Photos by Kevin Day
When a challenge is thrown down here at ENVE you can always bet on a handful of us jumping in before ever fully considering what it entails. That was the case when we peer-pressured each other into joining Rebecca Rusch’s Giddy Up For Good Challenge this past Memorial Day Weekend. Even though the challenge had options for multiple elevation feats, four of us went all in on the ultimate goal of a 29,029 foot Everest. With all the spring events either canceled or postponed, the timing of the Giddy Up For Good was spot on — giving us something to channel our energy around. We weren’t alone in feeling the need for something like this either, with around 700 people signing up and helping to raise over $130,000 for Covid-19 relief.
There are a lot of considerations for an Everesting attempt. Two of the biggest takeaways after our day turning laps on the mountain are:
1) Finding the right climb is essential. A climb that averaged 5% is something that could be easily repeated, yet in order to achieve the 29,029 feet of vertical gain, you would need to ride over 220 miles. We went to the opposite extreme in our selection and chose a segment that averaged 12% and went up to 8,200 feet in altitude. Was it ideal? Probably not. But it sure made things all the more memorable. Here’s the segment we chose: Why So High, Everest?
2) Another key element to success is having the right cheering section. Support from friends, family, and colleagues throughout the day added some light to the dark moments. There were moments that our turnaround spot was a straight up party zone, and with so much support there was no other option than to get back on the bike and take another lap.
Here’s what stood out to us over the course of our very long day as part of the Giddy Up Challenge. If you’re interested in digging into the details, we go deep into equipment setup and our own personal experiences in our latest podcast.
AJ Turner, Project Manager
Completing an Everest has been on my cycling “To-Do” list for quite a while. It seemed elusive and not quite within my wheelhouse. Rebecca Rusch’s #GiddyUpForGood challenge, and Neil’s heavy handed encouragement, however, made the entire thing become a reality. Nutrition, patience, encouragement from friends, and ultimately the best Everesting partners I could have ever asked for were the keys to my success. As with any of these sufferfests, I learned a lot about how I handle mental and physical stress, that very few will ever know or experience. I take a lot of pride in knowing that I’m able to partake in these endeavors and feel fortunate that I have the opportunities. After a few days of restless recovery and being too tired to sleep, I’m finally realizing how fun the entire day was. Ripping down a fast descent after an hour of climbing is the perfect way to re-hype yourself for the next lap, and seeing my Everest buddies tackling their own climbs or enjoying their own descents always got me excited.
I picked my road bike that I felt most comfortable on, and likely with the wrong gearing (36×30) – but sometimes you have to play the cards that you’re dealt and not make too many excuses for yourself. As my favorite saying goes, “If you’re going to be dumb, you’d better be tough”. This might be one of the hardest things I’ve ever done on a bike, and definitely one of the most memorable.
Shane Nishikawa, Director of Operations
My day on Powder Mountain is one that I will recognize as one of the most inspiring days I’ve ever had on a bike. When Neil invited me to join the group he had assembled to take part in the challenge I quickly realized that I was punching well above my weight. The brutal steepness of Powder Mountain intimidated me, the thought of climbing four times more in elevation than I ever had in a single ride intimidated me, and the thought that the friends that I would be doing this with would likely finish 4-5 hours before me really made me question what the last few laps would be like riding alone. As one that is naive to challenges of this magnitude, I did my best for weeks to wrap my head around the enormity of the task. In the end, I showed up.
I vividly recall watching my computer strike 5:35am as I took my first pedal stroke. This was the first of many small victories that made this such a monumental achievement for me. Without diving into my history in cycling, it would not have surprised anyone if I didn’t have the ability to climb powder mountain once, let alone Everest on one of the hardest climbs in all of Utah. I knew I was the underdog, but I had mentally prepared myself to sit on my bike for upwards of 20 hours if needed. Though there was plenty of pain, suffering, and sometime torture (which is what I thought the day would be like), I will remember this day as one of pure joy and accomplishment made up by the screams of friends going 50 mph downhill offering me encouragement, family and friends at the base of the climb offering their support, and the personal achievement as I checked off small milestones throughout the day 5,000 feet at a time. It is impossible to articulate what went through that day which is why I’m grateful to have been joined by great friends to not only push me along through it, but to reminisce with for years to come.
In the end I unfortunately stopped my attempt at 22,000 ft. It was an emotional decision that still bothers me from time to time, but with about 4-5 hours to go at what was then my current pace, it would have been unsafe to ride in the snow, wind, and darkness. I obviously wish I would have succeeded, but in many ways it is almost appropriate that I didn’t. We wanted the Everest attempt to be an epic, all-time type challenge, seemingly impossible. You almost want a high failure rate on events like this, or it can actually detract from how unfathomable of an accomplishment it is for those that get to the top. It is hard being the fall guy in that statement but Everesting is an enormous achievement. Simply put, Jake, AJ and Neil have put in countless time for many years to deserve this feat and I actually appreciate in some ways that there is so much more for me to do to achieve 29,029. I saw three of the strongest cyclists I know suffer and hurt alongside me and I see it as a major achievement to have still been on my bike, fighting to the bitter end to watch each of them succeed. It was a very inspiring and special moment for me. For the first time in my life I saw my computer check off 10,000, 15,000, 20,000, and it absolutely will not be the last time I see it strike 22,000 feet. Everything is earned and nothing is given on two wheels, especially when you are attempting to go nowhere but up!
Jake Pantone, VP Product & Consumer Experience
The second the words came out of my mouth, I knew it was a mistake. Midway up a climb on our daily lunch ride, I asked Neil to tell me about his Everesting ride which he completed a few years back. While he was telling me about it, I had the sick feeling that he’d figure out a way for another Everesting ride in the near future, and I’d be accompanying him on it. Little did I know it would be roughly 6 weeks from that day. So, when Neil said, “Hey Jake, Rebecca Rusch is putting together an Everesting event to raise money for charity,” I knew my plans had changed.
Having done a few hard rides in my life, and with Neil’s beta, I knew what I was committing to. I think what surprised me the most was actually how enjoyable the event actually was. This has everything to do with mindset and the reality that I never considered I wouldn’t finish. To me, it was simple math. Ride below your capabilities and in 10-12 hours, you’ll have Everested. With a mindset to just chill and ride at a steady pace, you’re able to enjoy the scenery and your company. I rode with Neil the first 5 or 6 laps, we ate lunch with our families, friends showed up and rode a few more laps with us, and by the time I really started to suffer, I was done. I was stoked to have enjoyed the day and completed another monster task on the bike. The weather was perfect except for the last hour and a half or so when a winter storm started to roll in. I was sincerely gutted to see Shane have to pull the ripcord on his attempt due to the weather, but it was the right call.
As for gear, when we decided to ride PowMow road, I decided the road bike wasn’t going to give me the gears I need for 10 hours of climbing an average of 12% so I switched focus to preparing my gravel bike. I swapped the 40c tires for 28c tires on my G23 wheels. We all rode G23 wheelsets because they are the lightest wheels in the fleet. I swapped my 44t chainring for a 34t and when paired with my 11-42 cassette, I had all the gears I could want. All in, the decision to ride the gravel bike over the road bike was 100% the right decision.
As far as big days on the bike go, this was one of my favorites. Being surrounded by beautiful scenery and my favorite people made it even better.
Neil Shirley, Marketing Manager
Spend the entire day on the bike with my buddies? Sign me up! I’m always in for something like that regardless of the terrain or conditions we’re up against. I knew the difficulty was going to be monumental just hitting those climbing stats, but whoever thought that a 12%, 4-mile long segment would be ideal must have been crazy.
I felt like I had an advantage over the other guys in that I had Everested a handful of years back, so I knew what I was getting myself into and that as severe as the physical challenge is, the mental aspect could be the biggest limiter. My advice to others was that you truly needed to commit 100%, otherwise there was zero chance at finishing if you went into it ‘seeing how it goes’.
My favorite part of undertaking something like this is the actual training and preparation, so having four of us to all share in discussing nutrition and pacing strategies was a fun buildup to the day. Once on the mountain, there was a peaceful feeling in just ticking off each lap; nothing to worry about other than to keep eating, drinking, and pedaling. After about 20k feet of climbing, there was some soul searching to do out there, but having the other guys ticking off laps with me provided some comfort, since as they say, ‘misery loves company’. Sometimes I wonder if I’m going to have any friends left after throwing out ideas like this, but so far everyone seems to be happy that we spent the entire day riding repeats on a climb that we dread going up even once.