Emma Rhymer | EVERESTING
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EVERESTING: “Fiendishly simple, yet brutally hard. Everesting is the most difficult climbing challenge in the world. The concept of Everesting is fiendishly simple. Pick any hill, anywhere in the world and complete repeats of it in a single activity until you climb 8848m – the equivalent height of Mt Everest.”

This year was supposed to be a BIG year on the bike for me. I had decided, amongst other things, to have a crack at the Solo 24-hour Nationals in early May and had been training with this as my goal. Plane tickets for Adelaide had been purchased, our pets were booked into kennels, and a post-race recovery week in the McLaren Valley was already keenly anticipated. Then COVID-19 hit and the Nationals were postponed indefinitely. I drank wine, ate chocolate, went for long solo rides and contemplated “what now?” I simply don’t cope well without a clear goal and knew that I needed a one, and fast. A big goal. A slightly scary goal. A goal like an Everesting…

In fact, an Everesting was already on my bucket list so it was an obvious choice. I had previously binge-watched everything “Everesting” I could find on YouTube, stalked the Hells 500 Facebook group and been inspired by the blogs of Sir Guy Litespeed and Gaye Bourke, amongst others. I committed to attempt an Everesting in mid-April, before local overnight temperatures dipped below zero. I did a reccie ride on my proposed climb and started working out the logistics involved.

At the same time, however, the true implications of COVID-19 were being felt and government guidelines for exercise and other essential activities were tightened. I questioned whether a 20+ hour ride on my chosen hill, located a 30-minute drive from home, counted as “essential” exercise and made the bittersweet decision that a vEveresting on Zwift was a more sensible option. Two days later, Andy van Bergen announced the World Lycra Party, a vEveresting world record attempt, and I signed up straight away. The disappointment I’d felt after deciding not to attempt an outdoor Everesting abated and excitement mixed with nervous anticipation crept in.

The days beforehand were spent cooking, carb loading, and completing reccie rides of Alp d’Zwift. My stepdaughter prepared a noticeboard full of my favourite inspirational quotes and, optimistically, I asked her to include tick boxes for up to 10,000vm – an achievement that would not only allow me to join the Hells500 “Hall of Fame” but also the coveted “High Roulers Society”. After a couple of practice climbs, however, my knees were unanimous in their disapproval and I became increasingly anxious about my chances of reaching even 8848vm. Judging by numerous posts on social media I wasn’t the only one feeling this way, and a frantic search for easier gearing ensued. Dylan managed to find me an 11×40 cassette and I held my breath that it would arrive in time. It did (cue big sigh of relief) and it fitted. Although the climb still hurt, it felt doable.

I woke early on April 10th and enjoyed a double shot of coffee while watching the sun rise, quietly thinking about what lay ahead. Poppy joined me for breakfast and repeatedly checked that I really wouldn’t finish until Saturday morning. Once the caffeine kicked in, I realized that she wasn’t so much in awe of my intended ride but rather checking that I wouldn’t finish early. She and Dylan had an all-night movie and pizza party planned for the lounge room, and she didn’t want it cut short by me riding too fast. I assured her there was no danger of that and began my ride with full family fanfare (Dylan, Poppy, energetic puppy, disapproving cat) just after 7am.

Based on previous climbs, I had conservatively allowed up to 2 hours for each ascent/descent of Alp d’Zwift so anticipated riding for potentially 20 hours. Essentially, my plan was to simply sit in my Zone 2 Endurance heart rate zone, drink plenty of water and Infinit on each climb, eat something yummy on each descent, and just keep spinning away. As someone who jokes that they ride for food, snacks such as fruit toast with jam, toasted Nutella sandwiches, homemade flapjack bars, pasta, crisps, jellybeans, rice crackers and creamed rice kept me motivated. It always amazes me how much time can pass while I decide what to eat next! After 7 hours Dylan asked me how I was feeling and I told him, honestly, that the time had flown by. Not something I ever thought I’d say about 7 hours on the trainer. At this point, Dylan felt confident enough to put a celebratory bottle of champagne into the fridge to chill.

After almost 16 hours on the trainer I had climbed just over the equivalent height of Mt Everest, and knew I still had more in me. I continued pedaling, and after 18 hours and 31 minutes I completed my ultimate goal of 10 ascents of Alp d’Zwift, climbing 10,451vm and riding 254.1km. I was relieved and thrilled, in equal measure. I really wasn’t sure how my body would cope with such a long ride on the trainer, but overall it held up surprisingly well. I suffered slight nausea on my 6th ascent and my knees ached from about 6000vm, but a couple of Panadol helped enourmously. I’m sure that being able to jump off the bike and stretch during each descent made a big difference over the course of the ride, and the benefit of eating and drinking properly cannot be understated. Staying in my endurance zone also meant that my overall power output was low, but it certainly helped to preserve my knees over the ride.

Support from others, both “in real life” and “virtual” was another huge help. Dylan and Poppy were amazing, checking on me regularly and ensuring that whatever snack I fancied was ready whenever I demanded. A video call from friends during my 6th ascent was a big morale boost, as were messages via the Zwift noticeboard. Friends also joined me for virtual rides at different stages, which was all the more appreciated given that we can’t currently ride together in real life. Likewise, it was great to chat to the other vEveresters from around the world: New Zealand, Australia, America, South Africa, Mexico, Italy, France, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Finland, India… Wow. In this time of social isolation, the camaraderie on-screen was wonderful. Watching my avatar onscreen, Poppy asked “Aren’t your pockets getting heavy with all those Ride Ons?”

I finished my vEveresting elated with what I had accomplished and how my body had coped; its successful completion was never guaranteed. This, of course, was a huge part of the attraction. One week later, I’m rested and have had time to start considering what my next challenge will be. I’m curious to see if I can do the same vEverest climb in less time, and the allure of another group attempt is strong. I’m also still keen to attempt an “in real life” Everesting at some point and compare it to a virtual Everesting. I strongly suspect that virtual is easier. As I said earlier, I’m someone who needs a goal to focus on and in the absence of racing for the foreseeable future, Everesting is proving to be the perfect mental and physical challenge.

Like all of my big rides, however, I couldn’t do this without the help and support of several key people. Huge thanks go to Dylan, who rolls his eyes at my crazy biking ideas but supports me wholeheartedly in my pursuit of them. Thanks also go to Poppy, who took her role of support crew very seriously and checked on me regularly. Big thanks to iRide Bikes in Toowoomba for their ongoing support, and particularly for answering numerous bike setup questions before this ride. Thanks yet again to Jodie Willet, who’s BikeRite fitness program has been an invaluable part of my biking journey and who’s encouragement means so much. Thanks also to Dietician Approved in Brisbane, as their food plans and dietary advice have proven their worth yet again. Finally, a big thanks to Andy van Bergen and the Hells 500 group for organizing the World Lycra Party – the feeling of camaraderie while completing a vEveresting with over 200 riders from around the globe will not be forgotten quickly.

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