Saturday, July 7, 2007

Mount Washington

PINKHAM NOTCH, NH

It had been my dream for some time to climb mountains like the riders in the Tour de France. In researching all the great climbs and how to get to Europe to ride them I discovered something I didn't know. In the U.S. there is road that is often considered tougher than any on the Tour.

I had hoped to enter the Mount Washington Auto Road Hill Climb scheduled for August but the Hill Climb registration filled up in 20 minutes on February 1. That opened a second race, Newton's Revenge, sponsored by Louis Garneau (they have some great clothes!) to be held on the "lucky" date of 07/07/07.

The climb up Mt Washington is tough. Just under eight miles, it averages 12% grade and tops out at 22%. If the road isn't tough enough, it also features the world's worst weather with very strong and unpredictable winds.

My daughter, Ashley, agreed to go with me and on Thursday July 5, I picked her up from her new in-laws where she had been spending the week in Bethany Beach, Delaware. We started the day by taking a brief walk in the ocean. We drove to Windsor Locks, Connecticut. On Friday we continued to tourist mountain town of North Conway, New Hampshire. After checking in to the hotel, we went out to the race start. I was the second rider to pick up a race packet at the Mount Washington Auto Road.

I carefully watched what I ate (pasta loading) and made sure to get a good night's rest. Morning came soon and we were out of the hotel by 5:45. Anticipation was in the air as we drove out to Mt. Washington.

We arrived by 6:30 a.m. -- cars needed to go up the mountain by 7:00 but there was something wrong. The sun covered the valley but many people seemed to be leaving. The view of Mt Washington was gorgeous. Sun blanketed the mountain except for the clouds that covered the summit. Stunning.


One problem. Inside those clouds were 70 miles per hour winds, 40 degrees which translated to a wind chill of 27 degrees, and zero visibility. The race was canceled.

It was surreal. Although there was a rain date of July 8, I had not envisioned staying. It was too far home. Our plans were to drive back to Connecticut after the race on Saturday then continue home on Sunday. I was greatly disappointed. But Ashley said "Dad, we have to stay and try again tomorrow." I thought I had imposed on her enough to come with me and be my driver off the mountain but she was insistent that we find a way to stay.


We didn't know if we could work it out with the sold-out hotel but then decided to take some time to think about it. We drove to Jackson across a covered bridge then waded in a mountain stream. We took a train ride on the Conway Scenic Railroad and were able to work out another night at the hotel.


We had met a wonderful woman at the Discovery Weather Center in North Conway who encouraged me to ride Hurricane Mountain Road -- a beast of a climb. I struggled for air and for legs as I crept up this mountain road. I'm not sure if the ride was to give me confidence or to break my confidence. It turns out that the average grade was a monstrous 18%. As soon as I got back to North Conway I went to a bike shop and asked if they could change my gearing. But it was too late since they would need to order parts. Doubt crept into my mind if I had low enough gearing to complete the race.

Looking down Hurricane Mountain Road -- towards Maine.
17% Grade

The first message we saw Sunday was at 4:45 a.m. that they were checking the condition of the auto road. Winds had calmed to 30 mph and the temperature was 45. It looked promising.

On our drive back to the mountain we saw two cars off the road. Ashley said they must be looking at a moose. While my goal was to climb Mt Washington, her goal was to see a moose. Sure enough, the cars were pulled off because there was moose eating by the side of the road. We joined them and Ashley got out and much too close to the moose to take pictures. The trip was a success. We had our moose.

We continued on to the mountain and it started raining. I wasn't too worried about riding in the rain since I exercise all winter long outdoors. Getting wet would not bother me. We arrived and parked by the big tent anxiously awaiting the departure of the cars to head up the mountain. Then we learned the race was canceled. For good.

Anticipation and adrenaline were the order of the day Saturday. When it was canceled Saturday it was like a giant balloon having all its air sucked out. Not so on Sunday. Not nearly as much air went back in that balloon and when it was canceled for good it was simply time to go home. We had 700 miles of driving ahead of us.

This venture started as my sole reason for going to Mt Washington was to test myself against the mountain. The mountain won. Twice.

But all in all, I spent four days with my daughter that I probably won't get to again. It was not a wasted weekend. Actually, I loved it. Wish I got to ride but spending time with my daughter, meeting other riders, and seeing a moose -- it was all good.

Because my anticipation wasn't as high as Saturday the disappointment wasn't as great either and we just headed back home in the rain. Although we left behind temperatures in the high 50s and rain we were reminded we were close to home when we stopped at a rest area in Maryland and it was 97 degrees.


Since the race my registration has been rolled over to next year's event -- July 12, 2008.

___
Photo Credits: Ashley Snow except for the picture of Ashley -- That's by Barry
(1) Mt Washington in the morning
(2) Ashley
(3) Barry
(4) Looking down Hurricane Mt Road
(5) Marty Moose

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