Last Saturday I attempted and completed a half Everest on my bike.
For me, at this moment in time, it was one of those goals that I felt both fairly certain that, barring unexpected hiccups, I could definitely do and equally that it was never going to happen. Here’s how it went down:
I’d heard about Everesting a couple years ago. It’s the simple concept of biking (or running ?) up and down the same hill, in one activity (breaks allowed but no sleeping), until you’ve climbed 29,029ft (the height of Everest). You can do it on any hill, at any grade, on any surface. The delightful folks at Hells 500 thought this up and put up the parameters here: https://everesting.cc
It’s been out of my league for a while. It’s the type of thing I knew I’d have to double down on training to complete. And with skiing, climbing, hiking, mountaineering, and the like, I just wasn’t ready to put the effort in on JUST biking. But enter COVID, and all I’ve been doing lately is biking. With my big July ride canceled, it seemed like maybe this was the year.
I wasn’t alone in this thought. Everesting is having a moment among both pros and amateurs. The men’s and women’s records were both broken several times over this spring, now standing at 7hr 29min and 9hrs 8min respectively as of today. The rest of the mere mortals often take 14-24hrs to complete an attempt.
The folks at Everesting.cc have a handy calculator you can use to take a rough guess at how long it will take you for any given Strava segment (because, Strava or it didn’t happen). After playing around with a few options, here’s what I was looking at for the full attempt on my hill of choice:
That’s a lot of elevation, and a lot of time in the saddle. And there’s a lot to dial in for a ride like that. What are you wearing (what’s comfy for 2 hours might not be for 10)? What about eating (and do you actually want to eat that particular thing after 5 or 10 or 15 hours)? Where are you basing all your stuff? Is there a bathroom? Do you have enough water? Are you applying enough chamois cream? Will your watch stay charged? What about your phone? And so on.
So, I decided to try a half Everest to test things out. Plus they just created a half Everest badge, and I’m nothing if not a sucker for gamification (or a free t-shirt… or free food). My stats page for the half looked like this, taking my best guesses on timing based on the time I did 4 laps in a row on the same hill:
Though it said I only needed to do 18.2 laps, I wanted to do 19 just to be sure. It would have been pretty disappointing to do the whole thing and find out due to some small calculation error that I was short a few feet.
So, last Saturday I woke up at 3:40AM. I tossed my bike and four bags of STUFF (extra clothes, food, cooler, bike pump, etc) into my car, and drove 3 mi away to do the thing.
I was pretty nervous about the start. Despite it being the solstice, it was still dark. Sunshine Canyon climbs into the foothills and there are no lights. On many an early morning ride there I’ve had to stop for deer in the rode, and it’s rare I ride there (or, honestly, most anywhere in Boulder) without seeing deer off to the side. That also means it’s big cat and bear country. Mildly unnerving, but realistically very low risk. I brought two front lights, two rear lights, and headed out at 4:40 AM.
The weather was cool (long sleeves, long leggings, and long fingered gloves were worn!) and it was quiet. Hardly any cars. No throngs of people hiking on the nearby trails. Wonderful, cool, quiet laps and a lovely sunrise. And yes, deer (that thankfully didn’t get in my way, or visa versa).
I had planned for about a 30-60sec break each lap (sip water, open bar wrapper, wait for a car, etc). And every fourth lap I stopped to take a longer break. I thought I could do a break as fast as five minutes, but quickly learned that pulling into the parking lot at the base of my climb, putting my bike down, opening the car, ditching a layer, putting on sunscreen, grabbing extra food, and topping off water bottles took more like 8 minutes. Good lesson to learn.
The first four laps went down no problem. Paul was doing his own giant epic ride, and he and I met up on my fifth lap. It was nice to see him! Through lap 12, sunrise, the shedding of all my extra layers, a LOT of sunscreen, and a lot more cyclists, cars, and hikers, things were going pretty darn well. In fact, at that point I was definitely planning on doing 20 laps, just to round the thing out.
On my thirteenth lap I crossed the 10,000ft mark. I was jazzed. I thought I’d done some 8-9K rides before, but upon later research I’ve realized that my biggest one day elevation gain on a bike was 7,900ft ?So, even to hit 10K was a huge deal. It warranted a selfie:
But, even then, I knew I was starting to flag a little. The sun had been beating down since lap 5 and the climb has very little shade. The high temp was predicted to hit 85 degrees, but I had hoped it would hold off until well into the afternoon. Unfortunately, especially here in Boulder at 5,300ft, the sun heats things up FAST. And I am not a cyclist who enjoys (or does well in) that kind of heat.
By lap 15 I was feeling my energy crashing. The sun was blazing, and most of the other cyclists had long gone home. I might have also been slightly under caloried despite eating something every lap. But I think it was mostly the heat that started to get to me. After lap 16 at my long (10min) break I was happy to find Paul at the car. He had finished an incredible 85mi ride cycling over 11,000ft on several mountain climbs (and quite speedily at that!). He had planned to ride a lap with me, but he too was feeling the heat. The iced coffee I had in the cooler was reviving, but it didn’t quite overcome the pain from the sun. He headed home and suggested I pour water on my bandana to cool me off (which I did).
With three laps to go, I knew, I KNEW, I would finish. Even if it was going to take me having a 15min break after each lap (though, thankfully, it didn’t). At the top of lap 17 I poured 1/3 of my water bottle on my head. By the time I was at the bottom it had evaporated. On lap 18 I spoke briefly with a cyclist who passed along some encouraging words. At the top, another 1/3 of the bottle dumped on my head and neck. And finally, lap 19! I knew I just needed to get 1/2 way up to finish, but I wanted to fully do what I set out to do. But for the last 400ft up I struggled. I created checkpoints in my mind (just get to the u-turn, just get to the yellow sign). Tired as I was, hitting the top felt really, REALLY good.
The last lap down felt like a victory run and I was thrilled to be back at the car around 1:30PM. The whole thing took 8hours and 49min of elapsed time (about 8hours of moving time). The planned time of 8:15 didn’t account for finishing my final lap. So just a touch longer than planned! And that was mostly due to me slowing down on my last 5 laps, and taking time at the top of each of those to drink more and recover for closer to 2min.
I had been checking off each lap on my bike, both to make sure I didn’t lose count AND because it was super satisfying. I was really proud to get that final check. A total of 15,293ft climbed.
The rest of the day was basically spent relaxing and eating (thank goodness for AC). Paul and I took a mile walk in the evening to stretch, and I felt pretty good. My legs were sore but I really didn’t feel as bad as I thought I might.
The next day we both went on 20mi rides. I definitely still had some energy in my legs, which is encouraging for when I eventually attempt to do the whole thing. I just need to avoid such a hot, sunny day (but also the famous summer afternoon thunderstorms too…).
I took Monday off the bike, and was back to riding today. I’m still finding myself a bit sore, so I think this will be an easier week. But I’m now officially in the Hall of Fame, and already thinking about what it will take to do the WHOLE shebang.
Even if I don’t make the whole Everest, I’m really proud of this ride. And hopefully to more hill climbing to come!