On November 10, 2018 George Vargas Everested Twin Oaks Valley Road in San Marcos, Ca. More specifically he Everested an existing segment named “South Village to School Entrance”. The effort took a total time of 14:06 for 132.6 miles (213.3 km) 29,088 feet (8866 m). If you track ride time it was 13:09. Regarding total time this was his third fastest Everest at 14:06. His fastest Everest was #4 Everest13:30 total time. His second fastest Everest was #2 Everest 14:05 total time. He had a flat and mechanical free day! This ride marks his seventh completed Everest Challenge. You can follow him on Strava here.
This is a local hill where I have done many repeats over the last 4 years. I am very familiar with this hill. The grade is consistent 9-11% once you ride through the “shallow” run in of about 7% in the first 50-75 meters. I had dreamed of Everesting this hill for the past two years but I just hadn’t summoned the courage to get it done. The crazy thing is that I have done much steeper hills in the past. For example, Everesting the top 1/2 mile of Double Peak (Everesting #2) which averages 11% but actually has two distinct ramps of 15-19% with a relief in the middle of that lowers the average grade down to 11% . I had also Everested Coronado Hills (Everesting #4) which averaged 15%! At the time I Everested Coronado Hills it was the shortest distance Everest in North and South America at only 77.8 miles (125.2 km) for 29,203 ft (8901 m).
So then why the trepidation on this climb? There were a few glaring concerns allow me to list them.
- SAFETY – When doing a recce of your climb one of the first things you need to consider is “Will this be a safe place to Everest? Ok it seems safe during the day but what about at night?” This climb has a lot of traffic flow during the day. The bike lane is narrow. At night the traffic is much lighter compared to the day but it’s not like it drops to zero. There are only two lamp posts on the climb, at the bottom and at the top. At night you are trusting your rear red blinky to provide an invisible force field around you as you climb at 6-8 mph while the traffic in the lane next to you is doing 50-60 mph.
- HEAT – During the day this climb can be very hot. During the summer when you have the most daylight it can be over 95F. There is a slight tailwind every afternoon. The trifecta now exists the tailwind, the ambient heat and the heat coming off the tarmac.
- GRADE – I climbed steeper grades on my previous Everests but for some reason this one I respected, admittedly probably too much, because of the all the times I have done this climb at full gas while chasing or being chased during a group ride. During the group rides I would make the selection of the lead group and then suffer my way up trying to stay on the wheels of stronger riders until I would POP! That mental trauma of all the times I had suffered at full gas, all the times I POPPED, all those times were in my mind thinking that I had to climb it at least 75 times, albeit at a much lower intensity.
I wish to give some props to the smart people who created the logic behind Everesting Calculator which can be found here. Take a look at my total time in the screenshot provided above of 14:06 the calculator predicted 14:04! Unbelievable how close the calculator was to reality. This is one of those situations when I believe I did better than the calculations.
- The actual distance ended up being 132. 6 miles vs 126 miles for the calculator
- The gain I was getting each ascent was more like 370 ish ft not 387 ft
- The actual repeats were 76 vs 75 predicted
- Using 185w avg in the calculator I ended up with an actual 175 np
- The actual kj were 7,116 calculator predicted 6,959 kj again very close
In summary, I rode further, climbed more and still made the time cutoff!
I chose to ride a 53/39 and an 11-28 cassette. It was also my first Everest using AbsoluteBlack oval chainrings. There are quite a few studies out there to the effectiveness of oval chainrings. But here is what AbsoluteBlack states from their study “Up to 9% increase of Force effectiveness, up to 7% less oxygen consumption, up to 15% less Ventilation (breathing) and up to 10% heart rate decrease when using oval chainrings versus round. What does that mean? In short, it means that you will consume less energy at the same power output using Oval chainrings so you can ride for longer and/or faster.” I have been riding really strong so who knows if they are helping or not but all I know is I’m kicking ass lately!
As I mentioned earlier I have done many repeats on this hill in the past. My current total is 519 subtract the 76 from my Everest it leaves you with 443 previous efforts. I knew that the 11-28 cassette would be fine as I am not a spinner. I also didn’t want to change out my crankset as I prefer to ride/climb with my 53/39 chainring setup for most of my climbing and everyday riding. Having said all of that, my spare set of wheels had an 11-34 cassette installed on them. Just in case everything went wrong I had a large cassette for the 10% grade.
I decided after my last Everest that I would be better organized for all subsequent attempts. As a former mechanical engineer, I believe in continuous process improvement. If you standardize a process the end result is predictable and expected. Then you take the process and seek ways to continue to improve it. In the case of Everesting, you need to establish what supplies, clothing, nutrition and equipment you will need for each attempt. Now that you have “your must haves” you should have them organized perfectly. Once you are fatigued you may not be thinking clearly and not be able to find what you are looking for or you might doubt you even packed it.
To wrap up my preparation I had intimate familiarity with the climb – to include day and night riding on it. I had consulted the Everesting Calculator for a prediction prior to riding it and used it as a pacing tool while I was on my Everest. I was much better organized this time by treating it like one of my long endurance events.
See video below on how I set up my van for my Everesting attempt.
I got a late start but I wasn’t frazzled by that at all. I like to sleep in until my body wakes up naturally. I don’t use an alarm as part of my normal life. On race days I use alarms as a back up but I am usually up before the alarm goes off. I’m an odd duck… I like to take a shower, have a cup or two of coffee relaxing before heading out for my Everest. Notice I did not mention having breakfast as part of my morning or pre-race routine. I don’t eat breakfast before centuries, double centuries or even my 500 mile ultras so why would I have breakfast before an Everest attempt? There are several reasons why having breakfast before an event is a poor decision. First and foremost you don’t want an insulin spike which takes hours to settle back down. Secondly, who likes to climb a hill/mountain on a full stomach? Not this guy! Once on the bike slowly begin fueling and continue through the ride/event/race or Everesting attempt.
The sun was up but most of the climb was still shaded by the higher hills surrounding my segment. It was in the mid 40’s at the start. The first few descents were quite chilly for this soft Southern California rider 🙂 You have to consider wind chill factor with 45-50 mph descents.
Right from the start I could tell I was on a good day! My legs felt great and I had to temper my enthusiasm so as not to go out too hard on my first few repeats and pay for it later. I like to divide my ride into three distinct blocks of time/effort.
A Block – Early morning and early part of the ride. Fresh legs cool temperatures… it’s time to make hay! The A Block sets the tone for the rest of the ride for me. I like to set a good pace for which the rest of the ride is measured against. I have done enough endurance events (centuries, double centuries, 500 mile ultras) to know exactly how hard I can push without wrecking myself and not being able to finish strong.
B Block – Slow down as the heat of the day comes on strong. Keep a steady pace reduce stop time stay on the bike but keep the pace steady.
C Block – Late afternoon and early evening. In many cases you have a lot more stopped time for gear and nutrition and riding slower because of reduced visibility think increased safety considerations.
D Block- If we ever get to D Block things have not gone very well and we are into extra innings! This block would be the very definition of pain cave. Doubts and concerns about finishing go through my mind. Something either physically, mentally or equipment-wise has gone awry. This block is situation critical!
I have to remind people I am not a natural athlete and these things don’t come easy to me. I suffer and I suffer a lot. What I believe I am properly equipped with is a powerful mental edge over other athletes. I say this to my friends and the athletes I coach… “most people don’t like to suffer” I also think about one of my sports heroes Steve Prefontaine — “It’s not who’s the best – it’s who can take the most pain.”
I digress D Block … I have been in D Block at two previous Everest attempts. I had to do a lot of negotiating with my mind to make my body get back on the bike. I experienced the dreaded time in D Block during my very first Everesting — Palomar Mountain South Grade – a monster of a climb nearly 12 miles with 4,200 feet on each ascent. It is an ICONIC climb known the world over so it of course had to be my first Everest. It was the 25th of July 2015 and over 100F climbing the bottom 5.5 miles of this climb. The second time was on my #5 Everesting September 2018, when it was also very hot with a tailwind. On Everest #1 I spent over 4 hours off the bike trying to manage my overheated brain and body by pulling over and taking advantage of shade when I could find it. On Everesting #5 There wasn’t any shade to be had anywhere on the climb so I just had to take the pace down several notches just enough to keep moving but nothing else. I had to wait for the sun set before I could climb at my true potential. On Everesting #5 I spent over 4.5 hours off the bike again dealing with overheating and dehydration.
BREAKDOWN OF EACH OF THE BLOCKS
Below is my A Block – My Normalized Power (NP) was 189 watts or 2.93 w/kg which is the very top of my endurance range of 140w-189w. That is a fairly fast start but I felt great so I went with it. Additionally, it is important to reiterate that the climb is mostly double digit grades which demands a moderate to high power output just to climb it. Usually during my A Block there are wheels to chase or pace yourself with or against since that is primetime for “normal” people to be riding. It was during the A Block when an Instagram follower, Jason, came out to do a few repeats with me. I was so happy to have someone endure a little suffering with me. We chatted a bit which was nice since I had been talking to myself for a couple of hours before Jason showed up. My apologies sir if our paces were not compatible at that time of the day but my legs were fresh and the weather was still cool so I pressed on. Thank you so much for coming out Jason!
It might be a good time to say that I do my Everests alone… mostly. I don’t advertise when I am going to do them or where I’m going to be. I also don’t invite other riders because I don’t want any uncomfortable moments between us if they or I am feeling better that day and the other rider is suffering. Worst case scenario I won’t pace myself to the slower rider and I don’t ever expect another rider to slow down for me. Hence, I do my Everesting alone. But there’s more, I like the pain and suffering (refer above that I am not a natural athlete) that comes from the physical and mental challenge of completing an Everest. I like what I think about during an Everest and I like how I transcend I like the way like a caterpillar I come through as a butterfly on the other end.
Just for fun the largest butterfly in the world is the female of the Alexandra Birdwing reaching wingspans slightly in excess of 25 cm (9.8 inches). This birdwing is restricted to the forests of the Oro Province in eastern Papua New Guinea.
I am proud of the discipline I exhibited by only having 8 minutes of stopped time in the first 4.5 hours. My first stop for additional nutrition was 3:51 into my ride. As mentioned earlier it is important to make as much time before the heat of the day takes hold.
My B Block
NP was 175 watts well within my endurance zone of 140w-189w or 2.71 w/kg . The weather never got hot. The forecast was for 76F. It was comfortable and pleasant. I reduced the intensity of my pace so as to conserve energy for later in the effort. Additionally, I reduced the pace so as to preclude having to stop more often for nutrition. It is amazing how a short stop to refill your bottles can turn into much longer than you think. In your mind you think you have only been stopped for a 2-3 minutes and when you remount your bike it’s been nearly 8-10 minutes.
It was during B Block when my friend Michelle came out to join me. It was an awesome surprise! She has been dealing with a few chronic injuries and is recovering/rehabbing from them. This is not exactly the climb you would want to do while you are rebuilding your strength but there she was putting in the work!
My C Block
NP was 155 watts well within my endurance zone of 140w-189w or 2.4 w/kg. The weather never got hot. The forecast was for 76F. It was comfortable and pleasant. I reduced the intensity of my pace so as to conserve energy for later in the effort. Additionally, I reduced the pace so as not have to stop as often. The transition to night mode still took too long but I just can’t see how to reduce the time.
- This time I had all light mounts on the bike all I had to do was clip in the lights
- This time I had everything organized in drawers
- This time I prepared two bottles so that I would make one less stop than I did last time.
- This time like last time I had to remove my top clothing to don a wool base layer which I prefer to put directly to my skin.
- This time I actually put on a second base layer that has a wind shell on the chest so that I would not have to stop in a couple of hours to don another wool base layer. I ended up being too warm for the next hour though.
- This time the Mother Ship was not located at the U-turn at the top of the climb. It was a block away up further on the climb and I had to ferry stuff down to the turnaround point and stash them behind bushes. There was a little time wasted there BUT… I wanted to keep the elevation gain to stay pure – just the climb only.
People ask me often “What do you think about when you’re on the bike for so many hours?” Well it depends. I can tell you that this time I thought about all my Marine brothers and sisters out there. Some are currently stationed in hostile environments, combat environments and some are even stationed at cushy posts around the world and stateside. I thought about how the US Marine Corps is so steeped in customs and traditions. How every year, while I was on active duty, on November 10th the world seemed to stop so that we could observe the Marine Corps Birthday, either with a small formation out in the field or a large formation and a band main side with all the pomp and circumstance. I also thought of all the veterans that have been committing suicide in alarming rates … on average 22 veterans commit suicide a day. Most recently a Marine veteran opened fire in a nightclub and killed 12 people then turned the gun on himself and ended his life. It’s deplorable! But those families were in my thoughts as well.
This will probably be my last Everest this year. Everest #7 allow me the opportunity to close the gap to 1,000,000 feet of climbing for 2018. The weather is also going to continue to get colder and wetter and daylight hours fewer and fewer. I am happy with my performance on this Everest. It was my second fasted Everest at 14:06 and my fastest at 13:30. My time off the bike was excellent at under 1 hour – being self-SAGed. As an avid climber Everesting offers the rider a unique opportunity to challenge oneself to an extreme. I fancy myself a climber, an extreme climber, not fast but just someone that likes to take on the challenge of Everesting and conquer it!