The idea of “Everesting” on a bike first entered my imagination several years ago when I stumbled across a magazine article about the feat. I thought to myself “someday I’ll need to do that, it sounds pretty tough” or something along those lines. The rules are simple; climb 29,029 vertical feet in one ride, on one hill, with no sleep.
Fast forward to 2018: my buddy Mike brought up the topic after a hard ride. The bunch of us were discussing the rules surrounding an “official” Everest, and when and where would be ideal to attempt one. The idea picked up steam in my brain but being the middle of a busy race season, I knew it would be a bad idea to attempt such a hard ride that could dig a hole several weeks deep. Weeks, months and races wore on as they do but I still had the desire to Everest. With the fall race season concluding in November I knew I had a few weeks on my hands to relax and rest up for the winter fatbike race season, but what would I do with all the fitness I had gained?
I already knew the answer to that question of course. I immediately began scheming on an Everest attempt. The idea of climbing a 100- or 200-foot hill hundreds of times was unpalatable to me. I wanted a climb in the 1,000-foot range so that I could have a greater feeling of accomplishment upon each ascent. We don’t have mountains in Michigan, nor do we have pleasant weather in November, so the search expanded to the nearest mountains, which happen to be in Tennessee and North Carolina. I’m very familiar with road cycling in the Smoky Mountains and Asheville, so that narrowed my search and from there I began picking climbs that had the ideal qualities I was looking for:
The parkways throughout the Smoky Mountains make great Everesting grounds, and I found the perfect climb right by my friend Jay’s house in Asheville. All that was left to do was to check whether someone had already Everested the climb and “claimed” the first ascent. Of course, of the handful of Everests in the whole area, someone had already conquered that climb. I went back to the drawing board and found another climb that was a bit taller and a bit steeper than I desired but seemed like it would work.
Next, I messaged Jay to let him know my plans. Jay and his wife Kari are good friends and have hosted me for riding adventures before. All the details were falling into place nicely! I sent a message to Joe Meiser, product manager at Salsa, to discuss my plans and mention that I was going to ride the new Salsa Warbird. He fired back that they had a new bike that might serve my purposes better: the Salsa Warroad. It was a Tuesday and I was heading down for my attempt on Thursday—how on earth would I get the bike in time? The bike made it to Asheville just hours before I rolled in on Friday around noon. You know that rule about not changing ANYTHING on your bike before a big race or ride? Yeah, I was about to break that rule into a thousand pieces. I unboxed the bike and assembled it in Jay’s garage with only two additions: a Quarq power-meter and my personal saddle. The best adventures are the least planned, in my experience.
The Plan: Part 2
I had one ride to go scope the climb, make my notes and then prepare everything for the big ride on Saturday. Pedaling up the Blue Ridge Parkway was peaceful as it was closed due to debris from high winds and an ice storm. The bike was nimble and felt comfortable despite it being my first ride. I confidently approached my prospect climb: Pisgah Highway 151 starting in Black Oak Cove. I was giddy, as there were zero cars and I had the climb virtually all to myself. Turning to descend the climb, my giddiness was replaced with apprehension. The road was covered in sticks, leaves and moisture. Maybe it would get better as I descended…wrong. Being a northeast-facing road, every turn had wet leaves and light ice patches. The descents would take forever, and I wondered whether I could trust myself in the dark. The answer was obvious—this climb wasn’t fit for an Everest attempt in that condition. My heart sank a bit as the daylight was fading and the recon mission was a bust.
Back at Jay and Kari’s, I filled them in on my dilemma and they were quick to offer up solutions. They know the area well and Jay had just the climb in mind for me to check out. It was a bit of a drive from their place but ticked all of the boxes. They would take me on a drive to recon the route and then get some dinner. From the car it looked like the climb would be perfect, and aside from a few gravel-strewn corners, the pavement was smooth and there was little traffic. So, to recap, my 190+ mile ride with 30,000 feet of elevation will be on a brand-new bike and a climb I’ve never ridden. No big deal.
I stayed up that night preparing my nutrition for the ride, checking the weather, getting directions lined up and laying out clothes. Ideally, I would start the ride before dawn, but with below-freezing temps in the pre-dawn hours I opted against that. Instead, I would start right at sunrise and end up riding into the darkness of night—hopefully not too late. Whatever it takes to finish, I suppose. Once everything was prepped, all there was to do was sleep. Waking up just several hours later, I forced down as many calories as possible and tossed my supplies into the van. Driving out to the countryside was peaceful and my confidence rose with the sun. I had done harder things on the bike.
I parked the van right on the climb just a half mile up from my turn around at the base. The goal was to stop at the van every other ascent to grab fresh bottles, food, and adjust clothing. With the temperature starting out in the high 20s Fahrenheit and a potential max of mid-50s I knew I’d be changing clothes frequently. Clipping in, I rolled down the gentle grade to the “official” start of the climb, made the U-turn and began the attempt in earnest. The first few climbs seemed to fly by, and it was pleasant to ride a new-to-me road. There are just enough turns and terrain to keep it interesting without being overly difficult or sketchy. The view from the top was the reward for each successful repeat. In all I would need to climb the 1,380-foot ascent 22 times.
One of my tactics for staying energetic and upbeat on long rides is to reward myself with some music after many hours have passed. As I approached the 10,000 foot mark for total ascent I could feel my energy waning a bit and the repetitiveness had become a bit tiresome. It was time to fire up some tunes! Oh, wait, they’re not actually downloaded to my iPhone. At the top of the climb I had enough cell service to load one song, so I just repeated that song for 40 minutes at a time. The repetitiveness of the music overshadowed the climb—ha!
After around 14,000 feet of climbing, things began to get quite difficult. My legs became very sore, swollen and heavy, and I became a bit lonesome out there by myself plodding up and down the mountain. At times I had to take a break after each repeat for a clothing adjustment or food and water. Also, as I rode into the afternoon hours, I realized that my 12 filled bottles weren’t going to be enough. Just as I began to struggle and let off the pace, Jay arrived! He was gracious enough to not only bring me some water, but he also came prepared to ride a couple of repeats with me. Having someone to chat with revitalized my effort and helped tick off the next few thousand feet. That, combined with a few text messages and replies to my Instagram story, kept me motivated. As I crested the 20,000 foot mark, the idea of actually completing the Everest came into my mind. Breaking up long rides into smaller chunks makes them seem much more attainable and these “checkpoints” in a ride help deliver that feeling of success typically reserved for the finish line. I never assume that I’ve got something “in the bag” or take a ride for granted because anything can happen, even in the final miles.
As daylight was replaced with darkness, so I replaced the missing layers on my body. The climb really didn’t feel that cold because I was putting out plenty of effort, but the descents were another thing. With speeds regularly over 40 miles per hour on the descents, the standing temperature of 35 degrees Fahrenheit felt like 19 degrees. Combine that temperature drop with sweat, and things freeze up quickly. As painful as my legs were getting and as much as I wanted to linger at the van during re-supply, it really wasn’t an option. The roundtrip from the van was taking around 40 minutes, so even with only five repeats remaining, it still equated to more than 3 hours of ride time. These are the thoughts that are best left uncalculated unless necessary. Head up, watts down and knock out the climbs.
As the ride wandered later into the night, I had to increase the light output on the bike and slow down my descents. I fell into the ritual of packing my jersey with extra clothes at the bottom and layering up at the peak. At this point I didn’t care if I had to wear a puffy jacket on the descent, so long as it kept me warm. With two repeats to go I abandoned all pacing and went into “let’s get this done” mode. On the last climb I said my goodbyes to each landmark I had come to know throughout the day. Goodbye old water wheel, goodbye steep wall, goodbye barking dogs. Making those last few turns through the neighborhood near the summit, a euphoria creeped in as I looked at the dark clear sky. It was just me out there all alone around 11 p.m., climbing out of the saddle up the last pitch.
Unclipping from my pedals at the end of the climb, I pumped my fist and celebrated quietly. No finish line, no fans, no hugs and no prize. Just the feeling of a job well done and a mission accomplished. I’ve come to appreciate these rides more than most races or other cycling experiences. No one asked me to do the ride, and there was no race entry or cash spent to motivate me to attend or finish. Just an idea and a goal I wanted to achieve personally.
When people ask me how I do long races like Trans Iowa or DKXL and how I prepare, this is what pops into my head—doing a very hard ride just for the sake of doing the ride and keeping that promise to yourself of finishing no matter what. It’s something I would recommend to anyone pursuing a challenge, whether it’s an Everest attempt or just riding a distance that sounds unattainable. Pick a goal that intrigues you, find a time to do it and prepare for the challenge. I guarantee you’ll learn something about yourself and it just might make that next finish line a little easier.
Date of ride: November 17th, 2018
Location: Hendersonville, NC
Bike: Salsa Warroad
Distance: 191.4 miles
Elevation gained: 30,404 feet
Moving time: 14 hours 3 minutes
Number of climb repeats: 22
Maximum speed: 49.7 mph
Hydration: 16 bottles (7 bottles of Maurten and CarboRocket), 2 Red Bulls and 1 Coke
Food: 4 slices cold pizza, ½ pound pre-cooked bacon, 2 gel flasks, 4 packages chews, Bag of potato chips, 3 Little Debbie snacks, 5 small Clif bars
Link to Strava file: https://www.strava.com/activities/1970860289
Link to official Everesting website: https://everesting.cc/
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