Type two fun, it seems like a miserable pursuit, although moderation just seems so half arsed. Rides that result in involuntary wheezing, trying to dull violent cold shakes and keeping food down you don’t want to eat, but calorie excursion demands it. Once you’ve experienced type two fun you’ll want more. It’s a slippery slope, both metaphorically and literally in this sense. Type two fun, too fun.
In late May, the boss man at Vertigo Bikes, Paul 'Pang' Angus, forwarded a magazine article about Olympus Mons - a volcano on the planet Mars that stands 21,287.4m (69,841ft) above datum, said to be the tallest planetary mountain in the solar system, roughly two and a half times the height of Mt. Everest. Partial to a good climbing challenge this got my type two fun senses tingling, since my Stratosphere challenge last year I’d often get asked ‘what’s next,’ this was for sure the next ascent to conquer.
It’s been amazing to see so many climbing efforts and stories arise from people's altered realities this year, many Everests, personal goals and targets, the lure of a mammoth effort strung together with one simple end result, usually following straight forward guidelines. Whilst recovering from a dislocated elbow over the southern hemisphere winter, too many hours on a turbo trainer and a reluctance to join Zwift got me thinking, could Olympus Mons be the next ultra climb? With a few simple guidelines, what epic stories could evolve from a simple mission statement?
After toying with a few ideas, I decided to cement a few guidelines for a challenge, purchased a domain name and committed to giving it a nudge. It was important that Olympus Mons be inclusive and straight forward, you have 72hrs and three bike rides to complete the elevation, that each ride needed to be a loop and the days, obviously consecutive. olympusmons.cc
After nearly six months of preparation it was time to summit the highest mountain in the solar system. If spread evenly, it’d require three 7100m/vertical days of elevation in a row. If ridden conservatively and mindful of time, it’d mean little sleep and every minute would be crucial. If this was my masochist gift to the perverted type two glutens of cycling, I’d need to try it first.
Living in Queenstown, New Zealand, it’d be sacrilege not to ride on a mountain bike. I’d composed three days, all having an off-road element. Day one would be up Queenstown Mountain Bike park, an access road climb and a descent using existing trails. Day two would be the Coronet mountain road climb to the ski field base building, then descending down the infamous Rude Rock before a road blast to the bottom. Day three would be the Remarkables mountain road climb including the unsealed gravel section to reach the base building.
An XL Santa Cruz Tallboy was the bike of choice.
AXS makes for a clean cockpit with a Quarq power meter to keep an eye on things.
Flat pedals, 34-tooth chainring, and no chamois was a winning combo.
Day 1: Queenstown Bike Park
I’d determined 18 laps would get me to my 7100m target, I’d previously Everested this road so it wasn’t an unknown beast to tame, rather one revisited, only I’d forgotten about the pain and gruel.
My descent on the first day was mostly down ‘Hammys’ with a few more difficult direct lines to get down faster. The plan was to use smoother trails to avoid arm pump and fatigue. This didn't go quite to plan, as with most well-used bike park trails, Hammys embedded more than its fair share of braking bumps. After half a dozen laps trying to be efficient with time, my knuckles felt like they were being pulled apart from my hands, turning climbs into periods of recovery.
The nature of doing this and the off-road elements meant it could all be for nothing if I put a foot wrong or miss judge one of the bike parks powder ruts. A section of trail I rode on Saturday was a new line I'd only heard about, a steep rutted chute, ridden under a head torch at 12.30 am for the first time, but it perfectly connected two smoother trails making my passage down the hill more efficient. It was sketchy!
Weather-wise, Saturday was the perfect day other than an ugly shower that lasted an hour as the sun was rising. It was still early though, full of beans, knowing it'd pass and seeing daylight made the cold rain almost enjoyable. It also cemented the commitment to keep pushing through.
The only injury picked up all weekend was a rock strike that flew up and connected with my outside ankle bone, that rang through me like a tuning fork. I probably made a similar noise to a tuning fork too. I added a small section of climbing to each lap which meant I’d only need 17 loops instead of the projected 18 to reach my daily target.
After the first day I felt good, finishing on time and affording decent rest. A huge, notable effort. Pang, who planted the red planet seed in the first place, joined me on completing all 17 laps. It was great to share in the first tide, what a champ!
Final ride elevation - 7140m
Day 2: Coronet
Bleak, bare, brutal. Coronet. The weather had forecast a cloudy day with occasional sunshine up until the day before, a high of 16 degrees celsius. Perfect. First lap, snow and hail, freezing temperatures at the top of the trail. I had to look where my feet were as I couldn't feel my pedals, my fingers, long gone. At least I didn't need to descend for 30mins with this windchill…
Lap two of the second day was the hardest, most gruelling, even the ascent in the dark and rain didn't warm me up. It’s the closest I'd ever came to falling asleep at the bars too, steering in a straight line and keeping my head up was a difficult task. My 'blinks' were questionable and as long as the task in hand. I found some yellow foam matting used for the ski fields under cover and had a quick nap at the top. It was the comfiest I think I'd ever been, rolling into the snow to start the descent, that was next level will power.
Lap three I was welcomed midway up the climb by friends, Steve and Gnomes baring hot water bottles, warm drinks and warm smiles. They possessed the enthusiasm I'd forgotten about that morning. I felt alive again, fuelled by their encouragement and fancy English breakfast tea. The sun eventually did come out on day two, it got warm, the trails were busy and the morning, only a few hours before, seemed like a distant memory, not so bad after all. Once again, I was joined by good sorts for laps up and down, listening to their conversation passed the climbs and the growing monotony.
The descent mainly down ‘Rude Rock’ a Queenstown classic. I rode it in snow, slop, hero dirt, and dust powder all within a few hours. A hill bomb down the road to finish aided recovery from a well-trodden tourist trail. Luckily the day before made the knuckle tearing more tolerable, deep heat between the fingers, jobs a good’n.
A big thanks to Jamie MacKay, absolute trooper, not only decided to come for laps, he smashed out his own 10,000m/vertical that day! I was humbled to hear my effort had inspired him to set his own goals and we worked together through the thick of that morning. It’d have been a lot harder without his strong-willed mindset, Scottish grit and talent. Cheers 'Balls.'
Elapsed ride elevation after day two - 14,114m
I'd afforded a proper night's sleep after the second day, seven whole hours with painful interludes of jolting leg cramp. I had one day and 7200m to go. It didn't matter if I finished at midnight, it was there and mine to earn. We started later, not on the road until 4 am. Remarks road, sealed and unsealed, until the base building, it felt like the home stretch when I started, this was it, only 7200m to go. Only.
The temperature change from bottom to the base building of the ski fields was a real wake up call, flashbacks of the day before were filling my head and clouding my tall defensive wall of positive, determined thoughts. Descending was cold, very cold, the wind chill had me adopting a crab fist grip over the bars, thumbs cuffed into my palm.
I strategically placed a jumper towards the bottom of the lap, a pick me up and something to look forward to. Apart from ski lift technicians, the only other vehicle that passed me that morning was a shaggy looking overflowing camper, I gave them a friendly nod that I wish I could retract as my favourite, warm ‘Misspent summers’ (very apt) jumper, the light at the end of the Remarkables road had been taken. That frustration got me up lap 3 alone, devising an action plan to ply it back through clever questioning and demands. I didn't see them again that day.
I motored on throughout the final day, able to count down the meters until it was done, knowing that was the end of it. I descended into the last lap. I was surprised at the bottom to see the whole Vertigo Bikes crew and friends waiting for me, the shop had been closed early so everyone could come and show support, it was really, truly awesome.
The last lap started great, warm weather and stories of how the weekend had progressed, everyone had boundless enthusiasm for me. It was amazing. The weather, however, took an abysmal turn for the worst halfway up. In true New Zealand fashion, seasons changed in a flash, we were riding in hale and headwinds. I would say the end was in sight, but we couldn't see anything with the low lying cloud at 1500m.
We made it though, the only comfort physically was my sunburn attained only hours previous, my lobster red neck was keeping my otherwise freezing, numb body occupied.
I finished with a bit of a sprint, thankful everyone had soldiered through for me, it was incredible, after a few soggy hugs and wet high five slaps it soon dawned we had a 30min descent in snow and hale. Possibly the hardest descent I'd ever done, crab grip enabled, a quick swap out of soggy gloves for fresh socks for my hands and I pootled down to the bottom. Too fast made for more windchill, too slow meant more time out in the elements, a difficult balancing act.
Never have I felt so relieved to get in the Vertigo Bikes van, where the heaters were pumping on full already. Jamie and Pang got down the hill first. Along with everyone that followed, they had a 10-minute session of violent, compulsive shaking, walking the tight rope of hyperthermia.
Final Elevation after three rides - 21635m
My 72 hours went great, my bike faultless and not skipping a beat, my body exhausted, although not devastated. The interesting battle faced with most well-wishers was them trying to fathom the mission and amplifying its enormity, while simultaneously it took all my mental focus to dull it down and create a manageable game plan. It was a balancing act and I would dismiss its obvious obscenity to chug along through, and it worked.
Thank you to everyone who came out for that last lap and for a ride throughout those 72 hours, all the Vertigo crew and co. Also, Jon of NZ Shred, my neighbour with the drive to meet me at 4 am on Monday for the first ascent of Remarks road, Ferris and Matt, setting off with us at 12 am on the first day. It all helped no end.
Lastly, Chur to, Callum spurring me along and being on hand all weekend, vital and so very much appreciated, as well as taking incredible photos and documenting the journey he drove us to the loops, boiled the brews and was always ready to lend a hand.
I can now tick this one off, and more importantly share it with the cycling community. Being the admin of the Olympus Mons site, I’m excited to see other efforts. Links to each days ride are now up in the doers section. I’d hope these daft rides inspire some of you to set your own goals. Mountain biking can be gnarly in so many ways and push you to various, boundless limits for that endorphin or adrenalin buzz, what a sick, sick sport.