Back to New Hampshire

Continuing the story from last summer…

From August of 2008 through February of 2011 I had done a lot of work. From March through July I did a whole lot more. Now, in August, it was time to see whether I had done enough.

It was time to go back to Gordon’s.

I took 10 days off before the day of the ride, and 2 days off after. I dropped the kids off at a friend’s houseĀ  in Connecticut, and continued on to New Hampshire. Mount Washington is known for its ‘changeable’ weather, so I brought just about all my riding gear–including my winter stuff. The race has been known to be canceled–for snow. In August. But there has to be a LOT of snow for it to be canceled. Or lightning. Other than that, the race is on.

Gordon’s farm is about an hour’s drive south of Mt. Washington, but it’s still a rather hilly place. Gordon showed me showed me a few routes that he would ride back when he was competing, and even rode a few with me.

There are some people who don’t really age. They just get seasoned, like fine oak. That’s Gordon.He doesn’t look much different than when he was in college. He eats right, and life on the farm will always trump lunchtime trips to the gym. So, even though Gordon hadn’t done much riding in the past few years, it was a bit of validation when I not only could keep up with Gordon, but I could pull ahead of him at the finish.

But riding on some rolling hills ain’t climbing a mountain. So, we put the bikes on the back of his car, and drove to Hurricane Hill.

Hurricane Hill is in Conway, which is the town nearest to Mount Washington. It’s actual name isĀ  Hurricane Mountain but it’s often called a hill for two reasons: 1) It’s a lovely alliteration, and 2) It’s in the shadow of the entire Presidential Range, and compared to them, it just doesn’t look all that mountainous.

But it’s a steep, steep climb. The road on the west side is a 1.5-mile-long 15-degree ascent. The road on the east side is nearly 2 miles, but only(!) a 12.5 degree incline. We got there around 11 am, and started climbing.

We started out slow, and I let Gordon take the lead. But a few hundred yards into the climb, Gordon moved to the side. “Don’t let me slow you down,” he said. I don’t know if I accelerated as much as he slowed down, but I started putting distance between us. About a mile into the climb there was a switchback that felt like it was going to be impossible. I got up out of my saddle and pushed. I won’t lie to you: part of what got me past that bit of hell was knowing that Gordon was behind me. I was pretty sure he didn’t think I would be able to do this. And with good reason. This was nothing at all like anything I’d ever done. He’d never see me push myself, because I never pushed myself.

Well, I was pushing myself now.

I made it to the top a good 5 minutes before he got there. I knew that he hadn’t been riding in a while, but I still wanted to make a statement. And he was impressed. For a minute.

“Now go down the east side, and come back up. I’ll wait for you here,” he said.

Oh. “You’re not coming with me?” I asked.

“I don’t have an appointment with Mount Washington on Saturday. You do,” was his response.

So I did it.

Yikes.

I’ve said it before: riding up a steep incline is tough. Riding down is scary. This time, though, I was also scared because I wasn’t sure I would be making the ride back up. I rode down until the road leveled out, then turned around and climbed back up again.

Ever have one of those moments when something you know intellectually hits you emotionally? Lots of times they’re negative. For about a year after my Dad died I would get these moments when the bottom would drop out of my soul, where I would really, deeply feel the fact that he was gone.

About a half-mile back up the hill I had one of those moments. But this time it wasn’t at all negative. I can do this, I thought. I’m ready. It will be hard, and it will hurt like hell, but I can do this.

Gordon met me about a half-mile from the top. He had started to worry about letting me go by myself. “No problem,” I gasped. “I’m good.”

And I was. Until we started back down again. Yikes.

We put the bikes on the back of his car, and drove down to a little wide spot near a bridge over what was either a small river or large stream, and we sat and ate some sandwiches and fruit we packed.

“I gotta be honest,” Gordon said, “When you told me what you wanted to do, I didn’t think you had a chance of doing it.”

Told ya.

“But watching you climb today–you’re ready.”

It felt really good to hear that. And, knowing what was coming, I’d take any good feeling that I could.