Photo by Jason DeVarennes

Monday, July 15, 2013

Mt Washington Demands Respect!

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. " -George Santayana

Research suggests that for women who experience mild to moderate pain during childbirth, the euphoria and relief of having a happy healthy child seems to overwhelm the memories of pain such they later report their pain as less severe than those present for all the screaming might otherwise expect!

So maybe it's like that with me and Mt Washington. I just remember the relief and euphoria of being on the top and done, and forget all the dread leading up to the start, and all the suffering during the actual ascent. Or maybe I'm really just a masochist.

However, the article I read about mothers seemingly forgetting the intense pain of childbirth did go on to say that those women who initially reported their pain as unbearable - worse pain ever, did not have diminished memories of the severity of their pain later.

So maybe I don't actually need to record my feelings in blog form to ensure that I remember that my 10th ride up Mt Washington was less than blissful!

Having broken my collarbone a mere 4 weeks before the Newton's Revenge race, I had the perfect excuse not to race. The problem was that I had this brand new bike with special gearing machined up by the fine folks over at Seven Cycles just for riding up Mt Washington. I'd been planning to do Newton's all year, and even though I'll get another crack at Mt Washington in August, I just couldn't fathom pulling the plug on the July event.

Fear Rothar was none too happy when he realized Newton's Revenge was on the long July 4th holiday weekend. He wanted to just go to Vermont and do some fun dirt road riding and not deal with a bike race in the middle of a holiday. Especially since neither of us have done any specific hillclimb training this year. We've both been really focused on long distance, and even though this is typical for this time of year, we usually mix it up and would have also done some short intense rides and a bit a hill-climb specific training. Yet, neither of us had even climbed to the water tower this year.

I call the water tower in Arlington my frenemy. It's the best place nearby to put in some good hard hillclimb efforts. There are numerous approaches to it, most about a mile long, with about 300 feet of elevation gain. It's only a few miles from home, and one can get a lot of feet in a very few miles. Last year, I was making multiple visits to the water tower every week, starting in March, but this spring, so many other things were going on for me and I was just doing different types of rides. Then after the accident, I was too spooked to do much in-town riding. I also hadn't made it up any of the other not-so-close climbs, like Pack Monadnock or Mount Ascutney. So it should have been obvious to me that just jumping into a hillclimb might not go so smoothly!

After Highpoints on the tandem, I did a few more rides on my single bike, and while they were slow, I felt like my form was starting to come back. Standing was still awkward, but I don't stand on a climb like Mt Washington anyway, so if I was doing more seated climbing, that was a good thing. But my riding was not consistent. Between physical therapy and the multiple heatwaves we've had this summer, I just wasn't putting in my usual miles.

Everyone around me assumed I'd show better judgement...

But I had a new bike...

When I ordered my Gates Belt-drive fixed gear Seven last winter, it was mainly intended to be my new lightweight fixie, but with the option to also use it on some long rides, like the fleche and with fatter tires and fenders for winter. And given the fact that I seem to love climbing Mt Washington on fixed - could we make it do that too? That's not too much to ask, is it?

Seven's Rob V. said, "Sure." But because the Gates belts are only made in a few sizes, we'd have to find a gear combination and chainstay length that would work with one of the standard belt lengths. Since they don't make a belt short enough to handle the wee tiny combinations I've used in the past, like 20X20, we'd have to approach it in a different way. So Rob came up with the idea of going larger and using two chainrings, or what Gates calls pulleys, the belt equivalent of chainrings. He said Seven could machine some sort of adapter to use a front pulley in the back, and I could use a 42X39 gear, with one of the stock length belts, and normal length chainstays.

After hearing about a tomicog that allows one to turn a disk hub into a fix-wheel hub,  I asked if using the disk mount would make it simpler to machine an adapter to put a front pulley on the rear wheel, and the idea took off.

After the accident, Rob had figured I wouldn't need it for a while and my adapter's priority got bumped. But I was still myopic with regard to my various goals for the year, and whined lots until it got put back onto the schedule. Of course in addition to putting pressure on Seven to make the adapter, this meant there was pressure on me to do the ride! 

For those who have been asking for more details on how we'd do this, as I have been leaving teasers in earlier posts, here's a photo. The adapter fits on the the ISO 6 bolt disk mount on the hub and takes the Gates 4 bolt pulley. The plate also had to take into account chainline, as the belt is very particular about precise chainline. The magicians at Seven worked their magic, but it wasn't easy and it took a lot of time, so don't expect this to be a standard offer on their price sheet, not that anyone else would be insane enough to want this.

Lily delivered the bike with the special gearing about a week before the race. I registered shortly after. Yes. It's true. While it was on my calendar, I hadn't actually registered, and I could have just shown some sanity, but now I had the very special bike.

If only I could do it justice.

But Mt Washington demands far more respect than I showed her this year. And Sir Isaac Newton definitely kicked my butt and got his revenge on me.

Another heatwave continued to bake us, and it was brutally hot at the base. I started in the last group, and as soon as I hit the first steep bit, I knew I was in trouble. Apparently I hadn't done any deep breathing since the accident, and I'd actually forgotten that I'd also bruised my ribs when I fell. But I was reminded of it as soon as I started to breath hard. The ribs suddenly were being stressed in a way they had not been in a while.  Breathing was so painful that I just had to sit up and try to noodle. In the first mile, I was so far off my normal pace that I began to doubt if I'd make it in under 2 hours. The heat was bearing down, and I thought my head would just explode, then I got above tree line and hit the 60 mph sustained winds, and heat was not such a problem anymore.

I'd seen the wind reports on the monitor at the Glen House before the start, but the same state of denial that led me to think I was ready to climb this beast, had me thinking that it couldn't be much worse than last year - the year we'd all previously referred to as the windy one, but now it will just be called the mildly breezy one. But it was not the sustained wind that caused so much grief, it was the hurricane force gusts.

The first part of the dirt section near mile 5 was actually somewhat sheltered, but then we came through a gap and turned the corner to the steep part. A gust of wind knocked over the rider just ahead of me. My doctor's orders flashed through my mind: "Just don't fall." I had to stop or ride over this poor guy and fall myself. Then once stopped, it was impossible for me to restart. Between the wind and the super low fixed gear, I couldn't get moving on the bike, so I walked a while. I looked back and everyone behind me was walking, either also having been blown down, or just out of gears. I tried to remount several times, but with such a low gear on fixed, I need to be on the saddle to get moving - otherwise I spin out too quickly. It seemed like I walked forever, but it was actually less than a 1/4 mile, when I was able to find enough shelter to start back up riding.

I pressed on, leaning hard into the crosswind to stay upright. Visibility was about 2 feet. I could see my front wheel, but really not much beyond that. If anyone was near me, I did not know. At some point I heard a weird pinging and looked closer at the front wheel, but it was actually a spectator with a cow bell! Then I came around the corner and heard cheers. I couldn't see where to go, but from 9 previous rides, I knew I needed to take a hard right and climb the wall. The wind hit hard again. Doctor's orders: "Do not fall!" I climbed off the bike and walked the final bit, not even bothering to run, or try to remount for the finish line photo.

I was mentally cooked, but physically OK. I had just noodled my way to the top of Mt Washington, 20 minutes slower than last year! But given that no one thought I should even be there, I guess it wasn't so bad. Despite the fact that I was using a gear slightly larger than my last ride, I was able to just spin it slowly to the top.

Fear Rothar was there to greet me. He'd had a tough day, as predicted, but at least he had no mechanical problems this time, and the soles of his shoes were intact.

The drive down was slowed by the lack of visibility. We stopped a couple of times to cool the brakes and get some photos.

Now here's the funny part - I had my worst time ever. John posted his worst time ever - not counting the duathlon last year. Yet we collected more medals than ever! I was 2nd in my age group and we got 2nd family team! John won his age group.

So I got some hardware to go with my hardware!

The rest of the holiday was much more fun. We had a great stay at our favorite motel in Gorham, the Top Notch Inn. We enjoyed fireworks and other July 4th festivities, and we had a great time riding with our friends.

But I'm now actually training for August. Mt Washington demands respect and my new bike deserves a better showing. Here's hoping for better conditions.


  1. Not sure if I understand your motivation here, but this seems like a lot of hassle to achieve such a simple task (low, fixed gearing). Why not just replacing the drivetrain with a chain just for this race only? Surely the frame could handle it. Was there any particular benefit of climbing this mountain on a belt-driven bike?

  2. Well that would be way too easy! This was actually the initial backup plan, but since Rob was willing to do some experimenting, I thought it would be cool to do with the belt. Besides, no one has ever used a belt on Mt Washington, so I could be first :-) in the belt-drive-fixie division.

    BTW, one of the cool things about using the disk mount is how much easier it is to remove the cog afterwards - as opposed to the threaded-on cog!

  3. I think your Mt. Washington rig is one of the most beautiful frankenbikes ever. I'm also seriously impressed that you attempted that only a few weeks after your crash. Prudence? Common Sense? Bah, you're the Fixie Pixie, you can take it.

  4. After Lovely Bike wrote a post about a season of local hill climbs, I checked if I could still register for Newton's Revenge and it was open! Then common sense took over and I decided against it since, as you write, Mt Washington requires respect and I wouldn't be in the kind of shape to finish it, let alone enjoy it.

    It is amazing to read about your ride, overcoming obstacles and doing the hill climb on a fixed gear bicycle. You continue to impress us with your drive to do these difficult rides.

    You are right about that memory and child birth stuff, at least from a dad's perspective. One has to have a baby without knowing what you are getting into, otherwise you'd never do it.

  5. Pamela -- Fantastic story!! I love it!! Congratulations on your medals! I can't wait to see what more you post. . . Also, please be careful -- we need to see the rest of your summer rides;) Other pam!