The Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb

The beginning of fall at Mt. Washinton, NH.

So it’s a rainy day and I am surfing around You Tube and I happen to see Phil Gaimon’s coverage of the Mt. Washington Hill Climb. Phil is a former professional in road cycling and has raced all over the world. He now has a You Tube channel where he continues to chase records on STRAVA and tours the country riding in the most iconic places and chasing records for climbs. When I saw the coverage, it brought back memories of when my pals Eric Durfee, Jack McArdle and I did it back in the mid-80s. Eric, at the time was a Category 1-2 road cycling racer and extremely fit and ended up in the top 5 overall which was a huge accomplishment. Jack and I were not in that category but I recall being respectable at the finish.

A young Pat back in the day at the start in New Hampshire.

Thinking back on that day, it was a bluebird sunny one at the bottom of the mountain and as I recall it is about 7.6 miles to the top on a road that was part asphalt and part gravel and dirt. The road today is paved to the top but at the time, it was definitely a cyclo-cross tire on the rear wheel. A fairly large group at the time started together and people started to settle in for what was a grueling climb to the top of one of the highest mountains in the East – topping out around 6,000 feet. I recall settling in and at about the halfway mark( reported to me by a bystander), it was about 46 degrees and a heavy fog. Typical weather for Mt. Washington that can change rapidly at any moment. It was windy. The highest winds recorded on earth are at the top of Mt. Washington because of its location as the epicenter of weather patterns roaring across the US and Canada. My friend Jack was behind me and he reported later that he stopped several times to get a drink out of the rain barrels that were used to cool down radiators on the descent in a vehicle. Pretty nasty stuff but he was thirsty. LOL!! Coming into the upper sections, I was able to see the summit weather station and just kept my head down and grinding the gears to approach the last several switchbacks that were reported at a 20 percent gradient. Lots of people cheering us on as I struggled to finish upright and came in with a time of 1 hour and 25 minutes. Respectable for a guy from Pa. My pal Eric from Vermont was top 5 and he was a little over 1 hour and three minutes, just to give perspective. Don’t remember what Jack’s finishing time was, but he made it and immediately stripped down at the top to his Superman briefs which garnered laughs from the crowd as he shivered to change clothes in the parking lot and put on a wool hat and parka because it was 41 degrees and sleeting.

The course marked in red.
Todays racers finishing on the 20 percent paved grade.

The interesting thing is that there is a running race up Mt. Washington as well. The winning times for the bicycle race and the running race are within a minute of each other. Phil Gaimon’s winning time this year was 51.38 which was a record. Sure he had the advantage of paved roads all the way and also the good fortune of technology of light bike design, training improvements and nutritional expertise. But nonetheless, an excellent time, and speeds up that mountain are getting faster every year. Athletes today are just so much better. But back in the day, my buddy Eric made a statement. Today there are a lot of entrants with many of them making the top to the cheers of their friends and family in 2 hours, 3 hours, or whatever it takes. Many of them ride it just to see the scenery and to say that they finished. One guy rode up there this year on a unicycle. Amazing!

As we made our way back down the mountain in Helen Durfee’s van, we were amazed that we could not ride our bikes down the hill. Even with today’s disc brake technology, you would not want to negotiate that road on a bike downhill. Even many of the parade of cars descending the Auto Road have to stop to cool the brakes. It is that steep. So happy to have seen Phil’s recording of the 2022 event as it brought back many memories of an interesting day a long time ago in the White Mountains in early fall. Thanks for reading.