Jack Ultracyclist's Uphill Odyssey for Mental Health

Known for his feats of endurance on the bike, Jack Thompson is taking on a "space odyssey" in 2022. He plans to climb one million meters, and in doing so, to raise funds and awareness for mental health issues.

Jack Ultracyclist Everesting

Written by
Micah Ling

Published on

Posted in
Features

Photos by Kin Studio.

Jack Thompson grew up in Perth, Western Australia, and knew he wanted to be a cyclist from a young age. But as a teenager, as is all too common but rarely talked about, Thompson started suffering from mental illness and depression. He spent some time addicted to drugs, and then in rehab. 

Now 32, he’s come to understand his struggles better. They’re not gone, but he knows that highs and lows are part of life. And most importantly, he’s come to understand that it’s okay to not be okay. That’s a bit of a mantra for Thompson now. He talks about his own struggles as often as possible, and is on a mission to let everyone know that success isn’t linear, and there are lots of different ways to heal. For Thompson, the bike is medicine.

“Having a physical focus each day gives me something to sort of defer my negative thoughts to," he says.

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In 2022, his focus will combine his appetite for staggering feats of cycling endurance and his personal mission to help people who struggle with mental health issues.

Thompson, better known as "Jack UltraCyclist," has a reputation for conquering ultra-endurance challenges the way most people ride their neighborhood bike paths. Over the past several years, he’s completed tons of extreme challenges. Last year, he rode the entire Tour de France, two stages per day, to stay ahead of the peloton. He holds the record for most kilometers ridden in a week (3,505) and the record on the GP1200, riding 1,200km from Girona, Spain to Caramulo, Portugal, climbing 12,000m along the way, in 56 hours.

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This year, he’s going bigger than ever. He will climb 1,000,000 meters of elevation (3,280,840 feet) on his bike. In order to do that, he’ll “Everest” (hill repeats until you reach 8,848 meters) on a new climb every week for a year (52 Everests would set a new world record). Thompson is calling it his Space Odyssey. If measured straight up, 1,000,000m of elevation would take him way up into the exosphere of space —  over twice the vertical distance of the International Space Station.

Jack on toughest EverestThomson grimaces midway through his Everest up Port de la Selva. Photo: Kin Studio

The bigger goal with all of this climbing is to raise €1,000,000 for mental health charities. Thompson has selected four charities especially close to his heart, each focused on mental health in different ways: 

Outride – Getting kids on bikes and highlighting the benefits of riding bikes on children’s mental health.

AMNA – Provision of psychosocial services to refugees that have had to flee the Ukraine as a result of the current war with Russia.

Kids Help Line – A free telephone service for children that allows them to seek help and advice from a councilor 24/7.

Strong Minds – Charity providing a counseling service to women in Central Africa. The methods of counseling provided, prepare women to help other women in their community and so it is very much scalable in a low-economic society.

Thompson is 18 Everests into the project, and so far so good. There have been challenges, of course, but he’s right on track. 

“Winter was really hard, just given the shorter days and the colder weather and slipperier roads,” he said in April. “It was difficult, mentally, knowing what was to come, but I’ve now found a nice rhythm and am 300,000m of elevation deep, with 18 Everests under my belt. 

“My biggest fear is not reaching the fundraising goal, and so this remains a constant stress. I just hope that people get behind me as the year rolls on so that we can make a difference and help the chosen mental health charities!”

With a new hill to repeat each week, Thompson has certainly seen some variety

Saint Marti Sacalm Everest
Thomson riding one of his favorite Everests so far, Saint Marti Sacalm. Photo: Kin Studio.

“My favorite so far has been El Port De La Selva on the Costa Brava,” Thompson said. “It was super-cold and the roads were covered in ice, but the views were insane and the sun was out, so this made for an amazing day on the bike.” 

Some say the toughest part is just getting started, and for Thompston, the toughest Everest was the first one: “The first one at Sant Marti Sacalm was incredibly hard. It was -5°C when I started and black ice on the roads. I rode for 13-odd hours in sub-zero temperatures, I was wet, cold and knew that I still had 51 of these things to go. I’d just done my first big week for the year too, so my legs were still adjusting to the demands and my nutrition strategy required some work.”

It’s tough to imagine getting used to so much climbing, but Thompson’s strategy is in line with the mindset of many ultra endurance athletes. 

“I break them into four quarters,” he said “And then I break them down further into feeding opportunities.”

Thompson keeps small goals throughout the day with a focus on maintaining the same pace throughout. “I’m obsessed with symmetry and so I’ll concentrate on the way that my legs are working. Paired with music, I can enter an alternate reality. House music, in particular — melodic house turns my mind off and allows me to concentrate on the simple act of turning the pedals.”

And he’s not always alone. “I’ve started getting more and more riders joining me. To begin with, I hadn’t announced anything. I kept things quiet for four months and have only just released the concept. Now that it’s out in the wild and I’m sharing my Everest locations, I’m starting to get a good turnout which is cool.”

Thompson recently had a tough week, which really tested him. But he’s keeping the greater goal in mind, and concentrating on raising money for his charities. To learn more, and to donate or support the odyssey, check out Thompson’s website

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