PINKHAM NOTCH, NEW HAMPSHIRE
I’ve got some thinking to do after this one.
The hill climb in 2014 was my last one. I mean, my last one ever. What got me to the top that day was thinking that would be the last time I ever raced on this mountain.
Each year I receive an invitation from the Mount Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb to sign up. And each year I ignore it. But having lost 40+ pounds last year I felt stronger and faster than I have been in years. I was feeling it.
The race did not take place last year and this year they were hopeful it could with a reduced sized field. It would be without the big tent and podium. No spectators. No medals. And the conditions seemed to change as the date came closer. I wasn’t 100% sure I would travel to New England until I left on Wednesday.
I did not have a ride down which is required so I posted on a Facebook page for either a ride down or a driver (of my car) up. Samantha sent me a text and we were all set.
I went to registration at 4:00 p.m. yesterday then set up my bike with the number plate (#218), helmet stickers, and timing chip. I put the bib on my jersey, It was the most prepared I have ever been for an event. I was feeling it.
I was wearing my bright red Roosters Racing t-shirt and a guy saw that and asked if we (Roosters) were based in San Diego. I told him we could be. It turned out that he did a ride with Jim Ray (“Jambo”) a few years ago.
Samantha and Troy showed up along with Duncan, their dog. I gave Sam a bag of clothes for the summit along with my rider ticket so they could drive to the summit. I then headed back to North Conway for dinner and an early night, although it wasn’t that early.
I was up at 5:30 a.m. and got breakfast at the Hampton Inn & Suites. I drove out to the Auto Road and arrived by 7:15. I talked to the driver of the car beside mine, Jon, until Sam arrived.
Samantha found me and took my phone because I asked her to take some photos at the top. Looking at my starting time (8:50), I told her that I hoped to be there around 10:30. I would be way off.
I was expecting the temperature to be chilly at the start although I had not checked the weather. No arm warmers were necessary. My warmup was a ride out on Hwy 16. I started towards Wildcat ski station. When I reached 1.5 miles I turned around. I felt good but didn’t want to put unnecessary climbing in my legs before the race. I knew with three miles (out and back) that my total today would be around 11 miles. That would be enough.
It was fun chatting with other riders today, first at Glen House and then in the queue for the race. One guy said he had ridden this “35 or 40 times,” although some of those were unsanctioned in the 80s. Another guy wore a Stelvio jersey and we talked about Passo Stelvio. Another wore a green MWARBH jersey similar to the one I have but it appeared to be without a date. And he said he thought they used the design twice. I saw a guy on an Elliptigo – which is basically an elliptical machine on two wheels. It did not look like he had any super low gear and the event photos show him walking. Assume he made it but probably more walking than elliptical machine.
For the first time, at the start of the race, I was in front of the bridge. Usually, I was on but most often, behind the bridge. I was probably in the third or fourth row although we were all loosely scattered. Our pre-race communications stated that masks would be worn at the start and at the finish. I did not see a single mask all day.
The cannon went off. One guy remarked “I hate that” (loud sound). We rolled out on the only flat section past the toll station. No one in our last group appeared to sprint to the hill about 200 meters away. In fact, I coasted.
Once on the climb, it was a pretty quick grouping. Some riders went to the front. Some stayed way behind. I was near the front but made no effort to stay with them. More or less I was in “no man’s land” the entire race. I do not recall anyone from behind after the first couple hundred yards catching and passing me.
I came in hoping for a PR today. I weighed less than I ever did going up the mountain (unless in 2009 I was at 175). With Strava Live Segments I was getting live feedback. Almost immediately I was 10 seconds down. I thought that might be due to coasting on the flat section. Then I was 20 seconds down. And it was growing. I was not keeping pace with the old me – the former me. Although it was early in the race I knew that was a bigger problem. I would not be gaining that time back.
It was hot. My Wahoo was showing 85º which felt to be accurate. I was sweating profusely. And those are the days I have problems with cramping. I hadn’t thought to prepare for dehydration other than I told one rider at the start that the heat made the decision on how much water to bring easy – both bottles or as much as you can carry.
Some, many, or most of the yellow group were already up the road. Still ahead were pink and green as well as the blue and red groups, each five minutes ahead of the other. I caught a couple of greens and a couple of pinks. That’s hard to imagine since I rode so poorly.
I was truly by myself. I must have been gaining (slowly) on some even slower riders because I thought the visual of a couple of them on a crest was beautiful. I thought maybe I should have my phone/camera although not sure if I could handle it while climbing.
I had taken a drink and altered my pace slightly to replace the bottle in the cage. And I felt a twinge in the hamstring. I knew then I was dehydrating and cramping. It was also when I saw the only photographer on course. I needed to switch bottles and held the empty one by my teeth while I reached down and moved the full one to the front cage. The photographer caught me with a bottle in my teeth. There was nothing I could have done other than take my empty bottle and roll it towards him. I didn’t. I’m no pro. I just let him snap away. I saw the picture. It wasn’t pretty.
Around the five-mile mark, I turned the corner and could see a long stretch of dirt ahead. And I could see a number of riders. It wasn’t so much that I caught anyone, it’s just that I could see maybe a quarter of a mile up the road, the only time all day I could do this. I focused on two riders who looked to be pushing their bikes. It must have taken me 12-15 minutes to catch and pass them. And they were pushing their bikes. I even told them it took me 12-15 minutes – they were walking about as fast as I was riding.
At the six-mile curve, I turned the corner and thought that sure is steep. I think it’s 18%. I was expecting a photographer here but there wasn’t one. But the road was steep and the surface was quite hard, almost like granite. Rough granite to be sure.
Then I heard the train. Damn! “We’re late,” I told one rider as I was passing him. In the past, I always ended with the train in the station. It sure makes for a nice photo. But the train was on schedule and I was not. It left the station before I arrived.
In the last mile, I must have passed 6-8 riders. I did not get passed by anyone. The last mile seemed easy and that is relative, of course. But fighting cramps, it was easier in this section to find the sweet spot and keep going.
I saw the final climb to the finish line. I was alone and was greeted by lots of cheers. “You’re doing great!” (I knew better – but anyone who can climb this, well, they deserve cheers). I’ve been up this seven times before so I knew I could do it again. I would have told you that I stood “out of the saddle” until the last 20 yards but the photos tell a different story – the truth.
At the top, Sam was on the inside corner with my phone. I was both disgusted at my performance and wanted a good photo op. So I smiled for my camera (but not for the race photographer).
I rolled across the finish line. Once clear by 10 meters or so there was a stopping area. I put a foot down but couldn’t move. I knew if I swung my leg over the top tube that I would cramp severely. I leaned down on the handlebars, careful not to call it slumping. A volunteer came over and put a blanket on me. Although I was soaked, I did not need it. It was 57º at the summit with a gentle breeze (10 mph). Another volunteer, or maybe the same person, brought me my medal and said she was going to just hang it on my bike, apparently thinking I was too weak to lift my head. I took what seemed like a long time but was probably no more than two, maybe three, minutes to catch my breath and get off the bike.
Sam brought my phone to me and then encouraged me to stand in the line on the hillside to get a photo at the summit sign. That took a while but she was waiting down by the finish line. We walked down the many steps to the lower parking lot. I loaded my bike next to that of Jen Murphy. I was most worried about the drive down – for cramps.
I was OK riding in the car. We pulled into the parking area. I opened the door in the Tesla and stood up. Then it hit me. A cramp in the left hamstring and buttocks. It hurt so bad. I tried to find a position to relieve it but finally collapsed to the grass. I was only down for about 60 seconds or so when the cramp passed. Sam helped me up and Jen gave me some electrolytes.
I was able to unload the bike and put it in the car. I was still in my sweaty bib shorts and was able to change out of them before the drive home. I just wanted to avoid cramping on the drive.
Actually, once I settled in I don’t think anyone passed me after Mile 3. But no one started after our group and all the stronger riders were already up the road.
I saw many paperboying the climb. I did not intentionally but there were times my wheel just seemed to changed directions. At times I had a hard time holding a straight line. But it was a matter of a few feet, not back and forth across the road.
I thanked every volunteer on course on the climb. It seemed at each mile marker there was a volunteer with a clipboard checking off each race number.
I don’t have good heartrate data since I did a 3-mile warmup ride and it is included in the data file. If I would do this again I need to just have a file for this climb. Maybe for RideWithGPS I will split the file and get a better look but keep it the same in Strava.
Maybe because of the cramping it was the second most tired I was at the finish. Or third. First was 2008 when I went up in regular gearing. The second may have been 2009 (PR) but I don’t remember being exhausted as much as I couldn’t unclip. And then today.
The original name of this blog was IBikedMtWashington. I guess it should have been IClimbedMtWashington except there are lots of hikers who also climb Mt. Washington. And I met a few of them today.
I was pleased they had the Polartek blankets at the summit. However, unlike years 2007-2014, they did not have the MWARBH and the Year on them.
Weight: 175 lbs*
I was sad that I did not have my trusty Trek Pilot. Instead, I rode my 2021 Trek Checkpoint Gravel Bike. It is aluminum which makes it heavier than my Pilot.
It comes stock with a 30/45t front derailleur. And I changed the rear cassette to 11:40 giving me a 30:40 climbing ratio.
I put the Domane’s lighter-weight front wheel on the bike. The weight of the bike is 22.42 pounds.
THE RIDE DOWN
When I first came to the mountain in 2007 matching lone riders with drivers was easy. Or easier. The event came with a pasta dinner at registration and there was an area for drivers without riders (offering rides) and cyclists needing a ride. Sometime around 2010 the pasta dinner was replaced by a coupon good for a meal at a local restaurant and the matching process went online. There was no food coupon this year.
*I really don’t know about this weight. I had lost 40+ pounds through the end of 2020. I was religiously weighing in every day but then settled into a lifestyle where I felt comfortable. Whereas I may have stepped on the scale occasionally, I no longer recorded it. My last recorded weight was on March 25, 2021, weighing in at 168 pounds. I’m guessing I weighed 175 but maybe I was 180 or 185. But that was a good guess. I really wish I had been recording my weight since my first attempt in 2007.