vEveresting: Reaching the summit

Mount Everest has called to adventurers for over a century. Many of those who reached for the summit failed such as George Mallory and Andrew Irvine in 1924. Many have experienced success since that time, but only two men can claim the distinction of being the first to crest the highest peak in the world: Edmund Hillary of New Zealand and Tenzing Norgay of India.

Climbing Everest has become more than an act by a select number of mountaineers. It has come to represent any attempt to achieve something that stretches human endurance that only a few dare and fewer still obtain. It is the call to a summit top experience.

10556487_1381306305526641_2263816333020543617_nOn June 13, 2015 in his own way, Frank Garcia followed in the footsteps of Hillary and Norgay. His summit was to be the first to “summit” using a new category of Everesting. He planned to climb the height of Mount Everest on his bicycle without actually going anywhere.

This is possible because Frank had access to Zwift’s indoor cycling software. This allows a rider to combine a virtually created world for cyclists with real world cycling components to give the user a near on-road experience. With this software and a bicycle connected to a smart trainer, Frank was ready to begin his adventure.

So after a fitful night of sleep with anticipation keeping him awake, Frank mounted his saddle a little behind schedule. We’ve probably all had that feeling when we get a late start to a race or charity ride. Sometimes the most nerve racking part is just getting on the bicycle!

The fear that he would not be able to stay awake for the entire 20 to 23 hours he had allowed for the attempt weighed on his mind as he began those first turns of his pedals. Would he be able to continue that long, or would some technical glitch or a saddle sore undermine him? But encouraged by his wife and children there with him, Frank set off for the summit. Little did he know the family he would find along the journey.

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He made the first climb up the .2 mile stretch of virtual asphalt. He would most likely ride over the “Shut Up Legs” chalk graffiti scrawled across his path over 300 times as he repeatedly climbed 94 feet each effort up the 7% grade. This was more than a physical exercise. It would be a test of his mental strength.

I asked him if he ever felt like giving up.

“There wasn’t a time I felt like giving up, there were many.”

That is when Frank began to find a family he never realized was there for him.

“It just didn’t seem like an option to give up as a team had formed and now it was about them too, and I didn’t want to let them down. Hours 12-14 on the bike where the worst. I was going really slow, but the team pulled me through. Julynn Washington’s words of encouragement were most helpful and just the fact that she was there the whole time.”

However, it wasn’t all about fighting through adversity. Through the pain and suffering of the mental and physical effort, Frank was buoyed by the magical thing happening around him. What could have been a lonely and draining effort became an experience of community and support.

Jonathan Lemon and Ken Bitting supporting Frank. -- Photo by Julynn Washington

Jonathan Lemon and Ken Bitting supporting Frank. — Photo by Julynn Washington

“It is hard to point out a moment that meant the most to me. Really it was the whole ride because there were all these people there supporting me.  People I didn’t even know before. It was such an honor to be the focus of that support.”

That isn’t to say that it was easy, or that even having people attempting to offer support always had positive consequences. As is often the case in these types of endeavors, good intentions can sometimes get in the way. Frank experienced this during some of the many times he attempted to make a u-turn to start another repeat of the climb.

“I was getting frustrated with u-turns, because you can’t make them when someone is next to you. This usually happens with ‘sticky’ artificial intelligence guys generated by the software that won’t leave your side.  Anyway Jim Purtell was being a trooper and doing climbs with me after one of these frustrating periods (there were a ton of AI guys out during the attempt) and he was next to me and I got mad.  He went and told his wife I was losing my mind (which about that time I was).  Great thing was, next morning, you know who was out helping me again? Jim Purtell!”

Frank Garcia's setup for his Virtual Everesting attempt. -- Photo by Carolyn Sullivan

Frank Garcia’s setup for his Virtual Everesting attempt. — Photo by Carolyn Sullivan

Other riders came to cheer him along the way. Some logged in and watched from the side of the road. Many used the messaging function within Zwift to send “shouts” Frank’s way. For the man who was the focus of this support he was quick to give these angels on wheels their due.

“These folks made all the difference in the world. It gave me something to focus on other than the pain. I kept telling myself, just follow those wheels Frank, just follow those wheels. Ken Bitting did over 10,000 feet of climbing with me!”

And climb they did. According to Strava, Frank Garcia pedaled his bicycle 17 hours 18 minutes and 54 seconds. He covered 163.8 miles in distance and 29,697 feet in elevation (consider he also descended that much… where would that take him!?!) He started June 13, 2015, at 10:32 PM Watopia time. He stopped the clock on June 14, 2015, at 10:29 PM Watopia time. That means he was reaching for the summit just shy of 24 hours.

“Well I want to say there was elation when I finished, but really I wanted to puke.” Frank told me after a good night sleep. “So that dampened my enthusiasm right then. I was happy I reached ‘the summit’ for the impromptu team that formed and I was happy it was over. Today the satisfaction of having done it is starting to sink in.”

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Why? Well, part of it is simply the spirit of Mallory and Hillary. Being the first to ever “vEverest” on Watopia — or anywhere for that matter — was appealing, but it was also an opportunity to join the large support network of cyclists and runners who “Climb For Nepal” during the month of June. Frank joined them in raising money for people affected by recent natural disasters in Nepal.

The Zwift community has rallied around Frank in this endeavor as well. As of the time this article was being written, the total amount raised by Frank’s efforts exceed $9,000 (including a matching gift). There is no doubt he will accomplish his second summit by raising over $10,000 by the end of June.

Frank has no doubt.

“I see in the news all the time where people of different backgrounds might not be getting along. I wish there were more reports of this kind of stuff where people of all different backgrounds from all over come together to help each other out. I know that humans can be bad but they can also be amazingly good.”

You can be a part of that goodness by supporting Frank’s ClimbForNepal efforts at his MoreThanSports.org fundraising page.