My affinity for Mount Kearsarge in Warner is well documented here. It’s where all of this insanity started, that one fateful day in July.
Over the past seven years, I have been up that three and a half mile toll road over thirty times, documenting most of the trips in semi-obsessive fashion. Trying to unlock the secret of the mountain. Pursuing the magic combination of gearing, fueling, wheels, weather, and warm-up that yields a PR. Learning the road by breaking it down into segments that now unfold before me like a pages in a book I’ve been reading my entire life.
The first mile is all hard; I just endure it. I know it well on the way down, but up, it’s just a 12-15% brute force cardio wakeup call. Only very small breaks to be had.
Then we plateau, briefly, and take a rock-lined sweeping right into the first of two reprieve sections. This first one contains two small bumps that still require a push. Flattening out, emptying into a grade that leads past the first lookout on the left. Then a mild section that sees some time gained until the grade which leads into the switchbacks. Which yields the right-hand lookout, turning left into a short, tough grade that finds a left-hand lookout which marks the beginning of the second reprieve section. This section contains a downhill, which we push through to gain momentum into a tree-lined section we’ll call The Avenue. On a good day, you could drive hard here to the finish. The Avenue bends left and up into a final short, two-step challenging grade until it levels off at a culvert, which soon delivers the final lookout on the left. The parking area at the top is now visible if your head isn’t already down, pushing into the final tree-shrouded section. A soft grade here, it is the final push. In a line of rocks lining the righthand side of the road, there is a rust colored one that is your all-in. Full gas through the bending left-hand climb to the edge of the pavement, where the dirt begins, and you are there.
According to my records, I’ve done 3x repeats of Kearsarge several times, but never more than that. In fact many times, I would drive right to the toll gate and ride up just one time, maybe warming up, maybe not. Stepping to the plate for one great swing at the mountain, and then a 40-minute drive home.
I had it in my head the other day that I would do five repeats. It was a number that sounded outside of my comfort zone, so I went with it. That morning I hastily devoured breakfast – some toast, a banana, a handful of walnuts – kitted up, loaded the car, and took off like a giddy man-boy brimming with the enthusiasm of a Henry Jones Junior.
I paced myself up the first 30-minute run, and continued to meter my effort on subsequent runs, knowing we would eventually dive into uncharted waters. Surely someone had done this before. Maybe they had. Probably they had. But if so, I doubt many had.
It was so obvious, early on, that this would be a psychological challenge. To see the same stretches of road again, and again, at a slow and toiling pace, netting what would be two and a half hours of continuous climbing, interrupted only by eight-minute descents.
On repeat number four, I had two feelings. One, that we were definitely committed to a fifth trip. Two, that number five was going to suck. I was starting to fade about halfway up this fourth run, in spite of having eaten periodically. It was becoming clear to me that my marginal breakfast was going to kick me right in the pants. I could sense my energy level fading, and I realized I should have better prepared for this effort. But having so much experience up here, I took it lightly.
I was starting to go insane on the fourth trip and vowed to listen to music on the fifth. Having nothing in my iPhone, I sure hoped Spotify would work up here. And it did, and I tapped out a reasonable tempo to start the final ascent. My battery was dangerously low, but it seemed like the adrenaline from a Carcass-inspired playlist would get me to the summit. Unfortunately, Spotify stopped working inside mile one, and then, we descended into the bad place.
The bad place is where we forge terrible hatreds for things and make promises to ourselves with a level of resolve we otherwise would not. We stop looking with our eyes and begin looking through them, as a spectator to own our actions from within our own body. We acknowledge the necessity of movement as only a means to avoid failure, having cast the concept of performance into an abyss from which it can never be recovered. Time becomes very slow, and we are fucked.
I was impossibly hungry. I promised myself the indulgence of a sausage, egg, and cheese bagel at the local Dunkin’, and I fixated on this for most of the ride. How I would not only owe it to myself, but I would deserve it. I hung this phantom sandwich from a stick that dangled it before me in space, and I wove my way up that road, barely. Half a banana was my reward upon summiting, and only briefly enjoyed, as the day had warmed considerably and black flies were in intolerable abundance.
I sourced a small rock from the parking area and scrawled my score on the finishing grade.
Maybe halfway down the final descent of the day, basking less in the glory of my accomplishment and more in anticipation of my food reward, I asked myself a question that I could answer immediately and without reservation. I would not go up again right now for $1,000,000.
The day netted 7,500 feet of climbing over just 17 miles of ascent, and yielded considerable introspection.
This was a solid effort to mark the beginning of my taper for Crank the Kanc. From here on, we will mellow out considerably and save our matches.
For a ride that was about 100 miles shorter and half the climbing of 6 Gaps, there is no way I can complete that ride this year. I just don’t think I’m capable of doing it. Not if I shit the bed this badly on something like this. Granted, if I had fueled better in the morning, things could have been different. I’m not sure though. I’m generally so much more tired than I was in 2008 when I pulled off that ride. It blows my mind that I actually ever did it. And makes me realize, given how little I slept and how hard I bonked that day, what that really took.
I don’t like going to the bad place. It’s so bad! and we’ve been twice this year already. Do people who excel at this sport go the bad place all the time, or are they fit enough and smart enough to stay out of it? Feeling like this cannot be the best, or even the right way, to get to where I want to go. I decided that I really, really like enjoying myself when I ride.
I will be back with my climbing rig to put in a PR attempt, probably after the first trip up Washington in early June.
As mind-numbing as five trips was, Nick and Adam are pushing me to try this six times in one day, and that will take some preparation, because I’m not going to hell again. It wasn’t even the super bad hell, it was just a mild hell, but even still, I’m not punching that ticket again up there. For now, I’m content to hold membership in the Five Timers’ Club.