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.
I liked the ride from Easton to Saint Marys to Tilghman Island so much that I wanted to go back and do it again. But I picked a bad day. The temperature was 91° (32.8℃) and the humidity seemed to match.
I left the house an hour earlier than last time and would be riding an hour earlier. I also modified my route to not go all the way to Tilghman’s Island but instead take another road to a tiny town named Neavitt. It is located at the southern terminus of Maryland Route 579 on the north bank of the Choptank River.
Unlike Tilghman’s Island, which has a gas station and a general store, there appeared to be no commercial businesses here. Just some private dock slips at the end of the road. In addition, the road to Neavitt had no shoulders to ride on in contrast to the road to Tilghman’s Island. But traffic was extremely light so that was not a problem.
The winds seemed stronger today than they were the last time I was here. The route was nearly identical. However, I was able to take a nature trail or bike trail out around the business center of Saint Michaels. It was pretty but even slower than sitting in traffic. I think.
On the way back I stopped just outside of Saint Michaels at Highs Dairy. This time I not only filled my water bottles but grabbed a Snickers. I love my energy chews but the chocolate candy bar was a welcome relief.
I turned onto the country road to the Oxford-Bellevue ferry. I now had a base time and hoped to better my time for a PR. But the winds were too strong or the heat and humidity were zapping me. Once I fell 15 seconds behind my pace I sat up and soft-pedaled to the ferry.
On the ferry were two cars. The nice couple in one car brought over an ice-cold bottle of water and offered it to me. I did not hesitate even though my water bottles were basically still full. I would need all the fluid I could get on this day and the cold water was refreshing.
I chose this day because my next available day, tomorrow, was a Wendesday. And the Scottish Highlands Creamery was closed on Wednesday as I learned my lesson the hard way. So I chose to ride in this heat and humidity for – ice cream.
It was bascially two blocks from where the ferry docked in Oxford to get ice cream. And suddenly all the riding in the heat and humidity were worth it.
The last 10 miles seemed to be downhill so maybe I was picking up some tailwind. I did go through one mile on a one-lane milled road under construction. But the ice cream seemed to fuel me just enough for the run-in back to start.
Today was a 50-mile ride instead of a 60-mile ride like last time. But it still left me pretty drained. But I love the ride and I really love the ferry. And ice cream. Must do this again.
DISTANCE: 50.7 miles SPEED: 16.7 mph WEIGHT: 172 pounds
Ultimately, this ride will simply be another day on the bike, another loop ride. It was done on flat to rolling roads in the heat. But it was the approach to the ride that has left me wondering.
It was in 2008 that the Tour of Pennsylvania came through this area. Officially, the name of the race was The American Eagle Outfitters’ Tour of Pennsylvania presented by Highmark Healthy High 5.
My drive here was on U.S. Rte 30 from Breezewood to Chambersburg and was it ever pretty. And mountainous. Descending off Tuscarora Summit there are two runaway truck ramps and not just one. I was thinking of the bike race of 14 years ago and can’t locate a race map for that stage from Camp Hill to Bedford.
The description for Stage 3 included Tuscarora Summit and Sideling Hill which are on U.S. Rte 30. What I can’t fathom is that the route stayed on Rte 30 through Breezewood. I can very carefully ride through Breezewood on my bike but for a race, you’re talking about shutting down the entire road. And not just any road. This is the intersection of Interstate-70. They would not shut down an Interstate Highway for a bike race. They must have turned off near the top of Sideling Hill and were able to divert around Breezewood.
But that is a beautiful road and very mountainous. The average speed of the winner, James Driscoll, was 39.62 kph, which was faster than David Velleux, the winner the following day into Latrobe (39.03). It’s hard to imagine that Stage 4 was slower than Stage 3 but it was.
While driving across these roads and not imagining that I would or could ride a bike here, I have ridden the mountains from Bedford to Ligonier on multiple occasions which were featured on Stage 4. Maybe someday I’ll ride Tuscarora Summit
But today I drove over these mountains to Chambersburg. I had found a route on RideWithGPS created by Franklin County Cyclists. It looks like it was a club ride and I would make one modification – two if I count the one I made at the finish.
The ride started in a church parking lot. On a weekday, I’m unsure if I wanted to park in an empty lot without permission. But on a Sunday, I really didn’t want to park in their lot while they were having church. I modified the start to be a shopping plaza next to the Giant (grocery). The high wall on the side of the building provided a perfect shade spot that a tree could not.
I started just one mile from the “official” start of the ride. The plaza was next to a Sheetz which was perfect for the pre-ride restroom. I did not make any modifications to the route so when I selected it on my Wahoo I simply had to select “Route to Start.”
Country. This was a 100%, well, 99% country ride. I was immediately in the country with the smells of cattle and corn. The roads were all lightly traveled and the traffic was 100% respectful.
There were no real climbs but plenty of ups and downs. But there was wind. A headwind would define most of the first half of the ride as it was a westerly wind.
There were no defining features such as a great bridge or tunnel. No summits with miles of views out over the valley below. I was in the valley. But there were nice valley views looking at the ridge of the mountain I had just driven over.
There was a nice park about four miles from the finish. Norlo Park in Guilford Twp. has three cabooses and what looks to be a minature railroad. I’m a sucker for things like this so I liked the placement of this park near the end.
I would characterize this as a valley ride. After all, I was in the Cumberland Valley. It wasn’t flat although there were flat stretches. But the constant rollers would start to wear on me although that was probably more the heat (90℉) and lack of nutrition. I went through two bottles I had on my bike, one filled with Skratch mix, and the other with water. I had one pack of Stinger Energy Chews. And that was it.
I thought around Mile 30 that I would stop at the next store and grab more water and a snack. But there was none. If I were to ride here again I would reverse the route. First, a reverse ride is a new ride. But more importantly, there was only the one store I saw on route. It was a Rutters gas/convenience store crossing US 30.
On today’s ride that came around Mile 18. Barely one hour into the ride it was too soon to stop. Or at least I thought. Is it ever too soon for a snack? And that was the only place I saw to stop. On the reverse course, that would be at Mile 28 and would be perfect.
I wasn’t 100% of the modification I might need to get back to my car. I could follow the route and then go back the mile to where I parked. As it turned out, the route as designed would have taken me to the plaza where I parked before going the last mile to the church parking lot.
With four miles to go, it started to rain slightly which was very welcome. But it wouldn’t stay with me. But fearful I could get soaked, and that would not be welcomed, I ended the prearranged route and selected “Route to Start” on my Wahoo. Unbeknownst to me, it would have been the same exact route except when I reached the plaza where I was parked I was finished instead of going the final mile to the church. But I felt more comfortable knowing I was routed to my car even if it was the same way.
Nice country ride. Maybe in my travels through or near here I will ride it again. In reverse.
DISTANCE: 45.7 miles SPEED: 14.7 mph TEMPERATURE: 90℉ WEIGHT: 173