Post-Everesting there is a great gaping hole that was previously filled with training and planning, the endless minutiae of preparation for the event. This is the time when you are most vulnerable to ‘What Next’ Syndrome. And so it was that I found myself ruminating on the lack of females in the Everesting Hall of Fame. Thinking of my female cycling buddies, I realised that several had, while publicly proclaiming my lack of sanity, quietly expressed a vague interest in taking on an Everesting challenge of their own. Maybe if a few were interested we could choose a local climb and tackle it as a group? It hadn’t been done before so I flicked Andy at Hells500 a note, asking what he thought of the idea. The timing was spot on, spookily so. As it happened, Andy was quietly organising permits for a group of 25 riders to attempt a mass Everesting of Victoria’s Mt. Donna Buang. The conclusion was easy, all we needed to do was convince 25 women to sign up to ride the 17km, 1080m ascent of Donna. Eight and a half times. Hmm.
Rolling forward to February. Apart from signing myself up, I haven’t given the event that much thought. Christmas, family, holidays, work, all distractions from the fast approaching date. In contrast to my usual ‘research it to death’ approach, I’m not even going to see the climb before the attempt. Gulp. I’m enjoying the online banter though, as the group shares their questions, ideas and anxieties. The excitement amps up a whole lot in the last week. Some withdraw, others leap in at the eleventh hour. Andy has gone into overdrive. I’m checking every ten minutes to follow the updates on everything from bike number plates (number 8848 – of course), to the lap board, then reading words of support and encouragement from pro cyclists, sponsors, journalists and others.
D-day. I should be fine. This is not new. But my previous attempts have been low key affairs, whereas this time I seem to have stage fright. Feeling that I should at least look like I know what I am doing, I try for an outward appearance of calm confidence. Lap one. It feels fast, the bunch chatty, nervous energy spilling out, lights dancing on the road as we climb into the blackness. The group splinters quickly as we reach the summit and begin the descent, each seeking our own pace, own space, solo or shared.
The appeal of the Everesting phenomenon is evident. Right from the start there are scores of riders kitted out in the Hells500 grey stripe jersey (signifying completion of a Hells ‘Epic’), out on the mountain. Clint is hovering at Cement Creek, “like some company?” he asks. Nice. As we approach the summit we encounter ‘Dr Donna’ circling on his bike, monitoring the psychological welfare of the group. It’s early in the day and he seems disappointed that no-one appears to have lost the plot just yet.
Sunrise, three laps in. Everyone looks strong, focused, positive. It’s a beautiful climb, the landscape lush. Compared to the dry, rocky harshness of Canberra, it feels gentle, almost benevolent. Renowned for brutally cold conditions, it seems that for today, Donna has relented.
Hours pass, plenty of time to appreciate the history of the mountain. Mt. Donna Buang is where George Mallory trained on his bike for his summit attempt on Mt. Everest, 71 years after his grandfather’s expedition. By linking his repeated ascents to the equivalent of climbing Mt. Everest’s 8848m, he recorded the first cycling ‘Everest’ and inspired the subsequent Hells500 challenge. I remember that just reading his story made me want to leap on my bike and climb every hill I could find. Hold that thought.
Seven laps down. I tell myself I’m feeling good, it’s amazing what you’ll believe. Support riders are out in force, some flying past with a smile, some pause alongside, I even overhaul a couple. One ascent or eight, it’s unimportant, kindred spirits all. I’m back down at our base camp when I notice an undesirable squishiness in my back tyre. Instant denial – no, no, this cannot happen. It’s quickly restored to full pressure with a floor pump and I’m good to go. Tick the lap board, then a recheck of tyre … In my increasingly deluded state I think that heading off with a steadily deflating tyre is perfectly reasonable. Luckily I am persuaded otherwise and someone crewing for another woman leaps to my assistance. I realise that while I’m outwardly okay, the veneer is pretty brittle and a minor hiccup, mechanical or otherwise, may result in my disintegration into a roadside puddle of tears.
At the pointy end now. The fatigue is etched on tight faces, smiles with faded eyes. I edge alongside one woman, “how are you doing?” She’s exhausted, telling me that moments ago she had to stop, in tears. I mouth inadequate words of encouragement. What I want to say is ‘hey, you are a hero. It’s not about the first, fastest, or furtherest. To get up and keep going takes real courage’. I can’t find the words, but it doesn’t matter, she’ll know this when she finishes and I have no doubt that she will.
By midnight on Saturday everyone’s off the mountain. Twenty women completed a successful Everesting, and perhaps more significantly, all 22 starters achieved personal best distances and/or ascents.
And that’s more than a little bit rad.
Congratulations to all the women who took on the Everesting challenge. Huge thanks to Andy at Hells 500 and the fantastic crew of volunteers and supporters who made this event such a special experience.
For more information: www.everesting.cc
Photo Credits: Simon Atkinson & Andy Rogers