31 March 2015

Climbing Mt Everest in my own backyard

Near the top of my Everest. Photo: Alden Williams, Nelson Mail
The Everesting Challenge

I have always had a fascination for physical challenges, particularly ones climbing mountains, but when I first heard about cycling's ultimate climbing challenge, ‘Everesting’, the statistics horrified me: the highest mountain in the world is 8848 metres from sea level, a jet airliners cruising height starts at 9000 metres, accumulating this type of altitude in one ride was daunting to say the least! At my calculated pace it would require approx 22 hours riding, and due to the rules this would be done by lapping up and down the same hill with no variation, on my local climbs this would equate to over 100 laps, a mental test as well as physical.

I parked the idea at the time as being the domain of hard core cyclists or those with a screw loose! But I avidly followed reports of successes and failures, and when a friend of mine, Craig Tregurtha in Christchurch, started training for an attempt my interest really picked up. Craig not only succeeded on his first attempt, but went on to smash the world record subsequently, which was a huge buzz for the local cycling community. I could feel myself getting sucked in to the idea, knowing it would probably be a case of when and not if I was going to put my hat into the ring.

A climb immediately sprung to mind, and through later analysis I kept coming back to the same one, Bayview road, which was close to where I live (great for support), had a smooth seal surface, good gradient, corners not too sharp for descending, and even a portaloo at the top!
My Everest: Bayview Road, Atawhai, Nelson, New Zealand

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Street view looking down from near the top

Setting a Date

My wife, Jody, came home from a Girl Guides meeting one night, talking about a large fundraising campaign required for the 2016 Jamboree, which would benefit from some high profile events. With the Everesting challenge lurking in the background we both looked at each other made the same mental link and a date was set for late summer, 19th March.
My daughters Sophie and Lily, two of the eight Atawhai Brownies / Guides going to the Jamboree

The new year came around too quickly and it was time to get some physio to sort out an old knee injury, and come up with a training program, which would be minimal - both to reduce impact on family and alleviate the tedium of long training rides. In the end I did only two specific training rides on top of my base fitness: a 4 hour hill ride (2600 metres), and a 9 hour (4200 metre) dress rehearsal on the Bayview itself.

I had to solve some technical issues like how to get low enough gear on my road bike that I would be able to spin for hours on end, I solved this on the cheap by stealing the rear gears of Jody’s MTB. However this didn't work properly and I had to limit the movement the rear dérailleur with a cable tie to stop the oversize gears clashing, and pray this would hold on the big day!

I also had to try and find a barometric GPS for recording the event and uploading to the Strava website to verify it. I managed to borrow one but was not able to try it out before the big day, and also had to make a special charging cable that could charge it without stopping the recording (the designers hadn't anticipated rides longer than the 16 hour battery life!) which turned out a bit fragile. This unfortunately broke race rule number #1: don’t use anything new on race day, of which I was to become a victim of later...

The Start

The start time had been one of my biggest strategic decisions to make, when you’re going to ride all the hours of the clock it’s not immediately obvious when to start. I finally decided on 5pm, which would get the night riding over with when relatively fresh, but be worse for sleep deprivation, a calculated risk. Despite the anxiety and adrenaline of the big day I managed to get 1.5 hours sleep in the afternoon, and on waking I was itching to get going. But I had final prep and a media interview to do first, I was a bit uncomfortable with all the publicity but it was good for the fundraising, my biggest fear was having to pull the pin early after all the publicity.

Jody and I set up the support car at the top, while my daughter (and Girl guide) Sophie did a leaflet drop to the street residents to give them a heads up on why this crazy guy was going to be riding up and down their street all evening, night, and next day.

At this point I felt under-trained, under-prepared, and that 7000 metres was an acceptable stretch goal (3000m more than my personal record), I couldn't face the enormity of the full thing, but would keep that a secret around my enthusiastic supporters!

It was a big relief to finally get rolling at 4:45pm after a ceremonial photo at the bottom, and I started knocking out sets of 5 laps in the end of day sun, with a feed stop after each set. This strategy was to try and keep on top of the vast energy requirements, and extend my endurance. Each set equated to 30 mins and 350 metres elevation.
The challenge is as much mental as physical, and there was a mental pattern to the five laps: one the warm-up (after stiffening up when stopped), two the strong one, three the hump, then a two-one countdown as I decided what I was going to eat at my next stop!

Rinse and Repeat

Just repeat this for 24 hours and you've done an Everest, easy as! But the body and mind throw in a few challenges along the way…
Sunset. I kept a photographic log of my progress in case of catastrophic GPS failure

My first challenge, after nightfall, was rain, we were receiving the tail end of cyclone Pam in this part of New Zealand, which had caused much devastation further north, it didn't come to much here in the end but I hadn't really planned for it and it was the first test of my mental resolve when it looked like it could have been a wet night.

About 10pm, just after the rain, I had a surprise and welcome visit from a BMX crew who rode a few laps with me (including some impromptu downhill races!)

The Long Night

Through the night I continued with my 5 lap then rest pattern but by the 10 hour mark my legs had lost their zing, and I had started getting both Achilles and knee pain on the left side. I figured it was not unreasonable for my body to complain after 10 hours of climbing, but I was barely half way. It led to my first thoughts of failure - what was ahead of me started to seem insurmountable, but I started doing most of the climbing out of the seat which took most of the pain away, and focused on 5 laps at a time.
Standing up uses different muscle groups but also uses more energy and puts more pressure on feet and hands, so I was unsure how sustainable it would be, but at that point I was inspired by Craig Tregurtha and his advice, he did much of his world record Everesting ride standing so I couldn't use this as an excuse to stop!

My night cave, my vision was about as blurry as the photo at the time!
Jody had graciously offered stay on the hill on standby, and sleep in the car at the top. It was nice to know she was there, but the middle of the night stops were not fun, with no one to lift my spirits. My body was constantly nagging me to stop and rest, but when I did stop I would get an instant chill and I had to rug up immediately. I would have a feed but drowsiness would soon start to kick in and I would take this as a cue to get going again. Disrobing and going straight into a descent had me shivering violently with cold by the bottom, before I could start climbing and warm up again.

I also had a technical drama towards the end of the night when my primary GPS stopped recording, due to not plugging it into the fragile charger properly during a rest stop. I was able to start recording again, but not sure if I had lost data and cursed myself for the mistake.


The wonderful Vicky Carnegie had stayed on with my lovely wife as a ‘cheer leader’ until past midnight, on leaving she promised to return at 4am, this was a great motivation through the wee hours, if she was sacrificing her sleep the least I could do was crank out a decent lap count by the time she returned!

With no social stops during the night, by the time 4am came around I had made good progress, and with my two loyal cheerleaders back my spirits were lifted again. I now fixated on getting to lap 83, ⅔ distance, by the time I had my first visitors on their way to work.

I was riding without a music player etc, mainly for safety reasons, but that left a lot of time for the mind to start wondering. Two opposing voices fought in my head, one telling me that this was the big one and I could pull it off, the other rationalising that given the physical and mental fatigue, and knee pain, the remainder (still 44 laps or 8 hours+ at this point) was beyond me.

One unexpected visitor at first light was the arrival of a Police car, the three of us at the top immediately feared a neighbour had complained, but thankfully it was just a social call as he had seen an article in the paper.

First Light, bad breakfast and nausea

First light was an amazing thing, I could see the road properly again, and within a couple of laps I ditched the lights and it genuinely felt the bike was lighter and climbed faster.
However, my body still felt like it should be asleep, and after what should have been a celebratory breakfast to welcome the new day I suddenly came over nauseous. This was my lowest point and I found out later I was looking pretty bad and my support crew were genuinely concerned about my safety. However, they made a decision to let my carry on but under close supervision.

Jody had been home in the meantime and returned with some Voltaren to try and control the knee pain, I don’t know why I hadn't thought of this before, but I suspect this helped me for the remainder of the ride.


It took about an hours riding and careful choice of food to shake off the nausea. I then started ramping up the 'rocket fuel' to get me through to the end, with energy gels, and Red bull and V drinks etc. Vicky later returned with a McDonald's breakfast, which was a welcome bit of variety to my intake!
I had now passed the 83 lap, 2/3 distance milestone, and felt a resurgence with life returning to my body, but the doubting voice in my head was never far away and there was a long stretch to the 110 lap mark, which I had arbitrarily decided was the next milestone, and the point at which I would be able to finish this thing no matter what state my body was in.

I had calculated 127 laps to be the 'virtual' finish line, but planned to do 132, adding 5 ‘safety’ laps just to make sure in case of any GPS discrepancies.

Three of the Brownies / Guides. Most of those going to the Jamboree came up at some point to cheer me on.

Media circuits

The Nelson Mail had asked to come up to do an interview on location at 12:30pm. I had mixed feelings about their timing, at 20 hours in and a night without sleep I knew I would be in a bit of a state by then, but figured at least it would give me an opportunity to take a long break before the final push.
Following a short interview the photographer requested a sequence of ‘throwaway’ laps near the top for the camera (the official challenge only accepts complete laps). I didn't know whether to laugh or cry each time the photographer said ‘just one more’! However, it was good publicity for the fundraising and little did I know I would make it onto the front page of the Nelson Mail! The short video they produced is also a great little memento of the event.

Link: Nelson Mail - Cyclist takes on gruelling Everest challenge

The family, minus Jody who is behind the camera
Sprint Finish

As well as the press I had had plenty of visitors through the morning, and consequently some additional social stops, but at about 22 hours and lap 118 lap Jody shook me to my senses by telling me I was in danger of running over 24 hours. While completion was my main objective I had also set a goal to come in under 24 hours, so I put the hammer down to knock out the last 14 laps, only stopping briefly for energy gels and drinks.

The laps still dragged on with my increasingly weary body, but I could feel the finish line pulling me closer, the assembled crowd at the top really started to lift me now, including family, neighbours, friends, everybody from my work, and local cyclists. Emotion started rolling over me, and on my last lap it all caught up with me and my whole body turned to jelly. But nothing was going to stop me now though and at the top I even managed a small sprint to the finish line!

I had done it, I had made 132 laps, and GPS data would later show comfortably cleared the required climbing total, at 9258 metres, in 23 hours 48 minutes. I was very tired, very happy, and buzzing from all the local support. I would now upload my GPS data to Strava, which would be then be officially verified by the Hells 500 team, and my name would be entered in the hall of fame.

After finishing I had bouts of acid reflux and nausea for the next 24 hours, no doubt due to the 'rocket fuel' diet. But I didn't let this detract from the accomplishment, success took a while to really sink in, but it was a life defining moment and I will be buzzing for a long time to come!

The fundraising also went better than expected and the tally at the time of writing is $1200.

I will never do this type of challenge again, but should anyone be interested in having a go, I would say go for it, you will find out a lot about yourself! And if you drop me a line and I will be more than happy to offer advice :)


Wonderful Supporters, Lap-a-longers, and Neighbours

Big thank you's to:

My fantastic wife, Jody, and her family, who did an awesome job on the day, including Jody’s mums super powered soup that kept going through the night.

All those that came up to support me, especially those that rode a few laps with me, the Bayview neighbours, some of whom came out to their balconies at regular intervals to check my lap count and cheer me on. This was one of the positive side effects to counter the grinding monotony of riding up and down the same hill!

Everyone at my company, Flightcell, and to the Wyllies for bringing me coffee and other sustenance on the big night.

The Hells 500 group for setting the challenge, and administering it on their website.
Craig Tregurtha for leading me down the slippery slope that was to end in me attempting the crazy challenge.

And last but not least all those who donated through Givealittle, it’s been a fantastic boost to fundraising for what’s going to be an awesome event for the Atawhai Brownies and Guides.

02 February 2015

Lily's Christmas Holidays 2014/5

Pollard Park, Blenheim

Coopers 6th Birthday

Flora hut overnight tramp, complete with mouse

Sleepover with old friend Lydia, in Richmond

Tukurua beach campfire, with old friends from Christchurch

Two up on see-saw with Grace

Ngarua caves, Takaka hill

Day walk to Appletree bay

Bethany's campsite, Kaiteriteri
Labyrinth rocks, Pohara

Tukurua beach

A&P show, Takaka

Kayaking with dad, Kaiteriteri

Bethany's waterslide

Coopers Christmas Holidays 2014/5

New scooter, Picton

Freshwater crayfish, Pollard park, Blenheim

Pollard park

31st December - Birthday cake (6 candles)

Overnight tramp...

... to Flora hut, complete with mouse
Sleepover with friends in Richmond

Tukurua camp fire

Ngarua caves

Kaiteriteri MTB park

Day trip walk to Appletree bay

Bethany's campsite, Kaiteriteri, complete with huge water slide
Tukurua, Golden Bay

A&P show, Takaka