You could argue which bumper sticker is more ubiquitous throughout New England; the one boasting about your child’s performance in school on any particular month, or the one that conveys the pride that drivers feel after submitting the region’s highest point in their vehicles.
The “This Car Climbed Mount Washington” bumper sticker is a familiar memento of local lore. Sometimes lampooned (you’re bound to witness a T-shirt or two that brags about how these LEGS climbed Mount Washington), the bumper sticker is an acknowledgment of having experienced one of New Hampshire’s most popular summer attractions, all with a knowing nod to the extra challenges visitors faced while trying to navigate the 160-year-old road in its earlier days.
Mind you, for all the modern improvements that have been made over the years, the Auto Road can still be intimidating. It is a steep, narrow mountain road without guardrails, and the average grade is 12 percent. As the sign at the base of the road warns motorists, if they have a fear of heights, then this might not be the ride for them.
“Back in the day, it was a tough ride,” Lisa McCoy, Mount Washington Auto Road’s events and marketing, said. “It’s a little more cush, I would say, now because it is all paved.
“The cars that would go up back in the day, they truly had to climb this mountain over rocks and dirt. So the legacy is that, even the cars today, even with modern conveniences, still have this incredible road really like nothing else in the northeast — maybe even in the country. That challenge of ascending to the clouds in a car, it’s like nothing else that you can experience.”
You have to remember, early navigators of the Auto Road didn’t exactly have V8 engines. It wasn’t until four decades into its existence that the first two gasoline-powered cars reached the summit, thus marking a new dawn for the Auto Road. A trip back then might take a little over two hours over the rocky gravel roadway which twisted and turned its way to the top.
Today, visitors can navigate the more than 100 turns in about a half-hour. It’s another half-hour to make your way down. Unless you’re professional motorsports competitor Travis Pastrana, who last summer shattered his record in the Mount Washington Hillclimb (North America’s oldest hillclimb, dating back to 1904) when he finished the 7.6-mile course in 5:28.67 with his 862-horsepower Subaru WRX ST. That was more than 16 seconds faster than the previous record, which Pastrana also set, at the 2017 race.
After finishing his journey, you better believe what he slapped onto the back of the car. (How soon until that record will be broken now that the Auto Road is thoroughly paved for the first time in its history?)
That’s a lot more than the horse and buggy carriages that originally travelled the road could claim. But it is the sticker that sort of parallels the decades between them. Whether it took two hours or less than six minutes, the bumper sticker remains a universal reminder of the attraction’s challenges, even today.
The bumper stickers, which are handed out, free of charge, to 45,000 or so motorists annually at the Auto Road’s toll house, have been around since the 1950s. They began as metal hangers that would attach to the bumper of the car via wire tabs. Though they have been modernized into the bumper sticker, the familiar design hasn’t changed much of the years. Recently, it has been streamlined with smaller font, yet with the same unique brush stroke that has made it an iconic brand unto its own.
As part of its heritage, the Mount Washington Auto Road celebrates the sticker’s popularity in what is very much Sugarloaf fashion, posting photos that past visitors have sent in with their vehicle touting the reminder of its quest from different spots around the region and the world.
Eric Wilbur can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.