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Road Culture

Meet the cyclist who climbed 68,000 vertical feet in one ride

Colin Patterson may have set a new Guinness World Record for vertical gain in 24 hours. He did so on a short and steep road in Central California.

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How many vertical feet did you climb on your bicycle this weekend?

Colin Patterson of San Luis Obispo, California has got you beaten.

Patterson reportedly climbed 68,633 feet over the course of 24 hours, according to the data recorded on Strava by his bike computer. That’s the equivalent of Mt. Everest not once, but twice, plus 10,000 or so extra feet. It’s as if Patterson rode the height of the Empire State Building 54.9 times.

What items could you fit, end to end, inside of Patterson’s mind-boggling vertical ascent? Most of the length of Manhattan, or 428 football fields, or 109,812 No. 2 pencils. Patterson’s ride would place him 1.6 times the maximum cruising altitude of a Boeing 777.

Colin Patterson midway through his record ride. Photo: Blake Anton

“The first time I got to the Everesting mark was crazy, and then I hit double Everest and that was crazy,” Patterson told VeloNews. “There were times when I zoned out for huge parts of it, and that’s how I guess I got through the hardest moments.”

Patterson believes his 68,633 vertical feet has broken the Guinness Book of World Records’ mark for maximum elevation gained in 24 hours, which was previously set in 2007 by rider Valentin Zeller. Zeller recorded 19,025.13 meters (62,418.4 feet) on a climb in Austria.

Patterson has submitted his Strava file to the Guinness Book, and is awaiting their reply.

He got the idea for his crazy ride from Peter Stetina, who held a climbing challenge over the weekend to raise funds for the High Fives Foundation, a group that helps athletes who suffer catastrophic injuries. Stetina asked riders to climb the vertical gain of the Hawaiian volcano Mauna Kea. Patterson saw it as a chance to break the world record.

“I saw the event and thought it looked cool, and my friend Blake said I should go for the 24-hour record,” Patterson said. “I thought it might be doable. I might as well just go for it because I have the motivation and the time.”

Like racers across the globe, Patterson has looked to solo challenges like Everesting and FKT as a way to get his fix for suffering and pain. Patterson is a talented up-and-coming rider, and at age 24 he’s a strong Category 1 in the Central California racing scene. Before racing bicycles he played football.

Patterson’s Strava data from the ride.

Earlier this year he broke the U.S. record for Everesting, completing the challenge in 8:47. The day he did his ride, Phil Gaimon announced his intentions to set a new Everesting record, which kicked off several months of faster and faster times.

“Once the pro guys started doing it I knew my time would be blown away,” Patterson said.

Similar to the popular Everesting challenge, Patterson completed his masochistic 24-hour ride by riding laps on the same ascent, over and over again. Patterson chose a short and extremely steep hill adjacent to the San Luis Obispo Country Club called Alta Mira Road. The road climbs 300 vertical feet over the course of a third of a mile, and averages 15 percent.

Patterson enjoys a snack during the long day. Photo: Blake Anton

“It’s like a long driveway but it has a really cool view,” Patterson said. “I figured it would be steep and efficient because there aren’t too many cars on it.”

He installed a gravel crankset with a 48/32 ring combination, and had a 32-tooth cassette in the back, giving him a 1×1 ratio for the steepest ascent. Even with the tiny gear, Patterson said he averaged just 56 rpm for the ride.

“The last three hours was the hardest because I was so sick of the climb,” Patterson told VeloNews. “I had a decent amount of energy left but I could barely push the pedals because it was so steep.”

Patterson was correct, and during his 24-hour ride he encountered few, if any, automobile traffic. Instead, he found himself dodging skunks, deer, and other bewildered forest creatures who, no doubt, had not planned for a cyclist to be riding on the road before dawn.

As the morning turned to day, Patterson’s friends and teammates from his local Voler Factory Racing team came to cheer him on and occasionally help pace him to the top of the climb. After several hours of up-and-down riding, Patterson saw as other people congregated alongside the road to cheer him on.

“Golfers from the country club pulled off in golf carts to cheer for me,” Patterson said. “More and more came throughout the day to cheer.”

As the day progressed into the evening, Patterson put lights onto his bike and helmet for the final push. He mentally broke the climb down into its various segments, where he would stand on the bicycle, sit back down, speed up, and slow. At some point, he was by himself, riding up and down the hill, again and again, adding more vertical feet to his insane ride.

Those quiet moments were his favorite.

“You’re not focused on the pain or the climbing, just going forward,” he said.

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.