THE High GROUND
Oklahoma Today|March/April 2021
As the world hunkered down, one Oklahoman prepared for the toughest athletic challenge of his life. But the hardest obstacle to overcome wasn’t legs, lungs, stamina, or Oklahoma’s deceptively hilly terrain—it was losing the person who inspired him the most.
RILEY EVAN ROSS

I SPENT THE FIRST few months of 2020 on a trainer. That’s a device that attaches to the rear wheel of a bicycle, turning any regular bike to a stationary one. I was peddling my way through quarantine watching every Ken Burns documentary, numerous Netflix shows, and hours of John Prine concerts.

It was around this time the word Everesting entered the American cycling zeitgeist.

In cycling, Everesting is the act of pedaling up and down the same segment of hill until the total net climb is 29,029 feet—the elevation of Mount Everest. In 2020, the world record for Everesting had been broken at least a half-dozen times and now is held by amateur Sean Gardner of Virginia, who completed the feat in a little less than seven hours.

At the time, no one had Everested in Oklahoma, according to the official recordkeepers at the website everesting.cc. Being the overconfident dilettante that I am, I thought to myself, “I’m thirty-seven years old, about twenty pounds too heavy, and I suffer from the conditions of garbage knees and sneeze cramps—I’ll try it.”

Never one to do things quietly, I thought if I did attempt an Everest, there’s no point in being private about it. I started an Instagram and used my attempt to raise money for the Putnam City Schools Foundation. At best, I thought, I’ll be the first Oklahoman to Everest; at worst, I’ll raise some money to help my community’s schools.

Immediately, I ratcheted up my training. I started a supplement regimen, took notes of everything that went into my body, and trained six days a week. From April to September, I spent more than 180 hours in training and 1,800 miles in the saddle. Early on, I asked my dad for his thoughts.

“I reckon you could do it, but you’ve got three problems,” Dad said. “There aren’t a ton of hills, your bike is too heavy, and you are too.”

His analysis wasn’t wrong. As much as cycling culture has grown here, Oklahoma City isn’t the most fertile training ground for gaining elevation. Furthermore, if you’re climbing hills, power-to-weight ratio is a key variable in determining how successful you are. While I felt confident in my ability to lose weight, I didn’t have a budget for a new bike. But I needn’t have worried: As the owner of a location of the Oklahoma City-based franchise Al’s Bicycles, Dad gave me a new bike—a full carbon, sub-eighteen pound French dream. Now all I needed was a hill.

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