We all love cycling because on a bike anything is possible – That was one of many thoughts that passed through my mind last Saturday as I attempted to climb the height of Mount Everest on a bike in a single day.
The day began with a beautiful orange sky at 4.45am at the summit of Powers the Pot and Tickincor. Red sky in the morning, that’s only an old wives tale, I told myself with little conviction. On the way up in the van a tingle had travelled down my spine upon seeing posters of encouragement made by the schoolchildren of Rathgormack. Others had painted my name with slogans on the road. A small idea had begun to gather momentum.
Parking the van up there, loaded with food and water gave a beacon of respite for each of the 21 times that I would see it again that day. Dropping down Tickincor to begin the initial ascent I felt excited, the day had finally arrived.
For seven years I had wanted to take on a cycling challenge that was out of the ordinary and would benefit two charities that really meant something to me. Last year an article in Cycling weekly caught my eye. It was all about a guy in England who had climbed the height of Mount Everest in a single day on his bike. It looked incredibly hard, it looked incredibly tough, it also looked exciting.
At Ferryhouse bridge I met the first two of the many accomplices that would help me to reach the summit each time. We took on the climb nice and steady. I spent much of it in my lowest gear, a 34 x 32.
Second time down and two guys who I had never met before were waiting. They had driven from Stradbally to arrive in Clonmel at 5.45am to help me out. Initially they were to cycle one lap but ended up doing three. The tone for the day was set.
Ascent after ascent more and more came along, as did the roadside supporters. I was astonished to find people on the roadside there to cheer me on at 6am on a Bank Holiday Saturday morning.
By the fourth time up professional photos were being taken and I began to wonder how a solo endeavour was gathering so much momentum. I had not asked anyone other than my wife to help but a pattern emerged throughout the day of literally hundreds of people cheering me on and helping in every way possible.
Not once did I get a physical push but all day and well into the night I was mentally stretchered to the top by the support and encouragement of friends, family and generous well wishers.
A pattern also emerged where I lost a minute or two on the way up, stopped for 2 -3 minutes at the top to refuel and then made some time back on the descent. Hydraulic disc brakes and a familiarity with the tricky descent helped.
Lap four I also had a slightly extended stop to have a coffee and croissant courtesy of John D Kelly. Lap 8 I stopped at Powers the Pot where Ciara had set up ‘basecamp’ and had soup, a roll, coffee and a small sandwich.
By lap 11 I was really suffering and hoping that it was time to stop again but I still had another to go. I made it to 12 but fatigue was really setting in. Coffee, a scone and a muller rice revived me but physically I was still hurting. Isolated pain in a knee, a hip and shoulder had all merged with pains everywhere else to become a single entity of non specific searing pain coursing throughout my body. Time to get back on the bike.
It took a lap to come around but just as I began to feel a semblance of power return to my body the southerly 50kph headwind that had been there since around 11am gathered momentum and delivered a deluge of falling rain.
It was so wet I fully expected the roadside to become deserted but the opposite happened. Those with umbrellas got them. Those without stayed there anyway and were joined by others.
On lap 15 I was shivering on the decent and got a speed wobble at 70kph. I had to fight the initial reaction to lock up and go for the brakes. Instead I focused upon relaxing my upper body and loosening my grip on the bars. My shivering arms had caused the speed wobble so by loosening my grip the transfer to the bars was eliminated.
After summiting on lap 16 I stopped and went into the warmth of Powers the Pot to change and get some coffee and food. I had to be helped out of my clothing as I wasn’t able to undress myself. I felt like a baby but was too wrecked to care.
Within 15 minutes I had my ONDA Rain Jersey and Waterproof leggings on and was ready for action again. It would still be another two laps before I would feel any strength in my body.
I had told Ciara at the stop that I would now stop every second lap but as it took me so long to get going again after the stops I decided to ride all the way to the end with only the stops at the summit to refill my bottle and grab a very quick fig roll or banana in under three minutes.
A gale was now blowing as the heavens emptied all that they had down upon us. If I was going to be challenged it would be full on. Descending on lap 18 with rain pouring down I silently told myself that this was my kind of weather and the adrenaline kicked in. I did one of my fastest descents of the day, got the heart rate back up and knew that I would reach the finish.
Another incentive to make it was the fact that my wife and daughters drive up and down Tickincor every day going to and from school. If I failed what would be their thoughts of Daddy 5 days per week ? I was also doing this for a reason. I’m no doctor and I’m no economist but the one thing that I can do is to ride a bike. This was my way of reciprocating the great work of others that I had benefitted from in the past.
I now had support cars front and back, marhsalls stopping traffic on every junction and domestiques shepherding me along and a saturated cheering crowd, none of which was pre organised. The strength of others brought me towards the finish.
On lap 21 I looked at the Garmin and saw the magic number of 8848m appear as we passed Powers the Pot but I needed to allow for any imperfections in the measurement and decided to stick to the plan of doing another lap but rather than finishing at the top I would finish at Powers the Pot where the largest crowd were gathered and where there was shelter from the now raging storm.
Last time up I was joined by the Strava kings of Tickincor, Jack and Mark, and was sure that I was on my fastest lap of the day. I wasn’t but at least I felt good enough to think that.
The finish finally appeared and I was humbled to see how many people were willing to stand on a pitch dark mountainside in pouring rain and driving wind after eleven at night just to help reach my destination.
On paper, physically I could not climb that mountain 23 times, neither could those who normally avoid Tickincor like the plague yet accompanied me 2, 3 and 4 times up the climb, but we all did because anything is possible on a bike !
My aim was to raise a euro for every meter climbed for the South Tipperary Hospice and the Asthma society of Ireland which is €8848. I really appreciate the generosity of everyone who donated and made the final total €9054
Age : 42
Height : 6’3”
Weight : 81 kg