" Biking rather than hiking "

Want to check your coronaries? I can sell you a "heart scan", but you can save yourself a lot of money by racing this year's Everest Challenge. If you can make it to the top of South Lake, I  bet you anything  your pipes aren't clogged. Standing in my 30/29 Granny gear, climbing the last 200 vertical feet and thinking I was literally going "over the top", was the ultimate stress test for me.

Everest Challenge is the brain child of  Tom Reid MD, an ophthalmologist in Bishop. Marquis de Sade himself would have been unable to come up with such a torture to mind and body. Our Tom however was up to the task. More than 27000 ft of climbing in 160 miles! Combine extreme heat ( 100+) with relentlessly steep grades. Throw in the devastating effects of  younger and stronger riders zipping down, while you aren't even halfway up and you may get the picture. Humbling to say the least!! First day 15000 ft in 101 miles. Three major climbs, two of which to elevations of 10000 ft. Second day "shorter" with 12000 ft in 60 miles culminating in the 6000+ft climb to Ancient Bristle Cone Pine Forest. Even while writing this, I start   hurting again!

To make it easier to drive back, Tom switched the two days around. Last year the first day was the shorter one. It took me so long to complete that first day, that I did not start the second day  being afraid I wouldn't be fit to work Monday. This year, no excuse! 

I drove up early am on Friday. Early enough to climb Horse Shoe Meadow Rd near Lone Pine. I should have known better, but I can't help it. It is one of my most favorite climbs, 4900 ft to the 1st summit at about 9300 ft elevation. After reaching the top, I knew I was going to pay for it the next day.

The race starts at Millpond Park, a beautiful spot near Bishop and a great, quiet, place to spend the night in my van. The start is staggered. To join the early start of 7 am, I join the Masters 50 +. We are off! I am completely unaccustomed riding in a pack. People slow down and stop left and right for more bathroom breaks. I always thought one does that at the back of the pack rather than just in front of someone." Hey, watch out will you!!!"

My legs feel like lead, this is going to be a long day! We follow the route of the Eastern Sierra Double Century. Climbing to Paradise and beyond. Via Lower Rock Creek to Hwy 395 and then the left turn to Rock Creek Road to Mosquito Flats. Before starting the climb to Paradise I'm already way in the back. On the short descent to Lower Creek Rd, I get nearly run over by the 7:30 start group, descending like mad men. This starts to get old! The scenery is spectacular as always. Near Hwy 395, Catherine Berge, winner of the last Terrible Two and Furnace Creek 508 passes me by. The climb to Mosquito flats climbs 3000 ft in 10.5 miles mostly 5-7%. Elevation over 10000 ft. While climbing, the leaders are already descending! Depressing! What perks me up is seeing John Williams, fellow ultracyclist, struggling. Nothing better than seeing someone else suffering more than you do. " Looking good, John." " Move over , will you." The road narrows down to barely one lane near the top, very reminiscent of the climb to Kaiser. Beautiful. Needless to say by this time the idea of racing the course is evaporating about as fast as the sweat which is pouring from my body. I just want to finish. No DNF for me!! On the way back near the bottom, I see Dan Crain and Annie Beck cranking up the hill on their tandem. Amazing, they are "smiling"!! They are TOUGH. There is no question in my mind that these two are going to finish, no matter how long it's going to take.

Next up Pine Creek Road. For this privilege we have to ride about 10 miles into headwind and it is getting hot. At least 109 and there is no "aid station". Is last year going to repeat itself? I am not worried about water but I am worried that I am running out of calories. We get water from a hose somewhere in Rovana and someone hands me a Cliff bar. I am trying to eat that thing, but it is drying faster than my salivary glands can handle. What fun! Damn, the leaders are again already coming down. It is so hot, that I just have to stop for a second. Sweat is just pouring from my body. Turning into the wind gives me some relieve. Quicker than I thought possible, we get to the turnaround near the Tungsten mine. Tom is a stickler for details. One actually has to go around the cone to get credit. I am just cooked, I have to stop. I down the first of many (cold) Cokes. Wonderful! It takes quite awhile to get back to Millpond Park and to set out for the dreaded final climb. For future riders I recommend parking on Round Valley road, rather than in the park. It will save you the time to ride to your car. I load up with calories and fluids and after much in trepidation get back on the bike. The last part of the climb is supposed to have at least 3 sections of 15 % grade and I am dreading every single one. I have very little left. Making the right turn onto Hwy 168 we see Dr. Tom's gift for the day: a seemingly endless road of 5-8 % grade, nicely simmering in 110+ heat. Well done! As a kid in Holland I always was skeptical about those exorbitant stories of life in the USA. Frying eggs on asphalt?? I am a firm believer now. Tom is making up for the problems with the second climb. On this one there are plenty of aid stations. Great, but they slow me down. I am "crashing" in every single one. Especially near the one a few miles before the turnoff to South Lake, I can barely make the last few hundred feet. How anyone can race this thing is beyond me and this comes from a six time finisher of the Furnace Creek 508.  I don't want to remember how I ever made it up to South Lake, suffice to say I did. The last few hundred feet of climbing especially were no picnic. Standing in my 30/29 gear I feared I was getting angina. The air is pretty thin up here at 10000 ft. Finished after 9:47:09 with on the bike time of 8:52:16. The last climb took me nearly 3 hrs!

I am so "fagged out" , no way I am going to ride back. I am catching a ride and will pick up that bike later with the van. Sure enough, people are lining up to be taken back. Fritz Tomasello ( masters 55+ ) is "celebrating" his birthday. This masochist can't wait to jump in the van. He is racing in the Masters 55+ category. A few years from now I doubt very much you will find me in that category.

Next morning I am lining up again, only to find out that I am in the waiting line for the Porte potties. Amazing, one would think you take care of that well before the start. The pace is somewhat more sedate, I guess I am not the only one still stiff from the day before. First climb up  is Glacier Lodge. Compared to the leaders most of the pack appears to be standing still. There is a nice tailwind, but it is getting hot quickly. Riders in front of me are zigzagging, it's a steady 10 % grind. Near the top there are several campsites, at least one of which has water. Last time, climbing this at noon in 109 degrees, I drenched myself here. At the top the second group catches up. Our fearless organizer Dr. Tom takes off pursuing no doubt a personal record. Bugs a plenty on this descent. Want some extra calories just open your mouth and swallow. Back at the van, the heat is unbearable. Quickly getting back on the bike. I forgot how hot this climb of Waucoba Canyon is. We turn around in the middle of nowhere. Near the first part of the climb Dan and Annie are slowly grinding their way up. Tough as nails!!. Back at the van my Ciclo computer indicates 124 degrees!!! Next up the dreaded climb to Bristle Cone Forest. I remember last year, I had to force myself not to get off and walk the final climb. This climb is rather featureless ( at least in my mind, I bet the extreme temperatures have something to do with that ). At about the 6000 ft mask we encounter the first water stop at a "spring". I don't hesitate to cool myself down with copious amount of somewhat smelly water. I don't remember exactly how I get there but I finally make it to the last major stop before the climb through the park to the top. Tomato juice over ice cubes! Nothing tastes better, even now my mouth starts to water. The next 10 miles are without question the most difficult. There are several short, steep climbs up to 15% forcing me to resort to my smallest gear. Lots of riders are again zigzagging. Reaching the false summit makes you think you are nearly there. Big mistake!! The worst is yet to come, but finally we make it to the finish. What a relief!! The descent is not without some challenges. There is a short climb and does it get hot reaching the 6000 ft mark. Strong head/cross winds try to toss me around. My new "compact" Spectrum is not as steady on the descent as compared to my other bikes. Temperature goes up to 109 and in no time I am back to the van. By this time the road looks deserted. Depressingly almost everyone has left. I would love to go to the Hot Springs, but I have to get back to Malibu. Maybe next time?

Thanks Tom and all the volunteers for putting on such an epic event. Another one to put on  your calendar for next year.

More detailed description of the climbs using a Ciclo Sports bike computer  :


Mosquito Flat via Lower and Upper Rock Creek

The climb starts with a gentle 1-4% grade for the 1st mile. For the next 6 miles the grade varies between 4-10% followed by a short descent into Lower Creek. Next 3.5 miles similar grades up to 8.5% to Hwy 395. Upper Rock Creek to Mosquito Flat climbs for 10.5 miles with grades between 3- 8 % with a few short sections with 10- 15 % grades. Overall this is one of the easier climbs.

Pine Creek

This 7.9 mile climb averages about 8 % with short sections of 10 %. It does appear steeper because of the heat. Temperatures up to 109! Halfway you can see a series of very imposing steep switch backs in the distance. Not to worry that is a dirt road and not part of the race.

South Lake

The climb starts after the right turn onto Hwy 168.The first 2 or 3 miles is only 2-4 % . Temperature measured up to 117!!!! Next the grade is a steady 8%. After another few miles the grade is slightly easier and the road is not as monotonous. The last 4 miles to the left turn for South Fork will determine if you will make it or not. The grade is an unrelenting 10%. Fortunately there is an elaborate rest stop halfway, where one can be resuscitated. After the left turn the road becomes more varied and overall the climb feels somewhat easier. This will give you some respite to get you ready for the final push over  three12-17.5 % "speed bumps". Especially the last one is a killer: 10-17.5 % over 1/4 mile. I will baptize this last hump as " Coronary Hill "


Glacier Lodge

10.4 mile climb. 7-10 % grade with max. 12.5 %. Strong tailwinds. Water near the top at camp sites.

Waucoba Canyon

Death Valley Rd. Easy climb were it not for the heat up to 113. Average grade of 5 % . 8.6 miles. Not scenic, just hot.

Ancient Bristle Cone Pine Forest.

After finishing this climb, those Bristle cones are not the only ones ancient. 21.4 challenging miles. The 1st 10 miles average an 8 % grade  with sections of a steady 10 %. Even at 7000 ft the temperature was still 104-106 degrees. The last 5 miles are the toughest with grades between 8 and 15 %. The last push is only 10 % but it feels twice as steep. At the top the temperature was still a whopping 97 degrees.


















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