What a crazy, ridiculous, amazing concept.
Cycling up and down a hill over and over until you reach the equivalent 8848 metres height of Mount Everest.
I can’t pinpoint the exact moment that I heard about Everesting. I think it was when I was doing some research on Swains Lane, a hill in London that I’d entered the Urban Hill Climb on a couple of years ago. I read about a guy who’d Everested that. It sent me down a rabbit hole of looking into where else other people had Everested and started some cogs whirring in my brain without me even realising, thanks Hells500 (the founders of the concept). I put it on my At Some Point To Do List, but on there are some other things like learning to knit, being able to play the piano like Elton John and actually climbing Mont Blanc. I don’t own any crampons, knitting needles or a piano so all of the things on that list were on the long term list, until COVID hit.
This year I was set to ride the full route of the Tour de France again, the day before the professional men, with my team the InternationElles. We ride for equality and we aim to close the gender gap in cycling by asking why shouldn’t women have the same opportunities as men. Our plans of riding the Tour were scuppered when we were forced to come up with something else to do when half of our team couldn’t get to France and we weren’t sure if it was the right and responsible thing to do during a global pandemic anyway. We decided to cover off both the 3484km distance and the 50,000 metres elevation of the Tour de France as a team, within a week. The distance we covered online virtually on RGT Cycling in a round the clock relay in less than 100 hours and the elevation we covered by each of us Everesting. We are an international team based in UK, USA, Australia and The Netherlands. 3 members did it virtually on Zwift and 7 did it in real life on an actual hill. I was one of the 5 UK based riders that did it on The Bwlch in South Wales.
I’d researched the hell out of it. It was a hill I fell in love with the first time I rode it about 5 years ago on the Dragon Ride Sportive. It was a sportive I’d been 1st female in and the first time my little boys came to see me race. I was newly divorced and starting a new, positive and hopeful chapter of my life. The hill had huge sentimental value to me and I’d ridden it numerous times since. My parents live about 40 minutes away and whenever I visit them and have my bike with me I take a spin up there. As I’d started formulating the ideas of Plan B I had this hill in mind. It’s an interesting hill and similar to Mont Ventoux in that it has 3 ways up it. A couple of months ago I did a recce of all 3 ways up in one ride. It secured my decision that the Dragon Ride way up it was the way to go. The other 2 ways just weren’t as good despite having a burger van in the layby at the top. One way was so short we would have to do it over 40 times, the other way has a nasty steep section at the bottom and a narrow bit where you have to stop for oncoming traffic. The way up from Cymer was perfect. Steadier, longer and open, 6.3km and 5.2% average gradient. Would head winds be an issue though and where exactly would we start and stop? That’s where my research came into play. I contacted Clare, a local girl who’d Everested a couple of times. She contacted the council to check we were clear of road resurfacing issues and agreed it was a perfect Everesting hill even though she hadn’t done it herself. The week before we Everested I went to check the road surface and decipher the exact turning spots at each end. I created a new Strava segment because the existing ones didn’t quite suit. The perfect turning spot at the bottom was a little bit short of the existing segment but was worth it because there was a clearer view of the road and a nice big layby. There were a couple of options at the top. The longest spot to get in all the elevation was round the corner from view, on a bend and a bit gravelly. Yes we would have to do one less lap if we finished there but I thought the benefits of pulling the turning point to a spot that we could see as we were climbing was worth that extra lap. So we put the summit turning spot in a nice big layby with fantastic views of almost the whole climb. This would be motivating for us riding to see where we needed to get to and helpful for our sherpas who would get advance warning of us approaching. I submitted the segment to Andy van Bergen, the creator of all things Everesting and he confirmed we needed to do 27 repetitions of it to hit the elevation needed. Game on.
We’d worked out that if we started at 4am we would get a few laps under our belt before daylight came and we’d hopefully be done before it got dark, or shortly after, with an estimate of 16 hours to complete the 333km needed. We were set up with a great support team. There were 5 of us riders, me (Lou), Lucy, Jess, Rhian and Jules. We had Lucy’s husband Mow in their motorhome (with a toilet, hallelujah) set up at basecamp and my fiancé Rob at the summit. Jess’ fiancé George was mobile capturing content for us and my parents were there up and down the climb offering support. We went to bed early the night before knowing we needed to be up at 2am. Did we sleep? NOPE. But thankfully our legs had just about stopped aching from completing our TDF relay a couple of days previous. We started riding as planned at 4am. It was pitch black but it wasn’t too cold and after a couple of laps we were settling into a rhythm and it was getting lighter.
Our support crew chalked our names on the road and drew lines at the top and bottom that we had to cross each time to make sure we covered the full segment. Sunrise brought an absolutely beautiful pink sky and a refreshed feeling. Amazingly we were all still climbing together. I thought we’d split up almost instantly and all climb at our own pace but we stayed together. We were aided by a wonderful tailwind all the way up the climb and fantastic weather all day. Someone was clearly looking out of us up there. What wasn’t ideal was the roadworks part way up the climb, complete with traffic lights. By the time the workmen showed up at 10am we’d been going up and down for 6 hours already but they didn’t believe us. They looked at us with bemusement as we passed every half an hour or so and before we knew it they were heading off having completed their full day at work. The traffic light fairies were definitely on our side though, I only had to stop and unclip once on the way up, not bad out of 27 reps!
Sadly this area is littered with rubbish. It became our distraction though, little landmarks along the way: hedgehog, steep bit, traffic lights, bottle, dead bird, cattle grid, Volvic bottle, crap road surface, curly thing that looked like a poo, flowers, screw embedded in the road, slipper, switchback, headwind, summit. The short headwind section was fine though, it was a cooling breeze after the climb and we were almost at the top by then. We knew once we got to “slipper” we were fine. Oh, there was a numberplate on the road too, I thought I’d memorise it by the end of the day, I never did though, I think it moved or I lost concentration on that task at some point.
The day was long and I was aware that I was suffering a little bit more than I should be. I’m a cautious rider, unless I’m racing I will always hold back to ensure I’ve got plenty of energy for the duration. I don’t know why I do it, I’ve never bonked or massively struggled, but I can’t help it, it must be self-preservation and my way of keeping the monkey off my back. On about lap 12 I was aware I was pushing harder than I wanted to be. I kept getting a mouthful of sick if I chanced a burp and my heart rate was just a bit higher than where I wanted it to be, so I backed off the pace a little bit. I was then worrying about falling way behind the others though and feeling like I needed to do extra laps by keeping on going after they’d finished. The monkey was at risk of hopping on and starting to whisper his sweet nothings in my ear. Thankfully I wasn’t that far behind the others, if I kept them within my sights I could keep the monkey away. I was riding comfortably and I would definitely be able to finish it, I actually even tried to let myself enjoy it. With only my own thoughts and the voices in my head I was able to think about why we were doing what we were doing and how epic it would be to join the Hells 500 crew. I was determined and excited to finish and I still wasn’t fed up of the climb; hedgehog, steep bit, traffic lights, bottle, dead bird, cattle grid, Volvic bottle, crap road surface, curly thing that looked like a poo, flowers, screw embedded in the road, slipper, switchback, headwind, summit, it became my mantra.
A slightly stressful few laps were spent with my Wahoo in my back pocket with my power pack charging it, but each time I checked it it wasn’t charging. For some reason I’d also selected a cable that could double as a skipping rope. I didn’t know I even owned one that long and why on earth I brought that one I have no idea. This started to panic me. If my bike computer died and my ride wasn’t recorded there was absolutely no point to this whatsoever, we all know if it’s not on Strava it didn’t happen.
Thankfully Rob sorted me out at the top with a better cable and charger and within a couple of laps I knew I had enough juice in my Wahoo for the duration, phew. The cattle grid became unfunny too. On the way up it was getting dodgier as we got a little bit slower, I really didn’t want to stack it on that. Thankfully there was a gate to the side of it that was propped open for a fair few laps, it was helpful and much easier than bumping over the grid burning way more matches that I wanted to. Sadly it was closed at some point though. Possibly by a local resident, worried their village would become overrun by the sheep that had moved in, bored of watching the crazy girls in pink going up and down the mountain. Another welcome distraction apart from slipper and the curly poo thing was the people that joined us. Both Juliet Elliott and Katie Kookaburra showed up, it was wonderful to see them and both had travelled absolutely miles to be there and it meant the world to have their support. Both were filled with confidence that we were going to complete the Everesting and I was starting to believe them. My brother and sister in law also showed up and some friends from Instagram, it was awesome and humbling. At some point my parents’ neighbours showed up at basecamp and offered support too. I don’t really recall saying much to them because at the same time some chips showed up too. Delicious, hot, salty chips. I stuffed them in my gob like I’d never eaten before. I think the supportive onlookers went from looking proud to looking horrified as I double fisted those incredible chips and off I rode again.
We were blessed with the most fantastic sunset and we were getting closer and closer to finishing. I was still doing ok. I was making sure I had carbs in my bottle because (apart from those chips, did I mention the chips?) I was struggling to eat, but knew I needed to keep taking on calories. The words of my coach Will Girling rang in my head, I knew to pace myself and I knew the amount of carbs per hour I needed to keep riding comfortably. I ended up burning over 8000 calories over the ride, that kind of exercise isn’t possible without fuelling properly and constantly. For my comfort I’d also taken a couple of painkilers because my back and neck were starting to get pretty achy and I put some gloves on. I don’t normally wear gloves but I put some on about half way through because parts of my hands were getting a bit tender and I was nervous of getting blisters. I’d never ridden more than 9 or 10 hours so just didn’t know how my body would respond and didn’t want to take too many chances so took all the precautions eg 45 tonnes of chamois cream and glass cranking wherever I could to ensure I was able to complete the ride as comfortably as possible. I had a slightly soul destroying point on what I thought was lap 20 when I was told it was lap 19 but I later gained a lap when I thought I was on 23 and found out I was actually on 24. Before I knew it I was on my last descent, I really was going to make it. Lucy and Jess were ahead of me by about half a lap and Jules and Rhian were less than half a lap behind me. When I got to basecamp I knew Lucy and Jess would be finishing and I was delighted for them. They’d had a great day and managed to stick together, both mega strong and on a mission to just get it done. I enjoyed the kisses that Jess and I blew eachother each time we passed, it was fun and I’m proud to be in such an awesome team. Lucy was worried her Wahoo would “shit itself” as it often does but thankfully it played ball and recorded the ride without any issues. Rhian and Jules are also mega strong but both had been slowed down by mechanicals or they would have finished before us all. Jules and I had made a pact that we would finish together and I wanted to finish with her and Rhian anyway so I waited for them at the bottom. That period at basecamp was great, I shovelled in some Haribos and chatted to my parents, Everesting was in the bag, I couldn’t be happier. The girls arrived and looked delighted I’d waited for them. We climbed for the last time together, chatting all the way, laughing and joking about what a day it had been. We were so distracted chatting we forgot to bid farewell to hedgy, birdy and slipper. Before we knew we were at the top and our support cars were all flashing lights and beeping. it was fantastic and despite the temporary blindness we were able to see the finish line and make sure we crossed it for the 27th time. We got off our bikes, swiftly put them on eBay so we never had to see them again, hugged eachother and drank champagne. Rob had us cross off our final lap on the tally board, it was amazing. If he hadn’t have already asked me to marry him at the end of the Tour de France last year I would have asked him there and then, he’s the best.
I’m now looking online to buy my bike back because I’ve got the Everesting bug. It seems Everesting is like getting a tattoo, you can’t just stop at one. But before the next Everesting comes the Everesting tattoo. Watch this space….. THANK YOU to everyone who supported, who believed and to you if you’ve managed to read this far and sorry you’ve lost half a day in the process. If you’re thinking of Everesting DO IT. My words of advice are research your hill a lot, pace yourself, get a support crew, power for your bike computer, bike fully serviced and ready, good lights, fuel properly and try to enjoy it, it really is an incredible thing. Oh and take photos. I wish I had a photo of slipper, in times of need going forward I could look at it and know everything is going to be ok. xxx