Crash!

I have to first say that before I begin my account of yesterday’s bad bicycle crash descending Soapstone Mountain, I do care about my mother’s feelings. Mom, if you are reading this, I know that you worry about  my fast-paced outdoor adventures. You worry about my fast-paced work life. You worry about everything I do. I Skyped you in advance of publishing, so you know what happened, but without all of the gory details. I understand what I might not have understood before Debbie and I had children, and when I was racing bicycles all over the world. I’ve branched out with my outdoor pursuits, but they are no less risky than before. You don’t have to read on. There are photos and details that might make any mother cringe.

It could have been worse.

In this story, there are some good lessons. I can’t justify why I ride, run, and compete with such vigor. Simply put, it’s who I am.

It’s what I do.

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Yesterday, the plan was to ride roads for five to six hours. I was coming off a long week of travel with more travel scheduled for September, and I had been targeting the middle day of Labor Day weekend for a long ride to clear my head and prepare for the Vermont 50 and cyclocross season. I started the ride solo from Bolton at 10:10 A.M. and was planning to meet Randall Dutton near his home in Tolland shortly after noon. I was riding my favorite bike, my Seven Axiom SL supercommuter. I rode it for a few hours yesterday, and it’s the bike I rode up Mt. Washington two weeks ago.

I rode north into Somers with the idea that I would ride up and down Soapstone Mountain in Shenipsit State Forest via the paved access road, and then loop back to meet Randall. I’ve ridden up Soapstone many times during the past 23 years and know the road well. It’s one of my favorites. I was just up there last month for the Soapstone Assault. Soapstone, at 1,075 feet, is more of a hill than a mountain, though the access road does rise a couple of hundred feet in .75 miles from the Gulf Road parking lot. It’s the character of the road, with a few good switchbacks, that makes it fun and unique in this area.

As I rode by the picnic area, a family of five was out for a Sunday stroll. I rode past them, said “good morning,”  and  looped around the upper parking lot where the road ends just below the summit. I headed back down the hill. After the hard left hand hairpin, I came upon the family again. They were spread out across the road. I called out, “on your right,” and braked lightly as the woman on the far right shifted over to leave me room to pass. I swung wide to the right, and that is when the ugly chain of events started.

I must have carried too much speed from the turn and drifted a little too far to the right. After a hundred feet or so, my front wheel slipped off the edge of the road. To my right was a wooded slope that dropped off. I thought nothing of just steering back on to the pavement, but there was a lip going back up to the asphalt and it jerked my wheel. I made it back on to the road, but at that moment, I wobbled and suddenly lost control. I went over my handlebars, but remained attached to my bike, and cartwheeled down the road.

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My left shoulder, back of my head, left elbow, and left hip took the brunt of the initial impact. I skidded on the rough pavement for a moment before I flipped again and skidded some more on my other side, until I came to a stop. I ended up on my right side with my head pointing uphill and feet down. My left foot was still clipped in to my Speedplay pedals. I had been listening to Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged in New York album on my iPhone and “On A Plain” was still playing. My Garmin GPS says that I was going 29.3 miles per hour when I fell. That isn’t that fast, but it is fast enough.

The family had watched the whole episode play out. I was already in shock and adrenaline was coursing through my veins. I surveyed the damage in a split second and glanced uphill as they walked towards me. I don’t know if they initially said anything because Nirvana was playing in my ears. I calmly reached into my back pocket, removed my iPhone and paused the song. My sunglasses (clear lenses) had been knocked off my face by the impact. Broken parts from my rear rack light and handlebar end lights were scattered about the road.

I finally heard the people and they asked if I was OK. It seemed like 30 seconds went by before they reached me. I was sort of sitting up but was still connected to my bike. My only response was that I needed to “collect myself.” I unclipped from my left pedal and someone lifted the bike off of me. The handlebars were twisted 90 degrees and my shift/brake levers were bent inwards. My fenders were rubbing  my tires, but my wheels seemed true. The rear rack had deep scratches from dragging on the road, but the frame and fork were intact and seemingly unscratched. It’s amazing, how for a moment, you seem more concerned about your beautiful bike than about your battered body.

They offered to help, but I was already thinking about my comeback. I told them that my plan was to call my wife and have her pick me up. They helped me gather the broken lights that were strewn all over the road. I recall attempting to reach for something and realizing in that moment that I couldn’t move my left arm. Something was horribly wrong. I couldn’t raise it an inch and couldn’t turn my hand. Everything felt numb. I just pulled it in to my chest where it felt most comfortable. I supported it with my right hand. My Horst Engineering Verge kit was shredded in multiple places. My left shoulder was a bloody mess where the jersey had melted off. My shorts had a big hole on my on my left hip where there was a large contusion.

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Someone handed me my glasses and I shoved them in my back pocket along with the various plastic bits and LED bulbs. They were standing around checking out the carnage and I called Debbie. It was 11:29 A.M. and 1:19 into my ride. It had been about four minutes since the crash. The call lasted 54 seconds and I told her that I had a bad fall and needed her to pick me up. I mumbled a bunch of other stuff, but it was pretty senseless. I think she understood the urgency of the request. I described where I was and that was that. Less than one minute later at 11:30 A.M., the phone rang and it was Randall, but I missed the call while fumbling for my phone with my right hand. He was calling per our plan to meet up. I called him back and our discussion lasted 48 seconds.

He launched right into the planning about where we were going to meet, but when I stopped him and told him about the accident, he switched to rescue mode. I told him that Debbie was coming, and he announced that he was on his way too. The family offered to stay with me and I insisted that I would be OK. I reminded them that my wife and friend were coming. They started to walk back down the road and I mounted my bike. I got off to adjust the bars and levers again. After I got everything lined up, I rolled forward a bit. The tires were still rubbing the fenders, but there was nothing I could do.

On my bike again, I rode one-handed the half mile to the parking area with my left arm dangling. I passed the family for a third time before I got off, leaned my bike against the fence, and sat on a rock at the entrance to the park. They checked on me one more time with one of them sharing his first aid credentials. He was holding gauze bandages and offered to help stop the bleeding. I don’t know if it was pride, shock, or both, but I once again declined the offer. He suggested that they call an ambulance, but I said again that my wife was coming to get me. I never once thought about going to the hospital. I figured that if it was my collarbone, I would let it heal and be back riding in 10 weeks like everyone else I knew who suffered that common injury. The shoulder and arm hurt so much, I couldn’t figure out where the pain was originating. It did seem to be more towards the back of the shoulder than the front.

I figure it was about 20 minutes after the crash that Randall arrived from Gulf Road. He jumped into action and surveyed the damage. He asked about my head and took a good look in my eyes. He offered me water from my bottle and I accepted. It was a warm and muggy morning and I had been sweating a lot. Within minutes, Clinton Morse arrived, though he came down the access road in his vehicle, which was odd. I thought that he might have been trail running, as he often does in Shenipsit Forest, but he had a bag stocked with supplies, including a sling, so I knew that Debbie had phoned him. He had taken the quickest route to reach me. Even in the fog of pain, I was thankful to have friends like this.

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I never moved from that rock. They put a small sling on me to stabilize my arm. Just having them there was good enough. They insisted that I would be going to the hospital. I remembered that when I summited the hill, there was a Connecticut State Police officer sitting in his SUV in the upper parking lot. He arrived at the bottom of the hill and saw them treating me. He offered to call an ambulance, but Clint and Randall told him that my wife was going to transport me. Shortly after that conversation, Debbie and the kids arrived in our van. I didn’t have any racks currently mounted on our vehicles and wanted to be able to put my bike inside the vehicle.

She jumped out along with the kids and we devised a plan. Randall suggested that Johnson Memorial Hospital was closest, but we discussed Manchester Memorial and Rockville General. I wanted to go to an ECHN hospital because I know the network well, so we ultimately decided on Rockville. I knew that Sunday on a holiday weekend was going to be a challenging Emergency Department experience regardless of which hospital we went to. Debbie had left the house in haste and didn’t bring any clothes or supplies.

Clint had a Shenipsit Striders shirt and Randall had fleece pants and some trail running shoes. We are identical in size and have traded clothes and footwear in the past. I chose to stay in my bib cycling shorts, but they helped me out of my shoes and into the sneakers. I removed my helmet, but didn’t notice the damage. Afterwards, Debbie told me that Randall had noticed immediately, showed her, and given her instructions to inform the hospital staff that I hit my head. I didn’t see the helmet until we got home Sunday night.

Debbie and the kids got me to the hospital shortly after 1:00 P.M. I went through triage and was admitted. The paramedic delivered me to an emergency room in a wheelchair. It was freezing inside the air-conditioned hospital and I got very cold. I didn’t want to bleed all over the sheets and blankets, but eventually, that is what happened. At some point, Debbie got me out of my cycling shorts. I had planned at least five hours of  “chamois time,” and I got it, just not all in the saddle. They put me in hospital johnnies that were five sizes too large. I was in agony with waves of pain pulsating through my arm and shoulder. Any time someone moved me or bumped the bed, I shuddered in agony. I couldn’t recall my last tetanus shot, so they administered one.

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I had my vital signs checked multiple times. I was questioned repeatedly, especially about my back, neck, and head. I never felt woozy, but the shoulder pain was so bad that at times, I felt like I would just collapse. After about two hours of waiting, we mutually decided to delay dressing the wounds until I had the x-rays. The kids were good, though restless, so Debbie took them to lunch at Nature’s Grocer. While they were out, the nurse rolled my bed to radiology and I stood for about 25 images of arm, shoulder, neck, ribs, and back, before they put me on the table for closeups of the shoulder.

The lab technician returned me to my room and a I rested in the bed. Debbie and the kids returned, and they brought back  my favorite blue corn tortilla chips, and a hummus sandwich, but I was instructed not to eat until a determination was made about surgery. The Physicians Assistant tending to me apologized for all of the waiting. She said the E.D. got “slammed” just when we arrived, though it didn’t seem that busy on the floor. There was a sick child in the room next to me and he was wailing on and off. That made me feel worse and it got our kids agitated. I told Debbie to take them home and wait for me to call. The PA said it would be several more hours. The doctor had taken a look at the x-rays and concluded that she wanted a closer look at my scapula.

I had forgotten about the scapula. The collarbone break is one of thee most common broken bones in cycling relate crashes, but the scapula is up there on the list too. That explained all of my upper back pain, rib pain, and arm pain. That bone is attached to a bunch of other stuff and any movement causes it to radiate pain. They dosed me a couple of Percocet during the afternoon in an attempt to take the “edge” off, but deep breaths still left me wincing. My family departed for home and another lab tech picked me up for the trip to a different lab. They helped me on to a hard table that was draped in sheets to keep the blood from contacting the machine. They slid me head first into the CT scanner. I’ve had an MRI before and they are more claustrophobic than this was. The CT scanner rotated around my shoulder. They took two passes and then helped me back on to the rolling bed. I was returned to my room.

Eventually, the doctor showed up in person. She explained to me that I had a comminuted fracture of the scapula, which she defined as “a break that was splayed out in multiple directions.” She said it was a non-displaced fracture, and she had spoken with the orthopedic doctor that was part of the on-call surgical team. They decided that I would have to see a specialist on Tuesday, and that today, there would be no immediate surgery. She said that these types of fractures require subsequent surgery about 50% of the time. After another grilling about head and neck related pain, she concluded that the worst of the injuries were the shoulder and the various cuts. She said it was OK to eat, so I devoured the sandwich and chips.

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The attending nurse returned within an hour and finally worked on my cuts. She soaked them with wet compresses, though she suggested that the best results would come if I took a hot shower. She said that the wounds were cleaner than ones she had seen before. From what I could see, I agreed. I’ve had worse road rash, but it was the shoulder that was bumming me out. She wrapped the cuts in gauze, but I told her “not to go crazy” considering that I was planning on a shower as soon as we got home. My iPhone battery had long since died, so they lent me a cordless phone to call Debbie. I had thought about phoning Randall again, but they were prescribing me pain killers, anti-inflammatory’s, and muscle relaxants. All were optional, but I needed my insurance card and credit card from my wallet, so I asked Debbie and the kids to return.

I was fitted for a better sling, given a johnnie top, and a bag with a bunch of extra supplies. The final instructions were to immobilize the arm and to schedule a visit with the orthopedic doctor. I had been thinking about the cost of this treatment. Whenever it comes to health care, my wheels start turning. As a business leader, I deal with complex health care matters on behalf of Horst Engineering’s more than 145 USA based employees. We have massive insurance premiums. For many years, our family has been part of a high deductible insurance plan (HDIP), and this accident is sure to be a “deductible-maxer.” I pride myself on rarely incurring a medical expense, but accidents happen, and that’s why we all need insurance. The quote of the day came from the nurse. She said, “We have no idea what any of it costs.” Well, that proves the point. When neither the suppliers or customers know how much money is required for treatment, irrational decisions are made.

The PA told me that she did her first triathlon at Winding Trails this past summer. Winding Trails is one of my favorite events. The 10 race series was a big 2014 objective, and now it is one of my big comeback goals for 2015. They allowed me to walk back to the lobby after my discharge. I waited outside for Debbie and the kids to arrive. It was fitting that a wicked thunderstorm was rolling through Rockville. Sunday was a day that had dawned so promising with a long bike ride on the docket, and it was ending in the pouring rain outside of the hospital. We visited a Walgreen’s and two CVS’ before we found a pharmacy that was open. On the third try, we filled the prescriptions and stocked up on first aid supplies. We got back to the house around 7:00 P.M., with more than half the day spent dealing with my crash. The kids were exhausted so we got them in bed before pausing for some dinner.

I made calls to Randall and Clint to thank them. I had previously made a call to my friend and colleague, Arthur Roti, to fill him in. My parents are traveling, so I rang my sister, Stacie, to get her up to speed. I have her to thank for telling me how much my adventures make our mother worry. I made a lot of apologies yesterday, including the one to my sister about the impact on Mom when she gets the news. I’m resigned to the fact that mothers worry about their children.

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I thought about our friends, Todd and Sue Holland. Earlier this summer, Sue had a horrific bicycle crash that makes mine look minor. After a lengthy hospital stay, she rehabbed at another facility, before finally returning home. She injured her face, neck, and back, which is serious. I don’t know how much her helmet helped. I know mine did. I got a good look at it this morning, and it has at least four cracks through the shell, but it remained intact. It did what it was designed to do. They are meant to take the shock and break, releasing the energy away from your head. I have some whiplash, but no head injury and I have my helmet to thank for that.

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So, what about those lessons? The helmet is the first lesson. It’s a no-brainer to wear one. Look at the photos. I was wearing my Road ID. Make sure you have identification on you. I didn’t need it, but if I did, I had it. You never know when you are going to crash alone. It happens. Tell people where you are going. Make sure someone knows your plans.

My athletic year has already been a tough one. I haven’t run in 13 weeks because of a stress fracture/bone spur in my left foot. When that injury hit, I spent a few weeks on crutches and in a walking boot. My triathlon and trail running seasons were a bust. Now I have a real reason to see the orthopedist and I plan to discuss the foot too. The kind folks at the Pumpkinman Triathlon Festival (my original 2014 “A race”) transferred my sprint registration to Debbie and had switched my half-iron registration to aquabike. The event is this coming weekend and it is up in the air whether or not we make the trip to Maine. I know I won’t be racing. This fall, I was planning on 15-20 cyclocross races with the first in two weeks. I was already pre-registered for 10 races. Cross is postponed for now.

After more than 500 bike races, I avoided road racing and criteriums in recent years because of the crash risk. It’s ironic that last week, I did my first criterium in four years without incident and then proceeded to crash on a solo ride. That fact will be the source of much disappointment and frustration in the months to come. Yesterday, I experienced a wide range of emotions.

It could have been worse.

It’s what I do.

2014 Kids Who Tri Succeed Triathlon

Today was the fourth time that our family has been to the Kid’s Who Tri Succeed Triathlon in Mansfield, Connecticut. Our son has done the race each year and this year was our daughter’s debut. Once again, Horst Engineering was a race sponsor. This is exactly the kind of family friendly event that our family business likes to support.

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We love this event. It is delightfully chaotic, but full of joy. The race is bigger than ever with more than 150 children between the ages of four and 14. They make each kid feel like a pro triathlete for a day, which instills a love for endurance sports.

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We had beautiful late August weather. The temperature was mild and the sky was a lovely combination of blue with white puffy clouds. The water temperature in Bicentennial Pond was perfect. We enjoyed spending time with the Ricardi Family. Their son is also a veteran of this race.

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Our triathlon club, the Hartford Extended Area Triathletes, is another long time supporter of the event. There were more volunteers than ever and the race organization continues to improve. It isn’t easy running multiple waves for kids while having different distances/courses, but it works.

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The diversity of the children is beautiful. They come in all shapes, sizes, ages, and ethnicities. They all have different levels of athletic ability, but they are all triathletes. The race organizers stress the importance of trying hard. That is all you can expect out of a sporting event like this. I always leave the race inspired and ready to improve both my own athletic ability and parenting ability.

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Our children had a wonderful time and that makes us smile too. It was their day to be athlete rock stars and they earned their medals.

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Race Results

2014 CCAP Kermis

Wow, that was fun. Tonight at the 3rd annual Connecticut Cycling Advancement Program Kermis, I did my first criterium since the 2010 Keith Berger Memorial. Technically, a kermis course is longer than a criterium, but it felt like a criterium. Regardless, it was my first road bike race (not counting last week’s Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hill Climb), in a very long time.

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I’ve avoided the road for a variety of reasons. It’s hard to find enough time to train to hang in the super-fast masters fields, and there is an added element risk when riding at these speeds in such close quarters. Tonight’s race wasn’t exactly an easy re-entry into the scene. It was a Friday night, it was raining, and it was getting dark after the 6:45 P.M. start.

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I’ve done quite a few kermis races, though not an official one since 1994. I recently wrote about the 20th anniversary of my Belgian summer. Kermis or kermesse is a “festival.” The CCAP has adopted the style and applied it to their 1.60 mile course at Rentschler Field, the old Pratt & Whitney Aircraft airfield that is now the site of the UCONN Football stadium that is name after the iconic field. There were food trucks, beer tents, vendors, and a bounce house. It was a fun atmosphere.

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Tonight, I was joined by five teammates, though only four in my race. Max Accaputo raced the elite men’s race that didn’t start until 8:00 P.M. They really rode in the dark! Our race was in the gloaming; I was joined by Pat Cunningham, Paul Nyberg, Ted D’Onofrio, and Trent Sullivan. All five of us are gearing up for cyclocross season. The speed workout was a one big reason why I decided to race. Another was that it was in my “hometown” or where I spend a lot of time, East Hartford, Connecticut.

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The short race was fast. We covered 17.6 miles in 40 minutes at an average speed of 26.1 miles per hour. I just don’t ride that fast on my own. Thankfully, our race was safe, with no crashes. The course was fairly technical with a variety of turns, including one hairpin that was challenging in the rain because of paint (cross-walks and center-lines) on the wet pavement. We let a break get away and no Horst Engineering riders were able to bridge up. We took some hard pulls at the front of the field late in the race, but didn’t succeed in closing the gap. I stayed out of trouble in the field sprint.

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I hung around afterwards to watch the elite men, man our team tent, and promote http://www.cross-spikes.com. We launched our new site a week ago and even sold a few sets of Horst Spikes on site tonight. It was nice to catch up with some of the road cycling friends that I don’t see as often anymore.

Race Results

Carter Notch Hike

This past weekend, Debbie and I were in Carter Notch for the first time since last summer’s Supermoon Hut Traverse. Our 2013 traverse turned into an epic day and near disaster. This year, we returned with our two children for a low-key hike to Carter Notch Hut and back.

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After we spent Saturday morning on Mt. Washington, we returned to our campsite at Dolly Copp. We packed the car and met our friends, the Schomburg’s, at the 19 Mile Brook Trailhead. They helped us shuttle the car back to the campsite so that it was in a better spot.

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The 3.8 mile hike to the hut took us a little more than four hours at a leisurely pace. Our four-year-old walked most of the way, though we insisted that we carry her for sections so that we would make the 6:00 P.M. dinner in time.

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We got there with 10 minutes to spare. Dinner and the evening (an early bedtime) were fun. We did spend a few post-sunset minutes out on The Ramparts, a large boulder field behind the hut, listening to the Hut Naturalist talk about the history of the notch.

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Our hut stay was short, but enjoyable. The bunk rooms were recently redone in the same fashion as Madison Spring Hut’s, which we visited last month. Our son has now been to all eight of the AMC’s White Mountain Huts at least once. Our daughter has three more to go to complete hers. After breakfast on Sunday, we returned to The Ramparts to climb on the rocks again.

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Last week was the official 100th birthday of Carter Notch Hut, so it was nice to be there near the milestone. After packing up and bidding the Hut Croo adieu, we hiked back to the valley. We didn’t have time to ascend any mountains on foot, but it was a good time nonetheless.

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On the way home, we had a late lunch at Cafe Noche in Conway. Then we drove the Kancamagus Highway across to Woodsville, NH, crossed the border in Wells River, VT, and after a brief stop in Putney, VT, were home by 7:00 P.M. Like I said, it was a short, but fun return trip to the White Mountains.

2014 Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hill Climb

Yesterday, I returned to the Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hill Climb after a 13 year absence. I’ve been ailing since May with a stress fracture and bone spur in my left foot; and hadn’t done any kind of race in 10 weeks. That’s a long stretch for me, especially in the heart of the summer. I average 40 races a year, so there has been some adjusting to do. My heel still hurts with every step and I’m going to have to deal with it (rest) after cyclocross season, but for now, I’m plugging ahead, though with no running. My triathlon season was a bust and my trail running season ended early, so I was looking for something “low impact” and fun to focus on. Late last month, I put my name on the wait list for the hill climb, and it wasn’t long before I got the invitation to register.

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Sadly, my 1:17:33 was the slowest time of the five times that I’ve done the race, but that was to be expected. A 1:12:00 would have been preferred, but it just wasn’t in the cards. I haven’t had the time to train and I don’t climb like I used to. Work and family responsibilities are greater than ever and with my injury limiting me, I was forced to just gut this one out. I was really hoping to pit my 41-year-old body vs. my 28-year-old body. My best time was in 2000 when I was 27. The 1:08:04 I rode that day might stand as my best ever, though I’ve got the itch to return in 2015 and give it another shot. 2001 was 1:11:04, 1999 was 1:10:37, and 1997 was 1:14:54. I’m happy with all five of these races. I’m pumped to be able to do what I do.

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The 7.6 mile climb from the base to the top of the road, just shy of the 6,322 summit, gains 4,618 feet at an average grade of 12%. The final pitch is notorious for its 22% grade. The race is paved for most of the way, though there is a long section of dirt in the final third. The scenery is amazing. This is the most beautiful hill around, and one of the most amazing bicycle courses in the world. It’s a short race, but a painful one. My GPS data is worth checking out.

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I rode my Seven Axiom SL, which is my everyday bike. It’s the same bike that I commute to work on. I got some great compliments, even in the middle of the climb. One guy couldn’t get over my fenders, and the fact that I was hauling useless weight to the top. He was yelling over the howling wind at his buddy, who was one switch back up, to check them out as I passed. It is my favorite bike because it can do it all. I’ve ridden it on paved roads, dirt roads, in criteriums, to work, and now on Mt. Washington. I didn’t have any special gearing. I rode the 39 x 27 “stock gears.” The only modifications were that I removed my headlight, my rear rack, and my tail light. That saved me a few pounds, but it was largely irrelevant. The big change in weight was my own. I’m lean, but in 2000, I was really lean. I had a different kind of body that was built for riding. I was 15 pounds lighter. Over the past 13 years, I’ve ridden less, run more, and aged a bit.

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I don’t know why it took me so long to return to one of my favorite all time races. Like I said, I haven’t done as much pure road riding in recent years. The $350 entry fee has been a mild deterrent, but really shouldn’t have been because the proceeds are for a good organization, the Tin Mountain Conservation Center. Horst Engineering and the Livingston Family have a strong interest in conservation/environmental philanthropy, so it is nice to support Tin Mountain’s good work. I think the first four times, it was only $100 for the entry fee, and that was steep back then. This race is an amazing fund-raiser. There were 517 finishers and probably nearly 600 registrants.

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I’ve climbed Mt. Washington many different ways over the years. In addition to the bicycle hill climb, I’ve done the running race once, and hiked the mountain many times. However, the 2006 Sea-to-Summit remains my second toughest one day race (after the 2010 Ironman Brasil) and it was my hardest ever day on Mt. Washington. The race consisted of a 12 mile kayak up the Piscataquis River to Berwick, Maine. Then, after a transition, we rode 90 miles to Jackson, New Hampshire. From there, we ran four miles uphill on Rt. 16 to Pinkham Notch. Then, we ran/hiked the five and a half miles up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail to the summit in gale force winds blowing cold rain and sleet at 6,322 feet, the highest point in New England.

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The auto road is an amazing feature and has a rich history. The summit of Mt. Washington isn’t my favorite. I much prefer remote mountains, but you can’t ride your bicycle up remote mountains, so I make an exception for this race. I’ve been up a few of the other hills in the BUMPS Northeast Hill Climb Series, and New England has some other fine climbs. Mt. Washington is considered Hors Categorie by European standards, and is likely the hardest road bike climb in the world. It’s tougher than Alpe d’ Huez, Angliru, Mortirolo, Mt. Ventoux, and many of the other famous mountain top finishes. In the past, I started in the Top Notch first wave, but yesterday, I was in the third wave with my age group. That was OK. We started 10 minutes behind the first wave and five minutes behind the second wave. I had many riders to pass, but it wasn’t an issue. Seeing people gave me someone to chase. My Horst Engineering Cycling Team mate, Gerry Clapper, is one of the best climbers in New England and he is an amazing masters rider. He rode 1:05:09, good for 14th overall and first in the 50-54 age group.

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Yesterday, we had decent weather. It was mild in the valley at the start with a temperature in the low-60’s Fahrenheit. The temperature was cool above tree line. It was about 37 degrees Fahrenheit at the summit with a wind-chill in the high 20’s. The wind was blowing at a steady 20-25 miles per hour, with higher gusts. There are multiple switch backs, so sometimes the wind was at your back, and some times it was in your face. The headwind did slow me, but the temperature was perfect. Naturally, I was chilled when I finished. Debbie and the kids were fantastic. They drove up ahead of me to meet me at the top and were waiting for me when I finished.

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The four of us scrambled the final feet to the summit for a photo opportunity, though the kids were frozen solid, as was the camera. Thankfully my iPhone worked. Then we descended to the summit building and checked out the recently renovated Mt. Washington Observatory museum. After the kids drove the virtual snow cat, and after we checked out the anemometer that recorded the record-setting 231 mph wind gust in 1934, we found our car and waited for the race to end. The fog and clouds cleared a bit, giving us some momentarily spectacular views. Everyone has to cross the line before they let the cars back down the mountain because the road is closed for the riders. You are only permitted to ride the auto road four days a year. Once for each race (Newton’s Revenge is held in July) and once as a pre-ride for each race.

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One of the last finishers was a unicyclist, which was an amazing sight to see. It took him three tries to negotiate the final 22% grade, which has two wicked switchbacks. The crowd roared in approval as he made his way to the finish line. The summit was a zoo, which I can deal with for special circumstances like this race. We drove down to the base in about 30 minutes, grabbed a plate of food from the tent, and returned to Dolly Copp Campground, where we spent Friday night. We visited briefly with some friends at the 19 Mile Brook Trailhead, before hiking four miles up to Carter Notch Hut on the other side of Pinkham Notch, where we spent Saturday night. This morning, we hiked back down and made our way back to Connecticut after stops in Conway, NH and Putney, VT. It was another action packed weekend for the Livingston Family, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.

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I’m already planning my return to Mt. Washington for 2015 or beyond.

Race Results

2014 Soapstone Assault & Shenipsit Striders Summer Picnic

Today was the Soapstone Assault. For info about the race and its modified Dipsea Race style handicap start, check out last year’s post and prior year posts. The Assault was the 5th of 10 races in the Connecticut Blue-Blazed Trail Running Series. Next up is People’s Forest this coming Saturday.

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Thanks to both the Series and the Shenipsit Strider summer picnic, we had a record number of starters (57) at today’s race.

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We have a wonderful running club and there was quite a spread. Our newest tent debuted last week at the Vermont 100 Mile Endurance Run. Our club took over the Pretty House Aid Station and will likely man it again in 2015. I can’t wait. If it wasn’t for our Lake Tahoe trip and the Tahoe Rim Trail Endurance Runs, we would have been in Vermont to help out. That tent came in handy today.

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Brett Stoeffler won today’s race outright and also had the fastest handicap time. The day started muggy and it was dry at the start, but about 30 minutes into the race, a massive thunderstorm rolled through, drenching the runners and volunteers.

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We made the best of it. It was warm, so everyone was in good spirits. I saw a lot of smiles on the trails today. The picnic was fantastic and many of the runners lingered to join us in the fun. I rode to and from Soapstone Mountain, so I got wet too.

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Race Results (will be posted when they are available)

1994 Belgian Summer & Le Tour de France

It’s 20 years ago today that I was in Paris for the final stage of Le Tour de France. It is the only Tour stage that I’ve watched in person and it was a fine spectacle that day on the Champs-Élysées. I recall that Frankie Andreu, riding for Motorola, made the break, and I think he finished second to Eddy Seigneur, who made all of France proud on that day. It’s amazing how far professional cycling has come (and fallen) in the past 20 years. I left a bit of my love for the sport in Paris that day and in Belgium that summer.

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The best cycling that summer wasn’t the cycling we watched, but rather the cycling we did. With a small group of friends, including Jon Gallagher, Peter Brennan, Joe Cady, and Rob Dapice, we embarked on an adventure to test our skills against the top Belgian amateurs. I rode in 12 kermesses over six weeks in July and August. We were thoroughly outclassed by the Belgians and other Europeans, but we also didn’t take amphetamines and other drugs like many of them did. It was demoralizing to compete with cheaters, but we gave it our all.

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Our base camp was a rented house in Merchtem, Belgium, about 20 minutes outside of Brussels. Merchtem was famous for being the European home of Sean Kelly, the decorated Irish cyclist. Peter and Joe had connections and arranged the trip. They had been over there before, but it was the first time that Jon and I traveled to “live the dream.” Jon returned several more times in the following years as he honed his skills and speed.

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The Merchtem house was home for several cyclists. That summer, in addition to the American contingent, there were four or five Norwegian cyclists too, including several who rode for the Norwegian national team. One of them, Svein Gaute Hølestøl, was really talented and rode in the Olympics a few times. He was on a different race scheduled than the others, and would often return on Sunday evenings with trophies, flowers, and other prizes.

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Our house was right on a popular Sunday ride route. Thousands of cyclists would go by in a day. Many times, they were in large groups of club riders complete with a sag wagon and mechanic. It was awesome to watch. On several of our training rides, we would come across the legendary Eddy Merckx. He often rode with a friend and we would see him on the roads outside of Brussels where he lived and worked. We would ride by and yell, “Eddy!”

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We all wanted to ride like Svein Gaute did, but he was a class above. I got my first taste of how a “team doctor” could help your fitness. The Norwegians used to fill their water bottles with the contents of IV bags that they sliced open. They had a good pharmacist too.

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That summer was the last time that I raced a bicycle on European soil. Belgium is an amazing little country if you are a cycling fan, and we soaked up all of the cycling we could. That summer, there was a race every day of the week in a tiny country that isn’t much bigger than Connecticut. Each race had its own character.

The 12 I rode (in reverse order) were:

Merchtem Kermesse
Dendermonde-Grembergen Kermesse
Bellingen Kermesse
Londerzeel Kermesse
Borgt-Grimbergen Kermesse
Blaimont Kermesse
St. Ulriks Kapelle Kermesse
St. Niklaas/Sinaii Kermesse
Grimbergen Kermesse
Zottergem Kermesse
Eizenringen Kermesse
Londerzeel Kermesse

In Dutch or Flemish, kermesse means festival and each race was a party.  The start was usually at a bar and the finish was at a different bar. There were lots of food trucks with frites and other tasty foods. Many times, there was a carnival complete with amusement park rides. Weekdays, the races started late in the afternoon, usually around 3:00 P.M. We did some evening races too. Most of the circuits were 5 kilometers to 12 kilometers long and there were many laps.

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A highlight was the race that we were paid “start money” by the promoter. He wanted some Americans to liven up the race. We rode our butts off. I think we spent the money on a trip to the movies and beer, but my memory has faded during the past 20 years and I don’t remember as much about that summers as I would like. It would have been a great summer if Facebook and Twitter were invented!

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This trip was also long before I had a digital camera, so the few film photos I have paint a picture, but by no means tell a story. We rode our bikes more than 500 kilometers a week and at least on one occasion, 700 kilometers in a week. We traveled many of the roads made famous by the spring classics, including the Tour of Flanders, Ghent Wevelgem,  Het Volk. We had occasional access to a car, but we rode everywhere including the grocery store, and of course, the races.

That confined us to Flanders most of the time, though we did do one race in the French-speaking south of Belgium. We “rested” on most Mondays, which was our day to take side trips. We visited Amsterdam, Antwerp, Ghent, Waterloo, Luxembourg, and many other places around Belgium.

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The trip to Paris was a long weekend that we took off from bike racing. We took the train from Brussels on a Saturday afternoon. We wandered around Paris late into the night before sneaking onto the grounds of the Tuileries Palace and sleeping on park benches. There were gendarmes everywhere, standing guard for the big race and the crowds that came with it, but we were able to get a little shuteye. The entire summer was spent on a tight collegiate style budget and we stretched our Belgian Francs a long way!

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We got up early on Sunday and walked all over the city. We went to the top of the Eiffel Tower and had nice, but hazy views of the city. We got over to the race course fairly early in the afternoon in an effort to stake out a spot close to the Arc de Triomphe, where there is a hairpin turn on the course that slows the riders. It’s a popular viewing spot and there was like a 1,000,000 people watching the race that day.

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As the day heated up, Peter, Jon and I took turns saving our spot against the barriers while the others rested in the shade and went for snack and bathroom breaks. Late in the afternoon, the race caravan rolled through, followed by the riders themselves. It was a fun festive atmosphere. We had watched nearly every stage live on Eurosport at the Merchtem house, usually with the viewing session sandwiched by long rides of our own.

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After the race was over, we lingered before catching a series of trains to Euro Disney, which was a very American thing to do. Our move was fortuitous. We split the cost of a hotel room at the park. On Monday, we spent the day at the Magic Kingdom. We chose a restaurant for dinner and splurged. We chose the right restaurant because a large party arrived to sit at the table next to us. It was a special event and it included multiple past Tour winners and famous cyclists including Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche, Bernard Hinault, Laurent Fignon, Charlie Mottet, and others.

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We got to meet several of them, including Kelly, who we shared our Merchtem stories. Hanging in my garage, I have a large poster of Stephen Roche winning the 1987 World Championships. He won the Triple Crown that year by winning the Giro d’Italia, the Tour de France, and the World’s. In the corner of the framed print is a Disney postcard that I got that day with his autograph. When he signed the postcard, he chatted with us about our own experiences racing in Europe. He had a yellow jersey slung over his shoulder the entire time. We were excited to have ended a trip with such luck and partied late into the night. On Tuesday, we were back in Belgium and riding hard again.

It’s hard to believe that 20 years have passed, and I was never going to be a professional cyclist, but I look back on the experience and realize that it was a good one. We had fun.


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Fish Family Farm Day to benefit the Lutz Children's Museum. #lutz #farm #cows #sevencycles @seven_cycles Good to be back on home soil! #vegas #bellagio #vegas Another delayed flight... #vegas #bellagio This has been one heck of a trip and it isn't over yet! A little Pacific #surf at #coronadelmar state beach. Our new Citizen A32 Swiss screw machine. First job: Making a few thousand Caps for an #aerospace application. #precisionmachining #horstengineering #madeinmexico #hooverdam #737 Got my second #x-Ray of the summer. This time it was whole body, not just my left foot...and it was free. #nogales There is always a first time for everything. I've never sweat so much at work! #insanity #beachbody workout #horstengineering #teamhorstsports

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