A Cancer Survivor's Journey to Find Peace on a Bike
I love cycling. I hate cancer. I love to climb big mountains but I am more enthusiastic than talented (with apologies to Will). I've ridden in the Pyrenees, Alps, and Dolomites. I've climbed Mount Evans, Colo (twice) and raced in the Mount Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb (seven times).
The Horrible Hundred can be a full weekend of fun. On Saturday they offer “familiarization rides” which are group rides that cover some of the roads. This is followed by the main event on Sunday. So two days of riding.
The 8:30 ride on Saturday is listed as 17 mph and 50 miles. I did that one twice before. The last time was in 2018. On that ride, we seemingly had 100 riders and way too much testosterone. We had a bad touch of wheels and some riders hit the deck hard when one of the guys at the front braked hard to take a nature break. That would be the last time I would jump in with that group.
In 2019, I jumped in with a mid-ride group (16 mph) and had an enjoyable ride over 35 miles or so. And this weekend I would again find the 8:45 group. Our leader was Stacey (I believe). We had a great group that stayed together. Other than Stacey, maybe not the most friendly group but I didn’t ride to make friends. Nor were there any jerks. I told her that this ride was the best part of the weekend.
Officially the Sunday ride starts at 7:30 a.m. and I arrived at 6:30 a.m. I could not find a parking place at the official lots. Not to worry, I went another half-mile away and rode in. And there were many riders already on course at 7:00 a.m.
I was in line at the port-johns when I received a text from John D. He was two people in front of me. He had driven up from Sarasota but was unsure how far he could ride.
It turned out that John could only ride 35 miles, instead of 70. He had hip replacement surgery earlier this year and wasn’t back to riding many miles. We were passed by a couple of huge groups. They were very sketchy and I don’t join them because I am afraid of a touch of wheels that brings down a number of riders.
A few miles later we came upon a crash scene. Half the road was shut down and a number of cyclists had stopped although may not have been involved in a crash. But paramedics were working on one rider who was lying in the road. It was probably caused by a touch of wheels but you never know.
We came to Rest 1 and stopped to refill bottles and take on some food. Once on the road again, John was looking for the turn back to start. That was around Mile 30. He would have five more miles back to start and I would have a decision to make.
I was riding solo and catching people. Then I noticed I had someone on my wheel. He should have said something and even passed me and took a pull. But basically sat on my wheel for 3-4 miles until Rest 2 (almost). When he pulled in he came over and gave me a fist pump and thanked meme for the pull. He said I was a strong rider (sucking up).
Leaving Rest 2, I jumped on the back of a group from Clearwater. We were going into a strong headwind at 22-23 mph. I stayed with them for 2-3 miles then decided to let them go. I’m not sure if you say I got dropped or let them go but I’m going with the latter.
At Mile 54 was the moment of truth. If John had been with me I know we would have gone for the 70-mile route. But I stopped to check the weather because it had become gray. But the weather app showed 15% of rain for the next few hours so I decided to go for the 100.
From my first ride five years ago, and I may be misremembering, I was expecting a 30-mile loop. That would be the difference between 70 miles and 100 miles.
After a rest stop in Howey-in-the-Hills, the loop was completed in just 17 miles. And I didn’t mind.
I came to Sugarloaf Mountain with a wind in my face. I did not expect a PR and I did not disappoint. But I was only two seconds off my best on the lower portion. I had ridden this in March and set my PRs on that day. Today was not the day for it.
After I left the last rest stop at Sugarloaf, I saw that I had about 10 miles to go. I had ridden 80 and was happy to see that the shortened Howey loop apparently cut off 10 miles.
Likewise, when I came to the road back to Clermont, I saw that the 70-mile group turned while the 100-mile continued – apparently for a 10-mile loop or simply a different route. I decided to finish the 100.
I was in a group of four when we came back to the first rest stop. They stopped. I continued. I just wanted to finish.
I came to one more route marker for the 100-mile ride. I decided to turn and take the 70-mile route back. I thought it would be shorter and I did not care if I finished with 96 or 97 miles. There was a time I was anal-retentive that a Century ride must be 100 miles. Not today.
But the joke was on me. It was 100 miles.
The lunch was great although I was certainly by myself. Options were a pulled pork sandwich, grilled chicken breast, or a veggie burger (I think).
I had looked in vain from Stacey, the ride leader from yesterday, simply to thank her once again. But there were way too many people.
It was a good day. Afterward, I headed back to the hotel in Apopka. I washed all my kits from this trip to take home some nice-smelling clothes. And watch the Steelers vs. Chargers tonight.
DISTANCE: 101 miles TIME: SPEED: WEIGHT: 171 pounds
Officially this was my seventh Sea Gull Century. Officially because last year it was canceled but I rode it anyway.
Each Sea Gull brings new experiences and memories. In 2016 I met and rode with some members of the Blair Cycling Club. In 2017 I just rode solo. In 2018 I basically towed Sandra for 60 miles and she never thanked me or said goodbye. In 2019 I met Andrew and Stacey which was refreshing. Last year was unofficial and backward.
I didn’t know what 2021 would hold. Let’s start with breakfast. I stayed at Tru by Hilton in Georgetown, Delaware. Although the breakfast area was fully lit, they would not turn on the juice machine or pancake maker until 7:00 a.m. I left at 6:10 a.m.
I went through the drive-thru at McDonalds and went with the standby of hotcakes (no sausage). Actually, I was quite happy with the breakfast.
In Salisbury, I parked on the street next to the stadium. I liked this spot. Much better than a big lot or a field. It was gray and 62º. I wore arm warmers and took a rain jacket which I would not need. I was wheels-down at 7:40 a.m.
Today I wanted to be real conscious at doling at my effort. Easy in the first third is the adage. And in the first hour, my perceived effort was a two (out of 10). My heart rate seemed to never go above 115. I was riding easy.
I looked for a place for a natural break and found it behind a truck parked in the woods. When I rolled out I jumped in with a Major Taylor Cycling Club group from Columbus. These people were truly delightful. I enjoyed riding and conversing with each rider.
This ride attracts a number of Major Taylor Cycling Clubs from all over the east coast. Most (all?) are people of color and today I found my niche riding all day with Major Taylor riders.
The first rest top was in Snow Hill, Maryland. The police had a separate route for cyclists to the rest stop and it reminded me of RAGBRAI. It was so crowded you (almost) needed to dismount and walk your bike.
I had integrated with a group before the second rest stop. While almost everyone went to the rest stop I continued straight. I caught onto a new group. This one was a little awkward. I was looking a Strava Live Segments and knew I could set a PR on a two-mile segment if I could pass this large group. It was a large group and since we were on a country road with good visibility of oncoming, the group was spread across the entire road.
I had to fight my way through the group to the front. I heard someone say “he is really moving.” I take that as a compliment. I was also going into a brutal headwind. I got the PR, went about one mile further then pulled over and removed my arm warmers. This was strategically done simply to allow them to catch me without admitting they were catching me. Then once they went past I went and caught up to them.
We hung together until about 10 miles before Assateague Island. I went off the front and didn’t see them again. When I arrived at the rest stop I met a rider from MTCC-New York. “Webb” was cramping and I pulled out one of my Hot Shot drinks to eliminate cramps. He was surprised I gave it to him and asked what he owed. I told him if he liked it he could buy some and the next time he sees a cyclist with cramps he could pay it back. He drank. His cramps went away.
I left the rest stop solo. Again. Once over the bridge, I joined four riders from MTCC-Philly. The five of us, four men and one woman, were taking equal pulls. I thought we might have 20 miles of this.
After 2-3 miles a larger group passed us and soon we were part of a much larger group. For the first time today, we had a tailwind. We only averaged 21 mph on this segment but that includes creeping through Berlin. It took me 60 miles but I finally found the group I wanted to ride with. But it would not last.
We stopped at Mile 80 at the rest stop. As usual, I wasn’t staying long. I waited a little bit to see if a group would form. None did so I headed off willing to slow pedal and be caught. After 10 miles on this 18-mile segment, I shifted from wanting to be caught to not wanting to be caught. I wasn’t.
I went through the tunnel at the college, stopped long enough to take a photo of the Salisbury University cheerleaders, grabbed some ice cream then slowly rode back to my car. It was a really good day and I loved all the MTCC riders I met. One of my favorite Sea Gulls yet.
DISTANCE: 102.5 miles SPEED: 17.7 mph WEIGHT: 171 pounds
I actually rode 0.2 faster last year solo but today included the last mile of getting back to the car. It’s not all about speed and I purposely rode slow today. But if it was, I am still very happy with this ride.
It was a most beautiful day. Tim and I drove to Richmond and parked at the Great Shiplock Park which is about one mile from the Richmond Main Station. We rode to the station and waited.
If only someone knew how to run a train. Sigh. A woman greeted us (nice) and told us the train was running late. Still under pandemic protocols, most of the large open station was closed off so people had to be in one area. The doors to the outdoor platform where one could breathe fresh air were locked.
When the train arrived and arriving passengers disembarked they could not open the doors to get into the station. And we could not leave to get to the platform. Finally (maybe no more than two minutes but for some people, it probably seemed much longer), an employee came and opened the doors.
Tim and I rolled our bikes onto the platform. The conductor said he had a bike rack in this car and “back there.” I guess I took this one and Tim went back there. We went to separate cars.
The rack had one hook and I tried to hang my front wheel but the hook didn’t like a deeper rim that I had. I was able to turn it just right and hang it. I then saw an instruction sign that said to remove the front wheel. Not sure how that would have worked. I didn’t have my tool to remove the wheel readily available.
That also tells me Amtrak is not accommodating of many bikes. They must anticipate quick-release skewers which have been replaced by through-axles. Depending on the bike you may need a special tool to remove the wheel. I use a mini-rachet which I did not have with me. For an emergency, I could get to one in a tool kit inside my frame. As for bikes with bolted-on front wheels, they would be out of luck too. Amtrak can do better if they want to.
About halfway through the ride I put the bike in a luggage area. It fit better. I actually through we were approaching Williamsburg and was getting ready. But we weren’t.
Once in Williamsburg, we rolled down through Duke of Glocester Street in Colonial Williamsburg. Very slowly. If Tim wanted a faster average speed today I killed it in Colonial Williamsburg.
Rather than take John Tyler Highway directly to Jamestown to meet the trail, my mapping took us through some residential areas. They were very pretty but I’m not sure about the benefit. The highway did have a bike lane for much of it. I think the only section it did not was where we finally picked it up.
We passed a Taco Bell and grabbed a not-so-quick bite to eat knowing that food options were limited on the ride. It was 11:30 a.m.
The trail in Jamestown was easy to find. The Virginia Capital Trail is a paved and boardwalk trail that follows the Rte. 5 corridor. While next to the highway almost all of it has a strand of trees between it and the road. When there is no traffic going by one does not see the road and it appears it is a trail in the woods.
There are not many provisions on the trail. I had forgotten there was a very nice-looking deli restaurant at Mile 2.5 (Spokes + Art Provisions Co.). At Charles City, there is Haupts gas station which has some good fried chicken. Also in Charles City, there is Cul’s Courthouse Grille. And then northing until Mile 48.
We had a wonderful headwind most of the way. But it was 72º and it was great.
At Kingsland Road we left the trail as I opted for some back roads which added two to three miles. Tim was okay with that because he wanted to make sure we rode a metric century (100 km or 62.14 miles). The mileage would do that. These were roads used in the Climb to Conquer Cancer that I have ridder before. And I approved.
We stopped for water when we got back to the trail, around Mile 48 . There is a new 7-Eleven opening soon but was a store across the highway as well. Tim got water for the last five miles and we began the nice mostly downhill ride to Richmond.
I don’t know what picture I had painted of Libby Hill but I think Tim was picturing Mount Washington and not Libby Hill. When we got to Rocket’s Landing I could see the monument atop Libby Hill and pointed that out to Tim. I think he was relieved to see that it wasn’t far away and it wasn’t very high.
I wanted Libby Hill. Twice I raced it as a timed climb in the Climb to Conquer Cancer. Both times I finished at 0:53. Three weeks ago my time was good enough to win the 65-69 age group at the event. The problem for me is they had a 60-69 age group. I never saw official results and could not easily determine on Strava who I may have lost to but the most important person I am racing is me. And I wanted a good race time today.
We came to the gated entrance (no vehicles permitted) and I showed Tim the climb. He thought it might take him four minutes. I pointed out that even if he went half as fast as me he’d still be there in under two minutes.
I was hoping for one second. I hit the climb from a dead stop. The bike started to bounce. I made the hard left onto the climb and felt the rear wheel slip on the wet cobbles as here there is always some runoff or drainage across the road. It’s about 6″-12″ at best (worst).
My helmet, which I thought was tight, was moving as were my sunglasses. I never looked at my Wahoo Live Segments to see if I was ahead or behind my PR pace.
Halfway up is the sharp right-hander. Once I turned it I got out of the saddle. Three weeks ago I tried standing here and the bike bounced so much I sat back down. Today I stood and let the bike bounce.
I’m not sure if I was out of the saddle the rest of the way or if I sat. But I went across the top and saw the time – 0:47.
I killed it. I destroyed my previous best time. Then I saw Tim was coming and I was encouraging him as well. And in his first time, he came in 1:33. Excellent! Being his first time he now has a marker for a PR for the next time as well.
Officially, Strava would record my time as 0:48. I still destroyed it. And maybe the next cancer climb, a 0:48 would be good enough for the 60-69 group. (They should align with Strava’s 65-69 group but that’s a different discussion.)
We descended back to the car. Tim saw a parking lot that looked promising to cut through although we didn’t need to. But it had two bridges which led to Stone Brewing. When we exited we were in the outdor cafe area of the brewery. Oops. Let us ride between your tables. We went through the parking lot and were back on the trail only 400 meters from where we parked. In all we rode through three of Virginia’s capitals through history, Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Richmond.
I did not have a good feeling about this weekend. Tires, like most bike parts, have been in short supply since last year. It caught up to me on Monday when I had a flat on my front wheel.
I bought replacement Schwalbe tires and installed them on Thursday. On Friday I rode to Fosters in Manassas. While I was eating the rear tire went PFFFFFFT. That was strange for a new tire but I pulled out my repair kit, put in a new tube, and was ready to roll.
The tire held well despite only 40 psi. I stopped at home, brought the pressure up to 90 psi, then finished my ride. After I put the bike back the rear tire went PFFFFFFT. I changed the tire and one hour later the third new tube went PFFFFFFT. Well, it was time to learn my lesson. I inspected the wheel and saw there was a hole in the rim tape. It was 7:00 p.m. on Friday and no place for repair. I would travel to Harrisonburg with a wheel needing repair.
Yesterday I went Rocktown Bicycles in Harrisonburg. This is a very nice shop and Sean greeted me. I told him what I needed and in 10 minutes I was out the door and ready to roll.
My alternative was that I went to Brothers Craft Brewing and then the Hotel Madison, two locations we had used in the past. No ride. Since registration was at 2:00 p.m. and I decided to ride around town. And that was OK because I did not need a 30-mile ride before the Alpine Loop Gran Fondo.
I stayed in town at Tru by Hilton. Who uses alarm clocks? Well, the guest before me, that’s who. At 5:00 a.m. the alarm went off. I was not ready to get up. And I didn’t know how to turn off the alarm. I unplugged the clock and started my day with one less hour of sleep than planned.
I drove to the venue after thinking I would ride there. But U.S. Rte 11 looked sketchy (curb to curb, no shoulder). Once I arrived I got my timing chip and then heard my name being announced as the top fundraiser. I went to the mic and told my “secret” to raising money. “You have to ASK people.”
The choice today was 78 or 100 miles. These are the same routes except for the addition of a 22-mile loop. At the start I wasn’t “feeling” 100 miles. I got my bottles ready, grabbed some food, and went to the starting area. It was 48º. I put on a vest and arm warmers.
We rolled out of town. Once we turned on Switchboard Road I let people pass me. The road is crowded and it’s tight. I just don’t trust the big group. And I had a bigger goal. At 10 miles into the ride I would “celebrate” 1,000 consecutive days of riding at least 10 miles. I didn’t want to be taken down in a crash which almost happened beside me when a rider clunked his gears, came to a start, and was almost rear-ended.
Also, further back was Robert Hess. I pulled over to wait for him. I didn’t see him so I continued. But when we came to At Whitmore Shop Road I waited for him to arrive. We chatted for a few minutes and then he went left and I went right. I already let the main group gain 4-5 minutes on me.
I told Ashley and Bryan they could expect me to roll by at 9:00 a.m. And at 9:00, I saw them up ahead on a pull-off area just before George Washington National Forest. They had signs cheering me on. I stopped for about five minutes, gave the girls a hug, and told them I would see them at the top.
I hit the climb which is a timed KOM segment. After four or five minutes I looked at my Wahoo computer. I was only eight seconds behind my all-time best which was 10 years ago. I had no idea.
Another minute or so and I was only down six seconds. I started to think that maybe I could get a PR. I was 10-12 minutes in when I saw I was ahead by two seconds. And I was catching people. I was feeling good. Every previous attempt I was trying to count the distance to the top. Today I didn’t even notice. Everyone up the road was just a new target to reel in.
In all, I caught and passed 11 people on the climb and did not get passed by anyone. Of course, I was almost dead last when I started so who was left to pass me? I was up 1:02 when I reached the top. A PR! I was very excited.
At the top, the girls were waiting for me. My day was made. No matter what else happened I PR’d Shenandoah Mountain and I saw the girls on course. It would be a great day. When they told me that they would be in town in the afternoon I decided I would do the 78-mile ride so they could see me finish.
I bombed the descent on Rte 33 to Brandywine. I made it over to the rest stop which is at the base of the climb up Reddish Knob. After a short break and a small can of Coke, the climb began. I don’t know what happened but almost immediately I was 40 seconds behind my best time. But the time began to come down. And I was catching and passing people. The Live Tracking on my Wahoo stopped working and I would have to wait to find out if I set another PR. (I did.)
I passed two girls from the Miller School of Albermarle. I had been chatting with them at the rest stop and they were pulled over. I really admire these young kids. Since they weren’t in immediate distress I continued on but decided when I reached the top I would turn around and go back to shepherd them up the climb. I passed the KOM finish but realized it was about a half-mile short of the Strava segment. So I had to keep going to the end when I could turn around. In all, I passed 10 riders on this climb. I was passed by no one.
Going back down I met the girls then turned around. One of them had to stop to take on a gel. But other than that they were riding well. When we reached the summit we started down Reddish Knob. I warned them the pavement was crap but they did not heed the warning. They flew! At first, they gapped me but I eventually caught on. They were taking too many risks for my liking as I hung on.
As the road started to level out, we slowed down and just chatted. As we left the steeper part of the mountain which was mostly traffic-free, I went to the front and they stayed on my wheel until we reached the next rest stop together. They told me they were riding the 78-mile route.
Actually, I was feeling good enough now to ride the 100 but had the granddaughters waiting for me in town. I texted them that I would finish between 2:30 and 2:35.
In the valley I saw lots of Amish, at one point maybe more than 30 buggies pulled by horses. I passed one buggy, announcing my presence as loud as I could so I did not spook the horse. I waved at very single one that passed me in the opposite direction and almost all waved back – and smiled too. The time was 1:45 and they appeared to all be headed to a 2:00 gathering.
Most surprising to me was a young Amish man passing me in the opposite direction. I waved but he couldn’t wave back as he had one hand on his handlebars and one hand holding a cell phone to his ear. It appeared to be a flip phone, not a smart phone.
The last timed climb was Mole Hill. I wasn’t sure I would have anything left but saw that I got a PR on it too. And there were three more segments on the way back into town. I PR’d them all.
At 2:32 p.m. I came to the finish. The grandkids were waiting. I was introduced to the crowd but without anything that I had written on my application. We took a family photo and I hung out for a while.
After they left I checked Strava. PRs on the three timed climbs and all three I was in the Top Ten Age Group. Then I checked to see if there were any times better than mine in that list for today. And there was one. I found a guy who beat me by 2:00 on Shenandoah; 1:00 on Reddish, and I beat him by a minute on Mole Hill. So he got me by 2:00 total and I knew I was not the KOM for my age group. But I did finish second in my age group in the climb. And this year a sprint was added. I finished second there too. Maybe there were only two of us.
But I was happy. My best times were 10 years ago and who would have thought I could PR at my age? I am not a climber and this improvement was very satisfying. I accept that there are better climbers. I had a great day on the bike and a better one off the bike with my granddaughters.
Note: At the beginning, I was right behind a safety bump and was not clipped in to start. I awkwardly pushed off with my feet losing a couple of places and forgetting to start my Wahoo. This file is missing the first 0.4 miles.
I came to Richmond wanting to set a PR on Libby Hill. And if it was good enough, maybe win my age group (fat chance). I failed. I tied. Ugh.
The Climb to Conquer Cancer is an event run by Amy’s Army of Cancer Warriors benefitting the Massey Cancer Center at Virginia Commonwealth University. I first did this event two years ago. In that event, I climbed Libby Hill three times, one pre-race, and twice during the race. Today I climbed it to get to registration and then during the event. I also did the climb once when I rode from Williamsburg to Richmond. So this was my sixth time.
In the COVID era, some events haven’t come back (Livestrong-Austin is canceled next month). Others are modified with smaller fields. This was an extreme modification. They offered no rest stops. None. Nada. I would have to carry everything I needed with me or stop along the route.
Unlike past years where there was a small ceremony, National Anthem, then a police-escorted roll-out, today was “show and go.” For me, it meant not forming up with any other riders.
I left the house around 6:15 a.m. which was a little late. My ETA was 7:45 which was later than I wanted to arrive. I parked at Great Shiplock Park which is convenient enough. I had iced my bottles and took Skratch mix with me. Added that to one bottle, poured ice water in both. Grabbed two packs of entry chews from Skratch and one gel. And that would be my nutrition and hydration for the day.
I rode up Libby Hill, even stopping to take a picture of the cobbled route. It is much bumpier than I remembered.
Registration was giving your name and being handed a timing chip plate for the bike. With one zip tie, it never fit well on the bike. I should have forced the issue and used two ties. There were “bibs” for survivors, in honor of, and in memory of. But there were no Sharpies to write names on them. And there were no safety pins to attach and wear them.
I signed up knowing this would be a “lite” version. I was OK with not having support. But I wasn’t prepared for not having a Sharpie or safety pins. I had those in my car. I would have taken some to registration. But this was a major disappointment.
On a cancer ride, there is great community among the riders when they wear the names of others or even themselves. These are talking points. Connecting with others. And today, this ride missed that.
It was a beautiful day. The temperature at registration was 65º. There were some riders milling around and I wasn’t sure if they were waiting to register or not. I leaned my bike against a tree and registered. Then I rolled out by myself.
My Wahoo GPS seemed slow in drawing the route for me so I navigated from memory, a little, before it picked up the track. I only missed one turn but knew it right away. And then I was off and riding.
I had marked a number of segments, most were in the first half of the route, that I would compete for PRs. And they started coming just one after another. And each one was a PR. I caught and passed some riders. Twice I was passed by a paceline but it was actually once. After having been passed the paceline took a break at the 7-Eleven while I kept going.
I rationed my food and water and never stepped off the bike. I put a foot down in the first block at a traffic light, then again crossing Rte 5, and finally, I took a natural break on a deserted side road (in the woods). No riders went by. I literally was by myself all day long only occasionally seeing riders up the road and passing them.
Around Mile 50, with no additional food or hydration, my Wahoo tempted me with GO! I decided not to contest any more PR segments, waiting instead for the finish. I came to Libby Hill. There were a couple of volunteers at the base. I turned onto the cobbles.
I have a bike better equipped for climbing the cobbles this year than I did two years ago. And I have a body better equipped. I should have set a PR. I looked for the gutter where I could ride the concrete instead of the cobbles. When that ended I turned the last corner. I saw a photographer so I naturally stood because standing photos are so much better than seated. But I quickly took a seat. It was too rough to be standing.
I finished. I asked about the timing chips and was told I could keep mine. There was nothing at the end. I wanted to take a photo of someone finishing. No one came. I left.
Other than Libby Hill, I’d say there are no hills on route at least after the first five miles. It’s a rolling country route, mostly roads but some on the Virginia Capital Trail. It’s neat to finish on Libby Hill. And it’s a good cause. I hope they can get back to a fully supported ride. With safety pins.
I don’t know about the timing on the climb. I sort of trust Strava uploads more than the chips on our bikes. I do not know what triggered the start of my climb. I did not see any timing mechanism at the start, only at the finish.
I don’t know what age groups the event has. If they use what Strava (and Mount Washington Auto Road Hillclimb) uses, I would be in the 65-69 age group. I was 9th overall, all-time, in my age group and five of those were done on Zwift in the comfort of their homes. And no one today was faster. But there may be someone who doesn’t use Strava. Or timing – maybe mine didn’t record for the event. I don’t know. And maybe they use a 60-69 age group and I can’t see the 60-64 age group. But it does look like maybe, just maybe, I won that age group today.
Overall, of people who uploaded to Strava, I was 16th out of 40.
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.
On my way to Mount Washington, New Hampshire, I was looking to stop the day before a little short of North Conway, mainly so as not to pay North Conway prices. I arrived last night and found a Papa Gino’s where I ordered a pasta dish thinking that would help me on the climb tomorrow.
I stayed at the Tru by Hilton which was a very nice property. It had rained hard overnight and I was hoping this rain would not doom the Mount Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb on Saturday. But the afternoon looked good although it was a very gray day in Concord. But I had plenty of time and it wasn’t raining. I asked the young lady at the front desk for routes. She asked if I wanted hills and I told her I did not. With a big climb tomorrow I did not need to ride hills today.
I had looked for rail-trails in the area but found none. I scouted the area briefly last night but didn’t see much. The only rail-trail riding I found was a rail car adventure where one can pedal a railcar on an actual railroad (abandoned). I didn’t think that was good to do the day before the race. Maybe next time.
I headed downtown having been warned that this was the weekend for the Market Days Festival. Since they didn’t open until 10:00, I asked a volunteer if I could bike through the market area. She waved me through and said, “Welcome to Concord.”
I was exploring completely on feel. While I can create routes and upload those to Wahoo, I need a private WiFi connection (home) to upload it. So I didn’t try.
At the end of town, I wanted to cross the river and it looks like I found myself on Interstate-393. Oops. I did not see a sign restricting usage but knew I did not want to be there. I was able to turn around and find a safer route.
It was a short ride. Just enough to loosen my legs. Arriving back I had to negotiate through the cars that were backed up off the highway waiting to go through the drive-thru at Dunkin Donuts. The Pacific Northwest has its love affair with coffee and long lines at coffee kiosks. And New England has their love affair with Dunkin Donuts.
Over the winter I sketched out a cancer ride with a ride in every state. It did not come to fruition, yet, but this ride was on my Wahoo. I was traveling from home to Mount Washington, New Hampshire, and had time to try this ride from Mystic, Connecticut into Rhode Island at the town of Waverly.
There was one thing I did not account for. The weather. There was a huge swath of rain from Long Island to Boston. It was following me. It had rained overnight where I stayed in Norwich. The forecast did not show any breaks all day in the rain and I was resigned to riding in the rain somewhere. But I saw a possibility. There seemed to be a window of opportunity around 10:30 for about an hour, maybe two. So I went for it.
On paper, I envisioned a grassy beach area near the sound. In reality, it was very wooded and buggy too. I was getting bit up by mosquitoes when I wasn’t riding.
I parked in the Barn area. The parking at the sound was reserved for boats and trailers although, on this gray and rainy day, no one was parked here.
I took a somewhat country road. It was part country and part suburbs. On the Connecticut side, I briefly rode next to the Pawcatuck River. I missed the one photo op thinking I would have a better one. I didn’t. The rain started.
I crossed the river and entered Westerly, Rhode Island. The rain picked up. I was following my route through town but I was in town. And it wasn’t fun anymore. The roads were wet. I was wet. On a sunny day, I would have continued to Watch Hill, and if I’m back here again I will need to try that. But not in the rain. Not today.
I turned around and was anxious to see how my new Wahoo ELEMNT Bolt would handle the directions I mapped out. Would it continually try to put me back on route or understand I was headed back? Answer: It adjusted and put me on course to go back to my car.
The long way, about six miles, would be to retrace the road I had come from along the Pawcatuck River. Or at 2.5 miles, I could take South Broad Street / Stonington Road. I chose short.
On another day I would have gone long even though cyclists seem to have an aversion to out-and-back or retracing our routes. We prefer loops. But I chose the shortest way to minimize my time in the rain. But Stonington Road is a two-lane road, no shoulders, and pretty busy. It was not a fun ride.
Had it been a sunny day, I think I would have liked this ride. I’m not sure about the Rhode Island portion because I didn’t ride much. I would try it again to Watch Hill and then decide if it really is too sketchy. But it felt good to break up the driving today by riding in two states.
No fewer than six times have I worried enough to blog about Father Time. He is, after all, undefeated. But why worry?
Last week I rode from Geistown (Johnstown) to Rossiter and was worried that I might not be as fast as I was on a ride 11 years ago. After controlling for similar segments (East Conemaugh to Arcadia), I concluded that I went at least the same speed. And if I parsed it further, stopping when I reached Northern Cambria then resuming when I left, I think I was faster last week than I was 11 years ago when I first rode this.
Today I had the realization that it doesn’t matter. Sometime, someday, Father Time will catch up with me. And so what?
I parked at the Kia dealership in Geistown (with permission) and headed down Scalp Avenue. I went straight through Johnstown, not electing for photo ops over by the Inclined Plane. When I came to East Conemaugh, my first timed segment began. I was 20 seconds or so up on my best time when it quit giving me feedback about halfway up the climb. I just continued the pace.
Confirmation of a PR would have to wait until I uploaded my data to Strava. I needed 14:09 (2010) and came in at 13:20. It was good for #1 age group (an age group of two – apparently not many cyclists my age attempt this road and this climb).
The next two climbs “Don’t wanna go to school” and “Station Road Climb” forced me to quickly sit up. Although on the former I got my second best time and on the latter, I became the “local legend” (with two attempts in the past 90 days). Not only aren’t too many people my age riding this route, apparently not too many cyclists of any age ride out here.
Last week I smoked the segment from Belsano to Duman Lake (11:08 – KOM). Today I came in two minutes later. I rode yesterday in Virginia in 95º heat and it drained my resources. I had nothing left for today. Not expecting much on Blue Goose Climb to Nicktown I grabbed a PR (6:49), taking seven seconds off my PR of last week. That moved me up one place (to sixth) and kept me at #1 age group, being the only one in my age group.
The temperature today was around 70º and very overcast. My shoes seemed to be constantly wet and I wasn’t sure if there was water coming off my front tire or I was dripping that much sweat (and I was). Right after Nicktown came the descent to Northern Cambria. This is untimed by Strava Live Segments so I rode reasonably hard. But I didn’t feel like I put in the KOM effort of last weekend and I was right. At 5:32 it was my second-best effort but was 0:14 off my mark from last week.
In Northern Cambria, I went to say hello to cousins Don and Nancy but it didn’t look like they were home. So I went to Sheetz. Filled my bottles with ice, bought a $0.99 bottle of water, topped them off, and headed to Cherry Tree.
The roads turn “heavy” here and the road at Stifflertown had new tar and chips although I could ride it with no problems. Just not fast. I set a new best time for Stifflertown to Arcadia, even soft-pedaling near the end. I was chased by a big dog – couldn’t tell you what breed.
Then I headed off for Smithport. Arcadia to Trojan Road is not available for Live Segments as it is a slight downhill. Nor was I racing it – more Just Riding Along. But I set a PR (KOM) of 5:32 which was 0:04 better than last week.
I turned on Trojan Road and here is where the road turns up. And I was 7-8 seconds ahead of the Arcadia to Smithport segment. I maintained that lead until I turned off Trojan Road onto Williams Road and the climb. If the road turns up at Trojan Road, it turns up in anger at Williams Road. Less than one-half mile in length, I lost 27 seconds to last week’s KOM effort. And I figured then I had no chance at the larger Arcadia to Smithport segment. But I saw I was bringing the time back and finished in 20:32 which was 19 seconds better than in 2014.
Leaving Smithport I was riding in a very light rain although it would last for only about five minutes. Rather than go straight to the (Lowmaster) Reunion, I turned and went up Church Road to Fairview Cemetery. There I visited my dad’s grave. I am sure he approved.
But the short route to the reunion at Winebark Park also took me on dirt, gravel, and chip and tar road (almost all chips). Plus the entrance in and out of the park is dirt or grass so I gave up a lot of time there.
Unlike last week I did not care what my time was. And I am never going to worry about my time now compared to 10 years ago. There will be a time when I can’t produce the power or speed I did 10 years ago. But I am on a bike. And looking at my age group, I am doing things now that very few people my age are doing. So I am thankful for any speed. I am on a bike. I am finding peace.
Father Time is Undefeated. I hear that more than I need to but perhaps mostly from Ron Cook on KDKA-The Fan. While accepting that premise I also want to believe I can delay ‘ole Father Time.
I seem to be measuring my rides on average speed. Throughout much of 2021, my rides have mirrored what I did 10-11 years ago (which is basically when I really started tracking such things using GPS). And then there is this ride, Somerset to Punxsutawney. I averaged 16 mph in 2010 and have never gotten back to it. Is Father Time winning?
About today: I parked at Team Kia in Giestown (with permission). From there it is a five-mile descent to Johnstown before the real ride begins. This is the first ride I have done using Strava Live Segments so I had targeted some segments to “race” today.
The first was the climb out of Johnstown that begins in East Conemaugh. And it did not come in. So I rode the climb at tempo but never going too deep. The result was my second best time (14:30) which was only surpassed by my ride in 2010 (14:09). I am pretty confident that I could have squeezed out 21 seconds if I knew my progress. So this may have been a win.
I was plagued throughout my ride with Live Strava Segments that did not appear where I expected them. This evening I figured out why. I had a new Wahoo and did not set it up with Wifi to connect with my mother’s Wifi. So any segments I set up or selected (starred) yesterday did not sync when I selected sync. Operator error.
I had a surprise segment in Vinco (PR) but could not get the Station Road Climb segment in Twin Rocks. That was set on a dedicated ride three years ago in which my goal was a PR. And in 2018 it was also near the beginning of my ride.
I knew I would PR the four-mile segment from Belsano to Duman Lake. That was 12:32 (2010). I knew I would have to go hard and I saw I was on pace for the KOM (11:08). In the last mile, I went from being 4-5 seconds ahead to being 1-2 seconds down.
I buried myself pushing the pace. Finally, I saw the time – 11:09 PR. Missed it by one second. What an effort. Then I told myself that what I saw was a provisional time and maybe once uploaded I would gain one second. I was shocked when that actually happened. And I was even more shocked to see that the KOM was 11:09 and not 11:08 which I was fixated on. I got a well-earned KOM. This segment can best be described as a time trial segment more than a sprint or a climb.
I went reasonably deep for a PR on the Blue Goose climb to Nicktown and got it. And I also got a KOM on the downhill from Nicktown to Northern Cambria. But only by six seconds and since this is not a Live Segment (more than -0.25% grade), I could only hope that pedaling the entire way would earn those seconds.
In Northern Cambria, I stopped at Don & Nancy’s house even while figuring they were out of town. Then I headed to Sheetz. I filled my bottles with ice then bought water from their cooler.
In Cherry Tree, I passed the fair Cherry Tree Days where a banner proudly displays ALWAYS THE FIRST WEEKEND IN AUGUST. Trying to keep a good pace I did not slow or stop to take a photo.
Here the ride gets tougher. It’s all up and down (mostly up) and the roads are “heavy.” I did set a KOM on the Williams Road climb but I am the only cyclist who ever recorded and uploaded to Strava on that road. I was getting tired and by the time I did the last stretch to the “Crossroads” (which is where my great-grandfather, John T. States, lived, I was toast. Done.
It is time now for reflection. Maybe chasing segments left me more drained than just riding along. Or maybe Father Time is reminding me, Father Time is Undefeated.
Reflection time. I wanted to look at the average speed over time. It ranged from 14.0 to 16.4. I am convinced that I had a strong tailwind in 2010 which helped me achieve the 16.4 speed. That was one week after I posted 14.3.
Today’s ride of 15.4 was almost my second best (which was 15.5). I’m thinking I sucked but that’s almost the best time in 10 years.
Weather certainly affected some rides as I was caught in heavy rains a couple of times. I also think, strangely enough, that the longer rides starting in Friedens or Somerset were a bit easier in that they had 15-20 additional miles that trended downhill to Johnstown whereas stating in Geistown is almost starting in Johnstown.
Using the ride in 2010 where I averaged 16.4 mph, RideWithGPS shows the average grade was 0.7% Compared to today’s Geistown ride which was 1.2%. So that could explain most of the one mph difference between the two. Of course, so could competing for KOM segments. I was drained after the segment to Duman Lake and it wasn’t too long before I had to start the Blue Goose Climb. Ending in Nicktown it was only one mile before the descent to Northern Cambria. So chasing segments may have been an overall negative. But getting a higher speed on the segment may have helped out. Who knows?
Another factor that is hard to quantify is rest. Yesterday I set four PRs climbing over Ray’s Hill tunnel in Breezewood. My legs felt like Jell-O to start. So how the legs feel leading up to the ride, nutrition both prior to plus while on and off the bike, weather (heat and rain), will all be a factor in how I ride. Plus age – but it doesn’t look like that’s a factor here.
And maybe the final factor is the amount of time I spent sightseeing or stopping to take photos. Today I did not just motor through Johnstown but turned and went over to the Inclined Plane. Likewise, in Northern Cambria, I went to the Lowmaster’s house then went to Sheetz, making a couple of U-turns in the process. No hurry at all. In 2010 I went straight through Johnstown with no sightseeing stops and the same for Northern Cambria. Today’s sightseeing added 1.5 miles but also took 18 minutes. Adding that to the 2010 trip and my average speed would have dropped to 15.8.
I’m not sure what it means but I will include heart rate. Today my average was 136 bpm. My high HR was 174 which was on my “time trial” from Belsano to Duman Lake. Looking back 11 years my HR was 132 bpm and my max was 166 which was on the climb out of Glen Campbell (I missed a turn). I think this is inconclusive. An out of shape rider may have a higher HR than someone in shape. Or if one works harder than the other that could also be a factor. But the work rate as measured by HR was about the same. Maybe I need power meters?
One other comparison. From the bridge in East Conemaugh to Trojan Road (Arcadia/Glen Campbell). It is 41 miles. Both times took me 172 minutes (2:52) at an average of 14.4 mph (it trends uphill beginning with the climb out of Johnstown). Looking at this metric, I rode the same today as I did in 2010 which was my best time ever. And maybe, just maybe, if you take out the eight minutes in Northern Cambria today riding over to Sheetz, then I rode better today.
Also looking at this metric, maybe I didn’t have a great tailwind in 2010. Maybe that was the standard and I matched it today, some 11 years later.
When I did not come close to my 2010 speed I was bummed. But looking closer, I posted a good speed today for the Appalachian Mountains. The difference between total speed between 2021 and 2010 can mostly be explained by the sightseeing component and some by eliminating the long time trending downhill by starting in Friedens.
Father Time is coming for me – but maybe not as fast as I feared. Back off Jack!