As last weekend started, the forecast was shifting so that the weather for Wednesday morning in Jamestown was looking less promising for an Everest attempt. Where it had previously been forecasted as partly cloudy with a high in the mid-70s, now it was forecasted to be sunny and in the mid-80s. Given my previous experience during my Half Everest with those same conditions, I knew that was not what I was looking for. I simply do not respond well to hours and hours of climbing in that kind of heat and exposure.
Always optimistic, I decided to hold off on a decision until Sunday morning. That morning I pulled up the forecast and if anything it was going to be even warmer than the forecast we read on Friday night. Well. Shit.
Tina pointed out that the forecast for Sunday night and Monday morning was not bad though. Boulder on Sunday afternoon was going to get into the upper 90s, but the clear skies overnight and the higher elevation of Jamestown meant that my segment’s low temperature was going to reach the low-50s overnight. Rather pleasant for hours of climbing by bicycle. Not only that, the forecast predicted that at noon on Monday, Jamestown was only going to be 73 degrees. Since I was aiming to finish by early afternoon that seemed fairly ideal.
The only problem is that I had been exercising with the expectation that I would not be Everesting for at least three more days. While Saturday morning’s ride had been a moderate effort, the previous week’s rides had been hard with significant personal records (PRs) achieved. As I stood at the kitchen sink staring at the mountains and contemplating my options, my left quad felt sore and tired. Nothing bad but definitely noticeable.
Also, I had absolutely nothing prepared for a possible 17-18 hours of biking that night. Food would need to be acquired, at least one huge bag of ice, gallon containers for water, a few spare tubes, numerous bike lights charged, and then all organized to be findable and accessible in the middle of night. Not an insurmountable problem by any means, but an unexpected bunch of tasks with no time to dawdle.
What really pushed me towards trying Sunday night was the fact that the weather forecast for the rest of the week was rubbish. Hot and clear every single day. Not only that, there was a major wildfire blazing to our east and while we had woken up to smoke and haze on Saturday, Sunday was blessedly clear. There was no guarantee that would last. This was my only realistic chance for the rest of the week. So, I started getting ready.
Almost immediately I started charging my various bike lights. A full night of biking on a mountain road was going to require every single one I owned. Also, all of my bike clothing was in the laundry, so that needed to be started so it could dry before I packed. Then, I pulled out a stick of butter to warm up, so I could make oatmeal chocolate cookie dough, one of my favorite ultra-distance foods. Finally, we took trips to Walgreens, a bike shop, REI, and Whole Foods to get all the food and gear that I might need for such an effort. Given I had gotten two punctures in my rear tire during a ride at the end of July, I did not want my Everest to fail because of a lack of spare tubes. All of these things I had originally planned to do over a leisurely Monday but now the deadline was dramatically moved up.
My gear list ended up being nearly 100 items long. Long sleeve bike shirt, short sleeve bike shirt, bike shorts, multiple pairs of gloves, socks, buffs, lightweight rain jacket, puffy jacket for the car, bike shoes, towel, clear and regular sunglasses, five different bike lights, spare tubes, tire levers, bike tool, chamois cream, lip balm, sunscreen, first aid kit, cleaning towelettes (salt chafing is real), headlamps, GoalZero battery, charger cables for watch/phone/lights, WagBags, paper towels, WD40, chain oil, masks, hand sanitizer, and two shopping bags full of bars, gels, and real food. Let’s not forget the large cooler full of iced coffee, vegan protein shake, iced tea, gallons of water, water bottles with Tailwind, cookie dough, bananas, apple, and sliced meat and cheese. Probably had three times as much food as I needed but you never really know what your body will crave or reject on these kind of rides, so it is helpful to have many options.
After an early pasta dinner and catnap, we packed up the cars around 6pm and headed up to Jamestown with the goal of me starting my ride at 7pm. Reasonably quiet roads and cool temps would be my friend, while a lack of sleep and the potential for animals being on the road during my speedy nighttime descents being real challenges. Tina was intending on sleeping in the car and being my support crew. Since each full lap would take me just under 30 minutes, my approach was to stop by the cars every third lap for a fresh water bottle and snack. During those short breaks at the car I would also switch out bike lights, pump up tires, and use the bathroom when necessary.
It all started reasonably well. The sun was just starting to set behind the mountains and the temperature was just over 70 degrees with little wind and only a hint of humidity in the air. In fact, even though I was trying to be mindful of my speed and set a slow pace, I ended up getting a rather fast PR on my very first lap. Whoops!
As you imagine, you settle into a bit of a routine when doing this many laps on a well known segment of road. You know where you are going to shift gears, where you are going to get out of your seat to stretch your legs, the best spots to take a few sips of water, where you need to slow down as you come into town to avoid hitting the speed bump too fast, and what section of road is just going to be a bit rough on the legs no matter how many times you do it. At the top of every lap, I would take a full drink of water, pull out a black marker to tally the most recently completely climb on a piece of white tape, and then take a bite of whatever food I happened to have in my left back pocket. This mental rhythm really helps.
After my third lap, I came in for my first break and put on my bike lights. It was getting dark enough that I wanted to see and been seen by the 3 or 4 vehicles that sped by me on every lap. And then I went and did my next three laps. Took a break. And then three more laps. Took a break.
At this point, nine laps in, I was a quarter of the way done with my Everest attempt. And I felt pretty darn good. Hydration was going well. The cookie dough was by far my favorite snack whenever I visited the car. And, while I was definitely feeling the effort and late hour, a few sips of coffee definitely helped. There was a bit of a headwind on the last half of the climb but it was manageable. So, I started heading up for my tenth lap.
At the top of the tenth lap, I turned up the brightness of my front light to have the most possible light for the downhill…and it turned off. Oh shoot, I thought, must have held the button too long and turned it off. Nope. The light had died. Here I am, at the top of my climb, on a moonless night, needing to descend, and I had no front light. Fucking. Hell.
When we did the Mt. Hood Picnic last year, I had put both front lights on my handlebars and just switched to the fresh one when the other was getting low. This time, since I had my phone on my handlebars, I had only one front light and had left the second one at the car with the intention to switch it when the first one started becoming dim. Was not expecting the light to fail completely. Guess that is why its button blinked at me a ways back: 15 minute warning.
Thankfully, I had sprung for the fancier back lights, which could be used as either a white front light or red rear light with the push of a button. Otherwise, I would have been rather screwed. Even so, I descended about 10-15mph slower than usual as it provided significantly less visibility than my dedicated front lights. Arrived back at the car, surprising Tina, and put on a new front light. And just to be safe, I put one of my headlamps and a spare rear light in my backpack. Not going to make that mistake again. Way too dangerous.
Did two more climbs and then on my last descent before heading back to the car (lap 12), I spooked a coyote that ran in front of my bike for about 20 meters while I was rapidly descending, requiring a fairly significant amount of breaking and a rear wheel that wiggled a heart skipping amount. Sure you worry about the large, black trucks speeding up and down mountain roads and the oblivious deer or two, but damn that coyote was the real danger that night.
Oh, I may not have mentioned, I have absolutely no cell service on this segment. Not a single bar. 😟
Got back to the car and told Tina about my little Close Encounter of the Canis Kind. Still alive though. And already over 10,000 feet of elevation gain. A third of the way done. Bit of a problem though and one whose significance will grow. My left leg, the one that I noticed was tight and sore that morning? It had definitely warmed up and felt solid for the first 12 laps or so, but now my leg was feeling the climbing. I moved the leg up and around and did some knee hugs hoping it would shake out. Took two extra strength Tylenol as well.
Over the next three laps my left leg got tighter and started causing outside knee pain. Tried to get out of my saddle more to help stretch it out, which only helped a minuscule amount. At the top of my second and third laps, I actually got off my bike and tried various stretches to help it relax and loosen up. Unfortunately, it did not seem to be helping near enough, as the knee pain never went away and got worse on the steeper bits of climbing.
At my next break, I told Tina about my issue and that I was going to try to see how it felt after the next three laps, as it definitely looked like my attempt was going to end if it did not improve. Went to the bathroom, did a few more leg movements, and a bit of stretching before heading off. Around halfway up, I decided to turn around and call it. On a relatively shallow grade (4-5%), I actually started saying “Ow, ow, ow” out loud to myself because of the pain. Damage was being done and another eight hours of biking was not going to help it go away.
A quick descent back to the car and at 3:07am, my Everest attempt ended.
We packed everything up, drove home, and emptied the cars. By about 4:30am I was back in bed with a few ibuprofen in me for the pain and I did not wake up again until just past 10am.
So. I ended up doing just over 13,000 ft of elevation gain on that ride in about eight hours. Except for the leg/knee, I felt pretty damn good and I definitely had the energy and fitness to finish it. That damn leg though.
Four days later and it is obvious I made the right decision to quit my attempt. The next two days both my leg and knee were painful, and I did not even want to do a short walk around the neighborhood. But with a hot soak, stretching, and massaging the leg muscles have started recovering with the knee pain slowly disappearing. Did a 30 minute easy bike ride this morning and it felt ok. Now I just have to get it back in full working order so I can try again. Maybe in two weeks or so.
A few important lessons learned on this attempt.
- Always carry backup lights at night
- Bring more than five large spoonfuls of cookie dough
- If you start with a sore/tired leg, then it is probable that attempting 30K feet of climbing in a single ride will make it worse and you may need to choose a different day.
- Wear a cool weather biking jacket and/or light pants at night. At 52 degrees, a 40mph descent after a sweaty climb will chill you and your muscles; it may have contributed to the leg tightness issues.