I’ve finally conquered my fear of climbing.
What is Everesting?
Pick a climb and cycle it repeatedly, until your total vertical meters gained equal the height of Mount Everest, 8848m. History remembers firsts, so try and pick a climb that has not been done (to this extent) before.
You can everest a mountain on your own, or with a few mates, in which case you’ll get an asterisk next to your name for a shared first. I honestly don’t think everesting on your own would be any fun at all.
Eugene introduced me to the Transbaviaans in 2012 and that is where endurance type cycling started for me. We also have a weight difference, much like Asterix and Obelix — but he is always very patient with me on the uphills, even though he can do it in half the time. Tonight I was going to test his patience to the very limit.
Also, it has to be said that there are few people out there who would respond positively to a phone call asking you to come and do a continuous bike ride up & down a mountain pass for night & day (and night again). In the middle of the week.
Worst case as follows. Everest is 8848m. Our Helshoogte stretch is 240m. So we’ll have to make 36.875 trips, rounded up to 40. Each one is 5km up and 5km down, so 40 trips of 10km is 400km in total. At and average of 20kmh for up & down, it would take 20 hours without rest. Target is to do it within a day.
Sense of urgency
I heard a rumor that team RECM also wanted to everest Helshoogte. Not sure whether this was true. But I wanted to be first. So I phoned Eugene and we picked the first day without rain.
Not just a 400
The last 400km we cycled was in March and it took me 17¾ hours to complete. I thought this would be more of the same. How wrong was I — it took much longer than anticipated, partly due to reasons beyond our control and partly because of a minor oversight.
I assumed there are no meters gained on the descent. We didn’t go for a test ride. And the calculation was very conservative as we measured from the intersection of Helshoogte & Simonsberg and not a little further down, at the offramp to the shopping centre where we made our turns.
According to the everesting calculator then, it turned out that we needed quite a bit less than the almost 40 laps we initially thought. Patrick, who created the calculator, kindly explained the difference in the comments below.
It said we needed just 23 laps (230kms). We ended up doing 37 laps (370kms). After uploading our data to strava it showed the total ascent was just under 9900m.
Helshoogte is a no-brainer for an Everesting attempt. The tar is smooth. There are double lanes all the way up. There is a fairly safe section at the top where one can turn. And the bottom houses a shopping mall with a 24hr garage and ample parking.
We left the car at the parking lot of the Spar complex at the bottom of Helshoogte. Our route would be from there, up to the first T-junction signpost, just around the corner after Tokara, where the road flattens. We figured it would be safer to turn there than right on the corner at Tokara.
I know we’ve just had spring time, but our timing was out. I looked at yr.no and saw we’ll have a mid-week gap without any rain. Luckily there would be no wind. As our start time came closer, the forecasted minimums dropped — all the way down to 5 degrees Celsius. The Cape 1000km earlier this year was abandoned after the first loop because of similar temperatures.
When I downloaded the Garmin’s data afterwards I found that it recorded the minimum as a mere 3 degrees Celsius. To say that it was freezing still sounds like an euphemism. It was beyond cold. I started wearing non-cycling kit as well, layer upon layer, for the sake of self-preservation.
We started on Tuesday evening, 8 September 2015, around 19:30. I thought that around 20 to max 24 hours would take us to finish between lunch & dinner the next day. Eventually we ended around 4am on the Thursday morning, so 12 hours later than expected.
The spine-chilling temperatures and the time lost with the armed response episode made that our first night’s riding took ages and we didn’t seem to get anywhere. Luckily from sunrise the next morning things started to pick up and we got into good form later in the day.
Perception is a funny thing. Three weeks ago I was convinced I cannot do 600km without sleeping. Then I sat next to Wimpie on a plane to France. In 1975, he set a world endurance record by cycling non-stop for 120 hours. Put that in your pipe and smoke it. Our little ride of around 32 hours pales in comparison. Still, this was my longest non-stop yet, and proof that the next 600km could be done without sleep.
The recording was a bit of a nightmare. Simply because of battery life. The Suunto lasted a mere 7 hours, the Garmin reached around half-way, and the two Samsung phones had to be alternated time-and-again to charge the battery while recording on Strava. Now I have to stitch all the data and then submit a single strava file to be validated for the official record. Sounds time consuming.
I never expected the amount of support we got. Valerida casually took a picture and uploaded it to facebook before we started. It wasn’t long before the Audax riders noticed. And it is truly amazing to see how many people you recognize while riding that route.
Up. Down. Repeat.
Eugene set off while still finishing his pre-ride cigarette — a rather disrespectful gesture to the momentous task that still lay ahead. The first three laps was great, this was a new adventure after all. We thought we’d do 4 stints of 10 laps, but soon thought 8×5 might be better.
Five laps in, I noticed a familiar Audi TT next to us. It was Charl & Jan-Martin, followed by Valerida & Louise. We continued up the hill and met them at Tokara. Jan-Martin was visibly excited on our behalf and we were already getting thirsty so we stood around for a while and had our first beer. This was our first (unplanned) stop. And the second cigarette for Eugene.
It was nippy outside and we were using a lot of energy so we got hungry quickly. At the end of lap 6 we had a few sandwiches and another beer, down at the parking area, together with our familiar crowd from the previous stop.
It was now cold and quiet on the road.
Nice day for a mugging
I’ve heard of people being attacked on the lower parts of Helshoogte, about where the last houses end. And this is exactly where Valerida saw culprits lying in the bush, next to the road. Luckily she was following us with the car. I was tired and didn’t see them.
Valerida & Eugene made few calls and within a few minutes we had a lot of people on the scene — the police, Stellenbosch watch, ADT, Stallion, Thorburn and the guys from Tokara. They suggested we wait for a while before resuming. And when we did, they took turns and rode with us for a while. I was quite amazed at the response. Thanks guys for watching out for us.
We lost a lot of time during the night, but when the sun started shining we got into our stride again. By now people were starting to get to work and the traffic increased substantially. Eugene recognised his cousin, and I waved to Dewald on his way to Hillcrest.
We were coming down while Dewald was going up, so we couldn’t stop and say hi. He then stashed some energy bars behind one of the pillars of the Tokara signpost and notified us of the location via whatsapp. Very kind.
My mom & sister drove behind us during early morning traffic. After another few laps we stopped for breakfast. Pizza. Not the healthiest, but well deserved. We didn’t wan’t to waste too much time here and also used the opportunity to charge the phones.
During the afternoon we saw Charl a couple more times. My brother Pieter drove next to us for a lap and an energy bar at the top. Erik Kleinhans waved as he went up (check out his strava profile, he holds most of the Helshoogte records). And Carinus Lemmer cycled with us and exchanged a few words.
Seeing all our mates made the afternoon fly by. Just before the afternoon traffic started we returned to Spar for another bite to eat. The longer you go, the more you start craving fruit.
More laps. So we needed more food. I fear this text is beginning to sound more like an extended menu than a ride report, but unfortunately there there isn’t much to add — we cycled and and we ate. This time a few Steer burgers, around 9pm, I think. It was Wednesday, after all. And also our last sit down meal, as we were getting close to the end.
It was starting to get cold again. But tonight we were very much prepared for it. I called in for a beanie and a proper Capestorm fleece, paired with two sets of long-fingered gloves. Bring it on.
After last night’s incident, Natasha again joined us in her car. So now we had two support vehicles. We were cycling in the yellow lane, she was on our right, and Valerida and my mom followed behind us. Marné also checked in for a few laps.
We were much more comfortable this time and our progress was brisk. We were doing some of our best work yet — some of our fastest times came out of the last 10 laps. The brain knows you’re almost done and this acts as great encouragement.
We finished around 4am and stopped for a few pics at Tokara before turning and coming down for the very last time. Extremely satisfied.
I considered riding that wave of euphoria for a few more laps, but that would mean nearing morning traffic again. Or maybe my sleep-deprived brain was just playing tricks. More importantly, I couldn’t ask our support team to continue. They have done more than we ever expected and everyone deserved some sleep. Without them our efforts would have come to an abrupt end on the first night already as it wouldn’t have been safe to continue.
I usually lose quite a bit of weight during these rides. On the PBP I lost about 5kgs. I expected this Everesting to be more or less the same, as it certainly felt like it. But it turned out I only lost 2kgs. Less than I thought.
I thought we were going to be completely man-down after the ride. Luckily not. More tired than anything else. No back or neck pain, just a regular amount of stiffness in the legs. Plus our old friend numb fingers — but it think was still partly due to the 1200km three weeks prior.
What have we learned?
Tips for next time.
I’ve been up Helshoogte many times before. So I figured it won’t be necessary to do a test ride. I checked out the route online, used a conservative estimate, and only rode up the pass once in my car. I’d suggest you rather test your recording equipment and cycle at least on actual lap while still planning your ride. And get a powerbank to charge your devices on alternating laps or sets.
Don’t do it on your own. Have a safety vehicle. If only for the stretches in the dark. And the safety vehicles’ lights also assist on the fast downhills – you never know when a dog jumps in front of your wheel.
This is a summer sport. If you do this when it is cold then you’ll only end up sweating uphill, only to turn and freeze (to the extent that it’s difficult and dangerous to control your bike at full speed) on the downhill.
Ensure you have a wide variety of kit in the car. You don’t have to take everything with you, as you can always return and fetch what you need. We also had a few beers stashed in the car, together with enough sandwiches and droëwors to feed a small African country.
I won’t recommended a start in the early evening, as we did, especially if it is cold outside. Rather start early-morning in the morning and get as many laps, if not all, in before nightfall. For safety and comfort.
I makes a massive difference. When you’re slowly going up a familiar road for what feels like the hundredth time and it is dead quiet outside then it seems to take just sooo much longer. But when you do the same stretch of road while listening to music then your perceived effort drops and you’re neither bored nor sleepy.
To everyone who hooted, shouted, waved, stopped, had a beer, rode along or came to say hi. It makes a massive difference. Also when you sit in the middle of the night and glance at your phone and see a few encouraging messages – we might have been too tired and our fingers too numb to respond immediately, but we appreciate it all the same.
Valerida — who drove behind us for the majority of the ride, very much like back in 2009 when she following Manus and myself all the way down from JHB to CPT. Déjà vu. Love you.
My parents — dad for pre-ride paste & mom for driving behind us for long stretches. When we were young our parents told us we could do anything. Now they have to live with it.
Natasha — also riding behind us for long & important stretches. And to Annelize who joined her. Cool tunes & great cheerleading. I hope we can work together on the upcoming Tour de Boland.
Social media — everyone who cheered us on and fellow Audax riders. It’s nice to glance at your phone in the middle of the night and to see a mate in Australia appreciates what you’re going through. It’s the small things that keep you going.
Will I do it again?
Definitely. In a car. Once at a time. No need to go overboard. But goofs aside, that road now occupies a special place in my mind.
I’d like to do an Everesting of a mountain bike route. Haven’t decided which one yet. But for now I’ve accomplished all my cycling goals for the year.
Featured image “Everest North Face toward Base Camp Tibet Luca Galuzzi 2006” by I, Luca Galuzzi. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.