The car in front of us began its ascent and the gate attendant waved us forward. We were in to Climb to the Clouds,
Climb to the Clouds is an race to the top of Mountain Washington. The race was first run in the year 1904 making it one of the oldest racing events in the United States. It had come around in both 2011,and 2014, but both times I had missed it. There was no way I was going to pass it up this time.
“47 dollars,” the toll booth attendant said curtly, he paused after I gave him my credit card.
“You know you have to stay there all day, correct?” He asked
“ That’s what we want!” Eric, my boyfriends cousin replied.
The volunteers were quick. Within a minute he was back with a receipt, and a envelope of gifts.
In it was a list of stupid things they have to tell tourist to refrain from, and a DVD tour. There was also one of those “ This car has climbed Mount Washington stickers.” Finally on top there were entry wristbands. They had general admission printed in black ink Eric held out his arm, and I attached one to his wrist. Like me, Eric is a Subaru enthusiast, so he decided to come with us on Sunday. We joined the endless of line of cars heading toward the summit, many sporting the six star Subaru logo.
You could see the steep path we were traveling to the summit. The steeper sections tend to be intense. The road goes right up to the edge, the falls away into the valley below, which is surreal. Containing my fear, I enjoyed the view.The trees fell away in the alpine zone, revealing the other mountains that surrounded us.
Reaching the top, we exited the car, and stepped into the swirling fog. The temperature had dropped considerably, as is usual with Mount Washington. We donned several layers, hats and gloves, but the wind still found its way in. We made our way down towards the viewing area as the wind buffeted us.
A helpful volunteers calmly told us where to go, and some quick tips.
“ I suggest sitting at least 15 feet back.” the volunteers said cautiously “ Just in case.”
There were two parts of the race, the first started at 9:00am. The second part would start afternoon, and all cars would take two runs. We watched the first part just below the summit. We hid behind a large outcropping, trying to escape the wind. It didn’t help us much. It was cloudy and the wind ripped across the ridge. It felt like winter, and it took an iron will not to retreat inside. Being out in that harsh weather, makes you respect the mountain.
The first round was cold, but fun to watch. The biggest attraction was the Subaru Rally driver,s Travis Pastrana and Dave Higgins. There were Subaru rally cars, and older Subarus as well. They were surrounded by a smattering of Dodges, Fords, and Saabs, and even electric cars. The differences made the race a ton of fun to watch.
Towards the end of the first round everyone became restless. The Subaru rally Team had not yet made their way up the mountain. They would come at any moment. Then the radio crackled open, a garbled transmission tumbled through the radio.
“Number 75, Higgins, off the course, red flag.”
Dave Higgins? He held the record at 6:09.
There had been folks going off the road all day. Yet it was different. The Subaru guys were here to break the record. They were pushing the cars to their limit, and Washington was dangerous.
Luckily we found out some information later. He had gone off Cragway, one of the most dangerous curves on the hill. Thankfully he came out of the crash ok, but he was out of the race.
Travis Pastrana went by so fast that I barely saw him.
The first round finished around noon. At the end the competitors paraded back towards base. Afterward the car paraded down the road which was neat. We lined the road and watched them make their way slowly to the bottom.
We picked a spot below The competitor lot for round two. The sun came out and the wind died down. We sat on the rocks, with the sun at our back. Below us, the road snaked out down the mountain. We had a better line of sight, but the cars still got close. I got great action photos,and enjoyed watching the race. Near the end of the race a Porsche tried to pass a Subaru. The Subaru was able to hold on, but it made for some exciting action towards the end of the climb.
On his last run, Pastrana came up past the finish line as his back end shot out. He wiggles a bit, but was able to gain control keep pushing. He cut two seconds off his morning time. He set the new record of 5 minutes and 44 seconds.
Pastrana came out of his car smiling. People had crowded around him, and the helicopter circled above us. The entire time he had a huge grin on his face. As soon as he was out of the car the camera crews were there, and he told them about the race. Then one of the race official came over a checked flag. He presented it to Pastrana, and congratulated him on the new record. Pastrana held it above his head, almost taken aback, “ Cool hang this up in the garage.” After he was done with the reporter he hung out for a little bit, and luckily I was able to grab a photo with him.
At the end of the day we followed the endless line of cars down the auto road. It had been a cold, tiring day, but it had been spectacular “ What a day.” we kept saying. I sat in the back seat, quietly taking it all in. The sun was getting lower in the sky, throwing beautiful shadows on the mountains. We got to watch a new world record, set in the mountains. My face is all sun-burnt again, and I was bone tired, but it was worth it.