I woke up way too early Monday morning. Yet I was well rested, and between the sunlight, the just adequate mattress, and my excitement, I decided to hit the road earlier than planned. After a quick stop at Dunkie’s for food and coffee, I made my way north to Mt. Washington.
Early is absolutely the way to go. I arrived soon after 8 to no line at all. I paid my entry fee and got my “This bike climbed Mt. Washington” sticker. Personally, I think that’s a bit optimistic. They should give it to you when you leave, after you’ve actually completed the climb and descent successfully and truly earned the bragging rights – especially when someone shows up on a 30 year old motorcycle.
Still, I pressed on, sticking close to the 20mph speed limit. I’m not a good enough rider to go any faster even if I wanted to. The climb was mostly in 2nd gear, and took about 20 minutes. The first video in my last post is my entire climb. I went all the way up nonstop, figuring I’d stop often on the way down for pictures and to cool my brakes. The best part was that I had absolutely no traffic.
The road was challenging. The engine ran a little hot, but well within the safe zone. The trees got smaller and smaller, then disappeared completely above around 4000 feet altitude. From there it was a rocky wasteland. It looked like some toddler had neglected to put away his toy boulder collection when told to and left it strewn all over the place (which is, in fact, exactly what the receding glacier did). It felt like I was riding on an alien planet, even more so because I was all alone.
I was concerned about the mile or so of dirt road. I’ve only dropped a bike three times, all at low speed, and always on a loose dirt surface. (What can I say? I never had the opportunity to try motocross.) There wasn’t a 1000 foot drop off the edge the other times. But for a dirt road it was very well maintained – hard packed with a minimum of loose dirt. It was no problem at my already slow pace.
The summit snuck up on me as I passed the 6000 foot marker. Skies were sunny all the way to the summit itself, which was inside a cloud. The parking lot is a bit below the summit itself, so I walked up a flight of stairs to the top. I knew the air was thinner up there so I took it easy, but still had to pause halfway up with my heart pounding. I climbed all the way to the summit, but the view was practically non-existent in the cloud. I took some pictures and video, but headed back down before too long, below this cloud and where the views were.
I could argue that the ride down was even more challenging than the ride up. Going up you just have to roll off the throttle a little to slow down a lot. Going down you’re fighting gravity and momentum to stay under the speed limit, let alone the bounds of traction and safety. The dirt section was especially tricky, but since my spills I’ve learned to favor the rear brake on dirt, and I got through without incident. A group going up went past me here (many bikes were on their way up at this point). I thought to myself that this was the only time I’d see a Harley riding on dirt!
Approaching the bottom I did notice my brakes ever so slightly beginning to fade, so I pulled over to give them a break. I also took off the fleece I was wearing under my summer jacket, and switched from my leather to mesh gloves. The temperature had remained fairly constant from my cool start in the valley all the way up the mountain, probably rising as my altitude did. I didn’t need most of the warm clothing I brought, including my textile jacket that took up an entire saddlebag by itself. Lesson learned – with a layer underneath, the mesh jacket is good down to about 50, at least behind the fairing.
After a while I went the rest of the way to the bottom without incident. It was there that I put the sticker on the bike. At that point, it had earned it.