Our drive from Stowe, Vermont to Bar Harbor, Maine took us right past Mt. Washington in New Hampshire. Part of the White Mountain range, Mt. Washington is one of the “Presidential Mountains” near Mt. Adams and Mt. Jefferson. You may have heard of Mt. Washington because it is the tallest mountain in the Northeastern United States. It’s also famous for its erratic weather patterns, which generated the fastest recorded wind speed in the world back in 1934. That record of 231 miles per hour lasted until 1996.
This was my first time back to see Mt. Washington since Bryce and I climbed it on ElliptiGO bikes back in 2010. Twice each year, they allow bikes onto the famous Mount Washington Auto Road to see who can get to the top the quickest. Of course, because of the weather on Mt. Washington, the racers are never really sure when the race will be held. Ours was only bumped one day because of weather. Some years it is bumped for a week or more until the can get a clear day.
A few hundred people attempt the climb each year. In its heyday, there were closer to a thousand people who would race it, spread across two races – Newton’s Revenge in July and The Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb in August. I guess people are less and less interested in taking on extreme challenges like this nowadays, so the numbers have dwindled quite a bit over the past decade.
The course is brutal. There is no other way to say it. Mt. Washington purports to offer the steepest on-road hillclimb longer than 10km anywhere in the world. I wouldn’t be surprised if that were true. The average grade is 12%, which probably doesn’t mean much to anyone, but that’s a mathematical way of saying it’s really steep. In just 7.6 miles the road climbs 4,618 feet in elevation. In contrast, Pikes Peak averages about 8%. So, Mt. Washington is 50% steeper than the famous road up Pikes Peak. Plus, a portion of the road isn’t paved, adding mud and dirt into the mix for more than a mile. Put it this way, if you successfully DRIVE up Mt. Washington, you can get a bumper sticker for your car to recognize that feat. It’s that steep. It’s also the only climb I know where they won’t allow the cyclists to descend afterwards – every racer has to have a vehicle drive to the top to take them and their bike back down. Throw the cold temperatures, unpredictable weather and potential for 100+ mph winds in there and maybe I shouldn’t be surprised why the race is declining in popularity – younger people might be smarter than us and decide it’s not a fun way to spend a day.
There have been a handful of ElliptiGO riders who have made that climb – Bryce, Jim Cremer, Jim Hansen, and Andrew Warby come to mind. I don’t know if any have done it twice. However, when I was out riding on Tuesday morning here in Acadia National Park, I met a woman who mentioned she was going to climb Mt. Washington for the 64th time this coming weekend. That blew my mind. She says she does it because it’s the only climb that is hard enough for her that it clears her head for the entire climb. She claims the race is 2-3 hours of therapy for her, so she does it every chance she gets. Since the road is only open to cyclists during the race and on the “practice day” a few weeks prior, that means she has been climbing it twice per year for more than 30 years. I love that kind of dedication!
I’m sure at some point this weekend, I’ll be thinking about her and the hundreds of other folks who are clearing their minds on that brutal mountain. Someday, I hope to return. Until then, I encourage anyone who is looking to suffer for a few hours on their ElliptiGO to reserve their spot in next year’s Mount Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb. I can assure you, it will not disappoint in that regard.
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