Warning: Long entry ahead! See this Instagram post for a quick recap instead!
I’ve mentioned how I learned about Everesting previously. Again, the concept is simple — ride your bike (or run ?) up and down the same hill in one activity until you reach 29,029ft (the height of Everest/Sagarmatha/Chomolungma). But as I’ve always been a casual multi-sport athlete, I’d never doubled down to train up for something like this.
After I completed my half in June I felt like I still had life in my legs, (which was great), but it was still nearly impossible to imagine doing the ride again. And, after seeing Paul’s attempt go sideways a couple weeks ago, I had a lot of mixed emotion going into my attempt.
I read about someone else who mentioned that the only rule for their attempt was “Don’t Quit”. I didn’t state that explicitly, but that’s absolutely where my mind was at. I was 100% in it mentally (and, in fact, had been including mental training on my training rides – pushing that extra bit to practice going harder/further/faster even when I didn’t want to). If I got cold? Stop for an hour to warm up. Too hot? Cold drinks and ice packs at the ready. Bad weather? I was ready to wait as long as needed for it to clear. But, the list of things that could have ultimately stopped me were still rather long (unsafe weather conditions, complete/unrecoverable exhaustion, not being able to get food/drink into myself for any number of reasons, injury/illness too severe to continue, mechanical not able to be fixed in the field, etc).
I’d had nerves for days, so it was amazing that I managed to get into bed at 9PM the night before and actually get some sleep. At 2:20 AM the alarm went off. I immediately checked the weather, slightly dismayed to see the chance of t-storms had gone up to 30-40% between 3-8PM. Ooooof. Nothing to be done, I was going anyway.
I had a basic breakfast of a banana and a fig bar while I heated up water for hot coffee to drink on the way and a hot tea thermos for later. I also packed the final items into the cooler, and did a last double check of everything.
I checked off the final items on my list (phone charger, headlamp, phone, bike (yes, BIKE, because I don’t know about you, but my brain isn’t really working at 2:30AM), etc). Paul and I walked everything out together and packed up both cars. He was coming to join me for the first ~4hrs before he’d head home to do some work and get his bike gear for the afternoon.
I pumped up some music on the 10min drive to the Sanitas Trailhead parking lot and felt some of my nerves abate. One way or the other, the big day was here!
By my headlamp I got my bike set up, water bottle on, first snack ready to go, and prepared to head off. It was 3:25 AM, and Paul took this little video:
It was pitch black (there’s no light at the trailhead) and the sky was pretty cloudy. Because I knew my Garmin 645 watch wouldn’t make it through the attempt without needing to be charged several times, I had planned on two additional backups. I’d also be running Strava on my phone (which would also need charging on the breaks), and as a final “just in case” I had Paul’s Fenix watch attached to my handlebars. I had no interest in completing the attempt and somehow accidentally losing the file while charging my device. I started all my devices, turned my wheel to the road, and headed off.
I wanted to take it slow and steady. My bike, a 2014 REI Novara Carema, has a compact crank (50/34) which is a big win for a ride like this, but its rear cassette is only 10 gears (not the newer 11 gears many road bikes now have). Even still, sometimes it’s just really hard to tell how fast you’re going or what gear you’re in when it’s totally dark. At the first steeper climb (a short 10% section) I found myself already in my lowest gear. This was mildly alarming, as I knew that with fresh legs I’d usually only be in my third lowest gear here. I blamed it on the early morning hours and the fact neither my brain or my legs were fully awake yet.
About 2/3 of the way up I heard a lot of rustling in the brush. I’ve seen deer, raccoons, mice, snakes, and other creatures on my rides here before (as well as foxes on the nearby trails). I called out “Hello! Good morning!” to the darkness, which produced a flurry of new noises, and kept pedaling. Finally, near the top, the moon popped out – low and orange and partially cloud covered.
The photo does no justice. It was breathtaking.
At the top I had my first 1/2 bar. I had decided to structure my 37 lap ride in the following way — Every three laps I’d take a short (8-10min) break, and every quarter I’d take a long (12-20min) break. In each quarter I’d have twelve laps to complete. I did my half in groups of 4 laps, and I was pretty sure I’d want more breaks for the full attempt. If you’re astute at math, you might realize there’s a lap being left out of this equation. I decided to add the extra lap into my first set to get it out of the way early.
I knew that (all other factors going well) this ride would hinge on my ability to keep fueled. I typically under fuel during rides, so I knew I’d need to work hard here. For each set of three laps I planned on drinking one water bottle with 2 scoops of Tailwind (alternating between caffeinated and non-caffeinated) and eating about one bar. That would give me 300-400 calories per 3 laps (or about 4,000 calories over the whole ride). Plus more ‘real food’ snacks and drinks at the car on the breaks. I knew this was a little higher than I’d be able to manage, but I also knew the more I could stick to this early, the more likely I’d be to not bonk. Little did I realize this would come with a trade off later…
In fact, because I’m a nerd, I made a spreadsheet of what my timing and breaks would look like. It was based off another sheet that showed my actual times for my 1/2 attempt so that I could get best guesses for my lap times. I knew this was likely too conservative for the start, but I figured it would balance out in the end.
The first column is “break times” – so I built in a one minute break at the top of each lap to sip water, eat a snack, and make a check mark on my “lap tracker” (a piece of athletic tape stuck to my bike that showed all the laps I needed to complete). You can see every third lap has a longer break included.
But back to the ride itself — the first lap done I headed down. Kept things pretty steady in the dark, and didn’t see another person or car (which was great). At the bottom I found Paul sitting in a camp chair working on his computer. He gave a hearty “woooo!” as I did a u-turn and started up again.
The second lap went much like the first (saying “Good morning” to the random noises in the woods in hopes they wouldn’t run out towards me, snacking, enjoying the moon views, etc). However, on lap three I noticed the moon had officially dipped below the mountains. The dim, cloud-filtered light I’d had vanished, and the temperature continued to drop. The lowest temp of the day was forecasted to be at 7AM – about 50-52 degrees. I knew it would likely feel coldest between 5-6:30AM before the sun started to rise. And indeed, by the descent on lap 4 (around 4:45 AM), I was COLD.
I was already wearing a short sleeve wool shirt covered by a long sleeve jersey, long fingered gloves, a buff on my neck, chamois shorts covered by long leggings, and mid-length wool socks pulled over my leggings. I also had a pair of clear glasses on to protect my eyes and keep the wind/bugs/rocks out. But those third and fourth laps down felt icy. At the car I grabbed my lightweight rain coat (something I’d hoped not to need the whole ride). I’d originally planned to just wear it during the break to stay warm, but I was so chilly by the time I was ready to head out again that I left it on.
The break came complete with charging my watch and phone (which is how I started every break), swapping water bottles that Paul so nicely prepped for me, grabbing a little food, and shaking out a bit.
Starting out again I realized that leaving the jacket on was the right choice. I wasn’t too hot on the up, and it kept the worst of the chill out on the downhill. I was excited to see the sky start to just barely lighten around 5:45AM, and by my lap 7 break at 6:30 AM it was light. It felt great to be 7 laps in before the sun had even fully risen!
I kept the jacket for one final lap, and after lap 8 I swung into the parking area super briefly where Paul traded me sunglasses for the jacket. The day time climbing had begun!
Over the first hour my legs had warmed up. They didn’t feel amazing or super rested, but they felt pretty strong. However, I did have some bizarre pains on those first ten laps. Every lap something hurt (sometimes the same thing, sometimes something new). I took some ibuprofen and just kept pedaling in hopes they would all work themselves out. Of note, my right knee hurt (something that happens frequently when I run but almost never on the bike), my shins hurt (which I don’t think has ever happened to me on the bike), the outside of my right foot hurt (this would come back later, but it’s also a pain I’ve never experienced), and my calves cramped (something I started dealing with a few days prior, and also not usually an issue). I’ve had my quads and hammies cramp on rides, as well as pretty significant mid-back and upper shoulder/neck pain, but none of those normal aches came out to say hello.
Still, despite the random pains, I was having a pretty good time. My first four laps included only two cars, and the traffic wasn’t too terrible. Also, it being Monday, there weren’t too many other cyclists on the road (or even hikers/runners on the nearby trails) – at least not compared to the jam-packed weekends. My quads felt good, and I was managing to stick to my nutrition plan.
The 1/4 way point gave me my first longer break, and it was much enjoyed. Coffee, raw cookie dough (made with vegan egg substitute to be more shelf stable), and other treats were eaten. I shed the wool short sleeve and long sleeve jersey in exchange for my short sleeve jersey, and switched to short fingered gloves. I also added a white headband to help keep the sweat out of my eyes, a recent purchase that I can’t believe I didn’t own before. Seeing that all was good, Paul got ready to pack up to leave me to do the next 1/4 or so myself. I was feeling steady, and ready to keep going!
At about 8AM I took off for lap 11. I was 45min ahead of schedule (partially anticipated, but further ahead than planned), and feeling pretty darn great!
I spent much of the next 9 laps enjoying the ride and trying to stay in the moment of the experience. Part of my drive to complete this attempt was the low number of women I’d seen complete a full Everest. Of the 6,000+ people who have done an outdoor Everesting ride, less than 350 of them are women (just over 5%). The women I’d seen do it were often pros, former pros (even former Olympians), collegiate racers, or other more ‘serious’ cyclists (regular racers, longtime endurance riders, etc). This was true of the men as well, to some extent, but with a greater sample size it was easier to see the more ‘average’ riders. I won’t even get into the fact that there isn’t a non-binary category (and that I’d guess the number of BIPOC riders (especially women) who have attempted this are likely extremely low). This isn’t because these folks aren’t capable, but because cycling has traditionally been a male dominated sport (just look at the battle of getting women into the Tour de France, and let’s not even talk about the podium girls).
My bike is aluminum (with a carbon fork) with 2014 style Shimano 105 components, and my saddle has holes in it (but I love it so much that when REI told me they didn’t have a replacement, I kept it anyway). My bike shoes have a hole on the side where I can stick my toe through, and I bought my second ever pair of chamois this summer (after my 1/2 attempt when I realized one pair wouldn’t cut it for a full). I’ve never been a racer or been on a club team. I didn’t ride in college. I own a $30 second hand “dumb trainer”, which I’ve used a handful of times. I do not look like most of the folks I see completing Everesting attempts, at least not in the US.
This is NOT to say I don’t have experience, a lot of support, biking knowledge, biking friends, or good gear. My bike may be a super basic road bike, but it’s still plenty high end. I’ve taken my bike on multiple century rides, and put more than 15,000mi on it. I can afford good food for my ride, and pay folks to help me tune up my bike on a regular basis. I even bought a shiny, fancier new road bike this spring in thoughts I might use it for something like this, but it sits unused because I haven’t been able to get a bike fitting (thanks, COVID) and it’s a little too big for me.
This isn’t even a story of someone who overcome any major challenges to be a rider, or even a story of a particular unique Everesting attempt (think this woman who did it on a fixie (and while finishing hormone replacement therapy) or this dude who did it on a unicycle ?). But still. I know I’m not alone as a non-collegiate female rider who hasn’t always figured out how to fit in in the world of cycling.
So, all that to say, I had a LOT of motivation to finish this thing.
Since I have so much to say on this, it’s here I’ll conclude “part 1” of this journey. Part 2 is HERE!