So goes the ha-ha catchphrase of the Mount Washington Road Race, a 7.6 mile jaunt up the tallest mountain in the Northeast. Yes, there’s only one hill, and some months ago Mr. P realized he was destined to run it, so he entered the fiercely-contested random lottery and won his place among the 1000 strong field of lunatics who were prepared to take on the 4000+ foot elevation gain, the 12% average elevation grade, the vaunted worst weather in America. “Won.”
Better him than me. About 7 weeks ago (since A. came home 9 weeks ago, time is measured in weeks), Mr. P hurt his foot and was forced to cease his half-hearted training. I idly fantasized about taking his place and began to work out on an precariously-elevated treadmill and research precautions against hypothermia. But Mr. P recovered and decided to give it a go, which is fortunate because his first name was printed on the bib and I would look pretty silly in the emergency room with a man’s name on my chest.
With A. in a confused but amiable tow, we headed to North Conway, New Hampshire on Friday evening in the pouring rain and spent the night in a cheap hotel that had the most unpleasant shower pressure ever — like being sprayed with a fire hose. We woke up at 5:30am, which was actually “sleeping in” by my standards, and headed to the Mount Washington Auto Road in cloudy conditions. The weather forecast called for showers and thunderstorms, and when we arrived at the race at 7am (two hours before the 9am start time) Mt. Washington was ensconced in thick clouds, as were all of the mountains, which was disappointing because we really wanted to show off our beloved local mountain range to A., who was understandably cranky from the early wake-up time. We waited around for Mr. P’s ride down the mountain so he could hand off his bag, and then about 40 minutes from the start time, it started to pour. I mean, downpour. Fiercely, with a purpose. Some runners doggedly warmed up in the rain, but the majority huddled under the large white tent and stared dejectedly at the torrent of water. The good news is, the race would continue despite the weather. The bad news is, the race would continue despite the weather.
Mr. P was luckily distracted from the rain by the task of feeding A. his medicine-spiked applesauce, which he finished about 5 minutes before the announcer urged the runners to head to the starting line. I threw A. into my Deuter kid backpack and affixed the ingenious rain roof over his head. The rain petered off so that only a faint drizzle remained — lucky timing!
The cannon fired and the race began! Normally I feel a little bit of jealousy when I attend amateur sporting events that I am not participating in, but rest assured, I did not wish I was running.
While Mr. P toiled unimaginable toils, A. and I hiked around Great Glen Trails, an area I am intimately familiar with from many pre-kid winter days spent XC skiing amid the gentle hills. A. and I made conversation about bugs, flowers, water, and Daddy (“Daddy!” A. would say plaintively, and I would say “Later. Daddy later.” And A. would ask “Daddy yes?” And I would say “Yes, later.” And A. would ask “Daddy no?” And I would say “Yes, Daddy, later!” Over and over and over…) A. refused to walk and soon fell asleep in the backpack, leaving me to walk in silence in the woods, which I guiltily relished in, but I also felt content that A. was with me and catching up on his rest. Best of both worlds!
After two hours of hiking, during which the sun came out and I got a bit sweaty (35+ pounds of dead weight makes even a gentle hill a workout), I returned to the race area and A. and I sat on a blanket in the sunshine, awaiting Daddy’s return. A. and I played catch with the little white bear that came with the backpack, and A. attracted smiling attention from the other bored spectators as well as one of the first runners to come back from the mountain top (he ran down), who kept waving at A. Word began to circulate that a runner from Colorado won the men’s race in about an hour, and the women’s race was also won by a Coloradoan. It was about noon and I wondered if Mr. P had finished before the three-hour time limit (they had closed the Auto Road to traffic until noon… A. and I saw hundreds of motorcycles getting turned away at the Auto Road toll booth. It’s Bike Week in New Hampshire and motorcycles were everywhere. Tough guys, glancing stone-faced at the big white circus tent brimming with nerdy runner-types and then turning their bikes around to go off and wantonly burn fossil fuels somewhere else. It amused A. and I both, but for different reasons).
I had spread out a blanket on a grassy hill near the Auto Road, and A. was getting antsy so I distracted him by pretending to see Daddy. “There’s Daddy!” I’d say, pointing at some guy who was totally not Mr. P. “No Daddy,” A. would say, like I’m crazy. And then, suddenly, there was Daddy. I think the game really built up his Daddy desire, because A. was elated! So was I! Mr. P had finished in a little under two hours and was alive! At least, until A. tried to strangle him with his medal.