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Once Upon a Time on NCAR 18 June 2021

I am getting really good at failing at Everesting. Although, if you graph my three attempts thus far, it seems probable that I will succeed by my fifth attempt. I am not sure if that is encouraging or mildly worrisome, especially for a theoretical fourth attempt.

This attempt was supposed to be different though! Instead of doing my own version of "training", I was following a professionally created training plan specifically designed for bikers who wished to Everest. What the training plan did not factor into play was a week of >90° temperatures and then my Everesting plan needing a drastic revision at 1am.

Given the hot temperatures, I decided to do my Everesting attempt a couple days earlier than planned and to do the majority of my riding in the dark. This was to take advantage of the fact that Friday was going to be drastically cooler than the rest of the week with a high of only 82°. Friday morning itself was forecasted to be a frosty 52°. Loverly.

For safety and convenience, I chose the nearby NCAR hill since it has a beautiful bike lane to the top, a reasonable grade for climbing, and has a parking lot at the top that is open to the public and the origin point for a number of popular hiking trails–which meant it had a Porta-Potty.

Top of NCAR
Ready to start at the top of the NCAR hill at 7pm and over 90°F

The ride started well. The sun disappeared behind the mountains and the growing darkness made the temperature bearable (though still 80° at 11pm). A strong wind picked up and blew me around a bit, but it was manageable if mildly nerve wracking on the descents. Around midnight–20 laps into a 69 lap Everesting attempt–we were paid a visit by two individuals in a small SUV labeled “Security”. We were informed that the parking lot closed at 11pm and that we could potentially be ticketed by the Boulder Police with a fine of $1500.

Well, shit in a hand basket.

I think it is important to state right now that there is no signage at the bottom of the hill or in the parking lot that indicates this. We scouted it out the day before and purposefully looked for anything that might indicate a problem. The NCAR visitors page has nothing about it. The City of Boulder NCAR trailhead website also says nothing. We checked! Afterwards, the only place we could find a possible mention of the parking lot maybe being closed was on the Boulder Open Space Rules & Regulation page under a “Curfew” tab. And it is still not clear that it applies to the NCAR parking lot. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

NCAR After Dark
It was nice that the NCAR hill had a bike lane, especially at night.

So. We had both our cars there. Mine was full of my support gear, backup gear, a cooler, and a wide assortment of snacks. And then Tina had her car with her stuff and also the ability to go home to fetch anything that might be needed. Our first action was for Tina to immediately move her car past the bottom of the hill into the neighborhood. Not an ideal location for support, but it would work. I would continue on my laps while she would come back up and move my car down.

A small wrinkle but manageable or so it seemed. On my way back up NCAR, this same SUV flashed its lights at me and a woman leaned out the window and told me the NCAR road was closed and I should leave. ::blinks:: This happened around 12:15am and I will state for the record that two cars had driven past me on the NCAR road while I was doing this lap. At this point I had been biking for five hours and had done over 9000’ of climbing, but I was not even a third of the way done. My mental state was in a just-keep-pedaling mode and not ready for this curve ball.

Tina arrived in the parking lot soon after this, so we moved my car and I sat down on the curb of a dark street to consider my options. And then I had an allergy attack. The wind had been blowing grass pollen around for hours while I had been sucking it in while climbing a hill repeatedly. Once the adrenaline stopped coursing through my blood, my body let loose with snot and sneezing as I have not experienced in years. We found a Benadryl in my first aid kit and it slowly abated. My throat and lungs felt pretty raw for days afterwards.

Back to the Everesting. Obviously we needed to stay off NCAR. Being told off twice like that made it a non-option. And it was way too late to start all over on a new hill. The only real option was to switch from a normal Everesting (one hill, repeat until 8848m) to a 10K Everesting Roam (anywhere, 10,000m climbing, at least 250mi, 36h time limit). Or, you know, quit and go home.

The 10K Roam Everesting was actually what I had started planning the previous week. It is more my style of biking and also gives one’s body a chance to stretch different muscles as it is just not hill repeats. But it is a longer and harder challenge and the hot temperatures made it seem like a terrible idea.

But quitting seemed like a waste. I was out, I was all suited up, and I had already done all of that climbing. Tina was also on board for supporting me for another 30 hours. So, why the hell not?

This required an entirely new strategy and making many off the cuff decisions that could make or break the attempt. First, Tina would need to take her car home, bike back to my car, and start supporting me by driving it to break spots. The rest of the challenge would also be ridden solo and with significantly more mileage and elevation than originally planned. Let’s be honest, 1am is not when you want to loosely plan a 10K Everesting Roam attempt, but we gave it our best shot.

And so I biked. First up Flagstaff. Then Sunshine. Over to Hygiene. A break at Lyons just as the sun was rising. Next, a lap up to Peak to Peak Hwy. At this point I had been going for over 12 hours and was definitely feeling the lack of sleep. Tina had a work call to take, so we decided I would descend back to Lyons (gotta get that easy mileage) and we would drive home to restock as well as plan the next half of the challenge. 16K meters and 131mi done done by 8am.

Peak to Peak at Highway 7
Resting at Peak-to-Peak just after sunrise.

At home I started a load of laundry (why not have freshly clean bike clothes?), showered, ate food, and took an all-too-short two hour nap.

By the time we headed out again, it was 3pm and it was sunny and hot. Given the heat, we drove the car up Lefthand Canyon a ways to a dirt pull off at around 6600’. While the sunlight lasted, I figured I could do laps up to Ward and enjoy cooler temperatures and maybe some shade. That worked out rather well and over the course of three and a half hours I added another 5800’ of elevation gain to my total.

High Point Near Brainard Lake
Reaching my highest point (9600') of the challenge near Brainard Lake

However, as the sun began to set, it was getting chilly up there and my body was rejecting the bars, gels, and treats I was still trying to force feed it. The only real option was to head down to town so Tina could fetch a real meal for me to eat with the hopes my body would find that more to its liking.

Lee Hill Sunset Climb
Climbing up Lee Hill around sunset on the second day.

While she went to find food, I reached Linden Drive (Tina’s Everest hill from 2 weeks ago) and…I barely made it one lap. I genuinely almost got off my bike to take a break halfway up a 1.6 mile climb. It was very disheartening. While my body felt like it still had energy, I was having a hard time pushing the pedals. Tina arrived at the bottom of the hill with food and I told her that there was a very real chance that I might be done.

I sat down and slowly ate a very tasty combination of beans, rice, sauce, and guacamole while thinking my predicament over. I still had 9,000ft left to climb. It was almost 9pm and the sun had already set. There was only 10 hours left for me to complete the challenge. Doable, but it meant another sleepless night with me biking nearly the entire time. And I would definitely need to find a shallower hill. Tina was willing to stay out all night supporting me, but she also had a gravel clinic the next morning and had barely slept as well.

Mentally I was just not on board with what completing the challenge required. So, at 9pm, 26 hours after starting, I officially stopped with 194mi and 23,774' done.

——

Here we are a week later, and I am still not even remotely disappointed. Previous to this Everesting attempt, the longest ride I had ever done was 106 miles. The most elevation I had ever done on a single ride was 16K’ during last year’s Everesting. This was significantly more on both counts. And this had the added fun of extra warm temperatures and only 2 hours of sleep. Not a bad day’s work, honestly.

Also. And Tina reminded me of this afterwards, Everesting is frequently the purview of great and exceptional climbers. While I am a good climber, perhaps even categorizable as strong, I would never say I am great at it. I can put out a fair amount of power but I am also quite heavy, which is a huge detriment on climbs.

Will I try again? Maybe? It is a vexing thing to apply myself towards a goal three times and fail each time. This attempt also felt like a rather poor attempt, all things considered. I know I have the fitness to complete either an Everesting or a 10K Everesting Roam, but it would surely help if it was not attempted during hot summer weather with a plan that did not go belly up at 1am. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯