WHAT IS EVERESTING?
Everesting on a bike is quite simple to explain. Find any hill you like in the world, ride up that hill, then ride back down to the starting point and do it again, and again until you have climbed at least 8,848m (The same height as Mt Everest). The entire ride could be 150kms or 400kms. The distance of the ride isn’t important. It’s all about vertical metres climbed! The percentage gradient doesn’t matter either, although it does determine how long you’ll be out there.
THE LEAD UP
Once I became aware that a small number of Everesting pioneers around the world were already onto this, I became a little obsessed with the entire concept. When this happens to me I tend to focus on it pretty sharply, almost to the point of the ridiculous! This was a concept designed for me – the only questions were “when” and “which hill”? I initially thought of the Monte Serra. It was close and given the gradient and length (the steepest part from Sant’Andrea di Compito is 9% for 8kms), I’d only need to climb it 13 times. Easy. I also know this hill (mountain) very well having climbed it over 50 times in less than a year. It is also a very tough (and rather famous) climb which would certainly earn me some kudos from the Hells 500 team back in Australia (for more information visit www.hells500.com).
I WON’T DO THE ‘SERRA’ WITH A STANDARD CRANKSET
I lost interest in Everesting the ‘Serra’ after a massive training ride one day in which I completed ‘Pizzorne from Marlia’ (9.4kms at 9%) twice in 33 degree heat, and then tried to tackle the Serra but didn’t quite make it. Workers were actually trimming the overgrown foliage close to the road and hot dry grass was blowing into my face at about the 6km mark. I could barely turn the 39-27 (my smallest gear) over so I thought I better get home before I pass out. This was a better day though compared to a couple of weeks before this when my crappy old tyre blew out at about the 5km mark of the Serra on another training ride and I had to take off my shoes and socks (they were my favourite pair and I didn’t want to put holes in them) and walk home. After about 6-7kms I couldn’t walk anymore cause my feet felt like they had been rubbed with sandpaper for too long! Luckily a nice man who was also a cyclist (of course he was, I was in Tuscany) called out to me in Italian as I hobbled past (I don’t understand much Italian) and I just pointed at my destroyed tyre so he gave me his rear wheel from his bike and I rode home (only about 5kms) with it. When I arrived home, I got some champagne from the fridge and immediately drove the car back to his house with his wheel and the champagne offering it to him. During both these rides I would experience much more pain than anyone should ever experience on a bike. Obviously a crash is worse but that’s technically pain off the bike. These two rides truly tested me mentally but hardened me up perfectly for the big day! Training wise one week before the Everesting a key solid lead up ride and an epic ride in it’s own right where I climbed the Monte Serra to the Antenne from all three possible starting points including Sant’Andrea di Compito (12.2km at 7%), Calci (12.1km at 7%) and Buti (14.2km at 6%) prepared me well. All three of these climbs are HC on Strava, which gave me a total 2,700m elevation in only 96kms.
FINDING THE PERFECT HILL
After some exceedingly nerdy (but fascinating) cycling conversations on Facebook with Rob Milohanic (Milo), I decided on a completely new hill to Everest. Milo is a master of cycling information, statistics and analytics ranging from power data to gear ratios. Essentially, he lives on his bike and rarely sleeps – he rides in any weather, doesn’t wear arm warmers, loves head winds and sub-zero temperatures. He’s as hard as they come and informed me he had decided on a climb to Everest back in Australia that was 1.7kms long at 6%. He’d have to ascend it 84 times but as it was reasonably straight the descents would be fast. That sounded like a good plan.
There had only been one Everesting in Italy and none in Tuscany. All I had to do was locate a climb as close to Milo’s optimised gradient/distance as possible. Significant research followed and I settled on the Ciciana climb from Marlia – a 1.3km ascent at 6.3% with only two sharp turns (an uncharacteristically straight road for Italy). I sent details of the Strava segment to Milo and told him I’d have to do 105 laps and he agreed that it was ideal.
It was then just a matter of waiting for the perfect day. The summer solstice had only just passed so light would be plentiful. I decided I didn’t need lights as I thought it would be light enough for 16-17 hours. No problem! The days in Lucca in June are not cold and after dying on that 33 degree day I didn’t want to Everest in that kind of heat. July 1st was expected to be 27-28 degrees. This would have to do. It wasn’t going to get any colder than this and while not perfect, I just wanted to get this thing done!
I packed the car full of goodies, 12 litres of Sports drink and about the same amount of water the night before. On the morning of the Everesting I woke up at 4am and was out the door at 4:45am. I arrived at the starting point and took off at 5:21am. 105 laps to do! In hindsight I should have started before 4am. This would have given me extra time in cooler conditions, which is much easier than climbing in 28 degree heat! The first few laps were easy and after ten laps I thought I better speed up if I’m going to make this in 17 hours. After 20 laps I really had to go to the toilet for a number two. No problems, nobody around, all good! Then to my horror, I realised there was nothing to clean up with! In desperation I used a plastic bag and it seemed to work surprisingly well. Later in the day this decision would start to hurt more and more. Luckily I could still get out of the saddle! After what must have been about lap 25 or something when I reached the top I saw a garbage truck and it was tooting loudly where my car was parked. Today of all days had to be garbage collection day! I had to stop and move the car. So very annoying!
After about 37 laps my wife Fiona and best friend in Italy Jochen Keib (a German with a sense of humour – a rarity even in Italy) arrived and I was doing ok but the heat was starting to drain me. I completed 40 laps and I stopped and we discussed how the rest of the day would pan out. At this stage I could only eat lollies and drink Sports drink. I couldn’t eat anything ‘real’. It was great to see them and Jochen calculated that I would finish around 10:30pm. Perfect. I’d only have to ride a little bit in the dark.
Laps 40 to 64 seemed long and slow despite me coming up with number jokes and historical references to keep me entertained eg. 45 End of the 2nd World War, 46 Valentino Rossi, 56 The Melbourne Olympic Games etc… Finally on lap 63 my cycling friend Ugo Ghiselli turned up just as he said he would three days earlier. We rode together from lap 64 to lap 80. These were the hardest laps of the day as it was still really hot and I was losing the motivation after realizing I still had over 4,000m of elevation still to go because in actual fact I’d have to do 114 laps, not 105 like I originally calculated! I was so close but yet so far! While we rode I learned how to count from 64-80 in Italian, “set-tanta-sei” and so on. Ugo was even correcting me most of the time. He didn’t go easy on me either, forcing me to push hard in each of those laps. It was sad to see him go and without him with me through that period I don’t think I would have made it! Finally at about 9:00pm after about 90 laps and the sun starting to drop, I called Jochen. I asked him to please come back and drive behind me so I could see. If he had have said no I can’t, I would have finished well short and would have been devastated. I couldn’t even finish it! It wasn’t even the Monte Serra! Wouldn’t be able to do this again because it’s hard with three young kids! What would everyone say. Good try! At least you had a crack at it etc but… Jochen said “YES, I’ll be there as soon as I can”. The best ‘yes’ I’d heard since Fiona said “yes” to “will you marry me” back in 2006! Sure enough he was there really quickly! He arrived for the second time with his wife Giovanna and their son Michele (Fiona unfortunately stuck home with kids) and they were so upbeat that I just rocketed the next few laps. They had the stereo blasting and it was just awesome. Their gorgeous little three year old boy Michele was shouting out what I thought was “c’mon” but I couldn’t hear it properly because of the loud music coming from the car. I would later find out that he was actually yelling “you Fu*%kin’ wank-ah.” This is because about a week before Jochen and I were watching Australia vs Holland at the World Cup. I thought I could lip read one of the Aussie players saying “you weak c*%t” to one of the Dutch players after a small confrontation and explained this to Jochen. After this I started teaching Jochen how to say offensive remarks with a real Aussie accent. He was getting “you f*%kin’ wank-ah” really spot on, and little Michele must have heard him at some point.
After about 100 laps I realised that the Strava Segment details were certainly off when they showed that each lap gained 85m in elevation. I still had a lot of laps to do! Jochen asked me what lap was I up to? I said I think 93 or 94? “Right” he said, so “GO Peter, you must do it now, it’s not so much” in a thick German accent, which I think is the best accent for those words! I pushed on in such darkness slowing on corners until the light from his car would shine enough so I could see. By now it was really cold. I figured I’d just push on. No need to change clothes now even though they were damp. I was too close now and if I got sick I got sick. The fact that I was shivering didn’t bother me because it wasn’t enough to shake me off the bike, and I wasn’t going to die, just freeze on the way down, warm back up on the way up. Giovanna decided to go home not much after midnight as little Michele was out cold (lucky him).
Jochen would now drive my car with me ‘til the end. I had been riding for so long that you would think I was cramping, back aching, sore neck but this wasn’t the case. I was just tired and my hands hurt. The bike I’d been riding was a borrowed aluminium 2004 R5000 Cannondale in very dated gold dust and black with a standard crankset. The groupset was just about worn out Campag Centaur and a 12-27 mismatched ‘Shimano 105’ cassette with Mavic Ksyrium Elite wheels. The brake pads BADLY need to be replaced and the front right side lever has an annoying rattle. I hate the look of this bike, in fact I hate the bike, but it was free and I’ve done all my riding in Tuscany on it thanks to a dear mate Scott Penny.
Why wasn’t I hurting more? My problem wasn’t pain? It was just that I was mentally drained and soo sick of it all. I just wanted it to end. It was dark, poor Jochen was just about falling asleep at the wheel behind me. I actually felt really guilty for getting him out here to help me. Soon it was 1am, and then at about 20 past one in the morning, 20 hours after I’d started, I had reached 8848m. There wasn’t much celebration. I just said to Jochen in a soft voice. “Jochen, If I do two more laps I’ll be over 9,000m vertical. I’d like to reach this ‘cause I’m soo close and I probably won’t get this opportunity again.” “So DO it, what else is there to do at two in the morning”? He replied. Awesome! So I finished the last laps and after 116, I was there! So at about 1:55am I said to Jochen “Let’s get the f%#k outta here.” He laughed and we drove home really fast like Germans do. Jochen got out, we hugged and I thanked him so much. I then drove home from Jochen’s house and got out of the car. I was damp, and cold. Fiona was still up as she didn’t know what was going on. She had been worried sick, pacing up and down. Oops! Should have sent her a text earlier, but I just couldn’t. She forgave me and we downloaded the ride together and luckily it all worked perfectly with no incorrect silly elevation etc. I then had a shower and then went to bed, finally at 3:30am. It had been a long day. I’d been up for 23 and half hours! My hands were hurting (should have worn gloves), the legs and back where ok. A day I’ll never forget and even though I may not see Jochen and his beautiful Keib family when we return to Australia, I’ll never ever forget what he did for me that night.
I would like to thank my gorgeous wife Fiona and our beautiful children for allowing me to train for this. Ugo, for pacing me through the hardest part through laps 64-80 and teaching me Italian as we rode. Jochen, for being there ’till the end. I simply would not have finished without you. Milo, thank you for helping me come up with this awesome route even though you were so far away. Mum and Dad, thanks for helping me so much through my dark days only one year ago when I could hardly move without extreme pain in my lower back. I love you. Scott Penny, thanks again for the bike, even if it isn’t a carbon dream machine, it still got the job done.
A FINAL NOTE
After checking the elevation points on Google it turns out the Strava Segment is correct so my initial calculation of 105 reps was spot on. My final elevation is actually at least 9,860m after completing 116 reps due to a Garmin 800 that was a little off. I was so close to 10,000m but didn’t know it (only 2 more laps required, and with the energy and support to do it). Oh well, maybe next time…