The day I did something that I didn’t think I could do
In the eyes of club rider James Male
On August the 6th this year as the clock ticked past midnight Danny Emmett and I found ourselves in the pitch black on moors in the Peak District. There was an element of fear in our minds as we rolled down ‘Windgather’ for the first time and already I was asking myself what am I doing here, this is question that would keep coming into my mind over the next 20 hours.
To answer that question I have to go back to a number of key moments that all involve someone I know – Toby Willis. Toby and I went the same school, we knew each other but we were never friends, through cycling though we were started following each other and I like to think we had a mutual admiration of what we both were doing. On a July day in the summer of 2015 I finished a ride, quite pleased with the amount of climbing I had done and then I looked at my feed and I had to triple take at what was in front of me: 9942 metres , 394Km’s all on the Horseshoe Pass. There was a sense of disbelief but also a clear thought of why oh why would anyone do this. Over the next three years the sense of madness turned into intrigue, then ambition and days before the 7th of August it turned back to madness.
In 2016 Toby then did it again on ‘The Rock’ in Helsby, which upped my intrigue: this doesn’t need to be on a long climb. In 2017 he told me he was going to tackle Hope Mountain. The intrigue grew, so for his third attempt I rode over to hope, and I did 5 hill reps of Hope Mountain with him. This was hard enough five steep ascents and five really sketchy runs down. Days before this I was close, and I mean really close to joining him at 2am on hope mountain. All that stopped me was a planned visit to Mallorca days later and looking back I think hope mountain would have finished me off, its steep its rough and there isn’t the greatest views.
The days and weeks after I returned to the UK this lingering thought of Everesting grew in the back of my mind: Could I? Is it possible? But as it grew there were times when it would go again with the same question of why: its madness isn’t it. It just wouldn’t go away some weeks I planned it all out, other weeks I dismissed it as something for the little climbers out there. But I knew deep down I had to try? The thought really was try I didn’t know if I could do this but by winter of 2017 I knew I had to try.
So what is Everesting?
FIENDISHLY SIMPLE, YET BRUTALLY HARD. EVERESTING IS THE MOST DIFFICULT CLIMBING CHALLENGE IN THE WORLD.
The concept of Everesting is fiendishly simple: Pick any hill, anywhere in the world and ride repeats of it in a single activity until you climb 8,848m – the equivalent height of Mt Everest. Oh and only 2,243 people in the world have successfully completed this challenge.
There were two things in my head I knew were key to planning this:
- Which Climb? Several factors were key to this decision. Has anyone done it before? I wanted to Everest a climb that no one had done – I was sure of that. I started looking at all my favourite climbs and the Cat & Fiddle was my first point of call. Dam it’s been done and now I look back I’m glad I didn’t do it, just too long. The Brickworks? Been done. What about Winnats or Mam Tor I thought, done. (Again I’m glad – imagine Winnats: just Imagine?) I started putting lots of hills into the Everesting calculator (great tool, if you’re thinking about this I would advise it’s the first step to looking at climbs) and I settled on two.
The criteria: not too steep (not Hope Mountain steep), but not too easy on the gradient (over 24 hours and I will go insane). The climb has to have space at the top for a car (full of food) and good space at the bottom to turn around and go again. Chapel Lane in Kelsall or Windgather in the Peaks. Both had pro’s and con’s but the scenery and number of reps of Windgather were a no brainer. I say no brainer but inputs into the calculator changed all the time. If you play fantasy football it was similar to choosing your big hitting striker for season start: Sergio? Kane? Lukaku?
- Who with? Someone or no-one? I was quite certain I wanted to do it with someone. Toby had talked about his first two attempts both which he had a companion. What tipped it though was the delight I saw on his face when I turned up on Hope Mountain. Ok I thought I need a companion, I knew it would be too easy to give up when it got tough if I was on my own. So the question was who? Who is mad enough for this? This was much easier than choosing the climb. I talked a little about Everesting on rides, just floating ideas and only one person seemed to have a mad look in his eyes. Danny Emmett he’s mad enough I thought. He didn’t take any talking into it Danny was 100% up for it. Done. It’s fair to say getting Danny on-board was done before choosing the climb, we discussed it in length but he was happy with Windgather, I’m pretty sure he didn’t care which hill, let’s just do it.
Late summer 2017 we talked about it, it never happened. Early 2018 we talked more, nothing! I can’t remember when or who instigated it but suddenly we were doing this 100% 2018 we were doing this. The fear grew and the question of why came back again and again.
Danny suggested a date that meant something to him. OK I thought we have a climb, I have a companion and now we have a date: a way of Danny paying homage to his Dad. I knew then that Danny wouldn’t bail either before or during, this meant too much to him. Then I thought shit now I can’t bail either (something I have a tendency for). ‘THIS IS REAL WE ARE DOING THIS’.
Once this realisation hit me I went straight out to Windgather and did 4 reps. Felt ok I thought then shit I thought another 41 were needed. The question came back WHY? I ignored it, spoke to Toby about fuelling strategies his response was simple: ‘take a cool box with tons of food in your car. Milkshakes, Donuts etc.’ .The weeks leading up to the 7th involved constant weather checking, revisiting the climb. My go to loop involved going past the small turn into Windgather and onto to long hill. For a month that changed I rode this climb allot, testing gearing, can I ride it all in the saddle? How do I break it up into chunks? I tweaked I few things, opted for compact and got my answers. If I couldn’t do it on this climb I couldn’t do it. This is my best chance. The thing nagging at me though was 8848 meters. Christ I’ve don’t think I have done over 5000 metres in one day. What will happen, how will my legs react? I just didn’t know so I took positives from the encouragement from Toby and also from others.
Danny I agreed to keep this to ourselves, however I’m rubbish at secrets, I let it slip to Mark Stevens his encouragement gave me further confidence. My big mouth slipped more, I told people at work what I had planned. No going back now.
A few days before the panic set in, I ordered a 30T cassette, I was in Sainsbury’s buying what can only be described as an American families weekly shop, gels ordered (I don’t do gels). Then the fear grew, five reps in a headwind, that hurt I thought, my legs hurt, shit.
The day before it all disappeared, Danny and I landed on a midnight start: best decision we made, originally 2am was the start time. If we had stuck to that we would have ended up riding back into the dark that would have killed me.
We had it all planned 45 reps, a short break after 5 reps (2hours), a longer break after 15.(a third done), keep going, break it down, it’s doable.
Danny arrived at mine at around 11, we hit up McDonalds (my idea) and then headed up to the moors.
The weather was good, forecast was not too hot, very little wind, and no rain. We had picked a good day. Off we went, lights on, its midnight, we have go this, but all the time in the back of my mind two things still were there. Why? Can I do this? The first five reps we stuck together, we chatted, normal ride stuff, not really talking about what we were doing. Five reps done, break, eat go again. As we rode through the darkness lights started to fade, replacements were ready in the car and as we progressed through the first third and the light started to creep over the hills for me the challenge seemed more and more doable. We started to ride apart, I put on an audio book. Kevin Bridges stories of growing up in Scotland made the first 15 reps a bit of blur. Suddenly its 7am we had done a third the sun was up, spirits were high and we sat and had a cup of coffee. We go again and I thought once I do that again we are on the home stretch. I kept counting them down, I got ambitious and ploughed on through 5 reps to 8 reps pushing on to get to 30 reps. In my head that was what would have given me the sense of I’m nearly there. (How wrong I was).
If you don’t know Windgather it’s a 3.1KM climb out of Kettleshulme. It’s a narrow road going up to the top of the moors, starting steep with some small ‘kicks’ which reveal some respite of 4% before you snake round some farmhouses before the biggest kick up the side of a rock face (a favourite for bouldering in the area) followed by a small section of flat road and then the final kick up to the car park and T junction at the top. If you haven’t ridden it go, it can be tough on its own but it’s quiet and scenic with views over to Whaley Bridge and onto the Peaks awaiting on the other side. Back to 30 reps! I thought I was there but then I realised a few things. We were behind schedule, and in danger of the darkness catching us. Danny didn’t seem quite as ok as I was at this point, each time I passed him on the way back down he looked a little more despondent. Its only when I stopped at 30 reps this sunk in. Ok I thought let’s talk, eat and then push on (we had to, the dark couldn’t catch us, we couldn’t let it). Then I realised I’m 6000 Metres in, my legs felt ok, I felt ok, the donuts, the brownies were working I have got this.
We went again. The last 15 reps I find it hard to describe now looking back. I had figured that the light relief from Kevin Bridges had worked so I opted for Ricky Gervais as my next audio companion and at points I was laughing out loud to myself rolling up this beautiful climb. However the mental torture set in. Did I have 14 reps to go, did I have 13? I had to stop and think. You lose track all the time, I grabbed a sharpie pen and on each rep I ticked one of 14 off on my top tube, this is when the torture became a reality, tick, down back up, slower each time no one but Danny and I on that hill as the day was coming to an end. The anticipated five reps then break became 3 reps then break eventually becoming 2 reps, then 1 eating everything I had, filling up bottles, counting down, calculating my finish time, fearing the approaching darkness. At this point Danny I were just giving each other a polite wave a nod as we passed each other. This dragged on, the question of WHY? Kept creeping back then I had 2 reps to do and I relaxed and I enjoyed it, the realisation that I can push on further and higher than I thought, the last rep was something strange where I danced up that climb out the saddle my legs felt strong, I felt strong and I knew I had a beer waiting at the top (best purchase I had made). I felt for Danny as was one rep behind.
I quickly got into casual clothes and put my bike in the car, as I did a guy pulled up and asked if was doing recon for the Macclesfield Wheelers hill climb on Pym’s Chair. I looked up and told him why I was there, he jumped out of his car and came over and hugged me and had such a look of achievement on his face, he then drove off as quickly as he had appeared and out of the dying light came Danny, looking beaten but as he crested to that T-junction that smile of his grew, he dismounted, we hugged and he looked like he had conquered the world, those two moments, one a stranger and one the guy I had done this with answered that nagging question of WHY?
When I look back now over a month on (it feels like years not 30 days) I have a huge sense of achievement but I also have a problem with myself. I’ve lost some motivation on the bike, the roads I used to ride seem boring,
100 miles, 3000 metres doesn’t seem enough now. I’m hoping this passes, I am pushing myself to just get out of the door each day (right now as I’m writing this it’s happening). As summer passes and the cold and rain approach I normally kick on and ride longer, harder knowing others retreat to warm sofa’s and turbo trainers, I’m hanging my hopes on the motivation of wearing the famous “Hells 500” grey stripe on my jersey which will push me on but I fear I now have to go out and search for more. Toby has already mentioned a 600KM, 10,000 metre ride around Wales, my first thought was WHY that’s madness, and then I saw that same pattern develop, Can I? Should I? WHY?