‘I wasn’t sure it was possible’: Local mountain biker completes Everest Challenge
TAHOE CITY, Calif. — As the clock struck midnight on June 26, local mountain biker Harrison Biehl began his first of 15 laps up the Stanford Rock trail.
Over the next 24 hours, he would experience moments of joy, as well as moments of self-doubt as he climbed 29,032 vertical feet to complete the Everest Challenge.
Biehl, 27, grew up in Nebraska and moved to Kings Beach at Lake Tahoe in the fall of 2017. Although he grew up racing BMX, he didn’t get into mountain biking until the Spring of 2020.
When asked what he loves about mountain biking, Biehl said, “the ground you cover and the exploration.”
“That kind of exploration really jives with my personality, for better or for worse,” Biehl said. “I do know that I have a pretty addictive personality. When I’m really into something, I tend to really fixate on it and really focus on it and it really becomes the focal point of my life.”
That point is proved by the fact that after only two years of seriously riding, Biehl decided to tackle the Everest Challenge.
According to Hells 500, the creators of the concept of Everesting, “The concept of Everesting is fiendishly simple: Pick any hill, anywhere in the world and complete repeats of it in a single activity until you climb more than 29,000 feet — the equivalent height of Mount Everest.”
People can complete the challenge by biking or running. Most cyclists choose to complete the challenge on a road bike and for those who do choose a mountain bike, they normally complete it on a fire road, which has a steadier elevation gain.
Biehl, on the other hand, decided to do it on the Stanford Rock trail, which is 2,000-foot climb over five miles with variations of steepness throughout the trail
“When people do the Everest, they want to go for efficiency … what’s different about Stanford Rock is that it’s a proper single-track mountain bike trail, purposely built for mountain bikes,” Biehl said. “So over the course of five miles, there are flat spots or steep sections then the gradient would drop down to 1% or even zero so that I’m still peddling but not gaining any elevation.
“So it maybe just added to how extreme the whole event ended up being,” Biehl said.
One of the main reasons Biehl, who works at Olympic Bike Shop in Tahoe City, chose that trail was because Tahoe Area Mountain Biking Association, a local organization that builds and maintains trails, built it.
“It was fun to showcase the trail,” said Drew Bray, executive director for TAMBA.
TAMBA hosted a volunteer day on the Caspian Ridge Trail. Builders from around the state were out to volunteer, so Bray said he was excited for the volunteers to meet Biehl and see the Stanford Rock trail being used in that way.
In addition to just completing the challenge, Biehl wanted to use the event to raise money for TAMBA to build more trails.
Bray also connected Biehl with Anthony Cupaiuolo, a local photographer and videographer. Cupaiuolo, who founded First Track Productions, was present for the full challenge to record the story of Biehl’s day.
“Harrison’s story really appealed to me because for one, I had never heard of anybody doing an Everest on single-track in the basin,” Cupaiuolo said. “To be blunt, I wasn’t even 100% sure it was possible.”
Cupaiuolo went out and did a ride on Stanford Rock with Biehl a few weeks before Everest Day. Doing that ride with Biehl, made Cupaiuolo realize that if anyone was going to complete the challenge on single-track, it’d be Biehl.
“At that point, I was like “oh he’s going to get this,’ I don’t know how or how long it will take and how much he’s going to be hurting but if anyone can do it, this kid can,” Cupaiuolo said.
Biehl trained for about three months for the challenge. He rode for about 17 to 20 hours each week on both the road and mountain bike trails. He competed in several races leading up to the challenge but also did some longer rides by himself.
“I set out to embrace the solitude. Mountain biking is such a trip, especially the longer endurance, ultra stuff,” Biehl said. “After a certain point in time, you can no longer rely on your fitness and your body, you kind of have go to a certain place in your head and it becomes a total mental thing.”
That sentiment would ring very true as he reached the final third of his Everest Challnge.
“Going into it, I set out to do 15 laps because that made the most sense, 2,000 feet over 15 laps would 30,000 feet,” Biehl said.
His goal was to do an hour and a half lap time, which he was able to do for the first nine laps. His first lap was a little fast because he was so excited to get started.
An aid station was set up at the bottom and he refueled after every lap.
While things started well for him, it got challenging as the sun started setting and he was nearing 18,000 feet.
“That eighth lap, I kind of hit a mental wall just because the sun was setting and I knew I was going to have to put my lights back on,” Biehl said.
After reaching the top on his eighth lap, he descended back to the aid station, grabbed some food and started his ninth lap.
About half way up that lap, he realized how fast he had burned through the food he’d grabbed.
“I started feeling a little shaky and a little sketchy,” Biehl said. “I kind of got into a dark spot. I was like, ‘wow, I’ve got 9,000 feet more to go’ and I was just thinking about all the rides that I’ve done that are 9,000 feet and that just a big day in itself.”
He started questioning whether he’d be able to do it and was regretting that he’d advertised to people that he’d be completing the challenge.
“You could see it in his eyes,” Cupaiuolo said. “He’s a very upbeat person, he’s got a lot of energy and that point, it just wasn’t there, he didn’t have the normal Harrison spark.
“To me, that makes it more impressive in a sense because it’s human,” Cupaiuolo added. “He really is a world-class athlete just to do it but he’s not such a machine that he didn’t have to go deep into that pain cave and deal with that back and forth.”
At that point, he decided to start cutting his laps in half, so he’d only climb up 1,000 feet before turning around, that way, he’d be closer to his food and support the whole time. He called those remaining laps “hot laps.”
“I started stacking them up pretty quick because I wasn’t angry but I was fired up. I felt obligated,” Biehl said.
Throughout the full day, several of Biehl’s friends and coworkers would take laps with him. His dad and his girlfriend were at the aid station cheering him on and TAMBA hosted a trail workday nearby, so the volunteers also stopped by to cheer him on.
Biehl ended up riding 165 miles while gaining 29,037 feet of elevation. It took him just under 23 hours.
“Everybody needs a little bit of suffering, the reason I think that is because without being uncomfortable and without suffering, how do we know we have it good,” Biehl said.
To date, Biehl has raised about $20,000. His goal is $29,032 and TAMBA is still accepting donations in his name.
The money is going to be used to help build the Caspian Rim Trail, which will connect to Stanford Rock, as well as the Meeks Bay Trail.
“We have a lot of trail construction in the next couple of years,” Bray said. “We’re doing a lot of work on some new trails but mostly following old legacy logging roads or old legacy trails and getting those updated and available for people to ride here in the future.”
Next year, Biehl wants to ride his mountain bike around Lake Tahoe. There isn’t contiguous single-track around the lake so he’d like the ride to be a fundraiser to build a single-track that wraps the full lake.
To donate, visit https://tamba.org/stanford-rock-everest-challenge/.
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