Blog by Jon Parker, supporting comments by Carmen Hancock (in italics)
The Everesting Challenge
I was looking for a challenge in 2016. I’d already done a 1000 mile ride to Monaco over 10 days, I’d cycled 165 miles each day continuously for 3 days, and in 2015 did Raid Pyrenees in 98 hours – 2 hours under the allotted timescale. So what was I to do in 2016 as I’m always up for a challenge?
I’m not sure how, but I stumbled across something called the Everesting challenge – to climb the height from sea level to the top of Everest continuously on one hill or mountain. Just allowing for stops to refuel, but not sleep, you have to go up and down the same gradient in order to qualify. A bunch of lunatics in Australia called Hells 500 dreamt up this challenge a few years ago, and it had only been achieved by about 1000 people worldwide. It started the mind working. I did a ton of research, and realised that it was not particularly easy! 29,029ft is 8848 metres, and that’s a long way up. The Marmot, which is considered one of the hardest alpine challenges is a mere 5000m – this adds about 40% to that, so things were telling me that this would be a tough day in the saddle.
The next question was where? You could achieve 29,029 feet doing 110 reps up Edge hill, which would, I guess drive most people mad, and I hate that hill anyway. Then I thought, let’s do ‘Iconic.’ Where in the world is one of the toughest climbs – one that is long enough that you don’t get bored, yet iconic, and maybe one that hasn’t had an Everesting challenge done on it before… Col du Galibier sprung to mind. It’s the climb that most TdF riders hate, as it’s so long and steep, it is known as ‘the Beast.’ It is 32km in length with gradients reaching up to 14%. Ouch!
Edge hill could be done at any time of year, however Galibier must be tackled in the summer as the top (even when we did it in July) is still snow capped. Researching all of the GPS mapping systems I could find, they showed that Galibier could be preceded by Telegraphe – but there was a problem, coming up Telegraphe first, meant you had a false flat of about 2% downhill for 5km before starting up Galibier – would this be allowed? An email to Hells 500 confirmed that this was ok because there was no specific inertia generated from one false flat into the next climb, and that the reverse direction could also contribute to the total ascent.
All GPS mapping systems I used showed that the total number of repetitions of the ascent would be 3.85 times. This meant in my mind that we had a small margin in hand in order to climb to the top to ensure we achieved the height of Everest with a bit to spare with 4 ascents, especially as I’d not factored the little ascent on the false flat the other way around – how wrong I was, but more of that later.
Ok, so we have a mountain, we know what we have to do, so how to execute it? This required a lot of research, especially reading other peoples accounts of their Everesting attempts. There were lots of failures, mostly down to bonking, weather and sheer fatigue. Many reported hallucinating when tiredness got the better of them, some crashed with exhaustion. My calculation was that we’d be doing about 160 miles in total, over 85 of those up hill.
There is the town of Saint-Michel-de-Maurienne at the foot of Telegraphe, and about 40% of the way up is the town of Valloire. My view was that if we stayed at Valloire, we’d be ideally suited to get provisions both on the way up, and down, which made sense, as you pass it twice every time. Searching Bookings.com I was able to find a hotel that looked perfect, called the Grand Hotel du Valloire – sounds posh, but it was only about £60 per room per night, and even had a pool! It was ideally placed on the actual route through the town that we’d expect to be taking.
Now that I had a basic plan, I created a document with lovely photos in it of Galibier, and the surrounding Alpine vistas in order to attract other cyclists of the same mind-set, as it wasn’t something I’d like to tackle alone. Here’s where my plan fell apart. Everyone thought I was mad! The only other clearly mad person was Carmen who without a thought when I mentioned it said “yeah sure.” Obviously without any real understanding of what it entailed, but being up for a challenge, and never known to say no, that was two of us signed up. Time trundled on, and with a proposed date of Thursday 21st July, to coincide with being able to watch a stage of the Tour de France, we struggled to find any further victims willing to give it a try.
Carmen: Jon was excited about a new challenge he had put together and after a club ride one Saturday asked me if I was up for it? Yes, sure I said, at this point I’d only been cycling a few years and never tackled anything like this, it sounded awesome, so I jumped in feet first! Jon continued to get excited and enjoyed the planning, he spent much time getting everything correct and organised. He was happy to do so which was great, however I had a shock when I checked out the Everesting website about a week before the challenge. “Be prepared to push your mind and body to total limits, may even hallucinate with exhaustion!” was quoted. I said I was in, so no going back! Let’s do this!
With hotel rooms now booked, it was time to get into some serious planning. Food, clothing, route…etc.
20th July – To base camp
Departure from Banbury was an early start so that we could catch the Eurotunnel and head down to France in the car. Bikes, microwave, food and clothing all packed in. It was a pretty straightforward run down through some stunning alpine scenery with our arrival at the hotel at about 6pm. We checked into our rooms, and this is where we hit our first unplanned snag. The hotel would not let us take our bikes into the rooms. The said they had to be locked in their ‘store’ which they wouldn’t give us 24hr access too. Logically, they could have been left in the car, however our plan was to leave the car at the top of Galibier, so that we always had spare sets of warm clothes in which to descend what would be a very cold mountain.
With much pleading, they agreed to store the bikes in a downstairs toilet, but it was far from ideal due to possible opportunist thieves. However, the next step, after unloading the car was to repack it with warm clothes for descents. For those that know about cycling in the mountains, it’s really about temperature management – staying cool on the ascents, and warm while descending. This meant having at least 3 spare sets of warm clothes in the car, as well as additional nutrition and water which we drove up, with bikes in the back in order to leave it at the summit at 2642m. We dropped off 10 litres of water and electrolyte tabs and hid them about halfway up Galibier for en-route hydration.
The descent down that evening was fun, also an opportunity for photos, however it also showed us the enormity of the task ahead – this is one big mountain, and that was only the top half!
We ate out that evening, something that we wouldn’t be able to do for a while. Food, as you know is vital for such an endurance ride, and because it would span more than 24 hours, we couldn’t risk hotels or restaurants to be either open, or to provide the type of food we needed. Hence the microwave and cold box brought out from the UK, and with Carmen in charge of the food, we had no problems. Chilli and rice, home cooked delights and plenty of carbs for refuelling.
The final task that evening was to sort out the bikes. In order to record the event, Hells 500 require a Strava feed, or a reliable source to show that you have indeed completed the actual height of Everest. It also is there to show that it was done as continuously as possible, with stops only for food or mechanicals. This meant keeping the Garmins running for at least 24 hours at all costs. This was done with the aid of an additional battery pack taped to the crossbar continuously plugged in, and my bike also carried a second Garmin, in case one failed. We fixed powerful lights, as we’d be spending a lot of time in the dark. At each stop we also had to recharge the battery chargers and lights in order to make sure we had continuous power and could see where we were going – mountains are dark lonely, eerie places at night.
21st July – Everest Day
When the alarm rudely awoke me at 2.15am, it took a bit of time to understand where I was, let alone what was ahead. I dragged myself out of bed, and hauled on the first of 4 sets of cycling gear. It was cold out, so jackets and base layers were a necessity. A hearty breakfast of porridge, nuts and bananas filled the stomach, ready for the hour descent to the bottom of Telegraphie.
At 3am, in the pitch black, with the town sleeping, we went out into the cold. We first had to climb the 5% uphill for 5km to the summit of Telegraphe before the descent. Normally we’d get a good rhythm going, hitting about 230 watts on this type of hill. This time it was gentle. The mantra was energy conservation – no sudden movements, or accelerating away, just gentle sub 200 watt smooth pedalling. It was black dark, once we’d exited the town, and with little to show us the way and no cars at all, it made sense to for us to follow the white line – after all, there were some pretty big drops of the side of the road, invisible to us at the time.
Once we crested the summit, it was downhill for the next 45 minutes. Normally, we’d be cruising and enjoying the switchbacks, but tonight it was dangerous. With a slightly damp surface, and no understanding of where the road twisted beyond our meagre lights, we dropped down the 1000 or so metres to the bridge at Saint-Michel-de-Maurienne. That first descent taught us that this road is dangerous, and at night you have to have your wits about you, otherwise it’s a big accident. The pressure on the shoulders and hands from descending like that felt pretty hard on the body – and we hadn’t even started, were cold and now had to strip off the warm clothes and start the 8% climb, back the way we’d just come.
Almost immediately Carmen’s legs started to hurt. We deduced it was from starting straight into a steep climb with no warm-up. Cold legs straight into a mountain climb are not good news. We kept it easy – well as easy as possible, but that first 11km climb in the dark just seemed to last forever. The sight of the summit, knowing that we had an easy 5km gentle slope back to the hotel for fuel kept us going. A quick stop at the top for a rest, but it was still very cold, and the sweat on our bodies made us feel pretty chilly. Before we got too cold we set off down our false flat for what we thought would be a rewarding run in. Still dark, we held the white line as the road twisted down the mountain. I went ahead, but it was getting incredibly cold. Shivering on the bike is no fun. I sensed that Carmen had dropped back after about 3km, then I heard the sound we all fear.
The sickening clatter of a bike going down, somewhere behind me. A scream. I locked my brakes up, but by the time I’d stopped, and got into any sort of useful gear to get back up the slope I was a long way ahead. In the distance I saw a light. I knew instantly what had happened, Carmen was off the bike, on the road. As I got closer, she’d got herself up, but there was damage. I believe the words came out of my mouth “What the F**k have you done now!” Probably not appropriate.
Carmen: The big day arrived and extremely early, in fact the middle of the night. Ready and dressed for the off, I’d never cycled in the dark before so all was a little strange. Off we set nice and slowly, pitch dark in the middle of the mountains, it was so quiet and we chatted on our way. The lights worked well on the bikes and we soon made it carefully to the bottom of Telegraphe. All was sweet.
We turned around for the ascent and the challenge began, the muscles deep in my legs started to hurt immediately, I’d never experienced this before and realised it must be due to climbing without a real warm up. My thoughts were, I hope this pain goes away as I will never cope with this for the whole challenge. I soon started to sweat and had to remove my arm warmers.
A quick stop at the top, but keen to descend to Valloire we set off, still pitch black apart from lights on bikes, instantly my sweat turned cold and with bare arms, my teeth started to chatter and I was shivering. Jon started to pull away and I found it difficult to concentrate, let alone speak, now shaking my mind said…just keep to the white line in the middle of the road, there were many dangerous switchbacks, the white line was a safe option.
I looked up to catch Jon’s rear light in front of me, a split second and crash, my front wheel hit rough ground. I hadn’t made it around a corner and was off the edge of the road and before I knew it was flat on my right side, hitting hard ground. Ouch!
It all happened so fast. I couldn’t believe it, in shock and knowing how mad Jon would be, I scrambled to my feet and got back to the bike. It could have been so much worse, some corners had sheer drops, I could have been down a mountain edge. Thankfully not!
Just a few grazes but a little shaken, I was so mad with myself, how did I let this happen? Inexperience, I should have wrapped up warm!
Anyway, blood dripping and shaking like leaf, onward!
No damage as such to the bike, just to her. A bloody knee, road rash, a cut to the hand, but the worst was her right elbow. It had clearly hit the road hard and all the skin was off. Through the blood I could see bone. I didn’t say anything. It went through both our minds we’d have to abort.
Those of you that know Carmen will understand that failure for her is never an option. Cold and shivering, covered in blood, she said “it’s nothing, let’s get this done!” Her cycling glasses had disappeared off the side of the mountain, and in the poor light we had, we couldn’t find them, but we remounted and gently rode down the slope together for the last 2km back to the hotel.
Other than a brief food refuel, this was not scheduled as a proper stop. Now however things were different. Carmen showered to get the road debris out of the gaping holes, then we had to see about dressing the wounds. We’d been pretty prepared, so had a first aid kit with us. Most of the damage was of little concern, except for the elbow. Once cleaned up, you could clearly see that it was a deep cut. I kept her away from any mirrors and patched it up as best I could, fortunately she couldn’t actually see the damage. I frequently asked if she wanted to stop the challenge, see how it was, but the adrenalin was obviously kicking in, and she was ready to rock immediately. Brave girl.
As we left the hotel, for the first assault of Col du Galibier, it was just coming light. The town was waking up to a Thursday morning, we cycled over the cobbled streets as the road began to climb. I remember a few ‘oohs’ and ‘aahhs’ as café legs kicked in, although Carmen could be excused with the injuries she’d sustained. I didn’t have much hope at this point of us completing the challenge.
Galibier is a mountain of two sections in my view. You come out of Valloire and there’s a sharp climb of about 8% and then it flattens off to about 6%, before rising again about half way up to 8% again. Then it reaches a bridge over the river where it’s almost flat for about 100m. The second half really kills you. As soon as you go over the bridge it ramps to between 9% and 10% pretty much all the way to the new tunnel cut into the mountain, 2km from the summit. Then as a final kick it touches 14% for the last stretch. That hurts.
You have to get into a rhythm. It’s no good beasting it one minute, then chilling the next. As I’ve said before, its all about slow and steady – there’s 85 miles of uphill at harsh gradients. Usually, with up-hills, it’s best to go at your own pace. Just pulling 10w more than you’re used to will really drain you over time, and it’s the rhythm you have to get into. Fortunately Carmen and I are pretty evenly matched, and the pace for this epic was knocked back by a good number of watts in order to preserve energy and be as efficient as possible. That way we were able to stay together and go at a sensible pace. Heart rate was kept in check – well mine was. Carmen’s ran 15 BPM above normal, we presume from the shock of the accident, and the body channelling energy into repairing the damage.
On every ascent, we’d always stop at the bridge. The halfway point up Galibier felt good, and where it flattened out for a short while, it was easy to remount the bike. Flapjacks were the staple diet here, a sugar boost for the last half, which is torture. Just being able to lay on the grass for 15 minutes was a real pleasure. We always stopped for a hydration fill up at our secret stash of water further up the mountain. It felt good to know that we had some extra should we need it, but getting back on the bike on a 9% hill was always fun, especially as we got tired.
Once we’d filled up on the first ascent of four, we carried on up into the more barren parts of the mountain. It was there that something caught my eye. I could have sworn I saw a giant rat the size of a badger, but then I remembered reading about some people saying how they hallucinated on the Everest challenge, so maybe it was nothing? And then 5 minutes later, I saw another one. This time Carmen saw it too, but we had no idea what it was. Further investigation later solved our puzzle – they are Marmots and live at high altitudes amongst the rocks. After that we saw many of the little creatures, sitting on their hind legs, like a giant meercat. Sweet.
It was early morning, and the ascent was quiet – virtually no cyclists or cars. We had the road to ourselves, and when we stopped, the silence was deafening. Just the wind in the grass and the occasional bird chatter. The air was cold and thin, but we kept climbing. Our first time up, everything was new. Every corner was exciting, that was soon to end. When you get past the 5km to go sign, the road opens up and you can just about see the summit. It seems a very long way up (I do know it’s actually 1440ft from that sign), and the road stretches out, comes into, and goes out of sight. With 2km to go, there’s a café just where the road splits – to the right for the new tunnel that cuts off the top, and to the left to climb the final 2km to the summit at 2642m above sea level.
At it’s steepest part the 14% road is brutal (that’s Edge Hill steep). The only rewarding thing about it as you wind to the left then right back to the summit is that you are nearly there. Smiles all around when we got to the top first time, at about 11am. I remembered the car keys, and it was still there from the night before, so we were able to don warm clothes and take the obligatory photos at the sign to prove we were there. We looked at each other, a few swear words were muttered, and we realised that once up this ‘beast’ had been a massive challenge, let alone another three more times. The future looked daunting.
Carmen: So, annoyed with myself, the thought of all the planning that had gone into this challenge and I could have ruined it all so soon… not an option, press on and forget it, but my HR was now running much higher than usual, 15 bpm higher which meant I was putting in more effort. One good thing, the pain from my leg muscles had now gone, now my right knee and elbow were now taking over and giving me grief from the fall.
It was a long way up Galibier believe me, it seemed to never end and the second half ramped, but on we battled and finally round one was complete. So now I started to analyse the whole picture, my body was telling me, no way was this possible four times, my mind said differently, I came to do this and I must give it my best shot.
I couldn’t tell Jon about my doubts, so smiled and carried on. Body verses Mind!
I checked over the bikes and Garmins, and checked the altitude gain. Something didn’t quite read right. We hadn’t switched them on until we had got to the bottom of Telegraphe, because we didn’t want to count the false flat first time – it almost didn’t seem right to include it in the overall challenge, as we felt we should start it from the very bottom, not 40% of the way up.
I got out my phone, put the numbers into the calculator, and the height climbed seemed short! I know I hadn’t put in the false flat in the calculations (that I though would be a bonus) but on first review I could see we may have to climb it more than 4 times, even though all of the GPS routing had said 3.85 times. I didn’t say anything to Carmen. I wanted to see how much the false flat would add to the next time up. It was hard enough getting up first time, without worrying her about having to do it more times than we thought.
The descent was tough. You could never really let go of the brakes, and on some very rough surfaces at times, your shoulders and hands were punished. The cold came through the gloves, fingers numb, holding onto the brakes, the only thing between you and a 1000ft drop. The air warmed as you got towards Valloire, and with the hotel beckoning, there were smiles all round. The last run down into Valloire was about 5%, so you could let go of the brakes and have a blast – a great reward for such a challenging climb.
The drill and procedures at the stop was off a checklist. I knew that as we got tired it would be very easy to forget things, and heading off back down Telegraphe with something missing or not checked would be a potential disaster. The checklists worked well. One as we checked in (like get batteries on charge, check over the bikes..) We also had one as we left, to ensure we had everything with us. A bit OCD maybe, but it worked for us, and we never forgot anything.
The routine was to get showered, and then change into clean cycling gear. We had 4 sets of each, and putting on fresh clothing felt great. Chamois cream adorned, it was then getting to one room to do the cooking. This was typically Carmen’s job while I did routine bike checks and got things on charge. We ate well. No gels, not Carb drink, just decent food. A good balance of protein and particularly slow burn Carbs were required, as we couldn’t put down stuff that would upset our stomachs and gels and Carb drinks tend to do that. For hydration it was tea and coffee in the rooms, but only water with electrolyte on the bike. It served us well, with neither of us undernourished.
And that was the routine. I’d planned an hour for each stop as we descended Galibier back to the Hotel, which in hindsight wasn’t enough. We really needed about 90 minutes, as showering, cooking and maintenance all took more time than we expected. We also hadn’t factored in the stop times on the mountain, at the foot and at the top. They all added up much more than I had expected – schoolboy error really.
Carmen: Descent was not as easy as expected, concentration on switchbacks was tiring. So, glad to get back to hotel for a pit stop, shower and food, then time to go again, seemed like we hadn’t rested at all, but onward three more rounds to go, and massive ones at that.
From there on in it’s all a bit of a blur. Ascents 2 and 3 were tough. Carmen’s heart was still running 15 BPM above normal, and the climbing was slow as we became more tired. Each stop was welcomed more than the last, but we just had to get back on and pedal. We redressed her wounds a couple of times, but she was a trouper, never complaining.
At the top the second second time, I did another GPS height check. We were definitely going to be under at the 4th summit. My brain wasn’t agile enough at this point to work out how much, especially because the false flat skewed the figures, but I knew it was more than just a few metres. I kept quiet. More photos, this time with two fingers in the air indicating the second time, then re-dress warmly, lock the car and back down the mountain for the second time.
This was supposed to be the halfway point, and in my own mind before we started I’d thought that the first ascent would be pretty straightforward, after all, I’d done big climbs in the Alps and Pyrenees before. This was different – the first time up was extremely hard, especially through the night. I thought that the second time up, because it’s half way would spur us on, purely because we’re past the half way point (although of course we weren’t because of GPS calculation errors).
I knew the third ascent would be the most demoralising. We were past the halfway point, and we’d just have to keep a strong mind and just get on with it. The good thing is that we did this during the day and into the early evening, the sun shone through. It was slow, and it took way longer than I’d calculated. With the speed we were travelling, and the miscalculation on the stop times we were behind our schedule and extremely tired. We kept in good spirits, but it was tough. Carmen’s left knee (not the injured one) started to give her jip. A sharp knee pain, probably from overuse, compensating for the injury on the other side, was just too much for it. But she soldiered on, not complaining to much. But I knew it was bad, because she never usually complains.
The third climb was tough. We were worn out and the light was starting to fade. My calculations showed that we’d be at the summit after 9pm, with over an hours descent into Valloire to the hotel still to go, we’d be descending in the dark. At the top, there was no point looking at the Garmin to see the climbing totals, as I knew we’d be short, just not sure how much. Photos taken, this time with three fingers prized up, Carmen’s face was a picture of pain, I’m sure mine was too. I felt shattered. We opened the tailgate of the car and just laid inside, feet sticking out of the rear. It felt like there was an earthquake occurring, the car was literally shaking. We realised it was us, cold, hyper ventilating and shaking in shock. It was starting to get dusk, and we had no lights on the bikes (saving weight obviously!). We had to get going. It was a cold dark descent, not nice, and we rolled into the hotel at about 10.45pm.
Carmen: I can’t remember much about the second climb, other than we did it and we were now half way there, which seemed like a huge achievement, wow. The third climb I remember so well, it was so hard, I remember stopping at the bridge before it ramped on Galibier, lying flat out on the grass and really not wanting to get back on as the road went on forever and ever, but we pushed on now knowing that we were behind schedule and dark would soon be drawing upon us.
The photo of me third time up Galibier is my favourite, you can see the pain in my face, but a massive three times up the ‘beast’, only one to go, how could we fail. I remember Jon saying “we need to descend quickly or it will be dark” I pleaded, “Please can we just have a few minutes recovery in the car” We both collapsed into the back of the car and I remember the whole car was shaking, we were cold, extremely tired but had no option but to descend. It was chilly, it was painful and I just wanted to curl up and sleep, my left knee had now started to hurt, never had this before, but then never climbed this much before. Onward, so my neck and shoulders hurting too as well as the rest of my body, finally and thankfully we arrive at the hotel.
Now feeling rock bottom, totally exhausted, Jon’s words were “I think we should abort” I can’t tell you how glad I was to hear this, I just wanted to curl up and die, but how could I? So near to the end, I so wanted to but it just wasn’t an option, we had come so far and my body was telling me so in every way possible.
So, shower, food and rest, now dark and behind time, so easy to give up. I put a quick report on FB about how I was feeling as friends and family were following the challenge, this spurred me on, any doubts were soon blown away, everyone was so supportive, right behind me knowing I could do this, but not feeling my pain. I wanted to complete but the pain made it difficult.
Onward, we chatted and the conclusion was to carry on. I must say how amazing Jon was, always checking bikes, up and down flights of stairs to do so at the hotel, we were so tired but it had to be done. Only one more round to go!
It was time for a rethink. I’d quite honestly had enough, we could hardly move, everything was very sore. I muttered the words “I think we should give up” That was music to Carmen’s ears, she said she’d had the same thoughts. We knew that with a turn-around at the hotel, we wouldn’t even set off down Telegraphe until after midnight, and with the accident we’d had before, and being more tired now, it was going to be dangerous.
Of course, I’d not considered what kind of a tough cookie this girl really is. She admitted that her left knee was very painful, and that the cuts to her other knee, elbow and road rash also hurt, however, she said that we can’t give up now, were ¾ of the way there, and surely we can muster one more ascent? “We came here to do it, and I think we should get some food and get back down that mountain” she said. I agreed, but then broke the news that we may not achieve our Everesting goal on the 4th attempt. Still, the chilli and rice tasted amazing.
We agreed that we’d go down Telegraphe, and then return back to the hotel and reassess how we felt before deciding to do Galibier again. We togged up with warm clothes that we could carry back, as it was dark, and fixed the lights back on the bikes. I wore arm warmers on my legs – it looked ridiculous, but I didn’t care. We laughed about it. Another descent into the blackness of the Telegraphe road and white lines. This time we made it down safely. At the bottom, we took off the warm clothing, and started the 11km painful ascent back to the hotel.
To cap it all, we’d only gone less than half a kilometre uphill and it started spitting with rain. The weather up until now had been fine, with dry roads, so although the forecast had said rain, in these micro climates anything can happen. And it did. My famous last words were, “its only going to spit with rain, we’ll be OK.” At which point the heavens opened, the lightening struck and the thunder rolled in.
It was torrential. Cycling glasses had to come off because we couldn’t see – even at 7mph up that damn mountain. The bolts of lightening were coming down all around us, it was pretty scary. Pitch black, no cars, at 3am in the morning, with a good 1.5 hour climb ahead of us. We just plodded on, soaked to the skin. The rain didn’t stop. One of my Garmins gave up as well as the battery pack. Luckily I had two permanently on the bike. At the summit, we took shelter for a couple of minutes and put on the wet, but warmer clothing for the false flat descent and headed back the last 5km to the hotel, like drowned rats.
Carmen: Exhausted we set off, shock horror how the weather turned, lightning and thunder, pouring rain, unreal and there we were just the two of us in the middle of the night, in the mountains once again, cycling for the last time up Telegraphe. Almost victory.
Soaked to the skin, back to the hotel, lots of coffee and food with only Galibier to go. Only!
By this time Jon had mentioned that the fourth climb may not be enough to complete the challenge, I ignored this, he’s usually spot on with figures, so it will be fine, wait and see were my thoughts.
It was a hard struggle, my left knee gave me a sharp pain on every stroke and I was near to tears, realising how slow I was and holding Jon back. Final stop at the bridge and I was done, I again didn’t want to get back on the bike but we were so close and just one final push.
The knee was really getting to me, I had to pull over, walk away from Jon and have a word with myself… “come on, you can do this, man up, get back on the bike, ignore the pain and push to the end, get it done”
If only it were that easy, back on the bike, every rotation I got a shooting pain from the knee and the mountain ahead was never ending. But almost there. I struggled on and finally had the top of Galibier in sight, but guess what Jon’s calculations on the challenge were correct, four massive times up the monster was not enough… Please no.
Jon was so strong at this point, encouraged me all the way to the end, I wanted the pain to stop, we soldiered on, we were a team, all the way to the end. So, we turned around and did what we had to do to finish, not sure how with the pain, but thanks Jon, never ever would have completed without you, you were so strong, absolutely amazing.
This time, we reassessed the situation. It was clearly too dangerous at 3am to ascent Galibier alone with no traffic about, with massive drops off the side of the road, in the dark in a heavy thunderstorm. We could see the end in sight, we just had Galibier to climb, and maybe a bit more to top up the height difference. Our mood changed from miserable to buoyant, as we hatched a plan. The weather forecast said the rain would stop at 6am. It would also be coming light, so why not wait a couple of hours, let it blow over and have one last attempt. With food inside us, bikes checked over, lights removed we set off again at 6am.
I felt like I had the worst café legs ever. Carmen’s knee was giving her real problems, but she soldiered on. Bad luck struck about 4km out of Valloire as I suffered a front wheel puncture. I’m normally pretty quick at tube changes, but with 27 hours of no sleep, it was a frustrating episode to sort out. At least the sun had come out and the roads were starting to dry. The haul to the midway point at the bridge was tough. It’s not the steepest, but it does ramp at times, and even the 6% gradients felt like 25%. At the bridge we collapsed on the grass, struggled to consume more flapjack, but we had the end in sight.
15 minutes later we were on the steep part, hauling up past our water stash. Carmen’s knee was clearly painful, despite a good dose of paracetamol, we knocked down the pace and hauled the last 5km to the summit. Four times up Galibier, and we were finished. Now all I had to do was to kick my tired brain into to touch to calculate the shortcoming in height.
I had to look at both of our Garmins, which oddly showed about a 300ft difference, and use the lowest one, otherwise we wouldn’t both achieve the Everesting challenge. The shortfall was 1,400 ft from my Garmin which was the lowest. That’s a good chunk of mountain to re-climb. As the car was at the top, there was no point going all the way down, all we had to do was descend 1,400 ft, and then turn around and come back up. My best guess was that it would be about 3km. I subtracted 1,450ft (50 extra feet for good measure) off the shown height and then watched it tumble as we descended. Well, it didn’t actually tumble, it seemed to come down very slowly, and took until the 5km mark before we’d got back to a low point to start climbing from. To say the last climb was hard was a bit of an understatement, but persistence prevailed and slowly but surely we hit the top with a smile. We had to get to the top, the car was there!
Secretly stashed in the car was a box of red wine, so with plastic glasses at about 9.30 in the morning on the summit of Galibier, we raised a glass and took the customary photos. Onlookers were obviously perplexed!
My Garmin recorded a height of 29,081 feet, just 52 feet over the target!
We’d been turning the pedals for just under 18 hours and cycled a total of 159 miles, 87 of it up hill at an average gradient of 7.5%
We were the first people to ever complete the Everesting Challenge on Col du Galibier, which has been formally recognised by www.everesting.cc …and we have two Blood Sweat and Tears Everesting jerseys to prove it.
Carmen: Wonderful memories and superb planning Jon, the hardest physical challenge I have ever done and I thank you for being there the whole way, through my pain and yeah we laugh about my stupid fall and I have a scar on my elbow, but we got through it, the first to complete on Galibier and we are on the Hall of Fame… totally awesome.
The day after I felt like I’d been run over by a bus, ached from head to toe.
On return to UK I went to A & E as elbow was not a pretty sight, yes it was infected and I had to have it dressed every day for a week and there were talks of skin grafts, but it healed, but I have to say I was shocked when I saw it, I also had concussion, it’s amazing what you can do if you put your mind to it. I live to tell the tale, incredible adventure it was too.
Jon: In summary, it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. It’s not just the physical effort and endurance that’s tough, but the mental capacity and the depth to which you have to dig to continue. Without Carmen there I’d have given up, that’s for sure, it’s her strength of character that kept us going. Would we do it again…no.
But you could man-up and have a go yourself!
But it does raise the bar for the next challenge for 2017.