“I just threw up all over the side of the road and blacked out for a brief second.”
“I peed when I got to the top and not going to lie there was definitely blood in there.”
“Pretty sure I just tore my hamstring or achilles or groin or maybe all three.”
“We are being invaded by Russia, this is a Red Dawn situation, don’t ask me how I know.”
These are all the excuses (that aren’t completely fucking bananas) that I tried out in my mind as I attempted to Everest Hogback Mountain back near the end of July. While I had convinced myself pretty easily that this was stupid and pointless, I made the tactical mistake of attempting to Everest WITH someone else which meant I had to convince HIM too.
If you’re reading this, you probably know that Everesting is some dumbass challenge that some dumbass cyclist came up with that piggybacks on the lunacy of paying someone a shitton of money to guide you to the top of Mount Everest. In this particular case, you pick one hill, ascend it continuously (on your bike) until you surpass the height of Mt. Everest (29,029 feet). The disadvantage is that no one anywhere thinks this is near as cool as climbing Mt. Everest. The advantage is that you probably don’t need supplemental oxygen to complete the challenge and will most likely live to see your loved ones again.
Backside of Hogback Mountain, which is probably the worst climb on Skyline Drive.
A category 3 climb, Hogback measures a smidge under 3 miles and features just over 900 feet of elevation. It averages about 6% gradient (like most of Skyline Drive), but kicks up to 9-10% at the beginning and end. Anyone who has ridden south on Skyline to Skyland or Big Meadow or points beyond and then turned back probably remembers how irritating this climb can be.
Just me and my Stupid Rides Ride Partner (SRRP), Brad Greenberg! Shout out to Brad because anyone else I mention something like this to just looks at me like I am birthing a small alien out of my cakecrusher. I mention a stupid ride idea to Brad and he basically analyzes it for a few seconds and then is like, yes we can do this, here is how we can do it, and here is my research. In fact, we are at a point now where it’s no longer me casually mentioning stupid shit we can do, but BRAD coming up with stuff and ME questioning my decision making and mental health. Of course I have no one to blame but myself, I helped create this monster.
We want to get an early start, and with Skyline about 70 miles away (plus another 20+ miles south along Skyline Drive to the bottom of the climb), we decide to get a hotel in Front Royal so we can get a decent night’s sleep because the plan is to wake up EAF so we can get wheels down by 430am. Things don’t go exactly to plan as we are late getting to the hotel that evening, but in the end I think I got around 5 hours of sleep which is about standard for this type of foolishness.
Strategically, the start of the climb is in a great location because it begins at the Elkwallow Wayside. This particular Wayside has a parking lot, fresh water, bathrooms, and a convenience store. Now, we’ve brought most of our supplies – a cooler full of ice, gatorade, cokes, milk, water, googobs of food – but it’s good to have a backup. We will set up camp (or camping chairs) in the parking lot, just a few feet from where the climb begins and the descent ends. Brad’s research has found that we have to go up and down the mountain 32 times in order to surpass 29,029 feet. PIECE OF CAKE.
As soon as we got there our plan was invalidated. I had to take care of some business and sauntered over to the bathrooms and found them…locked. FUUUUUUUUGGGGG. So now, I have to head out into the goddamn woods, in the pitchblack dark, to make this happen. I am convinced that it is in these woods, BUSINESS CONDUCTING, that I will be attacked and eaten by bears, and just like many idiot Climbing Everesters, DIE ON THE MOUNTAIN.
Was I scared out my mind? Does a cyclist sh…nevermind.
As these potential disasters go, this one actually turned out as well as can be expected. So at 5:03am, we started climbing.
THE FIRST PART (LAPS 1-5)
Our general strategy was to do five up and downs at a time before taking a break. If we allotted 30 minutes for each ascent/descent we were looking at about 16 hours of total time, including breaks, which meant finishing at around 9pm. Brad and I were both pretty certain we could finish way before that, in the light, and be back in McLean with a celebratory meal in us, before 9pm. Which, as my high school English teacher would say, was hubris.
Pretty much all rides start really well though, and we enjoyed the sunrise, enjoyed ripping down the descents, and just appreciated the quiet solitude of rolling around on our bikes in nature. Two hours and fifteen minutes later we were back at the car on our first break. I had a huge bowl of granola with almond milk and some cold brew (we really brought a lot of food and drink), and after our leisurely 15 minute breakfast got started again.
THE SECOND PART (LAPS 6-10)
How many times am I going to write about a ride or race and mention that I felt good at the beginning. TOO GOOD, even. Would this be the time where I would learn to pace myself?
No, it would not.
I felt SO GOOD after the breakfast break. I think it was the cold brew (STÖK forever), and I started doing that genuinely asshole thing I do sometimes where I go off the front for no good reason. It was fine this time, I told myself. My SRRP was listening to a podcast on his iPhone speakers and I was more into the quietude, so I cranked it up a little. My first five times up had been totally reasonable – 21:49, 21:20, 20:10, 20:17, 19:16. The last one probably chalked up to how much I wanted breakfast. This time, for some reason, I did 20:26, 18:27, 19:07, 19:46, 20:37. The times were too fast and were sneakily getting slower, meaning I was in a place that had zero chance of staying.
The descents were amazing though. All I could do was sit on my crossbar and fly down. There is nothing better than coasting a descent. Particularly when the wind is low and there’s no cross breeze to send you into wobbleville. Of course getting superman tucked on a descent takes energy, and going down as fast as you can means less time for recovery. If I had sat up on those descents it would have been less taxing, and could have added 45 seconds of recovery each time. So I cost myself an extra 7-8 minutes of recovery after 10 laps.
I would pay for that.
THE THIRD PART (LAPS 11-15)
The tough part about having a nice setup in the parking lot next to the start and finish of your Everest hill is that as the day wears on, it gets harder and harder to leave basecamp. This time I was pretty cooked, mentally and physically.
20:14, 20:32, 21:45, 22:40, 23:50. My times up Hogback were getting worse at an alarming rate. I still hadn’t adjusted my descending recovery. I could not stop yawning and dozing off. I had zero energy. Shit on my body was starting to hurt.
Brad was flying past me up the climbs. Nothing was bothering him except the restarts and after our 30 minute rest here, he makes it known in no uncertain terms that we have to cut this bullshit. 30 minutes is way too long for tired legs because tired legs turn into cement legs and cement legs can’t climb.
I eat another bowl of granola and head back out. My hamstrings file for divorce from my body. I had just finished 15 laps, 14,000 feet of climbing and still wasn’t halfway done.
THE FOURTH PART (LAPS 16-18)
23:28, 24:24, 26:25.
I start mentioning to Brad that I am probably not going to be able to finish. I am still yawning frequently and even nodding off on the ascents AND descents. Despite going slow af, I am sweating profusely. I see multiple black bears and they are no longer turning and running in fear. I continue to descend as fast as I possibly can. I can’t even do 5 laps before taking another break. Brad is disgusted with me. I am disgusted with me. Fuck it, this is not happening.
After 15 minutes I roll out again. I still have 13,000 feet left to climb.
THE FIFTH PART (LAPS 19-22)
22:58, 23:44, 24:46, 28:04.
That last one. Holy shit. I have never felt more feeble in my entire life. Actually that’s not true. I feel like I am 50 pounds overweight again, trying to climb hills for the first time. Counting in my head to take my mind off the climb. Playing music. Screaming profanities. Anything I can to trick my brain and legs into continuing on. I am alone. Brad has long since separated from me, sticking to the script, measured energy, churning toward the finish.
I barely make it back after that last lap, collapsing into my camping chair. Another loooong 30 minutes. I can’t even remember if I ate anything. I keep trying to quit. Fortunately I have just enough self-esteem left to not verbalize any of the fake excuses I came up with on the last stretch. Brad recommends maybe not going as hard as I can down the descents. Like a toddler, I finally absorb the suggestion after about the 10th time.
I use my satellite messenger thing to let my wife know that I am probably not going to make it. She cheers me up by mentioning that I am doing this by choice and to shut up and pedal harder. I think I’m in love.
THE SIXTH PART (LAPS 23, 24, 25)
The pep talk from both my SRRP and SO helped immensely and I did the next climb in a completely reasonable 22:51. Things were looking up! I even took more than 5 minutes on the descent. And just like that, I had less than 10 laps to go! Single digits! NINE LAPS LEFT! Cake from here on out! I am going to make it!
So of course I immediately fell apart over the next two laps, 24:29 and 28:38. I mean, you could probably walk your bike up the mountain in the time it took me to slow roll up that fucker.
THE SEVENTH PART (LAPS 26, 27, 28, 29)
Full disclosure: I have Everested before. A few years ago, Eric Williams and I did the Dickey Ridge ascent on Skyline 25 times. It started out nice, but the second half was all rain and miserableness and I swore to god I would never do it again. I even tried to write about it multiple times and couldn’t bring myself to fully relive it. Here’s a summary: aside from the company, it was long and boring and the conditions were shit-tay. We finished, yes. But other than bragging rights I didn’t have fond memories of that one.
But! My small brain tells me that I will *probably* *maybe* be the first person in Virginia to Everest twice if I can somehow get this thing done. Once you are under 10 laps to go, you don’t have to count upwards either – you count the number of laps TO GO. I slowly checked them off. 7, 6, 5, 4. I kept slowly grinding. Everything was numb, except for my *ahem* chamois area, which was screaming in pain every time I hit an imperfection in the road. 25:15…25:19…26:04…darkness…and then…30:21.
Holy shit maybe I wouldn’t finish this thing after all.
THIS IS THE END
28:37, 30:59. I need the medical car. I need a hospital. Despite being attacked by a bat on his final lap, Brad has finished. Good news, he is the first person to Everest Hogback Mountain. He could probably go another 10 laps. Bad news, he probably has bat rabies.
When I finish my next to last lap, the clock has struck 11pm. We will get back to McLean before it is light, so the opposite of what we were thinking. I look dead enough that my SRRP jumps in his car and follows me up the very last climb. I pretend that I am in the Race Across America, riding at night, my support vehicle lighting my way. This is my last lap. I am determined to finish strong. I crank as hard as I humanly can and climb my last 915 feet in 21 minutes and 57 seconds, just 8 seconds slower than my first ascent that morning. I fly back down the mountain, half expecting to hit a deer and die because it is so dark. There may have been tears but probably not because I was acutely dehydrated. Maybe I just made the crying noise.
In our delirium we took the really long way home, stopping at a Sheetz somewhere for an incredible meal. It may have been the best meal I have ever had.
Two days later Brad sent me an idea for our next Everest.
We are not currently on speaking terms.