Saturday, August 16, 2008

Mt Washington Emotional Rollercoaster

The August racers finally got a pristine day. Well, most of the racers did. There were some brief sprinkles in the area before the race, enough to make the roads wet. But the summit was visible and winds practically non-existent. Temp was about 60 at the base too. We hadn't had it this good in at least 6 years.

I had no goal for Mt Washington this year. Having just PR'd at Mt Equinox and seeing favorable conditions, I thought prospects were decent for a PR here too. I had bike setup a little differently than in past (see prior post).

The race started an hour later than prior years with Top Notch going off at 8:40am. Several guys lined up across the front were from Colorado. The loud cannon goes off, and there wasn't the usual insane attack from the get go. Everybody pretty much eased into the climb, surprisingly. I settled into 13th place as the grade got steep. Gerry Clapper (Benidorm) and Steve Gatzos (BRC) were well ahead of me, Steve setting a blistering pace hanging with overall contenders.

By mile two, I had moved into 9th place overall. This started to mess with my head. I knew there were a lot of strong local and out of state guys here, yet I was looking at potentially a top 10 finish. I didn't feel like was even going that hard.

Approaching mile 3, I was gaining on Ian Gordon (Arc en Ciel) who beat me at Equinox. Now I'm starting to think I'm going too hard. I thought there's no way I'm going to stay ahead of Ian and take 8th place or better on this mountain. I was getting fairly warm as the sun was coming out and there was no wind at all. But I never felt better on this climb and was beginning to believe I was going to have the climb of my life.

Then it happened. A heinous loud snap from the rear wheel. This was the same sound when I snapped a spoke at Burke Mtn last fall. Sure as shit, my wheel was rubbing both the seat and chain stays badly. My bike was unrideable. I had no tools. The wheel was so badly out of true I couldn't even turn it by hand. Limited spoke wheels do this when high tension spokes pop. I didn't have brake pads on the rear to contend with this time, but the chain stays are quite narrow at the bottom bracket. I was utterly devastated. At first I tried to bend the wheel into true with my hands and then offset it in the dropouts to keep it from rubbing. It did not work. The wobble was so bad it would hit both chain stays. I stopped again. I've built and trued wheels many times now. I have a knack for how they behave. So how do you true a stubborn wheel with no tools? You use your carbon frame as a truing jig and slam the crap out of the wheel against the pavement. Oh, do this while letting out a verbal tirade too. All the riders passing me stayed well clear. I'm sure they thought I was having a shit fit. I was, I suppose, but the bike slamming was a "precisely" calibrated attempt to make my bike rideable again. I had to get to the top, as my wife is way to scared to drive back down the mountain. The slamming worked, marginally. When I got back on the bike, it was just clearing the chain and seat stays. It did starte rubbing again after a mile or so, but not badly.

So the race was back on for me. I had pretty much written off any respectable finish. At least 8 guys passed me in the 60 to 90 seconds I spent stopping twice to mess with bike. I gave the rest of the race my best shot, figuring I tapered for a hard ride and I had a lot more frustration to vent. Might was well vent it with my legs on the bike. I started passing guys again, for the second time. One or two I never saw again.

I did not run any electronics on my bike. I figured I'd be looking at something like 1:08 crossing the line. I was flabbergasted to see 1:05:33 crossing the line, a new PR. Plus Cathy told me I was 8th from the Top Notch wave. There must have been faster riders in waves further back, as I came in 10th overall out of nearly 600 finishers. This too is my best placing in this race. So either my fitness has taken a quantum jump this season for no apparent reason or the conditions were just so fast. I think its a little of both actually. You see, some lengthy stretches of gravel from the 2006 race (my previous PR) are now paved. Asphalt always rolls faster than gravel. But this year's gravel was almost as good as riding pavement too. Factor in negligible wind and ideal temps, you have a recipe for PR's. Several riders I talked to in fact PR'd today.

I predicted Steve Gatzos and Gerry Clapper would come in under and hour. Both did. Steve gave the fastest guys on the course a run for their money, coming in third overall with a 57:33, only 2:36 minutes back. Gerry came in 5th overall with 59:48, winning my 45+ age group handily by over 4 minutes. A couple other fast guys in my age group knocked me off the podium, one from Colorado.

So the race was only half the story today. The weather as last finishers were summiting was the other half. Shortly after I finished, a dark cloud began to form at the summit. Bits of rain could be felt. The temp dropped. It got darker, visibility went down, then it began to really rain. But that ain't enough on Mt Washington. You got to throw in hail. Buckets of hail pea to marble size. Where there were once hundreds of racers and spectators became wide open space. It must have hailed for 20 minutes, making the walk down to the car dicy with all the ice on the road. While we're walking down, lightning split the sky. Terrific, we're on the highest peak in 2000 miles in a lightning and hail storm going hypothermic. It was so cold. Yet there were many racers still coming up in this stuff. Many were walking, some in short sleeves. I heard from one later at the bottom that tires were slipping in the hail.

It was warmer at the bottom for lunch, but the rain and thunder continued for a while. The lunch was excellent as always. Hart's does an awesome job with this. As soon as results were posted, I had to split to catch a plane. Four more storm cells, one with extreme hail on the Kanc, made for slow going. I get to airport a little late, get boarding pass with no seat number on it because flight is over booked, and the girl does not know how to check a bike in. I stood at the ticket desk for 45 minutes. My plane was boarding by the time I went through security. Like I didn't have enough stress for one day. I was quite sure my bike was not going to make it, but I saw it go up the belt into the plan. Boy that was close. I'm in Minnesota now and Sunday looks like a good day to ride here. It will be at least 40 degrees hotter than the summit of Mt Washington.

I should have known better than to risk those Velomax Ascent-II wheels again. This is third time I broke a spoke in the rear wheel. Only drive side are crossed and thus transfer power and this is side breaking. First time, it's a fluke. Second time, the design is faulty and I should have gotten ride of them. Third time, I'm a loser for not getting rid of them. Anybody want a Velomax wheelset cheap? Actually, I think the rear wheel is beyond repair now. I may consider a set of carbon (gasp) tubulars for climbing next year.

This race put me through the ringer today. I go from abysmal forecast to conditions looking best ever. Then I'm having my best climb ever and the bike craps out on me. Recover from that to claim another PR. That just led to the next stress riser trying to get everything on a plane in time.



James Scott said...

Doug- Wow, what a story! We've never met, but I cheered for you when Richard announced your 10th place. I remembered enough of your writing to know that 1:05:xx would be a PR for you, and I figured you'd be nothing but happy. Now I know the rest of the story...

My main purpose in commenting here is to thank you for your time and generosity in creating this website. I think your advice was a major factor in me snagging a Top Notch finish in my first hillclimb. Especially the gear calculators, which gave me the courage to run a 22x12-25.

See you out there,


Anonymous said...

Isn't there a weight limit on those wheelsets? Maybe your lower half has gotten heavier? Well, whatever it may be, it seems to be working for you. China Buffets and Baconators forever!!

Anonymous said...


Another great post! Many thanks to you and the site for providing such good information.

I'm just an average rider who was looking for a sub 2:00 finish. It seemed as if minutes after the start, the clouds disappeared and the temps and sun were blazing. The same water bottle I had not finished on the practice ride, was drained by the half way mark. I was cooked & just praying for some wind or drop in temperature.

After hitting the 5th mile, I thought I got my wish with the cooler weather. However, you know that didn't last long. So, just as I had accepted 2:00 wasn't in the cards & to just enjoy the ride, the hail started coming. Huge hail! Bouncing off the top bar and hitting my helmet, nose or whatever got in the way.

Crazy really! Lightning too!

I can't say enough about the rush of the last half mile with everyone cheering. It really is a rush, even for a back of the pack rider.

Even though I didn't hit my goal, I'm just happy to have finished amongst the stubborn riders. Plus, it looks real cool when your finish picture is under hail!

There is nothing like getting the best and worst that Mt. Washington has to offer...all in one day!

Again, thanks for the site, the tips, and congrats on such a great race & time under such bizarre conditions.

All the best!


JB said...

Congrats on the PR!


plum said...

Bravo Doug.

Also, thank you for destroying that wheel. Now my Ascents will have less competition on eBay this week!

Anonymous said...

Great story Doug.

Where is the photographer when you need one? It would have been so cool to get a snap of you "trueing" your taco'd wheel.

Congratulations you monster!

Ron Thomson

Anonymous said...

One oh five? On Washington? With a broken wheel, no less? Amazing job, mate. I'm planning to try the climb next year, but I'll probably just be lucky to finish. :)

Nicely done.

neil mcinnis said...

VELOMAX ASCENT I popped a spoke on those same wheels (rear) just before mile 4! I can't believe you were able to make it rideable. I had no such luck. In fact a fellow rider tossed me an allen wrench so I could remove the rear brake. I mangaed to ride for a while with incredible resistant. As the tire rubbed on the seatstay it got hotter and hotter making the wheel grab even more. I decided to walk to see if that was faster. Then it started raining...magically the water created enough lubrication and cooling effect so that I could a least ride. I did finish (extra 30 min over normal time) but certainly a pr for ridng with my breaks on. Now we must deal with the folks at Easton/velomax..they have been pretty good..however that same wheel popped on the Tourmalet last lesson flaw! or maybe I should be prepared to do the caveman truing technique you had great success with...congrats to you! neil mcinnis

Hill Junkie said...


Are your spokes popping at the nipples? At lest they are easier to replace that way, as the end threaded into the hub can be wicked nasty to get out. All three of my breaks have been the same. It could be they had a batch of bad spokes too, but I now they run really high tension. Couple that with tiny ring up front (big mechanical advantage) and medium weight guy mashing up 12%, well, they wheels just can't take it. If you contact Easton about this, let me know what they say.


The Mormon said...

Fantastic ride Doug! You should be quite proud. Its been over a week and I'm still thinking about the ride. This year was my first attempt and I didn't do as well as I would have liked to. However, I'm looking forward to next year's race and finishing with a better time.