My Last Hillclimb


This was the last time. Write it down. I don’t ever need to do this again.

On the way to Mount Washington

Although I had registered (and paid) for the Mount Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb back in February, as the week got closer I just wasn’t feeling it. With a crappy weather forecast pending, on Wednesday I canceled my three hotel reservations for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.

Early morning. Parking area filling up.

On Thursday, I reevaluated and decided I would do it after all. I traveled yesterday to New Hampshire. I found a hotel and was on the road by 8:00 a.m. It’s probably not the best way to prepare for a race — no exercise and riding in a car all day long.

Mt Washington in the distant background. Not the tall peak but the one to the left even farther away.

The Hillclimb requires every rider to have a ride down. And I didn’t have one. But that’s part of the charm of this race. Too late to pick up my packet at the Auto Road and meet someone in line willing to give a cyclist a ride down, I depended on an online forum. I posted my request at 7:00 a.m. and hoped that someone would call or text.

The favorites: Marti Shea and Tinker Juarez. Don’t know the others.

Twelve hours later I finally received a reply. I was called by Alexa Gubinski. She offered up her family to drive and I was able to sleep well not worried about my ride down.

Swag. My 2012 T-shirt.

This year was different than the past five years. I didn’t worry about the hillclimb when I slept. It was just another night except for the early wake up call.

The Gubinski Family Nicest. Family. Ever.

I arrived at registration early. Vic and Alison Gubinski and I met and talked for a while, all along while I was delaying them from going up too early and being too deep into the parking lots. It was a last-in-first-out operation. They took my bag of warm clothes and headed up the Auto Road.

Unlike years past, I wasn’t anxious or nervous. I knew the climb. I knew it would hurt. How much — I never remember from year to year. I think the mind prevents us from remembering too much pain.

View from the very back at the start

While my group, the last group, was already queued up, I was still in shorts and tennis shoes. Rather than an extended warm-up ride, I settled for a quick one-mile spin. I got in line with about 30 seconds to go and took my place at the back of the group. I was the last of the last.

My goals remained simple. Finish. Don’t stop. Don’t crash.

This is gonna hurt

I didn’t want to end my ride with a time that was worse than last year’s time but was resigned that time didn’t matter.

The starting gun went off and someone, near the back, asked if that was our group. I laughed. Yea, we weren’t moving. Although it may have taken just 20 seconds or so to roll out, it seemed much longer.

Tinker finished fifth. Credit: Vic Gubinski.

After a couple of hundred yards of flat the climb begins. And never stops. It’s 12% out of the box and just keeps it pegged there. I soon found where I belonged. Having started last I wasn’t in danger of being overtaken by anyone. It was just a matter of passing people.
Eventually, I settled in — almost all of the race was in front of me and the folks I passed were behind me. I was slowly passing some of my green group but also was catching purple (5 minutes ahead), blue (10 min.), and yellow (15 min.).

But the race isn’t about people other people – except for the top 20 or 30 who are actually racing. It’s about you. You and the mountain.

Almost. There.

Whether it’s mile one, two, or six, or every one of my 10,172 pedal strokes — at some point, the body says to quit. Or in my case, almost the entire way. And today was no different.
It’s always easier when everyone is moving even at the same pace. I found it much tougher when I pass people who are stopped or even slumped over their bikes. And I heard the clunking of gears behind me and then a scream of “oh shit!” as someone fell over. Been there.

Mia – The Chalk Monster

Two things kept me going. One was the thought of Jake The Hero Grecco. When I wanted to quit I thought of the fighting spirit of this little boy who kept going. I even called out for a blue butterfly but at this altitude, nothing was taking flight. And I kept thinking that this will be the last time I make this climb and I could not stop.

Looking up at the finish line

The weather was about 70° (21C) at the base but was quickly too hot. As I climbed, especially above the tree line, it got much cooler. At the summit, it was in the low 40s (5C) but with no wind.

Swag. My 2012 T-shirt. MWARBH

As I approached the base of the last 200 yards I saw Vic and heard the rest of the family cheering for me. That was nice. Although I didn’t see it at the time they had chalked my name on the pavement at the finish.

At the finish.

This was the only time that I actually raced. I had felt the presence of a rider coming up behind me and I didn’t want to get caught or passed at the finish. It makes for a bad photo. I lifted the pace and climbed up the 22% grade. I saw the clock and thought it was 2:02 (which was really 1:42) but it must have been 2:07.

As soon as I finished I was met at the top by Vic and his son, Lucas. Since they had my bag of warm clothes I quickly changed out of the jersey which was as full of sweat as any I can recall. I was sweating but with the cold air, the jersey and gloves weren’t wicking so well. It was great to change into dry clothes. Down at the car I was able to shed the shorts too.

Lucas Gubinski and Barry

At first, I thought I had a personal best on the climb but then learned I didn’t. But my best time came when I was about five pounds less which does make a difference. But it doesn’t matter. But it wasn’t my worst time either. It was exactly in the middle.*

Five times up this climb

There is an immense feeling of satisfaction in crossing the finish line. But I’m not so sure that feeling is still greater than the suffering on the way up.

But it probably is.

Photo credits: If I’m in it, Vic Gubinski. But I took the ones at the bottom of the mountain.

EPILOGUE – On February 1, 2013, I received an email from Vic informing me that Alexa, Lucas and he all signed up for this year and asked me to go along. I was so looking forward to Hillclimb retirement. But I’ll go back. This next one will be my last hillclimb.

*Actually, it was my second-best time. Some of this depends on where I am when the starting gun fires. But measured by the Strava segment defined as Mount Washington which is point to point, it was 1:46:48. Not great wasn’t quite as bad as I thought. Or was it?

Swag MWARBH 2012
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