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Climbing Mount Everest in New Mexico

Macky Franklin had plenty of support in his quest to Everest on a mountain bike, which he achieved in August. (Courtesy of Macky Franklin)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

With COVID-19 having curtailed nearly every type of organized competition, athletes were bound to find new ways to challenge themselves.

For a couple of local individual-sport athletes, that meant taking their sport literally to new levels. And, by new levels, try 29,055 feet of elevation – or the altitude of Mount Everest.

Known as “Everesting,” it is “fiendishly simple: Pick any hill, anywhere in the world and complete repeats of it in a single activity until you climb … the equivalent height of Mt. Everest,” according to everesting.com.

Los Alamos National Lab scientist and manager Nathan Moody ran the ski hill at Parajito Ski Area and professional mountain biker Macky Franklin rode the trails of Frazer Mountains within the Taos Ski Valley to become one of the club which has about 13,000 members worldwide.

Here are their stories:

A total of 122.4 miles in 18 hours

Franklin, 33, who is riding out COVID in Arroyo Seco, needed a target for his training.

“This year, all of the races were canceled and so it became a popular thing for racers to do,” he said. “More road racers than mountain bikers. But it’s a fun way to challenge themselves, something to train for, work toward.”

He and wife, Syd Schulz, also a pro mountain bike rider, wanted to involve others in the event.

“We’ve spent a lot of time working on and building up an audience on YouTube where we share our adventures,” Franklin said. “It’s a fun way to share what we’re doing, and inspire people to get out and to push themselves, do a bigger ride than they’ve ever done.”

So they challenged their watchers to do a similar event.

“The month leading up to it, we put out a call, ‘we’re challenging all of you to commit to a climbing a distance that is hard for you to do,’

About 600 people signed up and around half completed their own challenge of either a quarter, half or full Everest.

“That was great to see,” he said

When it came time to do his own challenge,” Franklin chose his birthday, Aug. 3, and “instead of doing it on the road, which is obviously much easier because the terrain is more conducive and you can do it faster, I wanted to do the mountain bike.”

Frazer Mountain sits on the north side of Taos Ski Valley and tops out at 12,133 feet, with a base elevation of 10,564 feet and an average grade of 9%.

It took 11 round trips up the course that is just over 11 miles, meaning Franklin rode about 122.4 miles in 18 hours.

To prepare for the attempt, he took on some of the hardest rides in the area.

“I’ve been working with a coach for a long time and told him my goal of doing an Everesting, and I worked with him and ended up doing a lot of big rides leading up to the attempt,” he said. “I did a bunch of four- to six-hour rides and a couple of really long rides, doing a double boundary basically from Taos to Angel Fire and back.”

Franklin also had plenty of support as his coach came down for the event, and his wife, her parents and his parents all were part of the crew that kept him going. A number friends also stopped by and different people took turns riding along with him on each loop.

“They definitely made it possible for me to do this,” Franklin said. “No way I would have been able to do it without them.”

Under the Everesting rules, athletes must get to the top of the hill on each loop except the final one, but Franklin said he planned to ride it out.

That nearly changed, however, as he passed the Everest milestone.

“I certainly had some questions whether I needed to do the last quarter of a lap,” Franklin said. “My wife and my brother were with me and they encouraged me to go all the way to the top and, in hindsight, I’m glad that I did.”

And when it was over, “I was very relieved. At that point, I was brain dead and exhausted. I didn’t have the mental capacity to celebrate it. I wanted to eat something and go to sleep,” he said. “It wasn’t until the next couple of days when I was able to recover and not being quite as sore that I really got to celebrate and feel proud of what I set out to achieve.”

‘Navigating one’s own psyche’

For Moody, 44, running was something he did when he first moved to Los Alamos in 2006 to kind of fit in with the culture there.

But when his father was paralyzed in 2012, running took on a deeper meaning for him.

“It got me thinking deeply about mobility and how much I take it for granted,” Moody said. “I started thinking deeply about motion, the simplicity of motion that’s associated with running.”

So he started taking his running more seriously, getting a coach and videotaping his form while running on a treadmill.

“When I first started, it was a success to survive the race. I had no knowledge of what to do beyond that,” Moody said.

He also began using the running social media site strava.com to watch others in their success.

“As a physicist, optimization is a fascinating experience,” Moody said. “It’s something you couldn’t do 20 years ago.”

Nathan Moody, with son Zachery Moody, takes a brief respite at the base of the ski slope at Purgatory Ski Area near Los Alamos earlier this summer in the midst of his Everesting attempt. He reached the accumulated height of Mount Everest, 29,055 feet, after nearly 22 hours of hiking. (Courtesy of Nathan Moody)

Prior to 2012, he would run maybe 100 miles a year or so but, after that, he quickly began to add miles. This year, for the first time, Moody will pass the 3,000-mile mark.

“I started with basics, just trying to get miles under my belt and a myriad of things, none of which ended up being the silver bullet, but if you don’t get them right, they can add up to good things or bad things,” he said. “Form is usually paramount.”

Moody got to the point where the measure of success was not simply finishing longer and longer events, but also being competitive.

“I did improve form immensely,” he said. “That improved efficiencies. Then I attacked all the other layered problems, like a layer of an onion. The fastest system is cardiovascular, but musculature is second, and then the support systems, tendons, bones, take years to develop. Each of those followed.”

His first long event was the 50-mile Jemez Mountain Trail Run in 2013.

“I didn’t do very good at it, but I quickly realized that, by watching other people and the experience I had with running it, you can cover distances that had been unheard previously,” Moody said. “It was a good introduction. Since then, that has become a training run for me.”

Now, he usually works his way through the running season, building to a large event.

When it became apparent that was not going to be an option this season, he started looking for a different challenge.

“A typical use of the season is I have a summer stretch pointing toward either a race that’s super hard or a race that I can do and I can win,” Moody said. “Or, in this case, a vertical challenge that I could cook up. Everesting was not quite prominent enough of a goal to avoid competing elsewhere, but COVID created a special opportunity since all the other high-profile races were cancelled. So, I thought how can I leverage this time and make it count, and do a reasonably rewarding thing? Answer, Everest something.”

And choosing the ski area seemed like a natural fit.

“Doing it here on a local hill makes it special for me,” Moody said. “It’s a place that a lot of us go to consistently for our training, and to me that made it kind of special. Visually, it’s one of the most prominent mountains and it’s the center nexus of activity in many ways. And it was practical. If you’re going to haul in your own support stuff, you want to have it accessible.”

It also made it tough since the slope up the nearly mile-stretch is almost 31% grade.

He started his quest shortly before dawn on June 20, heading for 22 hours and 27 laps up and back down the stretch.

The important thing was to keep moving, he said.

“In terms of actual progress, I never hit a wall from a performance perspective,” he said. “Mentally, there was definitely a bit of a hurdle on loop 13 and it was all psychological. Some other people showed up at the mountain and they suspected I would be a whole lot further along than I was. If you let that percolate, it can be a problem. I went through a couple of laps where all I needed to do was hold it together.”

And he got a welcome surprise when his family showed up about loop 20 bearing ramen noodle soup, which provided just the energy boost needed to complete the challenge.

“Little things that are just mundane, like pure water or soup and a few noodles, makes it feel like you’ve won the lottery when you taste it,” Moody said. “The feeling of gratitude of non-linearly shoots through the roof.”

Finally, on the descent of loop 25, his flashlight began to give way.

“I had another head lamp, but everything that is around you seems bigger and worse than it is if you have hardly any light,” he said. “In retrospect, it wasn’t a big deal, but it was on that lap when I was living it. I switched to my bazooka, Petzl Nao Plus and lit everything up. I banged out the last two loops and everything was fine.”

It was just part of completing the challenge, Moody said. “Navigating one’s own psyche is part of the adventure,” he said.

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