Alix Magner rode her bike 170 times up and down the Ohio Street hill in St. Paul in one go of 23 hours, 10 minutes. That hill is steep — 6.5 % grade, snaking up from Plato Boulevard to the Smith Avenue bridge. Two hours in, her left knee was already screaming. Through the heat of the day and into the dark, she leaned into the hill, grinding up the asphalt over and over. I’m slower than I thought. I’m not good enough — thoughts like punches beat her up. She wished her support crew would go away so she could quit quietly.
At 3:30 a.m. July 28, Magner stopped. Stats flashed on her Garmin device, but the important one was elevation gain — she’d climbed 9,016 meters, well clear of her goal of 8,848 meters.
“It was by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” Magner, 39, said during a break from her job at Morgan Stanley. “Every four laps for the last two hours I had to lay on the ground, I was so wrecked.”
Why did she do it? Well, if you knew that Magner was “Everesting,” then the canned answer would be, “Because it’s there.” A global cyberchallenge, the idea of Everesting is to climb the same hill, repeatedly, without sleeping until you’ve ascended the height of Everest — 29,029 feet (or 8,848 meters). Some vert-loving riders in Melbourne, Australia, established the rules and the website so anyone in the world can “knock the bastard off,” to use another Edmund Hillary-ism. As it turns out, Magner is the first person to “Everest” the Ohio Street hill.
But Magner’s motivations are more complex than Hillary’s glib sound bite. She grew up in an active Minneapolis family, did sports in high school and college, and started racing bikes in her early 20s.
“Two reasons,” the mother of two explained. “After having kids, it was really hard to put in the training to stay with the pack. Now I’m competing against myself vs. beating other people. And second, I’ve always felt I was bad at climbing hills. I’m 5-10 and not skinny — it’s usually tiny people who are good climbers. I wanted to challenge this idea that I wasn’t good at hills.”
Magner heard about Everesting a couple of years ago and was immediately interested. Following advice she gives her financial clients, she wrote down the goal — Everest in August 2019. She started training indoors in January, and told people she rode with at The Fix Studio in Minneapolis about her plan. Right off, she had some support, and also an obligation to actually do it.
Picking the right hill is crucial: A gentler 4 % grade necessarily means more reps, more miles, and likely, more time without sleep, while a 15 % grade like St. Paul’s Ramsey Street hill, she figured, would have cooked her quads long before she racked up the necessary vertical. Ohio Street hit the sweet spot, plus it had sparse traffic and a bike/pedestrian path.
She’d done 100-mile gravel races and mountain bike marathons, but as she worked out the logistics of this Everesting thing, it was clear it would be orders of magnitude harder than anything she’d ever done.
With a headlamp and a camp at the top of the hill with coolers of food and drinks, Magner started out at 4:30 a.m. July 27. She planned on stopping 10 of every 90 minutes, following a printed schedule of eating and drinking spiked with treats like chocolate milk every four hours and a Red Bull every 50 miles.
She hit the psychological wall before the halfway point.
“It was the heat of the day. I was in pain, and it was hard to remember why I was doing this dumb thing,” Magner said. “I thought of what an OB nurse told me during labor. I said something like, ‘This hurts,’ and she said, ‘Giving birth is hard. What did you expect?’ ”
“It was physically hard at the beginning, emotionally hard in the middle, and got physically hard again at the end. But after 130 laps, I knew I would do it.”
Magner credited friends from The Fix Studio who took turns riding with her, and others who stayed with their children so her wife could be there for the final climbs. But, Magner said, the challenge wasn’t quite over.
“I really had to push myself to celebrate, to lock in the feeling of having achieved this massive goal.”
Sarah Barker is a freelance writer. She lives in St. Paul.