While many outdoor adventure seekers strive to summit Mount Everest, cyclists are left without the ability to reach the top. Because unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), there are no bike routes to reach the world’s highest peak. That’s why we have to, instead, turn to the “Everesting challenge,” or logging enough vertical in one day to equal the iconic 29,032-foot ascent.
The best part about Everesting on a bike is that you don’t actually have to go to Everest. You can choose any climb your heart desires (or if you’re really masochistic, do it indoors like Mark Cavendish). The worst part of the Everesting challenge is that you still have to tackle 29,032 feet of elevation—whether that means three laps up a 10,000-foot mountain or 29 laps up your local 1,000-foot hill.
I find challenging tasks like this particularly appealing because there are always unknown elements. Could I really climb nearly 30,000 feet in one ride? Without dying? Could anyone? To find out, a handful of friends, some volunteers, and I found a chilly fall morning, and took on the feet. We then boiled down our experience to eight tips that can improve what will surely be one of the longest days you’ve ever spent in the saddle.
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8 Tips for a Successful Everest Challenge
1. Have a higher cause
My crew and I weren’t just doing the Everesting challenge for the heck of it; we were applying our effort to support World Bicycle Relief, an organization dedicated to providing bicycles for people who use them for everyday tasks like carrying water, or getting to work or school. When things got dark, I found myself thinking about the people we could be helping and the bikes that connected us.
Whenever you’ve got an intimidating task ahead, it helps to have a cause outside of yourself to keep you going. It helps you dig deep and keep turning those pedals.
2. Choose your route with care
I’m based in Southern California, so we settled on Lake Hughes Road, a popular 758-foot mountain climb just north of Los Angeles. With pavement as smooth as butter and an average (and relatively modest) gradient of 7 percent, it was a natural choice. Plus, the view of Castaic Lake below is stunning, allowing plenty of distraction for the mind to wander. We would ultimately ride the climb 39 times, so having scenic views to look at was an important factor. Consider that when choosing your route.
Because Everesting has become increasingly popular, a recent study also looked into how to make the most of your route. The researchers looked at how power, gradient, and distance help you have a successful, Everest-level climb. They concluded that elite cyclists—defined as those who can maintain a power of 2.5 to 3.0 watts per kilogram body mass—should choose an incline of 12 percent or greater, which minimizes the time and distance it takes to climb. Meanwhile, amateurs and recreational cyclists—those who cannot maintain that power wattage—should aim for a gradient of 10 percent or less to make the most of the ascent. Thankfully, we were on par with our 7-percent pick.
3. Prepare for a long day
Our morning started really early, well before sunrise. There was a giddy excitement in the air amongst the half-dozen participants, and by lap five of our Everesting challenge, I had convinced myself the whole thing would be easy.
In the end, I was way off: Thirty-nine laps took us just about 15 hours, which meant we were riding through huge temperature swings throughout the day as the sun rose and set. The key is to have a base camp somewhere on the road (maybe a parked vehicle), layer appropriately, and bring more clothes, food, and liquids than you think you’ll need.
4. Bring extra power
When darkness arrived, a whole new vibe came over the group. It was just us and our bikes and our lights—that is, until my light died with three hours to go. This made the night hours mentally difficult, but it could have easily been avoided with an extra battery or a portable charger. So learn from my mistake, and don’t forget to bring your charger or extra lights.
5. Ride your own pace
On lap 16, my mind had begun to send out false alarms, and my legs felt unresponsive—but I rallied by lap 22 when I found myself riding with friends, chatting, and laughing about funny stories from the past. My friend Neil (who specializes in burly climbs) was on another level, and we’d occasionally see him floating up the hill with ease. It was tempting to go with him, but I stuck with the pace I knew I could hold.
Another Everester took a more surging approach to the morning laps and disappeared by noon. We think he completed around 16 laps—a very respectable attempt—but couldn’t finish it off. No matter your pace, it’s important to remember that Everesting is a marathon, not a sprint. Slow and steady will complete the challenge. Don’t rush it; ride at endurance pace.
6. Recruit some friends
Sure, you can absolutely complete an Everesting challenge solo, but misery loves company. To complete something like this, having a team is a huge help—not just of riders, but of volunteers to cheer you on and fill your bottles. Finding cyclists who can ride a similar pace and friends to provide moral support is vital. For our group, it made all the difference in the world.
7. Be ready to dig deep
You will obviously have to dig deep physically, but prepare to go to some low places mentally as well. In the dark, I went in and out of what seemed like a persistent bonking dream. I kept thinking about a story Neil had told us that morning as the sun rose. When he’d visited Africa with World Bicycle Relief, he’d met a man who rode a staggering 100 kilometers daily to deliver 150 pounds of firewood by bicycle—a seemingly impossible task.
As I made my way through the dark on my bike, the man in Africa was probably starting his day in the darkness, too. He wasn’t turning on the television to enjoy a day of rest, or even going for a relaxing ride; he was loading up his bicycle to deliver wood so he could put food in his children’s bellies and shelter over their heads.
I was riding my bike so more people like him could ride theirs—all of us fighting the impossible in our own way. This image kept returning to my mind and helped to keep my pedals churning up the mountain—it was the most powerful moment of the event for me. Find something inside you that keeps you moving forward.
8. Believe in yourself
Laps 35 through 39 were rather blurry, and not just because we were sharing a light. All said and done, my friends and I climbed Mt. Everest in California. In a little over 14 hours and about 160 miles, we raised $14,444—enough to send 98 bicycles to Africa.
Our effort is just a drop in the bucket. So far, World Bicycle Relief has delivered thousands of bikes into the field, changing countless lives for the better through transportation, and they’re not stopping any time soon. They have a goal of reaching one million bikes delivered, helping five million people by 2025. It takes a village, just like it took a village to get us up Lake Hughes road 39 times.