Endless hours of riding in the dark, frozen roads and temperatures far below zero degrees Celsius. How Jens Voigt battled his Everest Challenge under toughest conditions to make a positive difference in the fight against cancer.
“It’s easy” they said: “Pick any climb, anywhere in the world and ride repeat after grinding repeat until you have notched up 8,848m vert. In one ride.” Easy, right? Absolutely not! It’s the ultimate challenge for every cyclist. Striving for greatness in the battle against the accumulated vertical elevation of the highest mountain on earth – the Mount Everest. And we are still wondering what drove Jens when he took the decision to make his attempt. Not in warm, sunny setting like Mallorca perhaps in July or August. Instead the German Hardman chose Berlin, in the Winter! For those who’ve never been to Berlin: the capital of Germany is neither famous for mountains, nor for hills, but it’s famous for cruel winter months. You may call it stupid! Jens calls it epic –and it was! It was the ultimate fight of a man on his bike against the elements. A real fight for a noble reason: Raising awareness for the Tour de Cure, a charity that supports cancer research, support, and prevention projects.
10 a.m.: Jens, the uberdad
It seems like an average day at the Voigt’s home in Berlin. Daddy reads a book with his two youngest kids, while having breakfast in the living room. If you want to everest, your day needs to be prepared and planned out. Normally you would say it all starts with the right nutrition. However Jens picks a croissant as his weapon of choice. Only two hours before the start of the longest day on his bike ever: An uberdad who doesn’t need a special diet to on the day he wants to accomplish his Everest Challenge.
By now snow has covered the rooftop of the little garden shed outside. Through the radio, the German weather service announces more to come. “Let’s not call it stupid; let’s call it epic.” With these words Jensie tries to calm down his wifey (this is how he calls Stephanie – his wife), who starts worrying about him riding on icy roads and trails.
11:45 a.m.: Road? No, it’s a narrow and muddy path!
Jens chose the so-called “Teufelsberg” for his Everest Challenge, a local hill just around the corner from the Voigt home. The hill features about 90m of elevation. We expected a well-prepared asphalt road, but this road turned out as a bumpy, uneven stretch of asphalt. The worst part however was waiting on top of the hill, where it became a narrow and muddy path. At this point we started to understand why he picked his Trek cross bike.
The simple math behind his everest plan was to climb the “Teufelsberg” 100 times to definitively reach the needed 8848m. To cover 2000 meters of altitude in 4 hours seemed realistic. But plans changed because there were crowds of spectators and the media waiting for him on the small parking lot at the bottom of the Teufelsberg. The next two hours Jens was stuck in interviews and taking pictures with fans.
„I started my ride at 12 p.m. The plan was to cover 2000 meters, or 6562 feet, of altitude in four hours before sunset, but I didn’t make it. The cold and rainy conditions slowed me down, as did the multiple stops I made to do interviews, talk to people, say thank you for donations, and smile for pictures. When I got a tire puncture and night set in, I knew “Everesting” would take longer than expected.“
4 p.m.: Sliding into darkness
The night came early and so came the darkness on the small parking lot on the bottom of the “Teufelsberg”. 14 hours of darkness is normal during winter times. Temperature was dropping far below zero Celsius and the blistering cold made us shiver. Water on the path froze and riding a bike became unpredictable, almost impossible. Jens had to slow down and give up his plan to finish within 24 hours. That was also the time of the first crashes. We saw at least 10 crashes by brave supporters but luckily no one got injured. Everybody wanted to support “The Jensie” despite numb fingertips and toes and the danger of wild hogs, which become active during nighttime around Berlin. Why would anyone lock himself into this paincave?
“It feels like a duty to give back. Life has been good to me. I have six beautiful and healthy kids, a wonderful wife and I can look back on a descent career.”
3 a.m.: How family and friends can move mountains
Even at times when rarely anybody is awake, some loving and caring people were there on Jens’ side to support him. Not just on the bike, but also on the lonely parking lot. Jens parents stayed up all night, which is not that usual for the average grandparent.
“It was great to have the support. I was never alone. Even in the darkest hours of the night from 4 to 6 a.m., I always had at least one loyal and brave man with me.“
Jens dad is a hunk of a man and you can clearly see the genetic link between those two. You can also see that the apple doesn’t fall far from the stem: Jens’ dad entertained the parking lot with stories from Jens’ childhood, non-stop!
“Our family has always been hard working, and Jens cherished this mindset . He was always hyped up. No one could ever stop him. Especially when it was about rebellious nonsense.”
7 a.m.: The crisis
Jens craved for the morning light after 14 hours of darkness. But when the morning arrived he suffered his deepest crisis. His back was hurting, fingertips and toes were numb and he battled fatigue. It was heartbreaking to see Jens like this, more exhausted than during his Tour de France break away attempts. You all know about the incredible things he did during his professional career. This challenge was different. It was a slow and painful picture to witness. In these hours, Jens’ wife became his biggest supporter. She recharged his empty tank with hot scrambled eggs, tea and strengthened him with motivating words. Jens’ whole family showed up and supported him during the next hours. His daughter Kim followed him up the “Teufelsberg” several times on her electric Trek bike – which was electric motorized of course.
1 p.m.: Breaks are done – but not Jens yet
25 hours already in the books and one and a half to go. By now people were back on the parking lot to see him finish. Another stepping stone in this part of the journey now was his bike. Break pads were run down. Jens took another break and was overwhelmed by the many helping hands, which fixed his bike. It’s been heartwarming how many people wanted him to finish this special challenge. Back on the bike the last few kilometers have been pure joy for Jens despite an aching body. The crowds where cheering and even the pouring rain couldn’t destroy the positive vibes.
2:30 p.m.: Challenge accomplished – Shut Up Everest!
Done and dusted: over 400 km, more than 9000 m vertical elevation, 26:30 hours and hundreds of donations (29.209€ in total) made this long day an incredible success. The response in the press and especially on social media was overwhelming. It seems like the whole cycling community fevered with Jens and made a positive impact on the fight against cancer. Even though it was the most painful and mentally challenging ride of Jens’ life, it was for sure one of the most special. A ride he will never forget and forever cherish. And do you know what Jens’ last words were when we said good-bye to him the next day? “Let’s do this again next year”!