In Search of Up

Posted by Jon Hicken on

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It was some 6 years ago that I first came across the term 'Everesting', and as those wickedly beautiful folks of Hells500 put it; It’s a fiendishly simple concept, and a fiendishly difficult challenge to complete. Ride any climb, anywhere in the world repeat after repeat until you have notched up the 8848m (29019ft) equivalent height gain of Mt Everest.

I knew that there was an inevitability about me attempting to tackle one. I had no idea if I was capable of it but that's besides the point. I WANTED it and was going to HAVE it. The thought of it consumed my mind for a long time as I planned and prepared, I even knew which climb I was going to do.

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I’d knuckled down in early 2015 after committing to some tough rides and was training pretty intensely. The fear of failure drove me on and pushed me to become probably the fittest I’ve ever been. One of the rides I’d signed up for was the Fred Whitton. A brutal sportive touted as the toughest in all the lands; tackling Hardknott Pass after 100 miles of Lake District torture. It was here that I met my now good friend Lee Grieves. We were parked alongside each other and as we prepared our bikes I gingerly asked if he’d ever done anything like this before? He explained that just a short time ago he’d completed his first Everest.  I was completely in awe and after throwing a lot of excitable questions his way I now knew what I needed to do. Perhaps it was fate or maybe it was some kind of Hells500 skullduggery that brought us together, whatever it was it was meant to be. #Bromance

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It was 4am on a chilly summers morning when three of us pulled up at the top of The iconic (or significant) Horseshoe Pass in North Wales ready to tackle our first Everest. I’d known both Jim and Stevie for years and both were talented cyclists and I knew that I’d have a day of it just to hold either one of their wheels. We battled everything that day (and night) and forged unforgettable memories. Blood sweat and tears were shed, laughs were shared, pizza consumed and after 28 reps and around 28 hours we were done. Elated and shattered we toasted our achievement and headed home to the allure of a warm soft bed and I drifted off with a huge smile etched across my face already thinking of the next one.


It was just under 12 months later when Jim and I tackled The Rock, a local suburban short climb that had always put the fear of God into us as kids when out riding our bikes. 186 reps needed to tame this Everest. Counting them down wasn’t an easy task as I’d previously found when doing just 10 reps on my morning commute. I decided to keep 10 1p coins in my pocket and with each rep we dropped one on the floor where we turned to head back down. After each 10 reps we refuelled and reset before going again. One less stress. The last thing you need when tackling something like this is added stresses so careful consideration and planning can make all the difference. It was the early hours of the morning when we finally finished but before heading home we had to go say goodnight to the sweet old lady who’d been cheering us on all day and waving from behind her curtain once the night drew in. 
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The third came on the third anniversary of Hells500, and in my mind this was an absolute given. As if I wasn’t going to do one. I’d already been and checked out the steep climb of Hope Mountain in North Wales that would qualify this Everesting as short. Less than 200km and on an average gradient that was seriously going to test the legs. I knew I’d need support and was more than chuffed with the amount of keen riders who came and rode repeats with me that day. Hugs from strangers and firm handshakes from old friends made this an unforgettable day and really helped pass the time. Another top tip from the book of Everest, make sure you get some company. It’ll make all the difference and hell, you’ll even enjoy it.

With the ‘Significant’, the ‘Suburban’ and now the ‘Short’ already in the bag it was time to turn my attention to the ‘Soil’. See, it’s not just about completing an Everest, there’s achievements within this community that keep pushing you and your limits, pushing boundaries and helping you to achieve things you never thought possible. The SSSS badge was almost mine.

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I’d racked my brain for a considerable amount of time in search of a suitable gravel climb. I messaged people, posted on forums and searched the internet. This wasn’t going to be easy. Eventually I remembered a decent fire road climb that twisted it’s way through Llandegla Forest from my MTB days years earlier. It had been quite some time since I’d rode it but figured I’d be fine. Starting at around 11pm on a dark cold March night I got a rude awakening. The path was so much more washed out and eroded than I’d remembered. The forest was illuminated as the Moon bobbed and weaved through the clouds that blew past. It rained, it snowed and frost formed. It was permanently cold and with every rep I quit and told myself to go home after the next one. The descents were brutal and shook my knees so much that it hurt more riding down than it did riding up. Daylight arrived and with it a new sense of purpose and renewed belief. Another rep and I was quitting again. I yo-yo’d like this all day and tackled each rep as if it were the last. I knew that there’d be no shame in heading home early and still to this day I couldn’t tell you what drove me on but after 29 reps I sat down and knew that that one had been the best. The one I enjoyed the most. How that’s possible I’ll leave to you to decide because I’m still pondering that question myself.
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Now I find myself right back at the beginning. Inevitably going to tackle something that I have no idea if I am capable of or not. The fear has returned and with it excitable emotions. That wry smile has returned and I think it’s time to go ask Lee Grieves some questions about the double...

 

Toby Willis

 

Photo credit - Toby Willis, Roaming Roads Co & Rupert Hartley