Saturday, 17 October 2015

Everest!

I set out to complete an Everest last Saturday.  This involves cycling up and down the same hill whatever number of times is required to take the total ascent up to the height of Mt. Everest – 8,848 metres.

If you’re only interested in knowing the results then, yes, I made it.  It took me 19 hours to ascend a total of around 8,900 metres over a distance of about 205 km.

If you want to know how it went, then read on!

Who in their right mind really wants to cycle umpteen times up and down the same bit of tarmac?  Talk about boring, tedious, and uncomfortable!  Of course, there are many reasons to be crazy.  In my case, the Everest was purely a training goal.  It was something to force me to do the hill-training for what was then my ultimate goal of eight times around Lake Taupo – NZ’s longest non-stop (and very hilly) road-bike race.  Perfect!

So it was that I set off on the first climb at 1:20 am on Saturday, 10 October.  My planned start was 2:00 am, but after tossing in bed with little sleep, it made sense not to wait.

My approach was to keep the thing as low-key as possible.  All the planning and preparation had been done, so all I had to do was hop on the bike and start pedaling.  To keep my mind relaxed, I had attached a speaker to the handle-bars with about three hours of battery.

The first climb was duly knocked off, and the next, and the next.  It was no big deal.  No dread or sense of anticipation of what was to come, just the business of getting the thing done.  And all to the accompaniment of The Beatles, Black Sabbath, The Cure, and an assortment of other musicians!  Indeed, sitting on a bike, enjoying the music, and doing my best to keep my heart rate down is hardly unpleasant.

Base Camp at zero hour - with its drink, food and log book
Two things were key to my completion of the Everest – pacing and nutrition.  My heart rate was around 145 bpm on the climbs and I definitely didn’t want it to go higher.  I even laid off the caffeine to reduce the likelihood of the tight chest I’ve experienced on previous long hilly rides.  Nutrition was easy.  At the bottom of each descent was the car.  On top of it were lots of drink bottles and a variety of food items.  I would stop at the car at the end of each lap, have a squirt of energy drink, a squirt of water, and a mouthful of food (potato fish cakes, corn fritters, honey sandwich, and banana).  That was a good amount of nutrition every 20 minutes.  I also had a half bottle of water on the bike to take care of the hydration.  Then, after writing the time and lap number on my log sheet, I’d click into the pedals again and resume climbing.

Cycling in the dark hours was beautiful, especially by myself.  No views of course, except for the odd glimpse of the lights of Raumati in the distance.  But the peace and quiet were wonderful.  I felt a great sense of contentment as I’d tick climb after climb off, happy in knowing that I had everything under control.

The great thing about hill climbing is the descending.  It’s something I love.  The Maungakotukutuku Hill is quite tricky for descending because of some sneaky corners, but it didn’t take me long to work out where to apply the brakes and where to just let it rip.  Descending at night is the easiest, especially when you finally work out what side the road-side reflectors are on.

Enjoying the descent, although admittedly the photo is a bit out of order as it's not night (photo: Karolina Stus)
I’m hardly a strong rider, nor even very fit, but one advantage I have is that I’ve done lots of these long rides.  I know how to ride them, what to expect, and how to keep my mind in the right place.  Having to do so many laps (54!) was a new thing though, but it offered so many milestones to tick off.  For simple maths and to keep my expectations at the right level, I had 60 laps as the goal in my mind.  Six laps and I’ve already done 10%; 10 laps and it’s a sixth; and so on.  So much to celebrate!

By 6:00 am, I had already done 15 laps.  Dawn followed soon after.  Dawn can be a beautiful experience when night-riding, but the road was on the western side of the hill and there were a few clouds around.  From black, the sky slowly turned a light grey, and then it was blue.  With dawn, the wind picked up.  Although a northerly, it was cold and would stay with us the whole day.

Soon after dawn came Brent Atkins.  Brent is a friend of mine and organiser of the Kapiti Epic, a 6-hour cycling event that would be starting at 8:00 am on the same hill.  I had deliberately planned my Everest to coincide with this event.  Part of the reason was to add to the publicity for Brent’s event.  But the event would also add a great distraction to me when I was beginning to need it.

And I was definitely suitably distracted.  Slowly people began arriving.  First, the various volunteers and organisers.  Then the competitors, with some arriving very early.  By the time the event started (and I was also an official participant of that), I’d already done 20 laps.

I must confess however that, while all these wonderful distractions were happening around me, I was very much in my own world.  My total focus was on getting those laps done and my mind-set was pretty grim.  While a few people called out encouragement to me (to which I responded), I just kept to myself, had my swigs of drink and mouthful of food, and continued back up the hill.  I was beginning to hurt and knew that I had a long, long way to go.

At last the race started and I had rider after rider climbing past me, with each calling out words of support and encouragement.

It took quite a while, but eventually my mood began to lighten.  There was a wide range of riders, from ex-racers competing against each other to newbies attempting a few climbs.  I loved watching Jonathan Neal and Paul Rawlinson torpedoing down the hill, and it was wonderful to exchange a few words with Mike Proudfoot as he charged up the slope.  Mike would eventually get the most climbs (26!).  Colin Anderson, New Zealand’s king of endurance cycling, was also there and would give me a great smile every time we passed each other.  I also remember Erica Hindle and Penny Mikkelsen giving me cheers every time I saw them.  How could I not be moved!  Everyone was giving me such incredible support and encouragement.

The Kapiti Epic event has started!  Rounding the corner at the bottom of the hill  (photo: Karolina Stus)
That day’s Kapiti Epic actually consisted of three events – the six hour one, a three hour one starting at the same time, and a one hour ride starting at 1:00 pm.  After claiming his King of the Mountain and finishing the 3-hour event, Jonathan joined me for 2 or 3 climbs.  I was flattered and it was nice to talk to him.  On one of these climbs though, I suddenly felt really hot and slightly dizzy.  It felt like heat exhaustion, so once at the bottom I took off my over-trousers and had a five minute rest in the car.  I find these breaks, where I just empty my mind and fully relax my body, very refreshing.  A toilet stop added to the time off the bike.  No more problems after that!

The one hour event eventually started and it was great seeing people new to the sport riding, including the youngest competitor, Mike’s daughter, eight year-old Aimee.

Suddenly I noticed the six-hour riders all at the bottom, happily chatting and looking pretty tired.  The event had obviously finished.  There were calls of encouragement from the riders and again I heard the voice of Glynis Te Maipi-Kemp above the others – thanks Glynis!

Chatting to photographers - thanks Karolina :-) (photo Karolina Stus)

It was now 16 hours, 40 minutes since I had started and I’d completed 37 laps, 17 of them during the event.  There continued to be some distractions, as the lovely event volunteer at the top of the hill had accidently switched her head-lights on and run out of battery.  A couple of visits from Brent and it was eventually sorted and I was by myself.

After all the activity, it was quite nice to be by myself again.  It was something different.

At the end of my 40th lap, it was time for another toilet stop, something made easy by a porto-loo being provided as part of the event.  This was also when Helen and Raewyn (my wife and daughter) arrived.  Helen had been working all morning, but would now stay with me to the end.

As well as the little milestones that I ticked off, there were a couple of big ones.  The first was 30 climbs.  This was the number done by my friend, Stu Downs.  Stu died in tragic circumstances late last year, so that milestone was very poignant for me.  However, every record is there to be broken.  Stu’s 30 laps were soon bettered by Charles Salmon, a local Year 13 student who had managed 40 laps. Both riders would no doubt have continued on for the full 54 laps if this Everesting phenomenon had been around at the time, and done so at a considerably faster time than me.  However, I had a small sense of pride on my 41st lap, knowing that I now had the record number of climbs (to the best of my knowledge anyway).

One thing I noticed by now was how much my heart rate had slowed.  Whereas previously it had averaged 145 bpm on the climbs, it was now down to around 120 bpm.  I’d obviously slowed down considerably.

Soon after Helen arrived, I had my second of only two short rest stops (apart from the odd toilet stop).  Once again, emptying my mind and relaxing my body, this time with Helen also making sure that I ate enough.

Down the hill, around the corner, and towards the car

And here's the car - Base Camp again!
When I look back on the ride, it is with considerable relief.  I’d had two main concerns leading up to it.  The first was cramps.  These are not much fun, especially on steep up-hills.  The main thing that causes them is intense muscular activity that you’re not used to, but I’d obviously done enough hill training and managed to keep my level of intensity down enough to avoid them.  The second was that my muscles would give out and I’d end up putting strain on my knee cartilage and also hurt my back.  However, I was really conscious of maintaining good riding form to prevent both, and my muscles did their job!

On my 44th or so climb I came across Bryce Lorcet descending on his mountain bike.  “Are you Andrew Morrison?” he asked as he stopped.  A really nice guy and it was great having him accompany me for this and the next climb.  I even discovered that he had recently Everested the Akatarawa Road with a couple of friends!

Riding with Bryce Lorcet

What a social ride it was turning out to be!  Mike Proudfoot had previously said he would return to give me support.  I had been in two minds about this, as he is a family man and I didn’t want to put him out.  However, there he was waiting with Helen at the end of my last descent with Bryce!  It was good to see him.  With him was also another rider, Hayden Martin.  Hayden was out on an after-work ride and had stopped by for a chat at the car.  He kept me company for a couple more ascents – I’ve made yet another cycling buddy!

Soon I was alone again and by now on my 47th lap.  With the distraction of other riders now gone, I became aware of how tired my body was.  I knew I could make it to the full 54 climbs, but wondered how much more I could have done after that.  Strangely enough, I had no plans of finding out!

Night eventually fell.  Only three laps to go!

At the back of my mind, I began to wonder whether anyone would come to see me at my finish.  Everyone has their own busy lives, but the Kapiti Epic prize giving would be soon finishing and it was just possible that …

It was on my second last descent that I noticed the lights of a car half way down the slope turn around as a car parked by the side.  As I rounded the corner, I saw Nick Dunne.  I screeched to a halt.  “Don’t stop!  Go!  Go!” he said.  But I stopped and shook his hand.  “Great to see you!” I replied.  Nick’s a top-notch endurance racer and friend who has given me lots of support over my years of riding.  He then jumped in the car and proceeded to chase me down the road!

I couldn’t believe what I saw at the bottom.  As well as Nick and his son Patch, there was Adrian McKenzie, Mike and his wife and daughter (Raewyn and Aimee), Glynis and Paul, and of course my wonderful Helen.  I was gob-smacked!  What an amazing sight!

Only one lap to go.  “Quick Andrew.  Go!” said Helen.  Everyone would be waiting for me, so the pressure was on!

Half my final climb was accompanied by a runner in the form of Nick Dunne.  It’s been a while since I’d seen him and was good to catch up a bit.  Then it was on by myself for the second half.  The last time!  Reaching the top, I wheeled around without further ado and raced down to the waiting crowd.

My arrival was greeted with claps and cheers.  Wow!  This was definitely the highlight of the whole day.  I wheeled over to them.  It was hard to express just how much I appreciated everyone coming, so I clumsily shook everyone’s hand.  It was such an honour to be cheered like this by people I have such a huge respect for.

Hero's greeting at the end of the last lap.  So lucky! (Thanks Adrian for the photo)
So how did I feel about the day?  Basically as a pretty humdrum challenge, but one transported into something exceptional by the support and encouragement of others!  Half way through the ride when I thought of what my ride report would be, I couldn’t think much more than something like: “I started. It was hard. I finished”.  However, it’s always surprising for a loner like me to realize how we live in such a socially connected world and how something we do can impact on others.  So many people were behind me and my challenge.  Completing it not only meant something to me, it also meant something to them!

One last thing!  At the end, Adrian asked how this ride compared with other rides I’d done.  The question surprised me but, after quick thought, the answer appeared obvious.  I couldn’t quite think why at the time, but the answer was something like “Nothing like them.  No way near as hard!”  All my races and even the randonneur rides have left me absolutely shattered, hardly able to walk, let alone talk coherently.  I think the difference is that this ride was not a race.  All I had to do was complete a fixed amount of ascents and do them within a generous time limit of 24 hours.  I was in familiar countryside, surrounded by friends, and always had the car and my refuelling stop at the bottom of the hill.

An Everest is very manageable, so … there are probably lots of un-Everested hills out there!  Go and try one!  Be the first!  Even try and best my time on the Maungakotukutuku Hill.  I know I’m not the only one who’s slightly crazy and look forward to my own record being bested!

See you on the road!

Part of my Garmin record.  It shows 46 completed climbs, with the battery running out half way up the 47th.

5 comments:

  1. Would have joined you for early morning riding, but still not upto hills.
    Next year no problem

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  2. Would have joined you for early morning riding, but still not upto hills.
    Next year no problem

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thank you Andrew for sharing your story. Tears went down my cheeks. Great to know such an amazing cyclists.

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  4. Great writing Andrew. Thank you. Terrific effort :-) Paul R

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  5. You have a great experience in bicycling. One friend of mine is also a good rider. He spent about a month and a half in total, riding a bike, last year. Nowadays he is crazy, searching for someone who can do my essay online and it's started to be a big problem for him, coz he don't have enough time to ride nowadays.

    ReplyDelete