A trip to Hell & back (Hells 500 style)
“When I get home and people ask me, ‘Hey, Hoot, why do you do it, man? What are you? Some kind of war junkie? I won’t say a goddamn word. Why? They won’t understand, they won’t understand why we do it. And they won’t understand that it’s about the men next to you. And that’s it. That’s all it is.”
Erica Bana “Black Hawk Down”
Bike riding is a passion of mine, and several years ago discovered climbing. Hells 500 & the Climbing Cyclist have been a part of that discovery. I came into cycling after rupturing my Achilles Tendon four years ago. It hasn’t been all easy.
How I came to be climbing my own Everest. Late 2013 Andy posted on Facebook that Hells 500 were inviting new members. To get an invitation to the Hells ride late in February. You had to climb 5,000 vertical metres in a single ride. Previous Hells rides included riding 7 Peaks in 49 hours. Doing the 3 Peaks course from both directions over 2 days. A 300 km (6,000 K) ride around Lake Eildon, a Triple Crucifix. I figured that the Hells ride would be another group ride which couldn’t be that bad……..
I really wanted to my invite ride to be special. Having this crazy notion that I would do my 5,000 K Hells 500 style by knocking out my 5,000K in the shortest possible distance.
I took the Dandenong’s on and rode a total of 35 climbs. 24 of those climbs had gradients ranging between 10% – 27%. I climbed 5,000 K in only 140 km’s.
That was the hard part done. The Hell ride would be a group ride which couldn’t be that bad. I sent off the link to Andy, and waited to see what the Hell ride was………
EVEREST in one climb…….
If you asked if I was confident that I could climb 9,000K in the one ride. I would have said yes. If you asked me if I was confident to climb 9,000 K solo on the one climb……….
I work full-time & also have 2 casual jobs so are generally time poor. So it was going to be an issue as to how I can train for this as I don’t have the time to put in long distance rides. My mates Sam & Chris entered the Everest Epic at the same time as I did. The general consensus was if you could do it so could I! I had to revise my riding schedule. Deciding to cut out all my flat rides (mainly my commutes), and concentrate solely on climbing hills. I also realised that a lot of my sessions were only going to be around 2 -3 hours in length. Which wouldn’t be long enough to work on endurance training. I felt I needed to smash myself on most of these rides, & concentrated on speed. Pushing myself hard for these short sessions to get really hard workouts.
When I first heard of this challenge, one climb sprang to mind “Perrins Creek Road”. Unfortunately this climb had already been taken. Next door, the Crescent hadn’t been taken so I put my name down for it. I went and smashed out 9:13 on the Crescent, but I had several doubts about this climb. It’s one of my favourite climbs in the Dandenong’s. But the road surface isn’t the best, and you use up a bit of energy descending the Crescent. It’s a great little climb, but not the best to do 55 times. Several weeks later I noticed that the guy who had picked Perrins Creek had pulled out. They were both similar in distance and difficulty, and I wouldn’t have to revise my training so I jumped on board, and moved next door to Perrins.
Perrins Creek Road is 2.5 km’s in length with an average gradient of 7%. It appealed to me for this challenge for several reasons. It isn’t too far from home, has little traffic drive up it. Is located close to shops, is completely sheltered from the wind & is quite scenic. It also has a very fast descent which importantly I didn’t have to use any energy on. Perrins Creek is challenging as it gets steeped & steeper as you ride up until the 2 km point. Where you grind up to a hairpin, and thankfully the road decreases in gradient a little. I’ve done Perrins in 8:58, and now had to aim for bigger things.
I was asked many times, how could I do it? How could I possibly climb Everest in a day?
If you want the ultimate, then you must be willing to pay the ultimate price! – Patrick Swayze (Point Break).
The majority of my training was spent in the Dandenong’s. With well over 50 categorised climbs. The Dandenong’s was my playground and I had no shortage of variation to my training. At first I tried to hammer myself as hard as I could. Finding quickly that this was stupid as I completely burnt myself out. I was noticing a number of other riders who were training for the Epic putting similar ride titles indicating fatigue on Strava.
This forced me to become a little smarter in my approach. Continuing to train hard, and still did the same amount of riding. But added more rest days in between. For the next couple of weeks, started noticing improvement in my strength and recovery. I tried to find the hardest possible climbs to test myself. Seeing everything in vertical metres. Every vertical metre was one step closer to
The training for this epic was intense. I lost count of how many times that I almost threw up. My body screaming at me to stop. Every time I would push through the pain with the thought in my mind “Everest”. I started getting up earlier to ride. There were nights where I rode well into the night. The key to success for Everest was repeats. My first time was doing 13 repeats of Perrins Creek Road on a 38 degree day. I went far too hard, and really struggled.
This didn’t make me happy, and realised that to train for Perrins I should go and train on a harder climb. So several days later went and knocked out 15 repeats of Inverness Road. Which I felt I did a lot better on. I still felt I needed more, and thought that if I have done Inverness then the next step would be Mast Gully. And knocked out 10 repeats of Mast Gully on a 40 degree day.
It was hard, but the thought of Everest got me through. Every challenge I set myself, I achieved. The most important part of this challenge was believing in myself. I could not enter this challenge with the slightest bit of doubt. I had to be prepared to put myself through more pain that I could possibly imagine. To keep on going after a sane person would say stop. It meant being a Hells 500 rider.
I hadn’t touched the bike for four days prior to the ride. My legs were feeling great. I showed up at 4 am and felt confident. I found it strange that I needed to go to the bathroom several times when I showed up. But put it down to nerves. It was 5.3 degrees, and the forecast for the day was 28, with a minimum of 11. So I had only brought shorts, and fingerless gloves. But didn’t really notice the cold much at the start.
I found a good tempo right from the start and breezed up the climb. My mate Geert showed up at 6:30 am and had enough time to punch out 6 laps with me. After each lap I needed to keep going to the bathroom, and on lap 6 I lost my guts. Maybe if I had realised at that stage that I had a virus in my system I may have been able to have changed my strategy and conquered Everest that day. But then again the best laid plans of Mice & Men!
I took a break at 11:00 am and physically was feeling strong. Mick Longin showed up & did quite a few laps with me. With Robbie coming and riding a couple of laps as well. The afternoon was fun, and I was having the time of my life. I was still going to the bathroom an excessive amount of times, but still wasn’t worrying about it. After the guys left, Geert popped in again, and Aaron Twigg came & introduced himself and offered me encouragement.
At that stage I was smashing it, and with over 30 laps completed had never struggled on any of the climbs. I knocked out a couple more quick laps, planning on stopping for dinner shortly. I dropped down to the car, and got off the bike, & experienced a massive dizzy spell and blacked out & fell against the car. For a few seconds my body completely shut down and I had gone numb.
I couldn’t move for a couple of minutes, and I knew I was in trouble. Just a minute ago I felt so comfortable to finish the ride. Now I was right royally screwed.
I was too wrecked to ride, so go in the car & drove to get some dinner. Spending the next half an hour in shock. I didn’t feel hungry, and barely ate anything, but drank a lot. At that stage I had drank over 6 Litres for the ride, but because I was stopping virtually every lap to jettison fluids. I had bonked due to Dehydration.
At 6:30 pm I got back on the bike, and that first lap was pain city! I knew my Everest was over. The second lap I got stronger, but the sun was setting and it was starting to get cold. I shut out the pain and kept grinding up Perrins Creek Road. I may have been able to get through if not for two major factors:
- The temperature dropped, and with a weakened body. Fingerless gloves, and the wrong clothes for the cold conditions, I was really struggling to stay warm
- A ridiculous amount of cars kept coming up & down Perrins after it got dark and I never felt comfortable there
I kept tapping out lap after lap hoping I could make it, but at 10:00 pm, I worked out the math. I was 1,400 vertical metres short & needed another 7 laps which I would have to ride till 3:00 am. Running on empty, freezing cold, after having bonked. I was broken. Geert brought his kids up to see me at that stage, hoping to see me finish.
Instead found a broken man. I was distraught.
For the last 69 days I had given my heart & soul to this thing. I had climbed an average 1,100 metres a day for the past 69 days. There shouldn’t be a reason why I wasn’t fit enough to do this. I knew I could push out a few extra laps, but what was the point? I’d just be closer to failure. I gave up!
I was even more ferrel when I woke up the next morning as I felt fine. The virus that was in my system the day before was gone. A 24 hour bug did enough damage to kill my Everest aspirations. I watched social media as more and more riders clawed their way to conquering Everest. There were a few like myself who had encountered horrible luck. Yet I was stunned and amazed at all the successes. Instead of climbing Everest, I felt like I’d been spat out lying at the very bottom. I didn’t short change myself. 220 km’s, 39 laps & 7,450 verticle metres was an amazing ride. But ultimately it was a failure, and I was thankful to receive so may well wishes. What I really wanted was a sign, to get off my sorry ass and get back on the bike and conquer Everest.
Here is a link to my Strava Activity here: