The Big One

[Note that links to the picture were broken and I don't feel like fixing/finding them]

The title refers to both the hill in question and the post itself, since there’s a lot to cover. It’s been a while and a lot’s happened since the last time I poked my head in here, but the big news is I finally rode Mount Washington, after being obsessed with it for about the last 10 years.

So rewind to somewhere around April, when we enrolled Henry in daycare. For a month or so I didn’t really feel, shall we say, entitled to spend my new-found time riding my bike, since I didn’t have a job or any legitimate job prospects. Then I got an interview at Wesleyan – not a job, but just getting past the first round felt good. So I started devoting a few hours a week to riding and some running thrown in. And then Henry moved up to three days a week and I got some movement on an adjunct position at Providence College, so I started devoting some of my free time to riding. (Since with no job/prospects I didn’t really feel justified riding much, because I probably should have been out applying for jobs at Whole Foods or something.) And then, in a moment of impulsiveness, I went ahead and signed up for Newton’s Revenge, better known as the budget Mount Washington Race, where you have fewer competitors to humiliate you, and they give you a $50 discount on your $350 race entry fee. So that meant I needed to start getting in shape, and I’ve actually been riding quite a bit in the last month.

And so, I’m on the fast track to getting back in shape, but things (as you will see) are not great. My time on the climbing circuit was 58 minutes something about a month back, which is a time that indicates I’m out of shape. Since then I’ve also gone up to Pack Monadnock – much easier with the cross bike and 1:1 gearing – and done some long rides, and have been doing the Smack Downs again, but I still feel pretty far from setting best times on any of my Strava segments, or winning hills at a Smack Down.

So now, let’s jump ahead to 2 weeks out from the practice ride, which was just on Sunday. Monday of that week, Carrie’s car was in being fixed, so I had to ride my bike down to her work, pick up the kids, pick up Carrie, have dinner and head home. You can probably see where this is headed. After all the various errands, I forgot the bike was on the car and drove into the garage, totaling the cross frame.

So it looked like the cross bike was out, and I was going to have to turn the road bike into a Frankenbike again. Next day there was some good news, that Providence College offered me a class for the fall and another for the spring (my fingers will still be somewhat crossed until I sign papers, etc). Then I headed out on Wednesday for a 60-mile ride to Plain Meetinghouse Road. Three miles in, going up the little hill at Sunset Ave, I felt a little knock in the rear end. Looked down at the wheel, but decided it was nothing. It wasn’t. Got out of the saddle to sprint the last part of the hill, and next thing I knew my face hit the pavement. The rear wheel had apparently seized up (pulled out, then seized up?) and I went over the bars. Not sure what happened, but I had changed tires that morning, and have a vague recollection that I put the wheel in quickly, thinking I’d double check it before I went out for the ride. The wheel flew off and landed about 10 feet away in someone’s yard. A nice fellow with a pickup truck drove me home and I walked to the hospital where I was given 9 stitches in my chin. I also had sizable chunks of road rash out of my right knee and both hands. Fate seemed to be telling me not to do Washington. I chose not to listen.

After the accident, I managed to get out for a couple more rides, including the next tuesday’s smack down. Then it was time to take apart the bike. I went with essentially the same setup I used for Ascutney and Equinox, a single 26 in the front. My options for the back were 11-28, which I thought should be low enough, or – with the added hassle of putting the XX rear derailleur, now conveniently sitting in a pile of scrap parts from the cross bike – 12-36, which seemed like it would be too low. But this was just the practice ride, and I wanted to give myself the option of not killing myself, so I went with the 12-36, giving me  a ridiculously low gear of 26-36, which I hoped never to use. I did. Probably for at least half the climb. So my time up Washington was not good, at 1:38. I was hoping to crack 1:20, but would have been satisfied with anything under 1:30. The time predicted on Doug Jansen’s page based on my Ascutney race was 1:17, and while I’m obviously not in the shape I was then, I don’t really know what accounts for the full 20 minute difference. I’d like to blame the gearing according to the principle that “you’re only as fast as your lowest gear,” but I’m not sure. I was cooked at the top in any case, so I have a hard time thinking I  could have done much different if I hadn’t been able to use the 36. Still, for race day I may adjust the screws on the derailleur to lock out the 36.

The day after Washington, when I could have just taken it easy, I went for a 5k run – this is my first time running a full 5k since I did the CVS race back in September. I built up a little too fast that time, and had to take several months off because of ankle pain. Monday’s time for the 5k was only a couple seconds slower than my race time at 24:13. So that’s good.

The next day (yesterday), when I should have also probably taken it easy, the grandparents in Manchester, CT offered to take the kids for a couple days if I drove them out. And since I was in CT, I figured I might as well go somewhere fun to ride. Options were Dudleytown, Mount Tom/Mount Holyoke, West Peak…but then I decided it was as good a time as any to finally do Greylock. My original plan was to park at the southern entrance to the park, ride over the southern (easier) approach (that I’ve done twice a long time ago in 1997 and again in 2001, I think), then ride up Hoosac and back down, then do the northern, harder approach. However, adding Hoosac would have taken more time than I had, so I opted to do just a simple out-and-back. But looking at the map, I wasn’t sure which of a couple roads I had taken to go up Greylock from the south the last time I did it, but the main road on Rockwell didn’t seem right. (It was.) So instead I rode a few miles north to Greylock Road, which looked a little more challenging anyway. When I got there I realized it was hard packed gravel, but not wanting to ride all the way back, I decided to give it a go. There is some very steep and difficult riding on that road, especially with the uneven surface. I was frequently wishing I had something easier than 34-28. I had to dismount twice to go under a barricade, but eventually popped out onto Rockwell Drive and rode the rest of the way to the top.

I had also always wondered about why people thought the northern approach was so much harder since they had seemed pretty similar to me from riding down that side. But I had taken the main route into North Adams, not the short cut on Reservoir Road down to Route 8. Two signs on that road warn trucks of gradients of 17 and 14 respectively. It’s really steep, and definitely the hardest part of the ascent. Maybe not harder than Greylock Road, but tough in any case.

I don’t feel like taking the time to embed pictures, but here are some brentacol links to the hills in question:


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