The Himalayas in my back yard

Mount Tamalpais casts a golden sunset over the San Francisco Bay Area, home to three peaks of 2,500 feet elevation or more. Photo by Michael Collier

Mount Tamalpais casts a golden sunset over the San Francisco Bay Area, home to three peaks of 2,500 feet elevation or more. Photo by Michael Collier

By Michael Collier

Imagine this: Hopping on your bike and climbing more than 29,000 feet  — the equivalent of walking vertically to the top of Mount Everest — in 20 days or less.

And this: Completing the challenge without leaving your home turf. In my case, home was the San Francisco Bay Area, and specifically in the hills of the East Bay, right across the bay from Mount Tamalpais in Marin County, which rises 2,500 feet from the Pacific Ocean.

In early November, I signed up for the Strava Climbing Challenge, along with thousands of others across the globe who use the fitness and social media site. The challenge was to climb at least 8,848 meters, or 29,029 feet, between Nov. 7 and 27.

I made that goal — with room to spare — with eight rides, none of which went beyond a 25-mile radius from my home in the East Bay. Most rides involved climbing between 2,800 and 4,100 feet, and most of my courses were variations of a small number of segments.

By varying my rides a bit each time, I warded off boredom. And on one ride, I came upon a teenager who had crashed his car into a retaining wall in the woodsy enclave of Canyon,  just east of Skyline Road in Oakland. The kid was okay but he thought his life would be over once his parents found out what had happened. The car was a high school graduation gift.

I spent the better part of an hour, as the afternoon sun began to fade, telling him how every teenager I know, including myself, crunched up a car at least once before turning 25. Then his parents arrived, I told them he was a good kid and I went back to my climbing.

After every ride toward my goal this month, I measured my total elevation gain, watching it increase as I anticipated my next outing.

My total after 17 days: 29,747 feet. I was tempted to push my total past 30,000 feet but stopped myself because it was Thanksgiving morning, the final day of the challenge, and it was time to engage with my family.

Still, my total elevation gain was in the top 13 percent of the 47,000 riders participating in the challenge. In addition, the Everest-like elevation I completed marked the first time I had climbed so far in a month where I was not training for a double century ride.

And the best part is that I did it all from the hills just beyond my front porch.

I joined the 250K club

By Michael Collier

Today I set a Personal Best for cycling. I surpassed my goal of reaching 250,000 feet of climbing on my bike this year.That’s more than eight times the elevation of Mount Everest.

Here it is:


I had fun setting my record, rolling off more than 5,000 feet of climbing in the East Bay Hills on a moderately warm afternoon, including a very steep Claremont Canyon in Berkeley. Worried that I’d need a wild card hill to get me over the top, I added Claremont on the spur of the moment.

It was a good instinct on my part. My total for the day put me about 500 feet above my goal.

Elevation gain is just one measure of cycling success — along with distance and speed. I chose to focus on hills this year because they had been one of my weaknesses over the years.

If you’re wondering how 250,000 feet stacks up, well here is some context. My hill-climbing numbers exceed those of most of my cycling pals following me on Strava, the cycling app based in San Francisco.

But a couple of my buddies have stacked up way more elevation gain than I have — one has tallied nearly 650,000 feet, another has climbed more than 550,000 feet this year and another has exceeded 350,000 feet.

I am quite satisfied with my progress on climbing. Now it’s on to another goal — for 2014.