Climb to the Clouds

The past several days are one giant blur. That’s partly because so much happened in such a short time, and because cars racing up Mount Washington, New Hampshire were so fast they often looked like a blur, even without the aid of alcohol.

Because I volunteered for the event, I got to camp out at the base of the Mount Washington Auto Road, something you don’t usually get to do. With my volunteer bracelet, I got unlimited access to the road for the duration of the event. Each day started with a volunteer meeting at 6am, where we’d get breakfast, coffee, and our assignment for the day. Friday and Saturday were practice. Friday was on the top half of the mountain, and Saturday was on the bottom. Sunday was the actual race, and we had people all up and down the mountain.

As with the New England Forest Rally, I helped with amateur radio communications. This meant anything from being a second radio on hand just in case the primary needed help, to setting up my antenna and mast in 40 mph winds at the summit, turning my van into a repeater for not just myself, but also for the radio at the station down the road from me who couldn’t be heard at the bottom. It’s kind of a big deal. But I’ve been doing this for years, at countless previous events. Each time, I figured out what was needed, and set my equipment up accordingly.

I arrived Thursday afternoon, checked in, and found a campsite. I took an entertaining ride up the mountain with Jim in his Toyota MR2. Jim was my stage captain at NEFR, and he was back to work radio at Climb to the Clouds. It was a spirited drive when traffic was clear. At the top, he turned on his ham radio, put out a call on 146.52 (the national calling frequency), and made a whole bunch of contacts around Maine. More than 6,000 feet of elevation definitely helps make a radio signal go farther.

Friday and Saturday were half days, so by 1pm I was free for the rest of the day. On Friday I rode my motorcycle up the mountain, because I could. Up there, I parked next to another Kawasaki KLR650. As I was suiting up to leave, I met the owner, Chandler, who’s on quite a journey of his own. He came to New England after leaving Indianapolis, Indiana, rode to the extremities of Maine, then to Mount Washington. His destination is Kentucky. Unlike me, who’s glamping in a van, he’s carrying everything he needs on his KLR. That’s hardcore. He asked if I’d like to ride down the mountain together, so we did. We particularly enjoyed the short dirt section, as traffic ahead of us parted like the Red Sea and let us enjoy it. I took him for a tour of the pit area, and then he hit the road for Vermont.

Saturday it rained on and off. I took yet another a ride up the mountain with Allison in her VW Golf R. This was our view from the top. We didn’t stick around too long.

Finally, on Sunday I drove my van just about all the way to the top. I was just down the hill from the summit at station 31, a quarter mile before the finish line. You can see why they call this race “Climb to the Clouds.” You can see clouds below me.

It was 40 degrees when we arrived. A 40 mph wind made putting my antenna mast up difficult, to say the least. I hoped it wouldn’t blow down, but fortunately it was a sustained wind, not gusty. The sustained pressure was much easier to deal with than being yanked all over the place by random gusts. The fastest wind speed ever recorded on Mount Washington is 231 mph, so I should consider myself lucky.

Once again, the star of the show was Travis Pastrana. He held the current record time up the mountain, and was looking to break that record in the Airslayer STI, the same car he used in the Gymkhana 2020 viral video. Spoiler alert: he succeeded, with a time of 5 minutes 28 seconds. Us mere mortals take about 20 minutes to do it on an open road.

Fun fact: You can see me and my van out Pastrana’s side window in Subaru’s official video of his run!

While Pastrana was the star, there were over 70 other cars to watch and enjoy. Quite a few of them were driven or co-driven by friends of mine from various races over the years. It was fun to catch up with people I haven’t seen for a while, since this whole crazy adventure of mine started. It was also good to make a few new friends to keep in touch with.

And then, as suddenly as it began, it was over.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s