Edwin’s Everesting Challenge
I’m not sure where I first came across the concept of Everesting but, once discovered, it dug its way into my brain and would not be shifted.
It is a simple concept. Pick a hill, any hill, and cycle up and down until you hit 8,848 metres. Choose your hill wisely though – too steep and your legs won’t take the strain, not steep enough and you’ll end up doing 400km. Nothing wrong with 400km spins but maybe on a different day to an Everesting attempt.
Also, don’t go for too short a hill or you’ll be turning too often. The Law of Small Numbers applies: many small things sum to a big thing. Too many turns could cost you 15 minutes or more.
As time progressed, I showed no signs of doing it but did plenty of talking so, in September 2018, I set a date, arranged a day off, sorted out cover for my parental taxi duties and was all set.
I didn’t mention it to the A Group peloton. Silly in retrospect, but I felt it would add pressure. How foolish would I look if folks came out to do a lap or 2 and I was already gone home knackered! Funny how the mind works.
So, on my own and the Irish weather put me in my place. I had known in advance that the weather would not be good but decided to blast on anyway. How bad could it be? By 2pm with 4,000m in the bag, I knew – I was so cold and wet that, sitting in the car, physically I could neither use my hands to eat or change into dry kit. Enjoyment is key to any spin so I called it a day headed home. I was happy enough – good training!
Attempt number 2 a fortnight later was terminated at 7,000m for complicated work reasons that would have had me in the office for an unusually crucial meeting about 3 hours after getting off the bike. Not on, so off home thinking of #3 with May 2019 in my mind. Now though, I felt that, physically I could do it. I had though, inadvertently sowed some seeds of doubt on the psychological front and I was blissfully ignorant of the fact that the last 1,000m is harder than the rest put together.
Friday, May 3rd 2019. Hill chosen, weather good, long weekend to follow. Now or never – going back to my Naas CC club mates with anything less than 8,848 was not an option! My choice of hill had given me hours of pleasurable internal debate. It came down to Ticknock or Ballinascorney. Those annoying plastic ramps on Ticknock did for it and the emptiness, good road surface and pretty even 9% gradient (thank heaven for Kilbride Army Camp) of Ballinascorney won the day. 2km up, 2 down, 176m per laps 50 laps, 215km – simple as that.
Up at 4 am, to be on the bike at 5.30. Car pre-packed with hard boiled eggs, water, salt tablets, lights, chargers, spare gabbas and spare everything else. Oh, and a hot water bottle to counteract my cold hands. Reynaud’s Syndrome, the curse of cyclists. 2 degrees for the first couple of hours. After that it warmed up but I decided to stick with the gabba and gloves for the duration. There was a spit of rain for the first hour but it stayed dry for the rest of the day. One less thing to consider.
[The team bus and my trusty Scott, note the one bottle strategy]
Ballinascorney is a nice hill. It does have a 14% stretch but the rest is pretty even at 9% and I made good progress. I had it in mind to take breaks after each 1000m climbing and, apart from the last, I loosely kept to that. I’m a big fan of boiled eggs and I ate plenty of them. Those and beefed up rice cakes, the menu for which I came across on GCN, kept me going for the duration. And some duration – 2,500m in four hours moving time, 5000m in 8 and so it went. At about 4,000m, Peter and Pádraig arrived on the scene. I was thrilled to see them.
I had mulled for ages on whether to keep this effort to myself and would have, but for a chance encounter with Pádraig on the canal two days before. Not sure why, but I mentioned it to him and was relieved to have it out there. He suggested that I lash it onto our A group whatsapp and I did so that evening. In for a penny.
They arrived in the early afternoon and did 4 repeats with me which passed the time nicely. While they were there, I passed the half way mark, 4414m, which was a high until it occurred to me that I had to do the same again, that was a sobering thought. I thought of Liege Bastogne Liege, which was about 4,500m and that was the toughest (and best) day I’d ever had on the bike. Yikes.
[Saying goodbye to Padraig and Peter – half way there…]
In quick succession, Paddy Dowling and Ray appeared to offer company and support and the metres ticked by. Your thoughts can be your worst enemy when cycling on your own for such a long stretch. In contrast, with company, everything feels easier. I was so grateful that they made the effort to come out.
6pm, 10 hours in the saddle, 6,000m done. Despite endless calculations, I realised had got things wrong – I had another 6 hours of cycling to do. More maybe, as I was slowing down lap by lap. This was an issue as, once the sun went down, it’d turn cold again and my hands would suffer. My wife Liz and my youngest son Mike, were due to pay a visit around 9pm. I texted Liz and asked her to bring more hot water bottles, a very wise move as it turned out. Wiser would have been to get them to bring my Estremos gloves but, for some reason, it didn’t occur to me. I think I felt May couldn’t be that cold.
Descending from repeat number I don’t know what, I thought to myself, there’ll be no more company on the road and, with that, Mark Dillon appeared! My spirits surged. Mark stayed for a lap but had to head then. The Sun was going down and he had no lights. I watched him head off with envy and thought, not for the first time, that I needed my head examined. Still, Liz and Mike to look forward to and, sure enough, they arrived, nicely timed with my next break.
A cycling friend in work had advised me to have treats to hand and I had brought a few mint crisps, a particular favourite. I sat in the car with Liz and Mike, munching chocolate, boiled eggs and rice cakes and drinking coffee. Nice! It was dark as they left. I had about 2,000m to go and I realised it would be more like 1am before I finished.
How did I find the climbing? The first 7,000m were ok. I used my trusty Scott CR1, with lowest gear of 36/28. I reckon I used 3 gears all in all, 52/11 descending, and 36/27 and 36/28 uphill. 27 was left unused after the first 4,000m or so – as I tired it was straight into first gear when I made the turn uphill. Obviously, with an effort of this duration, there’s no anaerobic stuff going on, nice and steady. My PR on this segment is 9:40. My first 2 repeats were both 12:30, the next 28 were all under 14 minutes. Repeats 30 to 40 were under 15 minutes and so it went. Repeat number 50, 18:40! As I mentioned, I really like this hill, it’s very scenic, almost no traffic. The 14% stretch comes early, ¼ the way up and, psychologically, once I had done that, I felt the repeat was done, just plod up to the top, then test my descending skills on the way down.
If the first 7,000m were OK, the level of difficulty changed from there. The dark didn’t help even though I normally love night cycling. I had lots of lights but, somehow, it got into my head that I needed to preserve battery and so I stinged on the lights as I climbed. Weird, even going so slowly it was almost dizzying to ascend in poor visibility. I nearly came off the bike a couple of times but still I persisted with my lighting policy.
Close to midnight, close to 8,000m and the temperature had dropped under 0. My hands were really suffering and I had to stop every 2nd lap to warm them with the hot water bottles. As hard as the ascents had become, I was now dreading the descents more. All day, I had enjoyed them. The sheep, a problem on previous attempts, had emigrated it seemed and I was flying down. Now it was so cold, descents were no fun at all.
Slower and slower, but I was kept going by the thought that this was it, I’d not try again. No one in the club would think I had bottled it but that’s what my inner demons were saying. For once, the demons helped though. That thought and the many posts on my family and A Group WhatsApps were what got me through.
[All done 😊]
2:22am, 0 degrees – it had warmed up! – and 9,000m ticked up half-way up the hill. I did 11 more metres, thinking I’d finish the ascent but quickly decided enough was enough. The clock ticked on to 02:23 and with that, I clipped out and stopped. No feeling of joy, nothing only an urgency to get back to the car, warm up and get on the road home. By the time I did get home however, elation had kicked in. I was delighted and oddly pleased that I had found it so hard. Anyone would, but I had overcome it and finally climbed my Everest. A good friend of mine from school has twice got agonisingly close to the real thing, Mount Everest, but was twice denied, once by Hypoxia, once by the weather. I thought a lot about him as I drove home. Everesting does not quite match Everest but I’d settle for it!