Saturday, August 16, 2014

Didn't Want to Do It

GORHAM, NEW HAMPSHIRE

Each year it seems harder to bring myself to New Hampshire to ride this mountain. But it seems to be more about the 1,400 mile drive (round trip) than the ride up the mountain. And this year I wasn't "feeling it."

Rest Area on I-91 near Brattleboro, Vermont


I was surprised when earlier this week my daughter, Ashley, asked me when I was going and if I needed a driver. I hadn't made any climbing adjustments to my bike and was planning to call it a career at six successful hill climbs.


Rest Area on I-91 near Brattleboro, Vermont


But with Ashley wanting to go, I decided to go. Besides, I would see the Gubinski family again.


Rest Area on I-91 near Brattleboro, Vermont


Two years ago was to be my last time racing this mountain. I needed a ride down and found the Gubinski family, or they found me. But every rider needed a driver and no vehicles could go to the summit that Saturday morning unless they were bringing a cyclist back down the mountain. It was a marriage of convenience. Lucas and Alexa were hiking to the summit and their parents, Vic and Alison, were to drive up and meet them - as long as they were bringing a rider back down. And thus we met.


Mount Washington Hotel


Navigating here yesterday, and anticipating it would be the last time, I decided to try a different approach to North Conway. We came up I-91 so we could stop at our favorite rest stop in Vermont.  Then we followed US 302 and came in the other side of the mountain through Crawford Notch, a drive neither of us had done before.


Near Crawford Notch, NH


I never saw a moose before until Ashley came with me in 2007. The race was canceled that year but she was happy - she saw a moose. She came with me again in 2008 and, again, we saw a moose. Ashley hasn't been with me since 2008 and I haven't seen another moose. Yesterday, we saw a moose. When I told my friends, the Family Gubinski about her "Moose Whispering" skill, they didn't believe it - they always wanted to see a moose. So we left registration at the same time. We found another moose. 




This morning I was hoping the race would be canceled. It would be appropriate book ends that Ashley was with me for my first (2007) and last (2014) races and both were canceled. The weather did not look great. When I checked before leaving the hotel it was 37 degrees at the summit with winds at 44 mph - wind chill was 23 degrees.


At the summit - no hitchhiking, no bicycles

On the other hand were the Gubinski twins, Alexa and Lucas. I had met them two years ago when they hiked to the top of the mountain. They loved watching the race and decided to come back - as racers. And they talked me into coming back last year. And this year. And today they were excited and ready to go. Alexa had taken brakes off her bike, weighed her water bottles to take the lightest ONE, and was going up without a spare tube or tool kit. She is extreme!



Before coming here I had purchased a larger cassette (32 tooth) to put on my bike but hadn't, thinking I would return it unopened for a refund (if the race was canceled). This would make the bike easier to pedal. The gun went off for the first wave of pro and "Top Notch" riders. I decided I better put the cassette on my bike. I was in the fifth and last group to start, 20 minutes behind.


Start of the Purple Wave (Group 4)


But it did not go as expected. I have a new wheel on my Trek Domane which I planned to switch to my climbing bike. It has an 11-speed cassette. I tried putting the new 10-speed cassette on the wheel and couldn't get all the gears tightened. It could have been operator error but the second group was now headed up the mountain. (Just three groups left to go.) I took the last three gear cluster from the 10-speed and replaced the last three gear cluster from the 11-speed and tightened it. Now I was running an 11-speed cluster on my 10-speed bike/derailleur. This, my friends, is not a good combination.


Cold and Windy at the Summit


The gears would have to be. I lined up at the back of the last group, which was also the largest group. I started dead last (which I always do). There were two unicyclists ahead of me. The gun sounded. I didn't move. The group had to space out first as they took off.


I should have listened


My gears seemed to work only for the first three but anything beyond that and they were skipping. So I tried to stay only in those gears. 



Lucas, Alexa, Barry

The weather was warm, around 70, at the base, and I, along with most racers, wore a short sleeve jersey. No jacket. No arm warmers.

At the base of the 22% finishing climb at the summit


The lower section (first two miles) is just beautiful. It's just a 12% grade road headed up through deep forest. At 1.5 miles I passed the first of a few people pushing their bikes. In the past this was mentally deflating but not today. I kept going not even thinking about them.




Around mile three or four it got cold. Real cold. Real fast. I sort of envied those riders who had jackets or arm warmers. The wind was strong - at times it was a head wind.


Seven Climbs up Mount Washington
In honor or Alex Shepherd
(www.team-alex.com)


I came to Mile 4 realizing it was more than halfway. I wasn't working that hard. I felt good. I passed a red bib rider (first group). Plenty of yellow (second), blue (third), and purple (fourth) too. Although I had been passed earlier by both unicyclists who were racing (after I passed them at the beginning), I overtook them too.




The top of the mountain was cold - my hands were starting to feel it a little, but otherwise I was OK. I came to the final 22% grade and saw the Gubinski family cheering for me. I smiled. I waved. I gave thumbs up. I slowed down.


Jill Landman Alfond, Geoff Hamilton 
I don't know them - they just passed in front of me here


I shifted into my lowest gear. I made a big deal about changing that cassette and never once used the lowest gear. So I made sure to get my money's worth. I climbed the 22% grade and looked at the time - 1:48. Yuck.



I was surprised. I thought I had done better. It's about power to weight and even though my weight is up this summer I felt good. This was the first hill climb where the "Quit Monster" didn't hound me. Thoughts of Jake The Hero Grecco, Alex Shepherd, and Jamie Roberts carried me to the top. Every previous climb here I have had to fight not to quit or stop. Today was cool. Just climb. And since I didn't use the easiest gear, I thought I might be going better than last year. I guess the wind or maybe cold slowed me down. Ah, it didn't matter.


Looking down from Mile 5 at the start





I don't have power data but I do have heart rate data for my seven climbs:

2014 - 161.1/176 bpm
2013 - 161.8/173
2012 - 160.8/178
2011 - 153/173
2010 - 156/176
2009 - 158/177
2008 - 156/176

Each year I hit my max on the final climb. The last three years my average has been 161; before that it was 156. I have no idea what all this means except I'm alive.

As far as perceived effort, my climb in 2008 was a 10. I want to think today's effort was a 6, which is probably not what one wants to do in a race. But twice I almost stopped not to rest but to take a picture. The only reason I didn't was it is so hard to get started on a 12% (or higher) grade.








One of the last finishers approaching the summit
Every finisher is a beast!


Ashley found me, we took some pictures (seven times up the mountain!) and I found the Gubinski Family. Alexa came in at 1:20:30 and, as she would find out later, finished 5th in the Women's Division. Lucas did well too, coming in under 1:15.


7x - Shirt in memory of Jamie Roberts


At the bottom we enjoyed a great turkey dinner and said goodbye to our friends. I didn't want to make this trip this year but am glad I did. Although it's good to retire with seven straight climbs, I do have that new cassette only used once (and with a low gear almost not used at all). Any takers?


Alexa, Lucas, Vic, Barry
Apparently I need coffee



As for real racers, John Kronborg Ebsen beat Cameron Cogburn (and 516 others) to win in 52:53. Marti Shea won for the fourth time in 1:06:01.


Alexa Gubinski
Photo Credit: Alison Gubinski

"Shea hoped to finish the climb in under 65 minutes, but the cold and windy weather got in the way of that plan. The temperature was just over 40 degrees and winds about 35 miles per hour for a wind chill factor of 25 degrees when the top riders reached the summit.


Lucas Gubinski
Photo Credit: Alison Gubinski


"'Down below, the weather was good,' said Shea, 'But around four miles the wind started, and then it was off and on – a side wind, then a head wind. I was losing body temperature. There have been a few races here with conditions like this, but this may have been the worst I've seen. Anyway, I'm happy about my fourth win.'"

Vic GubinskiPhoto Credit: Alison Gubinski

Race Report Source: Facebook page of Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb
 (16 Aug 2014)



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