To undertake any serious endurance event you need to have a very ‘strong why’. Everesting a hill is not a normal behaviour for many people.
Recently I completed an ‘Everesting’ on a local hill. The concept of this was first proposed by the Hells 500 club whereby a cyclist ascends the same hill until they have cumulatively climbed the height of Everest or 8848 meters. The challenge has no set time but you are not allowed to sleep during the challenge. It must be on the same hill which you ascend and then descend. The challenge was first described by George Mallory when he ascended Mount Donna Buang in 1994 when he rode 8 laps of the hill. The format was cemented by Andy Van Bergen in 2014. The challenge has since been completed by 2,283 people (both female and male) in 73 different countries mainly on tarmac on a variety of bike types. A handful of Everesting’s have been completed off road on mountain bikes.
I had initially heard of the challenge back in 2014 and promptly forgotten it even existed. I rediscovered a comment which I had made on one of the local Brisbane Mountain Bike forums ‘MTB dirt’ when I had mentioned the challenge then discarded it as being impossible on or off road. I had thought it was not possible for me to complete this. Then around 6 months ago my mountain bike coach mentioned that it would be a great challenge for me and that I should do this off road on a mountain bike. I am not one to dismiss challenges lightly so the planning commenced in earnest. The ride was postponed twice – once in favour of riding the Brisbane Valley Rail Trail and then again due to being in the middle of storm season!
I chose Centre Road as I have ridden around this area plenty of time, it was not that far from home, there was somewhere to park my car and set up camp on an even surface. Initially when I had ridden the hill around 5 times in a row it hadn’t seemed too bad. Due to having some experience in racing 24 hour mountain bike races I had an idea of the planning that would need to go into this. I went through the same processes which I have followed when going into an endurance race in the past including fluid and nutrition. I even managed to have a couple of friends volunteer to camp out overnight to support me and keep me safe.
Before I talk about the actual ascending I need to mention my why, the reason I chose to undertake this challenge and reason I managed to complete the challenge. There are 5 main reasons for doing this as follows (in no particular order):
- Fund raising for Arthritis Queensland – I have Fibromyalgia so the charity has helped me in the past
- To develop self - belief in my ability – with the National and World championships coming up I have to learn to believe that I can compete amongst the best at this discipline
- Mental strength training for activities both on and off the bike including training for Scotland – It’s likely Scotland is going to be wet, cold and muddy with an immense amount of climbing in the 24 hour period
- Role model to others with a health problem – you can accomplish athletic dreams with a health problem or disability
- To show to myself I can manage the Fibromyalgia effectively and complete the challenge
So what did I learn?
I had not expected to learn as much as I did before, during and after the challenge and some of the insights actually took me by surprise. I feel that as I could successfully ride through this challenge I can tackle anything! Determination and willpower accompanied with the correct training, nutrition and hydration and some forward planning means I am giving myself the best possible chance of success in the upcoming National and World 24 hr mountain biking championships.
Somewhere towards the final of the 57 repeats of the 2.9km up and back down the hill which averaged 11% and in some parts more that 30% gradient I realised the extend of my grit, determination and commitment. I had ridden, mostly alone, for 22.5hours on a muddy dirt track in everything which could have been thrown at me. At times I was blessed for a short time with glorious sunshine which sadly did not last. The sun turned into torrential rain showers which lasted for hours resulting in turning the track into a slippy, muddy water puddle which was hard to ride along. With the relief of the rain stopping the fog descended. The fog was so thick I was unable to see more than a metre in front of me and could not see the track. Riding in thick fog, in the middle of the dark night, alone is the most unnerving feeling I think I have ever felt. Without my friends, Russel and Suzanne, at the top of the hill with their flash lights and hot chocolate/ chicken noodle soup I may well have called off the ride due to safety fears.
I had expected to feel physically and emotionally exhausted during and after this ride. I did not expect to feel as if I had set some sort of a re set button. The quietness of the track, especially at night, with no traffic noise, nobody to talk to for a large part of the ride, nothing to do but to keep pedalling, nothing to worry about sent me into a meditative state. The hours and laps quickly passed and it was strange to think of how far I had come and how far I still had to go. I ended the ride albeit tired and probably hallucinating in a better way than I had finished my 24 hour race back in April. Although I would not choose this hill again I would like to do the Everesting again in the future to rest my brain.
I now realise and appreciate the fact that I have a massive capacity for mental strength and toughness. The reason not many or any that I have found, women have completed this challenge off road on a mountain bike is because of the mind games it plays with you. Thinking at the beginning that this hill will be your home for the next 24 hours, that you have 57 laps to do of this hill, that you’re not going to escape the rain, everything you need you have to provide, that you won’t see your family or your gorgeous daughter for 24 hours is too much for the brain to process. You have to find a way to appreciate the experience and find positives out of everything.
The hill repeats turn into 3 segment intervals at the top of every 3rd you get a drink, have a short break and look at an inspirational quote whilst eating a chocolate which your daughter helped you to prepare. So each lap is 1 of 3, 2of 3, 3of 3 until you have reached the required number of laps.
Planning to bring out everything you need is preparation for the big endurance challenges which I will be facing at the end of the year. It is very satisfying to know that I did all of the planning, packed everything which I needed, ensured the bikes were both in running order, had lights which worked well and most importantly ran my Garmin on a power pack so that it recorded the ride in its entirety with no mistakes. Most things I needed I had and anything I didn’t my friends had on them.
The weather was a blessing as I imagined what Scotland may be like in that it would be dark for a large majority of the time, it would be cold, it could be wet – they do state it is an all-purpose track and well it is Scotland in the middle of October (Winter) and it will probably be muddy with enormous hills. This ride ensured I had the mental strength training to take on the challenge waiting for me in Scotland. I will not be put off by adverse weather conditions and I can ride through nearly anything.
Overall I did enjoy the experience, I would definitely not recommend to anybody to Everest up this particular hill and yes I would probably take on the challenge again in the future. Next time I would like to climb to the full 10,000 meters. At the end of the ride I could not fathom riding another 6 laps of this hill as I did not want to dig myself to a big whole which would take me weeks to recover from and would affect my future training. I did not want to risk injury nor break the bike by falling down a cliff.
I am immensely grateful for the following people:
Russel – there when I started Friday lunch time, and camped out overnight
Suzanne - came Friday evening, stayed up all night in support of me, fed me chicken soup and hot chocolate
Neil and his crew – Neil rode a couple of laps with me on the Friday and came back on the Saturday morning
Neil Bang and his crew - for greeting me at the top of the hill and riding down with me then distracting me for a short time by taking pictures and chatting to me
Peter Winfield – for showing his support and riding 13 laps with me into the dark
Tom Stone – for his support and for caring for Hayley then coming to collect me
Justin Van Den Boorg – for driving my car home for me
Anybody who kindly sponsored me with their generous donations to Arthritis Queensland