mundane adventures in running
These days, my road bike is really just something that sits on the turbo trainer. It is a sad shadow of itself, hobbled and humbled, occasionally deluged in the sweat of TT intervals, moe commonly a home for mice and spiders in the garage.
I’ve practically stopped road cycling. I had to go through months of garage detritus to even find my bike. Both tyres were flat. The back brake had been knocked out so the block rubbed against the rim. My bar tape is held on with gaffer tape. The headset bolts have rusted with too much perspiration.
Our neighbour Chris has cancer. His husband, Martin, is a cycling monomaniac. He’s obsessive, determined and analytical in his pursuit of cycling excellence. His response to Chris’ condition has been to cycle more, and harder. His current obsession is to Everest… to climb the same hill repeatedly until he has climbed the equivalent of Everest, sea to summit. He’s doing this to raise money for a charity which helps raise awareness of bowel cancer and provides support to people suffering from the condition.
Martin broke his spine last summer training. He eased off for a bit. We heard last week that he’d planned to try again on Sunday. There was a brief flurry of whatsapp messages last week. Chris was looking for moral support as he went to watch Martin. Martin was slightly interested in having some company for the ride. With children’s parties and other commitments going on, it was decided that I should go and ride with him, to represent the family in our support for Martins’ crazy endeavour.
I love the idea of Everesting. It’s that brilliant mix of hardcore and accessible. Accessible:you don’t need special equipment (beyond a bike worth a grand or so, natch), or to travel anywhere miles away. You don’t need a team, you don’t need to do it on a particular day, you just do it. Hardcore: the sheer bloodymindedness of it. Amazing. To climb 6000 metres, just repeating the same climb, again, and again, and again. It’s like running a marathon on a running track: an insanely dull attrition. The mastery of the everesting athlete is as much the mastery of tedium as an athletic endeavour. I have a lot of respect for Martin for deciding on this particular challenge rather than Etape Du Tour, or LEJOG, or Paris Brest Paris. He didn’t choose the shiny glamour of an established course, complete with varied scenery, surprises, beauty, a sense of journey. No, Martin chose the subtler, crazier, far duller challenge: pick a hill on a b-road, climb, descend, repeat ad nauseum.
I guess choosing the perfect hill for your everest attempt must be pretty subjective. Martin opted for a short hill, steady climb, close to coffee/ hotel/ sandwiches: Hosey Hill. I think Martin is insane for having chosen this one. It’s steep in places. The descent is difficult (dark, some nasty potholes in the road*). There’s no view. None at all, just wooded banks. Mostly though, most perniciously, there is a shitload of cars on the hill. It’s straight off the A25 . Motorists turn off up Hosey Hill. Already bored of waiting to pass a billion weekend road warriors they overtake quickly, closely and aggressively.
I’d cycled out 35km to get to the bottom of Hosey Hill. I hadn’t been out on the bike for ages and was knackered by the time I got there. I chatted with Chris, lead Martin up the hill a couple of times. It was raining. the ride out had been a soggy, misty affair. We got there at about 1. Martin had been cycling since 4a.m. He was looking strong, certainly it was him telling me to speed up as he followed me up the hill.
We didn’t stay long before we headed home. The rain continued on and off for the rest of the day. My thoughts kept going back to Martin and the constant attrition of Hosey Hill. Sisyphus on a bike.
Martin didn’t complete his everest. He managed two thirds of the ascent. I haven’t spoken to him about it, but Chris mentioned his knee blew up. I guess you’d expect that to be the thing that went first. It’s still an amazing achievement, even though knowing Martin it must have been incredibly hard for him to concede defeat. I really hope that he treats this as a training run, and uses the experience to learn how to smash it next time (or perhaps the time after that). His fundraising page is still up if you want to donate.