30 July 2011

Mt. Washington bicycle hillclimb (finally)

my setup for riding up: triple crank on the front (with only the 30T) and Ultegra 9 speed 12-27 cassette
Recap from the climb along with some background...
Nested in the New Hampshire's White Mountains is Mt. Washington, the highest peak in the Northeastern United States at 6288 ft (1917 m). It's been named the "home of the world's worst weather" and on average, hurricane force winds are present 100 days a year. The Mt. Washington Auto Road is 4,727" of vertical feet of loveliness. Though a mere 7.6 mi (12.2 km) in length, it's freakin steep. The road is mostly paved with an average grade of 12% with extended sections at18% and the last 50 yards 22% grade - and no flat or downhill sections whatsoever. And naturally since there's an auto road to the summit, there's is a bike race to the top! Steeper than any of the famous climbs in the Tour de France.... and has the reputation of one of the toughest bicycle climbs in the world!!!

Some visual context...

images via North East Cycling

My non-abbreviated back story...
In 2004 I was all geared up for the climb. Had trained, been doing local road races, and was feeling totally psyched and ready to TAKE IT ON. That morning at the base I ran around finding a ride to hitch back down with -- it's illegal to ride down on a bike due to the steepness. As the road was closing to car traffic, I quickly threw in my bag of warm clothes and food into the truck so I'd have them once I reached the top, got back to my bike to start warming up and then... looked down to realize I was still wearing my flip flops. My heart sank. My bike shoes were left in my bag which was already making its way up to the summit. Big OOPS.

So, a couple months back when my uncle-in-law, Ted, told us he was signed for Newton's Revenge (currently one of two annual bike races up the Mt. Washington Auto Road) I was SO DOWN. The whole 2004 incident had put such a damper on the thought - but having taken a good dose of Kettlebell and Spin classes throughout the winter (thanks to Joanna!), along with long rides and a hell of a lot of hill repeats... thought it was about time to tackle that Mt. Washington.
 kept getting caught in super heavy downpours in New Hampshire the week prior - thus kept drying out my shoes
my awesome husband helping to clean off and prep my bike
During and post ascent...

top photo by Leo Kenney
The race:
EPIC and completely awesome. Indeed, the road starts off steep and my body went into survival mode. At the start I didn't recognize my own breathing and wasn't sure if I was going to keel over hyperventilating - but our human bodies are amazing - and soon found a rhythm and just didn't stop. For the first 3 miles there was little else then heat and lack of air flow until getting above treeline...  realized then that I'd never biked so high up - so surreal - and all worth it just for that experience alone. Looking down onto the slopes of Wildcat (love skiing there) simply blew my mind. And as unpredictable as the weather on Mt. Washington can be, on July 9th it was predictably dramatic and ever changing. Had it been perfect and mild the entire way, it really wouldn't have been a true Mt. Washington inaugural ride. At the base it was warm in the 70's and sunny, at the summit, Ted noted gusts of 60mph with steady winds of 40, fog/mist so thick that visibility (seemed like it at times) to be basically zero and 42 degrees temperature with wind chills in the 20's. I did notice that once in the clouds, about half a mile from the finish line, frost was forming on my handlebars where the sweat of my hands had held on... but as a rider you are so pumped and over heated from exertion that it felt 100% better then having the sun roasting you. That said, I def. felt the side wind gusts and did my best to not get knocked down since that would be most challenging to even attempt to get back on bike on that road. I was happy to have made it up the entire way -- on my bike -- especially after hearing horror stories of chain issues, derailleurs malfunctioning, and the myriad of possible weather inflictions. I made it up in 1:37:41. (Tom Danielson holds the record with an outstanding time of 0:49:24 from 2002 - love comparing my time with the 2011 Tour de France 9th placer!)

Oh, and about that very last portion at 22% grade... I was totally anticipating it once I was in the clouds and thinking once I see a bunch of people at the top, that'll be it. Well, with the visibility the way it was I found myself right at the bottom of that portion and almost came to a complete stop realizing I wasn't in my lowest gear! Somehow I thought I would be able to see it clearer but instead ended up feeling like I was in front of a wall while still on my bike. A soon I heard my husband yelling "YOUR ALMOST THERE" to me and the crowd cheering so I focused on the task at hand and (very roundaboutly - trying to do a little switch back) biked up the steepest portion of ground I have likely ever biked up and crossed the finish line.
Ted got a time of 1:31 --  which was awesome, almost 15 minutes faster than his previous time
Shots taken from the car on our way back down -- from the clouds above treeline to below... 

the slopes of Wildcat

Seriously a fun time - so much so that once we made it back down to the base I suggested the we all hike up Mt. Washington after lunch. Umm, that was likely the adrenaline talking - but wouldn't it be awesome to bike up AND hike up all in the same day?! Maybe next year!


  1. jason1.8.11

    V with white bar tape and white frame = so slick.
    Riding above the treeline = so pro.
    Frozen sweat = so hardcore.
    Mr. T in mechanic mode = so awesome.

  2. Thanks, Jason.
    Oh, I looked up the time from your own epic climb in '05...
    1:11:09 = crazy hardcore

  3. Wow.
    Better than the Alps - Mont Ventoux and Galibier will taste like a sweet piece of cake to you.


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