It ain’t over till it’s over: 1/2 Everesting (Basecamp)

Let’s talk Everesting. It’s been talked about, written about, blogged about… and seriously blown up in a big way during COVID-19. (Yes that includes me, I did two virtual Everestings (one 10k, one 1/2)).

The thought of doing your own Everesting? It’s like a weed (stay with me): once the idea is planted it just sits there, biding its time under the surface, until one day it pops up and then you can’t get rid of it. And then it starts growing…

Yeah I’m sure there’s a better analogy for it too.

It’s been said that the first time you hear about someone Everesting two things go through your mind. The first is that they are crazy, how on earth is that even possible? And why, WHY, would they want to do that? The second is you start wondering if you were crazy enough to ever do it, what climb would you choose.

Chasing Waterfalls

I’d been tossing up the idea of a gravel/off-road/”soil” Everest for… let’s just say for awhile. Jem (aka: Eat More Lard) had a few ideas, and we had been to-ing and fro-ing about what groads might be good. We are vastly different climbers, so knew we wouldn’t choose the same climb, so instead discussed what criteria were more/less important on a gravel one than on a road one. Basically it came down to this: the descent. We all know how important the descent is on the Everest (and if you don’t know, now you know) as it’s essentially the only ‘recovery time’ you’ll get while still on the bike.

For more details see https://everesting.cc/the-rules/ and download the guide at https://everesting.teachable.com/.

Skill level/descending skills aside, here were a few things that stood out as important to consider for a gravel Everest:

  • Gravel condition – too rocky and you’ll be exhausted by the bottom of the descent, getting smashed around is going to hurt
    • This one ruled out a LOT of climbs that would have been amazing
  • Braking:
    • Corners – how often you’re on the brakes will eventually take its toll
    • Turn around points – does it roll gently to a stop or do you need to hammer the brakes at a T-intersection? Do you want skidz bro?
    • Visibility – as it takes longer to slow down and brake you’d want to see anything coming at you well in advance
    • Gradient – steep climbing up means fast riding down
  • Traffic – yes, still a factor, more likely 4x4s, Utes, and possibly tractors/farm vehicles, so is there room on the road for you both?
  • Wildlife – nice to look at, awful to roll over/run into
    • This is the same as a normal Everest, though going off-road might increase the chances of wildlife

We ride a lot of gravel out here in the Macedon Ranges, so there were a lot of local options to consider. But the first time I climbed up Hesket-Boundary Rd I knew this was a solid contender for me. Steady gradient, mostly straight, surface condition tended to vary on how wet it was (could easily go to peanut butter gravel) but tended not to get corrugated.

Plugging it into the Everesting calculator suggested 36.5 laps for the 1/2 Everest (called a Basecamp) and 73 for a full. I knew it was still pretty hilly near the top, so wondered if I could keep the climb going a bit further and make it more efficient.

Turns out I could. The road kept extending for another 35m and kept the gradient high. It also turned around in a driveway, which made for a slightly larger turning circle. Perfect.

Well, not entirely perfect. See the green circle where the climb starts? That’s on Romsey Rd, a fairly busy main road (for out here) and this is where the highest gradient on the climb is. Which also means the descent right at this point was bumpy, steep, and needed a lot of braking before the corner. In good news, the last 3m of this section was paved, so even though it was pretty loose on the top, I could hit the brakes hard if I hadn’t slowed down enough before it.

So I started planning.

Yes, that means there was a spreadsheet.

I’d checked the weather, let the guys know when I’d be starting, booked in massage, chiro and osteo to prep the body, and even let Ties (of Ties Urie Photography – who did all that great PBP video work) know as he wanted to come out and capture the ride. We were good to go!

And then burnout hit me and I was in/out of bed for nearly 2 weeks.

So many tears I’ve cried

Everything went on the back burner for awhile as I tried to recover. Let’s just say patience is a virtue that I do not yet possess, but I tried very hard to just rest and recover. Isn’t it fun watching your fitness stats drop like a dying star? And the most frustrating thing was that this wasn’t a physical burnout (because I’ve totally taken a ride on that overtraining bus before). It was emotional burnout. And I didn’t know how to handle that. Or cope with it.

So I read stuff on burnout. I listened to podcasts (thanks Brene Brown) and generally tried not to feel like a failure for not being able to keep my life held together (and other awful untruths I told myself while I was struggling and recovering). Let’s not do comparisons here, after all, ‘winning’ the burnout award isn’t really a win now is it?

*6 weeks later*

You know what a good cure for emotional burnout is? A big ride. Said me… pretty much always 🙂

So much pain inside

So back to planning. The ground work was done, I just needed to pick a date…. and my birthday was coming up. Seemed like a good weekend. Last year I’d done a pretty major ride over my birthday weekend (see here if you’re interested) and while this year I wasn’t in any state to do another 1200 (mentally or physically) nor were there any running, I could do my gravel basecamp. The weather on Friday looked better than Saturday so I booked the day off work and got ready.

That weather forecast though…

Spring in Victoria, Australia is fun, with its never ending variations of temperature and crazy changes in weather patterns. And the Macedon Ranges (where I live and where the basecamp ride would be) is even more… fun… as it’s at a higher elevation. But when we got snow on the mount on Thursday, let’s just say I wasn’t as excited about my 6am start. It was going to be cold.

Bitter southerly cold (love a good forecast where it’s 5 degrees but tells you it feels like -4).

And a headwind on climb. Yay.

Chalking it all up to ‘good training ride’ conditions, I added a my rain jacket and long fingered gloves to my pile of ‘stuff for the car’, along with a hoodie and puffa vest in case I needed them to warm up in between laps.

For those interested, here’s what was in or on the car (which was parked near the top of the climb)

  • Esky (ice cooler) with 6 water bottles (less faffing with filling them up), one bottle of blue poweraid, one bottle of coke, two sandwiches
  • Bag of snacks (cinnamon donuts, snickers bars, lollies)
  • Bag of ‘toiletry stuff’ – no dunny blocks out here, it’s all DIY
  • Extra gravel bike on the car (in case mine self-imploded [we’d been having issues] or Max wanted to swing by and ride a lap with me)
  • Extra pair of socks in case I got hot foot and needed a thinner pair of socks (oh how we laughed, I don’t think I felt my feet for the first 6 hours)

We packed everything in the car the night before as it’s best for me to not make decisions unless I’m fully caffeinated… which at 5:30am was not going to happen.

But baby it ain’t over

An Everesting isn’t all that exciting to write about in detail, as it’s just up and down the same hill repeatedly until you reach the target. I had 30 (or so I thought) laps to do, so had mentally broken them down into sets of 6, with a planned break in-between.

Here’s a few memories from the ride.

It was cold, very cold, at the top of the climb where I’d parked the car, so the rain jacket went on as an extra layer to try and keep me warmer. The first descent was very chilly, and I made it to the bottom just in time to start the Garmin at exactly 6:00am. I figured I’d only have my jacket on for the first couple laps until I warmed up and the sun came out.

It took 18 laps before I took that jacket off. Average temperature for the first 12 laps was 1 degree (Celcius, that’s 33.8 degrees Farenheit for those who need the conversion).

The pre-sunrise start meant that my first climb was into the sunrise while the moon set over the Cobaw Ranges behind me. The wind wasn’t too bad at this point, though I already could tell what sections of the climb were going to be more gusty and difficult later in the day (luckily they were also the steepest parts of the climb, hooray…) My driving motivation for the first set of 6 was having a coffee and a donut at the break… which was a total of 7 minutes long as it was just to cold to sit much longer.

The second set was the same as the first. About one degree warmer overall (there was about a 2-3 degree difference between the bottom of the climb and the top), same ending – coffee and two donuts. Wheee. Though I did realise after 10 laps in that the Everesting Calculator and the actual elevation gain were not matching: I wasn’t gaining 148m on each climb. Trying to mentally do the maths on that one kept me occupied for awhile. As did chatting with a group of hikers who were standing around my car on the 5th lap of this set. They wanted to know what I was training for, I just said “hills,” which they nodded and smiled at, it is hilly around here they said. No sense in getting into a conversation about what I was actually doing, people look at you like you’re crazy when you do that (trust me).

By the end of the third set it had started warming up (5 degree average) and I was starting to feel a bit like a steamed dim sim in a plastic bag by the top of the climb, so made the decision to ditch the jacket. Then regretted that the first descent, wowza it still felt cold! Probably not helped by the layer of sweat I had built up inside my little cocoon. So far the climb had been okay, no major issues with traffic, and it was nice to wave at the guy on the ride-on lawn mower every time I went past. At one point he was standing on the side of the road chatting with another guy and yelled out “Looks like you’re doing it hard… (then as he saw my face as I approached)… or easy?” Pretty much describes an Everest exactly. And a gravel Everest is kinda like being slowly beaten… for a long time.

On the fourth set I started getting text messages from my husband letting me know he was on the way over to come for a visit. I had thought he’d drive the car over (as I had his bike on the roof of my car and the only bike left in the garage was the MTB, affectionally known as ‘The Anchor’), so was super impressed he decided to ride instead. His face up the climb suggested he was not as excited as I was, though it’s hard to tell as I was descending pretty quickly. I yelled out “I’ll meet you at the top” as I flew past on the way to start my 4th of 6 laps on this set.

Max waited at the top for me so he could take some pics 🙂

I rolled past him at the top, letting him know I had 2 more laps to go until the break. He figured he’d do one lap as well, then wait for me at the top. At the top of my 5th lap I saw Georgia waiting for me as well, so gave her the “1” finger (not that one) and headed down for the last lap before my break.

Arriving at the top I saw both Max and Georgia sitting in the SUV, waiting for me… with the heaters on full. “Sure is cold out here,” they said, shivering as they exited the vehicle. “Yup,” I agreed, “but it’s warmer now than it was a few hours ago,” and set about getting my water re-stocked and plugging in the Garmin to keep charging. I then sat down in the car to try and eat a Snickers bar, which was pretty damn near solid and almost impossible to chew. Sigh. Should have put that in my jersey pocket before the last set to try and warm it up.

How many laps left? I’m 24 laps down, so I’ve got a set of 4 and then a 3. I think… (I still hadn’t worked out how far off my climb would be, but had roughly guessed I’d have to add on one more lap). They stuck around to take a few more pics (how awesome is this view?) and then headed off.

It’s such a great view on the descent, though I’m largely trying to pay attention to the road rather than the views.
Here’s the view on the descent

Cheered up by their visit, the next couple laps went well, and I tried to settle in to the climb again, which I was very very familiar with at this point. Steep pinch into the wind (just… keep… pedalling…), flatter section (drink here), change down two gears, pass the driveway with the brick postbox, change up a gear, pass the yellow mail box, change up a gear to ride the “yellow kick” section as I’d named it (also the second windiest bit), flatter section (drink here), change down a gear, then again, then past the set of mailboxes (yay no more wind for a bit), change up a gear… you get the idea.

On the fourth lap I actually looked at my Garmin at the base of the climb, then repeated 3872 (which was the vertical gain at that point) over and over again until I reached the top. I then worked out that I was gaining 143m each lap… and that yes, it was 3 more laps until I’d tick over the 4424m required for the Basecamp.

One last quick break to change over the water bottles (which was now filled with Poweraid), drink some Coke, and shove a handful of lollies in my mouth, and I was off for the final 3 laps of the day. I hadn’t taken a lot of pictures during the day, so thought it was probably not a bad idea at this point.

I found myself actually counting the descents at this point, rather than the climb itself. THREE MORE I mentally said before heading down to start the last set. Because in all honesty, the descent was starting to take its toll. I’d worked out what were the best lines to take on the way down (largely staying as far left as possible to ride the smooth edge) but staying on that 6″ wide smooth section required a lot of focus and concentration, which was starting to deteriorate as the ride went on. I found myself riding further from that smooth patch and more towards the center just for safety, but it also meant I was bouncing around quite a bit on the rougher gravel. Just like the climb, I’d memorised the nuances of the descent, but staying on top of the right line so I didn’t smash through too many ruts was tiring. Not to mention the last 300m of the descent: slowing down from a pretty solid speed down to 5km/h to negotiate the turn at the bottom while also negotiating a couple of turns in the road over a really bumpy patch. Heaps good fun, and one that I was kinda over by the last 3 laps.

The final climb I switched the Garmin over so I could watch the vertical meters tick up towards the 4424, and hoped that my calculations were right as well as Garmin actually registering the gain. It was a slightly tense last few hundred meters, but we got there in the end.

And done!

Till it’s over

So would I pick this climb again for a full Everest? No, I don’t think so. The descent gets super quick and then the last part needs pretty hard brakes to safely navigate and stop, which is still tricky as my brakes are largely pretty crap (I really need to upgrade them again). It was great for a half day out, but a full day out would probably hurt. A lot. My hands are pretty sore, as are my shoulders and neck.

But was it worth doing? Absolutely. It was a cracking experience, and doing it on gravel added some unique challenges that I really enjoyed. I’ve woken up this morning with that sense of “I did something and I’m fatigued but it’s a good fatigue” feeling, along with a solid sense of self.

Feels good.

Now to go see if there are any donuts left…

Stats

  • Distance: 119.58km with 4436 vertical
  • Elapsed time: 9 hours 1 minute (15 minutes faster than my spreadsheet)
  • Moving time: 8 hours 17 minutes (about 25 minutes slower than my spreadsheet)
  • Average speed: 14.4 km/h
  • Average heart-rate: 148bpm
    • Max HR: 162bpm
  • Calories burnt: 4019
  • Weather report: Partly cloudy, 5 degrees, feels like 3.
  • Strava file here: It ain’t over till it’s over
Everesting: Hall of Fame

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