Registration for the 2011 edition of the hillclimb has come and gone, and I won’t be going up this year. I wish I could put my finger on this one reason why, but there isn’t one.
It almost doesn’t make sense in a way; all indications are pointing toward this being a great year for me up there. I’m already at race weight & feeling very strong on account of all the punishment I put myself through in the fall. I have a new bike, which is super light and stiff as hell. And I already knew the gearing I’d be taking, which would probably give me a PR if the weather worked out. So…what the hell is the problem then.
For starters, $350.00. That’s a really fucking expensive bike race, even if it’s the toughest hillclimb in the world. In my lifetime, this event will probably cost $500.00, and it’s almost sickening to think about. There’s absolutely nothing like it anywhere around, granted. But it still makes it a hard pill to swallow if you sit down and really think about how much you’re putting into this one event. Which I’ve never really done before. I’ve always just jumped online and pulled the trigger.
Now, that $350.00 funds a non-profit charitable organization, the Tin Mountain Conservation Center, so it’s not like I’m lining some capitalist pocket with this registration fee. But problematic for me personally is that I donate to charity outside of this event. And none of those charities, all of which I consider far more worthy than TMCC, see nearly as much money from me. And that feels disingenuous. How do I give $100 to the New Hampshire Food Bank, but give over three times more than that to an organization just so I can ride a bike up a mountain? How do I draw the line at only giving $50 toward the fight to end cancer or diabetes, or to keep public radio on the air, or fund special olympics. It’s starting to make me feel like shit inside. It’s not that I don’t consider TMCC a worthy cause, but in the hierarchy of who needs help, I can’t in good conscience even place it in my top 20.
The price of this event, for me, represents a substantial amount of money. Accordingly, my intent each year is to show up and give this event the absolute best possible effort I can. Otherwise, it’s just pissing away a pile of cash on a 7.6 mile training ride. In order to do put in my best effort, I have to make it the most important thing I do all year. It dominates the calendar. Other events in and around the dates of the race and practice ride are off limits, and our summer is pretty much figured out from the moment I register in February. July and August are going to be devoted to trips to the mountain, and any time I spend during those months just trying to have fun starts to conflict with this notion that I should be spending the time training for the race. I suppose if I were wealthy, I’d think of the race as more disposable, and wouldn’t care as much. But that’s not the case. I don’t know if I would approach it differently, even if it was free. I think it’s always going to be a big deal, due to the very nature of what it is.
Sometimes I really wish this event had more of an “everyman” culture. I don’t want to turn this into some kind of sociological dissertation, but the fact is that a $350.00 bike race is a fairly elitist event and there’s nothing “everyman” about it. I’ve become kind of uncomfortable with that. It’s unattainable for many people, and it violates something in me that says that these kinds of events need to be accessible and not cost-prohibitive.
Not to stray too far off track, but it’s similar to what I feel has happened to the Battenkill. That race used to be called the Battenkill Roubaix, and it was reasonably priced for what it was, and then the organizer had these delusions of UCI grandeur and renamed it “The Tour” and doubled the price. It used to be just a bike race. Now, who knows what the hell it really is and who it’s really for. I don’t believe in that event now, and I’m not racing that again either. In spite of the feelings I have at times to really want to go back out there.
I know people can raise money for the race up Mt. Wash, which effectively pays their way into the race if they’re successful enough in collecting donations. But again, personally, if people are going to solicit money for a charity, I’m not sure this is the one to take precedence over so many others. People go to bed hungry every night. People are losing the people they love to illnesses we could treat, if only the resources were available. Others get shortchanged out of these basic tenets of human existence. In my opinion, these are the things people need to be turning over rocks to find money for. I can’t, in good conscience, raise money for an event like this.
Maybe cyclocross has ruined my perspective. I’ve been in dozens of these really cheap, high-quality bike races…they almost force you to step back and re-evaluate these other decisions.
Speaking of which, cyclocross also factors heavily into my decision not to do Wash this year. Every year, Myerson’s ‘cross camp takes place on the exact same day as the hillclimb. For several years now, I’ve been forced to pick one over the other, and I don’t want to keep deferring the opportunity to learn from that experience. I want to believe I don’t need that camp, and that I’ll learn everything I would learn from it in time through other means, but that’s too arrogant & only partially true at best. Besides, if you’ve seen me race you know I need that camp. In complete honesty, if I were to get to a point where I could race competitively in my present cyclocross field – and competitively defined as finishing mid-pack – I would find that to be nearly as rewarding as making 1:20 on Washington. That’s hard to say exactly, because I’m comparing two different things that have never happened, but given the work that is required to achieve both, that’s what something inside is telling me. The move to Cat 3 for me was such a trial by fire last year, and I put so much into it, and I can see so much challenge ahead in getting to where I want to be – good challenge – the stuff that keeps you going and makes the end result so rewarding when you finally get there – I just can’t turn it off. So I guess what I’m saying is that it’s not like I’m abandoning one life goal for nothing – and abandoning is the wrong word anyway – it’s just time away from one to work on another.
In spite of all this, I threw out two final hail marys to stay in it this year. One was a sponsorship solicitation to Specialized, which I thought was fairly articulate and covered a lot of interesting bases. I really had hope for this, and ultimately heard nothing. Since it’s practically impossible to follow up with them on these matters – oh I tried, believe me – that was the end of that. My second salvo was this Racermate contest, in which you wrote 100 words describing why you were a desperate athlete & deserving of a free Computrainer and a year of coaching. In the end though, I was a little foolish to think I had a chance at this, since I’m well removed from their wealthy triathlete target demographic (which is of course who won the contest). It all wrapped up fairly tidily in the past few days, finally getting word on that one, and then seeing registration for the race fill up. It seemed time to move on.
So for next year, a year removed from it all, I may feel differently. You can never promise anyone that different circumstances won’t change the way you see a situation, but that’s where I’m at today. But I won’t be up the mountain this year, not even for Newton’s, because it falls on the same day as the Prouty.
So this is your out to stop reading – at least for now. There’s no episode in the Chasing 1:20 story for this year. It’s going to be a myriad of other different things, and at the moment I’m not completely satisfied that this is the right decision, but I have to be mindful that I have what I believe are good reasons, and not losing sight of those is important.
My cousin Eddie’s ashes were spread at the top of Washington, and not a trip up that mountain happens without me asking him for some kind help along the way. This is actually really hard to write. It’s like we have this little connection once or twice a year up there, and thinking about not having that is painful. I wish I wasn’t so conflicted about it, didn’t have to analyze it, and could just do it. That’s my biggest flaw I think.