“I’m feeling a little bit wasted,” says cyclist Tim Johnson in a weary voice on the other end of the line. “Raw cookie dough is exactly what I wanted today.” He’s just climbed 4,685 feet to the summit of New Hampshire’s Mount Washington in 10°F—on a bike. Riding a “Fat Bike” with 4.8-inch wide tires, Johnson is the first person to ever accomplish the feat.
Despite the fact that it’s only the 59th highest peak in the United States, Mount Washington is famous for biting the heads off of people who mess with it. Deadly, unpredictable weather and winds up to 231 mph make it a force few have dared to reckon with, especially at the height of winter. For Johnson, the mountain was a mythical beast he felt compelled to lasso in and brand under the worst conditions possible. “Cycling can be as vanilla as you want it to be, or as wild as you want it to be,” says Johnson. And he certainly chose the latter. He relives the five holy shit moments that raced through his mind during the epic journey.
1. “At the top of the mountain there is a weather observatory center. People live up there just to monitor its weather. The day before the climb we were getting weather reports that said there were sustained 125 mph winds. I was like, “Are you serious 125mph winds at the top?” Even snowmobiles require special spikes at high winds or you could get blown off the mountain.”
2. “We did a ride a month ago where we tested the bike tires, all the gearing and clothing and it was fresh, really soft snow. When I started riding I thought, ‘Oh shit this isn’t going to work.’ My tires were grinding down into the snow and I had no traction.”
3. “This mountain has really hard, beaten old ice. It’s incredibly slippery. Once I had picked through the first mile of pavement and all the weird snow chunks and I was getting into the consistent ice, I was struggling to get traction. I still had more than halfway to go, so it was a huge worry. I was also having a hard time going straight and I was sliding. It’s not a wide road and it’s very dangerous. They are weary of having people go up it even in the summer.”
4. “There is a really sharp corner at the top called the “Cow Pasture.” It’s like a wall, it’s that steep. I went up and tried to carry momentum and fell to the ground and slid backwards. I had put spikes on my shoes just for that purpose.”
5. “Once we were at the top, I took the opportunity to check it out and ride around a little bit and see the different angles at the top. It’s otherworldly. I was riding around at the top and so happy that it went well and eventually my core temperature plummeted. Your body temperature goes through the roof on this type of climb. I was dressed like I was going for a ride in 50-degree weather, even though it was below freezing. I was drenched in sweat by the top and it would have been very bad if I didn’t get into a closed room [to warm up].”