Sunday, August 21, 2011

2011 Mount Washington Hill Climb Race Report

Hi Family, Friends and fellow blog readers,

I figured I better get on this report while the pain is still fresh and memories are flowing like the prettiest little stream in the wilderness.

Photo credit courtesy of Stephanie Schoff Jacques

Firstly, I must say a very warm thanks to everyone who donated to the cause. Together, for just our fundraising campaign, we raised $995 dollars, every penny goes directly to the Tin Mountain Conservation Center. I have no idea what the total funds raised for all who participated is yet, as you're still able to receive donations until September 1, but surely they will release that information after the fundraiser ends. If you're interested to know what the Tin Mountain Conservation Center does, check them out on the web here. The Mount Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hill Climb is the largest single fundraiser that benefits the TMCC. If you wanted to donate and haven't yet, well there is still time! Here is a link to my fundraising page.

Secondly, many of you sent well wishes and good luck messages as well, so thanks for that. It's nice to get a word of encouragement or some good energy vibes while preparing for, and attempting a climb like this.

What a climb it was...
Shaking off the pre-race butterflies!
Photo credit courtesy of Stephanie Schoff Jacques

I started the day feeling great, legs good, mind strong and ready for the vertical challenge ahead of me. For having the opportunity given to me to race this climb again just a month ago, I'd worked hard to feel as good as I did this morning. To me, it's quite a testament to putting your mind and body to work to accomplish such a beastly climb. Many of you know I've climbed all over Mount Washington, in the gullies of the ravines, on hiking trails approaching from the north, south, east and west. I've the reached summit over 47 times and climbed in some vicious weather and also climbed and hiked in some of the most beautiful weather with stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean. I've used ropes, crampons & ice axes, and rock climbed on some of the most incredible alpine climbing routes in Northern New England. More recently, I even made the summit on skis with a life-long best friend of mine Roland Fortin, what an amazing day that was! Of all the outdoor/recreational things I personally enjoy doing, I'm most passionate about riding my bicycle, whether it's a mountain or road bike, nothing compares to riding bikes for me. To feel like a kid, free spirited and happy.
Race ready!
Photo courtesy of Stephanie Schoff Jacques

The last time I climbed Washington on my bike, (2009) it was a spiritual journey for me. We had just lost a friend in an avalanche on the mountain the year before. Avoiding detail to some degree, but having (and seeing) one of your best friends pulled off a mountain in a body bag, so close to me, so close to Erik, Luke, Tommy and Roland, all of us who climbed together as friends from the start, so close to his wife and family, parents, uncles and aunts, cousins, nieces and nephews. The emotional trauma, the terrible visions and many sleepless hours was tough to deal with for a very long time, and may be for a long time in lots of ways. Quietly, yet deep in my mind, on that first time up the hill on my bike, I was climbing for Pete, personally climbing in memory of him. Not one single adventure can compare to throwing yourself deep into a zone of hurt and sense of accomplishment than riding that road on my bicycle. It's a way for me to get a dig at the mountain, it's the safest way I can find to assault it, make it feel my pain, make me feel the pain, giving me strength to deal with various aspects of life on so many levels.

If this is way too corny for some of you, well, you could just stop reading here, but I suggest you grab a tissue and read on....

It's 6:45 am, up since 3 am, on the road for 4 am, we're at the venue and I'm now registered and checked in, my stomach is a pit of nerves. I'm anxious! I'm excited! I'm confident! I'm focused! I ride my bike up and down route 16 to warm up, I climb from the Auto Road toward Pinkham Notch to get a view of Huntington Ravine, say a prayer in my mind, and continue on my warm up ride.

Mount Washington 8/20/11, what weather for a bike race up the hill.

Now it's race time, the cannon blasts, I'm off and suddenly I leave the comfort zone of the parking area and the road points up-hill, quickly, steeply, and everything slows but my heart. It's pounding, racing, breathing is fast and furious, my pedals tick over like a dancer's feet across the floor, spinning in perfect circles. Mile one sign in eight minutes, miles two sign eight minutes later, but I haven't been able to control my heart rate, yet I am spinning comfortably, legs just powering me upward. The first three miles I was sort of delirious, the air temp was really hot, my arms felt really sore and heavy, yet numb and light. I remember thinking that it felt like I was having a bad acid trip, (had a couple of those in high school) I was seeing things, I felt really dizzy, but I just kept pedaling and working hard. I had my "What the F*%! am I doing" moment around mile three, I quickly shut down the negative thought and kept up my momentum. I was on pace for my goal, as much as it hurt, it was working for me. Ten minute miles is what I was after.

Nearly the same time I hit tree line, my heart rate started to come down to a more controlled level, where I felt like I could put out a bit more power. Up and around the Horn, I took in a quick view of the surrounding mountains, but this isn't a leisurely stroll, no time for views, no time for scenic vistas. As I hit the dirt road section, I looked up ahead of me to see the line of riders mashing the gears, the road reaches up to 18% gradient in this stretch, and it is pretty sustained. It grinds on for about two miles. This is where I started to slip back away from my goal, at times my speed dropped to 3-4 mph and I needed to maintain 5.84 mph the entire ride. Topping out on the dirt, near cragway turn, there's a "flat spot" for about one hundred yards where I was able to get some higher gearing and pick up a little speed before the road turns sharply uphill again. I wouldn't have necessarily called it a flat spot, but here were two spectators with signs and one read "It's a FLAT spot". This is also the section where, if you know what to look for, you can see the southern gullies of Huntington Ravine, Odell Gully specifically, and so I take from that view, digging deep in my soul for the inner strength needed to get me through the remaining effort. A little further up the road a Raven flies overhead, as I look up he appears to be looking down on me, he swirls through the air and lets out a quick call and then disappears from my line of sight. Good vibes!

When I hit mile six, I was about 61 minutes on course, leaving me only seventeen minutes to get the final 1.6 miles to the finish. I had put in an amazing effort to this point, but I was dropping in average speed, I would surge ahead, legs, mind and body working incredibly hard to keep pace, but I could only go so fast at this point, I was losing ground and time. The pain from the exertion was really working on me.

Just past mile six there were two spectators I could see ahead, one dawning a full on superman suit and cape, I thought at first it was my buddy Todd, who had gone up in the car with Steph, but it was just some dude who was yelling as I rode by with a big smile. His buddy was handing out those red swedish fish, he yelled, asking if I wanted some and I let out a couple of expletives, confirming that I did indeed want some with an "oh f**! yeah" and so I put out my right hand and he poured out a big mound of them. I just stuffed them in my mouth and took in the quick sugars, but I had so many in my mouth that I couldn't breathe! I chewed a few and had to spit the rest out.

Gracing me at mile seven was my support staff for the day and where I hit my finish line goal of 1:18, if only mile seven was the finish line! I'd had it in my head from the start that I was handing off my phone to Steph, which I had in my jersey pocket the whole ride up, in hopes that she had a nice cold bottle of water waiting for me that I could pour over my head to cool off and wash some of the sweat away. It couldn't have worked more perfectly, as I appeared in their view, I motioned for a bottle and I saw Steph scurrying through her back pack to ready for the hand off. There it was, I handed the phone off to Todd, threw my empty water bottle on the ground, and grabbed the full bottle, proceeding immediately to pour it over my head and take a big ole' mouth full. Wow, that was rewarding! As I continued riding, I was shadowed by Todd, running along side me, yelling at me, even though I can't remember everything you said, it helped me immensely. I do remember you saying "you are in the zone" and I was! Feeling so incredibly high, feeling so freaking good about the ride I had put in to that point. I remember standing up to pedal and hearing you let out a huge scream, that was awesome, Thanks, Bro!
The Hand off.
Photo credit courtesy of Stephanie Schoff Jacques

It's hard to believe the last .6 miles took me five minutes, but it did. This part of the road kicks up a bit, and levels off a little bit too, I kicked down a few gears sped it up. I could see the summit building, I could see the finish line stretch, suddenly all along the road there were hundreds of people congratulating me, yelling at me. Then you turn the final corner to see a huge crowd and you're in the final 75 yards of the race, the nasty 22% grade. The road is rough and full of pock marks from the snowcat going up in the winter. I zipped up my jersey and just stood up on the pedals giving every last bit of energy, I had to finish strong! As I crossed the line I heard the announcer, local cycling industry colleague, Chris Zigmont call out my name, also calling out my shop sponsor, Papa Wheelies. As a racer, you want to hear this stuff, and you want others to hear the shop name too. Crossing the line I had about four Hill Climb volunteers grab me to make sure I wouldn't fall over and they yell at you, "unclip, unclip from your pedals" which seems like the most daunting task. Once you've unclipped they drape a super soft and warm fleece blanket over you and hang a finisher's medal around your neck. I just sat on my bike, head on my handlebars trying to catch my breath and bring my heart rate down. I quickly envision the whole ride, every little bit, emotions are flowing and I think of my brother man, Pete Roux, visions go through my head and I shed a few tears of both happiness and sadness. In the end, I am at peace, I accomplished this climb again.

Even though I didn't finish top notch or hit the 1:18:08 time goal, I took a huge chunk of time off my previous ride. Seven minutes and thirty-six seconds. The bar has been set, I will chase this goal until I get it. I learned exactly what I need to do next time and I will do this. That I guarantee you, my supporters, and myself. It was an amazing experience, an amazing journey! Today, I'm reflecting on the ride, I'm sore and tired, but I feel absolutely great.

To my incredible and lovely wife Steph, sister in-law Heidi, great friend Brian and one of my best mates Todd, thanks so much for all your support yesterday, you all made the day so awesome for me.

Finally, thanks again to all of you who supported me, generously donated your hard earned money to the cause, and had time to think about or maybe learn about my reasons for doing this climb.

Live life to the fullest potential every day!

Thanks for reading.


It's surely is a huge mountain, forever connected.
Photo credit courtesy of Heidi Schoff Spiller
My time was 1:23:06. I placed 122 overall out of 488, and 18th out of 47 in my age group.
Full Results

The GPS file of my ride up the hill