Didn’t Want to Do It


Each year it seems harder to bring myself to New Hampshire to ride this mountain. But it seems to be more about the 1,400-mile drive (round trip) than the ride up the mountain. And this year I wasn’t “feeling it.”

Rest Area on I-91 near Brattleboro, Vermont

I was surprised when earlier this week my daughter, Ashley, asked me when I was going and if I needed a driver. I hadn’t made any gearing adjustments to my bike and was planning to call it a career at six successful hill climbs.

Rest area on I-91 near Brattleboro, Vermont

But with Ashley volunteering, if not wanting to go, I decided to go. Besides, I would see the Gubinski family again.

Mount Washington Hotel (we did not stay there)

Two years ago was to be my last time racing this mountain. I needed a ride down and found the Gubinski family, or they found me. But every rider needed a driver and no vehicles could go to the summit that Saturday morning unless they were bringing a cyclist back down the mountain. It was a marriage of convenience. Lucas and Alexa were hiking to the summit and their parents, Vic and Alison, were to drive up and meet them – as long as they were bringing a rider back down. And thus we met.

Near Crawford Notch, NH (Credit: Ashley Snow)

Navigating here yesterday, and anticipating it would be the last time, I decided to try a different approach to North Conway. We came up I-91 so we could stop at our favorite rest stop in Vermont.  Then we followed US 302 and came in on the other side of the mountain through Crawford Notch, a drive neither of us had done before.

Near Crawford Notch, NH (Credit: Ashley Snow)

I never saw a moose before until Ashley came with me in 2007. The race was canceled that year but she was happy – she saw a moose. She came with me again in 2008 and, again, we saw a moose. Ashley hasn’t been with me since 2008 and I haven’t seen another moose. Yesterday, we saw a moose. When I told my friends, the Family Gubinski about her “Moose Whispering” skill, they didn’t believe it – they always wanted to see a moose. So we left registration at the same time. We found another moose.

This morning I was hoping the race would be canceled. It would be appropriate bookends that Ashley was with me for my first (2007) and last (2014) races and both were canceled. The weather did not look great. When I checked before leaving the hotel it was 37 degrees at the summit with winds at 44 mph – wind chill was 23 degrees.

Summit Conditions day of race

On the other hand, were the Gubinski twins, Alexa and Lucas. I had met them two years ago when they hiked to the top of the mountain. They loved watching the race and decided to come back – as racers. And they talked me into coming back last year. And this year. And today they were excited and ready to go. Alexa had taken brakes off her bike, weighed her water bottles to take the lightest ONE, and was going up without a spare tube or tool kit. She is extreme!

2006 Trek Pilot (with Blue Madone fork)

Before coming here I had purchased a larger cassette (32 tooth) to put on my bike but hadn’t, thinking I would return it unopened for a refund (if the race was canceled). This would make the bike easier to pedal. I had my mechanics change the front ring from a 30 to a 24 but last year ran a 24:28. The 24:32 would be better.

Riders getting ready at the start (Purple – Group 4)

Ashley went up the mountain. The starter gun (actually was a small cannon) went off for the first wave of pro and “Top Notch” riders. I decided I better put the cassette on my bike. I was in the fifth and last group to start, 20 minutes behind.

No hitchhiking or bicycles

This took me back to my short-lived Cub Scout career when I was working on building a plane to fly on a wire. I waited until the last minute to attach the propeller. At the race, my plane won its first two heats, easily in fact. In the third, the propeller came loose and fell off because the glue had not set yet. This was a life lesson that should have taught me preparation. It did not.

Some riders in my wave. The unicyclist and young girl beat me.

My quick change of cassettes did not go as expected. I had a new lighter wheel from my Trek Domane which I planned to switch to my climbing bike. It has an 11-speed cassette. My mechanic assured me the wheel would fit, and I guess it did, but it did not like the new 10-speed cassette. I couldn’t get the cassette fully tightened.

It could have been operator error but the second group was now headed up the mountain. (Just three groups left to go.) I took the last three gear cluster from the 10-speed and replaced the last three gear cluster from the 11-speed and tightened it. Now I was running an 11-speed cluster on my 10-speed bike/derailleur. This, my friends, is not a good combination. That 10-speed cluster is not meant for the 11-speed hub and I didn’t even bother to test it. I failed Cub Scouts too.

Unidentified rider climbing toward the summit

I was sitting in a field with two wheels, neither of which was working with my bike, and less than 10 minutes to go. The gears would have to be. I lined up at the back of the last group, which was also the largest group. I started dead last (which I always do). There were two unicyclists ahead of me. The cannon sounded. I didn’t move. The group had to space out first as they took off.

Vic Gubinski nearing the finish (Credit: Alison Gubinski)

My gears seemed to work only for the first three but anything beyond that and they were skipping. That cluster of three gears was molded as one whereas the rest were individually added with a washer. Those other gears would be problematic except I would never get to them. I could have ridden a single-speed up the mountain as long as it had 24:32 gearing.

Lucas, Alexa, Barry (Credit: Alsion Gubinski)

The weather was warm, around 70º (21ºC), at the base, and I, along with most racers, wore a short sleeve jersey. No jacket. No arm warmers.

Jill Landman, Geoff Hamilton – I don’t know them – they just passed by me and I took their picture

The lower section (first two miles) is just beautiful. It’s just a 12% grade road headed up through a deep forest. At 1.5 miles I passed the first of a few people pushing their bikes. In the past, this was mentally deflating but not today. I kept going not even thinking about them.

Lucas Gubinski nears the summit (Credit: Alison Gubinski)

Around Mile Three or Mile Four it got cold. Real cold. Real fast. I sort of envied those riders who had jackets or arm warmers. The wind was strong – at times it was a headwind.

Seven times – dedicated to Alex Shepherd

I came to Mile Four realizing it was more than halfway. I wasn’t working that hard. I felt good. I passed a red bib rider (first group). Plenty of yellow (second), blue (third), and purple (fourth) too. Although I had been passed earlier by both unicyclists who were racing (after I passed them at the beginning), I overtook them too.

Thumbs Up – Barry nears the summit

The top of the mountain was cold – my hands were starting to feel it a little, but otherwise, I was OK. I came to the final 22% grade and saw the Gubinski family cheering for me. I smiled. I waved. I gave thumbs up. I slowed down.

Pain locker at Mile 5

I finally shifted into my lowest gear (32t). I made a big deal about changing that cassette and never once used the lowest gear. So I made sure to get my money’s worth. I climbed the 22% grade and looked at the time – 1:48. Yuck. Same as always.

Mt. Washington Cog Railroad

I was surprised. I thought I had done better. It’s about power to weight (ratio) and even though my weight is up this summer I felt good. This was the first hill climb where the “Quit Monster” didn’t hound me. Thoughts of Jake The Hero Grecco, Alex Shepherd, and Jamie Roberts carried me to the top. Every previous climb here I have had to fight not to quit or stop. Today was cool. Just climb. And since I didn’t use the easiest gear, I thought I might be going better than last year. I guess the wind or maybe cold slowed me down. Ah, it didn’t matter.

I don’t have power data but I do have heart rate data for my seven climbs:

2014 – 161.1/176 bpm
2013 – 161.8/173
2012 – 160.8/178
2011 – 153/173
2010 – 156/176
2009 – 158/177
2008 – 156/176

Alexa Gubinski powers to the finish (Credit: Alison Gubinski)

Each year I hit my max on the final climb. The last three years my average has been 161; before that, it was 156. I have no idea what all this means except I’m alive.


As far as perceived effort, my climb in 2008 was a 10. I want to think today’s effort was a 6, which is probably not what one wants to do in a race. But twice I almost stopped not to rest but to take a picture. The only reason I didn’t was it is so hard to get started on a 12% (or higher) grade.

Gubinski Family

Ashley found me, we took some pictures (seven times up the mountain!) and I found the Gubinski Family. Alexa came in at 1:20:30 and, as she would find out later, finished 5th in the Women’s Division. Lucas did well too, coming in under 1:15.

At the bottom, we enjoyed a great turkey dinner and said goodbye to our friends. I didn’t want to make this trip this year but am glad I did. Although it’s good to retire with seven straight climbs, I do have that new cassette, only used once (and with a low gear almost not used at all). Any takers?

Four finishers. Apparently I need coffee.

As for real racers, John Kronborg Ebsen beat Cameron Cogburn (and 516 others) to win in 52:53. Marti Shea won for the fourth time in 1:06:01.

“Shea hoped to finish the climb in under 65 minutes, but the cold and windy weather got in the way of that plan. The temperature was just over 40 degrees and winds about 35 miles per hour for a wind chill factor of 25 degrees when the top riders reached the summit.

“‘Down below, the weather was good,’ said Shea, ‘But around four miles the wind started, and then it was off and on – a side wind, then a head wind. I was losing body temperature. There have been a few races here with conditions like this, but this may have been the worst I’ve seen. Anyway, I’m happy about my fourth win.'”

Race Report Source: Facebook page of Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb
(16 Aug 2014)

My Strava time was 1:46:53. Not competing for anything other than PRs, this is more accurate than the cannon time since I am usually near the end of the group and can lose up to 90 seconds or so at the start. But this is point-to-point and is consistent over time. My PR is 1:42:15. I am, if nothing else, consistent. Consistently bad perhaps, but consistent.

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