That’s what Andy Van Bergen said about what we did, and he invented the everesting concept and runs the everesting.cc website, so he would know. Someone will beat that though, and soon I am sure…
I’m home now, matter of fact I’m back at work. It’s Tuesday morning, I’m back in love with coffee (after we agreed to spend a day apart), I rode to work today, and I finally have a moment to contemplate what happened on the weekend.
I’ve been having a really shitful time professionally of late, and it’s been really difficult to cope with. It’s made me question a lot of things, and generally left me and my wife Sarah feeling really down about life. We were at a market a few weeks ago, having a beer, and I told Sarah about the email that the Hells 500 had sent out asking if anyone wanted to be involved in a bullshit-crazy everesting on RACV commuter bikes in Melbourne in June. Being that she is easily the best wife on the planet (I’m pretty sure aliens don’t get married, they have civil unions between similar life forms, which actually makes Sarah the best wife in the universe), Sarah straight away just said “Why don’t we go over and you ride it?” Fuck. WHAT A TOP CHICK. I wasn’t even asking, I was just talking about it, and she was smart enough to see that something like this would be the kind of thing that we needed to get us out of this funk. Something to get our minds out of the rot, to have a break, to be involved in something way off of the normal line of life, and to press a big ‘reset’ button. I emailed Andy, and said I was in.
Emails went back and forth. Some guys were in, some were out. At one point we had 6 riders. We were riding at Kew, then somewhere else, then in Yarra Park, before finally, with a couple of days to go, it was Jolimont. I didn’t know any of the streets, nor did I give a shit. It was going to be hard, no matter where we rode, REALLY hard. Oh my god hard. Drive coffin nails in with your fist hard. So the actual route made buggr all difference. The day beforehand it was decided – Jolimont, 7pm, 3 riders – Richard Kemp, Jason English and Dave Edwards.
Sarah and I drove over from Radelaide, sans kids, who stayed with Nanna and Poppa for the weekend. We shopped at the Queen Vic markets to buy the supplies I wanted for the ride, and stayed in an apartment just down the road. Now this is the period when Rich and I realised that we are brothers from another. Not even. Twins, just born a few years apart. Bikes, hills, tattoos, dadness, shit jokes, instagram, uber-competitiveness and being a fine looking rooster. This is just the starting point for what we have in common. All told, a complete pair of dick heads.
We met when we picked up the bikes from Quay West a couple of hours before, and could not stop laughing. He had the KOM red spotted bike, and I had the Cadel signed, yellow TDF bike. This was even ridiculouser than we had thought. I rode the bike over to the start, and kept laughing. THIS WAS SO DUMB.
Jason hadn’t shown up yet, but we knew he was flying in from Port Macquarie, so we started anyway. Jason English is the current and multiple 24 hour mountain biking WORLD CHAMPION, so we figured he wouldn’t have a lot of trouble catching us when he did arrive. We weren’t wrong on this… They actually use Jason’s legs to correctly tune a metronome. More on this later. We rode, we rode, and we rode. 18m vertical gain each lap, for about 900m horizontally covered. Jason rocked up after his flight was delayed by 4 hours, and jumped in on lap 22. A few hours later we were all on level pegging. Oh my god. He has legs, he knows how to use them. But from then on, he just rode at or around our pace. Gave us encouragement, showed us how to pee whilst riding like a boss, and just generally showed how strong his character is. Stand up bloke. He even called the airline in the morning, and got his return flight pushed back so that he could finish the ride with us. Being that his flight was late coming in, they did it no sweat.
The best thing about this whole ride was the support. Now a lot of people that showed up know Rich, but a lot of people didn’t know any of us. Some of these people showed up and rode with us for hours, in the darkness. Explain that, they didn’t know us, but at 1am were happily riding alongside of us, buying coffee for us, and generally supporting us. How does that work? People rule. Hells 500 people rule. Everesting rules. That was the part of the whole thing that was so staggering. People who lived on the street asked what was happening, and when they found out, would bring coffee, tea and offer for us to use their toilets when needed. Bus drivers got on the radio, and let each other know what was happening so that they could look out for us when turning onto the street. At 1am, some bloke who was shitfaced wearing a bad a suit turned up, cheered waaaay too loudly, and rode a lap with me, yelling how he had seen such a cool photo of me on facebook, and wanted to come out and see us.
To every single person that turned up, I cannot ever express the thanks that I have for how you helped us. You rode with us, cheered for us, asked cars to move so that they weren’t on the peak of the one corner we had to make, brought LOTS of donuts, tasty burgers, more tasty burgers, pizza shapes, sticky date pudding, no-doz, coke, more donuts, a few more donuts, thanks for the donuts, hash browns, PAELLA, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee and still more coffee. I easily consumed in excess of 30 serves of caffeine from coffee, coke, caffeinated gels and no-doz.
That’s a thing unto itself. In the last 10 hours of the ride, sleep deprivation became a huge issue. The biggest issue towards the end. When you enter the second night without sleep and are still riding, your mind tries to force you to get off of the bike. It realizes that your spirit WILL. NOT. BUDGE. My desire to finish cannot be defeated through fatigue. So your brain says “Fuck you then”, and forces your eyes shut. So I squeeze my whole face to keep my eyes open. So then it removes your ability to speak. So I stopped speaking, no loss. So then your brain removes your ability to walk. No probs, I was riding anyway, so when I stopped to eat, drink or wee, I would crawl and grab some caffeine. The caffeine would allow my eyes to stay open, and I could think. The other stuff was all gone, but I could think and see. That’s enough.
So in your fucking face brain, I am smarter than you. I won, you lost. Now get back in line, I need you for another 50 years or so, and I promise I won’t do this to you again. Well for a while. Only a little while. Probably this weekend when I do Cairns Ironman. Sorry brain, you’re fucked, but so am I, and we’re in this together, so let’s stop fighting and get some rad shit done.
Richard Kemp is a top bloke. A very top bloke. I personally met him less than 4 days ago, but I can tell you now without reservation that I love him. He is my boy. Strong as an ox, chatty, rides with style, funny. Some times, and not very often, you meet someone with whom it just clicks. You can chat about anything, or just ride and say nothing. It doesn’t matter, you are just the same people. A very tops mate, that’s what he is to me. Rich and I raced each other the whole way. Stupid? Yes. Awesome? Also yes. He’d be up a lap or two, then stop, and I’d be up a lap or two. We’d start a lap, one or the other would decide that it was a ‘Big Dog’ lap, and so into 3rd gear it would go, and we’d stand and grind out the whole lap. There was never a question, or a complaint, that was just how it went. Lap after lap, night, day and night.
Then Rich started to lag a bit. But then he’d fight back HARD, and ride past like his back wheel was on fire. Then he’d struggle again. He went deep into the hurt box, real deep. The worst expression of the whole day I have seen so far is a photo of him riding in the dark, slumped over the handlebars, eyes nearly closed, mouth agape, fighting with everything he had to keep pedaling. 1st gear became his only friend. When Rich finally did pull out, I wasn’t surprised. We were over 8000m, and he had been dying slowly for the last few hours. I was however, very, VERY saddened by it. That was hard. It was hard to see him go, cause we had done so much together, and I know how badly he wanted it. I caught him on the descent as he was about to leave. I couldn’t speak anymore. I couldn’t stand up anymore. I nearly crashed just trying to stop my bike, and stand on the road. I think someone came and grabbed my bike for me. Thanks whoever that was. I have no idea what we said, we did say something, I think. We embraced, and held it for a bit. Then I turned around, grabbed my yellow bike, and rode off down the hill. I cried a little when I got to the bottom of the hill to turn around. I’m crying now thinking of it. Richard put in an effort that is beyond what most anyone will ever know. He is a legend, and one of my very good friends. Pity he’s such a dickhead.
I had no rear brake left at all, it died with around 100 laps to go, so front brake (which was pretty dodgy anyway) only. I strained a nerve in my left forearm, so couldn’t really hold on with my left hand anymore. The 4 speed bumps on the descent hurt A LOT. I was no longer pulling a sweet jump off of the last speed bump on the way down. It was enough just to still be rubber side down.
By now Jason and I were both on grunting terms. He rode his bit, I rode my bit. We didn’t have the capacity to talk or try to ride with each other. I kept having someone check me every time I stopped, and ask me questions. I couldn’t answer any of them, and I couldn’t stand up. So my only thought was “Give me back my fucking bike, cause I’m going for a ride.” The last 100 laps were torture. I had no idea how I was going to do it. I still don’t know. I started riding to 9’s. Just get to 89, then you can wee and eat. 89 is better sounding than 90. Just get to 79. 69. 59. 49. 39. 29. FUCK, RICH JUST LEFT!! WHAT THE FUCK AM I GOING TO DO NOW? 28. 27. Getting ridiculous now.
All of a sudden, 19. Now I can’t. I can’t. I can’t………
From here on, I could only whisper my laps remaining count to my beautiful wife who was still standing on the road side as I went past. I was pathetic.
16. 15. 14. 13. 12.
Jason just finished! That’s so tops mate! Well done. You are a legend, a gentleman, well ‘ard, and just a top bloke.
11. 10. 9.
That drunk guy in a bad suit turns up, yelling American-style encouragement like “You got this man!” and “So strong, you can do it!” My mind wanted to tell him to piss off, but my mouth didn’t work.He was supporting me, no matter how annoying, so I whispered “Thanks”, and kept riding. Then I was sad that he left.
That’s the everest. 492 laps of 18m gain is 8856m, and I had done it. But in my delirium I could not have been certain of whether I had accidentally double clicked the clicker or not. Martin English wrote on one of my instagram posts “Surely you’re going to round it up to an even 500??” when I posted after completing lap 50. That had stuck with me for the last 24 hours, and I wanted to do it. To show everyone that the everest didn’t beat me. I beat it, that I was still standing, I will not be beaten, and just to show you who’s the fucking boss here, I’m going to do some more. In your face gravity, brain, legs, doubters and common sense, I am the boss.
7. 6. 5. 4. 3.
Jason left. He had finished, packed up, and was now freezing. He had Ben there to drive him to the airport, so he could fly out in 5 hours time. Ben by the way being a bloke that none of us knew, and he rode with us for a few hours, through midnight, and helped Jason pack up, and drove him to where he needed to go. What a TOP BLOKE. Now it was me and Sarah, my bike, one hill, my lap counter, garmins, and the darkness.
Sarah. She was there for the start, and stayed for a while. Went back to the room to sleep, couldn’t, so at 2am, went and bought 6 x $1 coffees from Hungry Jacks, turned up, played “Time Of My Life” from Dirty Dancing at MAX volume, and danced for us as we came up the hill. Went back to the hotel, slept some more, then came back for the rest of the day. She directed traffic at the corner to make it as safe as possible for us for hours on end. She arranged base camp. She got coffees for us. She explained to very puzzled strangers what was going on. She was ready to bash a bus driver through his window who ignored her and nearly ploughed into us as we came around a corner. She held our bikes when we were struggling to get off of them. She instagrammed for me, when I was no longer able to focus. She was the one constant that held the whole event together. She was the rock that our waves crashed onto, and was still standing whenever we needed. I love you Sarah. So does Rich and Jason. I love you more. The best supporter of an event that has ever been.
Jason had left, and I had 2 clicks of the lap counter to make. 2 clicks. 2 fucking clicks. I had everested already. I had won. I was now the first South Australian to have become a multiple everester, having done one before in March. What was I proving? I could click it twice, climb into the car, and have lost nothing. One small lie, no-one would know, and even if they did, I would be forgiven and still be in the hall of fame. 2 clicks. I would know. I would know that I was too piss weak to finish, and that I lied about it. I would know. 2 clicks. FUCK YOU HILL. 2 clicks.
This is it. I got to the bottom, turned around for my last lap, and left it in 3rd gear. I WILL NOT BE BEATEN. I rode to the bend in the big dog, out of the saddle, stomping the pedals, turning the earth underneath my legs with the gravity-slaying power of my soul. Turn the corner, shifted down to 2nd, and pushed through for the finish. Click. 500. I rode to a street light to check. 500. I rode downhill to the next street light and checked again. 500. I rolled down and around the corner to Sarah, took my hands off of the bars, and raised them in triumph. 500. Hells 500, 500 laps.
30 hours, 41 minutes and 20 seconds. 9000 metres of gain. 454.8 kilometres. 17.8 kilogram bike. 3 gears.
So now what do we do? Sarah had packed up most of the stuff. Just take off the saddle and pedals from my bike, and put the old saddle back on. Everything else went in the car. I rolled the bike down hill to the Mantra on Jolimont, where they were going to store it until it could be picked up the next day. Big ups to this hotel, as Sarah went and spoke with them at the start, and out of pure goodwill, they gave us riders free coffees, and let us use their storage facility for the evening for the bikes. Thank you for your kindness. Actually, whilst we are at it, thanks too to the Pullman Hotel, and Hard Pressed café, whom also gave us free coffees to help support our efforts. So very much appreciated, and such good coffees!
Back at the room, ate some more food, checked the 4 kajillion instagram notifications, then went to sleep at 2:30am. 7:00am get up, throw our stuff in the car, pop past Hard Pressed Café for a Chai Latte (I hate myself for being such a yuppie now, but coffee and me were enjoying a break), then into the car for the drive home. Didn’t sleep much. Sarah drove most of the way, but she was pretty damn tired too, so I drove the last couple of hours. Legs locked up in a big, big way. Got some stares when we stopped at Tailem Bend for diesel, and I couldn’t get out of the car at first, and then when I did, it took me 2 minutes to walk 20 metres to the dunny. Picked up the kids, had dinner at my parent’s house, got home, unpacked, wrapped my daughter’s presents for her 4th birthday (which was the next day), uploaded my ride to Strava, and sent it off to Andy. He had it up on the hall of fame before I went to sleep! Top bloke Andy, even for a ranga. All of this was his idea, to raise money for the people of Nepal after the tragic events in April. If you are still reading, please go to my fundraising page and donate, the link is in the comments. Anything will help, and I certainly did the work! Andy came out and rode with us, bought food and coffees for us, posted a tone of stuff on social, and all round is just a good bloke. Thanks mate.
So now what? Well I feel a lot better today. My left wrist still aches a lot, but it’s my left. Could’ve been my right, and that would have out loud sucked… My legs are actually okay. A few aches, but they’ll come good the day after tomorrow. Guch is fine. Spirit still strong. I am entered for Ironman Cairns on Sunday, and fly up on Thursday, so let’s have at it. This will be my 5th Ironman, and I am very strongly suggesting it will be my slowest, and by a distance. Prediction is for a whole lotta walking. Probably 40km of walking. Not the finishing chute but, I’ll run that sucka. I learned from Rich – Always look good for the camera.
So after all that, did it help get Sarah and I out of the funk we were in at the start? Yes. It was one of the very best experiences we have ever been involved in. It made us a bunch of new friends, it was something where total strangers came and supported us (BOTH Sarah and I), it was something incredibly positive from go to whoa. Even better, aside from having kids, it is the best example of why Sarah and I are the best team you can have. So the answer is definitely yes, that was what we needed.
So now you know what it’s like. If you still need to ask why, then you’ll never understand the answer, even if I tell you.
You can view the Strava file of the ride here.
Thanks for reading, please leave a comment!