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Whiteface Mountain!

Yesterday was an amazing day on the bike!

Whiteface Mountain!

This pretty much sums it up!

Let me explain; during the Monday night post-ride pub chit-chat, Phillipa mentioned that a group was going to head down to Lake Placid for some training in the hills. With an open offer on the table, I decided to jump at the chance to ride some fun new roads!

Since I’ve long wanted to check out the area, we made a plan that would involve me starting the Ironman loop with Phillipa, Steve, Jenn and Graham, but then cutting off to check out the Whiteface Hill Climb while they continued back to the beach for a swim. Since Shawn and I have long discussed doing the Whiteface Hill Climb, I figured this would be a great opportunity! I learned only on Friday night that Saturday was in fact the day of the actual Whiteface Mountain Uphill Bike Race. However, it started at 8:00am, so I wouldn’t be there in time, which as OK by me since I figured it would be for the best that the ‘first ascent’ not occur during a race! Some more research had me worried that my 39×27 wouldn’t be very appropriate, and a quick message to Stu (who did the race a couple of years ago) didn’t exactly ease my mind. His response to my gearing inquiry was:

“don’t worry about your gearing and just accept that you’re gonna suffer”

With this in mind, I was rudely awakened by my alarm yesterday at 5:30am to roll out of bed and into the shower. I ate a good breakfast, and headed to Phillipa and Steve’s house to catch a ride to Placid. Jenn and Graham would be meeting us in Lake Placid. We left by 7:30, and were changed and ready to roll in Placid by 11:00am.

The plan was for the group to head out on the Ironman loop. I had planned on going pretty easy for the loop, to ensure I had some legs for the big climb. This all went according to plan for the most part, as we stopped a few times to regroup. I was almost immediately blown away by the full shoulders on the roads, and respectful drivers. That, and the huge number of riders out and about. Gee, I wonder if there’s a connection there?  Graham was riding strong, and I sat on his wheel for a good portion of the ride. The descent into Keene was interesting, and would be super fun if the pavement was in better shape. Still, quite an enjoyable ride. Everyone agreed that the roads had deteriorated drastically since Hurricane Irene, which is quite sad. However, in general the road conditions were still very good with the exception of a few spots.

From Keene to Jay, the road follows the river, and stays generally flat and protected. This is a fantastic stretch of road which I really enjoyed! We arrived in Jay in what seemed like a very short time. Since I was feeling good and enjoying the beautiful (hot) weather, great scenery and the general atmosphere of being surrounded by so many riders, I decided I would continue on to do the little ‘out and back’ section that makes part of the official Ironman loop, rather than leave the group here. Steve continued on the loop, while Graham, Jenn, Phillipa and I did about 8km out to Au Sable Forks, then turned and came back, where we stopped at a gas station to refill water. The girls caught up to us again here, and after a short break we all headed towards Wilmington. Jenn and Phillipa had been talking about the climb to Wilmington all day, and it started immediately after turning onto the 86. Wanting to ‘ride my own pace’ I proceeded up the hill, knowing we would all regroup at the end of the road. The road was certainly tough, but not what I would call killer–at least not at a ‘just out for a ride’ pace. I know I would be scared of it in a race situation, especially on my TT bike, which climbs like a brick, but I went up at a ‘comfortable’ pace, not wanting to totally blow my legs before Whiteface.

At the turn to the second out-and-back at Hasselton Road, I stopped to wait. Graham rolled in just moments behind, and the girls were not far behind him. No one had planned on doing the short section on Hasselton, so we decided to split here for the day. I would continue on alone up Whiteface, while the others would ride back for a swim. The others stopped here for a break, and, as it turns out, I should have as well, to refill my bottles. However, I continued on from here, now mere moments away from the Whiteface climb. By this point, we had covered 66km in 2:04:50, for an average speed of 31.31. Thanks to Graham for that! We’d also already climbed 523m, with a max gradient of 8%. In other words, this was already a decent ride!

Solo now, I rolled down to the intersection. Sane people and triathletes turn left here, heading back 86 towards Lake Placid. People with severe mental challenges decide to go straight through the intersection. I, naturally, went straight. Setting a waypoint at the intersection (where the race route officially starts) and checking the temperature (40 degrees in the sun?!? yikes!) but for some unknown reason, forgetting to check the time, I looked up the road. “Doesn’t look too bad” I thought to myself. As it turns out, the mind can mess with perception when surrounded by mountains. The road that looked essentially flat was, as I found out almost immediately, most definitely not flat. My computer read 8% right off the bat. And it stayed there. For. A. Long. Time.

I knew the toll house was 3 miles up the climb (1/3 of the way) and also knew that since I wasn’t racing I would have to stop to pay the $6 toll there. I set that as my first goal; no easing up until I got there! I was able to turn over the 39×27 at 8%…but it wasn’t exactly what I would call ‘spinning’ up the hill. More like grinding. Slowly. The first 3 miles to the toll house passed in what seemed like a short time. For some reason, I didn’t mentally consider this part of the ‘real climb’ even though I knew it was every bit as real as the rest. However, I wanted every mental advantage I could get, so didn’t try to convince myself otherwise. I arrived at the toll house, and paid the attendant while trying to catch my breath. She casually mentioned that ‘some guys had ridden the race this morning on unicycles.” – Insane! We chatted a bit more–I needed an excuse to rest :)

The climb from the toll house continues on fairly consistently. 8% most of the time, with short sections at 7% and 9%. I made it to about mile 4 (km 6.4) with a steady rhythm of riding seated in my 39×27, then shifting up a gear and standing for 30 pedal strokes or so. To keep my mind off the pain, I began counting pedal strokes. 70 seated, shift up, 30 standing, shift down. Repeat. After mile 4, this became, stand, sit, with no shifting; I was in the 39×27 the entire time! I was thankful that there was some tree cover shading the road, as I was rapidly running out of water, and it would have been killer if it was sunny. Luckily the 40 degrees I read earlier must have just been a fluke, as it seemed to be consistently in the 25-28 range on the climb. Thank God!

Miles 4-7 passed in much the same fashion. Grinding away. Seated, standing. Seated, standing. Where the trees allowed, there were lookouts to see the incredible scenery. My mind couldn’t comprehend the fact that by the half-way point, we appeared to be higher than all the surrounding mountains. At the same time, I knew I wasn’t even close to the top!  Traffic was light, and I was in my own little world of hurt. Signs reading “Rough Road for X Miles” appeared every half mile. Mentally, each half mile seemed like an eternity! My mind was trying to do on-the-fly conversions to km, and with the severe lack of oxygen, it was causing me some difficulties. I eventually concluded that km80 for the day would put me at the summit. The countdown was on!

By the last mile or so, there are a couple of ‘switchbacks’ – not sharp European style switchbacks, but still enough to ease the gradient a bit. At one point, the road flattened to 5%-6% and I hit the big ring just to mix it up, picking my speed up to 25 km/hr or so in the process. Let me tell you–this feels like flying at that point!  As I approached the summit, two cyclists cheered me on from a lookout, greatly boosting my last 500m or so as I gave one final kick. Coming up to the parking area at the top, I was unsure if i was actually at the real top, as the road disappeared into a stone archway. I rolled through and realized that YES, the road looped right back around and out the archway again–I was DONE! I hit my computer to mark the top, and rolled over to the stone wall to take a look at what I had just climbed.

From this vantage point, things look a bit different. You can see that the road does actually wind back and forth on its way up the mountain, even though when you’re riding it doesn’t feel like it. And you also realize just how far down the road goes. I mean REALLY FAR! Since I had forgotten to look at the time when I started the climb, I had no idea how long it had taken me to finish the climb. I’d have to wait until I downloaded the data to see!

Not wanting to cramp up too much, I zipped up my jersey, clipped back in, and headed down.  Passing the ‘gate’ at the top, the gentleman directing traffic remarked loudly “God I love New York” – at this point, I had to agree!  Knowing that the first two turns were the tightest, I went really slow. 30km/hr slow. After that, a firm grasp on both brakes (not full on, but firmly held) would keep me at 40km/hr. I wish I could have screamed down, but the frost heaves/sinkholes/whatever was causing the big lumps and holes in the road made that a pretty dangerous idea. I took it very easy, flying most of the way between 40 and 50km/hr. What took forever coming up disappeared beneath my wheels in what felt like seconds. Before I knew it, the toll house appeared. I slowed right up, and waved at the attendant–giving her the “Yes, I’m still alive” wave. From here, I knew the road surface improved, and the road was almost perfectly straight, so I opened it up full gas. What a rush! I hit a top speed of 71.55km/hr on this section!

I stopped at the bottom to double-check my directions. No problem. I briefly considered riding back up to the gas station at Hasselton Road, but decided against it. Again, I should have, as at this point I was completely out of water, and getting dehydrated. Probably because of the dehydration, I made the poor decision to continue on without stopping.

The 10 mile (16km) stretch from here back to Lake Placid went by in a bit of a blur. I know the scenery was great, with a postcard perfect river flowing beside the road, complete with rhythmically casting fly fishermen and tumbling whitewater. I also know that it was mostly uphill, with some decent little kickers to punish the legs further. I was limping along, with speeds rarely over 20 on the hills, and 30 on the flats. Just spinning my way home. A right turn on Northwoods Road (which felt like it would never appear) took me to Mirror Lake Drive, where my brain sent me right instead of left. Luckily no harm was done, as it just looped me back around the other side of the lake. I heard Graham yell at me as I rolled through downtown, but just continued on to the car where I had my mind focused on my water bottle! Phillipa and Steve were just walking downtown as I arrived, having already finished their swim.

I drank all my water, and went for a quick swim in Mirror Lake to cool down and rinse off the sweat. A quick change and I was back to meet at the car to go for food. We ended up at “The Cottage” where I downed three glasses of water before I had a bacon-ale soup and a pulled pork sandwich. Beer for the day was a Saranac Blueberry Blonde Ale on tap, followed by a Lake Placid Brewing “Ubu Ale” – both went down extremely well! Post dinner included a trip to Eastern Mountain Sports (my first time!) where I picked up an Adirondack Canoe Map and got some advice from a friendly employee about where to paddle. I plan on heading down on Canada Day weekend to check it out!

The ride home seemed to take a long time, and I didn’t get home until 11pm. What a day!

Now that I am home and have had some time to review the data from the ride, I’ll give a few highlights:

  • Total Distance: 112.58km
  • Total Time: 4:13:48
  • Avg. Speed: 26.58
  • Avg. Heart Rate: 147
  • Total Ascent: 1937m

According to my computer, the climb of Whiteface breaks down as follows:

  • Climb Distance: 13.03km
  • Climb Ascent: 1045m (actually 1073m or 1083m depending on which source you look at, so my computer was off a bit)
  • Climb Time: 1:00:40 (oh man, if I had known how close I was…)
  • Avg. Ascending Speed: 12.79 km/hr
  • Avg. Gradient: 8%
  • Max. Gradient: 12% (I don’t remember seeing this…it couldn’t have been for long!)
  • Avg. Heart Rate: 174 (86%)
  • Max Heart Rate: 192 (95%)

The descent breaks down as follows:

  • Total Time: 17:03 (ya…)
  • Avg. Speed: 45.5km/hr
  • Max Speed: 71.55km/hr

And some pretty graphs. The first is the entire ride (click to embiggen) – see if you can spot the climb!

Full Ride

Full Ride Graph

And now just the ascent:

Graph of Climb Only

Graph of Climb Only



Pingback from DARREN COPE » 2012 – The Year in Review
Time February 3, 2013 at 4:16 pm

[…] highlight was my first ascent of Whiteface Mountain. I won’t go into detail (I did that here) but suffice to say it was a fantastic experience, and I hope to go back again this […]

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