Please note, none of these pictures were taken during the actual Everesting Roam ride – I was solo and busy riding my bike, plus the weather was poor for much of the time. They all feature my son Tom on the same climbs though – just on different days and 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.

Leaving Croyde Beach – surf’s up!

I’d just embarked on an Everesting Roam. Like an Everesting, Roam rides are overseen by the lovely folks at HELLS 500 in Melbourne. ‘All’ I needed to do was complete my ride within the Roam 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 all things Everesting, which in cycling terms means virtual Everesting (via Zwift), Base Camp Everesting (to 4,424m), the original Everesting (to 8,848m), Everesting 10k (to 10,000m) and Everesting Roam. All of these require preparation, a significant effort and a long time in the saddle. They’re all ‘special’, but if I could keep just one, it would probably be Roam. Most people assume an Everesting would be more precious, but I’m not so sure: read on to find out why? 

Not many people have completed an Everesting Roam ride full stop. An Everesting 10k is much more common because the qualifying criteria are ‘easily’ achieved by tacking extra laps onto a standard 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 the 10k version. Roam 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 Roam 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 Roam starts to push all the right buttons for me: it requires detailed route planning.

In my happy place: my kitchen in Croyde, with maps spread out on the table

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 riders I meet!

Maybe not physically, but mentally and logistically, I had Roam down as ‘harder’ than Everesting 10k. For a start, it was effectively a two day effort, rather than a single ride: some people recover well overnight and some don’t. 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.

Exmoor – like the Ardennes, but hidden away in the south-west of England!

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 Roam. 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 from 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. 

Climbing south-west out of Simonsbath

In the first few hours, I established various things: I had good legs, the roads were filthy and the fog – dense above 100m – wasn’t going away. I spent the first five hours in soaking wet clouds. My bike and I gradually 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.

Heading south-west on a small lane from Challacombe

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 turned out to be foggy and yes, it was soaking wet, but it wasn’t terrible, so I decided to 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.

Climbing away from Porlock with the Bristol Channel in the background

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 on the coast 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 reps), 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.

Nearing Kinsford Gate and my food and spares stash

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.

Jose’s Lane – my personal favourite climb on Exmoor. The scenery is straight from Rivendell!

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 reps and a normal Everesting).

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

Higher on Jose’s Lane, just before the sea comes into view

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 Roam was a wonderfully ‘proper bike ride’ and second, my Garmin was struggling to register ascent again!

The amazing moor-top road from Exford to Porlock

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.

Another contender for ‘Best Climb on Exmoor’: Exmoor Forest – almost 10km in length

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

Everesting Roam: a ‘proper’ bike ride.

SGL, Summer 2018.

The upper section of Jose’s Lane: truly stunning