I rolled out of bed at the bright hour of 11pm on Friday night. A time when most normal people are either out at a bar celebrating the weekend or for cyclists to be curled up in bed resting up for their Saturday rides. Not me! I went to bed at 4pm in order to rest up for the challenge ahead, Everesting!
I proceeded to the galley (I live on a boat, the kitchen is called the galley), and put on the kettle to make the life juice of any cyclist….COFFEE! My breakfast consisted of the following: coffee, orange juice, water, turkey bacon, eggs mixed with rice, and a shit ton of oatmeal. How many calories was this gluttonous breakfast you ask? No fucking clue, but it kept my stomach happy and full for a long time. I sat down at the table and watched an episode of ‘Master of None’ on Netflix (highly recommend this if you haven’t seen it).
12:40 rolled around as I finished loading up the car and proceeded to drive the 40 minutes to San Gregorio. Google Maps told me the general store would be closed when I arrived…No kidding Google!
When I arrived the temperature on my car’s thermometer read high 30’s, optimal temperature range for a kid from Maine. I generously applied embrocation to my legs, threw on my leg warmers, long sleeve jersey, vest, neckwarmer and toe covers (should have gotten full shoe covers), and proceeded to ready my steed. Lettie (my steed) was fitted with some new gear the day before…by yours truly. New 34 tooth inner ring (THANK HASHEM), and a shorter stem, pointing up to help keep my back from dying (again, THANK HASHEM).
2 rear lights, check. One insanely bright headlight, check. 2 bottles, check. Food in pockets, check. Sanity, meh.
When I was finally ready, I mounted my steed and proceeded to have some slight issues with clipping in while it was pitch black (think Matt Stephens from GCN). Once I finally got going, I felt like I was alone in my own tiny bubble. There was nothing but total black to my left and right. I had literal tunnel vision in front of me. The only thing that existed to me was the 10 meters of road I could see in front. My focus was a laser beam on this part of road.
Do you know how hard it is to drink cold water (cold because the air temp made it so) while you’re riding a bike in the cold? I’ll tell you, very hard indeed. No part of you really wants water. You don’t feel the need…at all, and on a normal 2-3 hour weekend ride, it’s OK to not drink as much. When you’re plan is to ride for 16 hours, it would be FUCKING INSANE to not drink. In order to keep hydrating, and eating for that matter (you don’t want to eat when it’s cold either), I set myself two landmarks on the climb. Each time I passed them I’d take a swig of liquids. BEST. DECISION. EVER.
For the first 3 or so laps (40ish minutes) I was alone. Me, my inner thoughts, the road, and a fucking amazing audio book, The Martian! Read it. It’s amazing…watch the movie too, that’s also amazing.
My friend, teammate, Everesting mentor, and Everesting member himself David Yates arrived shortly after 2:30am to ride with me during the wee hours. His company was simply amazing. We talked about riding, bikes, more riding, and more bikes. You know, the important things in life. I felt amazing, legs were loose, no pain points and I was mentally strong. Dave stayed until about 5:30 at which point Matt showed up to get in some pre-dawn riding himself. Matt is one of the best bike mechanics in the Bay Area. Without a doubt he is the nicest guy you’ll ever meet. He works at my favorite shop, Véloro Bicycles in Redwood city…check them out! Matt and I did some more talking about bikes and riding, all was perfect in the world for those pre-dawn hours. Matt and I also got to see the sun rise over the mountains. It was truly spectacular. Picture below was taken by Matt.
About an hour after the sun came up and temperatures soared into the high 40’s, Matt left to head to work. I was once again alone, listening to The Martian and turning my pedals over one rev. at a time. I posted some photos on FB with distance and elevation I had completed. Each lap I’d check my notifications and see supporters encouraging me. I’ll talk more to this later but everyone who left a supportive message helped me along BIG TIME!
At some point, not really sure when, shortly after Matt left, a car began slowly following me. Weird I thought, there was plenty of passing room. Turns out it was my father. He (probably my mother) couldn’t sleep knowing I was riding so early in the morning in the pitch black. He came out to see how I was going and to offer encouraging words. What a guy!! Just before leaving, he said he and my mother would be back around 3:30 with some special food and to make sure I was still living.
6 hours down! Only 10 more to go! Or so I thought. At this point I had just over 10,000 feet under my tires and finished the first third of the day! In previous conversations with David, he mapped out how the day was likely to go: First third would be a piece of cake, second third would be horrendous, and last third would be much easier. He was 100% correct!
Between 10 and 20,000 feet my legs began to get heavier, my neck became achy, back was sore, and IT bands were in pain. Pedal revs took more effort but on the bright side, I never once thought about quitting. Sue showed up around 8:30 (she told on FB me she would and this was a milestone I was looking forward to) to ride a few laps with me. Having company there made me not think about the monotony of climbing the same road over and over and over and over again. Like dozens of people before her, Sue called me crazy as we rode. I agreed, if not verbally then in my head (talking became hard at points). Sue left after a few laps to ride back home and once again It was just me.
10:30 marked 15,000 feet and the half way point. I thought this was going to feel like a bigger deal. It did not. Again, that middle third was tough. I celebrated the halfway point by allowing myself a longer break with some food and a seat in the car.
At this point in the day, the weekend warriors began flooding the road. People who I would normally breeze past were passing me like I was a snail. At first this was a bit odd, but hey, I was climbing to the elevation of Mt. Everest so I’m allowed to ride at a snails pace right? What’s really odd is not one person said hello, good morning, or how are you to me as they passed. Even if they had, I might only have been able to spare enough energy or brainpower for a grunt.
The next group of riders to join me came around 11:30. My good friend and neighbor Jason, the man responsible for getting me into racing, arrived ready to whip out some laps! I was excited to have company and summoned some more energy to chat as we climbed. Jason just upgraded to 11 speed and was loving it! I can’t wait to build up my new Franco Balcom with it! I spent a few laps daydreaming about the build. On lap number ‘who the fuck knows’ Jason flatted at the beginning of the climb and returned to the bottom to repair it using my pump. I soldiered on, returned to the bottom for a short break and to find another Alto Velo rider, Lindsey!
Laps began to blur at this point but having the company of Jason and Lindsay was wonderful! They kept me entertained, out of my head and into the moment. After about 3 laps with them, my teammate Matt Carvell arrived with his father and friend. Matt came out to ride after our teams recruitment ride earlier that morning. He shared with me the details of said ride, saying it looked like 2016 would be a great year. Strong riders and fun personalities. Truthfully it’s usually about the personality. I’d rather race with someone who’s less strong but not an asshole.
Matt’s dad, his friend, and Jason did one final lap with me before heading back over the hill into civilization. The wished me good luck around 1:30 or about 18,000 feet (DAMN YOU 2nd third!!!). This was the beginning of the most challenging part of the day. I had a couple hours of solo riding before my next ride partners arrived. It was all I could do to turn the pedals over on each lap. I continued to spend the descents stretching when I could and just enjoying some really really fast descending. I set a goal to come out of the last corner faster than 30mph which I accomplished (It’s the small things that kept me going). Also, the last corner same right after a 90 degree turn, so 30mph was really fast.
Friends and angels, Dan and Sara arrived shortly after 20,000 feet or 3pm to come ride laps and drink amazing bloody mary’s at the general store. The did so many amazing things this day, the first of which was bringing freshly cooked tater tots and BACON! DEAR LORD did that hit the spot!! Two of the most amazing people I’ve ever meet right here. Seriously, life is better knowing them.
My parents and sister arrived around the same time. Upon getting out of the car my mother said “I thought you were suppose to be riding your bike. I didn’t spend 2hrs in the car to watch you eat”. I love you too mom! Everyone broke into laughter and she handed me these small pocket sized apple pies! MMMM!! More to follow about those later.
Dan and Sara kitted up and began riding with me up the hill. Sara did one lap (first time on a bike in a while) and was amazing in cheering me on the whole way up! Dan stuck around and did five. His company kept the feeling of leg, neck, and back pain at bay. We shot the shit, we rode silently, It didn’t matter, just having someone there was of great mental support. Dan rode right up until lights were once again needed. On his last lap, Teammate Mark Howard (Mark is one of the best mechanics in the Bay Area, and works at La Dolce Velo in San Jose), his wife Linzey, and club member Magnus were at the bottom. I stopped to put the lights on and received some encouraging words. They asked my laps to go…(I had no idea, math is hard when you’ve been riding for 13 hours). I think it was the next lap, I got to the bottom and heard Mark yell “15 minutes, you’re riding slow” (or something to that affect). Definitely snapped me out of my slow funk and got me really riding again…woohoo! Photo courtesy of Dan.
Coworker Ben and his girlfriend also came out to offer some good cheer. Ben is a photography guru and took some wonderful shots. I’ll add them at the end of this.
I fully expected Dan, Sara, Ben, Mark, and Linzey to stick around for maybe an hour at most then take off. It was cold at the bottom. Then, they did something completely unexpected, to me at least. They stuck around…for the rest of the night!! The bottom turn around point became a party zone. They were blasting music and singing serenades to me each lap.
The darkness became a sanctuary for me. For some reason, the pedals turned over more easily. I was in my own little world. The only thing that existed to me was the 10 meters of light directly in front of me. There was nothing but black to the left and right. My focus became a laser beam, and I just churned out lap after lap even punching up the pace when I felt good. When I needed restock water, I did. The last big stock up before the finishing go (about 12 laps to go) I ate two of those amazing apple pies my mother made. They were UNBELIEVABLE. The kick I got from them led to some of my fastest lap times of the day!
10 to go! 9, 8, 7! The support team kept the party going at the bottom. Mark and Linzey re-positioned at the top to help encourage me up the final little Stage Rd kicker (in reality it’s a .5% increase in gradient, after 15 hours, It’s like climbing Lombard St. in San Francisco). Each time I’d reach the bottom, my legs, even through the leg warmers would be frozen allowing me to not feel them at all when I began climbing again. The total numbness was amazing at this point but only lasted halfway up the climb. When they unfroze, the pain became horrible. I was now feeling miserable discomfort in my left knee, right shin and right calf, but I was closing in on the end so nothing was going to stop me!!
6, 5, 4, 3. Dave Keefe had arrived to cheer me on through the last laps! So close to being done I can feel it! In fact with only 3 to go my garmin actually read 29,035 feet, which is the actual elevation of Mt. Everest. In order to account for any irregularities when uploading to Strava, I added in about a 1,000 foot buffer. My pedaling felt smoother than it had all day. Legs were screaming with each rev. but they kept moving…and faster too! I even hap-heartedly sprinted at the top during one of these laps (I use the word “sprint” very loosely).
With 2 laps to go I stopped at the bottom. The last photos of me stopped with people around shows this. When I did pull over to take a short 2 minute reprieve, Sara’s response to this was something of the “What the Fuck are you doing? Keep going!!”. So, after 2 minutes I kept going. This time, the pain in my precious mentioned, knee, shin, and calf were close to unbearable, but hey, I’m a goddamn cyclist. We LIVE for suffering. That kicker at the top was nearly impossible to get over with 2 to go! I slowed to a crawl and my legs could barely turn the pedals over.
1 lap to go! 1 FUCKING LAP!! My legs magically stopped hurting as I got the biggest rush of adrenaline. They felt fresh…as fresh as they could feel after 16.5 hours of pedaling. Each minute was flying by. My vision was tunneled, breathing rhythmic, and feet were dancing on the pedals like a ballerina. When I got to the top, my elevation gain read 30,006 feet. I punched the air and let out a whimpering “YES”. The job wasn’t done yet, I still needed to get down safely, like the 74 times before. On the long straightaway where I was easily mitting 38mph all day, my super bright headlight died. It was black all around. I eased on the breaks but my head wasn’t all there and my ‘easing’ them on was really ‘slamming’ them on. I skidded a bit until I stopped. I was able to turn the light back on for 1 second at a time. This just happened to be enough for me to get down. Luckily I’ve descended that road over 100 times and at this point knew it very well. Nonetheless it was a bit nerve racking.
Mission Accomplished! I DID IT!! High fives and hugs all around. 166.6 miles, 30,006 feet of climbing, and almost 17 hours of ride time (19 total). It was a long day and all I wanted to do was change. Standing on one leg to get my pants on was tough…Pretty sure I stumbled around like a drunk 10 year old for a few minutes. My mental capacity was also that of said drunk 10 year old too. Talking was still hard. Thinking and talking was impossible. Dave handed me a beer and it was AMAZING. Mark was an amazing friend and drove me home in my car!
Here it is! The Strava link!
After this whole ordeal numerous people have asked me the same general questions. I’ll do my best to answer them here.
Q. How did you choose the road you climbed?
A. After looking at all my favorite local climbs, the amount of time this would take, and the available daylight hours, I came to the conclusion that Stage Rd offered the following: steady 7% gradient, minimal corners, easy parking, store in case I needed supplies, and a bomb view. 7% is my sweet spot, anything more and my knees would have blown out, anything less and I would have ridden over 200 miles.
Q. Are you crazy?
A.No, not crazy. I’ve always strived to push myself past where I think I can go. Not once during the preparation and execution of this ride did I think of the possibility of failure. It was simply not an option.
Q. Did your butt get really sore?
A. No, not at all. I have the most comfortable saddle I’ve ever sat on. It looks funny but it is AMAZING. I ride the SMP Dynamic. Both Véloro Bicycles and La Dolce Velo can hook you up!
Q. You had the flu 2 weeks prior to this. Did it derail your training and mental state?
A. I did indeed have it. That bug knocked me out for an entire week. It certainly derailed my training, but my mental state was strong. I couldn’t ride at the same intensity I had before the flu but my endurance was still well within the fitness zone I needed. I felt confident with the amount of recover time I took after the flu.
Q.What was your cadence?
A. Honestly, I didn’t look at the numbers. I just pedaled by feel. Whatever was comfortable at the time. My post ride data says I averaged 60. I usually climb at 85-90 but that puts a bigger load on my cardiovascular system. A load which I would not be able to sustain for 17 hours. Everything was by feel. I rode as hard as I could without becoming out of breath.
Q. Did you stop to eat real meals?
A. No, not really. The longest I stopped to eat is when Sara and Dan arrived with tots and bacon. Mostly I carried the food I was going to eat and restocked when I ran out. This consisted of: bananas, peanut butter and nutella wrapped in tortillas, and rice and egg burritos. All of this was pretty easy on my stomach. I had trail mix, snap peas, and chips at the car to eat when I re-stocked.
Q. How did you feel the next day?
A. Parts of my legs hurt so bad, I had a hard time sleeping, periodically waking up when I’d roll over and feel shooting pain. Getting out of bed was difficult and took some time. I spent the morning laying down and napping before heading to Dan and Sara’s up in the mountains. There, we had an amazing dinner, with my equally (equal to the amazingness of Sara and Dan) friend Paula. Oh and Paula baked chocolate chip cookies with oreos in the middle. I attribute my speedy recovery to these cookies!
All Photos below courtesy of Ben Saluti