During the second week of June riders have the opportunity to ride the most spectacular road in the Northeast. On Monday June 11th and Thursday the 14th the Mt. Washington Auto road becomes a motorcycles-only highway to heaven for the annual Ride to the Sky event—weather permitting.
Everything is “weather permitting” as this mountain has the reputation for having the worst weather in the world and motorcyclists won’t even be allowed to make the 7.6-mile journey if winds are above 40 mph. There are more than a 100 days a year when hurricane-force winds ravage the mountain and in 1934 a wind speed of 231 mph was recorded. Down in the valley it can be 75 degrees while sleeting at the summit – this is from personal experience. It’s this unpredictable weather than makes this one of the top ten deadliest mountains in the world, ranking immediately behind Mt. Everest. Of course, Everest doesn’t get a quarter-of-a-million visitors a year.
Originally built for horse-drawn carriages in 1861, the Mt. Washington Auto Road is the oldest manmade tourist attraction in the United States. Then, as now, people made the ascent to experience the alpine terrain and spectacular views. There weren’t protective guardrails along the road during the 1800’s and there aren’t any now—this tends to make people nervous, but really it’s psychological. Yes, one motorcyclist did die when he lost control due to excessive speed or brake failure, but it was a tree that was his nemesis, not rocks or a drop off. It’s freaked out car drivers that are the major threat on this road and for the last few years I’ve only made the ascent during these special motorcycle-only days.
Potentially bad weather, thousands of bikers, white-knuckle corners in first or second gear, and only a 15.2-mile round trip: why bother? Because it is an incredible road, the most spectacular motorcycle road most people will ever get to ride. Because on a clear day you can see the Atlantic Ocean and have the sensation you’ve reached the pinnacle of the world. And because it is an adventure, a pure adrenaline rush that makes one feel alive just by doing it. Finally, because you get an iconic bumper sticker that reads, “This Bike Climbed Mt. Washington” and bragging rights that go with it.
The Mt. Washington Auto Road is located on Rt. 16 in Pinkham Notch just north of Conway, NH.
$15 for bike and operator; $8 for each adult passenger. The tollbooth opens at 7:30 in the morning and the road closes at 6 PM. For an added incentive, those who arrive before 10 AM on Thursday morning aren’t charged for passengers.
Weather can be checked online or simply look north: if you can see the summit, go for it.
Bring WARM gear. I’ve personally experienced a 40-degree difference between the base and summit of the mountain.