I had no idea my next foray up Mount Washington would be in the winter, on a fatbike. While the annual ski/snowshow/fatbike to the clouds race (you pick the discipline) only goes halfway up the mountain, I was pretty sure that would be more than enough. My fatbike weighs in around 30 pounds, nearly double that of the road bike I’ve taken up the mountain on a dozen occasions. As I devote much of my time to karate these days, my cycling regimen of one Zwift ride per week was sure to be suspect.
Fatbiking is a finicky discipline, not unlike that of cyclocross to be honest, but even moreso. You need the tires and the tire pressure to be right for the conditions, but on top of that, the conditions themselves need to be in such a narrow spectrum. If the snow isn’t packed and cold, the ride can be a huge waste of time. Great Glen had very little snow left as of two days before the race. They acquired 4 inches on Friday, did the best they could to groom, and on Sunday we were shredding it, quite literally.
The race is a play about suffering in two parts. The first is what amounts to a ten minute race through the rolling woods of the Great Glen trails. There’s actually a lot of climbing back there, but before you know it, you’re deposited onto the base of the auto road, where you will spend the next hour or so in a steady, relentless grind on a really heavy bike.
I probably raced at 8psi and it was way too much to be honest. It was serviceable for the trails, and for the portions of the auto road that had some semblance of stable snow. But on numerous occasions when the lines up the road went to shit, even with all 180 pounds of Chris over the back wheel, it wouldn’t bite. I’d say at least three times, I had to jump off the bike and push until I found a spot to remount. This is quite a trick when your cleats are packed with snow and the grade is around 15%.
Under the right conditions, this would be a great race. But it’s too frustrating if the snow is garbage. There was almost no opportunity to stand up and relieve your hamstrings, as you’d break traction. That, combined with having to concentrate the entire time on finding a line and steering out of mashed potatoes, it made the event kind of stupid. At least, for someone whose expectations were to simply buckle down, put your head in the right place, and grind up the mountain.
That said, the event was $30! Granted you only get halfway up the road, but considering the proper MWARBH is $350, it is absolutely refreshing. It really demonstrates how much MWARBH has lost its way, and how events on that hill can be accessible if they want to be.
In the final tally, I was right in the middle at 35th place and 1hr 22m. For what I’ve put into cycling this year, that’s perfectly fine. I hadn’t touched the auto road since 2016, and it was great to be back. It’s pretty much like a family member at this point. It hasn’t changed at all. In the first minute of my warmup I went straight up the mountain, and within 30 seconds your body knows exactly what you’re doing, and it hates it. It feels bad, just like it does every single time. And it’s a stark reminder that if you don’t put in the time up front, and get your body warmed up for what it’s about to do, you’re going to pay for it.
I’m not convinced I’ll come back to do this in the summer yet. I’m hyper-aware right now of the commitment it will take for that to make sense. You see and feel it with every passing minute of that race on Sunday. Looking upward at the grade before you, knowing the next chance for respite is always just a little further than you want it to be. The best days I’ve ever had up there, those thoughts never, ever entered my mind. There is, though, a lot of time between March and July. The $350 question is – as it always has been – how much personal sacrifice am I willing to make.
Sometimes you ask yourself why you want to suffer so much, when you grew up suffering, and now you’re in such a better place – don’t you owe it to yourself to just live outside of that shadow now, and just enjoy yourself. It’s a really legitimate question! A hard one to answer. Having fun on bikes for me is really, really hard. I so rarely jump on a bike with the sole intent of not burying myself physically, and when you ride less often, doing other things that you enjoy, that becomes the only thing you’re left to do when you find yourself wanting some kind of fitness when entering races. There’s some kind of vicious cycle in there. One day – maybe – I will stop torturing myself with bike races. But they feel like the one thing that will always keep you honest.