By definition, Everesting is a Sisyphean task as you are never (or rarely) obtaining a noteworthy summit, and it involves many, many proverbial boulder-rolls up the same hill. “To Everest” something (or “Everesting”) first became a verb in 1994 when George Mallory (grandson of the famed mountaineer by the same name) took on the challenge of riding the height of Mount Everest, by doing enough repetitions on a single climb to equal 8,848m (or ~29,000ft). His hill of choice was Australia’s Mount Donna Buang (1,069m) which he rode up and down eight times on his bike.
Everesting is, arguably, one of the most difficult cycling challenges that humans have created (runners, and even skiers, have gotten onboard with the concept). But as of this post Hells 500, the Everesting arbiters, have received ~7,500 recorded Everesting efforts from some very determined cyclists around the world. Last year, when the covid-19 pandemic put the kibosh on racing and even club rides in early spring, many pro and amateur cyclists alike took up their own Everesting challenges, with some of the most elite vying for the fastest known time (FKT). According to runnersworld.com, the fitness tracking app Strava saw a 600% increase in reported Everesting rides in 2020.
If you had asked me last year whether I wanted to do an Everest ride, I would have laughed and responded with a resolute no—it seemed like an impossibly daunting feat. I am no pro-cyclist — I have never participated in a cycling race and am not part of a sponsored cycling club; I ride for the enjoyment of being outdoors and meeting new people. I caught the cycling bug in 2013 after graduating from college when I rode across the country with a group called the 4K for Cancer, a program that supports young adults affected by cancer. Before signing up for this cross-country ride I most certainly did not consider myself a cyclist, but I found so much exuberance and discovery from the world and people around me. This sense of discovery has kept me captivated by the bike ever since.
It wasn’t until early April 2021, when my friend Serena broached the subject of Everesting, that I really gave the idea serious consideration. Admittedly, the possibility that I could complete an Everest challenge had been in the back of my head since last summer when I completed the Three Peaks ride. Riders climb three of the most prominent peaks in the Bay area — Mount Tamalpais, Mount Diablo, and Mount Hamilton — for a total of 200 miles and 17,500’ of vertical gain. Still, imagining doing a ride with an additional 11,000’ of climbing seemed too big. But this year when Serena gave me the nudge to go for it, I told her I’d consider it — which basically meant yes (for me, “no” means a hard no, “yes” means yes, and “maybe” also means probably yes).
What changed? I was looking for a way to challenge myself before graduating this fall. I also wanted to dedicate my effort to Asian-American Pacific Islander (AAPI) heritage month. Everesting is a physically taxing endeavor that requires mental fortitude, diligence, and an ever-persevering attitude, all qualities that I learned from my parents and ancestors who originated from the Philippines. I strive to seek purpose in all that I pursue and I do this by combining my love for adventure with organizations that I care about by using the bike as a vehicle for change in the communities I am involved in. To hold myself accountable to the challenge and to tie my ride into a larger goal, I put out a call to action on Instagram, asking folks to donate to the nonprofit Hate is a Virus throughout the month (May 2021) that I would be completing my Everest.
When I commit to something, I do my best to see the thing through. I find that sharing my goals with others forces me to hold myself accountable. There’s a fine line between finding a challenge that’s too far out of reach, and one that’s possible but will certainly test one’s strength — mental and physical. For me, Everesting proved to be the latter — I wanted to get it done, and I willed myself to do it by connecting this challenge to a purpose outside of myself.
Serena and I brainstormed several potential segments in the surrounding area as the venue for the big day. Our criteria included: i) good quality road without potholes; ii) no technical descents; iii) public restroom either at the base or summit; iv) a steady climb; not hellishly steep, but also not so flat that there’s less than 100ft of vertical gain per mile. We landed on the Hawk Hill (from Bunker Road) segment—an approximately 1.5mi climb that gains 623ft per lap.
To train, I increased my mileage and vert steadily in the weeks leading up to my Everest attempt. I also added in some sessions of hill repeats to my weekly rides to get my body used to the specific nature of the challenge. For me, it was equally as important to gain more confidence in my descending skills as I had lingering apprehensions from past injuries about crashing on downhills. Ultimately, when it comes to bigger objectives, I rely on more time in the saddle rather than a structured regime of tempos and intervals. I structured my weeks to continue building volume — extending the distance of my long rides — and adding in one to two days of hill repeats per week. In my six week buildup to my Everest ride, I backed off the volume on weeks 4 and 6:
Long Ride Build-up
•Weekend 1: 100km metric century – 67 miles/ 3.5k ft. vert
•Weekend 2: 100-mile century – 100 miles/ 7.9k ft. vert
•Weekend 3: 10K gain century ride – 111 miles/ 12.4k ft. vert
•Weekend 4: Down week.
•Weekend 5: 15K+ gain century + ride – 135 miles/ 17.4k ft. vert
•Weekend 6: Down week.
•Weekend 7: Everest!
At times, it was tough to maintain a set schedule since I was still balancing cycling with running (~40 miles a week) on top of the stresses of school, lab work, teaching responsibilities, and life in general. But I kept at it because I genuinely enjoy my time outdoors riding and running, and exercise helps me cope with stress. Bonking hard at the end of my first 10k vert ride on my third long ride left me with serious doubts. But I reminded myself that I wasn’t doing everything right – namely nutrition. Advice to self: drink when you’re not thirsty and eat when you’re not hungry. Serena suggested a more strategic plan: 200-250 calories and 16-ounces of liquid consumed per hour. Output of energy from cycling requires input of energy through food!
Although I contemplated switching to a cassette with a friendlier climbing gear, I realized that my short cage derailleur (and graduate student bank account) meant that I was stuck riding what I have, a 50/34 compact crank with an 11-28 cassette. Still, I figured if I could do the Three Peaks ride on this setup, I could make through an Everest too!
After only four hours of intermittent sleep, I was up at 2:45am. The weather was not on my side. Howling winds had kept me up much of the night, which didn’t bode well for my early morning start. After driving 25 minutes to the segment I realized I left my bike shoes at home. I considered riding in my Nike’s, but knew that was a supremely stupid idea for a 15+ hour day. So I drove back home, grabbed my cleats, drove back, parked the rental car, and started the ride 44 minutes later than expected.
The rules for Everesting state that each hill repeat must be ridden up and down to count as one full lap. One of the reasons I had chosen Hawk Hill was that it was the first climb I ever did when I moved to San Francisco in 2016, so there’s a lot of sentimental value in that hill across the Bay. As I started down the first descent, I encountered strong headwinds and loose gravel on the dark, wet road, all of which made me want to re-schedule. But I’d told far too many people that today was the day—no backing out now.
As I finished my first ascent and recomposed myself, I turned around and saw a headlight approaching. I knew that it couldn’t be a car, since the gate leading to the top of Hawk is closed from sunset to sunrise. A moment later, I heard my name called out and found my friend’s smiling face approaching — Philip had arrived before dawn to ensure that I didn’t start alone. He promised he’d stay until the next person showed up. It was 4:57am. My perspective immediately shifted and my spirits lifted — I was already looking forward to laughing at his endearingly cheesy jokes.
Around 5:30am, Serena showed up with a homemade scone and excitedly joined in for a few laps. On my 7th ascent, I heard a car honk followed by loud words of encouragement from Reymundo! It was 6:45am. I smiled as I saw Megan while making my 10th descent to Bunker Road, caught Pam taking glamor shots of us riding the Hawk segment, found Quinton at the roundabout, spied Stevo in his signature puffy, and spotted Dalton making a downhill turn to catch my 12th ascent. A few moments later, I heard pump-up jams bumping from a camper van and saw Julian waving me on. When I reached the top I saw that he had set up his mobile café serving Cuban espressos (@cafetabueno) with a sign that read “Coffee for climbers. Go Anthony!” At this point in the day, the wind was still howling, there was a steady drizzle coming down, and fog lay blanketed over the entire bay. But none of that mattered in that moment because I was overwhelmed by the support from all of my friends. It was only 9am.
As the hours and laps passed, more and more friends turned out to cheer me on. On my 14th ascent, Albert joined the crew; on my 16th ascent, I found Aileen, Tuan, Lincoln, and Joey at Bunker Road; and somewhere between the 17th-18th climb, I saw Kendra, Adam, and Mollie (who flew in from Washington!). It really was a “Hawk Blawk party” (thanks for the line, Justin!) and I couldn’t stop smiling! Julian had a sign that read “Go Anthony!” so I had random cyclists at various points on the hill cheering me on as I climbed Hawk for the umpteenth time. Julian spent close to 4 hours supporting not just my Everest effort, but all the cyclists and tourists that decided to climb Hawk that grey and blustery morning by providing some tunes and #goodpinchecoffee. I am still absolutely floored and tremendously grateful for his support (plus his dog Scout and partner Sara). After he packed up the van, he joined me for a lap and wished me “fair winds” as I reached the midpoint of my ride. It was 11:45am.
Somewhere between laps 20 and 22, Giulio and Andrew joined me. As I bade farewell to Kendra, Aileen, and Joey, I found Megan once again, but this time with her entire lab at the bottom of Hawk on lap 23. She started blasting “Living on a Prayer” during the 24th ascent and we yelled along, “Ohhh – we’re halfway there. OOOHHHH-OOO, LIVING ON A PRAYER.” After a couple more ascents with Megan, Ziyang, and Jim, I spotted Kai sporting a bright pink megaphone yelling, “Keep it up!” Around lap 26, I finally got to chat with Marc who was training for his own upcoming Everest attempt in July. We had been passing each other all morning, waving in solidarity as we kept at the repeats. On his 13th and final climb, our climbing laps finally synced up and we formally introduced ourselves to each other. I caught Lexi at laps 28-29, which made me smile extra big cause I knew how much she’s had to overcome this past year.
After my 30th repeat of Hawk Hill, I was alone for the first time since my initial lap. I finally had some time to reflect on what was happening and how incredibly blessed I am to have such wonderful people in my life. By this point, my nutrition was dialed as was my line on the descent; I was honestly looking forward to the next 18 laps. Even though I still hadn’t seen the sun, my spirits were high. I had gone into the day expecting to ride maybe 15 of the 48 laps with friends, but that estimate was immediately met early on. It was mid-afternoon and I wasn’t expecting anyone else to show up and that was fine. It was 3:25pm.
But my friends had other ideas. On the 32nd ascent, Mariko, Melissa, and Zach cheered from the roundabout; the 33rd ascent, a sneaky Jamie caught me on Upper Conzelman; the 34th ascent, Luke found me climbing McCullough and Stevo and Helen greeted me at the top with puppy kisses from their dog, Kodi; the 35th ascent Lincoln dropped by again this time with Clara; the 35th descent, Theo arrived; the 36th ascent, Sophie joined with a customized Anthony-playlist blasting from her speaker; the 37th ascent, I saw Ollie from the East Bay; and somewhere between the 37th and 38th ascent, Matt finally intercepted the group! It was 6:20pm.
After a second wave of friendly faces, I was approaching the end. The wind never really died down the entire day, but there were periods in the early afternoon that were decent. After 6:30pm, the winds started to pick up, more fog rolled in, and the temperature began dropping. I imagined myself finishing the Everest as I started — alone in the dark. I was mentally prepared for a solo finish, but was also losing steam and energy. Even so, I was wholly determined to finish this challenge even if a hurricane were to somehow hit the coast of California and blow me off that hill. I wanted it bad.
I did the next two ascents solo and was astonished to hear Shyam and Rahul cheering from their car as I was finishing climb 41. Megan came back for climb 44 and Taia joined on climb 46 – which really bolstered by resolve just as the strong headwinds on upper Conzelman tried to keep us from summiting. The last few laps were certainly the hardest as the sun set, the wind picked up, and visibility grew poor. I banged up my ankle on the car rental door as I was grabbing my last few snacks, which made pedaling on my right foot extremely uncomfortable. I didn’t reach delirium, but I was starting to enter a simultaneously rapturous and zonked state. As I approached my last lap, I heard “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” blasting from Megan’s phone and that’s when I started to feel euphoric and quite emotional. The grin that was present from the start became even wider.
We started belting out the lyrics in the dead of the night, swapping verses, singing out of tune, and bobbing our heads wildly to the beat. The cold no longer bothered me, the wind no longer hindered me – I did the damn thing!
What made the Everest experience so special were the friends that came up to Hawk to ride laps with me and support this insane idea. The amount of support I received on my Everest attempt left me grinning ear to ear the entire day – even when I was exhausted and straying into delirium. It takes a village, and I am filled with so much gratitude for my friends, family from afar, my UCSF school community, Fatcake Club, and @cafetabueno who all showed up for me. To think it’s all because of a bike that I’ve met so many wonderful human beings and beautiful souls is inexplicable – but I thank the cosmos and universe for aligning them with me. I couldn’t have done it without you all. Un milione di grazie – I love you all from the bottom of my heart!