As you've probably heard, I made it up Bowden Hill 73 times, becoming the first person to Everest it and raised some £821.79 (at the time of writing) for Wheels for Wellbeing, a charity who make it possible for disabled people to go cycling and enjoy the many benefits it brings.
Many thanks to all who donated, including the sometimes rather generous anonymous donors.
Thinking back only a few years, I don't think I could've done this. I did a fair bit of touring cycling in my twenties, but all in fairly short hops and at a very relaxed pace. I remember around 2010 riding 50km (30 miles) and feeling really wobbly in the legs the next day. Over the years I extended my rides, tried a few Sportives, but found them a bit commercial, competitive and sometimes not so friendly. Then I got into audax, with distances starting at 50km, working up through 200km (125 mile) events to 300, 400 and 600km.
So I don't think what I did was particularly special or heroic. Yes, I put a lot of effort into preparing for it and I'll grant that I probably have a better-than-average natural fitness level and training response to exercise. But I'd guess that with training and motivation a lot of casual cyclists could "Everest" a climb like Bowden Hill. It wasn't exactly easy, but there was always plenty of oxygen, no walls of ice and the temperature was never below 15 C.
To be honest, while I find badges and achievements fun, I'm not particularly comfortable with the grandiose language on the official Everesting website. Everyone should be applauded for their own challenges, which will be at the edge of their ability and the obstacles to them may be physical, mental or just plain lack of time. I'm at least as impressed by the efforts of disabled people to take on challenges that put many supposedly more able people to shame. That's what inspired me about Wheels for Wellbeing, along with the way they promote the positive feedback of confidence and wellbeing that are both causes and effects of cycling.
I've learnt from reading audax ride reports that the most epic and humourous stories often come from those at the back of the field, perhaps lacking fitness, suffering multiple mechanical failures, finishing with a minute to spare or having to give up and discover that the rural trains aren't running for another 6 hours. I'm also well aware that however tough you think you are, there's always someone tougher out there. How about Ray Brown who's done 6 "Everestings" this month in the heat of Georgia, USA and still has another 2 planned before the end of the month. Or Steve Abraham who's attempting to break the year record which has stood since 1939, by riding more than 206 miles a day. Then there's Hector Picard, who, despite having no hands, is a long-distance cyclist and pretty good at changing a bike tyre. I hear a rumour he's also doing Paris-Brest-Paris this year, so I hope to see him and give him a big "Chapeau!".
As is often the case before a big ride, I slept intermittently and woke early, so I started at 5.20am, ten minutes ahead of schedule.
As I was climbing I was thinking a few things to pace myself. Things like, "All you need to do this is a low gear and a lot of patience." and "Take your time and the hill will come to you". [I was passed by the occasional delivery van and a group of cyclists out early who I think had no idea what I was doing, but otherwise the roads were quiet and the air was still. I climbed steadily, but easily making my five-climbs-an-hour target. When I got to the steep part, I'd make the most of the lack of traffic and tack back and forth across the smoothest strip of tarmac. This was a bit slower than going straight up, but reduced the effective gradient and the effort required, so should make me quicker overall. My lowest gear was 34F x 29R. If I had a triple chainset this probably wouldn't have been necessary. Every few climbs I'd pick a slightly higher gear and climb the steep part standing up. This used different muscles. They say a change is as good as a rest. Well, almost.]
When I'd done about 15 climbs, I noticed a cyclist in red also repeating the hill. When I eventually caught up, he introduced himself as Tony Hull. Tony is the AUK DIY organiser for the South West and is unfailingly helpful and supportive to those planning a new route. I'd only ever contacted him via email, so it was nice to finally put a face to the name. Before long, some chaps from my local club, the Chippenham Wheelers arrived and chatted as we did a couple of laps together. Later I was cheered on by a few members of Malmesbury Clarion CC although didn't get to chat as they were climbing as I was descending.
I stopped briefly every five or ten climbs to refill on water and have a quick bite of flapjack or banana. Partly to pass the time, I was regularly calculating my rate of climbing and how many I'd have done by lunch at 12:30. As I'm a bit slow with maths, this kept me pretty well occupied. Before I knew it I was passing my previous maximum - the 22-climbs mark and into the unknown. The GPS was counting the total metres climbed, but I was also trying to remember how many actual climbs I'd done. I didn't have a board to check them off on, just a number in my head. One daydream I came up with was trying to remember what I was doing at the age of the climb I was currently on, but apart from getting married at 28 I can't really place my memories in time very well. Anyway, by lunchtime I'd reached 36 climbs - my current age - so that game had to stop!
When I stopped for lunch I was pleased to be just over halfway through the climb - the GPS read 4441m. I photographed it for the fifth time that day - just in case it failed later. I was a bit surprised that I felt considerably better than after my training rides when I'd only completed 22 climbs. Perhaps the training had paid off or perhaps I was pacing myself better today. I was delighted when my parents and sister turned up, followed by my daughter, carried up the steepest part of the hill on the back of my wife Erica's bike. Bringing her spare clothes, travel potty and newly-acquired kite, meant it was no mean feat!
We were also joined by some friends from Hertfordshire who were visiting family nearby. The staff at the Rising Sun had my lunch ready for me and I enjoyed the nut roast burger and sandwich with chips and a large glass of milk. I sat digesting and chatting for a while as the others ordered and ate. I was still a bit hungry, but knew I needed to start riding again soon, so decided to nibble something small later. Although I was in the pub for an hour and a quarter, longer than I usually stop for on a long ride, I still felt uncomfortably full getting back on the bike and was climbing a bit slower than before the meal. However, I got some great support from family and friends the next few times I passed the pub. They'd even made a banner to wave with a drawing of a mountain. Next I was cheered on by some more audaxing friends - Jo had ridden over from Great Malvern to say hi, and Brian got some of the best photos from the day.
By three o'clock I was on my own again, with only the GPS for company. The good news was that lunch had gone down and I felt I was climbing strongly again. I wasn't going quite as fast as in the morning, but finishing before sunset was still possible - this was almost the longest day of the year!
There was a problem, however. The numbers on the GPS weren't quite adding up to what I had expected. The GPS and the Strava cycling website do have slightly different ways of measuring altitude, but I wasn't willing to risk being under 8848 by even a metre! The 72 climbs I had expected was starting to look like 73... maybe more.
The afternoon was warming up. I now had a slight tailwind on the climbs - very useful on the lower section and an occasional refreshing gust as I passed St Anne's Church near the top. It did slow me down on the descents, but only by seconds and this was definitely my preferred wind direction. In spite of the wind, it was still very warm, especially on the ascent when the wind-chill factor disappeared and effort increased. I was sweating a lot now, so I carried more water, added hydration tablets and sipped a bit more regularly.
By 6pm I'd done 57 climbs. The GPS showed 6987m climbed and 219km distance. I was getting weary and felt I still had a long way to go. It didn't help that I'd been alone now for about four hours and the picturesque village and countryside now seemed dull. All the long rides I've done have had a bit of a low point, so I was expecting this. I had about sixteen more climbs to do. That meant another three hours - if I could keep up my intended pace, which was slipping a bit. At least it had cooled down. I had another small banana and set off again at what felt like a snail's pace. I'd enjoyed much of the morning, but the next two hours were a tedious grind, slowly ticking off each climb, all the time wondering how many I'd need to make the altitude add up.
However, by the time I reached about 67 climbs I felt better. I had been going steadily and the end was now in sight. The owner of The Rising Sun stood outside the pub and yelled, "Go on, you can do it!". Maybe I'd have to do 73 climbs, but even if it was 75, I'd be finished before 10pm. No problem. I think I even sped up a bit, getting out of the saddle for a few more climbs. Before I knew it, I was rolling into the pub car park around half 9, having done 73 and a half climbs, with the GPS showing 8911m. I texted Erica, thanked the pub staff and packed the bike into the car for a short drive home to a wonderful dinner.
I spent the next couple of days eating and sleeping more than usual. My knees ached on the Sunday, but otherwise I suffered no ill effects. I'd had a huge adventure, a challenge and raised more than I had hoped for a great cause.
Thanks again to everyone who supported me.
This bit might be useful if you're thinking about Everesting a hill, although what seemed to work for me may not work for you, and a sample size of one is hardly significant! However, if you do go for it, let me know. If you live nearby, I may even come out and support you.