4:25am on Sunday the 3rd of January 2016 I hit the start button... 12:15am on Monday the 4th of January 2016 I hit the stop button. 19hrs 56min 36sec. I will never forget what I did on that day because it was one of the best days I have ever lived.
In that time, on that day, I rode my bike repetitively up and down TV Access Road, Mt Major in Dookie, Victoria, Australia, exactly 53 times with a total distance of 319.71km. The aim was to reach 8,848m in elevation, which is the total height of Mt Everest. And I did.
What I did is well known in the cycling world as Everesting. This is how and why I did it.
2015 has been a big year for me. I moved back to Adelaide from Shepparton because I wanted to be with the person I loved, I started businesses, expanded my own career capabilities, learnt more about relationships and love, stress, down times, up times, making more friends, letting go of fears, fighting inner demons, learning to just tell people how I'm really feeling, asking for help, letting go of that beautiful relationship, shifting out on my own, and recently getting an amazing new job overseas... safe to say, 2015 was a year of massive flux for me but among it all I made sure that I always did one thing. I rode my bike.
As the weather started to warm up from what was a solid winter, I began to make time for some longer rides. Life was changing a lot for me in Adelaide and the long rides seemed to help me make sense of it all.
I have known about Everesting since it became and "thing" and never really considered doing it until one of those days when I was on a long ride in early November. I knew I was going to be home in Shepp over the Christmas and New Years period. I knew I had good form in the hills for climbing. I didn't tell anyone, but that day in November I decided that I was going to Everest my favourite hill climb, Mt Major in Dookie.
Mt Major is a pimple that pops up in the middle of the flat country that is Greater Shepparton. It takes 20min to get from Shepp to that mountain and it has served me and my fellow cycling brothers well over the years as a training ground for hill repeats. Unlike most hill climbs, Mt Major is quite baron without many trees that opens up the views to a full 360 horizon when you are at the top. It has a few big radio and TV towers on it, grazing sheep, some world class mountain bike trails and this single narrow access road, its rough, but I love it. There is something special about seeing Shepp from up there and I highly recommend that you go and visit this hill at sunset on a calm evening. It will make you smile, I promise.
So I hadn't said anything to anyone until about 3 weeks ago. I casually decided to tell my brother mid phone conversation that I'm thinking about Everesting Mt Major. He said "Really?" I said "Yep" he said "When?" I said "New Years Day" he said "Do you really think you can do it?" again I said "Yep" and then he said "Ok, well I'll come back to Shepp instead of staying in Melbourne for New Years so I can be with you." And just like that it was a done deal. My brother is my best friend and without even thinking twice he was going to be there for me.
It was Christmas Day when we both had another look at the weather forecast for New Years Day... 39 degrees celsius! On that hill, with no shade, was probably going to be suicide. To spend that much time in the sun, burning that much energy is not going to go well but two days later there looked to be a drop in temp and cloud cover with possible rain. For me, cloud cover was good, and a little bit of rain didn't bother me, so I said "How about I do it on Sunday the 3rd instead?" Steve said "I think you better man" I said "Yeah." And that was that.
On Boxing Day the family all went down to Melbourne to help brother Steve move into his apartment. I took my bike because I had a ride I needed to get done in preparation for my Everesting attempt. On Monday the 28th I rode from Ascot Vale, Melbourne to Kialla Lakes, Shepparton. It was 212.km and it was something I have wanted to do for a really long time and a ride that let me tune into my body to know if I was going to be good for Everesting 6 days later. I was good for it.
It's Sunday 4:00am and I have just parked my car at the base of Mt Major. I am alone. I have a light on my bike, a ute full of (vegan) food, it's dark with not much moon light and just before I start, I kneel down to touch the road. I then said under my breath "To the original people who's land this once belonged, I honour you and respect you all, here and now. To you Mt Major, I have a promise, keep me safe today and keep me strong and I will in return show the world how beautiful you truly are." And with that I kissed the road, got on my bike and pressed the start button on my Garmin.
Not even five minuets in to the first lap, my bike light died. I was sure it was fully charged, but for some reason it didn't want to turn back on. So I was in the dark. All that went through my head was "keep going, you know this road, you know the pot holes, you know every turn, just do this lap in the dark and swap lights when you get back to the bottom." So I did. By the clouded moon light I climbed and descended that first lap in complete darkness.
After that dark lap, I swapped lights and was good to go. I had knocked out about 5 repeats and half a watermelon when my good mate Ben Ennis rocked up with his camera and a little pee wee dirt bike so he could get some photos. The sun was just starting to rise, Ben was buzzin around and snapping photos and I had settled into a good zone. My times were looking good, I was feeling great and the weather was perfect. Tail wind up the climb and a cooling breeze at the top. Best conditions I've ever experienced out there.
At around 8am my good mates Angelo and Anthony Portia rocked up, kitted up in Mex gear and started riding with me. We had a good laugh, they checked me on my power and pace, told me to slow down plenty of times which I didn't really listen to, but was grateful that they respected that I was in control of how I wanted to be riding at that stage. I knew they were concerned, but by that point I had entered a zone that was flowing and it felt easy.
Climb, sweat, descend, cool down, eat, press lap button, repeat. That was the flow all morning. We watched heavy rain clouds form, and the boys kept saying "Yep, thats gonna hit us" we watched rain falling and coming our way, wind direction perfectly lined up to hit us and the boys kept saying "Yeah it's about to get us now." But the rain stayed away. Some how the showers were missing us, by like a few kms in the distance, we watched it just pass. I was quiet. I didn't think about rain being bad if it hit me. I didn't listen to the boys when they were watching the weather for me. I just kept climbing, and smiling.
After a lot of rain missing us, we got a little drizzle that found it's way over to Mt Major. For three laps it was wet. Not soaked. But wet. My brother Steve had arrived just before the rain and I was starting to get annoyed. Times were slowing because of the rain and my hands were getting soggy. But I kept going and knew it would stop. And it did, for the rest of the entire ride.
On that day, Victoria copped a huge down pour of rain. Only an hours drive from where I was, a man lost his life in a flash flood because of the storms. And there I was, on this hill where I could see that same storm, and many more, just move around me. I began to feel like I was being looked after. On that hill, I watched the clouds dance with the wind all day.
The middle of the day was a bit of a blur for me. Apart from things like seeing local mates who I ride with come to say hello at the base of the climb, old mate Anthony Ferrinda who cleaned the road up and moved a fallen tree for me (thanks mate), getting a bug stuck in my ear and wasting 15min trying to get it out (tip, if this happens to you, tilt your head, fill your ear with water and the bug will float to the top and will come out... thank you brother Steve, I'm glad you have become a doctor), not to forget good old Anthony (Nico) Nicolaci and his power talks on how epic the effort was, Tommy Avram for coming out twice to ride a few laps and a bunch of the cycling lads who I ride with back home that came out all day... I wasn't able to show it, but I appreciated you all for coming out.
It got hot at one point. The sun was hitting me and I was watching the clouds to see when I was going to get cover and thinking, "I'm glad I changed the date."
The boys kept climbing with me. But around 4pm I was feeling a bit emotional and the boys climbing and talking around me started to distract my focus so I decided to ride for an hour or so alone. In that hour I listened to some beautiful music and I let out some tears. Just happy tears from such a big year and thinking about the people I love just brings it all up. When you are physically pushed that far, your have a choice to either close off to your heart, or open it up. I'm glad I let mine open up and I'm glad I got to have those 4 laps alone. Because it gave me a deep strength that then lasted right until the end.
The sun was starting to get close to the horizon. Ant Portia had climbed half of the challenge and he was done for the day. I thank you mate for being solid with me all day. You gave me space, you covered me from head winds at the top and you knew when to be quiet when I needed it. To Ange Portia, mate I know you wanted to go all day but when your IT band gets ya, it gets ya! We done plenty of time on the hill together and someone had to eat the ridiculous amount of gourmet vegan sandwiches that Mum made! That pesto one was the best hey!
And then there were two. Me and my brother Steve. I wanted Steve to be there with me for the end of the day. He had started earlier than he initially said he would. And he lasted out there with me for longer than I thought he could. He was solid as a rock for me. He took all of the numbers out of my head and did the math for me. To have someone else do that for you is definitely a huge relief. He checked in on me but didn't ask me too many questions. He kept calm all day, or at least didn't show otherwise. And that all helped.
It was around 7pm that Steve was able to let me know that it was looking like I would be finishing at around mid night. I had hoped for around 10pm but stop time adds up. Food stops, toilet stops, bug in your eat for 15min stops.. it adds up. But it didn't phase me. By that point nothing hurt, I felt solid and I was still smiling. I looked at Steve heaps as the sun was setting. Smiled heaps. I was really happy that he was there with me. I used to say nothing is perfect. But those hours watching the sun set, riding laps 40 and above, with my brother, was perfect.
Night had set in. We put the lights on and followed the 1650 lumen golden bright beams up that hill and back down. My parents had set up a base camp along with my Uncle Danny and Aunty Loretta. And the thought hit me. Why don't they just follow me up the hill in the car instead of only seeing me for a few seconds to turn around and head up again. So they did. I think it made them feel better to see me climb but Dad has since told me his jaw was locked every time I descended because even though it was dark, I still bombed that descent every time!
With about 6 laps to go I bonked. I had stopped taking on sugar for an hour by mistake and felt that feeling I have experienced before when your body feels really light, you get a little dizzy and a cold sweat comes over you. From experience I knew I was fine and just needed to get some sweet back in me. So we descended slowly and at the bottom I chugged on a lemonade and ate some rice pudding with jam... that mum spoon fed me, full baby style until I warmed up and felt solid again which took about 5min. Sugar is good people. It is how you get these things done!
3 laps later. Steve bonked! I knew it was coming because his breathing changed. And then he wasn't holding my pace. We got to the top and I said "Man, I love you and I'm so happy you have been able to roll next to me up until now, but I got this from here on" and to that he said "Yeah ok, you started this, now you can finish it man. You got this, you are gonna do it."
And so. For the final hour and a half with my family in the car behind me, I spun my legs up that hill alone but full of so much love and support from so many people over the day.
Lap 52/53 was done. Steve was at the bottom packing his bike away and was ready to get in the car with everyone else to watch me ride the final lap. On the last two laps I felt strong. I felt like I was just starting, fresh. So I looked at Steve just before I was about to start the final lap and said "Watch this..." he said "Are you gonna launch it?!!" I said "I'm gonna hit this one hard!" He laughed and said "Alright man smack it up."
All day my average time to get to the top was 14-15min. On that final lap I kicked it hard. I felt good so I kept upping the pace and for the first time all day I raised my heart rate up into a higher zone which felt amazing after being consistent all day. On the last two pinches before the top Steve started yelling from the car "Aller Aller Nyelli." Go Go Daniel... Nyelli is what my Nonna used to call me.
I finished the last lap in 10:42sec. It was my fastest time for the entire day.
When I got to the bottom, I touched that same bit of road where I started and I said thank you. Thank you Mt Major. You looked after me all day. There is no other hill I would have rather been on for 20hrs. I'll always come back because I left a part of me up there that day and I'll never forget that.
I want to end this all with a quote by Sir Edmund Hillary that a friend posted to my Facebook page when he saw I had finished. Thank you Rocky. I cried when I read it in the car going home.
"It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves."
Officially now in the Everesting Hall of Fame as the first known person to Everest Mt Major, Dookie.
Official ride data on Strava. Note that Strava's elevation is incorrect and the correct elevation that I completed on the day was 9,398m which is higher than Everest. I wanted to make sure I really did it.
A few years ago I put my hand up and offered to give the Singing Cricket CoOP a bit of a re-brand which turned out to be quite a well received evolution for the shop in Willunga, SA. Only recently I was asked to help out again and get the CoOP online with a website holding page and Facebook page. The approach was to capture the CoOP's beauty and what so many people have come to recognise as their go to place for all things organic.
I recently finished a job for Greater Shepparton City Council that required me to capture two of their major events precincts. The Shepparton Show Grounds have just undergone a major upgrade especially to their grassed arena and brand new field and feature lighting has been installed. So a trip to the hometown with the drone, two days of shooting in both Shepparton and Tatura park and here they are!