24 Feb

Tramuntana Everest – 336km/9000m up in 22 hours


Tramuntana Everest

When was I awake the last time awake at 4:30am? Not for a long time. But now, at this time, I was descending the last climb to the car which I left 22 hours ago. For the last 22 hours I rode 336km and over 9000m of elevation gain.
A few weeks ago, I decided it would be a great idea to ride an Everesting in the Mallorcan mountains, Tramuntana. Different from the standard Everesting where one rides the same hill up and down until he or she reaches the elevation gain equal to the height of Mt. Everest (8848m/29000ft), I wanted to ride the entire Tramuntana mountains to reach that same elevation gain.
After some plotting and changing routes, it became quite quickly clear that I basically had to ride every single climb of the Tramuntana to reach this elevation gain. The Mallorcan mountains are relatively small in height with the biggest elevation gain of 830m but mostly ranging around 350m. Make some quick calculations and it becomes quickly apparent that it takes A LOT of climbs for an accumulated elevation gain of 8848m. In fact, there were not enough climbs for an Everest so I had to repeat one climb. I decided to do the most spectacular one (IMO), Sa Calobra, twice.

It is all mental

But the route choice served also mental purposes. When I would be the most tired and exhausted, I would have to be the furthest away from the car, so that there is not even any other way than having to ride back. In fact, although fitness is very important, the state of mind is absolutely crucial and thus, I made very careful choices on route, riding company, rest stops and what time we start. Everything had to be in place in a way that would allow me the best state of mind for this challenge.
The challenge started at 6:30am as I prefer to get a semi-quality sleep in the night before and rather ride through the following night than starting at 4am and struggling to stay awake the following evening. I wanted only one friend to accompany me, Franky, who I had ridden so much beforehand that I knew there would be no problems for 22 hours of riding going through the good and bad moments. He can tell hour-long entertaining stories and stays very positive – so crucial to keep the spirits high. I also prefer as little “outside” information as possible, I don’t check my phone (I post Insta stories but don’t check any messages) so I can stay focus on the here and now which is important to constantly checking in with myself on food, water or any issues that could become a big problem later on.

All of a sudden the ride was threatened

So off we started this massive ride in the dark. While we were climbing up the first two climbs, Sa Coma and Gramola, we noticed cars parked in every corner….unusual for this area and it seemed very suspicious. But not thinking too much about it, we kept riding and getting into the spirit of the Tramuntana Everest. But once we descended towards the coast, tents were pitched on the side. Definitely, something is up! Some guys were leaving their tents and we asked why they were here. “There is a car rally here. The roads close at 8:30am so you have one hour to get through this segment.” Ok. That was unexpected. From thinking about how to make this Tramuntana Everest, my concern became if it was even possible or if this road closure would prohibit us from continuing. My mind was already thinking about potential alternatives. The worst possible alternative would be to do repetitions of one climb that would be not closed. Since most climbs are 300m elevation gain, I did not even want to fathom how many repetitions that required.

But soon enough, we realized that we passed the segment and the road closure would not affect us anymore. We had three climbs, Port de Canonge, Port de Valldemossa and Coll d’en Claret before we would descend to Deia for our first stop – about 4 hours into the ride. I love the bakery, Form Deia owned by the ex-pro Vicente Reynes, so this was great motivation. After a food stop that consisted of a cheese baguette, chocolate croissant and a coke zero, the next climb would be Coll de Soller from both sides followed by Puig Major and then via Coll de Reis to the next food stop at the bottom of Sa Calobra – around 4 hours from now.
We had some gels with us but it was the real food that I was looking forward to. While riding this next section, we saw a lot of cyclists around. The cycling season in Mallorca has definitely been starting. But the pace of others was not allowed to affect us. During this challenge, the ego has to be left at home and it had to be ok to be passed by whoever wanted to pass us. We were on a bigger mission.
One of my least favorite climbs was Puig Major and Franky knew that so he had a particular good story reserved for this climb. Thus, although, the climb was still not exactly great, I arrived at the top in good spirits. It would not be my body that was worried that would give up. It was my mind. Thus, I had to be very careful to guard my mental energy. A non-enjoyable experience is one of those mental energy suckers that I tried to avoid by getting distracted with stories.

Twice up Sa Calobra

Once we descended to Sa Calobra, I was excited for the well-deserved food stop. Again, I chose cheese baguette, a cake, coke zero and water refill. The next part would be very important to make it exciting….twice Sa Calobra. I am not a big fan of repeating things (hence I chose the Tramuntana Everest instead of repeating one climb but I had to repeat Sa Calobra to get the full elevation gain of 8848m) and Sa Calobra has some challenging segments. When we left for the first repeat, my legs felt super heavy. But I knew it would be just a matter of warming up the legs again and they would feel better. Once we descended for the second time, we did not stop and we immediately rode up Sa Calobra again and surprisingly, the second time felt physically and mentally a lot better.

By this time it was around 5:30pm and the clouds came in from the sea. From one moment to the next we were engulfed in fog. It got colder and we both knew that this would be a very cold night. Our next stop was the gas station in Lluc (also about 4 hours from the last stop) but we found it closed and only the adjacent bar open. We asked for our cheese baguettes but we were told that they are about to close so we could only get cakes and crisps but that was about it.

The forced change in plans

Learning about the closure of the gas station got me thinking. This gas station was supposed to be our strategic food stop for the next two climbs but now I needed to change plans so we wouldn’t run out of food and water.
Instead of descending to Caimari, I decided we would go to the furthest point of our challenge and ride up Coll de Femenia first. When we left the gas station, it was dark and really cold. Although we used newspaper under our jackets for protection, we were both shaking so much that we were struggling keeping the handlebar straight. But there is one crucial advantage of the cold, we always were looking forward to the climbs and thus to warm up again.
Once we descended to Caimari, we knew the next stop would not be until Soller in the hope there was something open. By now, it was around 9pm and because the tourist season has not started yet, restaurants close early (for Spanish standards).

Dark moments

Heading up to Lluc in the dark, I lost track multiple times where we were and I thought we would be closer to the top than expected. A huge bummer which costs a lot of mental energy. By now, I started to get tired (it was past my bed time 😉) and to stay mentally alert, it was now even more crucial to talk or listen. Silence is the death for this ride. Thus, whatever came in mind, we talked about and so the hours passed until we reached Soller where we struggled to find anything open. Even the gas station on the main road was closed. By now, it was around midnight. We rode into the center of the village and found one bar open that was closing in 10 minutes. We drank another hot coffee and off we were. That was probably the lowest moment of the ride. We did not really eat anything there, it was really cold, we were freezing and we knew this would be the last stop until the finish. 4 hours without any possibility for food or water. During the day light, 4 hours of no stopping was ok but especially so late into the ride and in the dark, 4 hours is a long time. The cold takes a lot of energy so frequent eating is crucial now.

Smiling to the security camera

To lighten up the mood, we talked about funny stuff that has ever happened to us and we plotted along. Only when we reached the top of Coll d’en Claret I felt like weight fell of my shoulders. The last part to the car was relatively not that challenging anymore. But the time between the last stop was long and we needed to eat. I had a cheese sandwich (yes, that is my preferred food 😉 )in my pocket but just standing in the cold to eat it would make us just colder so I was looking for a warm place. We entered the tiny village, Banyalfubar. Every single bar was closed and I thought already our last chance to escape the cold was over but then I saw a bank with an ATM inside. Surely, it would be open? And lucky us, it was open. So we sat down on the floor in front of the ATM munching on our sandwiches and smiling into the security camera. It was 2:30am.

Two hours later, we were descending the very last climb to the car. It has been 22 hours since we left for this challenge. 336 km and 9000m elevation gain later, we made it. Finally, the feeling of achievement was setting in. But I was also sad because it was my last ride in Mallorca before moving to Switzerland.

What would it be like doing an Everest in every country I visit?

But I comfort myself with the idea that it would not be too tough to find 8848m elevation gain in the Swiss Alps. 😉 And then, how awesome would it be to do an Everest in different countries?
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