I’ve finally conquered my fear of climbing.
What is Everesting? Simply pick a climb and cycle it repeatedly until your total vertical meters gained equal the height of Mount Everest, at 8848m (just shy of 9 kilometers up). History remembers firsts, so try and pick a climb that has not been done 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 don’t think Everesting on your own would be much fun and am very glad Eugene was keen to join.
He introduced me to the Transbaviaans in 2012 and that is where endurance type cycling started for me. We also have a weight difference, similar to Asterix and Obelix — but he is always very patient with 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.
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 cycle up and down the same road repeatedly for night and day (and night again). In the middle of the week.
Roughly as follow. Need to do 8848m and Helshoogte is 240m so we need 36.875 trips, say 40. Each one is 5km up and another 5km down for a total of 400km over 40 laps. At an overall average of 20km/h, it would take 20 hours without rest. Target was to finish within a day.
There was a sense of urgency as 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.
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. It ended up taking much longer than anticipated, partly due to reasons beyond our control and partly because of a minor oversight.
We didn’t go for a test ride and the estimate 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, it turned out we needed quite a bit less than the almost 40 laps we thought. Patrick, who created the calculator, kindly explained the difference in the comments below.
After uploading our data to Strava it showed our total ascent was just under 9900m — and not knowing about the High Rouleur title we didn’t bother with the extra 100 meters to get there. Next time.
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 complex at the bottom of Helshoogte. Our route would be from here up to the first T-junction signpost, just around the corner after Tokara, where the road flattens and it is safer to turn around. Did I mention the spectacular view of the Hottentots-Hollands mountains?
In terms of temperature, our timing was out. I looked at yr.no and saw we’ll have a mid-week gap without any rain (or wind, for that matter). As our start time came closer, the forecast minimums dropped down to 5 degrees Celsius. The Cape 1000km earlier this year was abandoned after the first loop because of similar temperatures.
The post-ride Garmin data showed a minimum of just 3 degrees. Saying that if was freezing still feels like an euphemism. It was beyond cold, simply because you sweat going up and then freeze coming down. The right kit would have gone a long way.
We started on the evening of Tuesday 8 September 2015. I thought 20 to 24 hours later would see us finish between lunch and dinner the next day. Eventually we ended around 4am on Thursday morning, half a day longer than expected.
Spine-chilling temperatures and time lost with the armed response episode meant that our first night’s cycling took ages and we didn’t seem to get anywhere. From sunrise the next morning things started to pick up and we got into good form later that day.
You are not allowed to sleep during an Everesting. Perception is a funny thing. Three weeks ago I was convinced that I won’t be able to cycle 600kms without a bit of sleep. Then I sat next to Wimpie on a plane to France and heard he cycled non-stop for 120 hours for a world endurance record in 1975. Our mere 32 hours pales in comparison. Still, this was my longest effort yet and proof that the next 600km could be done without sleep.
Recording was a bit of a nightmare, simply because of battery life. The Suunto lasted a mere 7 hours, the Garmin reached half-way, and from there two Samsung phones had to be alternated time-and-again to charge the battery while recording on Strava. I then had to stitch the data to submit a single file to be validated for the official record.
Up. Down. Repeat.
Tuesday 19:30. 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 were great, this was, after all, a new adventure. We thought of doing four stints of 10 laps each, but soon thought 8×5 might be better.
I never expected the amount of support we got. Valerida casually uploaded a Facebook pic before we started and it wasn’t long before the Audax riders noticed and started sending texts. And it was truly amazing to see how many people you recognize while cycling that route.
Five laps in, I noticed a familiar Audi TT next to us. It was Charl & Jan-Martin, followed by Valerida & Louise. We finished the lap and met them at Tokara. Already thirsty, it was time for a beer. This was our first stop, unplanned. And the second cigarette for Eugene.
After dark it was nippy outside and we used a lot of energy so got hungry early on. This was quickly cured a a sandwich and another beer down at the parking lot, together with our familiar crowd from the previous stop. It was now cold and quiet on the road.
Nice night for a mugging
I’ve heard of cyclists being attacked on the lower parts of this climb, about where the last houses were. This is exactly where Valerida saw culprits lying in the bush, next to the road. Luckily she was following us in a car at that stage, as I didn’t see them.
She made few calls and within minutes there were many people on the scene — 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 were still visible and waited there for a while. Thanks for watching out for us.
The sun started shining and we got into our groove again. By now people were commuting to work and traffic increased substantially.
Eugene recognised his cousin and I waved to Dewald on his way to Hillcrest, who later left us a hidden treasure be stashing some energy bars behind one of the pillars of the Tokara signpost and sending us the location via WhatsApp. Very kind.
My mom & sister also drove behind us for a lap or two. Later we stopped for breakfast pizza — not the healthiest, but well deserved and an opportunity to charge the phones.
More familiar faces in the afternoon as I saw Charl a couple of times around Neil Ellis. Pieter stopped by with some energy bars. Erik waved as he went up (segment record holder at the time). And Carinus cycled with us for a couple of laps.
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. Then dinner. This is starting to sound more like an extended menu than a ride report, but that’s we we did — we cycled and we ate. This time Steers burgers, around 9pm. Also our last sit down meal, as we were getting close to the end.
Night fell together with the cold. But this time we were very much prepared for it. I called in for a beanie and a fleece, paired with two sets of long-fingered gloves. Bring it on.
After last night’s incident, we had family & friends insisting on tagging along and alternating safety vehicles. Valerida, Natasha, my mom and Marné checked in for a few laps.
We were comfortable and our progress was brisk, with some of the fastest times coming 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’ve cycled over Helshoogte many times before, but now I absolutely love that pass.
We shall henceforth be known as Sir Edmund Coetzee and Sir Edmund du Plessis.
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.
Expecting to be man-down after to ride, I’m happy to report it was nothing more than stiff legs. No back or neck pain, just my old friend numb fingers, but that could still partly be due the 1200kms three weeks prior. I’ve lost only 2kgs during the ride.
Did we learn anything?
Off course. Tips for next time.
- Test ride. Even if you know the route quite well. Do it with a different mindset and check your GPS and calculations.
- In South Africa, best not do it alone. Consider a safety car, if only for the stretches in the dark.
- This is a summer sport. Sweating uphill and freezing downhill was no fun. If, like me, you prefer not riding in the cold, pick a warmer month.
- Comfort. Leave a wide variety of kit in the car, then you can always fetch what you need. We also stashed a few beers, plus enough sandwiches and droëwors to feed a small country.
- Music can make 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, it just seems to take 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.
Many thanks to all who hooted, waved, stopped or said hi, either in person or with 0’s and 1’s. It does make a difference. We might have been too tired or fingers too numb to respond immediately, but we appreciate it all the same.
What’s next? Some family time. I’ve accomplished all my cycling goals for the year.