Sherpa Duty – Rolling up your sleeves, and helping an everesting attempt

It’s a Friday, at 2:30am. I get out of bed, and go and ride with a bloke I barely know, being a ‘sherpa’ whilst he rides to Everest a hill. Up and down the same hill we ride, for 5 hours. I go to work for the day, come home and have dinner with my wife and kids, and as soon as they are in bed, I go out and ride with the same bloke, on the same hill, until he has finished. Which doesn’t happen until 1:40am. By the time I ride home, my alarm goes off to show that I’ve now been awake for 24 hours.

I did all of this a week after the ironman, which was a week after my own Everesting. I was bloody tired, but I still rode. I was not alone on sherpa duty for that ride. There were lots of us, riding with our mate, to help him complete the challenge.

Dan was the bloke riding that day, and he completed the Everest (view Dan’s ride here). When I came back out for the second shift, I absolutely did not think that he was going to make it. He spent a fair amount of time sitting in his car, so the rest of us just talked amongst ourselves. Then when he did ride, he stopped talking altogether, and wanted us to do the same, so we rode in silence. Even when it was 1:00am, and there were just two of us left to ride with Dan, we rode in silence. Up and down, and up and down, and up again. With three laps to go, Dan finally cracked a joke, and so the three of us managed to chat away merrily for the last three laps, cracking jokes at everything.

The thing that occurred to me this time was that people really would ask “Why?” This time, they had a point. I was not there to achieve anything personally, it was not my Everest to ride. I had done my events, and I was bloody tired. I’ll be honest and say that a couple of times I had to sit out a lap, as I was getting dizzy just riding along next to Dan (and Teddles ­- good bloke). I didn’t even know Dan that well, I knew Dan through a mutual friend. So why was I out there, giving him everything I had in support? Hell I even took him a thermos full of nine shots of espresso and honey when I first rolled up. What makes someone want to do that?

Everesting, and the Hells 500 community, I have found are peculiar entities, completely different from anything I have encountered. Sure, at some point the Hells 500 is technically a business belonging to 1 bloke (though Andy is a champ of a bloke), but it is so much more than that. It is a community that compels people to give, to support, to have a laugh, and do some very, very rad shit.

I first experienced this when I did my first Everesting. I rode Pound Road in the Adelaide Hills in March 2015 (you can view the ride here ­​. I started this ride at midnight on a Friday night (technically Saturday morning, but really, for shits and giggles, let’s just say Friday night), and my mate Time started with me. He rode the first half dozen laps in the cold and dark with me, then slept at the top of the hill in his ute until the sun came up. He went home, then came back to ride the last half dozen laps with me to the finish. Just to support, just to help a mate. He even brought me some beers to celebrate.

On this same ride, I met James. Now James gets excited about stuff, really excited. He Everested a hill in Adelaide a few months beforehand, and just loved the concept. He’s a Hells 500 type of person. He had heard that there was a bloke Everesting Pound Road, so he came out to see. He rode the last 10 laps with me, a total stranger that he didn’t know from a bar of soap. He’s now one of my mates, and we ride together a lot.

These two guys showed me what it means to other people when you take on a big challenge. They showed that it’s more than just doing something hard on your own. It’s more than racing against someone else in an event. It’s about really extending yourself, pushing the limits of your own possibilities, and seeing what is truly inside of yourself. If you will do that, people will want to help you. People will want to be a part of that.

Take the more recent everesting that I completed (see it here ­ Now there were three of us that did this ride together, yet we had hundreds of people come out to support us. Dozens of people came out to ride with us, and a lot of them didn’t even know any of us. They brought plates and plates of food, and they brought us coffees like they were water. THIS WAS FROM PEOPLE I HAD NEVER MET!

These were the people that really taught me what it means. You do rad, rad shit, and people will come to you, for you. They will do it with a smile. They will do it completely selflessly, they will do it, just because you are doing what you are doing. There were countless times that people would go and get us coffees, come back, and have completely forgotten to even get themselves one whilst they were at it. They were so intent on selflessly helping others, that they paid no attention at all to themselves.

So why does everyone do it? Because ours is a community that has a deep-rooted compulsion to give something back. Sherpa duty is the best way to encourage others to find out the depths of their own soul. To guide someone to find out what they are able to do, when every part of their own mind is screaming at them that what they are doing is impossible. It’s not about jumping up and down, and screaming like you might see on an American college football movie. It’s about being the mate that turns up, and sits in with you when all else feels lost. We all ‘get it.’ We all know what it means to complete a challenge like this. We respect the challenge, and we respect the people whom complete the challenge.

I haven’t done anything before that has made me feel such a compulsion to help others. I don’t normally give to charity, and I am not a particularly empathetic man. But there is something truly special about taking on an Everesting that makes me, and many people like me, want to come out and help. I have a burning need to give back. Maybe it’s the warm feeling of pride that you get when you reflect back on your own Everesting, and a desire to have someone share that with you. Or maybe it’s an appreciation for seeing others complete a seemingly impossible task. Or maybe even I just have this strong desire because I can reflect back on so many people that have helped me.

Cycling is a sport where so often people are distrustful of others, disrespectful even. People will frequently make snide comments because your bike is the wrong brand or colour, or your cables are not running the right way, or your socks are the wrong height, or your jersey is from the wrong team, or you ride the wrong hills, or you’re too slow, or, or, or, or… Hells 500 people are different. Whether you’ve completed your Everesting yet or not, Hells 500 people are not exclusive, they are very inclusive. Being part of this crew is about welcoming others. It does not matter at all how fast or slow you complete an Everesting, how steep or shallow the hill, how good or rubbish your bike, or how good or bad the weather. It matters only that you did it. Everything else is just part of your story to tell. Hells 500 people smile at each other, make fun WITH each other, and celebrate one another’s achievements. This is why people sherpa for each other. This is why they do it for people who are strangers. I have sherpa’d three times now, and barely knew Dan, even less Adam, and Katie was a total stranger. But playing a part, no matter how small or large, in each of their day is a very enriching and rewarding experience, and an experience that I will relive every time I can get out to someone else’s Everesting.

So if you hear of someone doing an everesting near to you, go and ride with them. Say hello, Ride at their pace, smile a bit, and congratulate them on the challenge. Oh, and absolutely take them coffee. Donuts too if you are really nice. It is a great thing to do, and both you and the Everester will come away stronger for it.

Thanks for reading, please leave a comment below!


Author: Dave Edwards

Exploring the mental side of endurance cycling challenges.

3 thoughts on “Sherpa Duty – Rolling up your sleeves, and helping an everesting attempt”

  1. Another excellent piece Dave. I read your Sherpa story with great interest as I am preparing for an Everest Challenge in the next month or so. After a year I have settled on “The Hill” Along the way a few of my friends and aquantences have been both supportive and snide. One riding buddy continues to ask how I dont die of boredom on my recent training reps up my hill. I must admit it does bother me but also fuels me. Thanks for your blog. I will continue to look for your insights on this challenge. I have a few sherpas lined up already simply based on my desire to accomplish something so big. I hope to accomplish this and also sherpa for someone in the future. Thanks again Dave!


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