By Mark Shaffer
“Nobody said it was easy. Oh, it’s such a shame for us to part. Nobody said it was easy. No one ever said it would be so hard. I’m going back to the start.”
The empty sound of Coldplay’s lyrics chirped from my phone into the night as I reached the top of Mission Ridge Road for the 16th time. The timing and appropriateness of words were serendipitous; I didn’t plan a playlist before starting my bike ride roughly 17 hours ago. Yet the lyrics captured how I felt so well that first I chuckled, then laughed, before letting out an exhausted sigh. Then I began my descent back down the hill, knowing that I had at least a couple hours of riding left to complete my goal.
In 1924, George Mallory and Andrew Irving attempted to climb the world’s tallest peak, Mt. Everest. Whether they summited or not is a matter of debate. The two were last seen roughly 800 vertical feet below the summit. Neither man survived their final summit push.
Exactly 70 years later, the grandson of George Mallory, also named George Mallory, recorded the first cycling Everesting ride by biking eight continuous laps up and down Mount Donna Buang. During the course of his ride, the younger Mallory ascended the same amount of elevation as one would climbing from sea level to Everest, 29,029 vertical feet. The challenge of Everesting was born.
Since Mallory’s accomplishment in 1994, roughly 9,200 cyclists from 96 different countries around the globe have duplicated his feat. The fastest recorded time to ride an Everest is currently 7 hours and 40 minutes, but most riders finish between 12-30 hours. My goal for the day would be just to climb that much while avoiding the three C’s (crashes, collisions or cardiac arrest).
There are a few easy to follow rules for Everesting: Any hill anywhere in the world may count as an Everesting ride, as long as the rider climbs enough feet to equal the height of Mt. Everest. Taking breaks is allowed, but the attempt ends if you go to sleep. Riders must focus on a single hill or mountain and descend the same way they rode up. This last one is to prevent “kinetic gain” that might assist with some of the climbing. The official rules are available at https://everesting.cc.
In the early hours of July 5th at 3 a.m., I parked my car at the Squilchuck parking lot and began my first lap up the hill towards Mission Ridge. I have ridden this road dozens of times in daylight, but it felt cold and unfamiliar in the dark. Roughly two-thirds of the way up the hill, I saw several toppled sign posts lying in the road, all perpendicular to the flow of traffic. I didn’t know whether they were knocked down by wind or revelers the night before, but I stopped at each one to move it safely out of the road. After reaching the end of the pavement at Mission Ridge, I pulled a granola bar out of my pocket to celebrate my first ascent of roughly 1,670 feet and what felt like the official start to my first attempt at an Everesting ride.
My plan was to ride 17-and-a-half trips from my car to the end of the pavement at Mission Ridge. I would drink one bottle of water each ride up the hill and snack on one bar of choice on my ride back down. When I arrived at my car, I would swap out my bar and bottle, pee in the bushes and then head back up the hill.
Each cycle would take me between 50 and 70 minutes, and after three cycles I would stop for a longer 20-minute break to eat a sandwich or honey tortilla and re-evaluate my clothing. I would avoid playing music on my phone and try to focus on the gorgeous scenery around me. I did have a couple of playlists downloaded, but I would use those as a last resort. I would stay in contact with my wife via texts to let her know how I was progressing.
At roughly 6 a.m., the first car of the day joined me on the road. It was nice to have company on the hill, even if our interaction was brief. By 7:05 a.m., I was already on my fifth lap, having climbed roughly 8,300 vertical feet. My energy level was high, and it had been a beautiful sunrise, so my spirits were soaring. Later that morning I would sight several deer, a family of turkeys, and a creature that I believe was a fox.
By 11:30 a.m., I had completed nine laps and climbed more than 15,000 vertical feet. The temperature was starting to rise but remained pleasant. I decided to take an extended 30-minute break to celebrate being past my halfway point.
After eating what was probably too much food, I started back up the hill. As I pedaled past landmarks that I had earlier decided to name (Fox Rock, Pond Bend, 9 Mile), the steepness seemed to have increased significantly since earlier in the day. I found myself shifting lower and going slower. When I finally reached the top of the hill, I checked my watch. This had been the slowest lap yet.
As the afternoon rolled into early evening, I noticed many of the cars that had joined me on the hill were now leaving. I started to consider calling it quits and heading home. Every lap ended back at my car, and the temptation to load up my bike and return home for some food other than a peanut butter sandwich grew stronger. The Sirens’ call of my rattling car keys sang to me, but each time I zipped them back up in my bike pouch and headed back up the hill.
By 7 p.m. my stomach was starting to resent the monotonous array of carbohydrates that I was throwing at it. I didn’t want to even look at another sandwich, let alone eat one, and the caffeine from the morning had worn off. I was officially reaching a low.
My turning point occurred after receiving a wonderfully supportive text from my wife around 7:20 p.m. Her supportive words replenished my dwindling determination and convinced me to stick to my original mission. As I crossed the pavement at the top of the hill for the 14th time, a driver offered encouragement through his open window. I spoke with him briefly and thanked him for his kind words. As I made the now familiar descent and choked down another granola bar, I felt a new sense of determination.
The next couple of laps progressed slowly but steadily. By 8:45 p.m. I was on my 16th lap. By this time I had been awake for 19 hours and had been riding for 18 of them. It was time to release my secret weapon: 90’s alternative music played at a low volume from my phone. I was nearly alone on the hill, but I had the anti-establishment lyrics of frustrated youth from the 1990’s to keep me company. Much like an angry child that refuses to touch their dinner, my stomach had long ago refused to accept another peanut butter and jelly sandwich. My legs were weak and my knee was swollen, but my goal was within sight.
As I topped out for the 17th lap around 11:15 p.m., the parking lot was empty. I had now climbed roughly 28,000 feet of elevation since my ride started more than 20 hours ago. This would be my last full lap up to Mission Peak. My only witness for my final ascent was the full moon, which had only moments ago risen from behind the mountains to take her place in the spectator booth. I took a few seconds in the moonlight to collect myself and retain focus, then coasted back down the hill.
Back at my car with just half a lap left to ride, I decided to skip the water bottle and granola bar swap and instead turned and pedaled directly up the hill. After reaching my designated halfway point, I turned one last time and wearily rolled down the hill. Through my exhaustion and nausea, I was able to let out a halfhearted “WOOHOO” as I coasted through the darkness back to my car.
As I packed up my car at 11:50 p.m. I felt a satisfying combination of exhaustion and accomplishment. I double- checked my elevation gain for the day to be sure that it exceeded 29,029 feet. I managed one blurry selfie in front of my bike and then headed home to get a small bite to eat. I wasn’t sure what my victory meal would consist of, but I was pretty sure that it wasn’t going to be another sandwich.