With the time trial and triathlon season all but over my thoughts usually turn to the annual bash up and down the 20% and 25% gradients of Dartmoor, otherwise known as the Dartmoor Devil. With this in mind, I’d ridden the Henley Hilly 100 as I so often do, recording a new personal best for the route of 3h48, so I knew was hanging on to some good form.
I’m sure that quite a few cyclists have heard of Everesting – it’s riding your bike up and down a hill until you record a height gain greater than the height of Mount Everest, 8848m (for more details see http://www.everesting.cc/). I’d seen a few UK attempts written up on a UK blog (http://www.everestinguk.com/) and there are some other interesting accounts about. It looked to me like an ideal endurance cycling activity – the sort of thing I ought to be good at, and in the past few weeks I’d scoped out a few of the local test pieces, selecting one that was suited to my time trialling/flat land abilities – the climb of the old A40 up Aston Hill (Veloviewer profile here). A steep climb would suit the real hill climbers – they can torque their way up and down a 8-10% climb all day long, but I needed something slightly gentler. Aston Hill averages only 4.4%, so I’d need to ride quite a distance (over 400 km by my reckoning) and quite a few repeats (around 76) to notch up 8848m. But I also thought “+400km of hilly riding can’t be that hard, can it?”
I had been toying with the idea for a few weeks and then a friend of mine, Paul Alderson, Everested Barhatch Lane in Surrey (link to his ride on Strava), and over a bit of e-banter, pointed out to me that the weather was likely closing in soon for the autumn and I’d not have many more opportunities to go for it. Saturday 4th October was a dreary day, I ended up erging 12km in the morning while it poured down outside and then in the afternoon decided I’ve give it a go the very next day – a bit last minute. This approach has worked for some, but in retrospect perhaps I needed a bit more preparation. I went shopping for some good energy food (cereal bars, flapjacks, etc.) and when I got home, charged up my Garmin and some batteries and mixed up some energy drinks into all the spare bidons I had lying around. I resolved to get up early on Sunday and go for it.
My alarm went off at 4am and by 5am I was in the layby at the top of the climb (I’d already worked out it was better to leave the car at the top – that way, you’re always freewheeling away from it and have to climb back up) ready to tackle my attempt. The first few reps went pretty steadily I felt. I was in a spring weight jacket and gloves to cope with the cold (I’d had to scrape ice off the car before I’d left – the first frost of the season). I had half an eye on my powermeter, knowing roughly what a “steady” effort would look like, but it was tricky in the dark. Next time I’ll remember to set the backlight on my Garmin up high for longer.
By just after 6am the first streaks of dawn were showing, I’d done five reps at at just under 13 minutes each, and by soon after 7am it was light enough to bin the front light – my previous 12-rep best was soon passed. I had my Garmin set to auto-lap at the foot of the climb but sometimes it triggered twice; next time I’ll count the laps with a button press. The rear light stayed on for another hour or two, there are some overhanging trees which can make this climb quite dark. Another downside to the tree cover is that the Garmin wasn’t always tracking speed correctly – next time I’ll ride with a speed sensor. By 8am and rep number 14 I was starting to struggle with some negative thoughts, but a few club riders were out and about and occasionally I’d get some company on the climb to the turn at the top and even a shout or two from riders that knew me (but didn’t know what I was up to).
I went on like this for the next few hours, stopping at the car for more drinks or maybe a bar or two, every three or four reps, but the negativity was never far away and those first 30 seconds after I’d turned back up the climb got harder and harder although I was OK higher up once I’d “got into” the effort. It warmed up a bit and I was able to strip off a few layers but although the sun was out at the foot of the climb, trees the rest of the way up made it colder than it looked – this could be useful for a summer attempt though. Eventually something went pop in my legs and head around rep 34. Where I’d been averaging a fairly comfortable 240W on the climb this dropped away to 225-230W. Those next few reps were a struggle. I was glad to get past halfway, but at the 40th rep I called it a day after 8h45 and 4702m climbed, 217km under my wheels . My head, as much as my legs, was tired from that continued battering of those first 30 seconds after I turned at the foot of the climb.
Time to pack up and go home for a beer, and my desk on Monday morning. Definitely a challenge to return to! Garmin data Here