With flights booked to arrive in Melbourne at 7am on the Friday, and wanting to spend as much time as I could with family, getting everything together for an everesting was going to be a logistical nightmare. In steps Lewis Greenhalgh and NBRcc. Before I had even asked, Lew was on the phone through the week and simply asked, “What do you need”. In no time at all, my cycling mates in Melbourne had everything prepared so all that I needed to do was turn up and ride.
Friday night I spent at Esther (Donna’s cousin) and Dave’s house in Belgrave. Not coincidentally, they live on Glen Harrow Heights Rd. We’d stayed there once before, and on that occasion I’d ridden a couple of laps and had decided it would be a great climb to attempt a great number of laps. With my new Focus Izalco Max assembled and lights attached, kit laid out and warm clothes at hand, I got a good night’s sleep all ready for a 6am start.
The first step out of the door at 5:50am cam with an icy bite in the air. But I was rugged up and mentally prepared for a lot worse. Warming up was going to be a simple exercise of riding up the hill, and fortunately, the hill was short enough so as not to get too cold on the descent. A bit of brake rub on the rear was evident, but not overly vexing at that point. I rolled the 20 metres or so to the bottom, and saw two cars had arrived in early support. John van Seters and Shane Harold, there for the early sherpa duties. There for a mate, there for a cause. I’ve read several accounts of friends (and strangers) turning up on an everesting and riding a bunch of laps to help a cyclist get through. All of them describe how much easier the task became with others supporting. For me, that is no different. On this occasion, I was overwhelmed. It wasn’t that I expected to be riding by myself; I doubt I could get away with that in Melbourne if I tried! The difference was in friends turning up during a time of grief and emotion. I didn’t see anyone that day that wasn’t wearing their heart on their sleeve.
A couple of laps by myself to get warmed up. My outer most layers of clothing were shed by one lap, and soon Shane and John were geared up and riding with me. And soon after that another group of faces in the dark (not all recognisable, unfortunately). Before I knew it, 20 laps were down, I was feeling good, and I’d finally stopped to sort out the brake rub. At one point, 14 Grey stripes were lapping the hill with me, and an incredible number of others came out to either ride or watch in support.
I was extremely fortunate to also have Donna, Esther and Dave there for almost the entire effort. Second breakfast, second coffee, lunch, second lunch and so on, all came with a smile and words of encouragement. A marquee had been set up, a visitor board screwed to the fence, police dealt with and best of all, family and friends welcomed to the effort. In the world of everesting, there are those cyclists that can endure the 8848m. There are those that will sherpa without a moment hesitation. And there are people that never even try to understand it. But luckily, there are brilliant individuals that accept an everester, respect their dedication, and are able to convey to those that doubt that it is possible; to show the meaning to those that see it as meaningless; and perhaps most importantly, they beam with positivity.
More laps, more food, more sherpas, no more gears, more than half way. With over 4000 vertical metres in my legs, I still felt great. Sure, I had a twinge in my knee, and a sore lower back, most likely as a result of not having ridden anything steep in months, but it didn’t feel like a laboured chore. Surrounded by supporters in purple, calling out to mark off more vert, seeing many extended family members visit and always, always having a constant rhythm meant that it was just a matter of taking the time to get it done. Vigilance in watching for oncoming traffic was the only distraction to knocking out more and more laps – I felt as though I was barely taking breaks, and felt it a shame to not take the chance to talk to many people that I had just met, and many people that I haven’t seen in a long time. Fortunately, there was neither an incident with cars, nor any hard feelings with those who would have liked to catch up more.
Come late afternoon with darkness arriving, so to did the chill start to set in. With my gillet back on, lights donned once more and even more fervour to finish the task, the last laps were flying past in my mind. My lap counter on the Garmin was keeping count, and the vertical gain was edging away in front of my stem, and on the tally board. The average lap time had been dropping since late morning – it would seem I’d done enough laps, and was taking short enough breaks, that this average could stay pretty constant. Con, Marko and David and Donna were there to ride the last laps with me, and I Shannon and Dan even ran a lap with me (Shannon and Erin had walked several, in fact). What I’d set out to achieve physically was coming to an end. Emotionally, I wasn’t trying to achieve anything, but I was certainly feeling a moment of peace.
One last, long pause at the top of the climb. A pause for Ally. It was time for me to descend. But not time for Ally – she will remain at the top of all my climbs – a cheeky little girl with frizzy blonde hair and a purple patch over her eye.