A couple hundred miles. Several thousand feet. Many, many hours… Everesting. Look it up. Everesting.cc and while you’re at it, you can look up the High Rouleurs Society.
Even though this has been on my mind for months, I didn’t go public with my intent to Everest as this would be the biggest cycling challenge I have ever taken on and, though I felt pretty confident in my ability to complete, I wasn’t sure and I’m not much at all for public shaming or any of the bullshit in case of failure; “Amazing effort, Good try, Most wouldn’t even attempt, You’re amazing, Blahblahblah”. I’d rather just post it as another bike ride if I didn’t make it and not hear any of that nonsense. Another reason I kept my cards close is one of pure selfishness, I suppose. Had others agreed to ride all or part, I know that I would not have been able to keep a pace that worked for me whether that be too fast (probably) or too slow, concern for other riders, breakdowns, other potential issues that I would have felt obligation to and distraction, plain and simple. It was hard enough keeping me focused let alone minute-consuming fun with others. Climbing is very much an individual effort even within a group.
But I did it. So now I can go public with it. I don’t usually talk much about my rides in general just because they really are such a personal thing and no one really gives a shit unless you are there. Just the way I like it.
Friday was different, I want to put the story out there for me, primarily, to remind myself that it wasn’t just a dream, that it happened and that I kicked ass. I never want to forget.
Let the tale begin. Thursday I headed for Lynchburg, Virginia to put me closer to a little town called Big Island which is located just off the Blue Ridge Parkway near my targeted start point at the base of Thunder Ridge – on the map as Apple Orchard Mountain. If anyone can tell me how it became Thunder Ridge, I’m curious to know.
I had only been to the area once before and that was for an organized ride last May called the Storming of Thunder Ridge. This event is where my scheme really took shape. I’d been thinking of Everesting for some time but didn’t really have an ideal location in mind and wasn’t too keen on the idea of 450 bridge repeats closer to home… Thunder Ridge was a perfect match. The climb is 13 miles long with an average gradient of 5.4%. There really are no flat areas longer than a few hundred feet, if that, over the entire climb and there are definitely many steeper sections, particularly at the top where there are about 2 miles of roughly 250’:1 mile. Total climb is about 3300 feet to the top with nothing that would blow out my knees or morale or require any walking or rest stops. A good thing as it would take 9 and 2/3rd’s ascents to meet my goal.
The descent was pure magic, long, wide and swoopy. If you needed any brakes at all, it was just a feather here and there. Hell yeah. One of the top three reasons we climb. Of course that all changed after dark.
I got into town and did some recon of the area, verifying the actual summit location, checking the tarmac for holes and other possible trouble, taking some pics, committing a little art and looking for the optimal place to park the truck safely while I rode. Everything looked perfect and I struck gold in finding a base for the truck – just on the other side of the James River at the base of the mountain was an information center with 24 hour air-conditioned bath rooms and safe looking parking. Yay, wouldn’t have to break in my new “porta loo”! It was too hot to sleep in the back of the truck too so no trial run of the new Therma Rest either. Heart was breaking…
My original plan was to park at the start, sleep in the truck for a few hours and get going. I thought better of that, however, knowing how important it is to be well rested before such an undertaking so I got a room. I was so incredibly wired, however, that my plan to be asleep by 8 or 9 was simply silly. I woke up at 2:30 (thirty minutes before the alarm went off) still wired for sound and ready to go. Threw down some coffee, loaded the truck and took off to my start point about 30 minutes down the road. Holy crap it was dark. I’ve never seen darkness like this and I’ve seen a lot of darkness. At one point I had the cab light on in the truck and I still had to feel my way around the front to get to the other side…creepy, really, really creepy. Nevertheless, started getting ready and managed to piss off a bumble bee that decided to have me for breakfast – stung me once in both hands. Really? Ouch but onward. Did I mention how freaking dark it was? I’m pretty sure I reached out to touch it a couple of times. I recommend this kind of undertaking with at least a little moon. I’m not afraid of the dark, in fact, I rather embrace it but this was really, really pitch black and I was about to ride off into the forest alone. Stop thinking like that, Carol and just get to work. So I did. Ok, I might have waited 10 minutes until I had just a crack of light…It was still really damn dark.
I was warned about all the critters and two deer nearly tripped over me before I had even reached a half mile into this journey. I was happy that I had affixed a…deer whistle…to my cockpit (I’m still giggling) for the descents. Then, I played chicken with a skunk at about the same time. This was gonna be interesting…
My otherwise flawless Garmin Vector 2 power meter pedals were dropping in and out and being annoying with several demands to calibrate and set angles. After awhile I just ignored them they seemed to settle down and work as expected. The first climb produced a spectacular sunrise – not something this girl sees often. By choice, I might add…
That first descent down was bliss, except I was freezing. My dumbass was so focused on how to deal with the blazing July heat that I didn’t even consider how chilly it might get as the sun was going down and coming up. I am still kicking myself for not packing a long sleeved descending layer. DUH!! I know better! I would have to figure this out later or it was going to be a brutal night.
Laps 2, 3 and 4 went by uneventfully. I was having a great time reveling in the spectacular scenery, relishing the cooling gusts the closer I got to the top, appreciating the hell out of the Blue Ridge Parkway and what a remarkable gift we have here with such a gem. I think Mile Markers 64-77 is my favorite section of the Parkway. You should check it out sometime. Even the traffic in this area was minimal. I counted two cars on my first lap – it did get substantially busier after that if you count a few dozen motorcycles, a handful of RV’s and maybe 20 cars busy.
Near the top are two scenic viewing areas; these are all over the Parkway but these two that became known to me as the Arnolds (They are a couple hundred yards apart and both look over Arnold Valley) offer views that are beyond comprehension. I had to stop and take a few pics later in the afternoon and I remember wondering to myself, how could this possibly be real? and becoming choked up with emotion and appreciation for what I was doing and all the gifts and joy that have come my way over my lifetime. Where was I..?
I got to the truck after lap four at around 3 p.m. with the intention of catching the gift shop while it was still open and seeing if they had any long sleeved t-shirts or jackets. They did, thankfully, as I did not want to drive into town to hunt one down but I had to do something before it got dark. Said jacket was quite ugly but at the time, nothing was more beautiful. I’m sure it looked great tied around my waist… stop laughing, I didn’t care.
The cashier/Park Ranger was quick to mention that there were storms about to hit – “just look over there!” Wait, what?? No, that wasn’t planned for nor allowed either!!! Oh, this was bad. The cell service was spotty at best but I was able to pull up the radar and see that sure enough, a band of nastiness headed right for us. It was a narrow little band though, and quick moving. I was happy I was at the bottom when it hit but annoyed at the delay – I had already completed my routine and was ready to roll again. It was after 3 in the afternoon and I was only on lap four. Had to remind myself to stop thinking that way… Storm ended after about 20 minutes or so and off I went on the wet, mossy road.
This is where the shit started to get deep as to the profundity of this ride. In order to do something like this you can’t think of how huge the task is but take it one mile at a time. But I started thinking about it when the cramps started to hit during lap five. One of my biggest hesitations of doing this ride was my cramping issues (no, Midol doesn’t help!) that I can’t seem to fix and I’ve tried everything. I do know that they are going to happen if I am stopped too long or stay in the red too long or both. This time, of course, they started from sitting too long between laps and they they were either going to temper or my ride was close to being over at less than the halfway point. Insert string of profanities here. I did manage to guzzle some Elete Water electrolyte drops – these do seem to help – along with a water bottle, a couple of salt tabs and soft spinning. It worked, they went away for good, thankfully (and kind of surprisingly).
My other physical concern was hot foot. Since about August of last year I’ve had debilitating issues with nerve pain in the bottoms of my feet to the point of permanent numbness in my toes. I’ve been holding back on doing much over 100 miles this year because of it. I skipped a 1200k this spring because of these problems. It was certainly in the back of my mind this weekend. I brought three pairs of shoes to switch it up if it got bad. One pair was a pair of skate shoes along with flat pedals. This ride was going to finish one way or another. I’ve made a few changes this year, however, including getting shoes that fit and wearing them correctly along with a bike fitting and though the hot foot is still there it is NOTHING like it was. I didn’t have to coddle the feet even once this weekend.
Overall my body was super happy for the duration. I was sick on Tuesday and worried that there would be some residual but there wasn’t. Of course the nether regions are not happy even with changing my kit three times. I probably should have used a saddle more appropriate for climbing rather than my Sitero but, I didn’t and I’ll live to tell about it. The legs were whiny but strong, they should have been, I hadn’t ridden in the five stinking days leading up to this. I had a weird cramp new in the base of the left side of my neck and the occasional ice pick shoved in my right knee but overall, not bad for an old lady. I’m happy to take recommendations on gloves; both of my hands are lightly blistered and kinda sore at the base of my palms. I changed the gloves three times too.
Mentally, I couldn’t have been better, I found myself grinning most of the time: I was in my happy place making a dream come true. I was working hard and getting an incredible payoff with the descents and getting closer to accomplishing an unimaginable goal. There never was a time that I considered quitting, ever. I didn’t come up here to quit and today wasn’t about to be the day I started. I was on such a natural high and it felt so good. There really was nowhere else I would rather have been.
My bike was just as happy as I with zero mechanicals or any kind of issues.
Today, as I write this, it’s hard to believe what really happened, what did I just DO?? I wish more people could/would experience something so transcendental.
I almost screwed up in a big, big way on lap six. The sun was getting low in the sky and I was hoping to get back up to the Arnolds for sunset and zip back down on last light. Well, it didn’t quite go that way. I think I had already locked up the truck and was heading out when I decided I should probably at least grab my little flashlight (NOT a bike light and with questionable batteries) in case I got delayed with a flat or something. Can you hear me smacking my forehead?? Yeah, it got dark, really, really dark just as I got to the top. I knew my timing was screwed well before I got to the top but I had to finish the lap, I’d figure it out one pedal stroke at a time. So while I was glad that I grabbed the little light, I was not enjoying making my first night descent with only my rear brake and my hand cramping on my left bar hanging onto that silly little light that was just barely bright enough to get the job done, and for how long would the questionable batteries last? One of those times where you put the dumb aside and revel in the fact that we are making forward progress. Oh yeah, I didn’t grab Jacket Ugly either. Interesting lap…
I thought I was going to have some company for awhile as there were two cyclists that had been doing the climb at least twice while I was there. I wondered if they were up to the same diabolical plot as I but I never had the chance to ask – they were gone when I returned from lap six in the pitch black. Fine by me.
I should mention that only one other has successfully Everested Thunder Ridge: He’s in the Hall of Fame too, look it up.
I headed out around 10 p.m. for lap seven to find my “Road Closed.” Another WAIT, WHAT?? moment. I was already planning my strategy of sneaking in as I approached the worker that was putting up the barricades. I asked him if it was ok if I rode my bike through there, he said “Sure, you can ride all night if you want!” If he only knew…
Time was warped and flew by. Many examples – I remember being on lap four thinking almost halfway already but… it was after 3 in the afternoon. Then, as night was closing, I was mentally preparing myself for a long and deep night but I only had two laps in total darkness. This was a good thing because the dark was trying to lull me to sleep. If that last lap had not been at day break it could have been a deal breaker. I only felt sleep deprived during laps seven and eight on the descents. I was finding myself virtually hypnotized by the undulating yellow line with my brain ready to switch off in an instant – I knew I was in a very dangerous zone here. I started loudly talking myself through this, slowing down and stopping a couple of times just to regroup. At one point I was all the way down to mile 66 – the truck was at 64 – but had to stop and do some jumping jacks and just sit. It was crazy, scary and the hardest part of the ride but I made it. I’m still surprised that I didn’t have these issues during the boring climbing part rather than during the otherwise exhilarating descents.
I should mention my latest acquisition; I’d been hearing about Barry Beams and his Oculus bike light on and off for the last year or so but never really paid it much attention; I have a couple of good lights even though they took some mounting engineering on my part every time I wanted to use them. Long story short, I pulled the trigger and bought his light that is widely used by RAAM riders and IS designed to mounted upside down if you want to as I do. It’s 1800 lumens and you switch out the batteries when one dies rather than having to recharge the whole light. He got it here for me Wednesday, in time for the weekend, and I can’t even tell you how happy I am with this thing. Not only was the light incredibly bright (didn’t need anywhere near the brightest setting) but the optics were like that of a car; fantastic peripherals and a distant throw. I was able to descend at about 75% of full speed in the dark (in between naps) and I only held back because I was worried about critters.
I got to see yet another sunrise on lap nine – my last full lap, hello euphoria – and the daylight made it all better but my eyes started playing tricks on me again. I kept seeing “hikers” on the side of the road that were not hikers at all but precisely arranged branches. I’m glad because I’m sure true hikers would not have appreciated my singing, ok, caterwauling, even a little bit. (ROXXXANNNEEE) The euphoria from lap nine was quickly erased about halfway up when I realized my Garmin was trying to puke…took long enough…I was chugging along when I decided to have a look at the numbers. I had it on battery save mode the entire ride for obvious reasons so had to tap the screen to wake it up anytime I wanted to see what was going on. Tap. Nothing. Tap. Nothing. TAP TAP TAP NOOTHIINNNGGG!!!! OMG the world was coming to an END!!! This can’t be happening!! I had taken plenty of pictures of the screen and could validate the ride to the record keepers but there would be no altitude correction (read; another lap!) and just a general PITA plus Strava would not recognize it fully if it was submitted manually. No big deal but it was a big deal, I’m sorry.
The screen finally came back on WITH my data. I quickly scrolled over to see what the battery level was – I knew it was low but I brought a battery and cable so I wasn’t too worried. Decided at 20% that I’d better just go ahead and connect it. Except it wouldn’t charge. Ah, F..! I still had about 45 minutes to get to the top and 25 down. Guess I’d better get crackin!! So I did, the screen stayed dark because of battery save mode and I made myself not look. Made it to the top, the screen lit up with autopause, (didn’t want to stop but wanted to see) still had 14% left. I shot down the mountain, did a power slide into the parking lot, ripped the truck key out of my jersey, threw open the door, said a quick prayer to the cycling gods, plugged in the gps with a different cable – it was charging!! Couldn’t take any more chances and saved/uploaded the file successfully. Did not need that stress even a little bit but honestly was expecting a Garmin puke at some point or another, always happens on my (really) long rides. The 820 has been the most stable unit overall so far though. Haven’t investigated yet why it wouldn’t charge out there but that sucked!
It wasn’t quite celebration time, I still had to do another 2,000 feet in order to qualify for High Rouleur (10,000 meters) recognition. If I could do 29,029 feet, I could do 32,828, right? Got about 50% charge on the Garmin in the meantime and headed back out. That was the longest 2,000 feet ever! It was sinking in on that little ride just what I had done, I couldn’t and still can’t wrap my head around it but it feels good whatever it is.
Total distance was 251.2 miles. Total elevation was 33,100. 9 and 2/3 climbs up that beast. 43 hours awake. Average speed 10.8 (snort). You know you’re going slow when the butterflies dart between your rolling spokes successfully. Max downhill speed 40mph. My lap time was consistent overall at about 2:17 during the daylight and 2:35 after dark. Lap 9 was the slowest daylight lap at 2:22 – even with the Garmin debacle. I was definitely getting tired. Total elapsed ride time was 23:10 but I started rolling around 5:10 a.m. and I think I finished riding at around 10 or 11 a.m.
The time in between laps took longer than I wanted them too but between eating, drinking, switching water bottles, bathroom, changing kits, charging devices, checking and recording data (never, ever trust Garmin), weather and so much more, minimum stop time was anywhere between 20 minutes to well over an hour. Ouch. And it was never “restful” but I really didn’t want the legs to cool anyway. One thing that did help the stops to go a little more expeditiously was taking notes on my phone of things I needed to do when I did stop. It really helped me remember and to stay streamlined especially as the brain was getting fuzzy. Really fuzzy.
Speaking of eating and drinking; I ate/snacked pretty much non-stop from Thursday afternoon until the finish. Obviously I didn’t eat much at all while actually riding – most ascents I had a snack at the top and tried to eat whatever I could between laps. I grabbed a pizza on the way out of town that served me well over the weekend but I was surprised today to find I’d still managed to drop 4.5 pounds.
The poor truck was destroyed; I didn’t have time for housekeeping – there were bags of food and crap everywhere; all over the dash, in the passenger seat, on the floor, it looked like some slob lived in it, I was so embarrassed and glad I knew no one and that no one really cared. It probably smelled like a homeless person lived within as well; I was a truly special kind of foul; covered in many layers of sweat, bugs plastered all over my body, especially in my hair, grit from the wet road. Such a lady.
The planets truly did align in order for this to have been as flawless as it was. This was a 100% solo effort, no physical moral support, no one preparing food or beverage for me, no one making sure everything was charged, no one to bail me out if I crashed or broke down either mechanically, physically or mentally. No one. Those of you who know me know that this is how I like it best.
And this is where the self-aggrandizing stops. So many people and situations worked with me in the background to make this a success; Rich of course I wouldn’t have done this is you didn’t at least begrudgingly give me your blessing. You finally did after seeing how this was consuming me. You were convinced I was going to go flying off the side of the mountain never to be seen or heard from again. I didn’t. Didn’t get eaten by a bear either. Bonus.
Josh Brown, in trying to find light in your situation, I found motivation: Christ, if you can fight cancer, I can fight a mountain. You were in the back of my mind during the good and the bad. Get better, dammit, this is bullshit.
Carole Stanton, my bestest riding buddy for planting the seed of long distance endurance stuff. YOU were the one that convinced me and coddled me in the early days. This is your fault, own it sister.
Stephen for making it real; if you can do it, I can do it.
Matt Lodder, you may not see this but my bikes are phenomenal. I credit you for my lack of mechanical issues. You do amazing work, my bikes have never been better. You have also helped me solve the hot foot problem almost 100% – there’s no way I could have done this ride as they were before. And Dennis for pointing me in this direction for what was only supposed to be a fitting.
Barry at Oculus Lights for getting my incredible new light to me on time. What a maiden voyage for your light and it did not disappoint. I’ll be suggesting it to anyone that asks about it or that mentions they need a light. You are head and shoulders above anything else out there – some of the best bike money I’ve spent. Wait, let’s not talk about the bike money I’ve spent..!
Tom Hewitt and Atomic Cycles for the ass kicking rides that never fail to put me in my place! Wish I could make more of them! And, for always being there for my occasional bike/equipment crisis and, of course, for being an awesome cheerleader!
And so many incredible riders that motivate me to ride faster, further, harder; Rich Beliveau, Chuck Forrest, Carole Stanton, Mike Dunlap, Gernot Wolfram, Stephen Magee, Josh Brown, Marc Poland, Chris “Soul Crusher” Field, Sue Pregartner, Chuck Lee and so many, many more.
Would I do it again? HELL YES! I was planning the next one (and the one after) before this even started. Nobody has marked Mitchell yet…any takers??