I've had a few "epic" rides during my cycling and triathlon days but last Saturday's July 4th ride topped them all.
It was the peak bike weekend for my Ironman training which meant a 120 mile ride "in the mountains" per my training plan. Being in NH the White Mountains were the natural choice, plus there is a century ride already mapped out. All I had to do was find another 20 miles to do.
So, the route was taken care of. Now to actually ride it.
I used Map My Tri to plot the route. A great feature of the site, besides being free, is the elevation information. It told me the ride had about 5,300 feet of climbing. A little short of the 6,000 I'll face in Lake Placid but it's the closest thing to mountain climbing I can find and not make a weekend trip of it.
The route included
- Bear Notch - approximately a 3 mile climb
- Crawford Notch - long gradual 15 mile climb that gets steeper the longer into the climb you get and concludes with a 1 mile section at 13% grade
- Franconia Notch - a comparatively easy 5 mile climb and then a long downhill into the town of Lincoln.
- The Kanc - a very challenging 11 mile climb that includes a few switchbacks and no respite to the steep grade. But, the reward is a very fast 20 mile descent into Conway.
As hard a ride as it was, it wasn't what really made the ride "epic". Here's why:
- The ride started in the sun, probably around 60 degrees and little to no wind.
- As we began to climb Crawford Notch we go through our first of two July 4th parades and it also begins to sprinkle. The further up we go, the harder it rains.
- After the Crawford Notch peak, its a nice flat ride past Bretton Woods and the Mount Washington Hotel. Normally there would be beautiful views except we were focused on staying up right as the hail started to come down! That's right, it hailed!
- After the hail it "just" downpoured for a while. We stopped at Fabian's country store across from Bretton Woods to refill our water bottles, which we definitely needed. However, being soaked to the bone, not moving and creating internal heat and then starting back up we were shivering and absolutely freezing in our tri-shorts and tri-tops.
- After making the turn on Route 3 towards Franconia Notch the rain slowly came to a stop and held off during our descent through the Notch into Lincoln. As an aside, having the sun made this a gorgeous ride. I've never cycled through this notch, only driven, and being able to bike by Cannon Mountain and the site of the Old Man in the Mountain was a special thing.
- As we roll into Lincoln towards our last big climb (the Kanc) we go through our 2nd July 4th parade and then see the clouds, hear the thunder and see the lightning. I'll ride in some pretty tough conditions, but one thing I don't mess around with is lightning so we played it safe and pulled under a store awning and watched the skies open up for about 30 minutes. It was some of the hardest rain I've ever seen. Thankfully it was warmer than up near Bretton Woods and we weren't quite as cold from not moving.
- At this point we've been riding for about 5 hours and still have 35 miles to go including 15 of it uphill. We are anxious to get going again. After 30 minutes the thunder and lightning appears to have stopped (even though its still raining pretty hard) so we head out. Even though my legs are spinning I'm absolutely freezing. I think the storm brought in some colder air. Paul and I said to eachother we'd actually like to start climbing just to get our heart rates up and warm up.
- After about 5 minutes, we hear thunder again and have to pull under an awning for about 15 more minutes :-( Finally we said screw it and started the last 15 mile climb even though it was still pouring.
- While it felt good to climb and begin to warm up, after being on the road for 85 miles, going uphill at that grade was a physical and mental challenge but we made it to the top.
- The problem with making it to the top is now we had to go down, fast, and though the rain had slowed the roads were still very wet. I tried not to think about the thin tires on wet roads hydroplaning at 35 MPH but it was not easy.
- As we traveled down the mountain, the sun came out, roads dried up and by the time we got back to the car it was beautiful.