Thursday, July 10, 2008

Doubt Sets In

NORTH CONWAY, NH

The trip from Virginia had been nice but 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. At to that my fancy new Garmin unit 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 ride up Hurricane Mountain Road. They told me they had driven it and turned around in some housing development but 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.

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 exclaimation got louder.

Much steeper than it looks -- view towards Maine

Last weather check on the mountain: 44 degrees F (7 C), 30 mph (50 kph) winds, Wind Chill 34 F (1 C).







EPILOGUE

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%.

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