After participating in the 2021-2022 session of BaseCamp, Jennifer joined the Giddy Up Challenge and completed a full Everest!
Warning – this is one of those short stories that will read “See More…” 8 weeks of prep for a single ride with a simple theme – ride your bike on a selected hill until you have reached the height of Mt Everest (29,029 feet). To prepare, I joined the Rebecca Rusch Giddy Up Challenge Training 8-week training program. Besides getting access to Rebecca’s coach, Tim Cusick, and PhD nutrition guru, Namrita Brooke, it came with a community of like-minded riders from across the country and world (I think 9 different countries) participating in the event to raise money for the Be Good Foundation, with all proceeds going to non-profits that protect the outdoor open spaces we recreate in.
The last two weeks leading up to the event, I had been unable to locate the “perfect hill” near my home in Texas. The hill needed to be between 5-8% average grade from bottom to top and be close enough to my house for easy logistics. Unsuccessful, I decided to do the ride on my indoor smart trainer, which can simulate the hill I needed. However, my friend, Chris Jennings, sent me a link to a hill in Mena AR he had ridden 10 years ago. It was the perfect hill! Low traffic, average grade 8.3% & tree coverage for shade.
With the change in plans came the change in bike and gearing to use, and a dash to my local bike shop, Mad Duck Cyclery, for their help in converting my “old school” 2013 road bike to a climbing machine with plenty of gears. They replaced the back cog set with SRAM Eagle giving me a 50-tooth chain ring if needed (luckily it never got that bad for my legs), and effectively converted the front rings to a 1 x setup (one chainring) by removing my front derailleur. I didn’t need that big ring, as the downhills were plenty steep, and it was more about needing brakes on the way down than needing to pedal.
I made a weekend drive to the state park in Arkansas the weekend before my challenge to scout the course and test my wings. I did 9,300 feet of climbing that day to simulate 1/3 of the challenge and what my needs might be if I multiplied that effort by 3 (later I discovered you should probably multiply that effort by 4 or 5, as the last 5k feet of climbing can be a lot harder when your body is getting tired). I also found our lodging and stayed in the exact cabin I would use for a base the day of the ride. This took some of my anxiety away of traveling 4 hours for the challenge (controlling the controllable).
I spent this past week prepping for the ride – a little each night. I felt great my last zoom meeting Monday night with the training program. However, they smartly recommended not only having Plan A, but Plan B and Plan C also. This sent me into a frenzy of finding more gear.
I needed not only my main bike, but a back up bike (which also needed enough climbing gears). I needed backup lights for the early morning hours and late-night hours. I needed warm weather clothes, but also rain clothes for the thunderstorms that were predicted for my early morning start, but also cold weather clothes and a down puffy jacket. I needed nutrition 20 bottles worth, alternating 4 different drink mixes with a combination of other solid foods to consume the appropriate calories and carbs per hour. I needed a spreadsheet for Johnan of what to have ready after every three laps (1 hour or riding) and how to mix up new bottles as we went. I needed a charger for my bike computer in case power was low midride, and for my phone (my backup recording device), but also had 2 other backup bike computers (just in case). I needed my regular road cycling shoes, but also a backup set with new cleats. I needed a pair of mtn bike shoes for my back up bike because it had different pedals.
Provisions! I guess I’ve always been this way. Just ask any of my old road traveling friends, Kricket Lewis, that I traveled and raced with. I was the “bag lady.” Did you ever read that book (I forget the name) when you were a child, that started each page with, “So, I packed my bag with sweaters, and socks and hats and gloves, and mittens and scarves, and ….” That was me for this race! I filled the entire pickup truck bed full of gear. Johnan was amazed I fit it all in as she carried out bag after bag, Tupperware bins of food and coolers for me to load. Tetris – First challenge accomplished! We set off two hours later than I wanted. No matter how much time I have to prepare, I always manage to use all of it and more.
From there everything was calming. Johnan put on some instrumental nature music for me in the truck as she drove the 4 hours to Mena. We grabbed dinner to go at my now favorite Mexican restaurant (in Mena), and then to our room in the Lodge at Queen Wilhelmina State Park. We unpacked half of my provisions, ate our dinner, and then to bed.
Heavy thunderstorms pounded outside. I still had hopes they would stop an hour or two earlier than predicted. I got up at 3:30am, made coffee in the room, fired up my backpacking stove and boiled water for my oatmeal. The rain had stopped! The mountain was calling. Johnan took the dogs to potty outside and returned to the room to tell me it was windy and cold, and that we were in a “cloud”. I added some clothing layers and my rain jacket for the descent (our lodge was at the top of the mountain) and I rode down Rich Mountain to the start of my challenge. This was good, as I was able to go slow and spot all the debris on the descent, as well as make some adjustment to my lights (mostly to tighten my headlight).
It was 5:40am when I started. I ditched my rain jacket once I realized only the top half of the course was in a cloud. I didn’t want to overheat on the climb. The bottom half of the climb was clear with good visibility, and the top was damp with lots of runoff crossing the road. Johnan waited for me to complete a lap then headed back to the room to check out.
As usual, nothing ever changes. When I hit my start button on my bike computer, although no one was around me and this was not a “race”, I couldn’t hold the horses back. I set my PR (personal record) on the climb the first time up the hill, and 2nd female on the climb on STRAVA. I was trying to keep my Heartrate in zone 2 for this ride, but I did not obey on lap 1. This was not the “best” thing to do, as I was reminded by a beeping on my computer 51 more times as I climbed the mountain that I was “behind” my PR and by how many seconds, which grew to minutes by the end of the day. ☹
I settled into the ride and my music. My playlist is small, only 1hr 20 minutes in total. I must have listened to it about 9 times before switching to podcasts. I had a combination of some of my favorite songs, as well as a few “looney tunes” that managed to find their way in. This entertained me for the first 9 hours until my gravel riding friend, Chris Jennings, showed up with a fellow cyclist friend, Christian. They road 8 or 9 laps with me (somewhere between 4-5K feet) and it was so nice to have them there during the hotter part of the day when the sun was out. On one lap, Christian went flying up the hill so fast that I thought he was going to blow me over. I can’t wait for him to upload that ride to STRAVA. Christian and Chris took some photos to give me later. Most impressive was Christian carrying his nice camera up the hill on one of the climbs and then descending with it and not crashing!
Not long after my friends headed home, a U-Haul truck passed with the rear door open. The back was filled with a bunch of guys in motorcycle clothing. I wondered where their motorcycles were. I made the descent, and on my next lap up as I approached a switchback, a street luger came speeding around the corner. His shoes had ¾” road tires glued to the bottoms and he scraped them to the pavement to brake. He was followed by all the others. The lingering smell of burning brakes permeated the air. We said hello at the top and bottom of each run. They took at least 4 runs, and on the last one down, followed me with their video cams on. I will share the footage if we connect on Instagram.
The lugers headed home, and the afternoon stream of campers headed to the state park was now complete. The mountain was bedding down for the night. Then, I u-turned at the top for my descent with 6 more laps to go. I hit a pothole that I didn’t see with my rear tire. I screamed bad words knowing that would probably cause a “pinch flat”. As predicted and within seconds, the air left my tire, and I had a flat (repair kit 1.4 miles down below at the truck). Rather than run down the mountain in my cleats, I chose to ride it down. I had to go slow and try to keep all the weight on my front tire. At the bottom, I left my bike with Johnan, changed my lights and my shoes over to my backup bike, and headed back up.
Johnan got the flat changed before I returned on my next lap, but I chose to do one more lap on my gravel bike because my mountain bike shoes were a welcome change after so many laps in my road shoes. However, my climbing times were much slower, so I switched back to my primary bike with 4 laps to go, and Johnan followed me up the hill and back down in the truck for the duration in case I flatted again. Did I mention that being support crew is harder work than doing the challenge itself? Just ask Johnan.
With 2 to go, feeling extra tired, and pitch dark now, I felt my steering become weird. And then a bump, bump, bump, bump, bump. I assumed it was the tube forcing its way out of the tire in the back from a possible slit in the tire, but not wanting to waste any more time, I chose to keep riding to the top. At the top, I inspected the bike. I had ridden that entire climb up on a flat front tire! No wonder my steering was so bad. At one point, I almost rode off the road into a culvert. My brain wasn’t working too clearly at that point, or I probably would have recognized the front flat sooner. I just thought my legs were tired!
I finished the Everesting lap out and decided to do 1 extra lap for good measure in case any altitude gains were inaccurate on my computer. The extra lap gave me over 30,000 feet of climbing, and personal satisfaction that as Mt Everest continues to grow taller by 2cm a year, my ride will always be at least that high for as long as I’m alive. In case you were wondering though, there is a 10k Everesting challenge, (33,000 feet, or a double Everest Challenge that are up for grabs). Lol.
Regarding my nutrition, it was spot on thanks to Namrita Brooke. I was drinking 1 bottle per hour and fueling with the right carbs and calories, resulting in potty breaks once an hour through bottle 13. After that, the potty breaks were less frequent, but I never cramped (which I normally do have issues with). Huge Thank you for that, as Nutrition is the #1 reason many people fail at Everesting.
To all of you that donated to the cause - Thank you from the bottom of my heart. If anyone missed the link in prior posts and wants to donate to the Be Good Foundation to help protect our Open Spaces, please let me know and I will repost.
I enjoyed crawling into bed last night! Thank you, Johnan, for being my support crew in life and in any epic challenges I take on.