Let me start by admitting that my Everest Challenge was one of the toughest things I have done in my life. It really was. I went completely into the unknown.
For those who don’t know, last week I rode my bike up and down Berlin Teufelsberg, a local hill that features about 295 feet of elevation, 100 times until I reached the accumulated vertical elevation of Mount Everest: 29,029 feet.
You’re probably asking yourself why I would do this. That’s easy to explain. First, I wanted to raise money for Tour de Cure, a charity that supports cancer research, support, and prevention projects. I’ve been retired for two years now and am constantly aware of the fact that life has been good to me. Now that I have more time and possibilities, I feel it’s my duty to give back.
Second, after two years of retirement, I am finally far enough away from the memories of pain and suffering that I am actually looking for a challenge—something that makes me ask: ” Can I do it?” I had some other ideas, but I will keep them secret for later; they are the kind of things that make people go, “Oh, he really is insane.” So the Everest Challenge it was.
EPIC, NOT STUPID
When my wife and I woke up on January 2nd—the day my challenge was to start—the kids came running and yelled, “Mom, Dad, it snowed!” My wife looked at me with a weary smile and said “This is plain stupid.” Fitbit ambassador Jens Voigt tweets a picture of the snow ground on the morning of his Everest Challenge.She was worried about me riding in the cold and on ice during long hours at night. I tried to have a positive outlook and said, “Let’s not call it stupid; let’s call it epic.”
I started my ride at 12 p.m. The plan was to cover 2000 meters, or 6562 feet, of altitude in four hours before night fell, but I didn’t make it. The cold and rainy conditions slowed me down, as did the multiple stops I made to do interviews, talk to people, say thank you for donations, and smile for pictures. When I got a tire puncture and night set in, I knew “Everesting” would take longer than expected.
Overnight, the temperature dropped below freezing, the water on the roads froze, and conditions became slippery and icy. Myself and other riders went slower and slower on the downhills, and I saw about 10 crashes around me. I talked to my fellow cyclists and said “I feel responsible for you guys. Should I send all of you home?!” But they were all committed and wanted to keep riding with me.
Around midnight, after 12 hours in the saddle, I took a break. My wife, legend that she is, made some hot chicken soup, warm rice, and coffee. She offered coffee and hot tea to all my fellow riders before going home to take care of our six children.
My parents stayed awake as long as I did, as did my friend, Patrick. When my bike lights died, new riders arrived with fresh batteries and lit up the path for me. It was great to have the support. I was never alone. Even in the darkest hours of the night from 4 to 6 a.m., I still had one loyal and brave man with me.
Fitbit Ambassador Jens Voigt rides through the night for his Everest Challenge.
TACKLING SELF DOUBT
But the ride was not without crisis. At 7 a.m., after riding through ice, snow, and 14 hours of darkness, I realized I was two hours behind schedule and still had seven hours to go. If you are a cyclist, I’m sure you would agree that five to six hours is a long ride. Well I had 7 hours to go and already had 19 hours of riding in my legs. My speed dropped and the ugly words “give up” started stalking my mind. The money was already raised, why should I keep suffering? a little devil inside me said.
This is when my wife—who became the strongest and most important supporter of the whole event—helped me the most. She was the first and only person to see me struggle and called me off the course to sit for two minutes inside a warm car. She gave me hot tea and told me how proud she was, that I had the worst behind me—the sun would come up in 30 minutes—and that I shouldn’t worry about my timetable, but just ride at my speed. She encouraged me and kept me going.
The fans also kept me motivated. In person, spectators started counting down how many laps I had left. Online, on all social media channels, supporters shared encouraging words, wished me strength, and continued to make donations.
THE END OF A CRAZY, HAPPY TALE
After 26 hours and 30 minutes of riding, I finally finished. Never before had I ridden my bike for 249 miles. Never had I accumulated 29,000+ vertical feet in one ride. And never had I ridden my bike for that many hours straight. Believe me, I’m glad that it’s over and done—I still have numb fingertips and toes even after two days of recovery—but I’m proud and happy that my body held up. The good old “shut up legs” mantra worked yet again.
Both me and my wife were right: My Everest Challenge was crazy, stupid, epic, wonderful, dangerous, and rewarding. But it had a happy ending. Everyone finished healthy and we raised close to $30,000 for the fight against cancer. Words cannot describe how grateful I am to have received so much love and support from all around the world.
We did it. Mission accomplished.
Fitbit ambassador Jens Voigt gets muddy during his Everest Challenge.