Former pro cyclist Justin ‘Mad Dog’ Morris is a familiar sight around the streets of Sydney’s North Shore. Well known as a lover of the road less travelled, no one was surprised when he announced an Everesting attempt on the remote, mostly unpaved Mount Kaputar in rural New South Wales.
However, even the Mad Dog was humbled by the difficulty of the challenge – calling it “one of the hardest things he’s ever done on the bike”. Here’s why.
What is Everesting?
Everesting is an endurance cycling challenge cooked up by the Hells 500 cycling collective. It’s simple in principle – you carry out repeats of a chosen climb until you’ve reached the elevation of Mount Everest (8,848m).
It was an irresistible draw for Morris, who rode for the ProContinental Novo Nordisk team between 2012 and 2014. Like the rest of the team, Morris is diabetic: he saw an Everesting as the perfect way to continue to show that diabetes sufferers needn’t be limited by their condition. Therefore, an Everesting attempt was born – much to the disgust of those planning to attend the bucks weekend for Morris’ upcoming wedding.
“I don’t really get into the usual debauchery involved with bucks weekends. So, I went and ruined my brother Toby’s plans for my bucks by telling him I wanted go and ride up and down a mountain a bunch of times. He wasn’t too impressed!”
An Everesting attempt also presented an opportunity to fundraise for a cause close to his heart – the crisis support and suicide prevention service Lifeline.
“I used to work for Lifeline as a telephone counselor,” adds Morris. “It saves thousands of lives every year and struggles for funding, so I wanted to support those guys."
Mount Kaputar was the obvious choice for the attempt for a few reasons.
“I’ve always wanted to ride Mount Kaputar, especially because it’s mostly dirt road,” says Morris.
“It was also important for me personally to make the Everesting attempt in rural Australia. Life is tough on the land. Much of your existence is at the mercy of things you have no control over like drought and flood. Lifeline is a really important resource for people in rural areas who may be suffering and need someone to talk to.”
Up, up and away
At 7am on Saturday 29 August, Morris and his brother Toby Morris – turned up at the foot of the 20km, 1,479m-high Mount Kaputar climb.
The two brothers were accompanied by the rest of Mad Dog’s support crew, made up of Australian Mountain Bike editor Mike Blewitt, his partner Imogen Smith, Ben Van Steel and Armidale rider Sam Munday – all of whom rode with Morris at various points throughout the day.
“I remember driving to the base of the mountain with Toby, and he asked what time I’d probably finish,” says Morris. “I replied that it couldn’t be too hard – I just have to ride up and down there seven or eight times, I should be done by 5pm. As I found out later, that was a bit overambitious!”
Morris realised the scale of the challenge at the end of the first two-hour lap, when he’d only gained around 1,300m of elevation. Despite riding a Boone cyclocross bike donated by Trek, he also found the dirt road added an extra layer of difficulty.
“Normally I love the dirt but I found myself longing for the bitumen sections. I got pretty fed up of corrugations!” says Morris.
“It became especially difficult after dark, too. The mind games you play when it's cold and pitch black are pretty challenging,” says Morris. “However, I kept pushing through and finally finished the attempt at around 10.30pm, with the elevation on his Garmin reading 8,891m (albeit later corrected to over 12,000m on Strava).
“I actually ended up doing six full ascents and then 14 or 15 reps of the steepest section to get the elevation,” he admits. “I don’t think that’s in the official rules so I might not get into the Everesting Hall of Fame, but I didn’t care at that point!”
Never too late to rehydrate
Morris and his support crew had been careful to monitor Morris’s health through the attempt, monitoring his blood sugar level every lap to make sure it was in a healthy range.
Therefore, it was a surprise when Morris became unwell after getting off his bike.
“While I was riding I was fine,” recalls Morris. ”However, as soon as I stopped I started to feel real crook.”
Morris was taken to hospital where It was revealed that he had an extremely high level of ketones in his bloodstream: essentially, his body had chewed through all its traditional energy supplies and was cannibalising itself to keep going.
This was down to one simple miscalculation: Morris was significantly dehydrated and therefore struggling to metabolise the fuel he had been diligently taking on.
“I wasn’t drinking enough water: while I was taking in fluid, it was all sports drink because I was more concerned about getting enough calories in,” says Morris. “If I’d just drunk more water I would have been a lot healthier at the end.”
The attempt raised more than $7,500 for Lifeline, with donations still coming in. Morris is also justifiably proud to keep proving that diabetes is no barrier to following your dreams.
“A lot of diabetics around the world think it’s crazy and impossible to do things you really love: by doing this I wanted to show that there’s nothing holding us back. I’m already eyeing up other mountains for another crack at the Hall of Fame!”
Does he have any advice for others planning an Everesting attempt?
“Go for it! You may surprise yourself,” he says. “But make sure you drink plenty of water!”