On 10th July, VC Venta member Matt Galante set about a crazy challenge to climb Old Winchester Hill 80 times and surpass the Everesting Challenge with a total climb of 11,249 metres – putting him safely in the 10K Club!

Here’s his account of the challenge after a few days rest.

Matt Climbs Old Winchester Hill 80 Times!

I should open by saying I’m about as average a genetic specimen as they come – if proof of this is ever needed, you should see me dangling at the back of a Venta chaingang… That said, I’ve always been drawn to endurance challenges and, like many of us in the club, I quite enjoy testing myself to see where my limits are.

2020 was going to mark my first attempt at a self-supported ultra race (All Points North, 950km around the North of England), but COVID put paid to this plan. As a result I needed some motivation in May, when thankfully the cycling world went nuts over the concept of Everesting – 8,848 metres of ascent in a single ride, via repeats of a single hill. Both Ben Gibbs and I kept ourselves entertained during lockdown with a virtual Everesting on Zwift, which I can confirm is a pretty painful way to spend a day (especially when trying to hold Ben’s wheel for 12hrs…). But the pain was quickly replaced with the nagging feeling that the ‘real thing’ would be harder, and so I started browsing local Strava segments.

I chose Old Winchester Hill because I can’t think of a more scenic place to spend a day, and for an added challenge decided (over a beer, it has to be said) to aim for over 10,000 metres. For some bizarre reason this target then grew to a nice round 80 reps, which equated to 11k of climbing over 425km… It’s hard to explain why I did this to myself! As strange as it sounds my biggest fear wasn’t of failing, but of finishing with gas left in the tank and my limits still untested. 80 reps sounded like something that might result in a few tears before bedtime, so that became the target. I also chose a 5pm start time partly for the challenge of an overnight ride, but mostly to finish in daylight and avoid dark descents with 400km in the legs.

Nick Tarmey gave me some great nutritional advice in the lead up (gleaned from his 500km+ epic back in March – what a machine), and I pulled together a solid schedule to give myself some structure – a quick food/water replen from my car at the summit every hour, and a longer rest every 5hrs to take on a bigger feed. Before I knew it the day had arrived, and so I rolled down the hill at 5pm on Friday 10th July with absolutely no idea what to expect…

The first few hours gave some really welcome surprises – David Martin, Jamie Plumb and Ollie Beresford all joined me for a few reps and helped keep my mind off the impossibly distant target. Less welcome was the eagle that mistook my helmet for dinner, but fortunately it was a near miss. However, all in all the start was disastrous – something I’d eaten in the lead up was playing havoc with my stomach, and I could barely take on solids. My heart rate was 20bpm too high, and I was sick three times in the first seven hours. However, I did a fairly good job of keeping a lid on my rising panic, and just clung to the belief that if I kept riding and drinking then my stomach would settle. It finally did, but the midnight-5am shift brought new challenges with 5 degree temperatures, sleepiness, and badgers all over the road. Each descent I’d shout abuse at myself, partly to scare the wildlife away and partly to stay awake. In hindsight I didn’t put my warm kit on quickly enough, and by sunrise I was suffering.

My neighbour met me at 6am for a good few reps, but unfortunately for him I was pretty bad company at this point (sorry Nick!). I perked up from reps 50-60, realising that the height of Everest was just around the corner, but then quickly hit a massive low when I realised that I was still five whole hours from finishing. Owen Lewis popped by for some reps by 10am (I think?!), which gave me a much needed morale boost, but by then the pain in my wrists was making braking on the descents surprisingly tricky. All throughout this phase I never considered giving up, but in truth I was comically miserable about how much more time in the saddle I had to endure. I seem to remember another real low at rep 70 (2.5hrs to go), but as with the previous 19hrs I just committed to one rep at a time – and before I knew it I was on the final two ascents.

And all of a sudden, the day was done: 423km and 11,249 metres of ascent in 21 hours and 50 minutes (exactly on schedule, not that I bothered to check after rep 50!). The post ride beer felt well earned…

In hindsight, the difficulty came more from the stomach issues and the resulting nutritional dramas rather than the physical challenge – but they meant that I was an absolute shell by the end. On the plus side, I hit my original goal of finding my limits! I can safely say that nothing has ever pushed me closer to breaking point, and as a result this is probably the first physical test I’ve ever completed where I’m genuinely content with my performance. I could have gone quicker, and I’m certain others will, but I went to a pretty dark place for 22hrs and didn’t entertain the idea of quitting. For me, that’s a far more valuable achievement than a KOM or a quick time.

I can’t wait to see more club members join the Everesting crew – I think we have at least two more on the horizon, and I’m looking forward to joining them out on the hill to repay the favour for all their support. For more info on Everesting and the Hells 500 crew that ratify attempts, check out everesting.cc