“Italy has its Mortirolo, mountain of death; 124 persons to date have died on Mount Washington. Overall steeper than the Angliru, windier than Mont Ventoux, deadlier than the mountain of death; this is why for cyclists, Mount Washington stands above all other climbs. It is not hard just because it is steep. It is also windy and cold enough to be dangerous.” — New York Cycle Club (2008)
PINKHAM NOTCH, NEW HAMPSHIRE
This was to be the year. My last year. And It probably was but for the wrong reason. This was to be my 10th time. Ten and done.
At check-in, I picked up my bib and was directed where to get a sticker to add to it. I added “10 Timer.” (Upon reflection, maybe I was a 9-Timer waiting to be a 10-timer. Hmmm.)
The weather forecast did not look good. The morning window was the best followed by deteriorating conditions over the next 24-36 hours.
When I left the hotel it was looking good. It was 30℉ (-2℃) at the summit with 37 mph winds (60 kph) and foggy. The race was on.
I didn’t fuel properly last night and decided to go to the McDonalds in North Conway for their hotcakes. I pulled in a 6:15 a.m. and they told me they had just started their grill. Things move at a different pace here. I saw a Dunkin Donuts and went in and got a breakfast sandwich. It would have to do.
Last year we had given a ride down to a rider named Bruce from Indiana. We agreed to meet this year and share a ride down in my car. I met him in the parking lot and we got my car ready for his wife to drive to the summit. And we went out on the road to warm up.
It was raining lightly and I was contemplating what to wear for the actual hill climb. On the road, I had a wind jacket but wasn’t sure if that was what I would take or wear to the summit. At 8:10 a.m. we got back. I was watching the riders in the first group start to assemble and Bruce made his way to the Top Notch group.
The event director made some announcements beginning with thanking the sponsors of this hillclimb. But before she got to the major announcement, the only announcement that mattered, I could see that Katie, driving my car, made a U-turn just beyond the toll booth. Those cars had been turned around.
And then the director broke the news. The race was canceled.
There is no second-guessing here. Other events that we do are “rain or shine” events. But this one is different. These can be “live or die” events. The weather can be extreme at any time. Eight days earlier, a 21-year-old hiker from Pennsylvania, died on this mountain. Rule number one of cycling is Don’t Get Dead.
But I wasn’t “feeling it.” I think back to my first MWARBH. It was 2007, “07/07/07” to be exact, but it was canceled due to weather. So in 2008 and not in 2007, my big question was if I could do it. And I did. And then in 2009 thru 2014 it was never if I could make it but merely how much I would suffer. (Answer: A lot.)
After a seven-year break, I came back in 2021 and again last year. And it still was a question of how much suffering. But this year I have begun to think if I could do it. I’m not sure why. But I was hoping during the night that the race might be canceled. And then when it wasn’t I got my game face on and was ready to attack the mountain.
But it all ended abruptly. Canceled. And that was it.
Bruce asked what I planned to do next. I told him my backup plan had always been to ride Hurricane Mountain Road. He told me he would like to join me.
Hurricane Mountain Road is a beast. It lacks the distance to be a top climb in the U.S. but the two miles on this road is tougher than any two-mile stretch of the Mount Washington Auto Road. It also lacks the weather and altitude that Mount Washington has.
Bruce and I started from the scenic view area by Intervale. There is a steep ramp immediately on Hurricane Mountain Road followed by two miles of rollers. And then one comes to the gate. The road is closed in the winter. RVs and trucks are prohibited.
My recollection is I tried this climb but had to stop once on 2007. I tried a second time in 2008 and stopped. But my third time, in 2009, I tried again and made it. I told Bruce that I usually have to stop at this one turnout. When we came to it I could hear it calling for me to stop. Instead, I turned on the inside corner which seemed stepper than Mount Washington’s 22% grade. Probably 25% and maybe 30%. Tough.
At the summit, I told Bruce we could go over the top and then to Maine or turn around. He wanted to go over the top. The descent went better than the one time I remember descending before. Probably because I took it slower and never had to grab a handful of brakes.
Disappointing not to do the hillclimb for sure. And it has been canceled for tomorrow as well. But a little relief because I wasn’t feeling it this year and may never again. But also thankful I didn’t get dead and could ride another day.
Lodging was at the Grand Hotel at Attatash. Very spacious room. Somewhat cheaper than the hotels in North Conway. Two restaurants including one that served a pasta buffet Friday night ($24). I did not partake mainly because I had eaten a burger from Five Guys in Lebanon, N.H. around 3:00 p.m. and wasn’t hungry.
The bike, my 2007 Trek Pilot, was set up with a fully working triple drive train. The front was 24-42-52 whereas the rear 10-speed cassette was 11-34t. Stock for the bike was a 30t small ring and last year we left the 24t in place unbeknownst to me. So it’s set up for next year, I guess.