A hill of one’s own

I am nowhere near Mount Everest. If I was there’d be ice and yaks and shit but instead there’s gum trees and bugs and bitumen. I’m on a small suburban road in the back of Warrandyte. I’m not wearing furs and cramp-ons and ropes, I’m riding a bicycle. This is a bizarre and ridiculous construct. I feel foolish. I’m having the time of my life.

I am Everesting. There’s no way to explain to anyone what this is about. I mean, sure, I’m aiming to ride on a bicycle up and down the same hill until I reach the vertical ascent metres of Mt Everest – 8,848 metres, exactly – but the logical, obvious question is ‘why?’. I cannot adequately answer this, either to myself or anybody else.

I was out riding some hills with some of the Hells 500 crew one Sunday and they said that a few of them had been planning a group Everesting effort. I said that sounded like a cool thing to try, and my mate Tom said ‘you should totally do it with us’. I thought ‘hmmmm…’. And just like that the seed was planted.

I took a few days to mull it over and tentatively told them I’d at least start the day with them and see how I went. But deep down I knew I was 100% in.

So, ten days out from the day, my compressed planning began in earnest. There were three parts of the prep for me:
Mind – decide it’s going to happen.
Body – make sure it’s tight.
Fuel – keep the machine running.

I’m glad to say my body fitness wasn’t such an issue. I love riding hills and I didn’t think I needed any special training, and anyway, the window between deciding to try this and actually doing it was pretty narrow, so there was no time to train even if I wanted to. I have a few of the bigger climbing Audax rides under my belt so I figured that even if I slowed to a crawl, physically I could complete it. I don’t have any injuries or strains, and lord knows I’ll never be younger than right now, so bugger it, check that box.

Locking down the brain angle was critical. This was going to be mentally taxing, both in terms of preparing and executing, and in keeping my resolve strong. Such a long time on a bike gets boring, and making sure I had enough to mentally keep myself focussed or occupied would be important.

The one that really bothered me was nutrition. Eating enough is the big, hard thing to manage. Loading up on food the week leading up to was fine, and making sure I ate often early in the ride would be okay, but I knew that at a certain point I’d get really, really sick of food. Sick of sweet, sick of salty, sick of chewing and swallowing. It happens. But whatever you do, you cannot afford to stop. And if you do, you’re in trouble.

The ride plan was to start in the black of night. On the Friday night I set the alarm for 1am, got up and drove to pick up one of the guys, and by 2.30am we were lined up on top of the quiet little street and ready to go.

It was a strange feeling, kicking off and descending that first run in darkness. I had no real idea for what I was in for, how it would go for me, or even if I could do it. Then turning and starting the first of many, many laps, it was so still and cool, the quiet rhythmic hum of tires on bitumen as we humped up the climb.

The road was a well-chosen: Floods Road is 7% climbing over 1km, completed comfortably in 5 minutes at a leisurely pace, 2 minutes to descend, rinse and repeat. It has four sections where I’m out of the saddle in the granny gear – 34/27 on my set-up – but not so severe as to need to really crank it. It was the kind of rise I favour, a pinch but with respite, and good to build a rhythm to.

The group rode in silence for the first few hours, each at our own pace, chatting here and there. Dawn came, giant black kangaroos moving around in the scrub, the sunlight charging us all up. People started showing up to cheer us on, bring us food, ride with us. Tarps were set up for shade, a water station, deck chairs. By mid morning a party vibe started up, more and more people coming to watch the freaks. The Hells 500 Massive came in huge numbers, riding laps with us, keeping us pumped. A totally amazing crew of people, the guys you want on your side.

Midday came and went. It got hot: by two o’clock the temperature was 33 degrees. Some of the guys retreated to the shade to wait it out but I pushed on, mindful of not losing momentum. I started drinking a bidon of straight water at the top of every climb, desperate to keep the hydration up.

Eating started to suck. I’d begun well enough with egg salad sandwiches, cheese and pickles, bananas, muesli bars, the like. By mid-arvo I’d moved onto more pure sugar/carb concoctions like rice cream, donuts and a miracle raspberry slurpy that pretty much rebuilt me. But damn, refuelling got hard. I knew I had to keep eating of the whole machine would stop but geez, it becomes hateful after so many hours of stuffing in calorie-dense bland nonsense.

If there was a trough in the day, the tough part, this was it, and I was in it. And then my Sherpas started showed up.

I’d anticipated that I’d need company most once I was past halfway, and that’s what I told peeps who wanted to come and support me. Sure enough my guys started appearing one after another in the early arvo, just when I needed them. Darren was first – frequent training companion, hard man of the hills, and great company, full of stories and laughs. Then Kristan, who was too crook to do any laps but kept a smiling, encouraging vigil at the top. Then came Scott, Matt, Richard, Tim and Kate, . . . face after friendly face there to lend support. When the Lewises left at 6 o’clock I had 6500 metres climbed, and confidence was riding high.

As I farewelled the last Sherpa and the sun set on the day I put my ear buds in and my head down and just went for it. The laps and the numbers became a blur, I barely stopped to take on more fuel. At some stage I moved onto pure old-school Coca-Cola. Caffeine and sugar delivered in the the perfect tasty format.

At 18 laps to go I could smell victory. I felt myself getting faster, crushing out the metres, the end in sight. At three laps to go the eerie calm descended. And then suddenly it was done. Back slaps and big grins from the small group left, me euphoric and grinning. Off the bike, changed out of the superman suit, rubbing my numb feet and trying to make sense of what had just happened.

Hours later, after everyone had finished and we’d decamped, I got home and wandered inside. I’d left the house in the middle of the night, everyone asleep, all quiet. Here I was walking back in 24 hours later to the same sleeping house, like nothing had changed at all. It was the most surreal moment of the whole day.

A few hours later I woke up to my oldest boy standing next to the bed looking at me. He said “did you do it dad?” and I said “yeah mate”, and he said “good work” and turned and wandered out. The applause still rings in my ears.

Sunday I was a mental case. My body pulled up great – I was worked but not injured or sore at all – but I had the brain of a chicken: distracted, drifting off. We had friends over for lunch and I kept taking micro-naps mid-conversation and vaguing out. My youngest kept slapping me to wake up. Great company, me.

In a life so far full of fun, great challenges and pointless but grand adventures, Everesting has been been a stand-out in all three. And now I can’t wait to get my next adventure on.

NOTE: massive props to my co-Everesters Tom, Derek, Peter and Brent. You guys were excellent and inspiring company and I’m thrilled we got to do this ridiculous thing together.

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