Newton’s Revenge

“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


Newton's Revenge

I was up before 6:00 a.m. in part because I didn’t sleep well. It was OK, but not great. The thought of riding up the Mount Washington Auto Road certainly weighed heavily on my mind during the night. This is known simply as the toughest climb in the world. Almost 8 miles 1 in length, an average of 12% grade, and 22% at the top. If that’s not bad enough, high winds and cold weather almost always greet riders above the tree line.

Why I was even here was being replayed in my mind. Unlike many real climbers, I don’t weigh 140 or 150 pounds 2 but yet there is something rewarding being a climber. And even if I don’t have 20 or 30-year-old legs, mine are 50+, there is a reward of accomplishment every time one crests a hill, especially a large hill.

If I were to accomplish this it would be a physical triumph. For more than 10 years I had a pronounced limp after any exercise and often even without exercising. Getting out of bed in the morning to the shower usually involved crawling or bracing myself along the wall. I had foot surgeries in 2003 and 2004 which included taking a wedge out of my right heel, rotating it upward, then securing it with a three-inch titanium screw. Then two years ago I had knee surgery too.

A long way to the top to 6288′

I finally felt better and I had wanted to go to Europe, France especially, and ride some of their great mountains. But the more I read about Alpe d’Huez and other climbs the more I discovered there seemed to be a consensus that there is a better climb here in the U.S.: Mount Washington. And I could drive there as well.

With the biological climbing clock ticking, I made arrangements to climb Mt. Washington last year. Never mind that I never entered a race or hill climb race before. I would go to New Hampshire and climb the toughest mountain of all. But last year’s races were canceled so I found myself back in New Hampshire. It was scary to think that it was now just two hours away.

We loaded both bicycles (my daughter, Ashley, had hers with her although she wasn’t riding the mountain) and were almost out the door. In the breakfast area of the hotel, I saw two bikes, one was geared very low and the other was geared normal, like mine.

The bike is ready for Newton’s Revenge
Trek Pilot 5.0
Triple front crank, 30/39/50t — 10 speed 12-27t rear cassette
Not a 1:1 ratio — would that be low enough?

For weeks I debated, mostly with myself, as to whether or not I could make this climb with the gearing I had. On the Mt. Washington biking forums, the predominant opinion seemed to be one must have a 1:1 gear ratio. That is if you had a 30 tooth ring in the front you needed 30 in the rear. I didn’t have that. I had 30 in the front but only 27 in the rear.

It’s not a simple change. The derailleurs and chain may have to be changed, if there is clearance, to accommodate a smaller front ring or larger rear cassette. Add to that, you ask 10 different riders and gearheads and you get 10 different answers on how to do it, why one can’t do it, and whether you need to do it at all. The simple answer always was “it depends on the rider.” The pros, of course, don’t need these low gears but as one gets older they may be necessary to help lesser riders up a mountain.

As the time got closer, I hadn’t made any changing to the gearing, and the closer to race day the less sense it made. One should ride quite a bit in a new setup to make sure everything is working properly. I ran out of time. Plus it was more than that. I looked at the bikes with the 22 tooth front sprockets as somehow cheating. If they weren’t going to ride their normal geared bike it didn’t seem quite right they could make it super easy to pedal. Well, easier to pedal.

I looked at the rider who had changed his gearing. I didn’t say a word to him, just looked. Sized him up a little. He was about my age and I thought, “ah hah, you can’t make it with your normal gearing.” Then I wondered if I could.

But then I spotted the normal geared bike. The rider had a rider jersey on with pajama bottoms, an obvious sign of a 20-year-old. I told him I was glad to see that he didn’t mess with his gearing and he responded that he races mountain bikes. Well, that didn’t help my confidence at all.

We drove out to Mt. Washington. Last year Ashley and I made this trip three times. Once to register on Friday, once to race on Saturday (canceled), and once to race on Sunday (canceled again). At race start time in 2007, the winds on the summit were 70 mph 3 with a temperature in the high 30s 4. The wind chill was below freezing. Zero visibility. It is with pride that Mount Washington claims the title as the world’s worst weather.

World’s Worst Weather – Mount Washington

While we had fun last year coming to Newton’s Revenge, Ashley’s big desire was to see a moose. And though I didn’t get to ride Mt. Washington Saturday or on the Sunday rain date, we did see our moose. Our trip was a partial success.

This year it may not have been a goal but Ashley’s husband, Bryan, was with us and had never seen a moose. Yesterday we went out to Mt. Washington to register and saw our moose. Maybe it was a good sign.

Marty Moose

We arrived at the site amid excitement. We parked and unloaded my bike. One rider borrowed my pump (he was unprepared) and another asked if we had an extra wheel (not a tube — but a wheel).

I still had one nagging thought. On Tuesday I played Ultimate (Frisbee) with the normal gang of lunchtime idiots on the Mall in Washington, D.C. On what should have been a normal play, Rich Preston, an overly large person (big bone – not fat) who is built more like Big Bird than an Ultimate player, somehow got his knee up into my quadriceps. I instantly went down. Months of training and years of dreams flashed before my eyes as I felt a sharp pain and could not walk.

I tried to stretch and massage it for a while before returning and finishing the game. But the key test would be getting on the bike and riding the bike to work. I couldn’t. Every pedal stroke hurt and I knew that’s where I would get my power to climb the mountain.

Tuesday evening I just tried to “spin” it out, riding very lightly in the neighborhood. There wasn’t power there. I tried the same Wednesday morning and still felt it. Thursday in Connecticut it began to feel better and I only hoped that while it didn’t seem to hurt anymore, there would be power reserves in my leg when I needed them.

The event tent at Mount Washington Auto Road

We spent a few minutes chatting and checking the bike. Ashley gave me a hug and she and Bryan got in line to drive to the top before the road was closed at 8:00 a.m. I rode a little in the grass, circling them, then finally headed up and across the road and joined about 50 others riding loops in the parking lot at the Glen House across the highway.

Barry and Ashley at the base of Mount Washington

I did that for about 25 minutes to warm up my legs and get my heart rate up a little. It was chilly at the start. I was in my jersey and another rider asked me if that was all I was wearing. I told him I was unsure and he had lots of warm gear on. The more I thought about it I decided to wear a long sleeve Under Armour under my jersey. I had thought about wearing arm warmers but decided it was better to wear something on my core as well. The Under Armour would wick away moisture but keep me warm when I reached the cold summit. That was the last Ashley and Bryan saw me — decked out in my warm riding gear.

By starting time at 8:30 we were told that it would be 50º (10º C) with 25 mph 7 winds at the summit and that our body temperature would be about 115º 8 when we arrived. I decided to remove the Under Armour.

(Actually, the core temperature may rise to about 100º – I suspect the race announcer was just being a little bit dramatic.)

Four groups lined up at the start. The first was the Top Notch group included defending champions and pro riders. One was Anthony Colby, a rider with Colavita/Sutter Home racing team. The announcer told everyone that Anthony would win the race. Talk about incentives for the challengers.

The remaining groups were lined up by age. The second was the 20 and 30-year-olds. The third was the 40-44-year-old group. The last group was 45+ — the old group. I took my place at the end of this largest group. I was literally the last person to start.

My goals were simple.

  • Finish.
  • Finish ahead of the Sag (Broom) Wagon. Even finishing last (Lanterne Rouge) would be sort of cool as long as I finished.
  • Don’t stop. Although I reluctantly made a deal with myself that stopping and resting was better than not finishing, so if I had to, I would. But don’t.
  • Don’t walk. Again, walking was better than not finishing but try to stay on the bike.
  • Under two hours? I had no time goal but thought I would be in the 1:40-1:50 range.
A very nervous smile

On Thursday I had ridden Hurricane Mountain Road and failed to get up that two-mile 16-18% climb without a brief stop. (See Blog Doubt Sets In) I did another test ride Friday and went slower seeing if riding slow and steady would conserve the energy I had. It did and that would be my strategy for climbing the “Rockpile.”

Each group lined up when called. The official timing was done by satellite clock so that the finishing clock at the summit and the starting gun would both be at 0:00 (time elapsed) at 8:40 a.m. (time of day). At 8:39:50 the countdown began. Ten, nine, eight until it reached zero and a cannon fired the official start at 8:40:00. The remaining groups went at five-minute intervals, each receiving a cannon send-off.

At 8:55:00 the cannon fired to start our group. Some riders took off trying to be the first to climb the hill. I went slowly to test my legs and conserve energy. I was content to finish last as long as I finished.

Almost immediately I passed some of the bikes that were geared very low. They were spinning. I was mashing. I figured I would envy their low gearing later. We started climbing the first mile which I read was pretty difficult and scares a lot of riders.

I wanted to stay seated as long as possible knowing that standing uses more energy than sitting. But in a half-mile, my body was already begging me to get out of the saddle but it seemed no one around me was. Then I looked and saw a couple of riders standing and I did too. I alternated sitting and standing as we climbed never concerned about anyone else. I just rode at my own pace.

Near the end of the first mile, one rider stopped and started walking. He was a “Clydesdale,” a designation for a rider who weighed at least 190 pounds 9. Although I gave him encouraging words, he told me his heart rate was in the red zone. He was wise to take a break. He may have abandoned the climb but that is better than harming oneself.

As we climbed higher, I seemingly was stuck in with a group of about 10 riders all, more or less, my pace. At every mile, there was a volunteer who told us where we were. They seemed to always be at a mile marker so it was a nice touch but since I could read I could usually figure it out.

My decision to jettison clothing was a wise one. I was glad to get rid of the Under Armour before the start. But with every turn of the pedals, I was second-guessing my training. Was it enough? Sure, I rode in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia and the Laurel Mountains in Pennsylvania but was that enough preparation? 

I even shaved my legs to give myself one more mental edge that might help me complete the climb. I admired how the sweat was dripping on my smooth legs and liked the look. Almost everyone on the Top Notch group that went first had shaved legs. There weren’t so many in our fourth group.

The lower sections of the climb up Mount Washington are quite beautiful. Steep too but the camera doesn’t show the 12% grade.

But the sweat also meant my gloves were soon soaked. I didn’t need the protection of gloves on an eight-mile ride and I struggled to remove those as well. There are many things you can do on a bike on a flat or downhill section but those become much harder while climbing. Drinking can be one of them. Removing gloves is another but I was able to alternate between slipping a finger out, grabbing the handlebar, pulling a little more until I got both off and back in my jersey pocket.

We were still occasionally talking with other riders but that would not last all the way to the top. One person asked why the 45+ group was the largest and another rider opined “mid-life crisis.” I suggested we were much closer to the end of the timeline than the 20-somethings and we still have that list of 50 things to do before you die. Bike up Mt. Washington. One rider referred to a movie, The Bucket List, which I hadn’t seen but now will have to watch.

The last bit of friendly conversation came from Catherine Reed. She remarked that if we could take a second we could enjoy the beauty of the climb in a way we never see by car. The lower section was tree-lined and was beautiful, the higher sections one could see for miles.

But it was to turn serious and the talking would cease. This was not due to competition between the riders. It was simply the air was getting thinner and the effort was wearing on the riders. There simply wasn’t energy left for meaningless conversation.

Only once did I really look out over the valley. I was at the 4,000 foot level and could turn, briefly, and see the huge tent next to the gatehouse where we had started. It truly was like flying and looking out an airplane window. And if my skinny front wheel ventured too close to the edge, I could be flying too. I turned back to watch the road.

The Starting Line from a Mile Up
(that tent down there)

While still in the trees on the lower part of the course it was still hot. And I didn’t have enough water. One needs to balance how much to carry as opposed to how much extra weight is on the bike. This is a race where riders have been known to remove both brakes from their bike to remove weight (although not permitted). There are no downhill sections, none, and one cannot ride back down the mountain. Brakes? Who needs them

I had searched the rider forums and had decided on taking one water bottle. But I had already drunk half during my warm-up. I had started the race with half a bottle of water.

There were a few locations still in the lower section where there was a turnout for cars and stream water for radiators. It was not potable but at each location, it called out for me to pull over and grab a bucket and pour it on my back. If that hadn’t meant stopping (one of my goals was not to stop) and starting again (very difficult to restart on these upward slopes) I would have pulled over and given myself a mountain stream shower.

Sometime after the Mile 5 marker, the paved road becomes dirt. It was this section that forced the cancellation last year on Sunday morning. Although the weather was considered safe, it had rained overnight making that section impassable to road bikes. No rain this time but it was not a biker-friendly passage.

Almost immediately when I got to the dirt section I saw riders pushing their bikes.

As long as everyone was riding the mind says “you can do it — look at them.” Since the entire race was in front of me, I had started dead last, I tried not to look up the road. The mere presence of cyclists ahead really added definition to the steepness of the grades.

But what was very difficult was the presence of a cyclist quitting. There’s nothing that sends the signal to another rider that the mountain won than a rider dismounting to walk. It also says that it’s OK for me because everyone else is doing it. I really tried not to see but occasionally I did pass one of these riders. I always gave them encouragement, probably mostly meant for me — I thought “I’m not walking, you are” — and kept the pace.

The pace hurt. But I kept it going. At times, and the higher I got the more I resorted to it, I started crisscrossing the road in a paperboy fashion. Many riders were. It’s a way to cut the grade just a little but my GPS kept solid at 14-16% even while paperboying.

More were walking on this dirt section, which lasts one mile, than any other. And there’s a good reason. It was hard to pedal while seated and more difficult to get traction if you stand. In the upper sections, I alternated in and out of the saddle. I even tried a little paperboy technique here but found my front wheel at the edge of the road and a precarious drop. And it was gravel. I turned it back but almost lost it. I then decided I really couldn’t crisscross on this section and best concentrate on finding the energy to continue straight up the road.

I was 100 meters from the end of the section when I stood to get more traction. I knew to be careful because standing on a 16% grade meant that most of my weight was on my front wheel and little was on my rear wheel. The dirt and loose gravel also meant my wheel was prone to slipping at times.

I stood and gave the pedals a turn. The rear wheel spun but went nowhere. I was standing still for a second then the next thing I knew I was laying on the road. I had crashed. It was a hard fall but on a somewhat forgiving surface — Mt. Washington dirt. It must have been a sight for the riders behind me to witness although most riders weren’t looking ahead.

Two riders went by and asked if I was OK. I told them I was. My right knee was scraped a little but the brunt of my fall was on my upper right arm and back. I was dirty but not defeated. I had to pick up my bike, make sure everything worked, and get back on and ride.

As long as I was climbing I could not manage to open a gel packet or my Sport Beans by Jelly Belly. As I picked up my bike and tried to knock the dirt off it and me, I was able to open up a packet of my Jelly Beans and eat them, all in one blob it seems. Maybe it helped.

When I saw the Mile Five marker I had a great sensation. A number of publications, books, riders, experts, etc. rate different climbs and the book I had been reading, The Complete Guide to Climbing, rated the toughest five-mile climb as Mount Washington, miles 1-5. I had just made it up the toughest climb in the world without stopping.

By this time I was back on pavement. It was then a matter of finding a rhythm which was very hard to do. With each pedal stroke, the brain said to quit. I kept thinking that I would never be back and that I had one chance to do this. And one chance to do it right. I kept going.

Approach to the finish line

The last mile, well above the tree line, was a mental challenge to keep going. At this point, every rider was in their place. No one was passing anyone. We were all just pacing off each other.

I finally heard the cowbell which helped me. I tried to pedal a little harder to get to the bell, the symbolic top of the climb. I passed the woman ringing the bell and managed enough energy to thank her. Then I heard a whistle. This was a steam whistle. I thought this was really cool. They have a steam whistle sound when you get close. It was foggy, in the clouds really, and visibility was only about 50 meters. Although I couldn’t see where the whistle was located I then realized it was the Cog Railway train. So, OK, it wasn’t for me, but it helped.

One final steep climb and then I reached the summit. I thought. I looked up and could see parked cars and was looking for Ashley and Bryan but they were nowhere to be found. I didn’t see any people, just parked cars. But I knew I was close.

Many have warned about looking up to find the summit because it will defeat you. I never wanted to know how far I had left. I tried not to look up and I purposely played with the settings on my computers so I did not know time elapsed, distance elapsed, or time of day — anything that might tell me that I had too far remaining I wanted out of my mind. Only the Mile markers and the elevation markers, every thousand foot level, told me my progress.

I remember reading about the last 200 meters, a 22% grade up to the observatory. I thought I had read somewhere that it was optional and I already decided I would not do that. In fact, I could not do that. Reaching the summit would have to be enough.

Almost to the summit (parking lots)

Now voices in the fog were yelling out encouragement and I was told I had just one more climb. Oh no! They made the 200-yard climb the finish line. I saw the steepness and felt my legs and thought there was no way I could make it up this climb.

This would be a right turn, steep climb, right turn, steeper climb, then a left turn switchback, an even steeper climb up to the finish line.

Climb to the finish
(Used with permission, Mount Washington Observatory_

I found the energy to get to the top of this section and a photographer was standing in my line. This wasn’t quite a 180º turn, maybe 170º, but it was a switchback. And most switchbacks have a steep inside line or a more gradual outside line. In this case, the outside line probably was 22%. Who knows what the inside line was? I could not take the inside path.

The 22% grade

I simply didn’t have the energy to turn quickly and climb the inside line. I asked him to move. Maybe I yelled at him to move although I don’t think so. I was too tired to yell. He snapped the photo (above) then he jumped back. I turned in the switchback and thought my legs would stop and I would fall over as I looked at one final climb to the top.

This rider needs help

I reached for everything I had left which wasn’t much. I turned over the pedals with the last remaining energy I had and made it to the top. I saw Ashley and Bryan at the finish line cheering me on and taking pictures.

Two Meters to Finish
I started 15:00 behind the official clock so time was 1:51

There were two carpeted mats to ride over. The first was probably the timer and the second was a stopping area. I came to a stop and was grabbed by four or five people. They helped steady the bike and me. Someone clipped the timer chip off my fork. Another had me lower my head and placed a medal over my head. Still, another wrapped a blanket around me.

I went only a few more feet and a young man offered me water. I took it. I started to dismount and went to one knee. Ashley gave me a hug. I tried to talk but couldn’t. Part was hyperventilating and part was emotion. I was very upset that I had crashed, which in my mind, meant I didn’t pedal the entire route. But I did. No words would come out. Tears started to well in my eyes. I made it. The toughest climb in America, and maybe the world, and I made it.

I made it


Home. Still can’t believe I made it. Although the soreness in my legs is a reminder.
If not completing my training ride up Hurricane Mountain Road on Thursday without stopping raised some doubt in my mind, then completing it on Friday bolstered me. I had decided that I went out too hard and fast on Thursday and should try it again on Friday. 

Although it was only a day away from the race, I thought it would not hurt me physically to climb it again. It was just two miles in length. I risked quite a bit because if I failed again I would go to the big ride with no confidence. Instead, I got up at 6:00 a.m. and left at 7:00 to ride it again. This time I went slow in a low gear and when I needed the energy to get over that last 26% grade, I had it. I made it to the top. This gave me the confidence I needed for Saturday’s race.

Hurricane Mountain Road starts near North Conway, NH and rises 17% for two miles. Cross over the mountain and it descends to Maine.

After returning from my ride Friday morning, Ashley joined me and we went for a very relaxing 10-mile ride in the North Conway area.

I have a Garmin Edge 705 which I am still learning to use. It didn’t work perfectly but was good enough. Most of my stats and route were recorded. I turned it on at the Glen House which is across the highway from the toll road. Many riders were in the parking lot of the hotel warming up. I joined them. I turned it on to make sure it was working and it appeared to be although I see it did not capture cadence. It then goes “dead” for about 45 minutes (Timing) before starting it for the race. When I turned it or the timer off, it must have lost the elevation but appears to have got it correct when I started it to race. The elevation at the toll road is 1,563 feet.

For two hours my heart rate averaged 156. It peaked at 176 at the top section.

I still don’t know whether my gearing decision was right. And I could switch to something lower but it’s very difficult to test it other than find an eight-mile 12% grade. With high winds. And cold temperatures.

Both Garmin and my Trek wireless computer indicate that I added at least another half mile to my route by paperboying. Don’t know that I had the energy to ride without crisscrossing some of the steeper upper sections.

Approximately 700 cyclists will make it to the summit this year in the two races, Newton’s Revenge and the Mount Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb. Only 700. I didn’t have a great time but was faster than the first speed record in a car (2 hours, 10 min.). The current record in a car is 6 min. and 41.99 seconds.

The best map of the course I can find is on the Mt. Washington Bike Hillclimb Site.

The Mount Washington Observatory has a map that shows temperatures at different locations along the route.

A great blog by another rider who rode this in August 2004, was at Outdoor Online. Love his description that “every finisher is received like a survivor from some misbegotten Arctic expedition.” I would add that every finisher is received like an Olympic champion.

The day he road, many riders were blown off their bikes at the summit. The winds were relatively calm for my ride. No one that I know of was blown off their bike by the wind although the second-place finisher claims there were gusts to 50 mph.

Anthony Colby (Winner), Barry Sherry (loser), Marti Shea (Winner)

The true racers did well. Professional Anthony Colby won in 55:05. Wow! Phillip Gaimon of Tucker, Georgia, finished second in 56:01. But third was Austin Orth from North Conway. I think he was the rider that Ashley and I met last year and were going to give a ride back down the mountain. He finished in 1:02:39. The first place woman was Marti Shea. She finished in 1:14:22. She didn’t ride all the way either. Her chain broke 70 yards from the finish so she ran and pushed her bike that last grueling uphill section.

Anthony weighs 142 pounds. Can one have negative body fat?

Phil (Phil the Thrill) Gaimon is 6’1: and weighs 148 pounds. He lists his body fat as 4.2%. He also rode in the Tour of Pennsylvania last month, a race in which I worked as a volunteer for two stages. He is an amateur rider, trying to get a contract with a pro team, and is a funny writer.

There was an age group record set this day. Kenneth Cestone, 71 years old from Bennington, Vermont, shattered the Age 70-74 record by 15 minutes, lowering it to 1:29:59. Love that he beat 1:30 by one second. A rider like Ken gives all of us hope.

The last place finisher came in at 3:09. But he finished.

No activity I have ever tried pushed me like this one. There were no breaks. There were no resting places. Even a 100-mile ride features flats and downhills. On this one, you pedal or you crash. You pedal hard or you crash. And sometimes even if you pedal hard, you still crash. You gasp for breath in the upper elevations.

I have done many rides and it’s always nice to finish. But it is special to have people with you at the finish. My daughter, Ashley, came with me two years in a row to support me and this year brought her husband, Bryan. Part of my inspiration for keeping going came from knowing they were waiting for me at the summit. I looked for them when I crested the summit and didn’t find them until I made my last turn. They were at the finish line.

While at the summit, Bryan and I briefly tossed a frisbee (Discraft 175g Ultrastar to be exact) adding to the list of strange locations I have thrown the disc. Strangest and best: Across the Arctic Circle north of Rovaniemi, Finland. This is the home of Santa Claus.

Bryan and Ashley in the Ellis River

I can’t say for sure that if you believe you can climb it that you can but I can say with certainty that if you don’t believe you can do it then you can’t. And that is the mental struggle to keep positive through the pain and never allow yourself for even one second believe that you won’t make it.

In a matter of minutes after reaching the top I went from “never again” to “if I do it again.”

Mary Power, the events coordinator at the Auto Road says that it gets in your blood and you want to come back every year. I think she’s right. Besides, once you know you can climb it you can then work on strategies to improve your time.

If I do it again, I still would contemplate changing my gearing although I’m not sure what to. Even after the race people still contribute different ideas on what I should ride at the Mt. Washington Hillclimb Fourm. I definitely would find the biggest mountains in Virginia and Pennsylvania to ride 2-3 months before, every weekend. And I would do core training. My back hurt on the climb and that was simply because I spend a lot of time riding (it’s fun) and no time with core training (boring). Arriving two days early helped and I think I would even do three days next time.

If you go — registration for the August Mount Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb typically opens February 1. Check to be sure. If it sells out, and the past few years it has sold out in less than an hour, then the second race, Newton’s Revenge, is added in July. Next year’s date will be July 11, 2009. The August race is very hard to get into and takes 600 riders. I can’t imagine how crowded the mountain is then. For this year’s Newton’s race they had over 200 riders registered but 165 actually raced. Unless you think you can set a course record and want to pace against Tyler Hamilton or Tom Danielson, my suggestion is wait until February 2 and register for Newton’s Revenge. Everything’s the same except for the crowds. Registration information will be posted in September.

Loading the bike up on the RAV4 for the trip down

What I wore: At the bottom, I had Under Armour under my Louis Garneau gray/white jersey, hence the long sleeve look. But I raced in just the jersey — thus short sleeves. On the summit, I pulled on the Under Armour over my jersey, hence the all-black look. But since it had been in my back pocket on the ride up, it was pretty wet, “butt sweat” Ashley called it, so I took it off and pulled on my red Garneau jersey. By the bottom, I had switched to my Newton’s Revenge 2007 jersey. I purchased it last year but we never raced. I always felt I wasn’t worthy of wearing it until I finished the race. Now I can wear it.

In addition to the race jersey (for purchase) participants earned a “bumper” sticker – This Bike Climbed Mt. Washington – a long sleeve Newton’s Revenge t-shirt, medal and ribbon, event poster, and a real neat Polartec fleece blanket embroidered for the 2008 race. In addition, riders also got a typical rider’s goodie bag of cycling merchandise and coupons. We were treated to a Friday night pre-race pasta dinner and a Saturday noon Hart’s turkey dinner.

Everyone I met was great, even the winners (see picture). And I was surprised when I read the following post on the Newton’s Forum: On the dirt section, just before the 5-mile marker, someone crashed right in front of me, and fell into the ditch. Looked like a nasty crash – but most of my attention was taken in trying to avoid them. Hopefully the rider is okay – anyone know more details?

How nice was that? I responded that only my dignity was hurt but was restored by finishing. From a physical accomplishment, this was the greatest achievement in my life.

___Conversions — for my European and South American friends

1 Actual distance is 7.6 miles or 12.2 kilometers
2 140 or 150 pounds is 63.5 or 68 Kilos
3 70 mph is 113 kph
4 38 degrees is 3 Celsius
5 Lower elevation is 1,563′ or 476 meters. Elevation at the summit is 6,288′ or 1,917 meters
6 50 degrees is 10 Celsius
7 25 mph is 40 kph
8 115 degrees is 46 Celsius
9 190 pounds is 86.2 Kilos
10 4,000 feet is 1,219 meters
11 142 pounds is 64.4 Kilos

Doubt Sets In


The trip from Virginia had been nice as we approached the White Mountains on NH 16. We were still 40 miles away when we crested a hill and then, we could see them. Our first view of the White Mountains. My stomach started churning. I knew I would be riding up the biggest of those in 36 hours.

We checked into the hotel in North Conway and I immediately wanted to go riding. My destination was simple: Hurricane Mountain Road. It features a nasty two-mile climb from North Conway up and over the mountain and down to Fryeburg, Maine. It was suggested to me by a local last year.

I ran a 30 tooth front sprocket and a 25 tooth rear cassette last year and made it about 2/3 of the way up before I had to pull over and rest. Since that time I changed the rear cassette to a 27 tooth gear. Unlike last year, I had ridden in the Laurel Mountains of western Pa. and up and over Skyline Drive in Va. three times it the past week. My fitness was even better even if my age was one year older.

I wanted to ride up Hurricane Mountain Road in my 25 tooth gear at least up to the point where I could go no farther then switch to the 27 tooth gear. Well, I made it most of the way up to that point but switched to the 27 tooth gear. Even when my mind told me not to, my finger was on the shifter and pushed it into the easiest gear. Except it wasn’t easy. I got to the exact same spot as last year and my body stopped.

I pulled over for about a minute but it might have been two or three. Then I got back on and rode the rest of the way to the top. I had done no better than last year, even using the 27 tooth gear.

While this was a severe climb, it did nothing to help me prepare mentally for the challenges of the race on Saturday. Add to that my fancy new Garmin computer wasn’t working properly and failed to register the numbers on the climb.

Later, full of doubt, I took my daughter, Ashley, and son-in-law, Bryan, for a drive up Hurricane Mountain Road. They told me they had driven it but turned around in some housing development and didn’t see me. I told them if they saw houses they weren’t on Hurricane Mountain Road. This road is about 12 feet wide, very steep, and forested on both sides.

We got the Garmin working and took it with us. The climb in places registered 15%, then 16% then 18%. Then we saw 21%. And on the final switchback where I could go no farther, it registered a whopping 26% in the inside corner.

Hurricane Mountain Road – Much steeper than it looks. This is 17% looking down the mountain with Maine in the distance.

Twenty-six percent may not be right but it’s more than zero and was the steepest climb of the day. That left me feeling a little better but not much. Climbing on a bike is a mental challenge as well as physical and it was a little comfort to see how high the percent grade was on this climb. After all, Mt. Washington is “only” 12% — average.

As we drove up Hurricane Mountain Road it seemed with each corner and switchback it went higher. And Bryan exclaimed “Oh shit!” Each curve got steeper and each exclamation got louder.

Last weather check on Mount Washington: 44° F (7° C), 30 mph (50 kph) winds, Wind Chill 34° (1° C).


Hurricane Mountain Road out of Intervale/North Conway NH is a must ride if you’re in the White Mountains. It has a mention, but not a description, in The Complete Guide to Climbing.

I was confused by a photo of Hurricane Mountain Road which appears in the book but couldn’t find a description. But the author explains “there are thousands of climbs in the U.S. so obviously they all cannot be included in these pages.” “…Hurricane Mountain Road in New Hampshire… …and many others had to be left out.”

The book lists the steepest climb (minimum two miles) as Burke Mountain, Vermont at 13.4%. Either direction on Hurricane Mountain is greater than what is listed for Burke Mountain. Probably. The author measured all the grades which were sometimes different than the stated grades. But at the top of Hurricane Mountain on the flat 50 yard stretch one can look in either direction and see the steep grade signs. One is marked 15% while the other is marked 17%.

Sperryville, Luray, and Skyline Drive


It was back to Sperryville for an almost repeat of Friday’s ride. It was cool, perhaps 68°. I headed off and only went 200 yards and thought I might need a jacket. I went back to the car. I wasn’t worried about climbing as I knew my body heat would be enough. It was the descent I worried about as I didn’t want to get too cool.

I headed off a second time. I had gone just 200 yards and realized I didn’t have my heart monitor. I am learning to play with my Garmin Edge 705 and the heart rate monitor is part of it. I want to see what my body was doing as I was climbing. Back to the car.

The third time was a charm. I headed out for the seven-mile climb to the top. The first two to three miles are at two percent grade before the road turns up.

On Friday I never went lower than my 4th sprocket so I figured I had to match that today as well. That has 19 teeth and I can go to my lowest gear which has 27 teeth. I am hoping that what the run-up to Skyline Drive lacks in grade (6-7% mostly) that going in a higher gear will offset.

I’m hoping.

Unlike Friday I didn’t have water running down the road at me and thunder and lightning near me. There were no weather distractions so one could think about the ride up the mountain.

Supposed to be a view of Old Rag Mountain from here

As I crested the top a motorcyclist passing in the other direction gave me a huge thumbs up. It is nice to be recognized.

I switched into the big ring for my ride down the mountain to Luray. Technically I didn’t go all the way to Luray. Although I was prepared to when the road passed the National Park Headquarters it flattened out to a four-lane divided highway with a speed limit of 55 mph. I didn’t need that. I came to climb, not ride another mile or two of flat roads, so I turned around and began my climb back to the summit.

This one was a four-mile climb. I didn’t have any difficulty but there were times I wanted to switch to a lower gear than 19 teeth. But I didn’t.

I reached the summit then paid $8.00 to ride on the Skyline Drive. I wanted to go south at least as far as the tunnel which came in a mile or a mile and a half. It was very foggy here and I had no lights on me. I was worried about being seen in the tunnel but I went. No cars came behind me while I was in the tunnel.

As with much of my riding, my new goal became to ride until the road turns downward. That would be about five miles by my estimate. I just kept climbing. When I finally reached the high point, I turned around for the crazy descent back to Earth.

I love roller coasters but the thrill of descending at high speeds, around corners and just straight away on a bike is better than ANY coaster I have ever been on. This is the WEEEEEEEE! moment that makes climbing pays off.

In short order, I was back to the Skyline Drive entrance and then back on U.S. 211 East to Sperryville. Although I had cars behind me, no one caught me until I had descended four miles and the road flattened out a bit.

It was a great ride. My Garmin unit measured my distance and 32.5 miles over 4,200 hundred vertical feet of climbing.

Sperryville and Skyline Drive


In preparation for Mt. Washington, I will not find an 8 mile 12% grade climb with 40 mph winds and near-zero visibility. So one must train under lesser conditions.

My Independence Day route took me to Sperryville, in Rappahannock Co., Virginia. Just as I arrived it started raining. I didn’t want to ride up the mountain in the rain and hoped to wait it out. I listened to WTOP news and their weather forecast described a storm over Rappahannock Co. which would be breaking up soon. As soon as the rain stopped I started up the mountain.

From Sperryville, it would be a seven-mile climb to the summit although the first two miles would be only a two percent grade or so. I started up the mountain. After the first two miles, it started raining. I didn’t avoid it after all but at least it was a light rain.

Until the road reaches Shenandoah National Park it is a two-lane road with no shoulder. I noticed the cars with cargo on their roof racks tended to give me a wide berth while vehicles without cargo often didn’t move out of the lane even when no opposing traffic was coming. I figured the tourists were more understanding than locals of cyclists on this road. Maybe I was wrong but it is what I thought.

Once in the park, the road widens to three lanes — two in the up direction so faster drivers can pass those in the slow lane.

There was one courteous driver who passed. He was the driver of an 18-wheeler and my only thought was why an 18-wheeler was even on this road. But I was on the “shoulder” at that point which was about six inches to the right of the road. I heard him behind me and noticed he wasn’t going to pass even though he could. He waited until there was no opposing traffic. I gave him a high wave when I heard his engine rev to thank him for waiting until there was more room to pass. He responded with a quick but light reply on his air horn.

I was tapping out a good rhythm and saw a sign that Skyline Drive was two miles away. Then I heard a loud clap of thunder. I hoped not to see lightning. My glasses were keeping the rain out of my eyes but were fogging up a bit. I thought I saw a flash but wasn’t sure. But then, I was sure.

There was thunder and lightning all around. I know the safest place on a bike during an electrical storm is not on a bike. If there was an opening one could lay down the bike and sit low away from any trees. But I was in a forest. My choices were to keep going or to turn around. I had come too far to turn around and I thought I might get through the storm quicker by going through it. I continued climbing.

The rain was coming down very hard. The gullies next to the road were running full and flowing across the road. At times I was battling not only gravity but currents too. I continued.

The heaviest part of the storm did not last long, no more than 10 minutes. I was soaked. I wondered what the few riders who passed me thought. I alternated my pedaling in and out of the saddle.

On my rear 10-speed cassette, I knew I wasn’t in my low gear. And that became intentional. I reasoned that if I am going to climb Mt. Washington I have to make lesser climbs a bit harder. Not using all my gears was part of my plan.

Unlike mountain or hybrid bikes, there is no click shifting with gear numbers on my road bike. It’s all done by feel and if one must know, a quick glance back to see where the chain is on the gears.

I approached the summit and the pedaling became easier. I had made it. I biked over the summit to Page Co., and then stopped to check out my gearing. I wasn’t even in my second gear. Or third. I had climbed to the summit of Skyline Drive in my fourth sprocket which gave me a great feeling about my fitness level for next weekend.

I turned around for the reward — a fast descent back down to Sperryville on wet roads.

Horseshoe Curve – The First Time


I was up early at my parent’s house in Friedens and decided to ride some more in the mountains. I drove to Jennerstown and parked on Main Street. I rode the mile or so out of town then the steep descent on U.S. Rte 30. After a quarter-mile drop, one is at the lowest point before the climb.

The Tour of Pennsylvania described this as a two-mile climb with a very intense mountain pass that sees grades of 15%. I had no problem going right up the mountain although not as fast as the boys did on Friday. I wanted to go over the top back to Laughingtown then come back up and over but the sky looked ominous. It looked like a storm was about to move into these mountains and I didn’t want to get caught in it. I turned around at the truck area and headed back to Jennerstown. I was disappointed that I never got above 45 mph on this descent.

I thought about driving over to Rector and going up, then down, Darlington Road again but wasn’t sure where the storm was and wanted to try something new. I drove to Altoona.

I had remembered an article Bicycling about the toughest 100 climbs in the U.S. One of those was the Horseshoe Curve climb in Altoona. I parked on 58th Street and started out towards Kittanning Point Road. The climb was up, past three reservoirs, but never very tough. As I climbed I heard a train creaking and breaking as it descended the Allegheny Mountains towards Altoona. It was way too easy that I reached Horseshoe Curve.
I couldn’t believe this was a tough climb. It wasn’t.

I saw a tunnel and went through it under the Horseshoe Curve. On the other side was a beautiful forested country road. I kept riding and it kept going up. And that was the new deal I made with myself. As long as the road turned up, I would keep riding.

My first trip up Horseshoe Curve
Tunnel at Horseshoe Curve

I saw a sign for Adopt a Highway and saw it was sponsored by Blair Co. Bicycle Club for the next four miles. I figured I had four miles. Cool.

After about three more miles I was getting tired. I was in my granny gear and was standing and sweating. But I kept moving without “paperboying” back and forth across the road to make the grade a little easier. Finally, it became easier.

I read later that this section is 10-12% but then one hits the wall at a 19% grade for a half mile before settling back to 12% for the last mile. That was it. And I made it. I love riding in these mountains.

I turned around. On the descent, I wanted to let it out. But this road had many curves and it was raining. The rain was following me. The last speed I saw was 43 mph in a curve. Then my computer went out. On the transmitter, a support broke off so it wasn’t in the right position to read the magnet on the spoke. I was doing 0 then 10 then 6 then 4 then 38.

I will need to come back and explore this more. Much more. It was everything as advertised especially “three lakes and a 200′ tunnel.” It is absolutely beautiful.

Tour of Pennsylvania – II


Stage 5: Ligonier to Pittsburgh (Saturday, June 28, 2008)
(Start time: 12 noon) This 83-mile stage will give the riders a more subdued ride as they enter into downtown Pittsburgh. The route will follow a mostly rolling course with one short KOM at mile 21 and one last intermediate sprint at mile 38 on the outskirts of Latrobe. The race will continue towards Pittsburgh with a sprint finish at the headquarters of title sponsor American Eagle Outfitters. Spectators should be prepared for a thrilling, four-corner downtown sprint finish.

I rode early in the morning and then went to the Diamond at 10:00 a.m. Dave “Lumpy” Williams thanked the volunteers and “without insulting the volunteers who came from other towns” opined that Ligonier was the prettiest town on the tour. I would agree. When Lumpy welcomed us he deadpanned the title, “The American Eagle Outfitters’ Tour of Pennsylvania presented by Highmark Healthy High 5,” stopping to raise his hand in the air to simulate giving a “High 5.”

Whereas in Bedford the volunteers were assigned to a location in town, this race was to start by the Fort just below the Diamond then head out of town on Rte 711. All our assignments were out 711 all the way to Donegal. I knew the location I wanted was the intersection with Darlington Road but when it was offered as the “unmarked four-way intersection” everyone just looked at each other then one person said he would find it. Only later did I realize which intersection it was – the one I wanted.

Still, it all worked out. I got to bike out past Stahlstown to Fort Hill Road, 10 miles exactly, mostly uphill. As I rode some locals thought I was leading the race and were cheering for me. But when asked I always stopped and told them what real racers looked like. “Young,” I told them.

I reached Fort Hill Road and rested my bike against a sign. There was a young mother, no older than 30, on an ATV with two small kids in a field across the road. I went to talk with them and told them how exciting it was to watch a race, especially with all the police cars and motorcycles. I was able to explain to them what they would see. Basically, a parade of cars, led out by state policemen, would be coming up the road. Media. Race referee. Then riders followed by team cars, doctor or ambulance, and the dreaded broom wagon.

Since we were at the bottom of a hill, the racers flew by in a matter of 3-4 seconds. And that was it. Pretty exciting, no?

I said goodbye, the family thanked me for explaining to them what the bike race was, and I headed back to Ligonier. As I left I saw the road was blocked and an ambulance was tending to someone in the ditch. The “broom wagon” had gone by with the caravan but had doubled back so we know some rider was done for the tour.

(Two riders, Alex Welch and Nathaniel English, were listed as Did Not Finish on this stage. Likely it was one of them.)

This morning I arrived in Ligonier and parked in front of my brother’s house although he was out of town. I rode back down to Carey School Road and climbed it again. It is steep and was a good climb for me. Again, like yesterday, my descent was 45 mph. I did a loop around the west end of town and then cut through the school parking lot again back to Carey School Road. This time when I reached the top I pedaled full out. I reached 46.5 mph which was a personal best on my bike.

I went to the Diamond at 10:00 a.m. to meet up with all the volunteers. Assignments were handed out and at first, I was disappointed it was so far out (10 miles) but I knew it gave me a chance to bike and not drive. It was mostly uphill out to Stahlstown which gave me a chance to pass my fellow volunteers who had been stationed at every intersection along Rte 711 and had driven to their assignments.

My return to Ligonier could have been a 10-mile run-in on Rte 711 but when I came to Darlington Road to Rector I decided to go down the road I went up the day before. The road is scary steep.

It was 1970 or 1971 that my brother, Brad, was on this hill on his bike. I can’t imagine that he was far up the road because no one would venture that high. But he was on a bike, just 10 or 11 years old, and on his descent, he hit some gravel at the bottom of the hill where the bridge crosses Loyalhanna Creek and crashed hard. He chipped a front tooth and was generally messed up.

This was in the back of my mind as to whether I even wanted to go down this road, let alone fly down this road. I approached the top of the hill, which is flat, with trepidation. I looked behind me and a car was coming up on me. My thought turned to the car as to whether or not he would try to pass on this narrow country road that went straight down. That would be no problem.

I pedaled, though not hard at first. My speed went from 20 to 25 and then to 30. I looked back and the car was farther back. My speed was 35 then 40. I was headed down and was pedaling even harder. The speed was 45 then 46.5. I last saw it at 49 but couldn’t risk looking at the speedometer. I had to watch the road and worry about the bridge where Brad wiped out.

I finally just got in a tuck and let it roll. This was a combination of adrenaline rush and excitement mixed with pure terror. In other words, it was great! I flew across the bridge and as I was rolling on a slight uphill, looked down to view my high speed. It was 49.8. I guess I can round it to 50 mph! (I didn’t.) That was a personal best.

I then casually rode Rte 381 back to Rte 30 then took Old Rte 30 back into town. I wasn’t sure if or where to ride next.

I drove out Rte 30 headed back to my parents in Somerset and came to Laughlingtown. And I thought, “Why not?”

I parked and got my bike out and decided I would ride up Laurel Mountain from Laughlintown. The distance to the summit is 3.5 miles and the signs at the top warn of an 8% descent. I hadn’t biked far this day, only 20-25 miles, but wondered how my legs would be on a 4-mile climb. Basically, they did fine. I made it with no problems and no stopping.
I was disappointed in my descent. My speed was only 40-45 mph which was the posted speed limit. I bet the Tour riders on Friday were 10 mph faster.

As far as the race:

The American Eagle Outfitters Tour of Pennsylvania presented by Highmark Healthy High 5 neared its end as the international U25 field entered onto the Pittsburgh streets in the race’s penultimate stage five. The peloton began what was considered an early sprint in pursuit of a break of six riders that cleared the peloton mid-race. The finishing circuits showcased Pittsburgh’s newly built shopping district before an exciting finish outside of the American Eagle Outfitters world headquarters. The pair of French-Canadians, David Veilleux and Keven LaCombe (Kelley Benefit Strategies-Medifast), shocked the Pittsburgh crowds when they emerged out of the final bend with a sizeable lead over one remaining rider from the original breakaway, American Phil Gaimon (Fiordifrutta). “It feels great to have the leaders jersey and this was our plan since our meeting in the morning,” admitted stage winner, Overall Race leader and Best Sprinter leader, David Veilleux. “We planned to have Keven and I jump together and surprise everyone in the last part of the circuits.” Both Veilleux and LaCombe crossed the victory line together, applauding one another for their cagey tactics that moved Veilleux into the American Eagle Outfitters yellow leaders jersey, two seconds ahead of the previous leader from South Africa, Christoff Van Heerden (Konica Minolta) and American Stefano Barberi (Z-Team). The 91-mile stage gave the international U-25 field a more subdued ride as they entered into the City of Pittsburgh.

The route followed a mostly rolling course with one short KOM around mile 22, made obsolete by the event’s leading climber from Boulder, Colo., Peter Stetina (VMG-Felt) who solidified his lead of the climber’s competition during the previous stage. The early miles also presented the sprinter with one last intermediate hot spot at mile 37, on the outskirts of Latrobe. American Chance Nobel (California Giant Berry Farms) scooped up the full points during his solo breakaway that gained nearly two minutes on the field. A second breakaway of three riders let loose on the second half of the stage to include Australian Forbes Trail Most Aggressive Rider Dylan Newell (Praties), the Belgian Steven Van Vooren (Johan Brunyeel Cycling Academy) and South African Travis Allen (Konica Minolta). The trio was later joined by three more Americans, Sheldon Deeny (Sakonnet Technology), Caleb Fairly (VMG) and third place in today’s stage, Phil Gaimon. “It was pretty tough out there with really strong headwinds,” said Newell. “I thought they would let us hang out there for a while, but I didn’t think it would stay away until the last lap of the finishing circuits.”


Knowing how steep Darlington Road is was important to me. So I wrote to a local bike shop, Speedgoat Bicycles in Laughlintown, Pa. I never shopped there and they certainly didn’t owe me a response but I got one — a great one. I will definitely stop there the next time I’m back in Ligonier Valley.

While we certainly have much steeper climbs in the neighborhood (I tend to rate them according to how close my tongue is to the road immediately in front of my face), Darlington up to 711 is only considered “steep.” This is worse than “not steep” but not nearly as bad as “pretty steep,” “real steep,” “damn steep,” and our peculiar regional Hors Category col nomenclature, “sucks.”

I’ve also towed my twins up that road with standard road gearing, and I can quickly think of five climbs also within ten miles of the shop that I’d definitely not try that on. So it’s probably not too bad, though I don’t have hard numeric data for you. We have good customers who’ve done the Mt. Washington race/ride multiple times, and it appears that the length is also a major factor. The very, very bottom section of Darlington road probably does spike over 15%, and then it wanders back and forth under that initial grade.

Apparently, Mt. Washington would be like going up that thing repeatedly for seven-and-a-half miles. With oxygen depletion, fog, and freezing temperatures waiting at the top. Depressing, but hopefully helpful, too. That Mt. Washington climb is “brutal.”

Using my Garmin Edge 705 GPS, I later measured Darlington Road at 10-11% grade. However, turn off and head up Country Club Road and that goes at 12%.

Tour of Pennsylvania


Officially, “The American Eagle Outfitters’ Tour of Pennsylvania presented by Highmark Healthy High 5.”

This was the first in hopefully what is the start of an annual event. The Tour of Pennsylvania. It joins the Tours of California, Georgia, and Missouri but was unique in that it was for Espoir riders, those elite international professionals ages 19-24. With $150,000 in prize money, it was believed to be the largest purse in the world for young riders. But it was a signature event for Pittsburgh 250, a commission to celebrate Pittsburgh’s 250th anniversary in 2008. Much of the sponsor money came from this budget and it also helped celebrate the 250th anniversaries of Bedford, Latrobe, and Ligonier thus they all played prominent roles in hosting the tour.

The race started on Tuesday in Philadelphia with a prologue time trial and criterium. On Wednesday it was a road race from Downingtown to Carlisle. On Thursday it was a stage race from Camp Hill to Bedford.

Friday’s race was from Bedford to Latrobe on U.S. Rte 30. This is a road I have traversed many times. While “only” 60 miles (95.76 km), this was predicted to be the stage to break open the race because of its two large mountain climbs. The first was out of Shellsburg up Bald Knob to the top of “Seven Mile Stretch.” As a kid, I remembered this route for the “Ship Hotel” which was a hotel built on the side of the mountain. It is only a memory now because after it closed and before it could be preserved, it burned to the ground in 2001. Arsonists surely.

I volunteered to be a course marshal in Bedford. I left the house at 5:30 a.m. for the three-hour drive to Bedford. Check-in time for volunteers was 9:00 a.m.

We had our orientation and I tried to decipher what the tour would really be about. I had followed the results on the Internet but the television coverage on Versus was a day behind and spotty at best. I had only seen the time trials.

I was especially curious if the cyclists had the entire road to themselves or just one lane westward. Answer: the entire road.

Our volunteer coordinator was Dave “Lumpy” Williams. He explained how good the Pennsylvania State Police were at sealing the highway to oncoming traffic. The front part of the caravan was all policemen and they forced any oncoming traffic to pull over and wait until the race passed. Our job was to be at intersections and make sure that vehicles did not enter the race course once the race was underway.

Lumpy was a very likable guy. When he talked about the race and used its proper name, he always ended with “presented by Highmark Health High-5” then did an “air” High-5. It never got old.

I volunteered to be as far out of town as I could get. Nothing against Bedford but some of the locals wanted to stay in town and I had my bike with me and wanted to ride. The positions were mostly for Bedford so Lumpy gave me the most distant one he had. I rode out to the intersection of Old U.S. 30 with U.S. 30.

Our job was also to be part ambassador. This was a role I was well suited for. Rather than tell a local they couldn’t use “their” road until the race passed, we could talk up the race and explain what it was all about. I met two families who had come out to the end of the street and I chatted with them the entire time.

On U.S. 30, two miles west of Schellsburg at the “Buffalo Farm”

As soon as the race passed my course marshal location, I rode back into town where I had parked then got on the Pennsylvania Turnpike and went to Somerset. I then tried to get to Jennerstown as quickly as possible and almost lost. I was relieved that when I got to Jennerstown the caravan wasn’t there yet but make no mistake about it, these boys fly. Even climbing Bald Knob then Laurel Mountain, and some major hills in between, they would average more than 24 mph on this stage.

At the start of the day I had hoped that I would be assigned near the top of a mountain where one can see the cyclists going a bit slower. But the traveling road marshals were to be dropped off at the more remote locations including Laurel Summit, so I thought.

It was bright and sunny in Bedford when I left. Not so at the summit. It was chilly with light rain but mostly just chilly. The riders probably loved it while climbing, not so descending and I don’t think anyone had newspapers to hand to the riders to stuff in their jerseys for the cold descent to Ligonier.

When I arrived at the Laurel Hill summit parking was hard to find. There weren’t a lot of fans on the mountain, maybe 50-75, but enough had come out to cheer on the riders. There were even some cyclists who rode there, from Ligonier perhaps.

I found a couple of officials manning the KOM (King of the Mountains) point. I introduced myself as a volunteer. I was wearing my official American Outfitters Tour of Pa. staff shirt. The official told me I wasn’t needed there to help so I could go ahead and simple spectate.

And I did. The first riders, a group of 13 came over the summit to the delight of the crowd. But then three cars slipped into the race from the ski resort. The State Police quickly moved to remove them from the course and I quickly moved to seal off Laurel Summit Road from any other cars. I think it was supposed to be manned by a traveling marshal who just didn’t make it up the mountain in time. No other cars got on to the course.

Cresting Laurel Hill (Mountain)

The peloton was about 18 minutes down. That was a sizable gap. Once they cleared the crowd dispersed. And I followed. I had hoped they would have two-laned the eastbound lanes of Rte 30 between Ligonier and Latrobe and I would have a chance to pass the peloton before they reached the finish. No chance. As it was, I drove down the mountain but still didn’t catch the rear of the race until Kingston Dam at Latrobe. In fact, I never saw the race convoy, just lots of cars traveling 25 mph. Done for the day, I went back to Ligonier to go riding.

Stage 4: Bedford to Latrobe (Friday, June 27, 2008)
(Start time: 10 a.m.) This 60-mile stage will push the riders to their limits with the most elevation gain and the hardest of all climbs in the event. After departing the town of Bedford, the roll will be easy for only 15 miles before turning upward for a difficult climb to Bald Knob Summit, the first KOM for the day. Bald Knob Summit is a 5.5-mile climb with grades of 10% to15 % and will surely decide the day’s top climbers, as they make their way up and over the Allegheny Mountains. After a slight rolling descent, the riders will again go uphill and crest the Laurel Hill Summit at mile 40 for the second KOM of the day. This 2-mile climb is shorter but with a very intense mountain pass that will also see grades of 15%. The descent into the last leg of the day will be fast, but will also have a flat section, rolling through Ligonier and following the river into Latrobe with a tricky sprint finish in the downtown area. This day is likely to be the hardest stage and will certainly separate the field, revealing who the potential leaders will be for the week.

I parked in Ligonier and first rode out U.S. 30 east towards Laughlintown, passing Ligonier Beach, the massive swimming pool next to the Loyalhanna Creek. It’s as pretty as it was when we lived there 40 years ago and even then it was 40 years old.

I came to State Route 381 and turned down the tree-lined road to Rector. It is bordered on both sides by post and rail fence, most of it belonging to Rolling Rock Farms and perhaps still, the Mellon Family. When we lived in Rector in the late 1960s, Richard King Mellon also lived here. It is here where they have the Rolling Rock Hunt.

Once in Rector, I rode up Old Linn Run Road as far as Devil’s Hole. Devil’s Hole is hard to find if you don’t know where to look. For years it had been a public swimming hole and sometimes people would drive from miles around to swim there. It was fed by a mountain stream and the water was always cold. In the late 60s and early 70s we helped to dam it every spring.

A large rock across the steam was the one that we would dive from. The water naturally in the pool area was about 3-4 feet deep. But each spring the locals would lift rocks and build a dam just downstream, often reinforcing it with plastic. Once it was dammed another 3 feet or so high the water in the middle was easily 6 feet deep. We sometimes would swim for hours and always our lips would be blue and our teeth would be chattering.

But a number of years ago the property owners, probably wisely, posted it with No Trespassing signs. In this day and age of lawsuits, who could blame them? The approach has been built up with a mound of dirt and had been grown in.

Linn Run Road used to connect all the way to Valley School of Ligonier but that too (the road, not the school) has been closed and probably has reverted to forest.

I turned and went back to the only intersection in Rector. I then passed the United Methodist Church and parsonage which is where we lived until 1971. I took Weaver Mill Road in front of the house to the top of the hill. It is short but steep. I remember getting my first 5-speed, one of those banana seat bikes with high handlebars. I was so proud the first time I was able to bike all the way up to the top of this hill. It was a little easier with the Trek Pilot 40 years later. Or I’m a little stronger.

I turned on Byers Lane and went over to Linn Run Road. I took Linn Run Road up to Linn Run State Park, but only as far as the Adams Falls area. Two things struck me about my ride up to the park. First how good of shape Linn Run Road was in. I never remember pavement this good on this road. And it wasn’t just my carbon fiber bike that does deliver a nice ride. The second was how bad the road was. Once I reached the state park the road deteriorated quickly. Had the road been in good shape I would have ridden much deeper into the park. But instead, I turned around for the nice descent back to Rector.

Once back to Rector Green I took Darlington Road which would take me up to Rte 711. This is an extremely steep hill which we would avoid in the winter when there was snow on the road. I wondered how steep it was and whether I could make it. Answer: Steep and yes. *
But I pedaled on up the mile hill without difficulty. I turned on 711 and took the road back to Ligonier. Before I reached the town, I turned on Peters Road which cuts over to Rte 30. It also cuts through Laurel Valley Golf Club one of the premier private golf courses in the world.

When I returned to Ligonier I hadn’t yet pedaled for 20 miles so I went down around the high school, the school I attended in 10th grade in 1970-1971. I cut through the parking lot and ended up on Carey School Road. It is a short climb, maybe 1/4 mile, but pretty steep. On my descent, I went 45 mph.

As far as the race:

Canadian David Veilleux (Kelly Benefit Strategies-Medifast) proved to be the fastest on Stage 4, taking a convincing victory ahead of new race leader Christoff Van Heerden (Konica Minolta) and Dutchman Dennis Luyt (Global Cycling). The peloton endured a soaking wet stage, with the sun only coming out at the finish line in Latrobe, where spectators gathered to watch the tricky sprint finale in the downtown area.

“There is less than a second between us and so I think tomorrow is going to decide everything,” said the French-Canadian stage winner Veilleux. “It was really hard today, constantly up and down even between the two KOM’s. The goal today was to stay with the climbers.

“My team has been riding great this week and I am looking forward to the next couple of stages,” he added.

The relatively short stage was also considered the toughest of the race. The fourth stage, under 100 kilometres in length, was intended to further open the time gaps between the top GC riders. While the terrain did separate the field, the top overall contenders are still only separated by one second each.

In the end Stage 4 left Van Heerden as the new overall race leader. The South African leads the race overall just one second ahead of Veilleux and American Stefano Barberi (Z Team).

Notes: The course was U.S. Rte 30 from Bedford to Latrobe
Won how: 12-man bunch sprint
Profile created by Barry Sherry (unofficial)

Credit: VeloNews: 18 Oct 2012

EPILOGUE: David “Lumpy” Williams died of a heart attack Tuesday, October 16, 2012, in San Rafael, California, at age 61.

Red Rock Canyon


It was 108° in Las Vegas on Sunday. On Monday and Tuesday, it was 105°. Still, I wanted to ride.

One year ago, almost to the day, I was in Las Vegas and drove out to Blue Diamond. From there I rode to Red Rock Canyon Scenic Drive. The run-in to the scenic drive has a safe shoulder and is a nice ride. On the scenic drive I rode with a young man from Seattle, named Tom. He told me that he had come in from Vegas. So this year I decided to ride the route Tom had ridden.

I rented a bike from the Las Vegas Cyclery on West Charleston Blvd. I picked it up the afternoon before and went back to my hotel, which was out by the airport. I then rode from the hotel to the strip in Vegas. It was hot, 105°, and I seemingly produced no sweat. I know the sweat was evaporating as soon as it came to the surface of my skin. It didn’t last long enough to cool me but I could see white salt deposits on my jersey.

When I got back to the hotel I wasn’t done riding for the day so I decided to do 10 laps of the parking lot. This was quite interesting. I would fly around two of the turns but on the third one hit a wall of wind. It was fun and dangerous. After a shower, I went to the lobby for the manager’s reception, also known as dinner. Here I looked up and saw Dan Foster and Mark Moreland, two colleagues from our Denver office. It’s always nice to run into people you know.

Early in the morning, the talk of the weather was of the cold front coming through. With it came high winds. I heard on one report that Red Rock Canyon was closed due to high winds, sustained at 50 mph or more. But I never heard that again.

I drove back out to the cyclery and knew I could follow the boulevard directly to the scenic drive. I didn’t know it would be all uphill. West Charleston Boulevard is a busy street, no shoulders, six lanes, with many traffic lights. But that lasts 3-4 miles before it turns into a desert highway. The climb up was windy. Very windy.

This cyclist would rather battle a head wind than a cross wind. And I had cross winds on the way out to the canyon. I kept a steady pace and kept the bike steady, which at times was hard to do.

I arrived at the Canyon and turned on the scenic drive. It is still free to cyclists; other users must pay. Here I started the climb and discovered I was climbing into a headwind. Maybe it was wind, maybe equipment, or maybe fitness, but it seemed a little harder than last year. But I reached the summit and took a couple of bad photos. It was very windy here.

I began the descent and wanted to let it out. It was fun descending quickly but also scary because of the winds. I reached the main road and headed back to Vegas. This portion was more open and more prone to high gusts of crosswinds. I struggled at times to keep the bike upright, all while maintaining a pretty high speed.

But it was all downhill and went pretty quickly. It was a nice ride — highly recommended for first-times to Vegas, but next time I have to find Mount Charleston Mountain and head out there.

I was not riding with GPS in Las Vegas so this route is the one that I followed.



I left the house at 4:30 a.m. to drive to Kilmarnock for the 2nd Annual River Ride. We met at a YMCA Camp and I was on the road at 7:45 a.m.
At 7:46 a.m. the phone rang. It was a referee wanting to know the rules for his U10 matches at 9:00 a.m. Now maybe that wouldn’t have been so bad but yesterday I included in my weekly message to referees not to contact me for answers you can find yourself. I explained to the referee the rules, briefly, and then instructed him to find and print the rules himself. Just one day to myself with referees or coaches calling. Is that too much to ask? Grrr.
This ride was much different from the Blue Ridge Extreme Challenge. That ride had a mass start at 7:30, this one did not. Actually, I learned later there was a mass start at 7:30 for those who wanted it. I just couldn’t get there in time. But it wasn’t required. Riders after 7:30 departed when they wanted so we all straggled out on our own. And I was there by 7:30 but certainly didn’t see much of a mass start.
One bank clock displayed the temperature in Kilmarnock as 48 degrees although it was in the mid-fifties when I was ready to go. I had on a jacket and a backpack (Camelbak) so I could remove the jacket later. Just before I started I noticed a young lady in a tank top. I thought if she could go sleeveless, I surely could get rid of the jacket. I took off the extra clothes and went out in just my bike jersey. It was chilly but not too uncomfortable and it would warm up into the high 70s during the ride.
I rode the first 10 miles solo then stopped at the first food stop at Shiloh. I needed to keep my energy level high although hated to use the time to stop. This ride was to be important to me. I am still experimenting with nutrition both before and during the ride and needed to monitor what I ate.
Funny thing about these rides. If you catch someone, you are, by definition, faster than them so you probably don’t want to ride with them. Likewise, if someone catches you, they are faster and you normally wouldn’t ride with them. But I had three high school kids go flying by me and in an instant I decided I would “catch their wheel.” I accelerated and fell in behind them and then there were four of us.
They weren’t too skilled in using pace lines as one guy seemed to do all the riding up front. Eventually I went forward to take a turn pulling. And one needed to. It was a gorgeous day but very windy. On the flat terrain it seemed we were always going into a head wind (someone explain that to me someday) and the leader up front works about 30% harder than the following riders.
We rode together for about three miles when three other guys went flying by. They were probably in the early 30s. I couldn’t believe it when the high schoolers jumped on their wheels. I almost got left behind by the quick acceleration but soon there were seven of us in a line just loving life as we past a scores of riders.
Image I wanted to capture but couldn’t: Seven riders in a straight line and I was on the rear. I could only see the guy in front of me but the low rising sun made for a beautiful silhouette of seven riders on bikes. What great shadows. I would have loved to have sat up and been able to snap a photo but obviously couldn’t.
We rode together for about 10 miles when one of the teens dropped off. As they were discussing whether or not to slow and wait for him, another dropped and then the third. And I thought they would drop this old guy! I was disappointed because I thought I might ride with these guys for most of 90 miles. I saw them briefly at the next rest stop (Heathsville, Mile 28) and then never again.
I rode solo most of the way to the next stop. I passed a few guys along the way and was in visual contact with a rider from Kenya. Not too far from the Morattico rest stop (Mile 50) I was passed by three guys in a line riding hard. I decided not to chase them and then a woman went flying by and said “those assholes are going so fast.” I said “you can ride on their wheel if you want, I’m not.” I think she was with them and was upset they were dropping her. But within a half mile or so I was riding on her wheel and we went into Morattico together.


 Morattico was very pretty. It’s hard to believe that the Rappahannock River here, which it borders on, is the same river that flows through Fredericksburg. Here is it quite wide just a few miles before it runs into the Chesapeake Bay. The rest stop was at a town museum. I visited the very small, and quaint, post office. The postmaster saw me and said “we don’t even have a bathroom here. We have to go next door.” I guess she saw a stranger in bike clothes and assumed I wanted to use the restroom. I didn’t. Since I work at USPS headquarters in Washington, D.C., I enjoy meeting some of our workers.
The run in to Morattico was a stem, one of two on the day, and I only saw about six riders on their way back out. But when I left I saw a number of riders going to the rest stop. I must have been ahead of most riders.
The routes weren’t well-marked. I say that because if I have doubt that I’m on the right road then they’re not well-marked. At some intersections there were small arrows pointing direction. The ride consisted of four loops, and depending on which ride you had to choose the right arrows. If you didn’t carry a course map, and I didn’t, you had to remember that we started with pink then went to green, then red, then orange, then red, then green, then pink. Easy.
In other words, if you came to an intersection that had both green and red arrows, you had to remember which one to take. They weren’t marked “Century – right” and “Metric – left.” Sounds confusing although now once I’m home thinking about it a simple way for century riders was every time we came to two colors, take the new one. Of course, that worked only if you could remember which one you were on. Sounds simple now but it wasn’t so much out on the road by yourself.
I was on my own after Morattico and turned down a two-lane highway. The pavement was great but I couldn’t see anyone in the distance or behind me. I started doubting that I was on the right road and pondered just packing it in for the day. After 10 miles on my own I came to an arrow and saw a sign for a ferry. I had remembered this as a feature and gladly rode to the ferry. When I arrived they were loading. It held seven bikes and two cars. There was a water stop there and I was told they were finally glad to see some riders. I was only the 12th rider to come by out of 150 or so registered century riders. Everyone really was behind me.
The road leading in was Ottoman Ferry Road and the ferry crosses the Western Branch of the Corrotoman River. It has to be one of the shortest rivers in the world but it is pretty wide where we crossed. It was a treat to take the ferry to the other side. This marked 63 miles covered.

Ottoman Ferry

Two riders went ahead, one visited the porta-john, leaving four of us together. We began a climb, described as a three-mile climb but after Blue Ridge Challenge, I can’t remember anything other than a slight uphill. A husband and his wife were in front (in the picture above on the ferry), followed by Thomas, then me.
I first started talking to Thomas on the ferry. He had been behind me and I was surprised he made it to the ferry when I did. I found out that he lives in the Virginia Beach area but was originally from Kenya. Thomas was good at sitting on people’s wheel and he gladly rode the third position in our line of four.
It was windy and it’s always hard to set the pace for the freeloaders behind. After a while I rode to the front and told the husband that I would set pace for them since he had been doing all the work. I fought the wind and kept going. After half a mile I came to a new color and we turned. I was surprised to see that I inadvertently dropped the husband and wife and was pulling just Thomas. And we would ride together the rest of the way.
Mostly I pulled but Thomas took some turns up front as well. We were a team. We stopped at Irvington (Mile 80) not realizing this rest stop was only two miles from the lunch stop at White Stone. We didn’t spend long at lunch, the live bluegrass band helped encourage us to leave sooner, and we headed for the last 24 miles.
A large portion of this was out on the peninsula to Windmill Point where the Rappahannock empties into the Chesapeake. It was very windy out here. On our way out we had passed a family coming back and we did overtake them after we turned around. This really was a highlight. The father piloted a 3-seat Co-Motion tandem with his two young daughters aboard. They looked to be about 5 and 3 years old. The younger one was slumped over sleeping, her head across her folded arms. But her feet were clipped in and her legs were still peddling. Priceless. The mother rode behind and she pulled a Burley trailer with a one year old inside. Sleeping.
At 100 miles, my century, I came in at 5:58 riding time and an hour more total stop time for rest breaks and the ferry crossing. My average speed was 16.7 which is what one needs to ride a 6-hour century. The total distance on the day was 104 and I could celebrate with ice cream at the finish. And a shower at the campground.
I waited for the family of five to arrive to talk with them although I didn’t ask any questions. I should have.
It was a nice ride although I enjoyed the support and terrain of the Blue Ridge Challenge more. This was too flat for my taste although the wind made it a challenge especially when I wasn’t in a line which was most of the day. I think I would rather climb for much of the day than ride on flats in such wind. I don’t know if I would do this one again but it sure was a beautiful route.

NOT MY Cousin Floyd


This does not make sense. The arbitration decision in the Floyd Landis case was just released with a 2-1 decision against Floyd. The panel ruled that the French lab did not follow World Antidoping Guidelines in testing Floyd’s samples. They further ruled that “if the practice is continued that future results would be overturned.”

Huh? So future results by the same lab using the same flawed procedures would be overturned but these ones would be accepted?

To the uninitiated, after bonking on Stage 16 in the Tour de Farce, Floyd rode away to a victory the next day. While he was hailed as having ridden one of the great races ever, the truth was he rode well — but not like Superman. The teams that should have organized early and chased failed to do so which allowed him to open a nine-minute lead on them.

Floyd knew if he won the stage he would be tested. It would be foolish to cheat. Floyd stood up like a man and at every opportunity maintained his innocence, all the way to the Court for Arbitration for Sport. They were especially annoyed that he had the balls to fight the charges and not only found against him on June 30, 2008, but also fined him $100,000. How dare someone questions their authority.

I met Floyd in January 2007. He came away as believable to me. For full disclosure, I have to mention that I am a genealogist. I trace some of my ancestry to a Landis family in Lancaster Co., Pa. in the 1700s. Floyd, of course, is from a Mennonite family named Landis in Lancaster Co., Pa. However, I have traced some of Floyd’s lineage and have yet to make a connection. Cousin or not, I believe him.

A real analysis of the data is at Trust But Verify. Another good blog is Free Floyd Landis.

AUGUST 17, 2010 — Well, aren’t we all the fools? In May at the Amgen Tour of California, Floyd, after being denied entry into the Tour, followed through with his blackmail threat and claimed that he and Lance Armstrong were dopers.

In January 2007, Floyd made his rounds proclaiming his innocence and asking for money from people like me. And I gave. Twenty-five dollars to attend his stupid Evening with Floyd event. Then $50 and $25. And I bought his book. And it was all a lie.

Floyd – I want my money back.

Floyd and Barry, Arlington Draft House, Arlington, Va., January 2007

FEBRUARY 29, 2012 — It continues. And it’s going to continue.

I don’t want my money back. Floyd lost his best friend, his wife (who may have been his best friend), his family, his house, his money, his integrity. He can keep my money.

I have my own theory. I believe Floyd was innocent of using artificial testosterone as he was charged. I suspect when he heard he was caught he thought “oh crap” but when he realized it was artificial testosterone, he fought that. In the end, they wore him down and he eventually confessed to being a doper – at least using blood transfusions.

Unlike Lance, he was not a good liar. It was his good Mennonite upbringing. In his first press conference after the initial doping allegations, Landis was asked flat out: “Have you ever taken performance-enhancing drugs before?”

After a pause, he replied: “I’ll say no.”

I think he speaks the truth about doping in the peloton but he lost his credibility by not confessing when he had a chance and down is discredited at every chance.

And we have found no genealogical link between us. Floyd is not my cousin.

EDIT/EPILOGUE – Ten years after the race, I had the chance to talk to one of the inner members on Floyd’s team, Team Phonak. Floyd bonked on Stage 16. But then, apparently having lost the Tour, he drank a bottle of Jack Daniels (which would be part of his convoluted defense). His team was pissed at him for drinking that night.

The team member put together two lists. And at three in the morning, woke Floyd up screaming at him. He said he had two lists: Why Floyd is the biggest A-hole in the world and Ways Floyd could regain the time he lost and still won the Tour. Which did he want?

Floyd chose how to win the Tour. Team Phonak had a plan. First, Floyd would have to get into the breakaway that sticks. And, no longer within striking distance of winning, the teams should let him go. Second, once in the break, he would have to attack them and go solo. And here was the real plan. Since it was a very hot day, almost 100°, being in a solo breakaway would give Floyd access to his team car. Indeed, throughout the stage one can see Floyd next to the team car, taking on water, often pouring it over his head to keep his core temperature down.

They had prepared 200 bottle of ice water that day. At least 100 would be dumped over his head. Not only would Floyd have access to cold water while riding this day, each bottle would be a “sticky bottle.” At 200 bottle hand-offs, and three seconds per bottle, this was the equivalent of holding onto the team car for 10 minutes. This would be a huge savings of energy. It was also pushing the rules if not breaking them, but much like soccer, you play to the level the referees permit.

Once Floyd got the lead, he held it. My recollection was he did not gain more time on the climbs against the peloton but did gain time on the descents. So when he won that day, his team merely thought their plan worked to perfection.

If Floyd doped, he apparently did it without knowledge of his team. After he had left Postal (USPS Cycling) whatever doping he did was on his own. He tried dirty doctors but found he couldn’t trust them. I don’t recall if he testified that he doped that night with his Jack Daniels or if he was popped for elevated levels of synthetic testosterone because he had doped in preparation for the Tour. Whatever it was, he was popped and the team would lose its title sponsor. Twenty-eight cyclists and support staff were now out of work because of Floyd.

Not my Cousin Floyd.

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