Cycling a High Rouleurs Society ride: HRS The Journey – Exmoor

Please note, none of these pictures were taken during the actual HRS ride – I was solo and busy riding my bike, plus the weather was poor for much of the time. They all feature Tom Townsend on the same climbs though – just in better weather!

I said it silently to myself, over and over again: “Flat road is my enemy. Flat road is my enemy. Flat road is my enemy…”

This would be my mantra for the next 36 hours. It was 6.17am on a murky Tuesday morning in August as I started my Garmin and headed east, away from the coast – uphill, of course. The clock was now ticking.

I’d just embarked on a High Rouleurs Society (HRS) ride, called The Journey. Like an Everesting, HRS rides are overseen by the lovely folks at HELLS 500 in Melbourne. ‘All’ I needed to do was complete my ride within the HRS Rules, upload proof – my ride data from my Garmin – to Strava and Veloviewer and HELLS 500 would then sign off on the challenge, assuming they were happy with my data.

HELLS 500 oversee three types of ride: Everestings and the two types of qualifying HRS ride: The Limit and The Journey. All three require preparation, a significant effort and a long time in the saddle. They’re all ‘special’, but if I could keep just one, it might just be The Journey. Most people probably assume an Everesting would be more precious, but I’m not so sure: read on. 

Not many people have completed an HRS ride full stop, but for those that do, The Limit is much more common because the qualifying criteria are most easily achieved by tacking extra laps onto an Everesting ride:

  • 10,000m vertical
  • no minimum distance
  • no time limit
  • no sleep allowed

I’d added 10 extra laps to my Everesting of Whiteleaf in 2016, so had already ticked part of the HRS box, but not all of it. The Journey had been on my mind ever since. The rules were simple – but different:

  • 10,000m vertical
  • 400km minimum distance
  • 36 hours elapsed time limit
  • sleep is allowed

I think my love affair with The Journey really starts with maps. I’m old enough to remember laying maps out on the kitchen table when planning a ride. My brain is wired in such a way that I feel happiest when I can visualise the whole, rather than just what I can see on a small screen. This is where The Journey starts to push all the right buttons: it requires route planning.

No matter where you plan to complete your ride, the clock is against you and that requires two thought processes: first, how to get as much vertical into your ride as possible in the shortest distance (and I added a personal addition to this – “without resorting to reps”) and second, how much time you can allow yourself off the bike, asleep? The journey requires planning and I love planning. It’s one of my strengths and helps make up for the fact that I’m no more than an average cyclist compared to some of the extraordinary cyclists I meet!

Maybe not physically, but mentally and logistically, I had The Journey down as ‘harder’ than The Limit. For a start, it was effectively a two day effort, rather than a single ride. Perhaps the bigger challenge though was simply finding a route that was short enough to complete in the time-frame, but that included enough hills for the required vertical gain. In the world’s big mountain ranges, this would be relatively easy, but in the UK, it’s really quite difficult. I plotted the route three times in Wales and on each occasion, decided the route was just too long – 700km+. There were simply too many ‘flat transfers’ between climbs and the 36 hour time limit would beat me.

I turned my attention to Exmoor in the south-west of England instead. It’s a relatively small, quiet, beautiful moorland, reaching a mere 500m above sea level, but it’s criss-crossed by an extensive network of small roads – there were literally hundreds of climbs and many of them started from sea level, so the ascent soon accumulated. Added to that, the general flavour was ‘steep’, so although the vertical gain would be hard, it would also be fast and therefore suitably ‘efficient’ for a ride like The Journey. There were no flat roads on Exmoor.

Sure enough, my first serious attempt at plotting a route gave me 10,500m of vertical in just 444km. Game on.

The next challenge was logistics and again, Exmoor delivered. I had a base I could use on the western edge of the moor, plus my route visited one particular intersection, at the highest point, four times, so on the evening before my attempt, I drove up to that point and stashed a coolbox behind a wall, full of water, food, spare tubes and CO2, plus lights and battery packs to see me through both days.

The weather however wasn’t playing ball. A seemingly good forecast had failed to spot that sea fog would roll in off the sea over the next few days and as I drove back home, the conditions resembled winter – poor visibility, soaking wet and truly filthy roads!

I toyed with calling it off, but felt committed enough to stick with the plan.

Day 1: A 5.00am alarm is never fun. I ate breakfast, drank some coffee and kitted up. ASSOS of Switerland had just sent me their brand new ‘wet weather jersey’ developed for the BMC World Tour Team. Called the Liberty, it was supposed to be perfect for exactly these sorts of conditions. I stuck it on over my normal jersey and in the pre-light of dawn, rolled away at 6.17am. 

In the first few hours, I established various things: I had good legs, the roads were filthy and the fog wasn’t going away. I spent the first five hours in fine rain. My bike and I slowly changed colour from ‘clean’ to ‘farmyard brown’. I stopped drinking from my bottles, except when stationary, with the lid removed! Then I punctured: my summer tyres weren’t really up to these unexpected conditions. I toyed with just heading home – I was no more than an hour away from a hot shower and my chimp suggested I could regard this as a ‘test-run’ and try again, later in the week.

But I know my chimp well and we play this game regularly. I told him that we should at least continue to the top of the moor and my food stash. If the visibility up there was too bad then, well OK, I’d quit on the grounds that it was too dangerous to continue. Pact made. Chimp silenced for a while. Onwards. Upwards.

The top of the moor was foggy and yes, it was soaking wet, but it wasn’t terrible, so I decided to just carry on – my legs felt great and I knew that days like that didn’t come along all the time, so I should use them. I restocked on water, food, spare tubes + CO2 and headed eastward across the moor, using every climb I could in my relentless search for vertical.

There was however, a fundamental problem: my Garmin had only registered about 25% of my climbing in the first five hours or so. I knew that I should have been approaching 3,000m by now, but the Garmin said just 700m! I sent my son Tom a message back at basecamp and he re-plotted the route on various different apps, responding with reassurance that I was well on track.

Back in the planning phase, I’d added two additional personal rules: no hill repeats (I might repeat the odd climb on the following day if it led to something else, but I wouldn’t run laps), and a resolve to do Exmoor proud i.e. I’d include some of the hardest climbs, even though they’d weaken me. To that end, around early afternoon I found myself on Dunkery Beacon. Simon Warren’s book, 100 Greatest Climbs, gives this 10/10 for difficulty and he’s not far wrong. It’s long and savagely steep, throughout. Even worse, I’d resolved to cross the River Exe at the 1,000 year old stone clapper bridge known as Tarr Steps, but to get to that, I had two 25% climbs and to escape the valley afterwards, I had another really nasty, 28% berg. By the time I headed west again, back across the moor to my food stash, I’d got 200km and 5,000m under my belt.

Another muddy farmyard resulted in my second rear wheel flat, but again, I was able to restock on spares, refuel and collect my lights at my stash. With evening drawing near, I headed north across the moor to Lynton, from where I began the final run back to base via four big climbs which would collectively give me another 1,000m of up: Valley of Rocks, Jose’s Lane, Coombe Martin and Ilfracombe.

Quiet roads, amazing evening light. Darkness came and the drizzle and fog rolled back in.

Finally back at base around 10.00pm, I sat at the kitchen table while Jenny (my wife), fed me and I relayed my route to Tom once again, who declared my day to be no less than 6,000m (and 262km). A big day – one of my largest ever in terms of up (outside of Everestings).

I managed to eat, shower, stretch and go to bed within an hour. Six hours sleep was a complete luxury.

I rolled away at 7.00am the following morning, again in slightly damp, murky conditions. As I did so, two thoughts crossed my mind: first, that the Journey was a wonderfully ‘proper bike ride’ and second, my Garmin was struggling to register ascent again!

Just an hour and a half later, I felt the familiar signs of a bonk looming: hilarious, so early in the day. A sandwich and cake in a seaside town solved that problem and I rode onwards, only ever climbing or descending. Slowly, as the day wore on, the weather improved. My legs were still pretty good, all things considered and I knew the ride was in the bag as I left my food stash for the very last time and headed west towards the coast with a couple of hours to spare. My Garmin steadfastly refused to play catch up and even though I kept throwing in extra climbs, it never got past 8,000m, but a final tally gave me at least 10,400m of ascent in 444km, with 30 minutes to spare.

I sat on a bench overlooking the sea, catching the late afternoon sunshine and pondering other Journey possibilities: Tom had plotted an absolute killer ride in the north of England which scared me every time I thought of it…

The Journey: a ‘proper’ bike ride.

SGL, Summer 2018.

Project 17,696 aka A Double Everesting Saga

Of all my Everestings to date, this story is the most involved and the longest (in duration, if not words), yet for now, it’s still incomplete. It’s just possible that I’ve bitten off more than I can chew.

In late Autumn 2018, with five successive Everestings completed, I (foolishly?) pondered trying something harder. Twice as hard in fact: a Double Everesting. To qualify for a double, I’d simply need to record 17,696m (58,058ft) of ascent in a single ride, either on one climb, or two adjacent climbs i.e. that shared the same summit – like this: ʌ

A handful of people had completed this worldwide (in fact, a Triple Everesting is also a thing!!!), but no one had done a Double in the UK and I was definitely enticed by this additional carrot.

Besides the option to complete two different climbs, there was only one other rule (in addition to all the existing single Everesting rules): two hours of cumulative sleep was allowed, the idea being to avoid critical tiredness and an accident. Given a Double Everesting is likely to involve a 48 hour effort, this didn’t seem particularly generous! I Googled ‘sleep strategies for ultra-endurance sports’ and started reading…

The other area that needed attention was nutrition and hydration. Having finished three of my previous Everestings feeling nauseous (and therefore less inclined to eat), I knew I had to find a better fuelling formula if I was to have any chance of success. I researched the topic at length and also engaged first one and then an alternative, sports nutritionist.

By mid-June 2019, I felt ready. I pulled the plug on my first attempt just the evening before, feeling like I had a slight virus (a good call – it turned out that I had a mild cold for a few days afterwards). At the end of June, I tried again and reached 7,000m pretty easily, riding alternate laps on two steep hills that shared the same summit. But then suddenly, after around 14 hours, I felt the familiar signs of nausea. With the night closing in, my mind, usually one of my key assets, instantly capitulated: I had another 10,000m+ to go and I was nowhere near completion on either hill, so ‘salvaging’ a single Everesting wasn’t even an option. I packed up and drove home with my tail between my legs.

Kop Hill around mid morning, about 3,000m done. Pic by Mike Edwards.

Over the following days, my son Tom (a skilled researcher of all things cycling related and a far more talented rider than me: ) analysed my fuelling in great detail and declared that my symptoms were almost certainly the early signs of hypanatremia: where your sodium levels fall below an acceptable level, with all sorts of serious consequences: nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, fits and coma. For ultra-endurance athletes, this is a particularly tricky thing to avoid – you’re both losing salt, at the same time as taking on lots of fluids, meaning that your sodium levels can become dangerously diluted, very easily.

Tom designed a new fuelling plan and I determined to try it out on a single Everesting, asap and pending the results of that, try the Double again, as soon as a suitable time and weather window presented itself.

And so, on a Thursday evening in early August, I found myself driving through a thunder storm in the remote mountains of west Wales. The thunder storm wasn’t forecast and I was worried that my drive might be a complete waste of time: my target climb was entirely gravel and in the wet, it would have been grim!

I parked up on the track, deep in a Welsh forest, somewhere around midnight, crawled into the back of the car and went to sleep.

I rolled out around 5.30am, as soon as there was enough light to see by. I’d only ridden this track once before, back in 2017 and had fallen instantly in love. First it was in a beautiful place, rising from the ruins of an 11th Century Cistercian abbey to a mountain top, 3km away. Second, the track actually had a name: Strata Florida – Latin for ‘Vale of Flowers’, which I thought was pretty cool as names for gravel tracks go! Third, it was good, smooth gravel and very constantly graded – pretty much 7%, all the way, meaning I could really settle into a rhythm. Finally, I just love gravel and this part of Wales, so I was motivated to spend 24 hours there.

Strata Florida – a heavenly 3km gravel climb in west Wales.

I completed the first Everesting of Strata Florida in 21.5hrs, which I was pretty pleased with, given it was on gravel (and inevitably slower than asphalt therefore). I’d still felt slightly nauseous in the last few hours, but also had an inkling that if I’d taken a proper break, it would have gone away, so I decided the experiment had been largely successful and started planning my rematch with the Double.

Then, in mid-August, a headline flashed up in my social media feed: “The UK’s First Double Everesting.”

Damn. I’d worried about that for a while – if I was trying it, others would be too. In reality, there were just a handful of people in the UK in the summer of 2019 likely to attempt the Double and Alex Hill was one of those. He even sent me a note afterwards apologising – top man! I asked myself if I remained committed – as Tom explained to my wife “someone’s just chopped the top off Dad’s carrot” – but I pretty quickly reached the conclusion that I still was.

I was already tied up through the rest of August and early September, but late September or early October looked like a genuine window.

But as the old Jewish saying goes “Man plans and God laughs.” At 4.19pm on Wednesday 18th September, Tom was hit by a car whilst out on a training ride, close to home. He was airlifted to hospital with “life threatening injuries” and the coming weeks disappeared in a blur of panic, time in hospital, aiding his recovery and meetings with medical specialists. With a twist of unfathomable irony, Tom even developed severe hyponatremia as a result of his injuries. He fought it off, but his medical team looked startled when they realised we actually knew what they were talking about!

And with another twist, I inadvertently got to practice micro sleep strategies. I’d nip home during the day, sometimes to grab a couple of hours sleep, before returning to hospital. I spent the nights on the floor beside his bed, until he was able to move without help. Without intending to, I experimented with micro sleeps – anything from a few minutes, up to about four hours. What I discovered was that waking up from 45 to 60 minutes sleep felt (relatively) great, but getting going again after anything longer felt truly awful.

Remarkably and in spite of injuries which included a broken neck and a broken pelvis, Tom climbed gently onto his Wattbike just 11 days after the accident and slowly started his rehabilitation. As inspiring stories go, this was truly extraordinary and of course, the gentle exercise aided the speed of his recovery.

Sat in Tom’s hospital room, I’d been watching the weather out of the window. It started to rain just a couple of days after his crash and continued for 31 days straight. So even if fate hadn’t played such a cruel hand, an attempt on the Double would have been out of the question anyway. Before I knew it, we were into November and I reluctantly conceded that ‘Project 17,696’ had been deferred to Spring 2020.

So, I have reset. One major change is that I’ve switched hills: my new target is a super consistent (10% average) climb in a beautiful setting on Exmoor. There’s an extended version of the climb that I intend to Everest first (which will be a new Everesting), after which I’ll switch to the shorter version (which has been Everested before). This makes for easier base camp logistics and more chance to get into a rhythm. It also means I can hopefully still salvage a single Everesting, if something goes wrong with the Double attempt.

Stay tuned for updates. From a bike perspective, this has become my all-consuming focus, as well as my potential nemesis.

SGL, December 2019.

Background notes and details of my first Double attempt can be found below:

What is Everesting?

The idea behind Everesting couldn’t be simpler: cycle up and down a hill, repeatedly, until you’ve tallied 8,848m of cumulative ascent – the height of Mount Everest. The reality is a c.20 – 24 hour endurance battle that pushes you towards your physical and mental limits. Succeed, and you become a member of the elite HELLS 500 club – a global affiliation of cyclists who have Everested.

You can Everest any hill or mountain in the world by logging 8,848m of ascent on the same route in a single stint. Breaks are allowed but sleep isn’t. Typical attempts take around 20 – 24 hours, so it’s a significant test of both physical endurance and mental resolve.  If you succeed, you upload your GPS data onto Once it’s been vetted and approved, you gain a place in the Everesting Hall of Fame and receive a highly coveted HELLS 500 grey stripe jersey to prove it.

For your climb to count, you need to follow the official rules:

  • Record 8,848m (29,029ft) of total elevation gain
  • Follow one route on one hill
  • Descend on the same route you climb
  • No sleep – you must complete the challenge in a single stint
  • Breaks (eating, drinking, recharging) are included in your time
  • You must reach the summit of the hill every time
  • You must descend safely and get back home
  • No time limit

What is a Double Everesting?

 To qualify for a double, you need to record 17,696m (58,058ft) of ascent in a single ride. No one has yet done this in the UK (and only a handful of people have done this worldwide).

There are two additional rules:

  • You can complete the entire ride on the same hill, or climb two different hills i.e. two separate Everests, providing there’s no kinetic assistance at the bottom i.e. this works: ʌ , but this doesn’t: v
  • You’re allowed up to two hours sleep during the second Everesting, in an attempt to improve rider safety

Whiteleaf Hill and Kop Hill, Chiltern Hills, UK

I planned to Everest two hills that shared the same summit. They were both very steep, meaning that I gained height quickly, but they were physically hard. Kop Hill (1km at c.10% average, 25% max) required 89 repetitions and Whiteleaf Hill (1.3km at c.10% average, 25% max) required 70 repetitions.

I estimated the ride would take c.44 hours, including breaks. I would have ridden c.370km (230 miles).

I planned to take two 45 minute ‘micro-sleeps’ during the second Everesting, with 30 minutes held in reserve if needed.

I gave myself just a 50% chance of success, despite feeling well prepared – this proved to be a fair guess! This is undoubtedly the hardest non-multi stage ride that I’ve attempted, by some margin.




That’s a question I’ve asked myself repeatedly! Having Everested five times (now six – see above), already (including on Whiteleaf Hill in 2016), I’m drawn to the questions ‘What if I just kept going? What am I capable of?’

I also intend to use the ride to raise funds for my late sister’s charity, the Lucy Monro Memorial Trust. Lucy died in an accident in 2015, whilst riding in a cycling event in Dubai. In life, she had consistently championed and supported three charitable themes: child support and education, disaster relief and animal welfare, worldwide.

In the wake of her passing, we – her family and close friends – established the Lucy Monro Memorial Trust to continue these efforts in Lucy’s name. Four years on, these are some examples of things that the Trust has done:

  • the refurbishment of two schools in Nepal and restocking their libraries with books
  • the provision of bespoke/modified bicycles for children suffering/recovering from cancer in the UK (ongoing)
  • the rescue of 33 children from slavery (and worse) in India and returned them to school in Nepal
  • a project to empower women in remote parts of the world by providing them with sustainable sanitary products
  • built and equipped a science lab for a girls school in Nepal

I, my wife Jenny and Lucy’s partner Allan are the Trustees of LMMT and together we absorb all of the charity’s costs. Her Dubai based cycling team (Team LMT) ride on in her name and contribute funds every year. ALL funds raised go entirely to the charities we choose to support and we due-diligence those charities thoroughly. In particular, we support causes and appeals where the outcome is immediate and very tangible.

I’m asking people to sponsor me per metre climbed and in so doing, assist with my mental resolve when the ride turns grim!


The beauty of an Everesting is that you can pick any date you like. I had earmarked a number of ‘windows’ in June and July, when daylight hours were at their longest, but in reality I can try on any day (s) of the year.

I usually take the first date that presents a reasonable weather window: dry, ideally not too hot and without a headwind.

How to Follow my Progress?

I and/or my helpers will update my Instagram account quite regularly: @sirguylitespeed and that will also cover my Facebook account: Guy Litespeed

If you have any queries, please contact me:

Thank you for reading this and for any support you feel able to offer.

Guy, June 2019.

Mauna Kea: Cycling the Hardest Climb in the World

All images by Bruno of Kupau Tours, Hawai’i, unless otherwise stated. Click on any image to view full screen and then use your back button to return to the text. Thank you Bruno for the awesome pics.

I was hunched over my bike, resting my forehead on my handlebars. My heart rate was maxed and I was taking breaths in great gasps. I’d been riding up this single climb for over nine hours already, but the summit was still 4km away, within sight, but 600m above me. So near and yet so far. I wasn’t sure that I could make it. 

I’d put my winter gloves on an hour ago, but my hands were still going numb, starting with my thumbs and then moving inwards, finger by finger, as I gained altitude. Since I hadn’t been out of first gear for the last four hours and didn’t need to brake, this wasn’t really a big issue. I was yawning repeatedly and my legs moved woodenly. As Bruno, my guide had correctly predicted, things had become tricky around the 3,500m mark and my body was simply telling me, in multiple ways, that it wasn’t getting enough oxygen. 

I rode another 50m and then stopped again. I walked the next 100m and then tried riding again, but the road was locked at 15 – 20% and I didn’t get very far before I needed to stop again. It had been a very long day and my self-inflicted torture wasn’t over yet. 

I’d booked this trip some ten months earlier, in search of an idyllic family holiday, where Tom and I could also ride our bikes. Pete Stuart’s article in Cyclist magazine entitled ‘Mauna Kea: The World’s Hardest Climb’ had also been something of a catalyst, confirming that we’d have some genuine challenges to tackle:

Alongside Mauna Kea (98.5km and 4,192m of ascent), there was also the adjacent Mauna Loa climb (101km and 3,400m of ascent) and Haleakala on Maui – the world’s longest paved climb (without any downhill sections at all), at 60km and 3,000m. By way of comparison, a typical (hard) Tour de France climb might be 20km and 1,500m.

Mauna Kea from the slopes of Mauna Loa. The Saddle Road lies between the two and if you look really closely, you can pick out the gravel zig zags.

Mauna Kea from the slopes of Mauna Loa. The Saddle Road lies between the two and if you look really closely, you can pick out the gravel zig zags, partially concealed by cloud on the right. The ‘wall’ you’re looking at here is 2,200m high. Pic SGL Collection.

By the time we arrived on Hawai’i, aka The Big Island, we’d already sampled Ohau (terrible place to ride bikes, amazing place to ride waves) and Maui (stunning place to ride both bikes and waves), culminating with a successful but very wet and wild ascent of Haleakala. We felt acclimatised and ready. However, one of our key discoveries was that Hawaii’s weather was extremely variable: the easterly Trade Winds were almost always blowing, sometimes very hard and it rained a lot – and by that I mean A LOT! Add into this the occasional thunder storm and in Kea’s and Loa’s cases the risk of snow and ice and it was increasingly evident that finding a day when the conditions offered any chance of success wasn’t going to be easy.

There was a second, even more defining piece of news: the access road to Mauna Kea’s summit was currently closed due to snow and ice. I was praying the sun would melt this problem away – quickly.

Pete Stuart had strongly advised that we’d need vehicular support for Mauna Kea. There was no access to water for long sections of the climb, plus we’d need a way of getting off the mountain safely and quickly in the event of the onset of altitude sickness. After a bit of searching, we’d found Bruno of Kupau Tours ( ), a small company that arranges and hosts bespoke luxury holidays. Agreeing to support our Kea attempt seemed slightly off-piste at first glance, but finding help for Kea had proven nigh on impossible, so I was grateful for their offer to assist. Bruno got in touch on the Wednesday that we arrived and checked that we were still intending to attempt the climb on Friday, as originally planned? That prompted a detailed conversation about the weather: Friday’s forecast was for thunderstorms on Kea, which would be lethal on a bald mountain with absolutely no cover at all. A cyclist might as well pin a target on their back saying ‘strike here’. Saturday looked wet and windy, but Sunday looked good, so with amazing flexibility from Bruno, we settled on that as ‘The Day’.

Sea level to Mauna Kea summit: 4,192m and 98km.

Sea level to Mauna Kea summit: 4,192m and 98km. It looks small, but that’s 2 x Mont Ventoux, stacked on top of each other!!! Pic SGL Collection.

To really understand the nature of the challenge, you need to know something about the history of the Big Island. It’s the youngest island in the Hawaiian chain and is formed of five volcanoes. Some of these are dormant and others are active. The largest two – Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa – are simply huge. Their peaks are above 40% of the atmosphere and 90% of its water vapour, meaning their summits are often clear, even though they appear shrouded in cloud when viewed from below. They’re large enough to have their own micro-climates, so the general forecast may be nothing like what’s happening on the mountain itself. Even more bizarrely, given they’re opposite each other and their summits are probably only 20km apart, they can be experiencing completely different weather at any given time. There could be a storm raging on one, while the other’s bathed in sunshine and an hour later, this could be completely reversed. Sure enough, the weather forecast that had ruled Kea out for Friday looked good for Loa, so Tom dialled in 290 watts for four hours to take the Strava KoM, riding right around a thunder storm in the process:

Tom, still in the big ring and about 3.5 hours into the Mauna Loa climb.

Tom, still in the big ring and about 3.5 hours into the Mauna Loa climb. Note the altitude, written on the road in the foreground. Pic by Jack Townsend.

With this in the bag, he decided not to ride Kea – he’d done his research and didn’t fancy the prospect of loose gravel and walking – so I was on my own, but to be fair, I’d never have been able to keep up with him anyway, so this was OK! I was also purposefully avoiding reading too much more about the climb, for fear of talking myself out of it!

Mauna Kea may get more airtime, but the Mauna Loa road is equally stunning. This is what happens if you decide to lay a road over successive lava flows!

Mauna Kea may get more airtime, but the Mauna Loa road is equally stunning. This is what happens if you decide to lay a road over successive lava flows! Pic by Jack Townsend.

Tom, well past 3,000m - he's getting very close to the summit and the air is dramatically thinner.

Tom, well past 3,000m – he’s getting very close to the summit and the air is dramatically thinner. Pic by Jack Townsend.

From my base on the north west shore of the Big Island, Mauna Kea’s summit was 98.5km away and 4,192m above me. Haleakala aside, my previous biggest climb was Italy’s Colle d’Agnello, a 60km climb with 2,200m of ascent. Mauna Kea was almost double that. My route would take me from Hapuna Beach, eastwards across the island. A couple of steep kms on the hotel access road would lead to an easy 12km southwards on the Kona Ironman course before a left turn commenced the climb proper. Ahead lay the Saddle Road – the remote mountain highway that crosses the 2,000m high col between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa.

Less than an hour into the ride, on the Waikoloa Road, fighting a strong headwind. Mauna Loa looms in the background.

Less than an hour into the Mauna Kea ride, on the Waikoloa Road, fighting a strong headwind. Mauna Loa looms in the background.

After c.70km of varied but pretty much continuous climbing, I’d arrive at the Mauna Kea Access Road, where, laughably, the climb would get much harder. The Access Road is 24.5km long and can be broken down into three sections. The first 10km climbs 800m to a small Visitor Centre, via ever steepening slopes and long 12 – 15% ramps. By the end of this section, you’ll have ridden c.84km from the coast and will have climbed 2,800m from sea level.

At this point, the climb gets even nastier! Ahead lies 7.5km of loose and seriously steep ‘gravel’, although I would later reclassify this as ‘sand and rocks at 10 – 20%’. Bizarrely, 7 km short of the summit, the gravel ends and the tarmac recommences, but in long, ever steepening ramps. With 30 – 40% less oxygen than at sea level, these 10 – 20% slopes would form the very worst part of the climb.

So yes, Mauna Kea would be a long and ludicrously high climb, but the real sting would be the gravel, mixed with the steep gradients of the upper road and the lack of oxygen. I knew I could make it to the Visitor Centre, but above that, nothing was certain.

I exchanged a final few notes with Bruno, (crucially, the summit road had been cleared of snow and ice and was open again), cleaned the chain on my OPEN U.P. and fitted my 40mm Clement (now Donnelly), gravel tyres. I went to bed on Saturday night nervous and slept badly.

7.00am, Sunday morning, 30th December: I was sitting outside the hotel lobby drinking coffee when Bruno arrived and introduced himself with a warm smile and a reassuringly firm handshake. “I feel good about today” he said. I was grateful for his positivity, but not sure that I shared his optimism, given what lay before me. Hawaiian culture says that Mauna Kea is the navel connecting the Earth Mother with the Sky Father – the gateway to the heavens so to speak. It was hard to feel confident, looking up to the summit, so far away and so high above me. I asked him whether he’d ridden the climb himself? “Yes” he said “and I’ve run it as well.” Glancing at Bruno, I could believe it too – he looked like the epitome of an endurance athlete and I felt a little stab of extra pressure, not to let him down. He’d shuffled his plans to support me and I felt that I needed to respect that flexibility with a really strong effort to succeed. During one of our brief stops later, I discovered that he’d also completed the Kona Ironman six times, a passion that had finally prompted him and his partner Gabi to emigrate from their home in Switzerland to Hawai’i, some ten years ago.

Bruno checked my planned route (there was only one potential variation, but with Swiss precision, he was leaving nothing to chance) and then asked me about my expected timing. I explained that I was conservatively thinking five hours to the Visitor Centre (84km and 2,800m) and then five hours from there to the summit (14km and 1,400m), plus an hour for stops. I was allowing 11 hours and besides, sunset was in 11 hours.

Early in the morning, with a very strong headwind. Note the old lava cone in the background. Amazing scenery surrounds every part of this ride.

Early in the morning, with a very strong headwind. Note the old lava cone in the background. Amazing scenery surrounds every part of this ride.

Hapuna Westin is a lovely resort, but the 1.5km to the TT course of the Kona ironman featured two ramps around 18%, resorting in the use of my lowest gear and making me question my choice of hotel! 4,192m above me, Kea’s summit was crystal clear. Behind me, waves crashed onto the beach. I turned left out of the hotel onto the highway and made good, wind assisted progress for 12km, to the Waikoloa junction. Turning left, I started the climb proper – and the prevailing easterly trade wind almost stopped me in my tracks. This was getting interesting earlier than I’d expected. I’m a big guy, but even I was getting moved around and having to work way harder than I would have liked. Strava would later confirm that for the next six hours, I was working around 100% intensity, destroying my hopes of conserving energy until the upper portion of the climb.

I’d agreed to see Bruno every 45mins or so, where I’d eat a little food and refill my bottle. I mentioned the wind at our first rendezvous and he simply smiled and said “this is all part of the challenge Guy”. Thankfully, the wind was never worse than on those early slopes and the upside was that I was kept cool, rather than melting in the near 100% humidity and 28 degree heat.

Heading upwards, with the lower slopes of Mauna Kea straight ahead. Unlike most climbs, you can see the summit of Mauna Kea at almost all times.

Heading upwards, with the lower slopes of Mauna Kea straight ahead. Unlike most climbs, you can see the summit of Mauna Kea at almost all times.


Nearing the Saddle Road, at around 1,500m.

Nearing the Saddle Road, at around 1,500m.


The Saddle Road, at 2,000m. In Europe, we'd call this a col, but we probably wouldn't be riding through lava flows!

The Saddle Road, at 2,000m. In Europe, we’d call this a col, but we probably wouldn’t be riding through lava flows!

Nearing the Visitor Centre at 2,800m. The road has steepened considerably and I'm now working hard.

Nearing the Visitor Centre at 2,800m. The road has steepened considerably and I’m now working hard.

I only had three things showing on my Garmin screen: elevation, power and speed. I was trying to keep my watts between 180 – 230 and largely succeeded, but I was slower than hoped – probably by about 3km/h, meaning that I didn’t reach the Visitor Centre until just before 2.00pm, almost two hours behind schedule. I was averaging just 12km/h. I’d kept my stops short, so this was simply the impact of the headwind.

Working hard, just below the Visitor Centre.

Working hard, just below the Visitor Centre.


I'm about to leave the tarmac and life's going to get 'interesting'!

I’m about to leave the tarmac and life’s going to get ‘interesting’!

I took a quick break at the Visitor Centre and agreed the plan with Bruno – he’d stay behind me for the first few kms of gravel, until we saw how I was coping. I let my tyres down to 40psi and lowered my saddle by 5mm. Most people bring mountain bikes for this part of the climb: big fat tyres and super spinny gears. In contrast, I was on 40mm tyres and my lowest gear of 38×42 might or might not prove to be enough. Bruno had my trainers ready, in case I needed to walk.

I’ll let you into a secret: along with cobbles, gravel/off road is my favourite surface. I grew up mountain biking, so I have a deep-rooted affinity with rough stuff and I’d even go so far as to say I’m quite good at it (one of the few times on this ride when being 83kg probably helped). Sure enough, I cleaned 6.5 out of the 7.5km of gravel, despite the fact that it’s basically sand, mixed with rocks, some of them well embedded and others loose, added to which, the constant 4×4 traffic has churned the surface into a never-ending series of shallow dishes, making forward progress even harder. Passing 4×4 drivers (you’re not allowed beyond the Visitor Centre except in a 4×4), came in all types. Some slowed down to minimise the dust their wheels threw up, giving me a thumbs up or a shaka and even offering me water and checking I was OK. Others sped by, covering me in a fine volcanic dust, clearly oblivious to what it must be like to ride a bike up this. I was moving around all over the road, seeking the firmest surface that I could find, but the vehicles seemed happy to tolerate this.

Mauna Kea's 7.5km gravel section. It's a big wide trail, but it consists of sand and loose rocks. It's not really 'gravel' at all! This shot really shows how steep it is - there are multiple ramps between 10 - 20% and the corners in particular become increasingly steep and difficult to ride.

Mauna Kea’s 7.5km gravel section. It’s a big wide trail, but it consists of sand and loose rocks. It’s not really ‘gravel’ at all! This shot really shows how steep it is – there are multiple ramps between 10 – 20% and the corners in particular become increasingly steep and difficult to ride.

The clouds were now below me and the scenery was becoming epic, although I was concentrating so hard on finding the best line I barely noticed it.

Above the clouds. At this point, I was still riding well and enjoying myself, but things would soon change.

Above the clouds. At this point, I was still riding well and enjoying myself, but things would soon change. Note the dishes in the gravel, created by 4×4 traffic.

The final km of the gravel section was the worst and once I’d lost traction there was no getting started again. The corner soared above me at c.20% and I knew I was going to have to walk. Bruno was on hand with my trainers and I trudged up the road, pushing my bike. Ever walked up the face of a sand dune? Now imagine doing that pushing your bike: that’s the final km of gravel on Mauna Kea.

Cresting on of the numerous gravel ramps. Each ramp seemed to get progressively steeper.

Cresting one of the numerous gravel ramps. Each ramp seemed to get progressively steeper.


Maintaining traction, but only just.

Maintaining traction, but only just. Ramp ahead…

Just out of shot is a 20% ramp and I'm about to switch bike shoes for trainers...

Just out of shot is a 20% ramp and I’m about to switch bike shoes for trainers…

What comes next is even worse. It shouldn’t be – the surface turns back to tarmac – but it is. The gradient locks into an average of 12% for the final 7.5km, although my Garmin never registered anything much under 15 – 20%. I can honestly say it’s like attempting to climb the Mortirolo, or the Zoncolan, but at 4,000m. You have to cope with a sudden and unexpected oxygen deficit and everyone reacts in different ways. For me, it was a journey into the unknown. I’d Everested the Cime de la Bonette (summit at 2,802m), but that was no guide to how this felt. This was fundamentally hideous.

I switched back to cycling shoes when I rejoined the tarmac, with just 7.5km to the summit, but this proved to be optimistic!

I switched back to cycling shoes when I rejoined the tarmac, with just 7.5km to the summit, but this proved to be optimistic!

I’d ride for 100m and then stop. I’d changed back into my bike shoes, but quickly reverted to trainers. I could still pedal wearing these and it was clear that I was going to have to walk as much as I rode. My heart rate was maxed, my legs felt wooden and my hands were slowly going numb, starting with my thumbs and then working inwards, finger by finger. I’d already added knee warmers, winter gloves, a hat, a warm jersey and a shell, but this wasn’t really a cold issue. It was an oxygen deficit issue and my heart was simply prioritising which bits of my body would be supplied with oxygen.

My breath came in gasps. Bruno confirmed that in his experience, a well trained athlete tended to hit this wall somewhere around 3,500m, which meant that for me, the entire final 700m and 5km or so were completely desperate.

Generally, mind over matter works and I’m adept at chimp management, but this was no longer a head game. Yes, I could force myself to keep moving forwards and upwards – and I did – but this was now primarily a physical challenge and altitude was slowly beating me, no question at all.

I was yawning uncontrollably – again, my body’s way of telling me that it simply didn’t have enough oxygen for what I asking it to do.

The question was, could I reach the summit before either altitude or darkness shut me down. I voiced this concern to Bruno at our final stop and he smiled and said “you’ll make it Guy and besides, my car has headlights if necessary”.

There was one positive to the self-imposed torture that I was now undergoing: I’d gone through the gravel section much faster than expected and therefore, it was only 4.00pm. I told myself that all I had to do was the equivalent of four laps of Whiteleaf – a local berg that’s just over 1km long and gives 127m of height gain. Surely I could do that in two hours (back home it would take just 40 minutes)?

But at the same time, I was reminded of Pete Stuart’s article, in which he confessed to thinking he might not make it, even just 200m from the summit.

The metres have never ever ticked by so slowly. My Garmin seemed to have stopped recording distance, but the altitude data looked spot on. Even just moving it forward by 10 metres was an effort. Bruno told me that I could all but see the summit and that gave me added encouragement. Surely I could make this?

My hands were now useless, but it didn’t really matter. There was no need to change out of first gear and I didn’t need to brake either. I felt slightly wobbly and my legs were wooden, but I was damned if I was going to stop now. I’d keep going upwards for as long as I possibly could.

Somehow, at 5.30pm, I rode onto the very summit of Mauna Kea. Bruno was there and took my bike from me. I showed him how to press stop and save on my Garmin (I couldn’t do it) and he loaded my bike into his boot. The summit was busy with people who had driven up to watch the sunset and then maybe gaze at some stars and someone came up to me and asked if I’d ridden all the way from the Visitor Centre? I simply said “no, from sea level” and he looked at me in slightly stunned silence.

Reaching the summit: a mixture of agony and ecstasy, although only the agony shows! Note, I'm still wearing trainers.

Reaching the summit: a mixture of agony and ecstasy, although only the agony shows! Note, I’m still wearing trainers. Behind, you can see the various lava flows on the flanks of Mauna Loa.

I climbed into the passenger seat of Bruno’s 4×4 and said, haltingly, that I thought we should go down quickly, but then almost immediately suggested we wait – now that I was stationary, my hands were coming back to life and I was quickly feeling much better. We lingered, watching the sun turn the entire sky to fire. The cinder cones of the summit turned red and the sun reflected off the clouds, far below. I doubt I’ll ever see a better or more satisfying sunset than that one and in fact, the entire summit area and the view back down the road was mind-blowing.

I was too tired to get a good shot of this, but with a sunset such as this one, even my iPhone did a fair job!

I was too tired to get a good shot of this, but with a sunset such as this one, even my iPhone did a fair job!

I’d summited in 10hrs 30mins, with little more than 30 minutes of stoppage time, but my tyres and gears had proven slightly inadequate for the final few kms – I concurred with Bruno that a mountain bike would have made it more palatable.

Heading back down the gravel road with Bruno. It's raining in the clouds, almost 2,000m below us.

Heading back down the gravel road with Bruno. It’s raining in the clouds, almost 2,000m below us.

So, is this the world’s hardest cycling climb? I’m not really qualified to judge, but I’ll be quick to believe anyone who says it is. It’s the hardest climb I’ve ever come across, by a fair margin.

I’ll go back to Mauna Kea one day, but not on a bike. Instead, I’ll drive a 4×4 to the summit and explore a little – on foot. I’ll watch the sunset, gaze at the stars and remember a truly ludicrous day on my bike.

I owe thanks beyond words to Bruno of Kupau Tours. His knowledge, support and positivity were outstanding and despite the severity of the challenge, I felt I was in very safe and professional hands, which allowed me to focus on simply riding my bike. Thank you for helping me to realise a dream.

Thank you Bruno!

Thank you Bruno!

As ever, I also owe thanks to those who helped me reach this particular summit – ASSOS LDN and ASSOS of Switzerland for creating clothing capable of tackling a challenge like this and Bespoke Cycles for preparing my OPEN and Tom’s Mosaic for these particular adventures.

Aloha from Hawai’i and Mahalo Bruno for your help!

SGL, Dec 2018.


  • Most ascents are made from Hilo, rather than from the Hapuna/Waikoloa side of the island. The Hilo route is shorter (70km). You’re more likely to get a tail wind from Hilo, but you’re also more likely to get wet from that side of the island (it rains a lot in Hilo). I asked Bruno where he thought it was best to start from and he said Hilo (I was already a long way up the mountain when I asked him this ;-).
  • In my humble opinion, don’t ever attempt this without a support vehicle. Descending the gravel would be nigh on impossible (it’s sand remember) and there is a fairly good chance you may need a rapid extraction, whether due to altitude sickness. or a sudden change in the weather. Having a support car gave me the confidence to push on, even when things were beginning to get marginal.
  • Use a mountain bike above the Visitor Centre, with big, fat, knobbly tyres. Take the smallest gears you can possibly find.
  • Be very flexible on your exact ride date and arrive on the Big Island with as wide a window of options as possible: I was there for five days and only one was workable. We had similar problems with Haleakala (rain) and Mauna Loa (lightning).
  • I think climbing Haleakala and Mauna Loa before Kea helped: not enough to acclimatise to the altitude, but they’re long climbs and somehow, I think they’re additive preparation. Both would be outrageous climbs anywhere else, but compared to Kea, they almost felt easy!
  • Make sure you have access to plenty of warm clothing from the Visitor Centre onwards.
  • Almost all of my route prior to the Access Road had good, wide shoulders, so even though they’re pretty significant roads, they felt pretty safe (to me, at least). The shoulders are covered in small stones and broken glass though, so if you run road tyres, make sure they’re tough ones! The Access Road doesn’t have a shoulder, but is pretty quiet and I felt very safe on it. I used blinker lights until the Access Road and wore visible colours.
  • Start early – 7.00am ish. I felt that I was racing sundown. Keep your stops to a minimum. I took four five minute breaks and lost a few more minutes changing shoes and trying to breathe!

ASSOS LDN to Land’s End: Cycling 530km & 5,800m: non-stop

2.30am – the middle of the night, Bodmin Moor, Cornwall: the descent towards the A389 seemed perfectly innocuous, until my light cut out abruptly, leaving me in complete darkness. Blacker than black. Time slowed down. I told myself that this sudden complete lack of visibility didn’t matter: I just needed to remember where the road had been going, hold my line accordingly and stop as quickly as possible. Somehow I managed it, but as adrenaline rushes go, it was a significant spike! I waited, stationary, to let my eyes adjust to the darkness and then rode slowly for a couple of kms, to my next rendezvous with Ross and the support car.

I was now deep into Cornwall – my final county of eight, but the one that seemed to be going on forever. I’d left the ASSOS ‘mono-brand’ store in central London, almost 24 hours earlier, with the aim of riding all the way to Land’s End in a single push. I wasn’t part of an event, nor riding for charity – I just wanted to see if I could do it – and I’d self-imposed just one rule: no sleeping. At 530km and with c.5,800m of ‘up’, this ride was going to require a very significant effort.

Genuinely scary...

I’d been toying with a ‘500km in one go’ attempt for at least a couple of years, but hadn’t really alighted on a route. The obvious course would be flat. But then, in late 2017, ASSOS of Switzerland asked me to prepare and guide a four day route from Land’s End to their London store for a small group of customers and a spark ignited, somewhere deep down in my subconscious.

With the four day customer ride scheduled for late June, I started to ride parts of the route, notably the section from Land’s End to Exeter, which I perceived as the hardest, both in terms of avoiding main roads and also the cumulative amount of climbing that I was likely to encounter. It made sense to ride that part first and finish in London – the final 100km or so were virtually flat.

By late May, I had a final version of the route, but I couldn’t really get my head around the logistics, notably how to get safely into London, when tired and possibly coinciding with rush hour. The second issue was support: I’d have to ride through the night and that would mean difficulties finding food, water, recharging lights etc. I felt physically ready to go and knew that my time window was limited to the following week, after which other commitments would rule out an attempt, indefinitely.

On Wednesday 30th May, I checked the forecast for the week ahead: fine weather, but a north-easterly wind. No go. But then it suddenly dawned on me: why not reverse the route? Monday 4th June looked like the best day.

There was one huge upside to this approach: if I was prepared to leave London really early, I could completely avoid the traffic issues. The downside of course was that I would then hit the hardest part of the ride – the final 220km through Devon and Cornwall – at the end and at night, which would be really challenging. My head was saying ‘stop’ and my heart was saying ‘go anyway’. As always, committing to try was almost the hardest part.

Without really expecting a positive answer, I fired off a quick email on Thursday to Ross Lovell of Moor Retreats – a luxury bike tours/retreats guiding company, based on the edge of Dartmoor and who I knew only from following him on instagram: “you don’t know me, but would you consider giving up a night’s sleep on Monday and supporting my ride”. Somewhat remarkably, he replied overnight and said yes! I couldn’t quite believe it. I still can’t. What an absolute star!

I sent him a link to my route, asked for his views on my choice of roads and also mailed him a parcel with spare clothing, energy food, spare lights and wet weather gear (the forecast was now saying possible thunder storms, late in the day).

In theory, all I needed to do now was relax over the weekend and head into London, late on Sunday afternoon. Fate however, had different ideas. I headed out for a gentle 60km on my S-Works Roubaix on Saturday morning. It was the perfect bike for a ride like this: fast enough on the first 330 km to Exeter (Zipp 303s), long-distance comfy, great gearing (34×32) for the final 200km and very familiar (my ‘go to’ bike since 2014. Half way round, I noticed my finger felt sticky and a quick glance showed that it was covered in oil. Uh oh. It turned out that the hydraulic cable had sprung a leak and the bike needed a complete new lever. In the time left before departure, this was impossible.

Houston, we have a problem...

Houston, we have a problem…

Every option flashed through my mind: don’t go: not an option. Take the Litespeed: not ideal. Take the OPEN: great gearing for the hilly bits later in the ride, but not fast enough. Rebuild my old S-Works Roubaix: smart idea. But… there was one other choice: take the new Colnago: like the ride itself, my head said no and my heart said yes.

I’d only taken delivery of the Colnago a few weeks earlier and had ridden just 450km on it at that stage. It was a Colnago Concept – an aero bike. It was stiff and the riding position was pretty aggressive, as was the gearing. I’d bought it for short, fast rides and possibly even crit racing. It categorically wasn’t designed to be ridden all day, let alone for c.24 hours!

My head told me this was probably the wrong bike to take, but my heart won.

My head told me this was probably the wrong bike to take, but my heart won.

My heart won and I put the Campagnolo EPS groupset and the SRM power meter on charge. I made two other small changes: I added a 10mm spacer under the bars to help my back cope with the position and I changed the tyres to Vittoria’s 25mm Control version, which I perceived as fast, but with slightly tougher protection against punctures.

I planned to carry very little with me: a couple of small battery packs, some energy food and electrolyte mix, one set of lights, the usual spare tubes (three) and tools, knee and arm warmers, a cap and a very thin wind jacket. The forecast was good, so I didn’t need anything more.



I made my way into London late on Sunday, took a couple of pictures outside the ASSOS LDN store and then headed off to bed with all the familiar feelings of apprehension, mixed with anticipation.

3.00am: the familiar, annoying sound of an Apple alarm. I snoozed for a couple of minutes and then dragged myself out of bed. It was a mild night, so I added arm warmers, but left the knee warmers in my pocket. I ate a bowl of cereal, made a cheese bagel for an hour or so down the road and at precisely 3.50am, I rolled past the ASSOS store without stopping, through Piccadilly Circus and pointed my front wheel towards the west.

All adventures have to start somewhere and this was the perfect place.

All adventures have to start somewhere and this was the perfect place.

London was still cloaked in darkness, but there were already cars on the road and even the odd bus! I’d expected it to be quieter and was thankful for my lights.

4.25am: Richmond Park: the Roehampton Gate was locked, which had never occurred to me! I cursed myself for not having thought about this, but then discovered the small wicket gate and entered the park. I had it entirely to myself, along with the deer and a few rabbits. I rolled through and snapped a few pictures on my phone as I went: Richmond Park all to myself was pretty damn novel! A crescent moon still showed in the sky, but I could now see without lights. Dawn had arrived.

Richmond Park: totally empty. Just me and the deer

Richmond Park: totally empty. Just me and the deer

Without knowing it, while removing my phone from my pocket, I’d dropped my ride notes – a small laminated card which named all the towns along the way, with distances and likely timing between them, along with notes on where I should categorically find food and water. On rides like this, where the ‘whole’ is just overwhelming, I’ve found it best to break things down into manageable chunks. For example, at this point, I still had 515km to ride, but Ascot was only 35km away. So I focused on Ascot, rather than Land’s End. When I discovered the loss, an hour later, I was momentarily thrown.

4.35am: I couldn’t get out of Richmond Park. My intended exit via Ham Gate wasn’t happening: both the main gate and the side gate were locked. What a farce! I was potentially trapped in Richmond Park, half an hour into the ride and with the clock ticking away re’ pressure to escape London before the Monday morning rush-hour started. I turned back up the hill, in the opposite direction to Land’s End and rode to Kingston Gate instead. To a huge sense of relief, the side gate was unlocked and a few minutes later, I was back on route.

5.00am: Hampton Waterworks, bang on schedule. Signs said the road ahead was closed, but I took a chance and got lucky – the huge hole was passable on a bike!

5.30am: Chertsey: traffic was slowly building but I was making good progress, not stopping at all. I passed under the M25 and headed due west towards Ascot.

7.00am: Ascot, still right on schedule. I took my first break, refilled my bottles at a small shop, tweaked my saddle position slightly and ate the bagel I’d made earlier. I was still running blinker lights and decided to keep them on until Hungerford, around the 120km mark, which was where I planned to take my first proper feed stop.

8.15am: the outskirts of Newbury and the surrounding roads were really busy – this was definitely the school and work rush. I managed to filter past the delays and headed back onto quiet roads, still heading due west towards Hungerford, catching crosswinds and the occasional headwind.

9.00am: Hungerford, still on perfect schedule. I missed the cafe I’d planned to use and was out of the town before I realised what had happened. This was a key point in the ride: I’d now turned south-west and could enjoy the full impact of the NE tailwind. I knew I’d find a garage or shop somewhere up the road, so just kept rolling along at c.35kmh, marveling at the scenery, the ease with which my bike was eating up the miles and the noise the deep section enve rims were making! The section that followed was one of the best 150km of riding I’ve ever had.

One of the best 150km sections I've ever ridden.

One of the best 150km sections I’ve ever ridden.

9.45am: Collingbourne Ducis: I stopped at a small shop to fill my bottles and ate a banana, a Veloforte bar and stockpiled a flapjack for later. The man behind the counter asked me where I was going and then looked at me disbelievingly when I told him!

10.30am: Knowing that I really needed some proper food, I stopped at a small cafe in Larkhill, very close to Stonehenge and ordered a bacon sandwich and a double espresso. They both tasted wonderful. Any stoppage time was a chance to recharged one or other Garmin (I was running two, in case one failed), but to my dismay, I discovered that the recharger didn’t work – sweat from my Stwlan Dam Everesting in April probably being the cause. I threw it in the bin and used my spare phone battery pack instead. I knew I could reach Exeter and Ross before I would need any more power than I had with me, so there was no need to panic. I called home and my son Jack photographed the itinerary that I’d lost in Richmond Park and texted it to me. I saved it as the wallpaper on my lock screen and instantly felt back in control of the ‘pieces’, rather than the ‘whole’.

I was genuinely thrown, having lost this 'chimp management aide' in Richmond Park, but my son Jack sent a copy to my phone and I was back on track after that.

I was genuinely thrown, having lost this ‘chimp management aide’ in Richmond Park, but my son Jack sent a copy to my phone and I was back on track after that.

My amazing progress continued – fast easy riding across beautiful landscape.

Longbridge Deverill: I refilled my bottle again and ate a sandwich.

Bruton: my routing took me down a barely ride-able lane and I was lucky to avoid punctures.

1.20pm: Castle Cary – with 212km, at an average speed of 28kmh! I was now deep into Somerset. It was lunchtime, so I stopped for cake and another espresso, but was saving a proper feed-stop for Lang port, which was another 30km up the road.

Castle Cary: 212km and not even half way!

Castle Cary: 212km and not even half way!

3.00pm: Langport: my first choice of cafe had closed, but the second was great and an espresso and sausage sandwich were both wonderful. I refilled my bottles yet again and drank plenty of water, knowing that the next 70km might be devoid of options to refuel: the Blackdown Hills.

This is an amazing hill range – it’s as high as Dartmoor, very remote and barely ever talked about. I’d been looking forward to this part all the way down to Langport – it’s always fun exploring a new area. My tailwind continued to aid my progress, but the day was now hot (at 28.C) and humid.

There were four major climbs/uplands on my route, each one harder than the last. I’d already crossed the Cranbourne Chase/Salisbury Plain, but the Blackdown Hills presented a harder climb and the first point at which I might really question my choice of bike. Up until this point, the bike had actually been perfect – slightly rigid perhaps, but seriously fast and perfect for the open, rolling roads. So, I was pleasantly surprised that my 36×29 was adequate, even though the climb had long sections at 16%. Once on top, I found a long plateau, quiet roads and very little else!

I just kept rolling, watching the sun move across the horizon from left to right. Exeter arrived around 6.30pm and I realised that I was in need of an immediate refuel, so even though I was about to meet Ross, I stopped at a corner shop, refilled my bottles and ate another sandwich!

7.00pm: The next section really surprised me: marked on the map as just a local ‘yellow road’, the reality was a wide, open, fast-looking stretch of tarmac. I tapped away, heading for Tedburn St. Mary and it dawned on me that this used to be the A30, before they built the dual-carriageway that now carries everything but the local traffic. Sure enough, a little later on, I recognised a set of corners that my sister and I had driven, some 35 years earlier!

7.30pm: right on schedule, I pulled into the car park of The Traveller’s Rest in Tedburn and met Ross. He’d arranged a rendezvous at a pub and as we waited for my Garmins to fully recharge, I took my first real food break, devouring a bacon cheeseburger and chips as we chatted about the ride, the night to come and how frequently we should aim to rendezvous.

Heading onto Dartmoor as the sun set.

Heading onto Dartmoor as the sun set.

8.15pm: I rolled away, heading across the northern edge of Dartmoor, as dusk arrived and the sky briefly glowed pink and orange. By the time I reached Okehampton, it was pretty much dark. Behind lay 350km of road, but ahead lay the tough bit: two moors, the most technical roads and darkness. I climbed up onto the traffic-free Granite Way and headed towards Lydford and my next rendezvous with Ross.

It was properly dark now, but my speed remained reasonably high, meaning I had to keep my lights on their brightest setting, burning through my battery…

Somewhere around midnight I crossed into Cornwall and shortly afterwards, spent ten minutes in the passenger seat of Ross’s car, munching on cheese sandwiches and marveling at the fact that he’d agreed to get involved in such nonsense! Top lad.

With Dartmoor firmly behind me, the final big challenge was Bodmin Moor. I climbed steadily up to Minions and then began the long drop to Bodmin, using the deserted A38 to make rapid progress (I’d never dare use such a busy road during daylight, but at 2.30am, I saw just one car).

My next goal was Victoria Services and all seemed to be going fine, until my light cut out. I knew that the filling station would be open and sure enough, Ross had parked up in the best lit spot. As we fiddled to attach my spare light, the attendant walked outside and asked me if my bike was a Colnago Concept! I was stunned – the Concept is pretty rare and little known. At 3.30am, this seemed like a really bizarre question! He asked if he could help, invited us in for (free) coffee, put all my lights and Garmins on charge and generally behaved like the perfect host. Amazing.

I lingered. It was warm inside and every minute lost here brought me closer to the safety of daylight.

In the end, we paused there for almost an hour, drinking coffee and letting things recharge (nothing had really charged much in Ross’s car, so the offer of mains electricity was too good to refuse).

4.00am: I rolled away again, knowing that I should be able to see without lights within half an hour or so.

I used my second ‘big road’ for a short section – the A30 – to make some rapid progress for 15km or so and then headed back onto quieter roads as I approached Cambourne.

Getting close enough to feel confident.

Getting close enough to feel confident.

7.00am: Cambourne. The world was waking up. I rode through Hayle and climbed up onto the peninsular. It was a grey morning, where the sky and the sea merged into one another, off to my right. The road to Land’s End should be downhill all the way, but of course this was Cornwall, so in reality, it was distinctly lumpy! Ross was never far away and snapped some great pictures as I did my best to keep my pace high, right to the finish.

Abandoned tin mines: I'm definitely in Cornwall!

Abandoned tin mines: I’m definitely in Cornwall!

Somewhere around 8.30am and within 30 minutes of my theoretical timeline, I rolled across the finish line at Land’s End itself, so pleased and relieved to be done.

Done and so glad to be able to stop!

Done and so glad to be able to stop!

Ross and I headed slowly down to the ‘Last House’ and then, after a few pictures and short pause to take in what I’d just done, we packed up the bike and headed for Penzance and a rendezvous with a hotel breakfast!

Ross headed off back home to Devon and I bought a train ticket for me and my bike, leaving at 2.30pm. I asked the hotel if they’d let me check in for a few hours and they did: I showered and slept for two hours.

Letting it sink in.

Letting it sink in.

The 2km ride to the station was hard! Then my train was cancelled and I had to sit it out for the afternoon. They laid on a coach for the other passengers, but since I had a bike with me, I just had to wait. And then they asked me to leave the empty Waiting Room, because bikes weren’t allowed in it. I scowled and politely suggested the Station Manager was welcome to come and explain his reasoning. They left me in peace.

Stranded for a while.

Stranded for a while.

Somewhere around 5.30, my train finally left Penance, this time with the massive bonus in that it included the Pullman Buffet Car. I booked in for dinner and enjoyed one of the best meals I can remember.

With hindsight, this ride felt pretty much like an Everesting – fun for the first two thirds and then just hard work. I genuinely enjoyed the first 350km, but the final 180km, much of it in the dark, was ‘Type 2’ enjoyment.

Three weeks later, I savoured every moment of the route, but over four days and in great company.

It was much nicer, three weeks later, with time to savour the route, full support and friends to ride with!

It was much nicer, three weeks later, with time to savour the route, full support and friends to ride with!

Thank you ASSOS for sewing the seed and crucially, huge thanks to Ross Lovell of Moor Retreats for looking after me through the night.

SGL, 2018.

If you ride far enough, in the end, there's nowhere left to go!

If you ride far enough, in the end, there’s nowhere left to go!

Everesting #5: Stwlan Dam, Snowdonia: Beauty and the Beast

Click to view any of the images full screen and then use your back button to return to the story.

I sat in the car, shaking uncontrollably, feeling nauseous and staring failure full in the face. In the last thirty minutes, the sun had set, the temperature had dropped from a lovely 22°C to just 8°C and I’d gone from feeling OK, to terrible. I turned the engine on, dialed the heater up to full and set about the task of eating, despite feeling sick. This was a full scale bonk* and I had no idea whether I could recover from it or not.

[* bonking is a cycling term for running out of energy. It’s the same thing as a marathon runner hitting the wall. It’s symptoms are unexpected sweating, nausea, complete loss of appetite, dizziness, shaking and you may just fall over. It’s not a lot of fun].

Snapseed 2

Some 12 hours earlier, around 9.00am, I’d clipped in, pushed away from the gate at the bottom of the climb, shifted quickly into first gear and settled into the rhythm of an Everesting attempt. As always, all the stresses of preparing for the ride fell away as I got down to the business of simply riding my bike. This was the good bit, the moment that I always savoured. The mountains were silent, the views incredible and my riding partner for the day, Kev and I chatted away. I gave him a running commentary on what to expect around each bend. He’d never ridden Stwlan Dam before and I was like an over-excited tour guide.


The road to Stwlan Dam is a truly remarkable one. Anywhere in the world it would be special, but for the UK, it’s arguably unique. It’s my nomination for ‘Best Road Climb in the UK’.

For a start, it has hairpin bends and not just one or two of them, but nine. Yes, NINE. The first two come around the two km mark, but then, close to the top, seven of them are stacked one on top of another. Descending them would become almost hypnotic as the day went on. It’s a very un-British road: we don’t build hairpins, particularly not series of them. It’s like a little piece of France, somehow transported to the UK and this is ironic, since a French electricity company actually now owns the road to Stwlan Dam!

Lap two and the fog is just burning off.

Lap two and the fog is just burning off.

The next amazing thing is that the road is a dead end i.e. a summit finish. We don’t have many of those. It was constructed back in the 1950s, as an access road for the building of the dam, which created the upper lake of a hydro-electric project.

Even better, it’s a private access road. It doesn’t even appear on Google maps. It’s gated and said gate is securely locked. You’ll find the odd sheep on the road, an occasional dog walker and maybe even a company vehicle checking the dam, but that’s it. In 24 hours on the hill, we saw one vehicle and three other cyclists. If you like peace and quiet, surrounded by beauty, then this road is for you.


Basecamp and the start of the climb to Stwlan Dam.

Basecamp and the start of the climb to Stwlan Dam.


So, ‘Beauty’ explained. Now to describe the ‘Beast’. The climb is hard. Hard as in 2.7km at 10.1% average (for those local to me, that’s a steeper average than Whiteleaf…). But the reality is worse still because there’s a virtually flat section around 1.5km, which lasts for c.350m, meaning almost all of the climbing is actually between 12 – 14% and the very last ramp to the summit nudges 16%+. You’d better bring your climbing legs to Stwlan Dam.

Snapseed 11

The final hairpin. This can’t really be in Wales can it!!??

I first heard about the road in February 2017, when Simon Warren, the author of ‘100 Greatest Climbs’, released his ‘Wales’ edition in the series spawned from the original book. In it, he declared that he had now found the ‘Holy Trinity’ – his best three climbs. In Scotland, he gave the nod to Bealach na Ba, which I’d not ridden, but had heard lots about. England’s best climb was noted as Great Dun Fell, which seemed fair enough. Wales though, is a place I know really well, so how could he be naming a climb I’d never heard of? Stwlan Dam? The picture of the hairpins was enough to capture my imagination and within a few days, I’d driven the 4.5 hours from London to take a look.

Ride up the very steep road until you get to the dam. Take the right fork and keep going until the road runs out. Simple.

Ride up the very steep road until you get to the dam. Take the right fork and keep going until the road runs out. Simple.

It was a cold, windy February day and the cloud cover barely left the top of the climb clear, but even that was enough to confirm that Simon had lifted the lid on a remarkable ribbon of tarmac – a hard, sinuous climb, in a stunning setting.

Snapseed 8

The very top of the climb, or the start of the descent.


Snapseed 9

Stwlan Dam and the 16% section – which felt much easier going down, than up!

I drove home that evening, already doing the HELLS 500 maths in my head: 270m of ascent per lap, would mean 32.8 laps to reach the cumulative height of Everest. At 10.1% average, this would easily qualify as a ‘steep’ Everesting, finished in just 187km (an Everesting in less than 200km is considered steep). ‘Hard’ kept flashing through my mind, perhaps even too hard, but I tucked it away for a future attempt.

Stwlan Profile Image

This needs little explanation: basically, red is bad.

I also started watching the weather: it rains a lot in north-west Wales. Worse still, the climb faces south-west and is very exposed to the prevailing wind. Getting good conditions would be a real challenge. Then, one weekend in October 2017, the wind swung around to the north-east, but I had other commitments and had to let the opportunity pass. A few days later, I spotted a photo on instagram and knew immediately that it was Stwlan and someone had beaten me to the punch. Not just anyone either, but Rich Seipp and his son Tom, aka ‘MiniPips’, who at 12 years old, became the youngest Everester ever – and on one of the hardest climbs! A staggering achievement and one to watch in the years ahead!

With some climbs, the singular opportunity to be the first to Everest has been key to my motivation, but with Stwlan, it didn’t matter: I remained drawn to it – to both its difficulty and its beauty.

Snapseed 12

I could ride these hairpins all day. Oh, wait, I did…

I penciled it into my diary for April 2018. As the date approached, the weather looked highly unlikely. This was relatively early in the year for an Everesting and when it snowed on 1st April, an attempt seemed like months away.

However, as the middle of April arrived, so did a brief window of stunning weather. My diary was clear on Friday 20th and I started checking the forecast really closely. I even printed a map of the climb and drew the wind direction on it, hour by hour. It looked like a distinct possibility, with the only issue being overnight hill fog and a slight headwind for the first 12 hours or so. I decided it was ‘good enough’ and started packing the car.

Everesting ‘away from home’ isn’t easy: not many hotels or B&Bs are likely to be happy if you try to leave around 2.00am! On previous Everesting attempts, I’d generally started early – around 2.00 or 3.00am – to avoid too much time in darkness at the end of the ride. However, a combination of accommodation logistics, plus research by my son, ‘Coach Tom’ into sleep deprivation and athletic performance, encouraged me to try something completely different.

I decided to have a proper nights sleep, a good breakfast and roll out around 9.00am. In theory, this would mean I would feel good for the first part of the ride, rather than bad, which was invariably how I’d felt before, with really early starts. The flip side was that I would have to ride through most of the following night and I wasn’t entirely sure how that would pan out.

At 8.30am on an overcast Friday morning and bang on schedule, Kev and I arrived at the gate in the small village of Tanygrisiau, that marked the start of the climb. I parked the car and we quickly got ready. As forecast, the cloud base was low, but it was expected to burn off by mid morning and a few early laps in cooler temperatures were welcome.

Kev, descending in the early morning gloom. The sun wasn't far away though and within 30 minutes of the photo, the sky was completely clear.

Kev, descending in the early morning gloom. The sun wasn’t far away though and within 30 minutes of the photo, the sky was completely clear.

The climb starts as it means to go on – at 10%! There aren’t many climbs that have you in first gear almost the entire time, but Stwlan does. If you’re not proficient at clipping in and out of your cleats at 10%, you’re really going to struggle to even get started on Stwlan!

We chatted, enjoying the riding, the views and the release of expectation and stress. We said hello to the odd dog walker and waved to a few rock climbers on the cliffs above us. The first ascent took just under 20 minutes and the descent about three! This gave me an immediate win on my maths, which had allowed 30 minutes per lap. I knew it was optimistic to expect this pace to continue, but it was a nice way to start. Even stopping for a bite to eat and a fresh bottle still had me on target for 17.5 hours all-in.

Snapseed 4

Kev early in the day (and sporting the new wunder jacket from ASSOS).

On lap two, I realised that I didn’t have enough gears. Steady 12 – 14% meant my cadence was fixed around 70rpm, when I’d have preferred 80 – 85. I tucked this away in a corner of my mind and firmly shut the door on it.

I gave Kev a running commentary on where various heights gained would put us on a real ascent of Everest and then gently challenged him to reach Everest Base Camp i.e. 5,000m+. He was still recovering from a major accident in early 2017 and a 5,000m ride would be a really positive milestone on his long road back to full fitness.

Snapseed 5

Considerably easier than the opposite direction!

We took pictures as we went, reveling in the amazing views that opened up and as we became familiar with the climb and the descent, we both stopped repeatedly to capture particular images. I lost a little time this way, but it was just too beautiful to ignore my camera. On lap seven, I even carried my SLR up to the dam and left it there, for either of us to shoot the hairpin section from high above.

The temperature slowly rose to 24°C , the cloud burned off completely and we just kept tapping away. At lap 14, Kev took a break for some food and getting out of sync allowed us to shoot even better photos of each other.

Snapseed 7

When your legs start screaming, the view helps take your mind off them!

A climber was walking back down the road:

How many laps is that then?


How many more to go?


Ooohhhh, still a long way then!

Yes, thank you for pointing that out.

As the afternoon wore on, fatigue finally arrived and the attempt took on a more serious tone. The sun sank behind the dam and the road dropped into the shade. The temperature plummeted.

Snapseed 14

The road has fallen into the shade, the temperature is dropping and I’m on my way to a full scale bonk, even though I don’t know it yet. The ride is about to get serious and hard.

Somewhere around 5.00pm, a local dog walker introduced himself and asked what we were doing. We explained and it turned out that he, Kevin, had been a marshal on the Tour of Britain for a couple of years. He also quickly noted that we seemed to be climbing a little slower than local hero and reigning British Hill Climb Champion Dan Evans, who’s climbed the road in around nine minutes! A few laps later, Kevin walked back up the road and asked whether we’d like some coffee? I could have hugged him. “You have no idea how much I’d like coffee!” was my response. He made a call to a friend whose house was closer than his own and soon, Kev and I were enjoying mugs of steaming black coffee.

I rode another lap while Kev enjoyed his coffee and a natter. I passed three girls walking up the road to look at the dam and caught a waft of perfume. Surreal.

The upper hairpins are still in sunlight, but only just.

The upper hairpins are still in sunlight, but only just.

As the day had progressed, my ascent times barely changed at all: 20 minutes up, three minutes down. I hit 20 reps, the equivalent of Everest Base Camp at 5,335m, around 8.00pm. I fitted my Exposure light – the sun had sunk well behind the mountain, shadows had filled the valley and the temperature had fallen like a stone. By my 21st rep, we were in darkness and I mentioned to Kev that I wasn’t feeling great – perhaps even close to bonking. I was hotter than expected, slightly wobbly and nauseous (after the ride, I discovered that my ascent times had suddenly increased by 25% from laps 19 to 22)!

We ran one more lap and by the time I reached the top, I knew I was in trouble. With the temperature down to 8°C , I shivered my way down to the car, got in, turned the engine on and dialed the heating up to full. I was shaking uncontrollably and feeling sick. Kev got into the passenger seat and we talked through the possible scenarios: was I getting ill? I didn’t think so. It must be a fueling problem then – I’d simply run out of energy. I’m susceptible to GI issues during ultra endurance events and to combat this, I tend to eat pretty lightly during them. Sat in the car however, it was pretty clear that I’d undercooked it and despite the nausea associated with the worst full scale bonk I’d ever had, I managed to force down half a bagel, half a gel and half a Veloforte bar. The possibility of failure was staring me full in the face.

As the minutes passed, I warmed up and the shaking stopped. The problem shifted from physical, back to mental. My chimp was screaming at me to stop. I’d been in the car for 45 mins and I knew that if I didn’t get back on my bike pretty soon, I never would. It was so tempting to just pack up and drive back to the nice, warm B&B.

Get out of the car. No, it’s nice and warm in here.

GET OUT OF THE CAR. No, let’s just go to sleep back at the B&B.

I was fighting my chimp like never before.


I got stiffly out of the car and flinched at the cold air. I quickly put on a long sleeve jersey and a windproof and loaded up an audio book. I rode lap 23 as slowly as I could, giving myself more time to recover. I made it to the top and then back to the car. More coffee arrived from our impromptu local supporters, along with chocolate bars! Someone put their coat around my shoulders. I could have kissed them! Kev called it a day (or night), as planned, with 5,000m under his belt (in just 103km!!!), and headed back to the B&B. I pressed play on my earpiece and pointed my front wheel up the road again.

I felt bad, but then I pondered how a real climber on Everest would feel on a summit push. ‘Awful’ I presumed. So I was in a better place than that, and should be grateful. I resolved to keep going, unless things got really bad. My ascent times were recovering.

Snapseed 13

The lower part of the climb is almost as stunning as the upper! In the dark, this section of the descent became much slower!

I rode another lap. I marveled at the stars and the crescent moon. I concentrated hard on the descent, even though it was now much slower in darkness.

Occasionally, I’d refill a bottle. I finished the gel. But I didn’t get back into the car, which I now viewed as a dangerously seductive place, associated with failure. A tray with a flask of hot coffee and chocolate bars had been left by the gate – how amazing were these people!!??

I rode another lap. And another and another.

Somewhere around midnight I hit 7,000m. I rode another lap. I refused to stop. The audio book kept me company and the stars filled the sky.

Around 3.00am, I reached 8,200m: the South Col on Everest. The so called Death Zone. I knew I was close to success, if I could just hold it all together for another hour and a half.

Snapseed 10

Hairpin #5…

I did two more laps – 31 and 32 – and suddenly, on the steepest ramp at the very top of the climb, 8,848m flashed up on my Garmin.

Job done... or maybe not. I actually needed to ride another lap!

Job done… or maybe not. I actually needed to ride another lap!

But I knew that was wrong: I’d ridden the hairpins a couple of extra times for pictures, much earlier in the day and my maths had always said that I needed to ride 32.8 reps to hit 8,848m. The Everesting Rules clearly state that your height must be gained by riding complete laps, so complete laps it would have to be – at least until I was confident that I’d ridden 8,848m in that way.

I descended and rode one last full lap, carried upward on a wave of euphoria at pulling through a situation that looked really doubtful for a while. I didn’t need to ride a full lap, but it just seemed more complete that way. I stopped at the summit and noted a slight glow behind the mountains to the east. Dawn wasn’t far away.

For the last time I descended through those amazing, hypnotic hairpins. I leant my bike against the gate and hit save on both Garmins. My phone beeped almost immediately to say that the ride was uploaded and I quickly renamed it: Everesting #5: Stwlan Dam.

I climbed stiffly into the car and recorded a live update for ASSOS on Instagram and then wrote a thank you note to the amazing folk of Tanygrisiau – Kevin, Leah and her partner (who, I discovered later, had even insisted on driving Kev and his bike back to the B&B). Such incredible hospitality, never to be forgotten.

I loaded the bike back into the car and drove very slowly through the deserted streets of Blaenau Ffestiniog, back to the B&B ( – superb)!

I showered, went to bed and closed my eyes. I woke up two hours later, around 7.30am, in the exact same position. Oh, the joys of Everesting 🙂

SGL, April 2018

Notes & Thanks:

Thanks to ASSOS LDN and ASSOS of Switzerland, for their ongoing support. Thanks also to Noble Wheels and Cycle Care, High Wycombe, for building and preparing a bike that was up to the task. As ever, I’m also hugely grateful to Kev for being there on the hill with me for so much of the ride. Finally, I’m going to say a very heartfelt thank you and dedicate this ride to the amazing folk of Tanygrisiau, whose hospitality was nothing short of amazing!

My second Everesting on my OPEN U.P. There's a third one in the hopper, back on gravel...

My second Everesting on my OPEN U.P. There’s a third one in the hopper, back on gravel…

The technical stuff:

I rode an OPEN U.P. with a 1X Sram Force set up. I ran a 38T single chaining, with a 10-42 rear cassette. Knowing that the road would be dry and wouldn’t be likely to produce punctures, I used the fastest rolling tyres in the business: Specialized Cotton Turbos (26mm), which were sublime.

I only used one front light, which took me from 8pm to 4.30am: an Exposure Strada 6. Amazing! The battery finally died as I leant my bike against the gate at the very end.

I stayed in the same shorts all day – ASSOS Tiburu’s and only needed to apply chamois cream twice. I also stayed in the same summer base layer too, but used four different jerseys, to help ‘compartmentalise’ the attempt into sections. After lap 22, I added an ASSOS Intermediate jersey and a Blitzfeeder jacket, which saw me through the night. I used Mille GT socks and a pair of S7 Summer Mitts, which also worked perfectly, in spite of so much climbing.

Re’ start time: it was an interesting and broadly successful experiment, but I would have liked to make more use of the available daylight, so a 7.00am start is what I’ll aim for next time.

I think the bonk could have been avoided, even though I was treading a thin line between triggering GI issues and eating enough. All I needed to know was my ascent times for each lap and next time I’ll make sure these are visible. The signs were there, I just didn’t have the data on view.

My plan has always been to complete seven Everestings. #6 is already in the hopper and with a bit of luck, I might even get it done this summer.

Snapseed 6

Kev, giving it some lean angle, early in the day.

The Definitive Guide to Everesting | Top Tips & Advice for Everesting | The Ultimate Guide to Everesting

There are a multitude of Everesting blogs and a selection of quotes alone are enough to put you off, or at the very least, think again.

“I got back on the bike and gave it everything I had, but at 10pm, and after 18 hours, totally wrecked, I fell short by only 1,400 vertical metres”. 

“It’s obscene when the first 3,000m of a ride is treated as a warm-up. It’s not often you have four grand in the bank before breakfast”. 

“The last couple of laps were surreal; it was mechanical in my legs but my head was totally disconnected. Fighting off sleep, the lines on the road were blurred. I was crying and talking rubbish out loud.”


‘Everesting’: the concept of riding your bike, up and down the same hill, without sleep, until your cumulative ascent equals the height of Everest”.

8,848m in a single ride.

It’s a very big, very hard bike ride and a defining test of anyone’s physical and mental endurance.

Upon hearing about this, your first thought was probably:

  • how ridiculous, I’m never doing that!


  • I wonder if I could do that?


  • I’m definitely going to do that!

Whichever of these fits you best, the chances are that you started to quietly ask yourself the single most important question, namely “which climb would I pick”? At that point, you’re taken a significant step towards an attempt.

Sounds familiar? If so, you should read everything below – in detail.

Before we get into detailed advice however, here’s a little background on me and on the origins of Everesting.

If you're going to spend c.24 hours on a single climb, pick something really compelling: The Agnello, Cottian Alps.

If you’re going to spend c.24 hours on a single climb, pick somewhere you really want to spend time: The Agnello, Cottian Alps.

Why did I write this guide and who’s it for?

This guide is intended to be a definitive source of advice and insight for any cyclist contemplating, or preparing for, an Everesting. In recent times, I’ve repeatedly been asked for advice on Everesting and I decided to put all my tips in one place, here.

When I first heard about Everesting, back in 2014, advice was extremely scarce. Today, there are numerous blogs and articles on the topic, but they mostly detail the experience, rather than attempt to help others with their own Everestings.

Now, five years later, there is one key resource that you should also visit – the website, administered by HELLS 500. As discussed below, you’re going to need to visit this site anyway for various pieces of information, but in recent years, it has added lots of advice and all of it is worth noting. I wrote this guide and then checked Reassuringly, we cover much of the same ground:


My credentials

I’m certainly not claiming to be anything special in the world of Everesting: there are definitely people who have done more, gone further, done it faster and climbed higher. I have however attempted seven Everestings to date (I failed on the first attempt and successfully completed the next six) and in so doing, I’ve thought long and hard about how best to prepare for and then execute the ride, from initial concept, right through to successful completion. In my circle of friends, I’m the planner, the organiser and the detail freak. I’m particularly attentive to ‘what if’? scenarios and prepare accordingly. I try to leave nothing to luck.

My third Everesting and a real battle with my chimp: Mynydd Graean, Cambrian Mountains, Wales, UK.

My third Everesting and a real battle with my chimp: Mynydd Graean, a 10.3km gravel climb in the Cambrian Mountains, Wales, UK.

The disclaimer

It goes without saying that cycling is inherently dangerous, as is any extreme endurance event. Combining the two, usually on public roads, involves genuine risk. I am not trying to encourage you to undertake an Everesting – you do that entirely at your own bidding. I’m simply trying to prepare you better and make you more likely to succeed, safely.

So, just to repeat, you undertake an Everesting entirely at your own risk and I, this website and its contents accept no liability for your actions, your safety, or your sanity. The fact that you’re even reading this means the last point is already in doubt.


Setting the scene

First, before you get too sucked into the specifics and given you’re going to attempt what may well be your biggest endurance challenge ever, you should know some of the background around the concept and its history.

– what is Everesting?

‘Everesting’ involves riding consecutive laps on a chosen hill/mountain/col/berg, up and down, until the rider’s cumulative ascent reaches 8,848m – the height of Mount Everest. The ride has to be done in a continuous push i.e. you can stop briefly and repeatedly to eat, drink, etc., but you can’t go to sleep. No matter which climb you choose to attempt, it’s likely to be a 20 – 24 hour effort and a defining test of physical and mental endurance. To date, the shortest Everesting took around 10 hours and the longest took around two days (an Everesting ride is generally measured in ‘elapsed time’, rather than moving time. The closer the two are, the more impressive the overall feat is i.e. the rider took relatively few breaks and/or climbed fast. However, in truth, I’ve never been asked how long an Everesting took me – people simply know I did it and that’s the key measure – you either succeed or you fail).

Providing you don’t sleep, there is no time limit for an Everesting attempt. Just keep pedalling.

Everesting became a global phenomenon amongst cyclists in 2014 and many of the world’s most famous climbs have since been Everested. For example, Box Hill in Surrey, UK (of 2012 Olympic Road Race fame), has been Everested numerous times, with riders covering 370km and climbing the hill 75 times!

A successful Everesting admits the rider to a unique club known as HELLS 500 and it’s been dubbed ‘one of the most exclusive clubs in the world’. According to Andy van Bergen, the founder of HELLS 500 “Mount Everest is unlike any other numerical target. It’s a symbol for anything big and momentous in our lives. The reason the concept of Everesting has become so popular amongst elite riders is that it’s an icon that resonates with cyclists and non-cyclists alike”. The other beauty of Everesting is that it’s an ‘inclusive challenge’: something anyone can attempt, anywhere in the world, on any climb. As ‘back doorstep challenges’ go, it’s virtually unique.

how did it all start?

Fate is a wonderful thing. What chance that the first known Everesting was completed by a descendant of George Mallory, who disappeared, high on Everest in 1924 and left behind him one of the world’s greatest mysteries: did he and his companion, Sandy Irvine, reach the summit, or not? We had to wait almost 30 years for the first confirmed ascent of Everest, by Sir Edmund Hilary. But what if that was actually the second ascent?

(There’s one useful lesson here: it only counts if you get off the mountain safely i.e. you need to descend safely and get back home to upload your ride to Veloviewer: more on all this later).

So, back to George Mallory II (yes, he has the same name as his famous Granddad). An accomplished rock climber, he was invited on an expedition to climb Everest from the north side – the exact same route on which his Granddad had disappeared, some 70+ years earlier.

In the USA, a small group of now legendary rock climbers, known as the Stonemasters, had their equivalent of Everest – the 3,000 foot face of El Capitan, in California’s Yosemite Valley. When winter made climbing on El Cap’ impossible, the Stonemasters would head to the nearby and much warmer Joshua Tree National park and climb multiple short routes in a single day until they reached the cumulative height of El Cap. It was a serious feat, a huge day and was much talked about in climbing circles.

Determined to be fit enough to have a fair crack at making the summit of Everest and then making it down again, George II started cycling up and down Mount Donna Buang, near his home town of Melbourne, in the state of Victoria, Australia. Each ascent gave him 1,100m of height gain. As George put it “In all earnest, in the Himalaya even too much stamina is not enough, if you want to be safe”.

Before long, it dawned on him, perhaps fuelled by the Stonemasters concept, that if he got really fit, he could cycle enough laps on Donna Buang to accumulate the height of Everest in a single ride. He set himself the goal of riding eight reps – a cumulative height gain of 8,800m (yes, this is 48m short, but this was just a training exercise for George – he wasn’t using Strava, a cycle computer, or anything like that – it was just a personal goal in pursuit of a much bigger target – the real Everest. He has since Everested at least six more times)!

His first try saw him fail on lap two. Numerous attempts followed, each time with a higher cumulative finishing point. He managed six reps before niggly injuries and the onset of winter curtailed his attempts. Finally, in October 1993, he rode eight consecutive laps. Everesting as a concept had been born.

George II made it to Everest and was gratified to find that besides the Sherpas, he was the fittest person on the expedition. He made it to the summit successfully and had the reserves to also make it back down to Base Camp, safe and sound.

For almost twenty years, his Donna Buang feats (he went on to climb it ten times in one ride…) remained largely under the radar. Bear in mind that George Mallory II’s first Everesting feat was pre’ Strava. Turning this into a verifiable challenge for the general cycling public would have been next to impossible back in 1993. For almost two decades, nothing happened. GPS for the masses needed to kick in, overlaid by Strava.

– what is HELLS 500?

In the intervening period, a small group of riders in Australia were doing some really tough endurance rides. People talked about them – ‘those crazy guys doing 500km in a weekend’. They picked up a name: HELLS 500 and their motto was ‘In Search of Up’. Their founder, Melbourne based Andy van Bergen, chanced across an article by the Australian online blog, CyclingTips, detailing George’s feat. He decided to organise a group attempt on Donna Buang, for members of HELLS 500 to replicate George’s ride.

A bunch of them succeeded and suddenly, Everesting was out in the open.

Eyes on the prize. I've only ever seen one other HELLS 500 jersey while out on the road!

Eyes on the prize. I’ve only ever seen one other HELLS 500 jersey while out on the road!

Like most things, it caught on slowly at first and then suddenly went viral. I first heard about it in the summer of 2014, just as the UK weather and daylight headed towards Autumn. Winter Everestings are not unheard of, but I didn’t fancy it personally, so I had a long wait before I could make an attempt.

I hunted around for advice, but found only one person who had even tried it. He’d failed on his first attempt (really tough climb and poor weather), but then switched to a much more workable climb and succeeded. He gave me some really useful tips and in early June 2015, I went for it.

Things went wrong even before I reached the foot of my climb – I forgot my Garmin and the cables to recharge it! I delayed my attempt by 24 hours. Then, arriving at my chosen hill, I opted to put my base camp at the summit, but it was windy and the gazebo had to be tethered to the car. The wind strengthened and the gazebo started to rock the car! The car alarm kept going off. I probably got a couple of hours sleep before starting around 5.00am. It was three degrees centigrade.

In the end, it was the wind that beat me. What I had thought would be a cross wind was in fact funnelling down the valley to become a full-on block headwind. My local knowledge wasn’t good enough. I also realised that I’d picked a really hard climb for Everesting – gradient wise, it was all over the place, but there were several spikes above 20%. It was long too – 8.5km and too much of that distance involved too little height gain. It was also a long way from home, which only made the logistics harder. Finally, the descent was technical: narrow, bumpy, dangerous: anything but relaxing. Oh and I’d put my base camp in completely the wrong place.

With just seven laps completed (of the 23 required), I climbed off the bike. I felt fresh, but my laps were just taking too long because of the headwind and I knew I’d have to ride right through the following night, but that I didn’t have a recharging strategy for my lights, so would have to stop for a prolonged period, at which point I would inevitably fall asleep and therefore fail.

I hadn’t climbed off my bike before. Ever. Sure, I’d wobbled on the odd ride, but I’d never actually stopped and quit. It was a whole new experience and I didn’t like it! On the four hour drive back home, I had plenty of time to work out what I might have done differently. I vowed to get really scientific about it and to leave nothing to chance.

Ten days later, I went for it again, but this time on a different climb, much closer to home. Local knowledge was on my side and some 24 hrs after starting, I’d completed my first Everesting. I’ve since attempted and completed four more, each one harder than the last.

Here’s my formula and advice in 10 simple steps.


The Ten Steps to Everesting

Before we get started, there’s one bit of pre-advice. Go to Veloviewer and set up an account. The basic version is free. This is a clever app, powered by your Strava data and it’s only via Veloviewer that you can submit an Everesting for approval to HELLS 500. So you have to have a Veloviwer account and here’s the tip: it takes a while when you first link all your Strava rides into Veloviewer. You don’t want to be hanging around awaiting when you’ve got an Everesting to upload, so do it now!

OK, with that done, it’s time to start planning your Everesting.


Step 1: Read the rules (and I mean really know them)

They’re here:

The first key step is to really understand what it is that you’re attempting and to understand that there are some simple, but firm ground rules, administered by HELLS 500.

One of the beautiful things about Everesting is how simplistic it is: pick any climb you like, anywhere in the world: short, steep, long, shallow, high, or low. So long as it’s ‘up’, it can be Everested.

There are some key housekeeping points however:

  • you should aim to ride the entire segment/climb
  • your effort must be continuous (you can stop as much or as little as you like, but you can’t sleep)
  • and you must descend the same route that you climb

If it matters to you, check the Everesting Hall of Fame to see whether yours will be the first ascent. For me, this has been a powerful motivator when choosing climbs: being the first person to Everest something iconic is a singular opportunity.

But there is actually quite a long list of rules to follow and you can and should read all about them:

Predictably, this road has now been Everested. It must have been a tough one, given the impact of altitude.

Predictably, this road – the Stelvio – has now been Everested. It must have been a tough one to complete, given the impact of altitude.

I’m amazed by the number of people I’ve met who haven’t bothered to read these rules personally, but have relied on hearsay. Given the level of effort involved and how emotional things will get if you realise you’ve broken a key rule, everyone who ever attempts an Everesting should read these themselves, really carefully.

I’ll give you an example: a friend told me he was going to Everest a local hill. I prepared a ‘top tube sticker’ for him (more on that below), with the number of laps he’d need to complete, linked to places on a real ascent of Everest e.g. 63 laps = 5,535m = Everest Base Camp. I was breaking the climb down into manageable pieces for him.

However, when I arrived at his chosen hill, I found that he’d decided to ride part of the climb, having been told that was fine by a mate. This wasn’t however the whole hill – the Rules clearly state that you should aim to ride the entire climb if possible, so I was immediately worried his effort might be in vain and also had to quickly try to rework all the maths on laps and ascent data. Given his emotional state at that point – almost half way through – I tried hard to pretend it was ‘no big deal’, but secretly, I was really worried! Telling him he had to ride more laps wasn’t great!

So, read the Rules yourself and plan your ride within them, to avoid any unnecessary stress. If you’re in any doubt about whether your climb is OK, then contact HELLS 500 and ask.


Step 2: Pick your climb

Once you understand The Rules, you can pick your climb. For me, it has to be a climb that I REALLY want to spend 24 hours on! That’s almost certainly a climb that I like, for whatever reason and for most people, who will only ever ride one Everesting, it’s best to make it a climb that they feel suits their climbing style.

I’ve attempted seven Everestings and here’s how I picked my hills:

One: the North Side of Bwlch y Groes – a long, beautiful climb in North Wales. Quiet road, stunning scenery and just a wonderful place to spend time. With hindsight, it gained height too erratically, I didn’t have enough local knowledge re’ wind direction, the descent was really technical (i.e. not relaxing), and I put my base camp in the wrong place. Duh. Failed.

Two: Bradenham Wood Lane – my local hill reps climb, just a couple of kms from home. I knew this intimately: easy gradient, consistent climb, which gears to use where, how to pace myself, exactly how long a block of reps would take and it had a perfect descent – no braking required – and a great surface. Succeeded.

Three: Whiteleaf – another local hill. Far too steep for me really (sections above 20%), but it was #23 in Simon Warren’s 100 Greatest Climbs and mine would be the First Ascent. I wanted this hill BADLY. Tough descent, but I used disc brakes. Succeeded and in fact rode on to 10,000m (see HRS section re’ this next level of folly).

Whiteleaf. #23 in Simon Warren's 100 Greatest Climbs book.

Whiteleaf. #23 in Simon Warren’s 100 Greatest Climbs book. There’s a glitch in this infographic – the green section in the middle is actually dark red in reality!

Four: Mynydd Graean (Gravel Mountain) – with plenty of experience under my belt, I started to get more adventurous. Generally, the further a climb is from home, the harder it is to plan for and execute, logistically. Where are you going to sleep? You can’t leave a hotel at 2.30am in the morning! I was however hooked on the concept of Everesting on gravel and the climb I’d found, 300km from home, was amazing. 10.3km long, entirely off road, stunning scenery. No access to services at all, so I had to take everything with me. I also had to think about safety. Hard climb, with gradients all over the place. Succeeded.

Five: Cime de la Bonette – this was the most audacious one yet,  in the southern French Alps. The highest paved road in France and Europe’s highest Everesting to date. Stunning road – my favourite climb in the world in fact, good services, but tough logistics to get there and a huge gamble on the weather. Everesting at altitude was far harder than expected. Succeeded, but would never try an Everesting at altitude again!

Tom Townsend's infographic for the Cime de la Bonette. At just 17 years of age and for his first Everesting, this was quite some ride!

Tom Townsend’s infographic for the Cime de la Bonette. At just 17 years of age and for his first Everesting, this was quite some ride! Europe’s highest Everesting to date.

Six: Stwlan Dam – a beautiful, dead-end road. A hard climb, which was Everested a few months before my attempt, but it was so stunning I remained committed to it. Succeeded, rode well, but had a major bonk, two-thirds of the way through!

Stwlan Dam

Stwlan Dam: #5

Seven: Strata Florida – a 3km, perfectly graded gravel climb in the remote  mountains of west Wales. Just a sublime place to spend 24 hours!

So, I think your climb has to really appeal to you, for whatever reason. Be careful if someone else picks the climb – will you really like it enough, when things get tough after 12 hours of riding? Does it suit your riding style, as well as theirs? The perfect Everesting climb is probably:

  • close to home
  • a fairly constant gradient
  • ideally a climb you can do seated, somewhere between ‘Endurance’ and ‘Tempo’
  • not too many laps (less than 50 is ideal)
  • well surfaced
  • safe (i.e. relatively free of traffic, with good turning points at the top and bottom)
  • works with prevailing winds
  • has some shade
  • has a natural site for a base camp at the bottom
  • has a toilet nearby

Perhaps most importantly, it should be a climb that excites you and really fuels your mental resolve. You are going to have to really WANT to succeed and if you end up with doubts about your climb, 12 hours in, you’re much more likely to quit.

You also need to work out how many laps are required. Do this carefully, yourself. Don’t rely on hearsay, in case it’s wrong! The Everesting Calculator is one useful tool to help you check:

Personally, I’ve always ridden the segment before and checked it that way. I’ve even gone as far as checking contour lines! Leave nothing to chance…


Step 3: Think about safety

I’ve already warned you that there’s no such thing as a perfectly safe Everesting, just as there’s no such thing as a completely safe bike ride.

At the very minimum, have a think about the turning points at the top and the bottom, which are usually the trickiest places and often at junctions. Car drivers WILL NOT EXPECT you to be running laps and turning in the way that you will. If your descent has lots of joining points for cars (driveways, or side roads), include that in your assessment. This was particularly the case on my second successful Everesting climb and I decided to use blinker lights all day to help keep me visible.

How remote is your climb? My gravel climb was totally wild, so I asked a friend to join me. He rode some laps, took some photos and generally watched over me.

Does your climb have phone reception?

Everesting #3: Gravel Mountain - very remote, with associated safety concerns. the solution was to have a friend with me on the mountain at all times.

Everesting #3: Gravel Mountain – this was very remote, with associated safety concerns. The solution was to have a friend with me on the mountain at all times.

Then think about how your chosen climb will be when your brain is fried, it’s dark and you’re really tired. Is it still a safe choice? What if it rains? Are you still happy with your choice?

How much traffic does it get at busy times? Have you ever ridden it at busy times? Maybe you should, to check? A weekend might be quieter?

You should also have a think about the descent. What will it be like in the dark, when you’re really tired? Remember George Mallory Snr? It only counts if you get off the mountain safely…

It only counts if you get off the mountain safely... Kev Mellalieu descends the Cime de la Bonette.

It only counts if you get off the mountain safely… Kev Mellalieu descends the Cime de la Bonette.

Finally, you also have to get home safely afterwards! It goes without saying that anything other than a very short journey home should be avoided. On Mynydd Graean for example, I simply slept at Base Camp, as soon as I’d finished and drove home the next day.


Step 4: Decide whether to ride solo, or with others

I generally like to be self-reliant and the more moving parts you involve, the more chances there are that something will go wrong. So my first four attempts were solo. However, as Andy van Bergen of HELLS 500 said recently “your legs need to get you to 6,000m and then your head needs to get you the rest of the way”. Having others riding with you may well help you find the mental reserves to keep going. Even just having someone at Base Camp provides some moral support.

Truly solo (the way I rode my second and third attempts – both successful), requires a certain type of mindset – what I call Advanced Chimp Management (more on that below).

If you do attempt an Everesting with a mate, or even as part of a group, you should decide IN ADVANCE what you would do in the event that one of you abandons, or has a major mechanical, or crashes. Making these decisions on the day will be harder, with a fried brain and emotions running high!

These two rode the entire Cime de la Bonette Everesting and HRS combination together. The power of friendship and shared suffering.

D.A. and Rich rode the entire Cime de la Bonette Everesting and HRS combination, together. The power of friendship and shared suffering. When this picture was taken, the shadows were lengthening and by the time they’d descended to the valley floor, it was dark. They still had 3,000m more to climb at this point.

If you go for it solo, you might decide to invite some mates to ride a few laps with you. This offers you some degree of support, plus the distraction of someone to talk to – just be sure to ride at your pace, not their ‘fresh legs’ pace! If you can, spread these people out a little, so you have company for more of the ride. Your lowest points are likely to come around half-way and beyond, particularly if you head into darkness towards the end – if you have a really good mate, who doesn’t mind joining you in the final 2,000m, they could be a God-send.

My mate Kev set his alarm for 2.00am and joined me for my final lap on Mynydd Graean – my third successful Everesting – as moral support went, that was pretty amazing!

Hills with plenty of reps are better suited to riding with other team members: you can all ride at your own paces, but will coincide more often. In contrast, a climb with very few reps could see a team split up very quickly and never come back together, except for the odd wave when passing each other!

One other point – some roads don’t lend themselves to large numbers of cyclists doing unpredictable things. Go back to ‘Step 3: safety’ and reassess whether your chosen hill still feels prudent with multiple cyclists involved?


Step 5: When? How to pick a date

For my first four attempts, I picked three or four days, spread across a three week block and kept them as clear as I could in my diary. That way, if the first date had adverse weather – a headwind, or prolonged rain – I could just delay to my second date and so on. It goes without saying that you want the longest daylight hours possible, so May, June and July are the best months (in the UK).

Some of your ride will inevitably be in the dark, but ideally you want this to be as short as possible.

Some of your ride will inevitably be in the dark, but ideally you want this to be as short as possible. Everesting #2, Whiteleaf, July 2016.

Your alternative is to simply pick a single day in advance and hope that the weather’s kind to you. This makes little sense, but is sometimes your only option. My issue with this approach is that it requires luck and this guide is all about reducing the need for luck. An Everesting will be hard enough without having to ride into a headwind, or endure cold rain, so try to give yourself options.

Having said all this, my fifth Everesting attempt broke all my own rules: I took four other riders, to a mountain 1,500km away and I picked a single day, 12 months in advance. In the end, we were lucky – the sun shone, the wind followed us and everyone succeeded. But it was absolutely NOT how to go about weighting the odds in our favour.

When your first assigned date arrives, be honest with yourself: is the wind right? Is it dry? Are you in good shape and healthy?

Be brave enough to postpone to your next date option.


Step 6: What to take with you & how to organise your Base Camp: the Everesting Kit List

Where you put your base camp is crucial (usually this is a car, but it might even be a car and a gazebo, or maybe even a tent). Unless your chosen climb is very long, I would always recommend locating it at the bottom: your heart rate and breathing will be lowest at that point, making it easier to eat and drink. It’s also more likely to be warm and sheltered. I take a comfy camping chair, a blanket to wrap myself in when I sit down and I turn the boot of my car into a really organised combination of kitchen, workshop and wardrobe.

Proximity to a toilet should be given serious consideration too!

As an Everesting goes on, your mental capacity decreases. The more organised your Base Camp is, the more stress free you’ll be.  So, you need to be VERY organised and some sort of day bag that allows you to see everything at a glance is extremely helpful. I use a small suitcase, fitted out with a camera lens divider, to compartmentalise all the small bits of cycling kit that I need: chamois cream, lights, cables, spare tubes, lube, tools etc.

On my third Everesting attempt, I’d packed all my spare clothes into one big bag. About two thirds of the way in, with night approaching, I tried to find my arm warmers, but couldn’t. I ended up emptying the bag completely, but still couldn’t find them. A friend looked too – not there.

When I got home the next day, there they were, in the bag all along! Your brain gets fried and hence it pays to be very organised with all of your kit.

My 'bike suitcase'. Being organised will really help you find things when your mind's no longer capable of knowing where they are!

My ‘bike suitcase’. Being organised will really help you find things when your mind’s no longer capable of knowing where they are!

My check list for Everesting runs as follows:

  • are your gears adequate? Be honest with yourself. A 34×32 versus a 36×28 could be the difference between success and failure
  • have your bike fully ready as your first date option draws near. I destroyed a bottom bracket on my first Everesting and switched bikes – fortunately, I had a spare in the car
  • in particular, make sure you have new brake pads. 8,848m of down is a lot
  • fit two cycle computer holders (see ‘Tech’ below)
  • fully charge your battery if using eTap, or Shimano Di2, or Campy EPS
  • fit light bracket/s to bike and check beam alignment is correct
  • fit new tyres if required
  • charge everything: lights, cycle computers, phone, spare chargers and make sure they’re in your bag/on your bike
The Open U.P. that I used on Everesting #3. It was flawless. Thank you Jonny Bell of Noble Wheels and CycleFit.

The Open U.P. that I used on Everesting #3. It was flawless. Thank you Jonny Bell of Noble Wheels and CycleFit.

Spares & Bike related stuff:

electrical tape * ass saver mudguard * mobile chargers & cables for computers, lights and iPhone * wet wipes * first aid kit and ibuprofen * pen * chamois cream * sun lotion and lip balm * spare tyre * spare tubes * chain lube * spare chain * chain tool * track pump * spare brake blocks/pads * toilet roll?


spare jersey * spare base layer * spare socks * spare shorts * knee warmers * leg warmers * arm warmers * gilet * wind shell jacket * rain jacket * cap * full finger gloves * beanie * overshoes * clear lenses/glasses for night riding


Step 7: Food & eating

The odd thing about Everesting is that it’s probably the longest ride you’ve ever done, but you have the potential to be better fed and hydrated than ever, with so many opportunities to stop and refuel.

However, there’s a big trap here – your body can only absorb c.70g of carbohydrate per hour. Your heart is working very hard to push oxygen to your muscles and will start to ‘ignore’ less important functions, such as digestion i.e. it reduces blood flow to your stomach and your digestive process slows down. If you keep eating i.e. overloading, at this stage, you’ll end up feeling bloated, followed by nauseous and potentially, you’ll either vomit, or suffer from diarrhea. BE WARNED – many of the Everesting accounts I’ve read contain evidence of this problem developing in the later stages of the ride.

That moment when you've been riding your bike for 18 hours and your support team drives a 50km round trip to bring you pizza! Even better, the road is blocked by sheep, so you have time to savour it!!! Two Tyred Tours - undoubtedly the best bespoke cycle guides in the world!

That moment when you’ve been riding your bike for 18 hours and your support team drives a 50km round trip to bring you pizza! Even better, the road is blocked by sheep, so you have time to savour it!!! Two Tyred Tours – undoubtedly the best bespoke cycle guides in the world! Cime de la Bonette, July 2017: Everesting #4.

Also note, anything dry becomes really hard to actually eat. As the day goes on, your body craves certain things and tastes and the moister, or more savoury that food, the more I tend to like it. I have used the following:

  • water * squash to flavour the water * white rolls * jam * cheese * salted crisps * salted peanuts * cold chicken/ham * rice cakes * orange juice * bananas

I always take some energy food as well: Bounce Balls, Torq Chews, Veloforte bars and a couple of emergency gels: you may lose your appetite as the ride goes on and these things become useful at that stage.

Likewise, I use electrolyte mix, but very sparingly, since it can mess up your stomach if you drink too much of it over a 24 hour period.

Avoid fizzy drinks too – the gas is likely to leave you feeling bloated and nauseous.

Your kitchen area needs to have:

  • cups * bowls * plates * sharp knife * spoons * kitchen roll * hand gel * wet wipes

Have a think about hot drinks too. Can anyone bring coffee/tea out to you? If not, can you take a flask?


Step 8: Tech, Cycle Computers, Lighting and the Recharging Challenge

Recharging: this is very important. One of the biggest challenges of Everesting is recharging things – your Garmin and your lights in particular. You need a strategy and you need to work this out well in advance and then practice it.

Personally, I do the following:

I have a large static recharging block which will do my front and rear lights after the initial early morning session (see below, in Timing), meaning I have fully recharged lights heading into the second night (if necessary)

I have a small battery ‘card’ for recharging my phone on the go in my pocket

And I have a Gomadic charger for my Garmins. These are cheap and work brilliantly, using AA batteries (meaning you always have power, so long as you have a supply of new batteries), plus they’re the perfect shape to tape to your top tube, so you can charge on the go. You need to pad the frame with something and then use electrical tape to secure it. You’ll also need to tape the cables into a safe position. Practice this BEFORE the day of your attempt i.e. know how to do it when your brain is fried, 12 hours in and your cycling computer batteries start to run low! Here’s a link to the Gomadic charger:

Note the Gomadic charger, taped to the top tube, with the wires carefully taped safely away too.

Note the Gomadic charger, taped to the top tube, with the wires carefully taped safely away too.

Garmin now does a brilliant integral mount and batter pack that charges the 1030 computer on the go.

I read a hilarious Everesting blog recently. The rider had chosen a local hill and I sent him various bits of advice. However, he started later than I suggested and didn’t pay enough attention to his recharging strategy and his lights ran out, half way through the night, in the last quarter of the ride. His parents, who were looking after him at base camp, then drove their car up and down the hill, to light his way. But they ran out of petrol and the whole attempt had to pause for a couple of hours while they waited for daylight. He succeeded, but it was a close run thing.

So, get your recharging plans really sorted!

Lights: it should be obvious that you need really good lights to ride by. I use an Exposure Strada Mk6, which lights up the entire road and comes complete with a remote dimmer switch. As a result, my darkness descent times are almost as fast as my daylight ones and everything just feels safer. I can also see animals in the road before I hit them!

Make sure your lights are up to the job – it’s important for your safety. Do you have a spare in case of a really ill-timed failure? If not, could you borrow one?

Cycle Computers: you really need to record your ride on a cycle computer e.g. a Garmin, rather than your phone. Phone data is not acceptable in my view and HELLS 500 prefer you don’t submit phone data (we all know why…)

To be safe, you really need to ride with two computers, or the equivalent. Computers fail – you categorically do not want to get 7,000m up your hill and then have your device freeze. I ride with two and photograph them every 1,000m or so (if you have a disaster, HELLS 500 might take a view, if you have really good evidence and/or witnesses). Perhaps borrow the second and ideally, make sure it uses the same type of recharging port, for simplicity.

Take regular photos of your cycle computer. And fit a great light for safely descending in darkness.

Take regular photos of your cycle computer. And fit a great light for safely descending in darkness.

While we’re on that point, they may also check your HR data to make sure you didn’t sneak off for a sleep. Wear a HR monitor – it’s important. Personally, I think all Everesters should have to wear a HR monitor for this reason i.e. it should be obligatory.

Practice using your lap counter: I find this very useful for confirming the number of laps completed. I start this at my turning point at the bottom of the climb (NOT necessarily at my base camp).

Everesting #2: my lap counter failed, so I reverted to old-school on the lid of my cool box at Base Camp!

Everesting #2: my lap counter failed, so I reverted to old-school on the lid of my cool box at Base Camp!

Be warned: some Garmins start a power-off sequence when you disconnect a power source. Again, practice recharging on the go and don’t get caught by this. Some even reset when you remove the cable – nightmare! Know which type you have…

DO NOT go by the ascent data showing on your computer. It will never be 100% accurate. At one point on my second attempt, my Garmins were 200m out of sync (more than two laps difference on that particular climb) and then drew back level again! You’ve done the maths on how many laps are required to hit 8,848m – ABSOLUTELY STICK TO THAT NUMBER, EVEN IF YOUR COMPUTER SAYS YOU’VE CLIMBED MORE THAN YOU EXPECTED.

In my experience, computers actually have a habit of under-recording your cumulative ascent, meaning you may have to ride slightly further than you calculated, to get 8,848m of ascent showing on your screens. Just roll with it – you CAN do an extra few hundred meters, no matter how tough it might feel.

I simplify my data screens, turn the backlight down to minimum and do everything I can to prolong battery life and cut down on the need for recharging (recharging on the go works, but it’s all weight added to your bike, or more time needed for stops if you wait for your computers to recharge at Base Camp).


Step 9: Timing

There are three key pieces of advice on timing:

What time do you start?

I’ve Everested six different types of climb, varying from short and steep, to long and easy. But my elapsed times have always been in the 20 – 24 hour bracket. Granted, I’m not the fastest climber, but I’m pretty good at keeping my stoppage time down, so I think this is a fair guide to what most people should expect. So, unless your chosen climb is in the Arctic Circle, around the time of the Summer Solstice, you’re going to have to ride in darkness at some stage!

Obviously an Everesting gets both physically and mentally harder as the ride progresses, so I try to avoid having to do too much riding at the end, in darkness. Mentally, heading into the night is really hard and many failures occur at that point.

My solution is normally to start really, really early. My successful start times have been 2.10am, 2.45am (twice), 3.00am, 5.30am and 7.30am. The early starts mean riding the first hour or two in the dark, but then dawn arrives and you have the entire day ahead of you and the hope (at least), of avoiding the coming night. Mentally, this is a great place to be. Notably, the riders I’ve advised on this have tended to start later and have then really wobbled when they’ve had to ride most of the following night. HELLS 500 recommends a midnight start, with the prospect of avoiding the following night’s darkness, altogether.

An early start on the Bonette meant we arrived at the summit for sunrise at 5.00am.

An early start on the Bonette meant we arrived at the summit for sunrise at 5.00am.

How long might the entire ride take?

I was once told to take my single lap ascent time, double it and then multiply that number by the number of laps required. I thought this sounded ridiculously long. However, let’s test the theory: ascending the Cime de la Bonette took me c.2 hours and I needed to ride almost 6 laps. So, this theory would say 4 hours x 6 laps = 24 hours elapsed time. I tried really hard to keep my stops to a minimum, but my elapsed time still reached 21’19”. My other rides have been c.24 hours (a long/shallow gradient one and a gravel one), c.22 hours  (a steep one, but to 10,000m) and c 20 hours (another steep one). So unless you’re a really gifted climber, you should mentally prepare for a 20 – 24 hour effort.

Everesting always takes longer than the maths suggests. Your final laps will be slower and your stoppage time all adds up. Mentally, you just need to relax into this fact and not fight it. Once behind, you can NEVER catch back up, so don’t even try.

There is no time limit, so if you get behind, it actually doesn’t matter and it DOES NOT mean you are going to fail. Relax and just keeping turning the pedals.

The other key piece of advice is to try to keep your stops reasonably short. Stoppage time really adds up when Everesting and the more stops you take, the longer you’re likely to spend in darkness at the end!

Throw away your watch!

It’s unlikely that anyone will ever ask you how fast you did it. They’ll just know that you succeeded. I’ve never managed to actually stop checking the time, but it would help relieve a degree of stress if I could: time is irrelevant on an Everesting, particularly if you have a good recharging strategy for your lights and cycle computers.


  1. The mental bit: advanced chimp management

Andy van Bergen of HELLS 500 is quoted as saying “your legs need to get you to 6,000m and your head needs to get you the rest of the way”.

Personally, I think the mental part is at least as important as the physical part. Time and again, I’ve seen cyclists ride further and higher than they ever thought possible, but largely in organised events, where quitting wasn’t quite so easy. The problem, by contrast, is that an Everesting is self-designed and therefore far easier to walk away from. Coupled to that, many people attempt their Everesting solo and hence quitting feels even easier.

Steve Peters has written a whole book on managing your chimp – the part of your brain that tells you to quit. We all have a chimp. The more big rides you attempt, the better you get to know yours.  Mine even has a name – Pete! A significant part of Everesting concerns chimp management.

Previous comparable rides and milestones really help. In 2013, I rode 350km for the first time. It took me 13 hours. Everesting would only be another six hours or so – it was a useful reference point. George Mallory II’s example was even better – he simply rode more laps on each attempt, so he ‘acclimatised’ to how it felt.

You are really going to have to want to Everest. I mean really, really WANT it. Completing the ride, earning your grey stripe, wearing the HELLS 500 jersey and earning all the associated bragging rights, has to burn inside you. For this reason, it really helps if it’s your idea rather than somebody else’s and if it’s a climb you choose, or feel drawn to.

People are motivated in different ways. Whether it's the HELLS 500 jersey, or the Everesting infographic by Veloviewer, or even just the personal satisfaction of knowing that you did it - it doesn't matter which - but you need to really want to do this, badly!

People are motivated in different ways. Whether it’s the HELLS 500 jersey, or the Everesting infographic by Veloviewer, or even just the personal satisfaction of knowing that you did it – it doesn’t matter which – but you need to really want to do this, badly!

You also need to come up with a detailed strategy to fool your chimp. My personal tactic is to simply break an Everesting down into smaller pieces: 8,848m sounds ridiculous, but 8 x 1,000m sounds more workable. 100 laps sounds awful, but 10 x 10 laps might be OK. Reward yourself between sets with particular food and drink. Arrange to have people around you. Listen to an audio book.

My best example of mind over matter was on my fourth Everesting attempt – a 10.3km gravel climb in the Cambrian Mountains of west Wales, UK. I needed to do exactly 15 laps and I expected the tough bit to start around 10 reps. So when, after just six laps, I felt really wasted, I knew I was in for a major struggle. I was less than half way and my chimp was grinning from ear to ear. I think anyone who couldn’t manage their chimp would have quit just then. I toyed with it and even agreed with Pete that if I failed, I wouldn’t come back, but I also decided to ride just one more lap. And then another. And so on. Somehow, I reached 12 laps in that way and at that stage, I knew I could find the resolve to ride three more, even though I was feeling really rubbish by that point. This approach worked and my gravel Everesting was the first in Wales and only the third in the UK.

I break each climb I attempt into two ‘chimp fooling’ strategies. The first is to compare my chosen climb to real waypoints on Everest. I print this out, laminate it and stick it to the top tube of my bike, just behind my Garmin charging block. I know that if I can reach Everest Base Camp at 5,535m, I can probably reach the summit.

Advanced Chimp Management: fool him into thinking it's not such a big ride by breaking it down into parts, linked to real places on Everest.

Advanced Chimp Management: fool him into thinking it’s not such a big ride by breaking it down into parts, linked to real places on Everest.

The second strategy is simply to divide your total number of laps into blocks, after which, I take a short stop to eat and drink. For example, on my third attempt, a steep climb called Whiteleaf in the UK, I needed to ride 70 laps to Everest and 80 laps to HRS (10,000m). I would stop after every five laps to refill my bidon and eat something. Riding another five laps never seemed too onerous.

Manageable chunks, or just really scary? My top tube sticker on my first Everesting: Bradenham Wood Lane in the Chiltern Hills, UK.

Manageable chunks, or just really scary? My top tube sticker on my first Everesting: Bradenham Wood Lane in the Chiltern Hills, UK.

There’s one more thing – when Everesting solo, I’ve always used a single ear piece and listened to audio books, or music. I never ever do this when riding normally – I think it’s dangerous to remove hearing – one of your key safety senses – from any bike ride, but when Everesting, I make an exception – but just one ear piece. On my first successful ride, I listened to the entire Cormac McCarthy trilogy, narrated by Brad Pitt. Now, whenever I ride that hill, his voice comes to mind!

Maybe the best book I listened to was on my second successful ride: Jon Krakauer’s ‘Into Thin Air’, an account of his 1996 ascent of Everest, during which, a storm engulfed multiple climbers, high on the mountain. It’s a brilliant read, but even better, Jon and I happened to arrive at the South Col at almost exactly the same time. Besides taking my mind off the repetitive monotony of riding laps, it was also a brilliant link to the real mountain. I’d pause the audio for every descent – the wind noise makes it impossible to hear anyway.

George Mallory II sums things up brilliantly, in a quote I spotted recently on the HELLS 500 website:

“There are some things that are not well suited to being described in words. And one of them is the difficulty of finishing an Everest ride. So what can I say? I know some of you have one, or more, Everest rides to your credit. You will appreciate the enormous magnitude of the task and don’t need me to tell you. You have found out the hard way just how difficult life gets when you have ridden 6000m, there’s no gas in the tank and you need to hoist your good self up another 3,000m. For the first timers, can I suggest, respectfully, that you brace for the hardest day of your bike riding lives to date.

Prepare to defend your true self against a barrage of negative inner thoughts that will insist that riding up Mt Everest is meaningless rubbish. In the early stages, maybe at dawn, or around 3000m, you may need to defend against euphoria and slow down. Towards the end, when riding your bike uphill becomes seriously hard, perhaps stop for a short rest if you need to.

For me, the bit I found particularly challenging on Donna was starting laps 6, 7 and 8 because my legs shut down on the long descent. Take care descending. It’s now a bit over 20 years since I first rode Everest on Donna Buang. May THE FORCE be with you, each one of you, from the beginning and all the way through to the finish!”


Success: nice job. You deserve a bucket load of kudos!

8,848m!!! What do you do next?

Did you accurately measure, EXACTLY, the number of laps you needed to ride to climb at least 8,848m? Have you ridden that many laps? If yes, I would first, take photos of your computers. It gives you extreme bragging rights and it’s a ‘magic number’.

However, if 8,848m is showing on your computers sooner than your calculations predicted, I would categorically keep riding to the number of laps your previously worked out. My Garmin’s have never yet been over (always under in fact), but it might happen and I would complete the number of laps, regardless of the number.

Then you’re done. Shout, scream, hug someone, or if alone, just smile, return safely to your base camp and take a few moments.

The Magic Numbers

The Magic Numbers

Save your rides on both computers. Pack them away very carefully – they’re very precious until you’ve uploaded the ride!

This is what to do next:

  • The first thing you do is load your ride to Strava, just like normal. DO NOT CORRECT THE ELEVATION DATA – HELLS 500 won’t like you doing that. They want to see unadulterated data.
  • Then open Veloviewer and ‘Get Everything’ to bring the ride across.
  • Then go to the top menu and under ‘Other’, you’ll see a tab to submit an Everesting ride.
  • If you rode onto 10,000m, you can then also submit an HRS ride.
  • Then sit back and wait. Andy van Bergen, who runs HELLS 500 out of his home in Melbourne, will pick up the submissions within a day or two. He’ll check things out and then comment on your ride in Strava and then add you to the Everesting Hall of Fame.
  • You are now Crew. You can wear the Grey Stripe. You are a Keeper of the Cloud. You are officially gnarly. Kudos.


Other Stuff that’s worth mentioning at this stage:

HRS: The High Rouleur’s Society

I’ve mentioned this a few times, above. Like an Everesting, an HRS ride is administered and verified by HELLS 500. HRS successes are quite rare. There are two types of HRS ride:

  • The Limit: this is the easier of the two in my view: 10,000m in a single ride. Most people simply tack extra laps onto their Everesting. It’s effectively committing to ride another couple of hours. Hard, but not ridiculous. Chimp management is essential – forcing yourself to ride on past 8,848m is quite difficult!
  • The Journey: this one’s trickier in my view. There are three simple rules: the ride must accumulate 10,000m of climbing, it must be at least 400km long and there’s an elapsed time limit of 36 hours. Personally, I’d add one more rule: no repeats of the same hill.

Just like an Everesting, you submit an HRS ride via Veloviewer – there’s a tab for it, just below the Everesting submission one.

For full details, see



Believe it or not, Everesting can be quite addictive! For many, once is more than enough, but there’s a small group of riders, worldwide, who just keep coming back for more. To add a bit of spice, HELLS 500 dreamed up the four SSSS’s. As you’ve probably guessed by now, there are rules!

The SSSS’s stand for:

  • Steep: you have to Everest in under 200km
  • Soil: off-road. This is a tough one, evidenced by the fact that at the time of writing, the UK has seen just three of these
  • Suburban: not sure I like this idea personally. Everesting and traffic don’t mix well
  • Significant: a climb that everyone (well, cyclists at least), would recognise. Something iconic would be perfect. Everest itself would be wonderful 😉

One of the rides must be to 10,000m, thereby qualifying for HRS The Limit at the same time.

There’s even the option to Everest within Zwift. The Rules are complex:


My ‘Seven Summits’

I’ve qualified for three of the SSSS’s, but I’m hesitant about the suburban one. I have to admit to keeping my eye on hills though, whenever I pass through a town!

However, I have a different challenge in mind. Before I was a cyclist, I was a climber and in climbing circles, there’s a challenge known as the Seven Summits: climbing the highest mountain on each of the world’s seven continents – Everest being one of these.

My nod towards this will be to (attempt to), complete (at least), seven Everestings. Six down, one to go. The final one will be Mont Ventoux from Bedoin: arguably the best climb in the world. It’s already been Everested, but it’s so beautiful, I don’t care. I also have to admit to having a suburban target in mind (in Belgium!) and I’m also in the ongoing process of attempting a Double Everesting on a magical hill on Exmoor (although this may prove to be my nemesis)! 


Training for an Everesting

People often ask me how I train for rides like this. I’m not a coach and won’t even attempt to offer a detailed training plan, but my personal plan and milestones go something like this:

Winter: base miles outside and lots of turbo sessions inside. Some of these sessions will be specifically geared towards whatever my next Everesting target is. For example, the Cime de la Bonette was a 24km climb and I knew it would take me just under two hours to climb it once, at around 225 watts. So I replicated that on my trainer: two hours at 225 watts, then repeat.

In March and April, I complete three increasingly bigger rides: 165km/3,000m, then 200km/4,000m and finally 300km/5,000m. I might throw in a 12 – 15hr ride too, maybe something long – 350km or so. If these all go OK, I consider myself ‘Everest-ready’.

I practice riding reps on a hill – ideally your chosen hill, but any hill will do. Get used to how it feels, how to pace yourself, lap after lap, when to eat and drink, how to use the lap counter on your cycle computer, etc.

I start some of my rides early in the morning, or do some night rides: take yourself out of your comfort zone – you’ll be a long way out of it during an Everesting attempt!

I sense check my kit: do I have everything I need and have I tested it on long rides? You wouldn’t run a marathon in brand new shoes and an Everesting should be no different.

Remember, your training rides only need to get you so far: if you can ride a 250km, 5,000m day, then your head can do the rest i.e. for a rider with the right level of physical conditioning, Everesting primarily becomes a mental challenge.

The crew over at HELLS 500 have teamed up with Crank Punk and they can guide you through a specific Everesting training plan, if you need some help. See


Need more advice?

I’ll happily help if I can. Just email me:



I have various people to thank, in particular:

  • The author Max Leonard, whose book, Higher Calling, explains all about the history of George Mallory II’s first Everesting.
  • Charlie Sanders, my first source of advice on Everesting, in 2014.
  • Andy van Bergen and HELLS 500, for turning this into a verifiable and recognisable challenge.
  • Kev Mellalieu, who played a legendary supporting role supporting me on Mynydd Graean, the Cime de la Bonette and Stwlan Dam.
  • Jimi & Janine of Two Tyred Tours (bespoke European cycling tours) who provided their vehicle for base camp and helped make the entire Bonette Everesting possible.
  • Simon Winfield and his team at Cycle Care, who prepared my bikes for various Everestings.
  • Jonny Bell at Noble Wheels, who built bespoke hoops for all of these rides and also built my Open U.P. for Mynydd Graean (Welsh for Gravel Mountain).

Red Bull Time Laps Race: October 2017

A brief meeting with Ross Matheson, Marketing Executive for ASSOS UK & Ireland and before I knew it, I’d signed us up for the inaugural 2017 Red Bull 25hr Time Laps Race in Windsor Great Park.

Think ‘Le Mans 24hr’ and you’ll have a pretty good feel for what was involved: teams of four, one rider on track at any time, most laps wins. Three obvious categories of team: Men, Women and Mixed. We were Mixed: two boys, two girls and no prior experience of anything like this, besides Everesting (the notable similarities being the lack of sleep, the need for shelter, a supply of food and drink, a ‘what if?’ game plan and the need to be able to recharge lights, Garmins, phones, etc).

The unique twist was the 25th hour, since the race was run over the last weekend in October, when the clocks changed, thereby allowing Red Bull to market it as ‘The World’s Longest One day Race’. I never really knew exactly how we gained the extra hour, but now I do: if you watch your clock carefully, at 1.59am, it goes back to 1.00am. Simple. Laps completed in that hour would count double. Lovely.

Things got off to a bad start: with 150 teams of four riders, 150 people were on the track at any one time. An unlikely mix of competitors ranging from Elite category racers to weekend warriors, led to a big pile up on lap three and a race stoppage for an hour and a half! Thankfully, the restarted race passed without further incidence and Team 28, the ASSOS Equipe Team, made decent progress without mishap. In all, we completed 113 laps, a total of 735km and came 50th overall and 11th in our category. Well done to Therese Coen, Lucy Mannall and Tom Townsend – very impressive all round and it was a pleasure sharing the madness with you! A very big thank you also to our sponsors, ASSOS UK and in particular to Ross, who stayed with us throughout the event, bringing us coffee, food and welcome encouragement!

SGL, Oct 2017.

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Ventoux: October 2017

Plan A was to go to Wales in late October and explore the gravel tracks in the mountains west of Rhayader. Then Storm Brian arrived and Plan B looked more attractive. The problem was, Plan B was only loosely formed: ‘find somewhere a lot further south – warmer, drier – and then go climb some big hills’.

We checked forecasts all over Europe: Andermatt: rain. Luz St.Saveur: rain. Bormio: rain. Riva del Garda: rain. Majorca was OK, but didn’t excite us enough. Then we checked Bedoin: dry. We checked the wind: Monday: too strong. Tuesday: ride-able. Wednesday and Thursday: perfectly still. Friday: the Mistral would return with a vengeance!

We took a massive gamble, booked our flights, hire car and hotel, packed bikes and flew into Marseilles on the Monday evening. An airport out of season: no queues, luggage and bikes arrived in minutes, car upgrade and off we went, up the A7.

The wind was moving the car as we drove north in the darkness. Tom and I exchanged nervous glances.

But, thankfully, the meteo was 100% accurate and the following three days were about as perfect as late Autumn riding in Provence can get. We rode all around the mountain, discovering so much more than just Ventoux – the entire area is amazing. We rode up the mountain on each outing – once on the first day, twice on the second day and then, on the third day, we rode all three sides. The roads were deserted, the light magical and the riding perfect.

On Friday, the wind howled and we breathed a sigh of relief at the excuse to stay low and ride the Suzette loop to the north! We packed up, ate pizza and still had an hour free before setting out for the airport, so we headed for the summit in our hire car. At the Col des Tempêtes, I somehow managed to park up and open my door. I half crawled, half walked to the wall and looked over and almost lost my head! I now know what a hurricane force wind feels like and I now understand all the stories about wind and Ventoux.

SGL, Nov 2017.

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August 2017: Welsh Gravel

My cycling guilty secret: I love gravel more than any other surface. Even more than cobbles, although it’s a close run thing.

I’m currently half-way through a project to find the best 100 mile ride in Wales containing as much gravel as possible: more on that as and when I complete it!

That’s not quite what this post is about though, although it’s related. It was late August 2017 and Tom and I had an inkling to try bike-packing. I suggested we ride Lon Las Cymru – Holyhead to Cardiff – in two days, with as many detours as possible to include gravel!

What ensued was an epic 2 x 215km days, starting early and finishing in darkness, with everything from sublime gravel to barely ride-able rocks in between. Four places stood out: the marginal passage across the flanks of Cader Idris, the remarkable 10.3km gravel climb of Myndd Graean, the wilds south of Devil’s Bridge and the Roman Road across the Brecon Beacons.

Enjoy the pictures. SGL, 2017.

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