still recovering from the smack down last tuesday (we’ve got to be sure to keep that up…that was fun…), on wednesday I decided to drive up to Hadley and do a loop including Mount Holyoke and Mount Tom. I started at Mount Holyoke and rode south (leaving the climb itself for the end of the ride). A combination of bad planning and construction and detours everywhere meant that what was supposed to be a 35 mile loop was probably closer to 50. Add to that, a wrong turn and considerable searching to actually find mount tom, and the total ride was probably closer to 60. After navigating my way across the 202 bridge in Holyoke, I headed north on route 5 for mount tom. I passed a road on my left that sort of looked like the mount tom access road (not the climb itself) but it wasn’t marked, so I kept going. I went down a long gradual descent, and saw a sign for Mount Tom Reservation on the left. I stopped at the bike shop across the street and asked if that was where I was supposed to go to find the summit road. They assured me it was. After riding all the way through the park, and coming to 141 on the other side, I asked someone at a coffee shop. They also said that the summit road was inside the park and I must have just missed it. Turned back. Still no sign of the road. (I was looking for a 1-mile straight shot to the summit at 16% average gradient…should be hard to miss…) Then I found someone inside the park and asked him. He seemed confused by what I meant.
“There is no summit road for Mount Tom.”
“Yes there is, I know someone who did it recently…”
“Do you mean Skinner State Park at Mt Holyoke?”
“No, that’s where my car is. I’m looking for a little road that goes to the top of Mt Tom. it used to be a cog train, and they paved it.”
“Oh, that. you can’t take a bike up there, can you?”
He all but said “the last cyclist who tried that road hasn’t been seen for 5 years.”
He gave me directions, which were to head back South on rt 5, up the hill I had just come down and turn on the road I had passed on the way. Once there, it was still a bit difficult to find, and someone else helped direct me. Basically, you follow the paved road (past a few no trespassing signs) around a few bends. when you see some power transformers, look to the left and you’ll see a small path. take it…it goes up a short steep hill and curves around to the right. Then you see it. I’m not sure how to describe this thing…I think this is the hill that haunts my darkest dreams. Imagine something as steep as Jenckes that just keeps going for 1 mile. and you can pretty much see all the way to the summit from the bottom. Completely demoralizing. It looks more intimidating even than the last mile of Lincoln Gap, mostly because you can see the whole thing, and a mile looks very far when you’re looking straight up a hill. I thought about huddling in a ball and weeping. A pick-up truck was headed down towards me, so I pulled off the road to let him pass (the path is just barely big enough for a car). I was afraid he’d send me packing since there were no trespassing signs all over this road as well. Instead, he was just completely baffled that anyone would be stupid enough to try this hill on a bike. He wished me well and drove off. I was riding the gazelle, with it’s silly 42/24 chainring combo. I started in the 24 for this climb…but it really didn’t take me long to red-line. I had to stop and rest at about the 1/2 way point. And then again 2-3 times the rest of the way up. I was kind of hopping from shaded area to shaded area. I have to say, I’m not sure I’m all that sold on the really low gear thing…since this was my first time climbing in 1:1 or lower (I spend most of the climb in 24-21,23 and 26) There’s a point when gears just aren’t going to get you up, and you need legs. (In my case, the legs didn’t feel too bad, it was my lungs and heart that weren’t up to the challenge.) I guess the key is to find the right balance between picking a gear that requires all muscle and one that requires all aerobic effort. questions for another day…I’ve also been a little out of sorts the last week…maybe due to the stress of my dad dying and the impending arrival of a new child. (I was hit by some sort of food poisoning last night that seems to be mostly better already.)
the descent was tedious. It was either that or risk death. I had to hold the brakes pretty much the whole way, since the surface was horrible, which meant I needed to stop every 100 meters or so to let the front rim cool down. Then I headed back for Mount Holyoke (complete with a massive detour around route 5, which was closed just north of the reservation). I really wasn’t in the mood to do another big climb, but I persevered. On another day, that would be a really fun hill. There’s a tough section of 12% or so near the bottom, but once you get through that you get nice swooping switchbacks to the top. The descent, especially after you get through the switchbacks is super-fun and super fast. I was coasting today, since my top gear was a 42-13, but I’d still guess I was over 40 mph through that section (no speedometer either). Great views from the top of both this one and Mount Tom.
Anyway, I sort of feel like Mount Tom is a once in a lifetime kind of hill, but if anyone is crazy enough to do it with me (Khalid?, Seth?, GeWilli?) I wouldn’t mind another crack, hopefully with a better showing. And if you want to see a little more info on the climb and a google satellite image, check out Doug’s post from earlier in the summer.