My name is Chris. I rode the Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb for the first time in August 2015. Like everyone who registered for the race, I’m a cyclist. I also happen to be living with Cystic Fibrosis, a genetic condition that affects the lungs and digestive system. I was diagnosed at the age of 4, and as new treatments and therapies were developed over the last 30 years, I have integrated them into a daily healthcare regimen that consumes about 2 hours of my day, every day. I don’t consider myself sick. I have to work really hard to maximize health. Setting big fitness goals is a huge part of how I motivate my adherence to my treatment regimen, and maintain a positive mindset about my life with CF.
I ran competitively in high school and college, have completed a half-ironman, marathon, cross country ski marathons, cycled the French Pyrenees and Canadian Rockies, too many century rides to count, and am always looking for unique endurance events to test the limits of the possible. Like all of the racers this year, the 7 miles up the auto road represented months of training, hundreds, if not thousands of miles, and a consistent dedication to a lifestyle of fitness and health.
When I arrived at the start area, in a very real way my race had already been won. I was in excellent shape, and my lungs were feeling good. In July alone, I ran 130 miles, and biked 500 miles, much of it hill specific intervals. The race was the celebration and actualization of all of my work, and no matter what the outcome, it was all icing on the cake. Arriving at a race knowing you can’t lose is a powerful feeling. I wasn’t afraid of the Rockpile, I was ready for it. I wasn’t riding to merely finish, I was riding to see how fast I could do it. I wasn’t going to beat the field, but I was racing against myself.
I typically don’t listen to music while riding. But, I rarely ride on closed courses, straight up a 7 mile 4,500 ft, climb. I put together a playlist that would represent some of the things that knew I wanted to hear and feel while suffering up the mountain. Obviously I’m in my 30’s, and miss the days when rock music was awesome. Here are some of the highlights.
Red Hot Chili Peppers – “Can’t Stop” got me going. Besides Flea’s killer baseline, the lyrics “Chose not a life of imitation/ This life is more than ordinary/ This life is more than just a read through” were good to hear as I set out up the mountain.
Mother Love Bone – “Chloe Dancer” Nice and mellow for settling into the next 90 minutes. “Life is what you make it, and if you make it death, while rest your soul away. This is my kind of love” – this was my kind of ride. Life is to be lived. I’m no more or less mortal than the next person, and I’m not going to waste ability while I have it.
Eddie Vedder – “Hard Sun” from the soundtrack of Into The Wild – I’m not a believer in setting off unprepared into the wilderness, but I am interested in the search for myself, for meaning, and for an inner strength,/peace, and/happiness.
Rage Against the Machine – “Killing in the Name of”. Because it’s a really big mountain, I’m riding up it on the limit, and I never got anywhere listening to the voices saying I couldn’t do something. F*** That.
Smashing Pumpkins – “Today” “Today’s the greatest day I’ve ever known.” I try to live intentionally. I care about maximizing my ability and potential. I was doing that biking up Mt. Washington, I did it today in my work as a prosecutor, and I will keep doing it as long as I possibly can.
Mike Doughty – “Light will Keep Your Heart Beating in the Future” Most of the lyrics don’t make any sense, but the rhythm is perfect for climbing, and the chorus/title of the song reflects the positivity and drive that carry me when I’m not feeling well. Nothing can take away what I’ve done.
Pearl Jam – “Release” – “I’ll ride the wave where it takes me. I’ll hold the pain, release me” Not a bad lyric for suffering up the mountain.. A parent of a young child with CF who had some cycling experience once asked me, “what do you think about when you are in the middle of these rides, hurting ?” I responded: “In that moment, I’m smiling, thinking THIS IS INCREDIBLE, I can’t believe I’m doing this!” I meant it. It makes me feel incredibly alive. I’m so thankful to have had the ability and opportunity to ride Mt. Washington, and I am always mindful of the many people with CF living with more severe CF genetic mutations, more advanced lung disease, or less supportive environments that make many parts of life extremely difficult or impossible.
Bruce Springsteen – “The Rising” The perfect summary of what this ride was for me. Difficult. Joyous. Empowering. I will never forget it.
Like all of us, I didn’t complete the ride alone. My wife drove 1,100 miles over the race weekend, including the 14 miles up and down the mountain as my race day driver. She also enabled the hours of training and is my daily support in all things. My sister-in-law and 18 month old niece were the loudest cheerers on the mountain (I think). My brother has been a critical part of my ongoing fitness, from our days of sibling rivalry to our adulthood weekend adventuring. He raced as well, finishing in an awesome 1:20:12 on his first attempt. I’m sure he’ll be back, and won’t let 12 seconds stand in his way.
With 1.5 miles to go I took out my earbuds and tucked them into the front of my jersey. I listened to my breathing, the wind, and finally the valley of cheers that awaited me on the top of the mountain. I believe I’m the first person with CF to bike up Mt. Washington. That doesn’t mean all that much to me – I hope I’m not the last, and I know at least three cyclists with CF who would have destroyed my time. I hope as treatment options continue to improve, that the idea of someone with CF doing a ride like this becomes less remarkable.