The Mt Washington Auto Road ALT Energy Summit 2013: Play-by-Play

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Just about a year ago, I rode the R5e, with 3 battery packs cobbled together, to the summit of the tallest mountain in New England.  Something like a month before that I’d been reading about Pikes Peak, stumbled on something about the Mt Washington Auto Road, and found they had what they called an “Alternative Energy Day”.  I shot an email off, learned that my unregistered bike was welcome, that the event was on, and so trundled the bike into the trailer and headed up.  I was met by the GM of the Auto Road, Howie Wemyss, who drove with me all the way – thankfully, since my bike had no kickstand.  Howie graciously propped my bike up several times while I swapped out packs.  I made it to the summit, not without a little “Fred Flintstone” action at the very top, to become the third electric motorcycle in history to do so.  I was joined at the base by John Anderson, shown above.  We were the “Alternative Energy Day” for 2012.

I’d been emailing back and forth the first and second guys – Charlie MacArthur, from outside of Dover-Foxcroft Maine, now a spry 86, and none other than the EV legend Mike Corbin.  These guys made their climb in ’74 and ’75.  Their enthusiasm and support was both infectious and profoundly generous.  We all agreed the Mt Washington Auto Road Alternative Energy Regatta of the 1970s needed to be revived, and the “Alternative Energy Day” needed to be re-booted.  Apparently a few years ago there had been an effort to do so, but it had fallen flat.  We decided to give it a shot.

Winter came and went, and by Spring it seemed like we’d made very little progress.  In May I packed the bike up for another run, now with a new 40ah CALB pack, courtesy of Mike Corbin and the Corbin Sparrow team, and headed up to the mountain.  We put a plan together to get the weekend jump-started.

Fast-forward through a few months of relentless emails, meetings and phone calls to last Monday, and the registrations kept coming in.  People were still calling to see if they could come, and it was looking like we had over 25 participants, possibly over 40 vehicles and some actual press coverage.  Howie told me we had an actual sponsor.  The New Hampshire Electric Co-op wanted to be a part of it.  Others were interested in participating as well: both the Berlin Area Renewable Energy Initiative and the Electric Auto Association wanted to come.  Based on experience, I expected to see about half of that, especially considering the weather report – two partly-cloudy days nestled in a solid week of rain and thunderstorms.

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I made two trips – one the previous weekend to take one bike up, the second, Friday the 13th, to bring Mark Stewart’s ELF up along with my dirt bike project, still in process.   I left that morning at about 10AM.  By the time I pulled on to Route 25 in Meredith, NH, it was looking like heavy rain was up ahead.  I drove through some showers, one downpour, and got to the mountain by mid-afternoon with spotty showers to find the Foxfire Energy guys (with Bubba the Dog)  already there and setting up the generator.  Joined by Steve Goldsmith of SolarFest and Frank John, a friend from ElMoto, we waited out the rain, saw the skies clear out a bit, had some late lunch and set up camp.

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(photo by Carley Williams, Foxfire Energy)

In the wee hours of Saturday morning we started hearing showers coming through, turning into a downpour.  At about 5AM I looked out of the tent to see Jeff Disinger and his trailer, on the other side of the gate, after a 10-hour drive, standing in the rain.

By 7AM the rain had stopped.  By 8AM the sun started peaking out, and people started arriving.  Charlie MacArthur and Mike Corbin drove up with the trailer and unloaded the Corbin Sparrow, sn#100, completely refurbished and fitted with lithium power, Jeff rolled his trailer in and unloaded the Eletracutioner – the quickest street-legal motorcycle in the world in the 1/4 mile, along with a trailer load of other electric toys, an owner with a Tesla arrived, some Volts, and a mad young inventor with the Black Sparrow – a three-wheeled skateboard on steroids with electric power – and we had a party rolling.

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As the morning progressed we had dealers roll in and owners bringing their cars, along with Zoombikes, an e-bike dealer from VT giving test rides.  Dragonfly Aerials came, and as we lined up for the ALT Energy Parade we heard the buzz of their quad-copter mounted cameras hovering over us…  we circled the field a few times and then queued up for the summit attempt.

The summit was still in the clouds, and at about 5000′ it started getting cold, wet and windy.  Several drivers had to pull over, among them Mike Corbin in his Sparrow.  I was one of the first to make the summit, and hung around for a while, trying to get reports on how people were doing.  Mike’s Sparrow had controller problems, it sounded like…  he had plenty of battery, and was trying to let his motor controller cool off before starting back up.  It looked like my plan to meet with Charlie and Mike for a toast on the summit was not going to happen.

After trying to stay warm, and looking at the bike, which was now dripping with moisture from the fog, I decided to head down.  At a couple of miles down, still in the clouds, Mike Corbin passed me on the way up, the Sparrow happily buzzing along at about 30mph.  I was delighted…  but still cold and wet.  Mike and Charlie could share some time on the summit together at least – something they hadn’t done since the late ’70s.  Here’s Mike heading down, courtesy of Ernie Mills:

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The rest of the weekend was a great, relaxed and fascinating party.  We were all interested in what everybody brought, it was a chance to look beyond your own projects and passions and see what everybody else out there was doing.  The MIT EV Team rolled in mid-afternoon, along with the Auto Road’s own Stanley Locomobile, and we got our second wind…  Their enthusiasm was infectious, they brought some amazing projects, and their curiosity and energy was a blast of adrenaline lasting well into the fading light of the day.  Finally, it was time to sit and relax…  and enjoy a beer.  A fire was lit, the guitars and mandolins were broken out, and we all started winding down are reflecting on the day.

Oh yeah.  And we had some fireworks.  You know, for the children.

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Sunday morning was as clear, calm and crisp as any morning I’ve seen – especially on Mt. Washington.  I fired up some coffee, eggs and bacon, and realized it was almost 8AM, the time that the Auto Road opens.  I got some warm clothes on, begged a pair of gloves from Frank again, and unplugged the bike from the charger.  The run up the mountain was simply breathtaking…  but the run down was really the most amazing of all.  It was a one-in-a-million morning, with unlimited visibility in all directions, and only a 30mph wind.  The views to the East showed Portland, Maine, and the shimmering line of the Atlantic Ocean – almost always in sight on the descent.  As much as I love the climb, this video of the descent is my favorite of the weekend…  and look for Mike Corbin, up early too, and the Sparrow at about 15:25!

The rest of the day on Sunday was more of the same…  relaxed, and enjoyable, with fascinating conversation and good company.  The MIT team got rallied together to get their car to the summit, too…

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…fueled, I suspect, by their own form of “alternative energy”: cold pizza and Mountain Dew.

By mid-afternoon people started packing up, and making the drive home.  I pulled into the gas station (oh, the irony) in Meredith, off Route 93 only to look up and see the entire MIT team fueling up too…  mostly with more Dew and chips for the rest of the trip home.

It was remarkable.  The excitement, enthusiasm and generosity of the event was something I’m still trying to comprehend.  I’ve seen interest in Alternative Energy sputter, start and fade many times, especially when you’re talking about transportation, but I’ve never seen such interest all in one place.  I’m pretty sure it was the biggest gathering of non-fossil powered vehicles in New England in history.  I’m sure it was the biggest group on the summit – over 35 vehicles made it – ever.

And for the first time, it felt like it was unstoppable – the tide has turned.

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