Michael Lindsey's Everesting Challenge Report
TCMer Michael Lindsey decided, in the absence of races, to complete the Everesting Challenge. From the official website..."The concept of Everesting is fiendishly simple: Pick any hill, anywhere in the world and complete repeats of it in a single activity until you climb 8,848m – the equivalent height of Mt Everest.
When asked why he wanted to climb the then-unclimbed Sagarmatha (Mt. Everest), the English mountaineer George Mallory is famously quoted with saying, "Because it's there." Much like Mallory, I wanted to "Everest" not because of fame and glory (well, maybe a little), but because of the mere existence of such an amazing challenge. The name Everest (which comes from a colonial surveyor who never even saw the mountain now named for him) has become synonymous with the most challenging and insane goals we can possibly set for ourselves. With the COVID-19 pandemic cancelling a chunk of the 2021 race calendar and making other races completely booked, I decided that perhaps it was time to try to Everest myself. I had not heard of Everesting prior to the pandemic, but my fascination with it took off as I saw more and more athletes take up the challenge (perhaps most notable being Phil Gaimon's pursuit of the world record, which he held for about two days). I was then completely hooked when I rode with a friend of mine during his own Everest ride earlier this year. Afterwards, I began the bulk of my training, which took place in Santa Cruz county and consisted of weekly long rides spent slogging up the steep grades of the mountain roads. When it came to actually choosing the hill for my Everest ride I looked for one with a consistent grade, good pavement, as few turns as possible, and one with safe turnarounds. I choose a .9 mile segment of Bonny Doon Road (once featured in stages of the now-defunct Tour of California) that met these criteria to my likings and set a date for destiny. Fortunately, unlike George Mallory who died on the mountain, I lived to tell the tale of my Everest summiting.
In terms of night before a big race sleeping patterns, this particular night before was probably one of the better. Got to sleep probably about 10:45 or so and slept through until my alarm went off at 4:00am. I had packed most things in my car the night before, so after a cup of tea, a bowl of oats and honey, and a mind-easing trip to the bathroom (let's be honest, one of my biggest worries of the whole day) I headed out to Bonny Doon. I pumped myself up with some Tower of Power on the way up the road, and after parking got all my nutrition organized and set up in the back of my car. Rolled down to the false flat/bottom of the segment, and just noodled around there for about 3-4 minutes before starting the timers on my computer/watch and heading up for lap 1 (of 70). The early morning hour laps were pretty pleasant. It was a bit cold, so I put on my fleece leg warmers, and opted for lighter sleeves on my arms and a wind vest (ditched the SCTA wind vest because it sucks and is more of a parachute at high downhill speeds). Starting out my legs felt good, but I paid way too much attention to my bike computer/HR level, which caused much unnecessary stress. I could see the bottom of the fog/cloud level at the top of the segment near Smith Grade, which kept the sun out of my face during the morning hours as the sun rose (I never even ended up wearing my sunglasses at all that day). Starting around 8:00am or so I started seeing some other cyclists going up BD Road. One guy joined me on one of the laps after he saw me turning around at the false flat at the bottom. He lived up the road from where I was and was returning from an early ride. During the rest of the day he drove by a few times and called out to me, which was really awesome. Another fun thing I noticed during the early hours of the day were the changes that happened to debris alongside the shoulder. After a couple of hours all of the sudden some fresh coyote scat appeared on the shoulder of the ascent, followed by the mysterious appearance of a bird leg. And not a tiny leg, either, I'm talking like a wild turkey's leg or something, the whole damn thing, just laying there on the shoulder. And an hour later it was gone! Seemed a bit ominous... I stopped for my first break after about two hours (12 laps) to top off my water bottles and get some more nutrition.
Keeping up on nutrition was probably the thing that dominated my mind the most (apart from singing along to Lonely Island songs) and when I started out I was eating a pack of blocks every hour and about 2/3 a bottle of Gatorade E. My teammate, Gunnar, showed up with some others around 9:00 and did a few laps with me. By that time I had also began to eat some of a ProMeal bar that I had brought as my stomach was starting to crave some actual solid food. Cycling traffic began to pick up after Gunnar left, which kept me a little occupied; all the support from passers-by was really great to have, especially when I told them what I was doing and they expressed their support/admiration/dumbfoundedness. Another teammate, Cecilia, showed up around 10:00 and threw down some laps with me. It was so nice to chat with her; it really helped distract my mind from the huge task I was facing. My bike computer's battery had gotten low by this point, so I had to charge it in my back pocket with a battery pack while Cecilia was there, which actually was a really good thing as it made me go based on feel rather than data that was (for sure) being affected by and affecting my mental state. I kept track of the laps that I had done on a multi-sport Garmin watch that was also tracking my ride.
After Cecilia left I had about an hour before my coach, Martin, arrived to squeeze in a few laps with me. At the same time the Ball Mauler (an organized ride in the hills that was scheduled that day and also went on Bonny Doon Road) crowd started their descent of BD and it was great to see and call out to my friends who were doing that. By the halfway point I was feeling pretty good; I had kept up pretty well on nutrition (especially drinking!); mentally and physically I was still in the game; and mechanically my bike was still dialed. I had started eating some of the PB sandwich I had brought as I was getting tired of sugar/sweet things, but it proved harder than I thought to eat because of how it would suck all the saliva out of my mouth every time I took a bite. I managed bit by bit throughout successive breaks. My friend Michael Machado came back after finishing the Mauler to do some laps with me (what a beast!), which again was a huge mental relief.
I talked with Michael for a good hour or so before he bailed. That was when things got dark. From about 2:00-5:00 (laps 40-55, roughly) it was a struggle, though probably more mental than physical. When Michael was riding with me I thought that I had started to fall off on nutrition, so I think I started to panic and over compensate. Stomach got a little sour here and there, and I began to detest the taste of shot blocks and Gatorade. I never quite felt nauseous enough to vomit, but it was there in the back of my mind a few times (mainly when I thought about the taste of shot blocks). Forced myself to start eating some salty PB-filled pretzels, again drinking tons of water to help them go down. It also started to get a little hot then, as well, and I took off the leg warmers and wind jacket at last, which helped. Crystal, a teammate, and Iris, my partner, showed up around 4:30-5:00, which was right when I needed them the most. Riding with Crystal was awesome, especially with her experience doing 140.6ers and other crazy long stuff. She helped talk me through how I was doing and how I was feeling; again, a HUGE mental help. When Crystal left I had 15 laps to go, at which point I could pretty much see the end in sight. I was still in OK shape at the time, and divided up the remaining 15 laps into three sets of 5, taking a short break after each. Iris sat in my car and cheered me on every time I passed her on the way up. Kept eating what I could, usually managing half a pack of blocks per hour/5 laps, a half bottle of water and some squirts of Gatorade (earlier at the halfway point I started keeping one bottle with Gatorade and another with just plain water on my bike), and some PB pretzels during the breaks. Started picking up the pace a little the last 10 laps, getting out of the saddle a little more than I had been (I stayed seated for most of the day). My watch said it was getting low on battery before I started the final 5 laps, so I tried to charge it and continue having it on me, but it turns out that the watch will NOT continue recording an activity while charging (thankfully my bike computer does as I had tested it out prior!). I had my bike computer read out the total ascent for the last two laps and so I could watch it cross 29,028', at which time I began cheering and weeping. Finished the last lap right after 8:30 as the sun had just set and the air was starting to smell like dew from the grass and trees. I was still very lucid when I finished; the part of me that was in the worst condition was my lower back muscles, which were super tight. I could barely even bend over at the waist, so my partner had to help me take off my shoes and socks. We packed up the car and headed back to SC, with me reeking of victory/sweat/shot blocks/Gatorade mix. Picked up some takeout Chinese on the way home, cried some more in the restaurant parking lot, then got home and managed to eat about half of my order of General Tso before crashing for the night.
Take-aways from this experience: the support was what made this day bearable. I was so grateful for all the people that came out to support me and do laps/cheer me on. I'm tearing up thinking about it while writing this. Things were pretty dark and grim during that block of time in the afternoon when I was by myself, but Crystal and Iris were my saving graces. I never really thought or considered quitting, but had they not showed up when they did it might've been a different story. Nutrition-wise I think I did pretty ok. Definitely nailed it during the first half, and despite almost maybe getting myself in trouble during the third quarter of the ride I listened to my body and reacted as best as I probably could have. I also didn't over exert myself; Crystal was pretty impressed with how lucid I was when she came out, and even Iris was impressed with how solid/strong/focused I looked for those last 15 laps. Did I have fun? Sure. Was it hard? Very much so. Would I do it again? We'll see...
Michael's Equipment List For Everesting:
Bike: Trek Emonda
Cleats and Helmet: Bontrager
Sleeves and Leg Warmers: Pearl Izumi