“At 3:25 AM Sunday May 25, 22 hours and 18 minutes after commencing, I had ascended 8882 vertical meters successfully Everesting Cherry Street, Macleod.
What follows is a little background and ride report.
I’d first heard about Everesting back in March when a cycling partner of mine (Strava athlete George Voros) had a failed attempt (after reaching 7700 meters). He made a successful attempt with his father a few weeks later.
By successfully Everesting at his second attempt, George had set an incredible benchmark, one that I was hypnotically drawn to. Like a moth to a flame.
George is one tough Hombre. Listening to him about his ride and doing some extended research, it was apparent that aside from having the physical strength to climb such an elevation, preparation was paramount.
For a few weeks I tried to put the idea out of my head. Don’t get me wrong, I love climbing, but there is a limit; even if you suffer from riders OCD as I do.
Before my ride on May 24, the longest/highest ride I had completed was 210KM with 3600 vertical meters. I would have to break my distance record and destroy my single ride vertical PB to achieve this goal; I was not short of self-doubt.
In the end, I decided I couldn’t live with myself without at least trying. Trying and failing was easier to accept than not trying at all. So the planning began.
First I had to find the right hill.
Many of the failed attempts occurred on rural and country roads. Descending in the dark when you are tired and there is wildlife waiting to send you over your handlebars was not my idea of fun. Rural roads are also in general, distant from potential support. So I started scouting urban hill climbs that met the following criteria:
(1) The gradient had to be consistent and in the 6% to 8% range (I could have gone steeper but I would have needed to change the ratios on my cassette).
(2) There had to be a round-a-bout top and bottom to make rounding each repeat easy.
(3) The road had to be well lit for the many hours of night riding that I anticipated.
(4) The road had to be straight (to enable safe descents at the maximum possible speed) and finally
(5) There had to be a bathroom available nearby.
And then I found Cherry Street Macleod, which ticked all the boxes (and happened to be close to home which was a bonus). It was a strip of road around 500 meters long and rose approximately 35 meters (7% gradient). It was straight, it hand round-a-bouts top and bottom, was well lit and there was a train station at the bottom that had a bathroom. To confirm my choice, I then undertook a test ride on Cherry Street, riding repeats until I had completed about 10% of the target vertical a week before my actual Everesting attempt. The test ride left me feeling comfortable with my choice.
My next action was to build a ride plan. This included start time, target heart rate, rest breaks, meal breaks and fluid intake. All the planned breaks were based on the amount of vertical I had completed, not based on time of day and basically amounted to rests/refuels every 1000 vertical meters.
I didn’t set a target speed (or ascent rate) because doing so would likely have conflicted with my heart rate targets and ultimately I felt that managing my heart rate was the single most critical factor. Moreover, it didn’t matter when I finished; finishing is what mattered. I did however estimate, on the back of my test ride and heart rate constraints, when the breaks would likely occur.
The ride plan led to the rest of the planning. This included what I would eat, when I would eat it (based on expected calorie burn), what I would drink, what clothes I would need etc. It a process of stepping through the ride in your mind and thinking about what is going to happen.
Finally, there was the risk plan. What could possibly go wrong? Wherever possible, I brought gear with me that would mitigate against risks. For example, I brought a light that I could strap to my head which would allow me to undertake bike repairs in the evening if it became necessary and brought a first-aid kit along to deal with minor injuries if I came off the bike. In the end, one terribly minor glitch in the risk planning almost brought me undone. But more on that later. (If anyone is interested in the details of the plan, please let me know and I will forward you the specifics).
Anyway, onto the ride itself.
I was circulating on Cherry Street by 5:07AM on Saturday May 24. Conditions at that time were dark, still and cold. I had ascended through 2000 meters by 9:00 AM, well ahead of schedule. I was feeling truly awesome and my mind was in a very good place, as it should have been at this point in the ride. The first of the Hells 500 riders came by in support. (Hells 500 are the legendary bike club and “keepers” of the Everesting movement). Rich Kemp and Andy van Bergen, who were on their own rides that morning, dropped in for a few repeats and offered their encouragement.
Andy, an Everester himself, no doubt knew what was coming but (kindly!) kept his tone positive. There was no mention of the traumas one faces in trying to ascend 8848 meters in a single ride.
The Hells 500 club holds an almost mystical presence in my mind. Their exploits are nothing short of legendary. Any notion that I could “belong” to that club seemed ludicrous to me. Yet, if I succeeded today, I would earn The Grey Strip and be inducted into their cohort. So on top of me dedicating this ride to the homeless and the associated charity, I was not short of motivation.
It seemed that news of what I was doing had filtered into the local community. By mid-morning people walking up and down Cherry Street would wave as I went passed. Cars were tooting (in a friendly manner). Some screamed encouragement as they drove by, a poignant contrast to the usual reaction of motorists to cyclists.
Half way up one ascent, I could hear a cow bell ringing repeatedly from behind, getting closer. It was being rung by a passenger in a car coming up the hill and as the car overtook, the passenger screamed “GO GEORGE” while continuing to ring the cow bell until the car turned out of Cherry Street at the top.
By late morning, just as I was passing 3000 vertical meters, a group of my close cycling buddies started arriving. I nick-named them the G-Train!
First on the scene was Loc Tran. A little later we were joined by Isaac Dowel and Alain.
These guys are amongst the strongest riders I ride with so having them run shot-gun form me was brilliant. I was still feeling fantastic physically and with the G-train keeping me company, the vertical meters continued to melt away.
Isaac was the self-appointed morale officer. Lap after lap he would boom out “Go Georgie” or “Looking strong mate”, “Come on Georgie” etc. Around 2:30PM it was time for my main planned break. By this time, I had 4420 vertical meters in the bank. I was half way and still feeling strong.
Loc had rattled off 50 KM alongside me (having already ridden from his home 25 KM away), Alain and Isaac were not far behind. Their job was done. And I was incredibly grateful that they had spent those hours with me helping get me get closer to my target.
My wife Helen also left at that time, gratefully accepting a lift from Les Voros. We only own one car and everything I needed for this ride was in it. Helen planned to catch a taxi back when I was closer to finishing.
Mid ride break. Yours front left, Les Voros behind me, Adam Barnes centre, Loc Tran right of image. Isaac Dowel is hidden behind me.
As they were departing, Alain asked me what time I expected to finish because he wanted to be there if possible to watch. My progress had slowed somewhat but it was now looking like the original estimate of 18 hours was closer to the mark; possibly a touch more. So I replied “around midnight”. Loc also said he might also return to watch.
After they left, I hopped back on the bike and returned to my purpose.
That’s when the first sign of trouble hit me. It was a “niggle” on the inside of my left knee that had surfaced after I cooled down.
About an hour or so later, the “niggle” turned into a sharp pain on each pedal stroke.
I could minimize the pain by reducing the pedal load, which would mean slowing down. I really, really didn’t want to slow down.
I didn’t think it was a soft tissue tear (based on the location of the pain) nor was it a typical knee joint pain one might experience from a high impact activity like running.
I figured it was most likely a badly irritated tendon; and in my risk planning, I had anticipated this might occur. In my kit, I had packed some non-steroidal anti-inflammatory tablets (Voltaren).
I returned to the car but couldn’t find the tablets. They had vanished. And for various reasons, there was no one with me whom I could send to buy some.
This was a potential disaster. Without the anti-inflammatory’s I had no way of dealing with my deteriorating knee pain. If it continued to get worse, I would have no choice but to stop.
I backed off the pace and settled into a rhythm that I was hoping I could maintain. By 5:00 PM I’d crossed through 5100 meters, the sun was going down and it was getting cold, rapidly.
The night shift is in…
Around 7:00 PM I took an unscheduled break and made the mistake of breaking my ride plan to keep breaks to an absolute minimum. I had been sitting by my car for approximately 20 minutes before realising that my body had cooled down and my base layer (which had been soaked in perspiration) started to chill me. So very suddenly, I was literally shaking with cold. I was alone, fatigued, it was dark, my knee was giving me larry-doo, I had hours and hours of repeats ahead of me and now I was freezing.
I just wanted the suffering to end. This was my waterloo moment. The question was, was I Napoleon or the Duke of Wellington? Then I remembered the inscription on the identity tag I wear around my neck. I took it off, held it in my hand. The inscription reads:
Vincit que se vincit.
“He conquers, who conquers himself”.
I wasn’t going to quit. Not now. The ONLY way to end the suffering was to finish what I had started. I got back on the bike after changing my clothes and started lapping Cherry Street again. Around 8:00 PM, I had 6000 meters in the bank. Fatigue and exhaustion were setting in. I did a quick calculation of my expected finish time and based on my current progress; it was now looking like 2:00 AM, at the earliest. That meant another 6 hours in the saddle.
The knee was bothering me but wasn’t getting any worse. I was coping with the pain; slowing my speed was doing the trick. It just meant I was going to be on the bike longer than I had hoped.
Around 11:00 PM I rang Helen as she hadn’t yet returned and was overdue. I was really looking forward to her company. On the phone, I could hear the distress in her voice. She’d been trying to grab a taxi but it was Saturday night and the grid was full. She was stranded. We were cruelly separated by a broken system. She would continue to try to get a taxi for the next three hours without success. But that’s another story.
By 11:15 PM I had ascended 7400 meters. It now looked like a 3:00 AM finish. Groan. I needed a psychological lift and miraculously, one appeared. Out of the darkness came Alain. Not with his bike but as a rugged up spectator. To keep warm he walked up and down Cherry Street and cheered *every* time I went past to complete another lap.
I felt some guilt realising that Alain had arrived when he did based on me telling him earlier that I expected to finish at midnight and made a mental note to apologise to him later.
A few minutes later as I was descending Cherry Street I saw a flashing light at the bottom of the hill where Alain was presently waiting.
Was that a bike light? Were my eyes playing tricks on me? Was I losing my mind? A few seconds later I had my answer.
Cue rock star music.
Loc Tran (himself an Everester) had returned and realising I still had a long way to go, grabbed his bike out of the back of his car, kitted up and locked onto my wheel.
I can’t begin to describe the psychological uplift this gave me. His company was incredibly effective at distracting me from the suffering. Loc brought me home and taught me what true mateship is. It is something I will never, ever forget.
At 3:20 AM it was all over; 258 repeats of Cherry Street, 299.2 KM travelled, 8882 vertical meters in the bag.
Its 3:25 AM. With my wingman Loc. Job done.
Finishing seemed surreal. Bizarrely, I felt guilty about not getting on the bike and continuing. I had to keep telling myself, it really was over. And now for the thankyous; to the riders that circulated Cherry Street with me, Andrew Finney, Rich Kemp, Andy van Bergen, Alain, Isaac Dowell, Simon Matheson and Adam Barnes. Thank you.
Dietmar Gregory, whom I had never previously met, made a point of dropping in a number of times through the day to offer encouragement…and fetched me Coke when I asked. Thank you.
A mate from my university days, Mark Hayman, whom I’ve only recently reconnected with, drove from Mt Waverly to Macleod simply to drop in, say hello and wish me well on the journey. Thank you.
Les Voros (another Everester) drove over *from Melton* to cheer me on. Not only that, he gave Helen a lift home, saving her from the public transport system after my mid ride break. Thank you!
To the many people who lined the street through the day, literally cheering every time I went by, thank you. I wish I knew your names. If you are reading this, please make contact so I can thank you personally.
To the many that “liked” and commented on the Instagram photos as I posted them. Thank you, and I will respond in kind accordingly. And Loc Tran, you son are a dead set legend. Despite a separation of age and culture, we formed an unbreakable bond on Cherry Street. A true Bromance!
Finally, a heartfelt thankyou to my wife Helen, who puts up with my episodic OCD and acted as support crew on the day. Despite her better judgement, she gave me permission to tackle Cherry Street and indulge my dream.
If I’ve forgotten someone, I am sincerely sorry. Please feel free to clip me over the ear next time we meet.
There are photos up on Instagram (http://instagram.com/yodaandthebike). If anyone is interested in attempting an “official” Everesting themselves, you find out more here: http://www.everesting.cc/ This has set a high water mark for me personally and I can’t begin to describe the immense satisfaction it has given me. Running a charity for the homeless alongside just made it all the more rewarding. The charity is still open.
Anyone here wishing to donate can do so by following this link:” https://swagsforhomeless.everydayhero.com/au/george