What Goes Up… The Mt. Ashland Hill Climb Bike Race Separates The Tough From The Tougher
Many of us have enjoyed barreling down the slopes of Mt. Ashland on skis, especially this past season with the superb snowfall. But how about going up those same steep grades? And on a bike, to boot. For the biker’s summer that needs a serious, hardcore kick, the Mt. Ashland Hill Climb Bike Race on August 27 attracts challenge seekers with a strong dose of crazy.
With 4,600 feet of net elevation gain, crazy really is the word for this race, but there are plenty of takers. This year marks the 38th annual installment of the event, which starts in downtown Ashland and summits at the Mt. Ashland ski area parking lot. And if that isn’t enough of a challenge, Ashland Middle School teacher Wendy Werthaiser is racing the course on a tandem mountain bike. Why?
“For the spirit of it, the fun of it,” she says. “Comparing going up on a tandem against single bikes. Are we at an advantage because we have more power in the bike, or are we disadvantaged because there are two of us and a heavier bike?”
She is riding “stoker,” which is the person in the back, and her “pilot,” the person in the front is Sheri Massessa. When they first tried the course up the mountain, she remembers that their main goal was just not to fall over.
To her knowledge, there haven’t been any tandem mountain bikers in this race before; the results from past years show a tandem road bike here and there.
Which brings up the other element of this race. It exploits the age-old sibling rivalry between mountain, road and cyclocross bikers. The mountain and cyclocross riders are on a separate course from the road riders, until the last two miles, when the courses converge and the real race is on. The mountain and cyclocross track is 18 miles, while the road track is about 24. The records for the course currently stand at 1:35:40 for the women’s road course and 1:46:40 for the mountain (set in 2009 by Jenny Slawta and 2012 by Jade Wilcoxson, respectively), and 1:26:39 for men’s road and 1:26:12 (set in 2009 by Dave Shepherd and 2008 by Evan Plews, respectively). So, they are pretty closely matched, and the competition is stiff.
Bob MacCracken remembers when the race was first run in 1980, when there were only road bikes. His red-letter year was 1982, when he took first place. And though he was away for almost thirty years, he has done it every year since 2011, except for 2015, when the event was cancelled due to heavy smoke. He says that he will have a better chance of winning again once he turns 60; he is currently in the 40 to 59 age bracket.
“It has a variety and a good view,” he says. “And for dramatic purposes, about a half mile before the finish, you see the whole top of the mountain and ski area, but you know that you have a whole half mile to go.”
“It’s painful!” chimes in his wife Jennifer MacCracken. “Misery loves company, but I’m not doing it this year. I’ve done it.”
And after all this climbing, one wonders whether or not the racers enjoy the glide down?
“Back in the old days, we always rode up and rode back down,” says Bob. “I’ll bet some of the younger guys do that, but I don’t. After racing, I want to ride down in a car.”
38th Annual Mt. Ashland Hill Climb Bike Race
9 am, Sunday, August 27
Online registration closes Friday, August 25 at 8 pm