Everesting World Record Smashed (Plus How You Can Do It Too)
Sean Gardner, a 26-year-old American cyclist on the domestic elite team CS Velo Racing, set a new Everesting world record on Saturday with an impressive official time of 6:59:38. He’s the first cyclist to Everest in less than seven hours.
Gardner’s route of choice for his ride was Tanners Ridge Road, just outside of Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. The 1.1 kilometer-long segment he opted for averages a 15.5 percent gradient. To hit the goal of Everest’s 8 848m in elevation, Gardner rode 53 laps of the climb over 118km.
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Everesting on a bike is no easy feat, let alone setting the record. To make it happen, Gardner said he burned roughly 9 000 calories and consumed a whopping 850 grams of sugar to help offset that.
Gardner told Bicycling he decided to try the Everesting challenge in part because of an “absence of other events.”
“I saw other teammates and cyclists doing this, so I figured I would give it a try,” he said.
This was Gardner’s second attempt at the record. He first attempted it on September 15 and set a time of 7:25, putting him right behind Ronan McLaughlin, who set the previous record on July 31 with a time of 7:04:41. His time then wasn’t fast enough for the world record, but it was the fastest Everesting time for American cyclists.
Learning from his first attempt, Gardner tweaked his pacing and nutrition, along with the location. Those changes helped make him about 30 minutes faster this time around. He told Bicycling that this second, record-breaking attempt actually felt easier than his first go at it.
“Last time I bonked hard after five hours. This time I stayed pretty consistent until the last 20 minutes!” Gardner told Bicycling. “I also mentally knew what to expect this time.”
As for any kind of Everesting-specific training, Gardner said he didn’t really do any. Living in Richmond, he said the longest climb there is only 30 seconds long. Instead, he’s been putting in some “big endurance miles.”
It’s been a popular year, if not the year, for Everesting attempts, with elite and pro cyclists looking for alternative challenges in a racing year disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. Along with McLaughlin, Gardner had a faster time than a bunch of other current or former pros who set Everesting records earlier this year, including Alberto Contador, Lachlan Morton, Keegan Swenson, and Phil Gaimon.
So, would Gardner do it again?
“Well I am definitely not going to break my own record,” he said. “I’ll reconsider when someone else puts up a better time! Which might not be too long seeing how much popularity this competition is gaining.”
For both Everesting rides, Gardner rode his stock Cannondale SuperSix EVO.
Everesting Is For Everyone (Kinda)
Adventurers have long lusted after the distinction of climbing Mount Everest, but unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), there are no bike routes to the top the world’s highest peak—which means that cycling attempts are limited to “Everesting,” or logging enough vertical in one day to equal an ascent of the iconic 8 848m peak.
The best part about Everesting on a bike is that you don’t actually have to go to Everest; you can choose any climb your heart desires (or if you’re really masochistic, do it indoors like Mark Cavendish). The worst part of Everesting is that you still have to tackle 8 848m of elevation—whether that means three laps up a 3 00-metre mountain or 29 laps up your local 300m hill.
Jeffrey Stern finds challenging tasks particularly appealing because there are always unknown elements. “Could I really climb nearly 10 000m in one ride? Without dying? Could anyone?” A handful of friends, some volunteers, and I found out on a chilly Fall morning, and then boiled down our experience to eight tips that can improve what will surely be one of the longest days you’ve ever spent in the saddle.
Have a Higher Cause
We weren’t just Everesting for the heck of it; we were applying our effort to support World Bicycle Relief, an organization dedicated to providing bicycles for people who use them for everyday tasks like carrying water, or getting to work or school. When things got dark, I found myself thinking about the people we could be helping and the bikes that connected us. The latest wave of Everesting attempts is part of Rebecca’s Giddy Up Challenge, a cycling and running event created by Rebecca Rusch to raise money for COVID-19 relief. Whenever you’ve got an intimidating task ahead, it helps to have a cause outside of yourself to keep you going.
Choose Your Route With Care
I’m based in Southern California, so we settled on Lake Hughes Road, a popular 226m mountain climb just North of Los Angeles. With pavement as smooth as butter and an average (and relatively modest) gradient of 7 percent, it was a natural choice. Plus, the view of Castaic lake below is stunning, allowing plenty of distraction for the mind to wander. We would ultimately ride the climb 39 times, so having stuff to look at was an important factor.
Prepare for a Long Day
Our morning started really early, well before sunrise. There was a giddy excitement in the air amongst the half-dozen participants, and by lap five, I had convinced myself the whole thing would be easy. In the end, I was way off: Thirty-nine laps took us just about 15 hours, which meant we were riding through huge temperature swings throughout the day as the sun rose and set. The key is to have a base camp somewhere on the road (maybe a parked vehicle), layer appropriately, and bring more clothes, food, and liquids than you think you’ll need.
Bring Extra Power
When darkness arrived, a whole new vibe came over the group. It was just us and our bikes and our lights—that is, until my light died with three hours to go. This made the night hours mentally difficult, but it could have easily been avoided with an extra battery or a portable charger.
Ride Your Own Pace
On lap 16, my mind had begun to send out false alarms, and my legs felt unresponsive—but I rallied by lap 22 when I found myself riding with friends, chatting, and laughing about funny stories from the past. My friend Neil (who specialises in burly climbs) was on another level, and we’d occasionally see him floating up the hill with ease. It was tempting to go with him, but I stuck with the pace I knew I could hold.
Another Everester took a more surging approach to the morning laps and disappeared by noon. We think he completed around 16 laps—a very respectable attempt—but couldn’t finish it off. No matter your pace, it’s important to remember that Everesting is a marathon, not a sprint. Slow and steady will complete the challenge.
Recruit Some Friends
Sure, you can absolutely complete an Everesting challenge solo, but misery loves company. To complete something like this, having a team is a huge help—not just of riders, but of volunteers to cheer you on and fill your bottles. Finding cyclists who can ride a similar pace and friends to provide moral support is vital. For our group, it made all the difference in the world.
You will obviously have to dig deep physically, but prepare to go to some low places mentally as well. In the dark, I went in and out of what seemed like a persistent bonking dream. I kept thinking about a story Neil had told us that morning as the sun rose. When he’d visited Africa with World Bicycle Relief, he’d met a man who rode a staggering 100 kilometres daily to deliver 70kg of firewood by bicycle—a seemingly impossible task.
As I made my way through the dark on my bike, the man in Africa was probably starting his day in the darkness, too. He wasn’t turning on the television to enjoy a day of rest, or even going for a relaxing ride; he was loading up his bicycle to deliver wood so he could put food in his children’s bellies and shelter over their heads. I was riding my bike so more people like him could ride theirs—all of us fighting the impossible in our own way. This image kept returning to my mind and helped to keep my pedals churning up the mountain—it was the most powerful moment of the event for me.
But No Matter What, Believe in Yourself
Laps 35 through 39 were rather blurry, and not just because we were sharing a light. All said and done, my friends and I climbed Mt. Everest in California. In a little over 14 hours and about 265km, we raised R240 000—enough to send 98 bicycles to Africa. Our effort is just a drop in the bucket—so far World Bicycle Relief has put over 280 thousand bikes into the field, changing countless lives for the better through transportation, and they’re not stopping any time soon. It takes a village, just like it took a village to get us up Lake Hughes road 39 times.