in late winter.
9. AFTER ‘WHILE CROCODILE (because I’ve used See You Later Alligator before). After the Pan-Florida Challenge, I met a 75-year-old friend and we rode in Shark Valley in the Everglades among the alligators. I love this ride. Not so sure that she did.
8. SEARCHING FOR AURORA TEAGARDEN. After I rode the Glimcher Keystone MS ride in State College, Pa. I drove to Montour Falls (near Watkins Glen), New York. In this Hallmark-looking town in the Finger Lakes, I was looking for the main street with a waterfall cascading down the hillside at the end of the street. This is the setting for the Hallmark Channel’s Aurora Teagarden series. I found the town. I found the street. But no waterfall. It was dry. But I had a wonderful 45-mile ride topped off by meeting some cousins for the first time.
7. A NEW FERRY. Every good ride needs a ferry and I didn’t have one since the parties were still fighting over Historic White’s Ferry in Leesburg, Va. / Poolesville, Md. But I went to Maryland’s Eastern Shore and found one near St. Michael’s / Easton. The Bellevue-Oxford Ferry crosses the Tred Avon River and is absolutely delightful. In all, I made five trips to ride the ferry.
6. MARYLAND CYCLING CLASSIC. The first UCI race in North America came to Baltimore County and I was a course marshal. I pre-rode the course in northern Baltimore County two days prior and ran into EF-Education First. I also got to chalk a message for Toms Skuijins.
5. SEA GULL CENTURY. I was riding along minding my own business for 90 miles even thinking this would be my last Sea Gull. Then I passed a young lady who was struggling to finish her first century. For the next 45 minutes, I had a purpose and that was to see her cross the finish line. Up to that point, the ride was somewhat boring then all of a sudden it had a purpose. The best rides don’t all have the fastest speeds or the longest distance. Sometimes it’s the unexpected things that make a ride great.
4. HANING WITH MR. MILLER I had gone to Phil’s Cookie Gran Fondo and purposely decided that on Saturday I would not ride with the fast kids but save some energy for Sunday. Our group went 30 minutes later, I picked up a goathead or two and flatted, and just turned around. Being first one back for lunch gave me the chance to change with NBA Hall of Fame player, Reggie Miller. (He said don’t call him “Mr. Miller.”)
3. PHIL’S FONDO. After a three-year hiatus, I was able to go to California, thinking it may be my last time. But I am always treated so nicely there and I had a ton of PRs on all the climbs. Even hitched my ride to the World Tour Pro when Rick Zabel went by pulling six other riders.
2. NO LONGER WORST. After Phil’s Fondo I drove to Santa Barbara looking for Gilbraltor Road. It was 2018 that I finished dead last in the Hillclimb Worlds (I do have my reasons). I was able to ride up the climb in one hour, taking a whopping 12 minutes off my performance from four years ago.
1. MWARBH. There is nothing to compare. And after almost 10 years off I came back for a second time in two years, this time with my granddaughters. So very special.
This is the hardest bicycle climb in the world. And having my daughter and granddaughters dressed as chickens – priceless.
END OF A STREAK
I rode 1,098 straight days of at least 10 miles. That streak ended on January 3 with a foot of snow. But it freed me up so that I didn’t ride just to keep the streak going because I rode in truly miserable conditions the past three years just to keep the streak going.
BEST DAY OFF THE BIKE – I
On August 22, I took my grandson, Aiden to Williamsport, Pa. to watch the Little League World Series. It was an incredible day that was better than any day on the bike.
BEST DAY OFF THE BIKE – II
On November 19, and “riding” a new streak since I hadn’t missed a day since August 22, I was traveling from South Carolina to Florida. I hoped to ride somewhere but planned to meet John Andre and his family for dinner. I ran out of time. We went straight to dinner which was at the Garden in the Land Pavillion at EPCOT in Walt Disney World.
BEST DAY OFF THE BIKE – III
I gave up a day of riding to drive to Pittsburgh with my daughter and two grandsons to watch the Steelers play.
BEST OLD BIKE
My Trek Pilot, which was destined for the landfill with a cracked chain stay, came back to life. I paid Ruckus Composites, in Portland, Oregon, for carbon repair, and rode 2,100 miles since I got it back.
BEST NEW BIKE
Annabelle’s bike was dangerous so when we returned from New Hampshire we went to the Bike Lane in Reston and got her a Trek FX.
WHEN PROMPTNESS GETS RIDICULOUS
I was enjoying riding with a group called the Old Cranks out of Warrenton, Va. But I didn’t like to drive to their start location opting instead to ride in. Twice I rode 10-15 miles to make the 10:00 a.m. departure time only to discover they rolled out at 9:55 a.m. And yes, I had responded that I would be there. I stopped riding with them because someone doesn’t know what a published start time means.
BEST DOLLAR SPENT
While in Santa Monica at an In-N-Out Burger, I paid a 12-year-old one dollar to watch my bike while I went in and ordered. His dad was with him.
Not the sound, but the biometric tracker. I started wearing the Whoop band and am geeking out on the data it provides. Notably is my recovery score. Almost always, on the day of a big event, I wake up with a recovery score in the red and I still don’t know why. The morning of the Mount Washington Hillclimb my recovery score was 8%. Yikes!
DAYS OFF THE BIKE
My 1100-day (actually 1,098) streak was broken on January 3 with a foot of snow. Without a streak to continue it kept me from purposely riding in freezing rain or late at night when I couldn’t otherwise ride. It meant I didn’t ride every day, in fact, I missed 25 days in all. Assume those would were horrible weather days and would have been mostly 10-mile days that’s still 250 miles I left out there. But probably more.
ICE ICE BABY
I still rode when it was cold. Just not as far as in the past.
MOST EMBARRASSING MOMENT
Jeremy Powers is a former cyclocross champion and now spokesman for the Whoop Band. After riding up Mt. Washington he looked at my Whoop Band and told me that I was wearing it wrong. He then took it off me and fixed the strap for a neater look. My bad.
In June I had flatted near the Manassas Airport. I sliver of metal was protruding from the tire and I had no way to extract it and repair it. A man stopped, saw what I needed, in an 10 minutes returned with his Leatherman tool. And he gave it to me. Not lent. But gave.
This is not a cheap tool. On Amazon the price is $181.
WHAT IS A KILOMETER?
In October I wanted to back off a little and switched my Wahoo to display kilometers. And I haven’t switched back. The advantages are I am no longer fixated on keeping a certain speed or traveling a certain distance. The disadvantages are that I no longer know how fast to pace myself when I’m riding with others.
BEST BURGER JOINT
Foster’s Grille – Manassas, Va. With outdoor seating and bike parking next to the train station and employees who know me by name, this place is the best. They added Coke Zero to their soft drinks this year too. Pro Tip: Mondays they offer a senior discount.
BEST ICE CREAM
Scottish Highlands Creamery, Oxford, Maryland. Perfectly positioned near the end of a 60-mile ride on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and right after a great ferry ride. A single includes two scoops. But check operating hours. One day I rode there and it was closed.
BEST ICE CREAM – HONORABLE MENTION
Moo-Thru, Remington, Virginia. Often the focal point of a Remington ride. Actually, it is always the focal point of a Remington ride.
This very hilly ride in central Florida is horrible if you don’t like hills or, officially, “only horrible if you miss it.” Or this year, horrible to ride in it. The weather forecast of rain “later in the day” was woefully off. I cut my ride short to 45 miles, got back to the hotel to relax and watched the rain come down. The temperature never got above 55 degrees and I didn’t feel like getting my bike and my shoes soaked.
TEN THOUSAND AGAIN
A mileage goal isn’t usually my goal but I first achieved 10,000 miles in 2019. Did it again in 2020 and 2021 so that became my goal this year too. But because I didn’t ride every day it just seemed harder to reach 10,000 miles. And in some ways, that made it more rewarding.
Frederick County, Maryland, became one of my favorite places to ride with three covered bridges near Thurmont plus the haunted Sachs Bridge in Gettysburg.
MOST SATISFYING KOM
I never thought I would compete for a KOM on the Mapledale Climb but in November I had a good ride and saw I was within reach of a KOM. I had been 9th but finished second that day. Then I saw the profile of the person who held the title – Mighty Mouse. I’m not a fan of people who hide behind fake screen names and there was something about seeing Mighty Mouse that told me I had to claim the crown. And I did.
MILES BY BIKE
Domane – 5,884 Pilot – 2,232 Checkpoint – 1,953
The Domane got almost 60% of my miles but the Pilot came back online in late June. Since then the Domane was ridden for 3,029 miles or 58% of my road miles while the Pilot gave me 2,232 miles. The Checkpoint is used for gravel (rare), trails (rare), and bad weather.
In 2020 I was happy when I took four KOM segments. Then last year I somehow took 121. (Don’t ask.) I never expected to take more than a handful in 2022 but Strava said I took 42. Wow! I’ll take them.
DISTANCE – 10,070 (16,206 km) miles. It was my fourth time over 10,000 miles and my fourth consecutive year.
There is a slight difference between the two tracking programs, Strava and RideWithGPS (10,068 vs 10,071) despite the same files being uploaded to both. I don’t worry about the minor discrepancy.
DAYS RIDDEN: 337
WEIGHT: 178 (just a little bit up from the end of last year)
It was chilly, if not cold, at the start. Just 52° (11°C) and pretty windy. There was a forecast of rain moving in in the afternoon. My options were a 100-mile ride or a 70-mile ride. Plus I would be adding the distance to and from the hotel.
I was thinking about the century ride and whether I would have enough time to ride 100 miles and beat the rain. Maybe the weather would force my hand. But there was something else.
I have been wearing the Whoop band which measures biometrics. Last night, and the two nights prior to that, my “recovery” rate has been poor. My body is not recovering the way I need it to and therefore a big effort may be hard to achieve.
I was out the door by 7:00 a.m. and was at the start by 7:20 a.m. I was ready to roll but wanted to meet a friend first. Scott lives in the area and we planned to meet at 7:30 a.m. But he was running late and we did not meet and get rolling until 8:00 a.m. I felt like everyone who was riding was already on course and ahead of me.
As I pedaled the first 15 miles I didn’t feel right. The jump in my legs was not there. Or maybe worse, the enthusiasm I have for riding the bike was missing. There was a group of 30-somethings, probably four men and two women although maybe it was three and three, that went by me. It was a group that I might normally jump into (if they didn’t mind). But I didn’t have the energy to stay with them.
I didn’t need Whoop to tell me that. I was off. I decided then to take the 100-mile ride off the table and do the 70-mile ride. But the weather started turning. There was some spitting rain already and I had to rethink my strategy.
I remembered what Jens Voigt said when he retired. He loves riding his bike but the two things he will no longer do is suffer and ride in the rain. And I knew that even if I rode 70 miles, that I would be suffering. And I would probably be riding in the rain.
That made my decision easier. There’s something nagging about shortening the route as though one has failed. I had to put that out of my mind and convince myself that it was okay. But I knew that today, it was the right thing to do. This was the fifth time for this event. I have ridden the 100-mile route twice and the 70-mile twice so I knew the route and what I would be seeing or missing. My decision probably would have been different if this was my first event or first century.
I came to the 30-mile cutoff and turned. I would go short today. Well, it wasn’t exactly short. I added one extra loop around the lake and there was the distance to and from the event. So I still rode 45 miles.
But at the pavilion, as I ate lunch, I watched the rain come down. I knew it was the right decision for me on this day. I rode in the light rain back to the hotel. When I got back I cleaned my bike and then went to the hotel’s whirlpool. It was outside and still only 52° and raining, but it felt so good to slump all the way down in the water.
I wanted more miles today. But my body said no. And the thought of dealing with soaked shoes and soaked clothes while traveling was one I didn’t want to deal with. There will be other rides but Jens is right – no need to suffer or ride in the rain.
EPILOGUE – I felt very good about my decision today. It rained all afternoon and was generally miserable outside. The thought of soaked shoes while traveling was the worst. I could have washed my clothes but not much to do with the shoes.
Four years ago, retired pro cyclist, Phil Gaimon, invited me to race in the Hillclimb Worlds Championship in Santa Barbara. “It will be fun,” he said. I went but knew everything was against me.
Earlier in 2018, I had a memory-loss head injury. I had a knee replacement. And I was carrying way too many pounds. If that wasn’t bad enough, I rode two of southern California’s toughest climbs, Palomar Mountain and Mount Baldy, the previous two days. I had no legs left.
What happened that day was that I finished dead last in the world. We went in waves by age group although these were individual time trials. I got dropped by my group before reaching the base of the climb. So I truly was racing the clock.
I think had I stayed with my group I may have been able to win a 2-up sprint at the end. But it doesn’t matter. I am the world’s worst hill climber.
Today was not the ideal day to attempt a do-over but it was the only day I had. I left the Hampton Inn and Suites Hotel in Agoura Hills precisely at sunrise and drove to Santa Barbara. It was farther than I thought but had always been my plan to ride here no matter what. So I would make it happen.
It was a beautiful sunny day although a little on the cool side. I wore arm warmers at the start knowing they would be coming off. And I had a technology failure. I’m not sure how it transpired but it did.
I needed to do two things before this trip. The first was to find the hillclimb segment on Strava from four years ago and “star” it so that it would show up in my Live Segments on Wahoo when I rode. The second was to “pin” the route so that the route would show up. Alternatively, I could create one from scratch.
I do not remember doing the former. But I did find the route and edited it to remove two miles of riding back and forth in Santa Barbara. And then I needed to sync this with my Wahoo, which I did around midnight before leaving for LA. I think.
Actually, I thought I synced this and checked to see that it was there. When I reached Santa Barbara I turned on my Wahoo and did not see the route. And I certainly did not remember the turns we took from the oceanfront to the start of the climb.
However, on my Wahoo app on my phone, the route was there. I don’t know why or how it’s on the app but not on the Wahoo computer itself. So I looked at the map and tried to remember the turns I needed. This would be a mistake.
Some did look familiar to me. But every canyon road looks the same after a while and I was climbing. But it didn’t feel right. I stopped. I tried to find out where I was and could see that I was not on the right road. I went back down, turned, and thought I was on the right road until I came to the intersection of Coyote Road and Mountain Road. It wasn’t right.
I had to ride back DOWN Mountain Road to get to the start of the climb. But it was a pretty road. Along the way, I passed a house that I didn’t really notice. I noticed the mailbox. It was a piece of art – a cyclist with deliveries in the rear. I would learn this house was owned for 20 years by comedian Steve Martin.
I got to the start of the climb and thoughts about abandoning the day came over me. I did not have all day to ride because I would have to return the rental car by 2:00 p.m. in El Segundo.
Without a map, I was playing in my mind how I could time the climb. I knew that I could ride it and once it’s uploaded to Strava the data will be there. But I would like to know how I was doing.
I decided that I would make it a Lap. And then I could display Lap data which would include time and distance. I would switch to kilometers knowing it was a 10 km ride. And I would have to average 6:00 per kilometer to finish in 60 minutes.
My time, which got me dead last in the Hillclimb Worlds, was 1:12 (one hour and 12 minutes). I wanted not only to beat it but beat it by enough that it would be clear it was not the worst time in the world.
And thus I started. Whether it’s a canyon road or a cliff road, it sure is pretty. To my surprise, the Live Segment popped up so I would not have to resort to a mishmash display of lap data.
The Live Segment data displayed includes distance remaining (10.0 km), time elapsed, prior best time (1:12:23), time ahead or behind, and provides an ETA for the pace one is riding. Just to punish you, it also displays a graphical representation of the entire climb that is color-coded by section depending on the steepness. (Avoid the red)
Almost from the start, I was ahead of my pace. I expected that. Then I started to focus on the ETA. The first time I looked I was on a 58:00 pace. Good, I wanted to continue that. Based on my experience over the weekend at Phil’s Fondo, I seem to improve more significantly on the lesser grades. When the road really gets steep, the 2022 Barry does not seem significantly better than the 2018 Barry. I could see the second half was steeper than the first.
In fact, I went through the first five kilometers in 28 minutes and I knew that double that was 56. Yet my ETA had slipped to 1:00. It also knew there was real pain ahead.
I gave it my all. My bike was a little clunky. Shifting wasn’t right since I landed at LAX and rebuilt the bike. I did not have access to a pump. Normally that would be OK but since my Saturday flat was refilled with CO2, it bleeds faster. My tire was low. And I did not have perfect rolling resistance as my rear brake rotor was out of true and rubbing.
The last kilometer seems to be the steepest. My ETA was showing 1:00:30 and I was getting it down to 1:00:10. I was watching the countdown to 0 meters remaining and it came and went. It was -4 then -20 and so on. I’m not sure when the climb ended and if it ever displayed my final time. I was deprived of seeing PR displayed on the screen.
It would not be until I finished the ride and uploaded it that I saw the “official” Strava time. And Strava time is official whereas Wahoo time is not (although it is usually the same).
But screw the disappointment of not breaking one hour. I shaved off 12 minutes. That’s huge. But I wasn’t even close to the best of the day. It looks like five of us rode and I was 4th. But all are younger and I’m doing OK for tackling this climb.
In terms of speed, at Hillclimb Worlds, I averaged 5.1 mph. Today was 6.0 mph. That’s 18% faster (than a turtle). But 18%!!! I’m happy.
DISTANCE: 10 km TIME: 1:00 WEIGHT: 177 lbs.
THE TWITTER VERSION
And a word about the logistics of this trip. I wanted to minimize car rental costs which I did in two ways. First, I did not rent at LAX. The additional fees heaped on the rental cost are best borne by business travelers. Go offsite somewhere.
I rented offsite at Enterprise Car Rental in El Segundo. I avoided the LAX fees. Many places allow you to return vehicles to a different location. Three years ago, Enterprise charged $100 to return the car to LAX. I didn’t even inquire this time.
I arrived Thursday but didn’t need a car until Friday when I drove to Agoura Hills. I made my reservation for 2:00 p.m. Friday returning on Monday at 2:00 p.m. A three-day rental was enough.
I took a free shuttle from the airport to the Hilton Garden Inn – El Segundo. On Friday I went for a long bike ride (70 miles) and finished at Enterprise Car Rental. I put the bike in the car, drove back to the hotel, and picked up my stuff.
The car was inadequate based on its description as a midsize SUV. It would not hold my bike and my bike case. I asked and the staff (Marissa, actually) at the HGI, told me that I could check it there. I also asked if when I return if I could take their shuttle and they said of course.
I returned the car today at 2:00 p.m. and the Enterprise staff took me back to the hotel. I picked up my bike case, tore down and packed my bike, then took their 4:00 shuttle to LAX. Keep in mind I stayed there on Thursday only, having to stay in Agoura Hills, Friday through Monday.
So a 3-day car rental. No additional shuttle charges to or from hotels. I am quite pleased with how that worked out.
I was out the door of the hotel shortly after sunrise for the six-mile ride to the start of Phil’s Cookie Gran Fondo. I watched the Chocolate Chip route depart at 8:00 a.m. then got in the back of the line for the Sugar Cookie route when Reggie Miller rolled up. I asked him how he was feeling and he said OK. He had a stiff back yesterday and was walking gingerly. Frankie Andreau called for more riders to go to the front. Reggie went up front. I stayed in the back.
We had a neutral rollout with a police escort for three miles. There were a number of riders up ahead. Even though we stayed together to the Westlake Blvd climb, I never saw Reggie again. Imagine that, a world-class athlete 10 years younger than me and I never caught him.
I had no goals planned. Like I have for the past two-plus weeks, I did not display speed or distance. That was not a goal. Stopping at the rest stops was. This was a ride to enjoy. Take it slow if you must, And eat cookies. Lots of cookies.
At the first rest stop, I ate a cookie. The second one came on Pacific Coast Highway and was much too close to the first one. But I stopped and had a cookie. The third one I rode by without stopping.
I was pretty happy that I went over the Westlake Blvd climb in record time (PR). I wasn’t watching speed but Wahoo was displaying Strava Live Segments. I lowered my time by four minutes.
I was hopeful on PCH I could beat my prior time on a flat stretch. But that was set with a tailwind three years ago and today there was a stiff head or cross headwind. I was losing time on a segment which I wasn’t going to finish because we would turn to Potrero Road before the end of the segment.
A small group went by and it was the only draft I would take all day. There were six riders being led by a guy in an Israel Premier Tech kit. A pro kit by itself doesn’t mean that much as they are available for anyone to purchase.
The rider was young and strong. I thought we might be trading pulls but he was nose in the wind all out and we were hanging on. It was glorious.
After 4-5 miles he pulled off as we began the approach to Potrero climb. I pulled alongside side of him and thanked him for the monster pull.
As the group pulled away to attack the climb I was next to rider #101. We both remarked on how strong that rider was. As I was reaching the top of Potrero I saw the Israel rider headed back down the road. I remarked that he was probably going to ride it a second time. And I think he did.
It turned out that was a pro. Rick Zabel who rides for Israel Premier Tech. I also saw him going back up Mulholland as I was descending. And he passed us on the descent on Mulholland. It all makes sense now.
Potrero Road is a beast. I hit the first ramp with a PR then had a mile and a half of a false flat (actually 2-3%) before the real climb began. It’s tough. Some people were walking. One guy broke his chain and had no choice but to walk. Another was paperboying so dramatically that he almost got hit by an oncoming truck.
Although I had a PR on Potrero, it wasn’t nearly as much as on the other climbs. I think the lesser grades I pulled back more time. But at 16% grade, I creep. I wasn’t going to pull back time on the steepest section. Or perhaps, this year we hit Westlake early and Potrero late in the ride. In the past Potrero was at Mile 8 and Westlake around Mile 20 so maybe I was fresher in the past.
At the top of Potrero Road, I stopped at the Rest Stop. Half of a cookie was enough. Plus a banana. The finish was just 12 miles away.
But first, three more Live Segments. The longest was an 8-minute effort in which I shaved off one minute. That was followed by two smaller climbs. Then finally it was downhill or flat, flat and windy, to the finish.
I took almost five minutes off the Westlake Climb but only 46 seconds of Potrero. Yet today I was only in the top 31% while on Potrero I was above the line (top 51%). I am thinking Potrero is so steep in its upper pitches that it didn’t matter how much I weighed – I was going to go slow,. But the weight difference in three years paid big dividends on Westlake.
PR-Phil’s Cookie Fondo Westlake – 15:47 (Old 19:35) Today: 307/459 Potrero Wall – 10:12 (PR – 10:02). This was surprising. Hmm
PR-Potrero Final Ramp – 3:56 (Old 4:02). This section is 0.27 miles at 14% grade. I’m going to go slow no matter what. Or fall over. Today 199/430 Age 45/106
DISTANCE: 59.6 miles AVERAGE: 14.9 mph WEIGHT: 177 lbs COOKIES: 2.5 (plus one more at lunch)
My plan was simple although I blew it yesterday. Today I would ride the shorter of the two routes offered for Phil’s Cookie Gran Fondo. I was already in a huge deficit by accidentally riding 70 miles yesterday.
I left the Hampton Inn Agoura Hills hotel and rode the mile and a half to the Whizen Plaza. Retired pro, Frankie Andreau, was the emcee getting the rides started. The 45-mile “Chocolate Chip Cookie” ride would leave at 9:00 a.m. while the 35-mile “Sugar Cookie” ride would depart at 9:30 a.m. While 35 miles doesn’t seem like much, these have some big climbs in them. In this case, there was 4,500′ of gain over 35 miles.
At the start, there were only about 20 of us remaining for the Sugar Cookie route. Almost everyone went with the first group. Frankie asked how many first-timers there were and more than half raised their hands. But I knew from my ride four years ago not to do the longer route to have something left for tomorrow.
We rolled out and followed the “Cookie” car for two miles until it pulled off. We were in a group although it was splitting up as the roads turned up. I did not want to ride in the front of the group but it was the pace I was comfortable at. So there I was in the front group of nine when we came to rest stop One. While some were debating whether to stop I knew we must get a chocolate chip cookie.
We stopped and I got a chocolate chip cookie. I split a banana with another rider and was debating whether to roll out with the group again and let them go. That decision was made for me. I got my bike off the rack and the rear tire was flat. A quick inspection and I found a goathead in the tire.
There were still three riders behind me as one had a triple flat – also goatheads. They stopped at the rest stop and saw me. But they left before I was finished. I thought they might wait for me but two of the riders, Razzle Dazzle, were clearly together, and I think the third one was too. So they were a unit and I can see that they may not have even thought about waiting for the last rider on course.
Decision made. The CO2 gave me enough air to continue but I did not want to ride the route without a spare and another CO2 cartridge. I told the guy at the rest stop that I was turning around. He seemed surprised but I was comfortable with that decision. I just wanted to get back, and get a new tube and CO2.
I held my breath. On the descents, the bike did not handle well. The squishy tire required me to brake more than I wanted to. But I came to the Mulholland climb I had done before a couple of times. And this time I was more than one minute ahead of my PR, even with a soft tire. That alone made the ride wonderful.
Arriving back, I was first. Well, I didn’t complete the miles anyone else did. I got a new tube and CO2 from VeloFix. I grabbed lunch and sat with Frankie Andreau. Reggie Miller, the former US Olympian and NBA All-Star joined us. It was fun meeting Reggie. I called him Mr. Miller and he corrected me – “please call me Reggie.” I guess I was hanging with Reggie.
It’s one day before Phil’s Cookie Gran Fondo. I stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn – El Segundo. Yesterday I did a short test ride after I rebuilt the bike. I reserved a rental car and would pick it up at 2:00 p.m. I had time for a ride. Even a long ride.
Pro cyclist, Krista Doebel-Hickok, posted a ride yesterday on Pacific Coast Highway. It looked like a recommendation and I scrubbed plans for a shorter ride (35 miles) and decided I would do this. A quick search and I found a site called Spinlister that referred to PCH From Santa Monica To Malibu as the “perfect California bike ride.”
In fairness, there were some warnings that this trip wasn’t for everybody. But I decided it was good enough for me. The views of the ocean, the sound of the surf breaking on the beaches, and the smell of the fresh salt-water air would offset any negatives the highway experience might throw at me. Right?
The trip through El Segundo to the beach was through a mostly residential area with lots of stop signs. I counted 12 and most were four-way stops with traffic so I had to stop and put a foot down for each one. It wasn’t bad, in fact, it was a pleasant ride. But it wasn’t one where average speed would be great.
Once I made it to the beach I got on a bike trail. It was the Marvin Braude Bike Trail. It is generously wide and weaves back and forth along the beach. At Culver City, it becomes a combination of urban bike paths and bike lanes through Venice. There I picked up the bike trail again.
In Venice, the bike trail next to the ocean got very crowded. I am sure it was nothing on a Friday morning in October compared to a Sunday in August. Large parts of the trail were two paths. One was marked exclusively for cyclists while the other was for pedestrians. Despite the presence of the large green markings for Bikes Only, this did not stop many people from walking among the cyclists. We shared the trail with many roller-bladers who were logically welcomed on this path rather than with the walkers.
The trail came to an end north of Santa Monica and then the adventure on the Pacific Coast Highway began. This is a four-lane highway with a small shoulder. There are stretches where cars and parked, and worse, a food truck. The food truck, in order to open to customers on the grass side, parked right up to the white lane. Cyclists have nowhere to go except into the traffic lane.
Traffic here, Santa Monica to Malibu, was heavy. While a Friday morning around 10:00 a.m. seems better than rush hour or possibly weekends, it may not have been. Bumper-to-bumper traffic creeping in this stretch would be safer than the cars whizzing by at 50-55 mph.
My ultimate destination was Point Dume Recreational Area. There were no signs to the area from the south as I went in through a residential area. It looks like a beautiful area for hiking with absolutely wonderful overlooks. It is here where there are some of the best viewing areas for humpback whales migrating from December to March.
Going north, there were a number of pinch points where I had to merge onto the highway. At each one I stopped, took a photo, took two looks behind me to make sure it was clear. And I relied heavily on my Garmin Varia radar.
Going south, there were a lot more times that I had to ride in the traffic lane. Despite the presence of one sign which said Bikes May Use Full Lane, I wondered if any drivers saw the sign. More importantly, I felt that none cared.
I was so thankful I got back safely to Santa Monica and picked up the trail again. I diverted to In-N-Out Burger in Culver City. It was busy and I found a dad with his son, maybe 13 years old, and told the son I’d give him $1 to watch my bike while I went in to order. It was perfect.
I head back to El Segundo to pick up my rental car. On the trail.
The bottom line is the ocean views and saltwater air did not counter the angst of riding on the PCH. I would not recommend this stretch of road. I’m glad I did it once but I am not looking to ride it again.
To be certain, this is only the stretch from Santa Monica to Malibu which is a 💩 show. About eight miles north of Point Dume on the PCH is where Mulholland Highway meets the PCH. We ride this stretch north during Phil’s Fondo. And this stretch is fine for most road cyclists. Wider shoulders and no pinch points. Also better ocean views. In short, avoid PCH from Santa Monica to Malibu. But further north, enjoy the ride.
DISTANCE: 69.5 miles AVERAGE SPEED: 15.3 mph WEIGHT: 177 lbs
Last night I stayed at the Hampton Inn & Suites, West Ocean City. I was asleep at 10 p.m. hoping to get a full eight hours before getting up at 6 a.m. I was most interested in my Whoop Band recovery score which seems to always be poor before a big event.
It did not disappoint. Yesterday I did an easy 22-mile ride in Easton on the way here. I didn’t want to not ride at all and this short ride would not stress me. My Whoop score for the ride was an easy 13.0.
I went to breakfast at 6:30 a.m. I sat down to eat and then looked at my recovery score. It was only 31%. I was already in the red. That signifies that I have not recovered but not riding was not an option. Riding and sucking would be.
I knew no one who was riding today but hoped to see some riders from the Blair Cycling Club (Altoona, Pa.). I used to see them but haven’t for 3-4 years so either we don’t have good timing or they no longer come to this event.
The weather was cool. It reached 80℉ (26.7℃) and I certainly hoped for more of the same. But a cold front came in overnight. It was 55℉ (12.8℃) at the start. Despite a brief appearance of the sun at the rolling start, it was gray and windy.
I didn’t want to be fixated on speed. I removed the speed display from my Wahoo. And I switched the units from miles to kilometers. It’s different. They go by faster than miles but to see “164 km remaining” on the head unit at the start was sort of daunting.
I wore my red Roosters kit, arm warmers, and a vest. Many riders had knee or leg warmers. Even spotted some with balaclavas. I started riding and passing people. I should have been mindful of riding the first third easy, the second third normal, and having enough to finish strong.
Instead, I had a tailwind and took advantage of it. I was passing many riders and passed a guy on a blue bike. I noticed that he picked up the pace and followed me. He never quite sat on my wheel but I knew he was behind me. Eventually, he came beside me and complimented me on my pace. Then he added that he hoped I didn’t mind him “hanging back here because I kept a great pace.” Ha! After a compliment it was OK.
About 10 minutes later, a guy wearing a Marines jersey came flying by, followed by two riders. The third rider was the guy that had been following me. I jumped on. We went a mile or two when the guy with the big engine pulled off. Apparently, he thought he was pulling friends and asked “Where are they?” And then he sat up.
The second guy took a turn. When he pulled off he dropped too. I then followed the guy who had followed me for so long. That was fair. We came to a Live Segment on Strava and I wanted to set a PR. But not by sitting on. So I moved to the front and pulled him to the end. I got my PR. We turned the corner and he was gone. Damn.
I came to Rest-1 at MP23 in Snow Hill and kept going with a brief foot down because of the foot traffic. There was a group there called Heavyweight Cycling. Most were big guys. I asked where they were from and was told Raleigh-Durham. I never saw them after the stop although they were motoring before it. Pretty cool kits.
In Newark (MP42) I kept going through Rest-2. The location changed from last time. I did not see if it was a water-only stop or food. Actually, I put a foot down and opened my second pack of Energy Chews. I ate a couple then took off.
It started to rain. It was more spitting than anything. But it was gray and windy and I thought if I’m getting soaked then I will look to turn this boat around. I’ve ridden this event enough times to know that I don’t need to. The roads were wet but the rain didn’t last long. Actually, my kit wasn’t even wet. The gray soon gave way to sunshine.
It was a nice run into the state park at Assateague. The port-a-johns were busy. I went for food. I took a bagel. One bagel. Then I turned my nose into the wind. It would be a 30-mile headwind.
My goal, if I had one, was a six-hour century. I would need to average 16.7 mph. I had no clue how I was doing because I wasn’t displaying speed. And if I did, it was in kilometers so that may or may not have been useful. But I knew this. When I came through Berlin I knew I had 30 miles or so and probably two hours and finish by 2:00 p.m. – and that would give me a 6-hour century including stops.
At 1:00 p.m. I had 27.5 km remaining and I figured I would finish by 2:00. As I came to Rest-4 at Adkins Mill (MP83) I rolled through.
I also knew then that I was screwed on nutrition. One bagel is all I grabbed from four rest stops. No fluids. After the ride when I checked, I had consumed slightly more than one bottle of fluid over 100 miles.
I continued on. After going through Berlin, a larger group went by and I started to go with them. But this was a solo ride. I passed two accident scenes with a cyclist down. Both were in groups. I don’t know these people but I know they are not professional bike handlers. It wasn’t worth it riding in the big groups that form on this ride.
I found a side road outside of Berlin to go down and have a nature break. As I got back on the road a group of Major Taylor Cycling Club riders went by. They were going just a little faster than me and I was drawn in. It was easier than fighting the wind.
Not sure how long they were together but there soon was a split with half the group riding off the front. Since I was a passenger in the back I was caught out by the split. The new group was slower and smaller.
It was here that my ride changed. Every year I have done this ride there was something special about it. The first couple of years I met and rode with some riders from the Blair Cycling Club (Altoona, Pa.). In 2018 I met Sandra. She had been dropped by two friends and I basically towed her the last 60 miles. Then she left without saying goodbye or thank you. In 2019 I met Andrew & Staci, two cyclists riding their first Metric. There was always something magical but not this year. Not in 2022, nothing.
I rode solo most of the day. I was reflecting on this may be my last Sea Gull. There was nothing special about this ride. Around M90 we passed a young lady struggling. By struggling I mean she looked like she was capable of going faster but was pedaling squares.
I was at the back and I told her that she would do well to hang with us. She thanked me and she jumped in. We were in twos at that time so she was on the back with me. Sarah* made it a mile at pace but then tailed off. I quickly decided to drop with her.
Brief convo – “Have you done this century before (not have you done a century before)?” And Sarah told me this was her first. I knew then I would help get her home, if not at a great pace then at least at her pace. Although we rode side by side a little bit, I mostly tried to have her follow my wheel as we were into a brutal headwind (last 30 miles). I never could get the pace right as she kept losing my wheel.
But for the last 10 miles we talked and I encouraged Sarah. Some of it was cycling. Some of it was just about life. This may have been the best I felt towards the end of a century but it was nice for me too to have a diversion. She made it and I was as proud as she was. (But she refused to ride an additional 25 miles with me.)
For a ride that had nothing for 90 miles, just being able to help Sarah gave my ride meaning. It was a great Sea Gull Century.
As for those additional 25 miles. I love the Oxford-Bellevue Ferry. I rode it yesterday on my way to Ocean City and thought that after the Century I would stop there on the way home. The reason was two-fold. First, this would be my last planned ride in Easton, Md. for the year. And second, I wanted to see how my body would respond to 125 miles. Even more, how it would respond to 25 more after riding 100 with a little break (driving).
I drove to Oxford and parked at the dock. I started riding and I felt good. There was no sluggishness in the legs. As I headed toward Easton I saw I was seconds off my best pace but could not lift the pace anymore. So the legs felt good but I really couldn’t dig much deeper.
I then had this fear. I would miss the last ferry. I saw a sign yesterday that it was at 6:15 p.m. I would have to ride hard the entire way. If I missed the ferry I would have to turn back and the 22-mile loop would be a 44-mile ride after the Sea Gull. And I would be pushing darkness.
When I got to the last three miles I was rolling. I came in 1:00 faster than my previous PR. I had already been designated the “Local Legend” of the “Bellevue Breezeway” with four attempts in the last 90 days. This would be ride number five.
I got to the ferry as it was coming in. I wanted to think I made the last ferry of the day but after I disembarked I saw it make another trip to Bellevue.
I’ve been riding well and finished the Century with a 17.9 mph average. Maybe better, I didn’t have a drop off in my last 22 miles as I finished the loop with an 18.1 average. Overall, I averaged 18.0 on the day. Very well down (pat on my own back here).
Maybe most importantly, this Sea Gull had a purpose. Maybe I’ll return. You never know when magic will happen.
DISTANCE: 125 miles SPEED: 18.0 mph WEIGHT: 176 pounds
UCI World Tour professional cycling returns to the U.S. This was the first race in three years held on U.S. soil. Welcome to the Maryland Cycling Classic.
I wanted to be a part of it so I volunteered as a course marshal. There were two, maybe three, time slot options to be a volunteer. I signed up for the early one which was 1:30-4:30. I knew that would place me in Baltimore County somewhere. I did not want to be assigned in the city – too much commotion and unsure where I could park then ride to my assignment.
As the race date drew closer so did my frustration with the lack of communication from the organization. The signup form had an auto response which gave no useful information. The first email communications came on Sunday, August 28 which was just one week from the event.
I would have liked to have known in advance about the charity ride held yesterday. I found out about it when the volunteer information was sent on Tuesday, August 30. Since most volunteers are probably cyclists, it seemed to me that this info should have been disseminated immediately, even if just in the auto-response.
Although, with a very high fundraising threshold ($500) and a deadline that had already passed, it meant that your credit card would be charged for the full amount if you signed up. I decided against doing the charity ride. But I would find the route and ride some of it, especially for the parts that overlapped with the pro circuit.
Riding the route would give me an idea of what the pros would be riding. Plus I could swing by and pick up my volunteer materials. And hopefully, I could see where I would be a course marshal.
We had Zoom training for volunteers. I did mine on Tuesday, August 30. We were told our assignment posts would be sent shortly but nothing came.
Volunteer swag was a T-shirt, water bottle, and some other items. Volunteer check-in was Thursday in Baltimore, Friday in Hunt Valley, and Sunday in either location. I really did not want to make two trips to Baltimore. But I didn’t know where my assignment was either and without that information, I didn’t know if I could check in on Sunday and still get to my location. So I went on Friday to check-in and to go for a ride.
I looked at the 50 km and 100 km routes for the charity ride and then designed my own 61 km (38 miles) route. I checked email and text for my volunteer location up until the time I arrived at Velocinno. If I knew where I was going to be I could ride to the location and check it out.
Nothing came in until 12:36 p.m. on Friday. I was just about finished with my ride. This was virgin riding territory for me. Intersections meant nothing to me until I was able to open a map.
I parked right across a creek from Velocinno at a fire station in Sparks, Md. It looked like a neat bike (and coffee) shop and a rider today told me it was the cycling center for the area. Although I had to ride on Falls Road / Md. Rte 25, it was only for about 200-300 meters before I turned onto a metal grate bridge. And just like that, I was in the country. At first, I was on rolling roads but those soon gave way to hilly. There were no flat sections.
It was pretty. Northern Baltimore County looks a lot like southern Pa. I was just 5.5 miles miles from the Pa. state line (by bike, maybe 4.5 as the crow flies) and the race got within one half-mile of Pennsylvania. Much of my ride was around Prettyboy Reservoir. There were two bridge crossings and one dam crossing. I was hoping for more water views but much of the time the roads were in a forest.
I was on Sparks Hill Road, a climb on the Reservoir Loop. I wasn’t going hard but I certainly wasn’t inching my way up. Almost out of nowhere came a rider sprinting past me. I recognized the kit of EF Education First-EZ post. I suspect it was Daniel Arroyave Canas, a rider from Columbia.
After a descent around a corner of the reservoir, Sparks Road kicked up again. This time my radar showed I was being approached and I glanced back and saw four riders from EF Education First. I grabbed my phone to take a picture and as they came by, riding not much faster than me, one called me by name. I suspect this was Nielsen Powless.
At the top of the climb, their team car was pulled over and all seven riders stopped. It didn’t look like the right time for a photo op although I stopped and put a foot down to take their photo.
I didn’t hang around but took off and enjoyed the descent to the Prettyboy Reservoir dam. It is quite an impressive structure and I slowly went across it. After snapping a photo of the dam itself I was surprised to see four of the EF Education First – EZ Post riders come rolling across the dam.
My fun done for the day, I was ready to stop. It was hot, around 88℉ (31C). And although I was only at Mile 30, I was starting to feel the effects of the heat and the constant ups and downs. The last four miles would be all downhill so I did something right.
When I finished I got a text with my assignment. If this had come 60 minutes earlier I could have scouted it out. Oh well. I drove to Hunt Valley to pick up my T-shirt and then made the two-hour drive home.
It wasn’t until Friday at 7:30 p.m. that an email came in with our assignments. My name was nowhere to be found on the attachment. I immediately replied asking for clarification. Since I was assigned at Falls Road and Prettyboy Reservoir Road I checked the spreadsheet and my name was nowhere to be found.
The assignment was on a loop that the riders would contest twice as they made 1 3/4 passes around the reservoir. On the second pass, they did list a volunteer’s name, but it wasn’t mine. So I asked for clarification and never received a reply.
The assignment was also confusing because the direction on the first pass was to flag the riders to continue straight while the second pass was to tell them to turn right. Absent a response from the organization, I would report as directed and just figure things out. And that is what happened.
Although the text said to be there by 1:30, I was there at noon today. I rode a short bit and chalked the road for Tom Skujins. An email that went out earlier today said a course marshal captain would be by and hand out flags to those who were signaling direction on the course. None came by. Not to worry because I brought a referee flag.
Around 2:30 the other volunteer showed up. We had a brief discussion and he left for another corner presumably to spectate. A few people started gathering on our corner. As the race got close I got into a safe position off the road yet one where the riders could see me. There was a couple there and I told them I was giving them fair warning – I was going to be blowing a whistle hard.
Although I have blown the whistle in more than 1,000 soccer matches, I don’t think I have been more nervous than blowing the whistle for 25 riders approaching a sharp curve at 30 mph and me waving a flag. All got by safely so I must have done a good job.
Since there would be about 30 minutes before the second pass, I went back to sit in the chair that I had brought. A woman had two dogs and asked me a question. The most common question I got today was how many riders were there. Answer: 112 (16 teams of seven riders). Her dog, Rudy, barked at me and I tried to make nice. I leaned down and held out my fist. The dog got close as though he was going to sniff and then lunged at me. Nipped my leg. NEVER BRING A DOG TO A BIKE RACE!!
The second pass was uneventful. There were some riders way off the back, mixed in with the spectator cyclists who were back on course. I had to blow my whistle once at four cyclists to get off the road as the race was still on, although it wasn’t the front of the race.
I had a great experience with the Baltimore County policeman assigned to the intersection. It was a sweeping right-hand corner with Fall Road coming in from the left. I rode through here on Friday and never once did I wonder which was to go. It was clear the road went to the right. This was not a location where a course marshal was needed. Let alone two that were assigned.
By the time the race passed a second time, with 74 miles to go, it had been completely blown apart. The teams may have expected an early breakaway would be allowed to form with a 5-6 minute lead and then pulled back with 4-5 miles to go. Instead, 25 riders got away, built a lead to four minutes, and the peloton just became one of many chase groups 10 minutes down. Ultimately, only 46 riders finished the race, the last one to cross was Callum Ormiston (Pro Touch) at 21:17. Pre-race favorites Michael Matthews (Team BikeExchange-Jayco) and Dylan Gorenewegen (Team BikeExchange-Jayco) missed out, finishing at 9:54.
Eventually, a 12-man group broke free which became a four-man group for much of the last 10 miles but was joined by Andrea Piccolo (EF Education First-EZ Post) with two miles to go. In that four-man group that was at the front all day were Sep Vanmarcke (Israel-Premier Tech), Nickolas Zukowaky (Human Powered Health), Nelison Poweless (EF Education First-EZ Post), and Toms Skuijins (Trek-Segafredo).
That would be the finish order with a four-up sprint as Piccolo dropped off. I was hoping that Toms would pull this one out. But a finishing sprint involves not only the fast men but perfect tactics including when to go. And, of course, whose legs still have anything left.
I did not get down to the Inner Harbor to see the finish. Traffic leaving my spot was too heavy although with planning, maybe I could have. But I watched it on TV (the GCN+ app).
I have been a course marshal for USA Cycling Nationals, UCI World Championships, the Amgen Tour of California, and the Tour of Pennsylvania. They all had different challenges. ATOC seemed to need marshals at the start and finish towns. They had different coordinators for each town and they used traveling marshals in the middle. The Maryland Cycling Classic assigned marshals for the entire course so, in some ways, it was a much bigger challenge. From the perspective of my history at other events, they had more hiccups than my other events. However, the second time around will be better and I would love to go back. What a great day!
To understand why we have to go back 21 years. It was 2001 and I was in awe of watching the Tour de France. I loved watching those big climbs in France. I knew I could never climb like those boys but wanted to test myself on one of those mountains.
I watched with great interest the Tours in 2001-2005 always dreaming of a time I would tackle those French climbs. As I dreamed of a future trip to France, in 2006 I learned of a tougher climb than any French mountain in the Tour de France. And that was the Mount Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb in New Hampshire.
Held each August and immensely popular, I made a note when registration for the hillclimb opened so that I could sign up. Registration opened at 6:00 am (or possibly 6:30) on February 1, 2006. I drove into work and at 6:55 a.m. I logged in to register. It had already sold out.
That would repeat itself in 2007. But it had become so popular that they opened a second race called Newton’s Revenge to be held 07/07/07. So I registered for that one. It was the same exact course but on a different date and with a smaller field size since this one did not sell out.
Why I didn’t find this in 2006 I don’t know. My research indicates that Newton’s Revenge was held from 2006-2015.
I went to New Hampshire in 2007 but the race, and the race rain date, were canceled due to dangerous weather on the mountain. Specifically, 70-mph winds at the summit, rime ice and freezing temperatures, and rain overnight made the gravel (dirt) section nearly impossible to pedal a bike. I was disappointed but also maybe a tad relieved.
And so I would return in 2008. It was the same deal with registration although this time I purposely waited for MWARBH to sell out and for Newton’s Revenge to open up. I liked the thought of a July race with a smaller field. And that became my first race up the mountain.
My goal in 2008 was simply to finish. I made no change to the gearing on my bike (which was a big mistake), crashed, and said “Never Again!” as I finished.
By the time we got down off the mountain, I was spewing “crazy talk” about doing it again in 2009 but with the right gearing. The Event Director, Mary Power, told me these mountains get in your blood and you want to come back every year. I didn’t believe her.
So in 2009, I planned to return to Newton’s Revenge with better gearing. But my training was interrupted due to a broken wrist. Mary asked if I could slide to the sold-out MWARBH in August. I agreed but then got a cancer diagnosis. At first I canceled my plans to go to Mt. Washington but then — I got permission from my doctor to delay cancer treatment and raced MWARBH in 2009.
And that should have been it. It was so damn hard in 2008 and I went back in 2009 and improved my time by 10 minutes.
Training for the 2009 MWARBH was my only break from cancer. I was able to lose myself in my riding and forget about cancer. I knew as I was riding the mountain in 2009 that my recovery goal for 2010 would be to return cancer-free. And I did.
[Generally, I wore a different kit every year which, if nothing else, makes it easier to identify the year. However, I wore the same kit in two successive years. In 2009 I wore the Amgen Tour of California BREAKAWAY FROM CANCER jersey. It was a leader jersey awarded daily to the “most courageous rider” instead of the traditional “most aggressive rider.” But the message meant so much to me in my cancer battle that I bought it and wore it. And when I returned cancer-free in 2010, I wore it again. The difference in the photos is in 2009 I wore black shoes and black socks while in 2010 I wore white shoes and white socks. There was not a message or hidden meaning by the colors.]
That should have been it. But my cleats got clogged with sand and I couldn’t clip in. I put in a bad time. That was not a way to end. So in 2011, I returned. Each year my time got better so I decided to go back and better my time. Then I had my worst time ever. And I couldn’t end on that note so I went back in 2012.
It was in 2012 that the Gubinski family gave me a ride down. When we reached the bottom they asked if I would come back in 2013 if they did. And I agreed. Luca and Alexa killed it.
And 2013 would have ended it but Luca and Alex’s dad, Vic, said he planned to ride in 2014. So I signed up again.
Of course, all three beat me. Alexa was her age group winner and second overall. But that was it. And with that, in 2014, I retired for good after seven consecutive races.
Multiple winner, Phil Gaimon, asked me to return in 2017 when he won again, but I don’t think I could have. I weighed too much and had developed too many knee problems. I stayed retired.
Driven by weight loss in 2020, I started thinking about returning someday. The 2020 event was canceled and the 2021 event opened but was greatly reduced in size. The emails stated that the tiered registration would be
Those who have completed 10 or more races
Those who have completed 5 or more races
Those who registered last year but were canceled
The organizers did not think it would get to open registration this year. I don’t know if it did.
At the same time, I had some scary cardiac issues. I passed my tests and then got my cardiologist’s approval to race up a mountain.
The email came with a short registration window. I mentioned to my wife that I’d like a new MWARBH t-shirt. When she asked where you get one I told her you had to race up this mountain.
So in 2021, I returned. I came out of retirement. My trusted Trek Pilot was on the carbon fiber scrap heap. I rode my Trek Checkpoint AL5. That is an aluminum bike. It may as well have been steel. It seemed heavy. I recorded my worst time ever. And I did not get a new T-shirt.
And I couldn’t retire on that note. I pulled my Pilot back from the scrap heap. We got the bike ready to roll. And so yesterday, I did a thing.
It was my ninth climb of the Rockpile. Despite a possible Mt. Washington Hall of Fame for riders who completed 10, this may have satisfied me enough. I can just say, I did a thing.
I have no plans for future hillclimbs.
But next year they are planning a special event for the 50th anniversary. 🙂
This is the hardest hill climb in America. Change my mind.
Last year I sucked. It was a “comeback” after seven years off and it was awful. I could not end my years of mediocrity on that sour note.
In 2020 my Trek Pilot had a broken chain stay and was basically totaled by the warranty department at Trek. It was my climbing bike for seven previous races, 2008-2014. So last year I rode its replacement, my aluminum Trek Checkpoint gravel bike. It was heavy, and although it may have matched the gearing of the Pilot, it didn’t feel that way. Actually, it didn’t match the gearing exactly either.
After hanging in my garage for two years and destined for the landfill, I decided I would repair the Pilot. Sure, the cost may have been more than the bike was worth but it has been a special bike to me. I sent the frame to Ruckus Composites in Portland, Oregon, and then had Tom Szeide at the Bike Lane in Reston, restore it to its original parts. And I signed up for the Hillclimb. Again.
I got my bike back and everything was on plan but then an awful thing happened. I stepped on the scales. Actually, that wasn’t awful. What was awful was looking down at the scales. It was June 1. And I weighed 200 pounds.
I don’t know what happened. I had been so diligent about watching my weight since I lost 50 pounds in 2020. But I felt so good that I quit watching believing that a change in lifestyle meant I would never gain weight again. And apparently, I was gaining. Well, not apparently, I had gained back much of the weight.
There was no way I could race this climb as a Clydesdale. I had two months to lose 30 pounds. I wasn’t just in the Clydesdale category. If they had a plus I was Clydesdale+
And I did. It wasn’t easy and many may suggest that it was too much weight to lose in too short of time. But damn, am I proud of myself.
Ashley and Bryan agreed to come to Mt. Washington with me. Ashley first made the trip with me in 2007 when the race was canceled. Then she and Bryan came with me in 2008. And she came again in 2014. So this was her fourth trip to the mountain. But I really wanted my granddaughters there. There’s something very special about a grandfather being proud of his granddaughters and hopefully, granddaughters being proud of their grandfather.
After looking at our options we settled on Ashley and Bryan driving their Kia Telluride. I put my Yakima roof rack on their car. I would have preferred to drive my car but my Ford Transit Connect does not have side rails that support my Yakima rack. I had to hurry to REI and buy 56″ crossbars since the 48″ bars I used on my RAV4 were a little short.
I will say there is something special about a bike on the roof of a car. I love the look but normally prefer to keep the bike inside the car. We just didn’t have enough room for a party of five plus a bike in either of our cars.
The MWARBH requires you to have a ride down. To encourage carpooling they waive the toll road fee for the vehicle and driver if you take two riders down the mountain. So I logged into a special site the MWARBH had created and posted that we had a spot. Bruce McDonald from Whitestown, Indiana, clicked on our carpool and added himself.
Bruce and I exchanged a couple of text messages hoping to meet at registration yesterday but our paths would not cross. Instead, we met today at 7:15 am in the registration tent. This would be his tenth ride up the mountain. I knew I would like him because when we met he was wearing a Steelers knit cap.
With two rider tickets in hand, Ashley and Bryan sat in the line of cars waiting to go up to the summit. All along, the race announcer was making comments that anyone still in the parking area is late, seemingly oblivious that the line was the queue and it wasn’t moving because they were collecting passenger tolls at the booth.
Unlike prior years, I decided not to go out and ride on White Mountain Highway as a warmup ride. I don’t think I would benefit from a pre-race ride of 2-4 miles. Instead, I stayed in the parking area. I was riding in the grass when Phil Gaimon rode by and called out my name. It’s pretty impressive when the race favorite knows your name and gives you a shout out.
After watching the first two waves depart, in five-minute increments, I went across the bridge and the White Mountain Highway up to the parking lot of the Glen House. I wouldn’t call this a warm-up as much as simply pedaling off nervous energy. It was easier pedaling than just sitting around.
It was 8:51 when I left the parking lot and coasted downhill to the bridge and starting line. I started last in the last wave. The start cannon went off at 8:55.
It was a warm day and I quickly was sweating profusely. I settled into my rhythm if such a thing existed. Perhaps if the road maintained a 12% grade a rhythm could be found. But it is more of an undulating climb usually between 10-15%.
Quickly, those who were going to go faster went ahead on the flat section by the toll house which lasts about 250 meters. I was ahead of a few. Having started last and passed some riders, once we started climbing there weren’t going to be many to come past me.
I started catching some from our wave as I went farther up the road. One guy had pulled over and was throwing up. I thought about him around Mile Six because a medical “Gator” when by headed to the summit with a bike on the back, and presumably, a rider inside. If you can’t continue and you’ve climbed even a mile or two, they will probably take you up to meet your ride because they won’t let you ride down.
There were a number of riders paperboying on the climb which was unsafe and annoying. One rider swung wide then turned back towards me and almost t-boned me. That would not have been cool.
I took two bottles of electrolytes. One pack of energy chews. And one bottle of the Hot Shot (to prevent cramping). I went through them all by Mile 4. It was warm if not hot and by Mile 3 a cooler breeze was moving in through the tree line. I actually welcomed a headwind if it was cool.
My live segments on Strava showed I was on pace for 1:58. That’s 12 minutes off what I was doing 12 years ago so I guess I was losing a minute per year. I had hoped to break two hours and certainly beat last year’s time of 2:05. I maintained that pace for the entire climb and would come in about 1:58.
Around Mile 6.5, I shifted and was quickly pedaling nothing. The chain had dropped and without forward momentum, you go backward. Quickly. I started to fall over and was able to quickly grab the brakes. Somehow I was able to unclip and put a foot down preventing me from falling hard on the granite.
I took my bike and stepped off the road onto some rocks and sandy soil. This part is way above the tree line. The chain was off the rear derailleur between the cassette and the spokes. I tried manually putting it in place and turned the cranks by hand. It came off again. I lost two minutes getting it back in place. To get restarted on the 15% grade I walked my bike to the other side and then clipped in by rolling it across the road before turning up the mountain. I glanced at my Wahoo and saw my new ETA was around 2:01. Well, I wouldn’t beat two hours but still would be better than last year.
That wasn’t the only mechanical I had today. Early in the ride, I noticed my right cleat was loose. I wondered what would happen if the whole shoe fell apart. Of course, that wouldn’t happen but the cleat could fall off and the ride would be over. It held together enough but clearly, I was losing some power because of it.
Back on course my quadriceps really hurt. They weren’t yet to the point of a twinge where I knew that cramping was coming. But they were hurting. I needed to alter my pace towards the finish but was afraid to shift. I found my gear and was afraid to shift from it.
I came to the finishing straight and Bruce was on the left side. My first thought was he must have been here a while as he went off in the first group. He ran with me and pointed out the chickens (my family). I waved to them as I went by.
The finishing climb is a beast. Twenty-two percent. Unlike 2008 when I knew I’d fall over (but didn’t) I just said the pain is temporary. I heard my name called along with “Woodbridge, Virginia and Rooster Racing.” I was home. I made it.
Across the finish line, two volunteers asked if I needed help. I didn’t. A young girl handed me a medal. Before COVID they would put the medal over your head. Today it was an outstretched arm. Another volunteer gave me a blanket. At 62° it was too warm to need a blanket. I handed it to Bryan.
This was a big relief to me. There are different people running the event in the past as the rider guide, which used to be a church bulletin, said there would be medals for the top three age group finishers. I’m not much into participation medals except for this event. Everyone who finishes deserves a medal. I didn’t know if I would get a medal or blanket. I am so glad I got both.
I spotted the Mount Washington Summit sign at the true summit. I wanted a family photo. There’s no real trail there – just big rocks. And I needed help on some of the rocks because my quads had no power left in them. The line for a summit photo was probably 45 minutes. And when we were finished with our photos they were just starting to open the auto road to go back down.
Bruce joined us for the ride down. As an aside he said he used to be a golf pro. And he and Bryan instantly connected. And started making plans for next year.
At the base lot at the Auto Road, we parked and went to check out the activities. I changed out of the completely soaked kit in the porta-john then went to pick up my Hart’s Turkey Farm dinner. A staple of this event for years has been the community Hart’s Turkey Dinner. Held in the big tent, it featured a couple of slices of turkey, mashed potatoes, salad, rolls, and dessert. I bought extra meal tickets for my crew in the past as we all enjoyed it.
In 2020 the event was canceled. Last year it came back but without the turkey dinner. This year it was back in a limited form. I thought the dinner was to go but the tent was set up with lots of seating and people were eating in the tent. A group was playing on stage and the podiums were set up to award places to the fast people.
I picked up my lunch. It had a small turkey sandwich that did not have much turkey on it. The bun was a standard hamburger roll. There looked to be a side of salsa (I did not try it). There was an apple and a brownie. The drinks were from a refrigerator and were Pepsi products. I had a beer ticket that I gave to Bryan to sample.
I found Phil Gaimon and he introduced me to Jeremy Powers. Jeremy is “Mr. Whoop” and immediately fixed my Whoop band as I was wearing it wrong. Phil did a quick interview with me.
Phil and I met in 2009. His memory of that day and my memory of that day differ greatly although he is probably correct. I had gone to the mountain with the permission of Dr. Hrant Semerjian to delay my cancer treatment. Phil remembers me telling him that I didn’t think I would be back in 2010 because, you know, cancer.
Did I say that? Maybe. Cancer makes you think about your immortality and it makes you feel like you’re dying. I was in a dark place when I was diagnosed and I don’t remember what I told people. But I may have said that.
I said goodbye to Phil and Jeremy and we headed out toward our destination of New London, Connecticut. My ninth MWARBH was now behind me.
There was a race and what a race. Phil Gaimon took a Strava KOM but not a course record because Strava did not exist in the doping era. He won by seven seconds over Erik Levinsohn. That may have been the closest finish ever.
Courtney Nelson won the women’s division.
My data show that I lost two minutes and eight seconds due to the dropped chain. Realistically, it was closer to four minutes. The 2:08 was downtime but I had to get going on a very steep incline. And I had lost the momentum I had.
I was elated that I made my ninth climb but disappointed I didn’t do better. When I finally looked at the results I see I still had better times than 80 riders. The dropped chain cost me as many as 13 places. The loose cleat probably cost that and more due to the loss of power.
Looks like I finished 303 out of 383 finishers. Since we started in waves and I was in the last (6th) wave, it never felt like I was ahead of 80 riders.
At the top, we met a unicyclist. From the 703 no less (Falls Church). I have been beaten by them before. But with no people running the race they did not put the unicyclist in the last wave but was in his age group. So I never saw him before or during the race. Only our timing shows that my time was better. Not bragging. It was just interesting to note.
I was disappointed that there were no event posters for the riders this year. I have a poster from every rave I’ve done. Until this year. I was told they will have them next year.
The event photographer, Joe Viger, does a great job. They had some killer shots of me taken last year from the top of the last climb looking down the 22% ramp. This year they captured me with my chickens, so that was cool – but I am smiling instead of popping all my veins.