In October of 2008, right after I first committed to riding up Mt. Washington, I had a very steady routine: I would get up at 5, ride my bike to Cobb’s Hill Park, and ride up and down the hill a few times, then come home. I did that until the snow flew, and I put my bike in the basement, bought a trainer, and rode there until spring.

In the spring I discovered that something terrific had happened: The county had put in a gate. Technically, the park was closed from sunset to sunrise, but rarely was the gate closed. Whoever was supposed to stop by and close and lock the gate rarely made an appearance. Over the winter, though, the old hand-swung gate had been removed, and a high-tech sliding gate on a timer had been installed. This gate was big enough and wide enough that it was impossible to get around.

I didn’t think this was terrific at the time, but it forced me to stretch myself. At first I just rode around the base of the hill. Because I’m so imaginative. And, also, because usually by the time I got back around, the gate would be opened.

Then the thought occurred to me that, since I was on a bike, I could ride other places as well. Hey! How about that? So, I started planning routes to ride. And the rides got longer and longer as I got in better shape (and got a better bike as well). And that ride to work on my bike that seemed so daunting was now rather commonplace. Heck, I even rode 51 miles for my 51st birthday.

But with all the riding I was doing, there was something rather important missing:


It’s not that I was avoiding them. It’s just that the hills where I live aren’t that steep. So, after I registered for the race, I did what I always did when I had a bike issue: I talked to Bob.

“You want Miller’s Hill,” he said immediately.

“And Bopple,” said Steve, one of his employees.

“Yeah–Bopple’s a good one,” said Bob, pulling out a map. “Oh–and Gannett.”

“South or west?” asked Steve.

“Both,” said Bob, “and Hicks road, too.”

“Where are these places?” I asked.

“Canandaigua,” said Bob. “The west side of the lake, all the way down to Naples, and back.”

So, Bob and Steve mapped out a course, and I thanked them. “You may not want to thank us,” Steve said. “You’ll probably be cursing us for a while first.”

Turns out that some of the steepest roads around are about 20 miles south of me. Cyclists who have ridden cross-country will often remark that the toughest roads to ride are in the Finger Lakes. It’s not so much that the hills are steeper than other places–although they are pretty steep–nor is it that the climbs are longer–and, again, they’re pretty long: It’s the fact that the roads tend to go straight regardless of the angle, and that there’s so darn many of them.

So that was my July. I took lots of days off, and spent all of them slogging around the west side of the lake. I rode those hills, and they left me gasping. The next time I stopped by the bike shop I told them I was riding the routes they suggested. I remarked on how hard they were.

“They’re nothing compared to Mount Washington,” said Steve. Boy, did that worry me.

Another thing that was a concern was the crowds of riders. Most of my riding was done by myself. How would I fare riding in a group? So I decided I would sign up for a ride to see how I did. I chose the Tour de Thompson, which took me all over the area I was already training in. I chose the hardest ride–the metric century. (A century ride is one of 100 miles or more. A “metric century” was 100 kilometers, or 63 miles.) It was set for less than a month from the Auto Road Hill climb, so I figured it would give me a good idea of where I was in my training.

Those hills are hard. The climbs were tough. If you click on the link, above, and look at the bottom of the page, you’ll see three mountain icons. That tells me how many ‘climbs’ are on the ride. A ‘climb’ is any incline of greater than 3% that lasts 500 meters or longer. Three degrees may not sound all that difficult, but when it goes on for three tenths of a mile, it’s noticeable. The lower the number, the harder the climb. So you’ll see that on this particular ride, I did seven Category 5 climbs, three Category 4’s, and one Category 3. Or, as I like to call it, a little slice of hell.

But as tough as those climbs were (and they were tough), there were also spots on the ride that went downhill. The graph under the map shows you that. All those bumps go up as well at down. Some of the spots were exhilaratingly downhill. The best part of the ride was the last mile: all down hill, on a wide, recently-paved road with great visibility and no cross streets. I ended up going close to 50 on that stretch. I passed a Harley. One that was being ridden at the time. I came home from that ride exhausted, and pleased. It was a tough ride, and I did it. Not only did I do it, but I did it in the time frame I had set for myself. Plus I got a cool T-shirt. Maybe I was ready for that big mountain, after all.

Then I looked at this. That’s Mt. Washington Auto Road. Look at the graph underneath. No bumps. It almost looks easy. That’s because it’s all up. Up, up, and up some more. Seven solid miles of up. It doesn’t even have a category number. Just HC. I don’t know what HC stands for. I can guess.

Hard Climb?

Hardest Climb?

Hell Climb?

And I would be doing it in 20 days.

Holy Cow.

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1 Comment

  1. Donna Liljegren

     /  January 26, 2012

    Holy Crap! Thanks for the links to the climbs. Very interesting!


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