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Everesting: How to Cycle the height of Everest

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I got the call from Josh, I could tell from the excitement in his voice: he had an insane bike ride planned. As soon as I heard the word Everest, he had my attention.

This guest post is by ‘Everester’ Josh McLellan. He breaks down how he prepared for and conquered the (highest) ride of his life…all 18 hours of it.

There is something about extreme endurance challenges that attracts us, something irrational. They force us to smash our limits and go beyond our normal levels of comfort to achieve something amazing. They don’t get more extreme or amazing than Mount Everest.

Recently a group called Hells500 challenged Aussie cyclists to pick any hill or mountain and ride up and down until they climbed over 8,848 vertical metres, the same height as Everest. To date 41 people have accepted this challenge known as Everesting (www.everesting.cc).

Enter Josh

As a cyclist I love the challenge, the peace and majesty of climbing up a hill whatever the length or gradient. I’m not the traditional build for a climber, and at 6”7 and 92kg, I have had my share of critics and non-believers. They say that I couldn’t be a hill climber, well not a good one anyway. Fuel to the fire as far as I’m concerned.

Growing up, I had a picture of Everest at my parents house. So when I heard about this Everesting thing, I knew I had to do it.

The Number Game

The main focus in preparation was a numbers game with the hill I had chosen as my Everest, a short hill in Sassafras, Victoria. The climb would give me 167m elevation gain each repeat, 54 repeats to reach 8,848m. I did a recce (reconnaissance) of the climb from a different perspective twice. The first time was a single ascent and descent. This was to confirm elevation gain and just feel out the climb and the descent as well. Considering I would have to descend the road 54 times I didn’t want it to be too technical or dangerous especially if fatigued.

I did some further calculations and estimates and then I went back out for the second recce, this time I tried to fatigue myself before riding the hill, so when I got to the hill I could do an hour long session on the hill with km’s in the legs to give me an idea of the difficulty and how long it might take riding it all day.

I worked out I could complete 4 repeats in an hour. 3 repeats would give me 500m vertical gain, so this would take approximately 45mins. 6 repeats, 1000m vertical gain, 1.5 hours riding. It was a funny thing to calculate a ride and break it down to vertical meters rather than distance. The math was done.

The Head Game

I needed to mentally prepare. There are a few things I specifically prepared to keep spirits up psychologically.

Dark and Light: I planned to start at 4:30am so that by 8am I would already have 2000m done, break for breakfast then hit out another 2000m block, lunch. Then get through to 7000m, which I knew by this stage there would be no consideration of quitting.

Gear Prep: I cleaned and serviced my bike for the thousandth time. Every moving part down to the chain link, was meticulously degreased, cleaned and lubed. I wanted to reduce any chance of a mechanical failure. I got a spare power source for my Garmin, tested it, made sure that I could collect every meter of vertical gain.

Food and drink (and a few rewards): I went out for my nutrition, food being the key word here, vegemite and cheese rolls, bananas, nectarines, muesli bars, 10 litres of water, my Sukkie and emergency chocolate and snakes for quick mental pick-me-ups.

As I woke up that dark morning, I had trained, I had planned. I was physically and mentally ready. I packed all my gear into the back of my car; everything had its place, so I knew where to reach for it in the dark and when my mind wasn’t working properly from fatigue. I never once considered not finishing this challenge.

My summit ended up taking me 18 hours. Check out this video to see how I pulled up at the end.

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How to ride the height of Everest

At this point if you are asking ‘Why would anyone want to do this’? My answer is, who wouldn’t want to be able to say they have ridden up Mt Everest in a day? If that’s not something you would want to say, take your lack of imagination back down to the flat roads like Beach Road!

Choose your Everest

It is all about achievability and efficiency. If you want to climb this elevation consider these factors:
Gradient: Consider this first, knowing your climbing abilities well, chose a climb with a gradient that you can comfortably get through 50+ repeats. Elevation gain is important.

Length: Consider this more so in regards to the descent. You want to spending more the time going up than coming down, remember efficiency.

Safety: Don’t pick a descent that is too technical or steep, that way your concentration won’t have to be too sharp when fatigue sets in. Also you might be in a rural area with animals popping in to visit at night. I do know of a fellow Everester that crashed into a Kangaroo and could not finish. Keep an eye out for wildlife.

Know your Everest

Learn about your Everest by studying any data you can find from Strava, Garmin and read any blogs covering your climb.

The best data is your own. Apart from the numbers you need to get a feeling for the climb. Ride your climb a number of times, doing a recce ride with the idea of making this your own Mt Everest you will I look at it differently.

Break it down

This will take a long time. Everesting ascents have been on average 20 hours duration.

Knowing such a long day is ahead of you is daunting, so strategy is important. Breaking down a task will make it easier. My effort was broken into three sections:

1st section: Before sunrise
2nd section: Morning to Lunch
3rd section: Lunch to summit
Think about how the length of time will effect you mentally. I started in the dark, 4:30am, this was to get a good amount of riding before my first break which I planned around 8.00am. Daylight comes around quickly and the psychological gains that you get from pulling up for the first coffee, taking the lights off the bike, and already having 2000m in the bank is a good feeling.
Set small goals near the end, climb say 1,000m and then stop and eat a ‘reward’ after reaching each milestone. From 7,000m onwards you are almost there.

Get your gear and body in order

Make sure your gear is in perfect working order. No squeaks, noises and obviously make sure it’s safe to ride. Starting and finishing in the dark and also the duration of the ride poses a few logistical issues. Lights and your Garmin run on batteries so you need to be recharged at some time. You don’t want to loose your Garmin data and not be able to record this ride on Strava or similar! Bring battery chargers and during your breaks plug your powered gear in for bit of extra juice.

As far as training goes, I felt more than prepared physically. At the time I committed I already had a solid base of riding fitness. Leading up to this I was averaging 500-600km per week on the bike. An average ride being 100-120km with around 2,000m vertical gain.

Fuel up

Even if you make the 7,000 mark you’re still not home. But be warned, this has been described by others as the ‘Death Zone’ if you are not fuelling properly. If you have kept your nutrition and hydration up, there’s no stopping you from here.

I’m a big believer in real foods on long endurance rides. When I say real foods I mean, sandwiches, muesli bars, fruit and nuts. Also, too some chocolate and snakes just for a little extra sugar. Gels and substitutes alike, will give you little bursts but you need some real foods in there to keep you going. Even when you’re not hungry eat something. Hydration is key, I had my bottles of Sukkie and water good to go at all times.

We all know what it feels like to explode, don’t let it happen on a ride like this. Plan your breaks like small goals, this will keep you mentally focussed on the ride and when you reach those goals, celebrate them with some food.

Commit and don’t look back

If you have trained and are you’re prepared in your nutrition and hydration and mentally ready for a long day (and night) on the bike, not finishing is not even a thought that should cross your mind. Good luck!

Check out my Strava file for some detail on the stats.

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