I don't know. Perhaps I'm easily tempted by a challenge? Perhaps, on paper, an Everesting seems simple? It's easy to downplay the stats. It's easy to be lulled. It's easy to feel invincible until you're trapped on the hill. Stuck in your own self-imposed pain cave. When the screw turns and all of a sudden, without any real warning, it bites. It's easy. Until it's not.
8,848 metres of ascent is a lot. To ride all that it makes sense, to me, to do it on a hill with some notoriety. Not any old hill. Take the opportunity to topple a giant. All those hills in the Alps with names painted across them, that's a little bit what it feels like to put your name to a hill in the Everesting Hall of Fame. Except the rain can't wash your name away. It's your permanent mark on a hill. One small, hard-earned victory.
Living on the edge of Dartmoor, four hills make for obvious targets - Haytor, Dartmeet, Widecombe and The Rundlestone. All are revered in their own way, from KOM points and hilltop finishes in the Tour of Britain to where Chris Boardman become British Hill Climb champ. And all feature in the 100 Climbs book. Haytor was long and cold. Blizzards at 3am and an average temperature of zero degrees. Hardly a fair baptism at the church of Everesting. Dartmeet and Widecombe were similar to each other. Steep and grindy, but much, much faster than Haytor. So that left The Rundlestone.
I'd put it off until The 28hr Project, a global elevation contest, gifted an opportunity to finally get that last Everesting done. The Rundlestone is not a great hill for Everesting. It's long, so you need to ride far to get the elevation gain. It's exposed and prone to being very windy. The gradient is inconsistent so it's hard to find a rhythm. And it's Dartmoor, so livestock and wildlife are never far from the road. On the face of it, there's little reason for choosing this hill other than it being quite well known.
So at 9 am, on May 7th, I pulled onto the climb and started ticking through the metres. I didn't really have a strategy. 2 laps of the hill would be just under 1,000 metres of ascent so I figured that would work quite well for re-filling water bottles and grabbing snacks from my car. Initially, the wind offered a friendly nudge up the climb as well, so the first few hours went by without too much thought. But then it slowly starts to wear you down. So here are my Everesting observations:
1. Halfway is not 4,000 metres.
2. When you reach halfway in terms of metres climbed, that doesn't mean you are halfway in terms of time. You will get slower and this starts to eat away at your head as much as your legs.
3. A long hill doesn't just mean you have further to ride. It also means that as you slow and fatigue, you will start to lose more and more time with each ascent. On a short but very steep hill, the time it takes to do your first rep won't differ too greatly from how long it takes to do your final rep. Whereas on a long climb, like The Rundlestone, your first and last reps can differ wildly. Knowing that this is happening will also start to eat away at you because your expectations of where you will get to on the climb by a certain time will not match reality. It starts to drift away from you.
4. You're never too far from food and water. A nutrition plan matters less than you might think. Don't overthink it.
5. Time slows right down.
6.Be well rested before starting - descending a remote road, alone, in the middle of the night requires total focus.
7.You will hit that annoying lump in the road surface or that one pothole on EVERY lap. And it will make you more cross every time.
8. That squirrel roadkill, the random shoe, the broken drain cover... you will invent your own reference points on the climb.
As the day went on, the sun became quite hot. And because the wind was on my back I didn't get the benefit of a cooling breeze. This made things sweaty, salty and increasingly uncomfortable. Still, I kept chipping away and soon the day was gone. Once the sun dropped the temperature plummeted as well, which meant I was getting warm on the climb but then feeling the chill on the long descent, especially near the bottom where a cold mist was lingering in the river valley. This isn't really something you can overcome, especially when you're riding solo without any support crew, it's just an extra hassle of Everesting. At around 11pm the wind completely flipped and started blowing straight down the climb. Although I still felt relatively fresh, this killed my lap times (roughly 7 minutes per rep) and forced me to recalibrate expectations of when I'd finish the Everesting.
Not long after sunrise, after 7 hours of tussling with the headwind, I passed into the Death Zone and went on to complete the magic number - 8,848 m (29,029ft) of climbing, 216 miles and a total time of 21 hours (19hr moving time). No fanfare, just a number ticking by on my Garmin. No celebration other than a sigh of relief and a few more easy metres to really make sure. A ride that matters little to anyone else. A ride that probably makes little sense to anyone else. But that doesn't soften the feeling of achievement or detract from the reward. I'm as proud of that ride as I am of any other effort. An Everesting is a supreme accomplishment for anyone. By way of comparison, this was 5 hours longer than it took me to complete an Everesting of Widecombe Hill. No two hills are the same.
Words by Ross Lovell