Everesting, story of one hill
For the past 5 years, I was in pursuit of long bike journeys that allowed me to cross high mountains, deep forests and travel wide distances. I slept short, biked long and (in a way) enjoyed every moment. But this time I prepared for a different challenge myself. Riding up one hill, again and again, meter by meter, to achieve the highest mountain on Earth – 8848 meters. It’s lucky we’re not on Mars.
As I pointed out, it’s a different challenge. I cannot say that it’s hard or easy. It’s not the point to think about it in this way as I cannot take harder and harder challenges forever. What I can do is to find new ways to push me out of the comfort zone.
Everesting has a few basic rules and by following them you will be eligible to be etherized in the hall of fame. As I write this article there are 6151 successful attempts listed. But let me say this – it’s mainly a personal challenge. And if those rules would make the climbing impossible or too unpleasant, change them. Your achievement is something that is only yours and the official rules are just the saucy sirup on top of the Everest. Let’s look at the rules:
- You will Everest by your own force. Only your legs will produce watts, so no electrical bikes are allowed.
- You will Everest on one route up and down. No changes.
- You will Everest in a single activity. You can have a break, but you cannot sleep.
- You will Everest on the bike only, no walking. It’s a cycling challenge.
- You will Everest by climbing 8848 meters.
Simple, right? So, what is the main difference between Everesting and bikepacking adventures or races?
- Everesting is supported. You can have a crew and a basecamp, where you store all your goodies, warm clothes and equipment for repairs. That can be a huge morale
- Is so easy to give up during Everesting. As it is best to do it locally, you can get home very easily. During the long bikepacking adventures you can’t just give up in the middle of nowhere. There is no helicopter that would bring you home. There is no rescue. Even when you can’t continue, you just have to push yourself to survive.
- In Everesting you don’t really explore much, because you are on the same loop again and again. And that can be really frustrating. I love bikepacking because I visit so many beautiful places. Not that I would pick some ugly route for Everesting, but the same view 30 times? It lacks its magic.
- Bikepacking is longer and easier in terms of tempo. You have only a limited time for Everesting, so you just must push a little harder than usual. It can be a really intense 24h+ experience, based on your fitness level and chosen hill.
- The fact I won’t be able to walk is a huge change. As I get tired of bikepacking events, I save energy by walking steep hills. Am I going to be able to push myself and pedal now?
As you can see it’s a very different challenge. I was thinking about it for quite a long time, but I didn’t have the right opportunity. But now, in the times of coronavirus, it just fits. I stay in one place, so I can’t potentially spread the virus as I travel through the country. I won’t visit shops or pubs as they’re closed anyway. The perfect challenge for lockdown.
Looking for the one
I needed only one thing – to pick the right hill. I knew I need something close to home, so I don’t have to worry about the resupplying. I live in Prague and there are just no good hills around. And if they are, they’re full of people, which I don’t want to go around.
Another opportunity was near the house of my parents. It’s at the edge of the Lusatian mountains, so the potential hills were on the doorstep.
Everesting grows mainly as a road bike challenge, but that wasn’t an option for me, because I don’t have one. And since I didn’t want to spend twenty hours on asphalt, I wanted to do it 100% off-road. Sure, it would be more difficult, but also more enjoyable.
As I looked at the map, the one hill that immediately caught my attention, was Popova Skála. Iconic hill, that I can see from my parents’ house. It would be the perfect target for Everesting. As I was in Prague, my father helped me explore the route.
I was told that climbing to Popova skála isn’t a good idea since the last section is very steep and it will be full of people on the weekend. There was another hill next to it – Sedlecký špičák, which could be less crowded. My father sent me pictures from both paths and it was on me to decide which will be better.
Picking the right path is very important since it could change the whole experience of Everesting. I wanted to pick a route that would be challenging but beautiful.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have many options in picking the right date. I had only one day when I could do it and the forecast wasn’t very pleasant. It promised heavy rain, so the asphalt variant was still in the game.
In a way, my Everesting attempt started on Wednesday. My first task was to get to the place. And what is better transportation than a bike? So, I filled my bikepacking bags with the gear for various weather conditions and I took a 110k ride. There was no need to hurry and I enjoyed it.
The next day was important:
- I got food supplies from the local delivery service. Cookies, bread, chips, sweet drinks.
- I had time to explore the route to Popova skála
- I needed to prepare my bike
I took off all my bikepacking gear and I only kept two small bags where I carried electronics and a jacket. I put down the aerobars to shave as much weight off as I could. My Trek Procaliber might not be the lightest bike in the world but I can count on it.
Preparation is key
On my explore climb I took 6 litres of drinking, that I wanted to stash in the forest. It was really heavy…
I started climbing from the playground in Hrádek nad Nisou. It was one thing to see it on the map and a different thing to be there. I really loved it. I was climbing the hill through a meadow and I had a beautiful view of the town, coal power plant in Poland and wind farm in Uhelná. “I can do this” I thought. It was a pretty comfortable climb until I reached the saddle.
On the left was the route to Popova skála and just by looking it was clear that this won’t be the option. Since the rule of Everesting is that you cannot walk, there was no chance I could do it on the bike. Sedlecký Špičák looked much better, so I tried that. After a few tens of meters it got very steep and technical. Maybe with a smaller chainring, it would be possible, but definitely not now. And there wasn’t even a nice view on the top since it was all covered in trees.
I decided I will be climbing only to the Popova Skála saddle. I would have to do it 35 times to reach the height of Mount Everest.
I was happy with the path I chose:
- I started at the Hrádek nad Nisou near the playground with a handy bench. That was my bottom camp.
- The climb started slowly on a wide forest path, where I was protected from the elements like wind, rain and sun.
- The longest part was on grass through the meadows. It was the nicest and also the hardest part as that isn’t the best surface for biking. There was no protection from elements and based on the forecast it could go wild.
- Just before the last section started, there was a second bench with my basecamp where I had all food and drinks. My father was helping me there. It was a great rest place before the last push.
- The last section was in the forest on a rocky road and it was the steepest. My chainring wasn’t small enough, so I had to push through this by using force and it was pretty hard, especially at the end.
Clearly it wasn’t the easiest road for Everesting. It was steep on some sections, grass can get very slippery when it rains and there was no real shelter. But I don’t do things, because they’re easy.
Start when everyone sleeps
I prepared some clothes based on the forecast and I set the alarm clock to 4 o’clock in the morning. I would do my first climb in the dark. The weather wasn’t looking good, but I had already decided that I won’t take the asphalt road even if it got really bad. The only thing I planned was to postpone the start by a few hours if the rain got really strong.
I thought I could do the whole challenge in 20 hours which wasn’t really a qualified guess. It would mean that I would finish just after midnight.
My first thought in the morning wasn’t polite or even publishable. But sharing lists of alarm clocks on social media isn’t my hobby, so I just woke up and got dressed. The rain was just stopping, so it was a great moment to start as the air was fresh with a damp smell.
I filled my bag with candies and some clothes because I needed to get them on top. My back still felt sore from transporting the water yesterday. In a way, there still was a lot of self-supporting elements.
I left into the dark and I was passing sleeping houses next to the empty road. Those are my favourite moments of bikepacking. Be out there when normal people are sleeping.
As I got to the playground, I could start my big adventure. I was still a little unsure what to expect. I haven’t done special training, I haven’t watched videos about Everesting, I haven’t read articles about attempts. I just used my good old method – Let’s start and see what happenes.
It was 4:47, my Garmin found a GPS signal and I started pedalling.
The first climb was hard. Harder than it should be. But I was still in a good mood and I hoped I’m just warming up. It’s pretty usual for me, that I can be a little rusty on those beginning of long rides. As I get into the zone, I feel much better.
It took me 29 minutes and 37 seconds to get to the top. The first climb was done, 34 to go…
I felt well on the second one. Maybe too well, because I started pushing too hard. I was pretty much on the lowest gear all the time, but as the climb was steep, I just used my strength to get on top.
As the grass was drying out, it felt easier to pedal and I just felt I needed to up my tempo. My times were improving. The climbing and also the descending. I broke this wall of fear and just flew 50 km/h in the meadows.
The first 1000 meters of elevation was pretty easy. Everything was going according to plan, I felt strong and confident. Other people started climbing to the Popova skála as the town was waking up. The temperature was getting higher and there really wasn’t anything that could ruin my plans. My father came to help me in my basecamp and he kept an eye on my things as I was going up and down.
The quarter of Mount Everest is 2212 meters. I reached that in 5 hours and it was the first time when I started to worry a little. Because I kind of knew that this was the easiest part and it will be harder and harder. My heart rate was going up to 160+ bpm on some sections and that’s too high. I didn’t know how I would handle it at the end. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to pedal at some point anymore.
Hitting the Everesting wall
After I climbed Popova skála for the 13th time and I accumulated an ascent of 3354 meters, my mother brought me lunch to the lower camp. Relying on real food is something that I learned in bikepacking. In those long rides, you can’t use sports nutrition all the time. You will get sick of it. You will hate it. You will curse it. So that is why I had this nice schnitzel with mashed potatoes.
Of course, it isn’t always real food. I needed to eat all the time, so I had a lot of snacks. From candy bars and dried fruit to banana milk and salty potato chips. But the most important was the sugary drinks. I took a sip on every climb. When you think about it, it’s not the healthiest thing to do.
My route started to be a little crowded as more and more people were going to Popova skála. And it was funny as I was passing them again and again and they had no idea what I was doing. They must have thought I’m crazy. But no … I was just Everesting.
And dealing with people that are watching you is a real-life skill. It will teach you that it doesn’t matter what people think about you. What matters is only that it has value for you.
On the 17th climb, I hit the Everesting wall. I was expecting it to be there and that is probably the reason why it was there. My heart rate has dropped to the 150+ on the climbs, so I wasn’t pushing that hard anymore. Until this, my climbing time was about 26 minutes and it was prolonged to 30+ minutes.
So, what was the change, how did I create this wall? I was right in the middle. It wasn’t that hard, but I was getting tired. I already climbed a huge height, but it wasn’t enough. My gearing was too hard. The weather was getting colder. I was tired of eating. I got a puncture. And I had to do all the work once more!
This was an ideal time to give it up. The goal was still far beyond my imagination. Too far. I knew I had to climb at least 6000 meters to save again. I couldn’t give it up when I had this much elevation. I wouldn’t want to waste the work. But 4400m? That is nothing! I can try it another time…
Crawling the Everesting wall
But I endured. You know … I always had this great memorable story from bikepacking events and it’s usually something physical. About how I was going through a massive storm or singing songs in a bear forest at midnight. This time, this magical experience happened inside me. I thought myself out of it.
I was Everesting Popovka for 13 hours when my mother brought me dinner (zucchini cake), some vegetables and hot tea. I didn’t know that I like vegetables on those big rides. They were soft, juicy and easy to eat. It was 17:50 and I just finished my 22nd climb. Still a lot to go and only 3 hours of light. I could use a shower and I really wasn’t in the mood to hop on the bike again.
When I reached the 6000 meters mark, I felt really
relieved. From that moment I knew I could do it. It wasn’t a question of “if” anymore. It was only “when”. Luckily, I wasn’t slowing down that much. The descents were worse because of the dark and I didn’t want to hit some wild animal.
Was I suffering? Yes. Was it worth it? I would say yes. Because the suffering will end. I knew I would go to bed, have some really late dinner (or breakfast), wash myself. I will be fine. And the next day, only the tired legs will remind me, what I went through yesterday. But the accomplishment? That isn’t something that would fade away like that. The accomplishment will stay with me for many years. I will forget the suffering. I will remember the victory. And that is what kept me in the saddle the whole time.
It wasn’t a spectacular event. There were no fans. There were no reflectors. There was only me, the dark and my father bravely sitting at the base camp. There was no place to push me anymore. I knew that isn’t the way. I took my time. I tried to rest on every climb. There was no competitor. The easiest way was to do it one by one. I counted every meter, every climb.
I was used to riding in the dark. I wasn’t pushing through the night for the first time. As I gathered experience in bikepacking races, this was something I was confident in. When I was getting really sleepy, I took a caffeine pill and it kept me going till the end.
It was magical as my Garmin showed 7000 meters, 8000 meters, 8400 meters… It was my finishing line. I passed midnight and I was still circling up and down like a lost cockroach.
I was really looking forward to my last hill. It was pleasant. Really. I knew I was going to do it only once more. The forest. The meadow. The rocky road. And the saddle. Garmin was showing my 9009 meters of climbing. It was dark. I smiled a little. I felt the burden lift off my back. So … it’s done. Let’s go home.
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