A holiday gift came early for DIRT Travis Bowersox, and it came in the form of charity, inner contemplation, and satisfaction.
In the words of Travis, himself!
On December 11th, 2021, I set out with a group of 11 cyclists to complete the most daunting cycling endurance event of my life: Everesting.
Everesting has grown in popularity over the past few years, but I still find myself talking to many who have never heard of this unique challenge. Everesting involves finding a single hill (preferably a big/steep hill) and riding up/down on your bike over and over until you have climbed the height of Mt. Everest (29,032 ft).
It must be done as a single activity and seems to take most cyclists who complete this challenge 12-15 hours of ‘ride time’ and 18-25 hours of total elapsed time. Five of us completed the entire challenge that day. It took me 15 hours, 40 minutes of ride time, and over 20 hours of elapsed time to finish.
Everesting --- But Why?
But why? Teaming up with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society for their ‘Light the Night’ fundraiser, we set out to use this challenge as a way to draw awareness & support for the cause. We wanted to earn every dollar donated. By the end of the event, we raised over $25,000 (and counting) for LLS. I found it incredibly motivating knowing people donated their hard-earned money for this event, which kept me going throughout the night.
Before I even knew about the fundraising aspect of this challenge, I heard of this event through an acquaintance I made at one of my local triathlon competitions. For some time, I wanted to complete an Everesting and knew right away that I had to be involved.
Juan-Carlos ‘JC’ Laverde runs a group of competitive endurance athletes in Tampa, FL. He and his company, DefeatX, helped put together the team for this Everesting. When not coaching athletes & organizing crazy endurance events, JC works dedicating efforts towards philanthropic endeavors. His fundraisers always involve some epic challenge.
Everesting in Flatrida is a Unique Challenge
In this case, part of what makes our Everesting event so epic and unique is that we live in the ‘flat’ State of Florida. Completing an Everesting anywhere proves a worthy accomplishment but always involves big mountains and hilly terrain. Everesting in Florida almost seems like a bad joke.
Finding the right hill makes up one of the most important aspects of any Everesting attempt, especially when trying to reduce the overall time of the effort. When planning an Everesting in Florida, I don’t think you have many options. Conveniently, Sugarloaf Mountain (Clermont, FL) just so happens to be 30 minutes away from my house.
Sugarloaf Mountain is the Most Prominent Point in Florida
It is the most prominent point in the entire State of Florida, at 300 ft above sea level. Each lap gives us around 200 feet in elevation gain, not ideal for this type of an event, but we were determined for success regardless of the number of laps (about 135-145, depending on how far up the hill you rode each lap).
By the way, this is not JC’s first time Everesting on Sugarloaf Mountain (FL). I remember speaking with an employee at a bike shop in Saint Petersburg, FL, in the Summer of 2020. This conversation occurred before I knew JC, and I had just started to get serious about endurance sports after a 6-7 year hiatus.
The bike shop employee told me about this crazy guy he knew who Everested Sugarloaf Mountain. At that time, it seemed like a near-impossible task I could hardly fathom completing myself. I guess I can now be one of those crazy people who hope to inspire others. JC, by the way, has now Everested twice on the same hill in Florida. Insane.
What Happened on That Day?
What happened on the day of the event? I woke up around 5:00 am on Saturday, December 11th, to get ready for our 8:00 am start time. Having prepacked my car the night prior, I made my usual ‘big day’ breakfast: coffee, white rice mixed with eggs, half an avocado, and a side of banana and peanut butter.
For nutrition, I brought two bags of my favorite endurance drink powder (Flow Formulas Train 60/Race 90), two water bottles, and two large-sized candy bars. We would be having a hot meal for lunch, dinner, and ‘second dinner,’ as well as plenty of water, so it made packing easy.
As for my equipment, I used both my Garmin 935 watch and my Wahoo Bolt. I wanted duel-recording capabilities in case there was an error or malfunction. I also brought two headlights, two taillights, and two portable batteries with charging cables. I was able to recharge my electronics during our rest breaks. That said, my Wahoo GPS unit died with maybe 30 minutes left in completing my effort.
Regarding the bike I used, I did not ride my primary bike. I am fortunate because I have some of the most incredible friends willing to help out in any way. A close friend allowed me to use their $10,000 S-Works Venge.
We are similar in size, so after a practice ride the week prior and a few tweaks to the seat height and handlebar tilt, it made a fantastic ride for this effort. The bike has carbon Zipp Wheels, which seemed to make a big difference on the downhills as I quickly hit speeds over 50 mph on each descent, helping save valuable time.
5 am to 4:40 am --- It Was a LONG Day
More importantly, my friend recently upgraded the bike with a 32 tooth rear cassette (34 small front chainring) with a new/compatible rear derailleur, all electronic shifting. To anyone looking to complete an Everesting, I would advise getting the most substantial rear cassette your bike can handle. The 32 tooth rear cassette I used was very nice, but I would have taken a 34-36 or 40 tooth had it been available. I arrived on-site at 7:00 am. Once we started, I didn’t drive away in my car until 4:40 am the following morning. It was a very long day.
The Physical Battle is Real
What did I learn from this event? When people talk about the mental aspects of ultra-endurance events, it’s easy to pass that along as a pseudo-physic non-sense or distraction from the physical preparations needed.
After all, it seems we hear this advice about proper state of mind from mostly well-trained and fit athletes. I had never set out to complete an ultra event until this Everesting attempt. Therefore, I never experienced the unique mental challenges accompanying such adventures.
The Mental Struggle is Real Hard
My athletic lifestyle helped build the aerobic fitness and strength needed to complete the Everesting, but I could not anticipate the most challenging aspect of this night. As you might have guessed, the biggest obstacle was a mental hurdle that I had to overcome.
We stopped for our final team break at 10:00 pm to eat one last hot meal. At that time, I had climbed a little over 20,500 feet and knew I still had a long night ahead of me. Our group of 11 had dwindled to 5 riders. As I ate my meal and spoke to everyone else, I was able to quantify what I already knew: I was in last place of those who made it so far.
And Then There Were Five
Two cyclists were at the 24,500 feet point and another two at 22,000 feet. They simply were riding up the hill a bit faster and did not have to stop as often as I did. During the later portions of the night, I kept having to stop every 45-60 minutes, so I could stretch my back, probably due to not being on a bike fitted to me.
These guys are strong athletes; it was humbling being there with them that night. Mentally, I stayed in high spirits for most of the event. My low point came sometime around 12:30 am. I had just approached the 24,000 ft mark.
Trying to calculate how much time I had left, it dawned on me that I was only now at the point the other cyclist already had climbed by the time of our dinner break, which seemed like ages ago. I nearly became overwhelmed by the challenge still ahead of me.
The Turning Point --- No Quit
As I took a break to refill my water, I stood there looking up at the stars and contemplating the weight of this endeavor. I wasn’t sure if I had another 4 or 5 hours of riding to go, but it felt like a lot of work left to do, and I had to decide if I was up to the task.
I rode with one particular cyclist for the past several hours (his name is Parker, I talked him into this crazy adventure), and we were keeping each other company. My back hurt, my legs were stiff, I felt tired but worse, I wanted to quit. I told him I had a decision to make: stop or keep going.
Thinking Straight Became a Burden
I couldn’t think straight, so I decided to get back on my bike and keep riding a least a few more laps. At this point, my struggle was not the physical demand of completing the event; it was worrying that I might be out on this hill way longer than anyone else.
I didn’t want to be a burden or have anyone else feel obligated to hang around with me once they were tired and finished. At that moment, I just accepted the task at hand and agreed to keep going.
Ten Minutes Made a 3.5 Hour Difference
Once I made that decision, I didn’t care how long I had to ride. This mental struggle all took place within a 10-minute length of time. Afterward, I felt refreshed and ready to tackle the rest of the night.
I finished 3 ½ hours later after 4:00 am.
I Learned More About Myself Than I Knew
This event helped me prove I could accomplish a whole heck of a lot with proper preparation and a good mindset. It helps to have a good reason to work hard.
More importantly, it shows me I can achieve much more when I choose not to worry about what others might think and instead focus on the task at hand. We can all achieve much more when we are not afraid of how we might stack up compared to others.
I got to experience firsthand proof that the mental aspect of ultra-endurance events is of vital importance and not just some non-sense/feel-good talk. I am so thankful to be a part of this fundraiser and so happy I did not quit.
I got to meet such an incredible group of people and experience the power of a common goal. We set out to raise money for those struggling with Leukemia and Lymphoma by teaming up to conquer an enormous challenge. We accomplished this goal and made some lasting memories along the way.
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Semi-retired as owner and director of his private Orthopedic Physical Therapy practice after over 20 years, Chris is blessed with the freedom to pursue his passion for virtual cycling and writing. On a continual quest to give back to his bike for all the rewarding experiences and relationships it has provided him, he created a non-profit. Chris is committed to helping others with his bike through its work and the pages of his site.
In the summer of 2022, he rode 3,900 miles from San Francisco to New York to support the charity he founded, TheDIRTDadFund. His “Gain Cave” resides on the North Fork of Long Island, where he lives with his beautiful wife and is proud of his two independent children.
You will read him promoting his passion on the pages of Cycling Weekly, Cycling News, road.cc, Zwift Insider, Endurance.biz, and Bicycling. Chris is co-host of The Virtual Velo Podcast, too!