Inequality is an unfortunate truth of our time, but it is no longer brushed under the carpet and ignored. More people than ever are willing to stand up to say, it is enough, and things are changing. The evidence is all around us, from vice president-elect Kamala Harris, the shrinking of the national wage gap between genders, to The InternationElles.
However, there is still a long way to go.
In 2019, The average UCI (The Union Cycliste Internationale is the world governing body of cycling) men’s WorldTour team had a budget of approximately £12 million; the average women’s team budget, a mere £150,000. A significant amount of this budget goes towards one of the biggest cycling event of the year, the Tour De France.
There is no woman’s Tour De France race.
In this week’s blog, I am speaking with Louise Gibson, the global events manager and team rider from The InternationElles.
The InternationElles is an all-woman cycling team with individual riders based all over the world from America to The Peak District here in the U.K. Their mission: to spread the word about gender inequality within the professional sport of cycling.
So, whilst I could sit here and waffle on about my personal views and how I think everyone, no matter what race, what gender and what background, should be treated and paid equally, I will step away from the mic (keyboard) and hand that over to Louise and our chat.
As always, if you enjoy this blog post, you can share and follow on all the social media platforms. Links included at the bottom of this post.
Louise, welcome to the blog! Thanks for your time. I have been avidly watching The InternationElles’ progress the past couple of years and have felt inspired to do more from it. Tell us about the team, when and why did it come about? Who are the team members, and how did you all meet?
We formed early last year thanks to the powers of the internet!
There are a group of French women called Donnons des Elles au Velo who have been riding the full route of the Tour de France in the name of equality for the last six years. Each year they open up applications for new riders. Last year there were so many non-French women interested they put us all in touch with each other, and we made our international team for riding with them.
Initially, there weren’t enough of us to make the team financially viable, so a couple of us roped in some of our friends too until we became a team of 10 riders.
We didn’t all meet for the first time until we got to Brussels to start the Tour!
For 2020 not all riders could repeat so we had a 50/50 split of new and existing InternationElles, again from all over the world. Sadly this year’s team haven’t all met each other; we were due to meet in Nice at the start of this year’s Tour.
As with so many of us around the world, the Covid-19 pandemic changed and broke plans. Unfortunately, that meant the worst possible outcome for The InternationElles and the cancellation of the Tour De France ride. How did the team feel about cancelling the Tour De France Ride?
Yes, we were hoping we would still get to France when the Tour de France got pushed back. It gave us an extra couple of months for things to get sorted out, but in the end, it made no difference. Even if it was deemed safe enough for the Tour de France to take place, we didn’t think it was the right thing to do for our team. Lots of us couldn’t even get to France, either initially or without quarantine restrictions on our return, so we started coming up with a Plan B.
We were all really disappointed. It was something we were looking forward to and training hard for, but we all understood that it was a possible outcome in the year that’s just become a complete train wreck for everyone. We wanted to make sure we stayed safe, didn’t risk our or our sponsors’ reputation but didn’t want to sit back and do nothing this year.
How did you replace this and what was the reaction to your alternative rides?
We started coming up with a few different plans but didn’t know what was going to happen with local restrictions, so we kept Plan B fairly simple in the end.
We completed the full distance of the Tour de France as a non-stop relay in under 100 hours on turbo trainers, and then we ticked off the elevation of the Tour by each of us Everesting.
We were delighted to get a lot of support and coverage about our battle for equality. The most interesting thing is so many people don’t even realise there isn’t a women’s Tour de France, nor do they realise the massive disparity between men and women’s opportunities within the sport. As we shed light on this, we hope to change things for the better.
What are the goals of The InternationElles moving into 2021?
We will carry on with our fight for equality. We’re not asking for anything special or extra, just the same opportunities as the men. It shouldn’t be too much to ask for. We’d love women of all ages and abilities not to be held back because of their gender. We want to see more races and more coverage; this will, in turn, bring more sponsorship and interest into the sport. It will also inspire more people. We have some incredible role models within women’s cycling; we don’t see or hear enough about them. Women on bicycles should be a normal thing, and we will keep trying to close the gender gap in cycling. We will ride the full route of the Tour de France again in 2021 and have our fingers crossed that it happens next year!
Finally, Louise, for any woman thinking about becoming a cyclist but don’t have the confidence to take the next step, what is your advice?
Just do it! No better time to start. Cycling is booming as people are spending more time at home and being more active with their daily exercise. Maybe ride with family and friends until you feel ready to head out alone. Talk to your local bike shop for advice and maybe join a local club. Don’t feel rushed to get all the gear and get clipped in, take your time, that will all come if and when you’re ready, get a bike, get on it and enjoy it! Drop me a line on Instagram if you need any help or advice. I love helping people on their journey!
And, if anyone would like to become a member of The InternationElles team, how would they go about this?
We aren’t looking for new riders at this time. The team that didn’t make it to France in 2020 will be the one that gets there in 2021 we hope! We are always looking for support and sponsors, though. If you can help in any way, please reach out. Please also follow us and follow women’s cycling, talk to your friends and family about it and get involved where you can!
Before I ramble on about a bike ride, I just wanted to say a big thank you to everyone who read and offered feedback on the previous post with Emma Wallace. And, of course, Emma herself. The feedback continues to be nothing short of astounding from individuals feeling empowered to open up about their concerns to large companies asking to use the post within their own social media publications.
The reception of the post was somewhat of a relief. The heavy burden of the words following recent events left me feeling guilty that I hadn’t posted it sooner and also slightly concerned that some people may view the timing of the publication to be somewhat of a capitalisation.
Thankfully, this was only my brain, thinking the worst.
Following the publication, I felt inspired to have my own mental health conversations; it was during one of these that I came to own small conclusion. Yoga and Meditation are useful tools and ones that I recommend to everyone and anyone. As a Cyclist, I use both of these on a regular occasion. After a long ride, there is nothing better than just sitting down, stretching out and absorbing the memories of the day. Meditation, however, I find a little more challenging. I quickly become distracted.
Speaking about this, I soon came to my conclusion or rather, my friend did. Cycling IS my mediation. It is the way I become at one with myself, I lose myself in the moment, I pedal, I take in the scenery, I focus on my breathing, my pedal stroke and my body and before I know it I reach another town or city. I get lost in my thoughts, not a care in the world can penetrate me at this moment. It is just me, my bike the passing wind and the open road. My personal, meditative detox.
So, after a being bombarded with news regarding the hate-mongering, climate-denying, utter shit face of a man they call Donald all week, I decided it was time to get out for a long ride. My own Trump detox, to find new roads, have lunch by the ocean and once again enjoy my first long ride in some time, injury-free.
I did some research on the areas within cycling distance that I had never been and decided Essex was perfect. Close enough to cycle, and near the ocean. All I needed to do now was find some historic buildings, and it was a winner! I planned the route using fragments of other peoples rides on Komoot, and before I knew it, I had planned an epic, 100’ish mile route.
The alarm sounded at 4:30 am on Saturday, and it was time to move.
The bike was already packed and ready from the night before (sometimes, I surprise myself!). I wedged my Bikepacking frame pack in my Handsling road bike. Not the most aero fit but it would do, the extra space for snacks on a long ride is always welcome.
Due to the Winter time changes here in there the UK, daylight riding is limited. Hence, whilst it pained me to get a train to the starting point of my ride, it was a necessary evil if I was to get home and back to see the sunset in Richmond Park (my new favourite commuter activity). I train hopped from Richmond to Chelmsford, Essex. Arriving at 8 am to see the cafe over the road opening ready for a double shot wonder to start the ride.
I was leaving the birthplace of radio, Chelmsford and heading East. As a student of Historic Buildings, it was a pleasure to ride through the old towns and villages of Essex, littered with Timber Frames, the remnants of a past life, free of fake-tanned millionaires deciding the future of the world and focusing more on the location of the next meal.
Arriving at the village of Sandon, the most spectacular low, winter sunrise welcomed me. The sun, breaching through distant morning fog was glaring and beautiful over the foreign fields. The morning dew, leaving the leaves surrounding the area and the locals, well they were waking up to find me, standing in said field, with a bike, taking pictures.
Essex is a very much unexplored, distant land for me. I have never spent much time there, never mind of the bike, so it was nice to lose myself in the rolling countryside. And, whilst I mentioned earlier that I was injury-free, this was never far from my mind.
I am OK now, and it has been a long road back (pun intended).
I returned from Yorkshire around two months ago with pain in both knees. I now believe this was due to doing too much too soon and also a lousy bike set up. Anyway, since then, I have tried to be as sensible as possible, managing my return to fitness, aided by the welcomed return of a steady job which I can commute. The 20/30 miles a day has helped with the rebuilding of damaged muscle. Some days I can take it real easy, others I have been collecting KOM’s on Strava.
However, this being my first long ride since my return, the last thing I wanted to do was push it too hard and injury myself again. So, I didn’t race up any hills, and I absorbed the moving world around me in my own little rolling meditative state of happiness, pain-free.
Reaching the town of Dengie, I visited St Peters Chapel a few miles off the route I had taken but a welcomed detour. The Chapel stands over the ruined gate of a Roman fort which formed part of a chain of defences along the east coast of England. In the middle of the Seventeenth Century, St Cedd built a church and monastery on the site, which he used as a base to convert people to Christianity. Not one for religion, I was here to admire the architecture. To respect and soak up the history of the location, transport myself back and imagine what it must have been like defending the area in 600 AD. The account is fascinating and well worth reading.
I stopped, looking out to the ocean and re-fueled. Taking purposely deep breaths and letting the stress of the week escape.
The route now was pretty much a loop back to where I began near Chelmsford but still following the open, winding roads of Essex countryside. After following the road upwards for a good few miles, I found myself engulfed with 360 Essex vistas. The sun, once again battling with the low cloud only further emphasised the skyline, the green fields and forests below stood out like beacons of hard work and cultivation and whilst I knew I would soon be heading back into London, it was good to take this moment.
Traffic was limited in Essex, the odd car past me and gave me plenty of room, the route more populated with walkers and cyclists is one I would recommend. All of which can be via my Komoot profile—the link at the bottom of this post.
It was then a case of racing against the clock. My mission to reach Richmond Park by sunset was very much on. I decided to push on. My legs had felt great all day, no signs of injury, and with a big smile on my face, I put my head down and ploughed on home.
Passing through London and down into the depths of the city, it made the earlier riding seem all that more special. The roads now littered with angry drivers aggressively honking horns and batteling for that piece of road that would set allow them to knock a few seconds off their journey.
The public, seemingly guided into the middle of the road like robots on their phones unwilling to look both ways.
The only saving grace in London and possibly the only positive thing to come from the pandemic – the number of cyclists and cycle lanes in the city. Saturday afternoon and it was rush hour for cyclists. I love to see it.
I reached Richmond Park just in time to collapse on the grass, enjoy my victory coca-cola (that I bought some 40 miles ago) and let the light fade away before me.
That was a solid day in the saddle. Trump was detoxed.
Sometimes, we all need to get out there and do the thing we love to detox, to let go of our misgivings, our darkest thoughts and remember how beautiful life can be if we give it a chance.
The next few months will once again bring our futures into doubt, following the announcements of countrywide lockdowns, we all need to try that little bit harder. Do what makes you smile, text your friend and make them smile. Kindness is magic!
At the point of writing this, there has been a total of 26.9 million (documented) cases of Covid-19 around the world and around 880,000 (documented) deaths.
It is a heartbreaking reality that we’re all currently living through. I was out of work for five months. This was not by choice – I was very unfortunate to leave a steady job just before lockdown and as such was left in limbo without any work. I am very thankful to be finally out of that situation and to be able to notify the UK government that I no longer need benefits to pay my rent and food bills; hopefully, this money can be given to someone else in need now.
At the same time, and whilst people around the world were suffering from one of the biggest and most dangerous pandemics since records began, people began to stand up and be counted. The Extinction Rebellion and the Black Lives Matter movements made huge waves, continue to do so, and rightly so. Whole countries, such as Belarus, continue to march daily demanding political change.
It has been a strange and eye-opening year, to say the least.
Whilst it all kicked off and as I was out of work, I soon read and watched myself into a black hole of COVID facts and figures. I marched with the BLM movement in London, before I decided I had to be with my family and escape the city. Too many people, too much risk. I did this and spent my months bikepacking around the U.K, creating this website and documenting my riding along the way.
Whilst I was pedalling up and down the country, a new movement was born. Ride For Unity.
Ride For Unity, began with a simple enough idea. To unite people around the U.K and the world, asking people to complete a 45min bike ride every Wednesday and tag the movement on social media. I have watched this grow and grow over the past few months from a weekly bike ride to now, hosting a weekly, live Instagram show with the host and Ride For Unity creator Kofi, chatting with some of the most inspirational people the cycling community has to offer.
I have been so impressed and inspired by this, that I had to get in touch with Kofi and include the chat on my very first ‘Feature’ blog post.
Samuel: Kofi, thanks for taking the time to answer some questions and chat about Ride For Unity, it’s been a tough time for us all the past few months following the global pandemic and subsequent lockdown. I fled the city and followed the roads north. You began a movement and one I have found as an inspiration in these tough times. As a big believer in promoting community and diversity with the sport of cycling, I admire what you’re doing and what you have done since we entered lockdown.
As such, I have been very keen to involve you within my new blog and offer you a chance to share your story with my readers.
Firstly, please introduce yourself and Ride for Unity.
Kofi: My name is Kofi and I am the Founder of Ride For Unity. I am a married man, dad to three kids and a cycling enthusiast.
Ride For Unity is a global cycling community that celebrates the unity and diversity within cycling. The aim is to increase participation in cycling through the representation of that diversity i.e. no matter who you are, no matter where you are, together we ride.
At the moment I do this in 3 ways:
1) I host a regular Instagram show called “Cycling Chats” where I have a range of cyclists come and share their journey in cycling. Hopefully, this inspires more people to take up the sport because they see people who look like them doing amazing things.
2) Wednesdays are “Ride For Unity” days and I host a Zwift ride where cyclists from around the world can join via Zoom and chat whilst spinning. If you don’t use Zwift you can still participate by joining the Strava Club “Ride For Unity”, riding 45 minutes anywhere and naming your ride on Strava as #ride4unity.
We’ve got a weekly top 10 chart for a bit of competition and fun!
3) We recently took Ride For Unity “outside” around the world holding group rides in New York, California, Edinburgh, London, Yorkshire and South Africa. That was a real collective effort and I’m grateful for everyone who helped make these rides happen.
Samuel: I have been so inspired by watching the growth of Ride For Unity around the world. Cycling is an incredible tool in bringing people together, allowing people to share stories and cake. What could be better! What inspired you to start Ride For Unity?
Kofi: The turning point for me was the sad death of George Floyd. I was particularly moved when I saw a picture of him and his daughter as I could relate to their bond having two daughters myself. I felt depressed and angry that another black person had been snatched away from his family by the police. Coming soon after the deaths of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery I felt that I had to do something. Much of what I saw on social media was understandably negative but also divisive in some cases. Coming from a massive multi-cultural family I wanted to do something that promoted and celebrated our diversity and unity as people. I felt that if I could create something that harnessed the goodwill I feel from other cyclists when I am on the road (irrespective of their colour or gender), then some much-needed positivity would spread.
Samuel: Well, Kofi, I can tell you that you’re doing just that. Alongside the other movements around the world, I have been inspired and taken it upon myself to read and learn much more about the situations we find ourselves in. I can only applaud and thank you for opening mine and many other people’s eyes and encouraging people to come together through cycling. How have you found the overall reaction and engagement to Ride For Unity?
Kofi: The engagement has been awesome. It is amazing how it has been taken to heart by so many people. The Instagram following and Strava Club have grown from nothing to something in the space of a few months. I have loved the positive messages of support from around the world. It has been great to hear that it has helped people through a difficult time or built up their confidence on the bike.
Following and including the ongoing BLM movement, it is has opened all our eyes to exclusivity and the lack of diversity within the cycling world.
I feel everyone could do better to promote this and do our part.
Samuel: Have you found this an issue whilst pursuing the sport?
Kofi: Commuting on my bike over the last 15 years I have been encouraged by the steadily growing numbers of cyclists of various colours and genders taking to the roads.
I’d love to see more support for women’s cycling and wider participation there as well. Having 2 daughters I’d love them to be encouraged to ride. Representation plays a massive role in this.
I have always found other cyclists welcoming and I’ve struck up loads of friendships whilst commuting. When I cycle recreationally on group rides no one gets left behind and everyone helps if someone has a mechanical issue or offers food and encouragement if it is needed.
I feel as though cyclists understand diversity and are an empathetic bunch!
There is a lack of diversity in the sport when you look at the highest level. In this year’s Tour de France how many non-White riders are in the peloton of almost 200? Why is this? I don’t think there is a lack of athletic talent. Away from the road, I have a similar perception of track cycling at the highest level although it is not quite as rare to see black athletes. In America there seem to be more prominent cyclists across the spectrum of colour.
Samuel: What (if any) changes would you like to see within the sport that would aid this development?
Kofi: To increase diversity at the elite level I would target three things:
1) Analysis of the talent development pipeline. The issues that are preventing participation and putting in place measures that support greater diversity.
2) Inspire more children to develop a passion for cycling through accessible cycling programmes in schools.
3) Lastly very few cycling brands I’ve seen showcase the diversity in cycling when it comes to their marketing. This could deter some people from participating in feeling the sport isn’t for them. There are some great ambassadors for cycling out there like Yewie Adesida, Abbie Dentus, Ceylin Alvarado, Red Walters, Ayesha McGowan, Lizzie Deigan, Justin Williams and Rahsaan Bahati but it would be brilliant to see more.
Samuel: How can Ride For Unity aid this development?
Kofi: Ride For Unity is helping to showcase our diversity as cyclists but with some talent programmes starting at a young age I would love to do more at the grassroots level to promote the sport.
Samuel: Watching the Ride For Unity Instagram Live chats, you have talked to some very inspirational people in their own right. What have been your favourite stories?
Kofi: I’ve laughed a lot and been inspired by everyone that has joined me for a chat. If I had to pick one then the chat with Alison Wood stands out for me because of all the great work she has done helping others get into cycling. She is super humble and despite having asthma has pushed herself to some great achievements.
Samuel: What does the future hold for Ride For Unity?
Kofi: I’m excited about the future and have further plans to help others fall in love with the sport.
I’d love more people to enjoy the adventures, the camaraderie as well as the physical and mental well-being benefits of cycling.
I’m hoping to have some of the plans finalised very soon so that I can share them with you!
Samuel: That is exciting news! I look forward to hearing more about it. Finally, It would be rude not to put you on the spot: who are you tipping to win this year’s Tour De France?
Kofi: It would be great to see Adam Yates do it but I reckon Egan Bernal might be the one to end up with the yellow jersey this year.
Samuel: Kofi, thank you for your time!
I hope you’re as inspired and moved by what Kofi had to say as much as I am. Links to Ride For Unity socials are below. Go show them some love and join the movement. We can all do more to promote inclusivity and diversity within cycling and sport in general; this is only the beginning.
It has been exactly five months since I was last at work. Slowly but surely, I have been eating into my savings, biding my time and waiting for the phone to ring. It has been a stressful time, to say the least.
As a London resident without employment, as I am sure you can imagine, it is particularly hard. Prices are high and to travel anywhere by public transport, you either have to run very fast before you get caught or take out a loan for a year’s travel ticket. Thankfully, as you may already know reading this blog, I had a way out and that was on my bike.
I cycled back home to Yorkshire from London (Read that blog HERE) and within a couple of days and after months of videos calling (during lockdown), I was reunited with my family. My initial plan was to remain there for a couple of weeks as a mental break and see how it all unfolded.
Five weeks later, I was still in The Yorkshire Dales and my phone rang. There was finally work on the horizon. As the lockdown shows signs of ease in the UK more buildings sites are opening up and in particular more Historic Building sites, as is my profession. I wasn’t given an exact start date, but I was given enough information to help me decide it was time to once again leave my loved ones and head to ‘the big smoke’.
As soon as I hung up the phone, I was planning my return. I would cycle back (obviously) but this time, I would go further and for a new adventure. Wales has always been high on my list of places I wanted to cycle through and having lived in Yorkshire for the past month it seemed like the natural progression of beautiful, untouched scenery and mountain roads.
I jumped onto Komoot and began to plan. I would hijack routes from a previous year’s GBDURO ride and edit it to suit my locations. This didn’t take me long, I was soon making plans on where I would re-fuel, possible camp locations and landmarks that I had to see along the way. All in all, I predicted a ride lasting around 4-5 days and epic 30/40.000ft of climbing and many, many breath-taking views.
Route complete, I now had to overcome another obstacle – my bike. Since purchasing the bike in May 2020 (around four months ago at the date of writing this) I have ridden just under 3,000 miles and climbed just over 160,000ft of elevation. The equivalent of climbing Mount Everest five times(ish). This would be a slog for any road bike but as a gravel bike and following the routes I have whilst also fully loaded up with camping gear etc, this bike has taken a bit of a beating. That made itself very evident to me during my recent Yorkshire Trigonée challenge (Read that Blog HERE) when my gears were skipping and eventually, I had to call it a day.
The result of which was a bill of around £250. This included a new cassette, a new chain, a new front tyre, brake pads and a big service.
The expensive life of a cyclist!
As you may know, business is booming in the cycling industry and whilst I am excited by the number of cyclists I see on the road and/or Instagram these days. It does have its downsides. One of them is waiting times at independent bike shops. It would be two weeks before I got my bike back on the road. Two weeks of resting, walking the dogs, reading books and being with my family. All of which would eventually lead to my undoing.
Two days before I was to set off, news broke about storms hitting Wales. I listened but figured it would blow over just in time for my ride. The day before I set off, it looked worse. The day I set off, storm Ellen was battering the region with winds of up to 70MPH. The winds heading South to North would show no signs of relief and as a cyclist, with a fully loaded bike, this could only mean one thing – headwind.
I set off on my first leg, leaving my family home in the Yorkshire Dales and waving goodbye to my family in tears. I am not an overly emotional person but having just spent a month with my family it was hard to say goodbye. Since I have been working and living in London for around three years now, we only really get the odd week here and there with each other. A month back home was welcome during this global pandemic. I was to head to my other family home just outside of Harrogate and from there head back to London via Wales.
On my arrival to my second home, it was clear I had to change my plans. The situation in Wales was worse. Storm Ellen has taken hold and the entire region was put on Yellow alert (High Winds Alert) not only this but the forecast of rains and dropping temperatures was now predicted. It would have been foolish for me to attempt such a ride. I decided to spend the night where I was and formulate a new plan.
The new plan, to head directly south. Avoiding the onslaught of winds, rains and main roads (or try) I would follow National Cycle Routes for as much of the journey as possible.
Leaving for the second leg, I was greeted with a clear sky and bright sunshine, the clouds had parted as if to wave me off from Yorkshire. I was in a good mood, it was horrible to say goodbye to my family again and the tears flowed but physically, I felt good. I set myself a target of around 110-120 miles for the day. This would be half of the entire journeys and would mean I would be home in two days.
“The Trans Pennine Trail (TPT) is an exciting route for walkers, cyclists and horse riders linking the North and Irish seas, passing through the Pennines, alongside rivers and canals and through some of the most historic towns and cities in the North of England.”
I would soon join the Trans Pennine Way just before I reached Leeds. The TPT route stretches over the North of England like a spider’s web, reaching from coast to coast and north to south of Yorkshire and beyond. The small borough of Great and Little Preston seemed to encapsulate the ride perfectly with its hard-packed gravel lanes and blue lakes surrounding by lush green lands.
Following the river and down into the Lower Calder Valley, I was soon on the canal towpaths, greeting strangers on their boats and avoiding their inquisitive dogs sat in the middle of the path waiting for me to swerve. The sun was still shining, and I stopped for an early bit of lunch.
As I was leaving Yorkshire behind, I was soon in Rotherham and heading towards Leicester. That’s when it all seemed to change. The lush hard-packed gravel I came to love turned into rolling lanes and everything veered upwards, the climbing began. Never one to shy away from a climb, in fact, I often think climbing is my favourite part of cycling. Once in a rhythm, I am confident of climbing anything that comes my way. Being mindful of fuelling myself along the way, I break the climb into small sections.
Get to that lamp post! Get to that car! Avoid dangerous driver! Get to that bin! Stand in awe of the view at the summit. And repeat.
I am not sure of the exact moment it happened but around the third big climb of the day, my left groin was noticeably aching. Not enough to make me wince or stop but it was there. There was one big climb left for the day still ahead of me and I decided to get it done.
Completing this climb would leave me with only a few smaller climbs on the final day and one big one just before it was pretty much all downhill to my front door in London. Good idea, right? Well, maybe not.
The route from Renishaw to Bolsover is not for the faint-hearted. I guess that’s why they built a castle at the top, its bloody high! For around ten miles you’re climbing. It is steady at first, a gentle 1% and 4% here and there until you get close to Bolsover. The segment on Strava (that doesn’t take into account the first section or final section for some unknown reason) clocks a lovely average of 5%.
Now, taking into account at this point I have already cycled 65 miles with the fully loaded bike, I had, just two days before this had been off the bike for two weeks due to the servicing well, what do you get? Each pedal stroke was an effort now, I was a fully paid-up member of the ‘Granny Gear club’ as I reached the Bolsover summit. I subconsciously started rubbing my legs before I realised what I was doing. Something wasn’t right.
My legs were now feeling it. My left groin ache was turning into pain and running down to my knee and now I was feeling it in my right knee. However, it was still not enough to stop me progressing. It was another 35 miles down the road just before Leicester that I found myself camped in a forest.
It wasn’t until I laid down in my tent that I knew I had made a mistake. I couldn’t lift my left leg to my chest without a wincing pain and my right knee was progressively getting worse. I couldn’t sleep, the days ride rolling over through my mind. Why did I keep going? What am I trying to prove? Why didn’t I follow my own advice and enjoy the ride and ignore the numbers? I eventually drifted off to sleep, hoping by some miracle, I would be fine and ready to get home in the morning.
I awoke at 5 am and the miracle didn’t come. I packed up my camp and loaded my bike and set off pushing the bike through the forest and back to the path I had left the night before. Lifting the bike over braches I felt the aches, lifting my left leg without my own hands to aid wasn’t an option. This was not good. I decided to get to Leicester City centre and decide my fate.
Maybe It would pedal out and I could progress. Simple, I would get some breakfast and a coffee, feel great and leave all the pain behind me.
The short ride to the city was not fun. Every rotation on the bike was now hurting on each leg. So much so that I was visibly wincing and scrunching my face in pain when I had to climb a small hill or perform a standing start at a traffic light.
There was only one option. To scratch, to concede to defeat, to call it a day, to admit I had been stupid and get a train. What a nightmare. It was (and on reflection, still is) a horrible feeling having to give up on an adventure because you have made a mistake. It is one thing to scratch a ride with a mechanical but when you know you have messed up, that’s a whole new ball game. I felt angry.
Thankfully the trains to London were regular so after a quick exploration of Leicester’s most historic buildings and monuments, I was on my way back and in London before lunch.
I was soon faced with my next issue. Cycling from central London, home. I have never experienced anything like it. Not sure if it was the fact I have now accepted my fate and the fact I was injured, or it was because it was sat on a train for the past couple of hours but the pain seemed to intensify. Nothing was broken, I was sure of that but with each stroke of the pedal, it felt as if my legs were on fire.
The route from London would normally take me in between 30-50 minutes. On this occasion, it took me nearly two hours. My front door couldn’t come soon enough and it did thankfully. I put the bike in the shed and jumped straight into the bath. What a day!
It is now a few days after my return and I am still in a bit of discomfort. The bike is locked away and my only friends are called Yoga and walking. The worst thing about all of this is my self-disappointment, I let myself down. I have ridden for long enough to know that I should have taken it easy on my first day back. I was overcome with the excitement of a new adventure and ignored the signs.
Whilst I am still processing my mistakes and learning from these I also have to be happy with the choice I made on the day. That was the sensible and right thing to do and who knows what would have happened if I had attempted to ride the remaining 118 miles back to London with the same aches.
It is a tough one to take, the lessons are clear and sometimes, I am my own worst enemy.
My plan now, REST. I will hopefully be back in work within the next week, so my focus is shifting. My second year of University also starts in a matter of weeks so, all in all, I will be back into some sort of ‘normality’.
Planning for my next short adventure is already underway, somewhat prematurely I would agree but I love bikepacking so I just can’t help it. Wales is still very much on my radar but as Winter in the U.K is around the corner maybe this will have to wait.
As always, thanks for taking the time to read my rambles. If you have any questions or comments leave them using the reply box below or via the social.
This may seem obvious but not planning your route could be catastrophic. Gone are the days where we spend the majority of our time, face down looking at a map, reading the stars or the height or the sun to lead us home (If you can do this, more power to you!) Applications such as Ride With GPS, Komoot and Strava offer route planning services that allow you to plan a route in minutes.
Personally, as a recent convert. Komoot is my mapping service of choice. The ease at which the application allows you to plan a route is second to none (This is not a paid advertisement). The major high-5 feature for me is the ‘Sport’ selection. Choosing your ‘Sport’ whilst planning a ride allows the automated service to choose the paths accordingly. ‘Sport’ selections such as road and gravel cycling, mountaineering and hiking will all throw up different route choices, as you would expect.
Knowledge is power.
Assuming you’re reading this as a fellow cyclist, the type of ride you choose will depend on what bike you have and the riding you are used to. No one wants to turn down an unknown single track to be faced by downhills in abundance, with wheel buckling stones the size of small cars on a brand new aero speed machine with 25mm slicks.
As an example, my route planning process is as follows;
Select Sport – MTB, Gravel or Road.
Select Fitness level.
Pinpoint the ride start location.
Pinpoint the ride end location.
Edit the middle of the route to suit my riding and to pinpoint any specific locations I want to see along the way. Coffee, cake and architecture are normally my priority.
Save the route and have a break. With a fresh mind and eyes, go back through the route and make changes should I see fit.
I have done it and if you’re reading this as a fellow cyclist, I am going to say there is a good chance you have too. Setting off on a bike ride with a squeaky chain might be up there (along with loud eaters in the cinema) as being the most annoying sound in the world. The high pitched, face scrunching, sound of forgetfulness will not only remove all the enjoyment from the first pedal strokes of the adventure but if you’re cycling with friends, may also destroy your friendship.
If you look after your bike, the bike will look after you.
Clean your bike after every ride, or at least every every second ride. Doing this will not only allow your bike to run smoother and longer but it will look better! it will also give you a chance to get up close and personal with every aspect of the bike. If there is a defect, there is a good chance you will see it.
Whilst cleaning the bike you can do some quick checks;
Are the tires in good enough condition?
Are the brakes in good condition?
Do the Gears change smoothly and without jumping?
This list can go on and on. Thankfully, we now live in the Youtube age. I am pretty sure this website holds the secrets to eternal life, somewhere hidden within the puppy and people falling over videos. If you’re not sure, look it up.
Invest the time to learn how to care for your bike in the comfort of your home before you’re stuck on a mountain.
Learning to look after your bike is a great way to prepare yourself for a bikepacking trip. Things such as indexing your gears, tightening your brakes, changing a tire or even replacing a spoke may seem like issues only a trained mechanic can handle but in reality, these issues should not be out of reach if you’re looking to embark on a bikepacking adventure.
Don’t get me wrong, I still use a trained mechanic when I need a full service and when I get stumped, but knowing things such as the previously mentioned gives me peace of mind when out on the road.
Packing for a bikepacking trip is nerve raking. I still remember the feeling I had when I packed for the first trip and it was exciting, terrifying and confusing.
Make a list, double it, add some more then, remove most of it.
Once again, the great 20th century time consumer, which is the internet, will fill you with ideas, what to take and what not to take. At the end of the day, the only person who really knows, is you. You are the one undertaking the ride.
Assuming you have planned the route and you know how many stops you have along the way, you can pack accordingly. For example, if you’re traveling from one side of the UK to another you don’t have to pack anymore than two days’ food on the bike, if that. Compare that to cycling across the Nullabor Desert or across the Atlas Mountains, your itinerary should depend on the ride location and condition.
My bikepacking setup consists of the following;
Sleeping Equipment. (Tent, sleeping mat, etc.)
Cooking and Eating Equipment (Camping stove, utensils, etc.)
Bike Spares, Electrics & First Aid (Inner tubes, pumps, chargers and cables, plasterers and bandages, etc.)
Food (evening meals and daily snacks, etc.)
Clothes (waterproofs, spare clothes and evening clothes, etc.)
As mentioned previously, this changes from ride to ride and has naturally adapted over time as I have done more bikepacking. Originally, I carried a lot more spare clothes, now I have removed these and utilise the space for more food, winner!
Making a list of all your items and braking the list down into three parts will really help you out.
Essential Items. (Sleeping, etc.)
Non Essential Items. (Spare clothes, etc.)
Luxury Items. (Books, etc.)
Sometime in March 2020, I was returning from a ride on my road bike. There was nothing special about the ride, I put down some good miles and the sun was shining. However, around 10 miles from my house, I climbed straight onboard the Bonk train.
I managed to get to the end of my road, feeling weak and shaky, I stumbled into the shop. Entering into my own supermarket sweep edition of the Bonk, I grabbed a can of coke, a pack of jelly babies and a magnum ice cream and swayed out of the door. I sat outside next to my bike, much to the amusement of the bewildered members of the public and a dog with a stare of acknowledgement. I consumed the lot. Then and only then, was then ready to embark on the three minute ride home.
This story is nothing new to anyone who is into endurance sports. The sight of the Brownlee brothers crossing the line in arms is an image that will stay with most people forever.
The bonk is real, and it will get you.
Managing your calorie intake comes with practise and knowing your own limits. The general rule of thought however, is to eat and drink before you need it. This is all made easier now if you’re using a heart rate monitor and a GPS unit such a Wahoo. This will tell you during your ride how many calories you have burnt, you need to replace them all if not, a good portion of these. However for those without such things a few tricks I use to remember;
Eat and drink something every 30 minutes.
Eat and drink something after every big hill.
Eat and drink something after every town, village or city.
It is not easy to be constantly eating during the day, even more so when your only consumption is coming from energy bars or gels. Your stomach will not thank you for it after a long ride. A varied, sensible diet is essential.
A few good foods and drinks I like to ride with / rescue me.
Trail mix. Nuts and fruits are a miracle worker when you hear the Bonk train ahead.
Chocolate Milk. Calories and liquid. The dream!
Cereal Bars. Alongside energy bars such as Cliff Bars this gives you a good variety whilst on the road.
Energy powder mixed with drinks. This makes the calorie consumption a lot easier to keep up with.
I am pretty sure that Strava, however good the application is at tracking fitness and personal achievements, is the cause of a lot of stress within the cycling community.
Guilty as charged! I often find myself cycling around the streets near my home after a ride, pushing up that number to make it a solid 60, 70 or 80 miles.
However, that is not Bikepacking or how I see it anyway. Bikepacking is an experience. The opportunity to ride through towns and villages far and wide, over moorland and mountain passes with eye watering views, meeting people for the first time and sharing a joke, eating something new (hopefully cake) and even filtering your own water from a stream. These are things that should be treasured and not flitted away down in the depths of statistician’s notebooks.
Take your time, look around and embrace the moment.
Now that I am a few rides into my bikepacking life, I know how many miles I can comfortably do a day and because of that I don’t put pressure on myself to achieve this. If I see something along the way that interests me, an old barn, a look out spot, a farmers market in a historic village, I will stop and enjoy the moment. I would advise you to do the same. It is a learning process, and a fun one.
Obviously, if you’re taking part in a bikepacking ultra race, I don’t advise stopping at the farmers market at the historic village. The queue for the hand sanitiser at the entrance alone is a bit of a task. Then, the ordeal of reaching the coffee stall only to have to wait for the attendant to stop having a laugh with the people in the next stall before they serve you. It really won’t do your time any good.
However, if you’re just bikepacking. Do it. Enjoy yourself! Stop and laugh with the stall owners. That is why we all ride, isn’t it?
What are your top tips?
I would love to hear your own tips for bikepacking or cycling in general. Leave them in the comments below.
I reached the top of the marshland climb, now in the shadow of the mountain before me.Tired, exasperated and weary. I finally spotted a gravel path up to the summit. The gravel however, on closer inspection wasn’t anything of the sort. Rocks and pebbles filled the path leading up the steepest part of the ascent where steps carved out of the rock took over. With the front fork in my right hand and my rear fork in my left I bent down and hoisted the bike on my bike. This is the only way I would reach the summit.
Over the past month, I have vacated my home in London and have been living in Yorkshire. Living between two family homes. One in a small village hidden in the Yorkshire Dales and the other just on the outskirts of the sometimes posh town of Harrogate. I have been spending my time enjoying the company of my family. A far cry from the hustle and bustle of London and riding my bike, a long way and quite often.
I have made it my mission to use my time away from work as productively as possible. Whether that was by bikepacking my way from London to Yorkshire (read about that journey HERE), starting this website to document my adventures, reading more books or simply enjoying what the local pie shop has to offer after a ride.
The Yorkshire Dales, is the heartland of the United Kingdom and a place I call home. The rugged, harsh, wild and picturesque landscapes, stretching across the middle of the country I was born in leaves anyone with a sense of adventure wanting more. Heather and moss colour the mountain tops, rare birds find their homes here and sheep outnumber humans. Their white bodies paint the fields in between the once bustling industrial trails far into the horizon (Sheep that is, not pale Yorkshire farmers). It is a far cry from my usual cycling spots in the Surrey Hills.
Since being in Yorkshire, I have covered over 400 miles and just shy of 42,000ft of elevation (the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest and then some), I have found abandoned lead mines, roads built by the Roman Empire, Stone Circles once used by The Druids, Viaducts built by 18th century engineering pioneers, waterfalls and rock pools formed by millions of years of erosion and tectonic movement and mountains my friends, lots of mountains.
I have really enjoyed exploring this area so when I saw the ARAF Trigonnee challenge on Instagram, I was all for it. The concept, simple enough, you have 24 hours to reach as many Trig points as possible. A challenge that would allow me to see more of this landscape with prizes. Win, win!
What the hell is a trig? Wikipedia – “A triangulation station, also known as a triangulation pillar, trigonometrical station, trigonometrical point, trig station, trig beacon, or trig point, and sometimes informally as a trig, is a fixed surveying station, used in geodetic surveying and other surveying projects in its vicinity.”
In layman terms – Historically, in order to map out a new town or village, trig points (concrete pillars) with metal tops used for attached theodolites (A optical instrument used to measure distances and angles) were installed on the largest, most advantageous mountains in the area. The trig points, used in triangulation with each other would give the surveyor the measurements needed to begin his planning. These days, trig points are not used for planning towns and villages, they are now used to plan walking, running routes and cycling routes.
I set about planning my route using Komoot, alongside a map I found noting the trig points in the Yorkshire Dales. I pinpointed a location in which the most trig points fell in the smallest radius possible making the ride achievable, or so I thought. My target, 18-19 trigs in 24 hours. I decided my best option would be to drive to the village in the centre of the trig points and use this as my base. The car I would use would become my own personal re-fuel centre. A very similar plan to the one I used when cycling 311 miles in 24 hours for charity in 2019 and one that worked a treat. (Read about that challenge HERE)
The night before the ride, I stocked the car full of food and water and other bits and bobs that I may need (Chocolate milk and Jelly babies being the most advantageous). I cleaned the bike, did some small checks and decided I was ready to go.
My alarm sprung into action at 3am on the day of the ride, the weather man informed me it was to be one of the hottest of the year and it was already starting to feel that way. I arrived at the small village of Horton in Ribblesdale at around 4am and unpacked the bike, loaded it up with food and spares and pushed my first pedal strokes down the winding Yorkshire lanes. By my calculations, I figured I would be able to get five trig points done and get back to my car for an early lunch, have a rest, refuel and set off for another few hours, I would continue to do this until reaching my goal.
I reached Moughton, my first Trig point at 5:30am, the sun was rising over the Dales in the distance, moody blues and romantic yellows painted the skyline and I was very surprised at how bright it was. I should have set off much earlier. I took my pictures (A picture was needed for each trig point for the competition) with an air of confidence, one down, another 19 to go. My second trig point, however, was not so easy. It took me an hour to reach Sulbur and it soon became clear that all notions of this being achievable may have been a slight underestimate. The route to Sulbur was simple enough, follow the walking trails to the top of the hill. However, what Komoot does not take into account and more importantly what I did not take into account when planning this route were the pre-existing ground conditions.
The day before Trigonee 2020, a thunderstorm hit the Yorkshire Dales, dark clouds surrounding the quaint villages and it rained for hours on end. I was quite happy sitting inside watching the weather safe in the knowledge that tomorrow would be beautiful clear skies.
Well, it turns out using some simple mathematical equations, I shouldn’t have been so happy;
Rain + Moorland = Marshland.
Marshland + Bike + Human = Very hard.
Very hard + Very Warm Weather = Extremely Hard
Extremely hard + Mountain Climbing = Oh, well you get the idea!
The ascent to Sulbar was hard fought. The trail, sodden from the rain the day before, punished me with every pedal stroke. The slow trudge to the top expended my energy. I reached the top of the trail tired and in need of replenishment. At the summit of the mountain, I looked around and saw my next challenge. In order to reach the trig point I had to traverse the once ancient glazier. Now a scarred Limestone ground for at least 500m.
The Limestone ground shaped by years of erosion lay before me, cravasis between the stones awaiting the ankles of adventurers. The hidden microclimates between these housing rare flowers, the only remnants of the once ancient woodlands that once stood in this location. It wasn’t possible to push the bike over this. It would take far too long. My only option was to carry the bike over. I bent down and picked up the bike, tentatively I progressed. The pedal digging into my back, my arms bent back trying to balance the weight and with all I had, hoping from one rock to another, planning two rocks in advance making sure, hoping, I was as careful enough to avoid injury. This was a different type of adventure, my heartbeat was racing. After some time, I reached the trig point and admired the views. My breath returned after a few deep breaths and some welcome food and water. I relaxed for all of two minutes before looking back to where I had come from. That was my only way down.
The descent on this occasion was much faster than the ascent however my brakes didn’t enjoy it much. I carried the bike over the Limestone to the marshland and held on for dear life. The trail was fast and yes, furious. Avoiding the big rocks was the easy part, holding a good line on the sodden marshland was the challenge. My bike with tires suitable for gravel and road enjoyed the skidding more than I. The bike started creaking and making new noises. The wheels rolled over more and more rock formations and pebble paths, the steel frame flexing to keep up with the speeds and my bones shaking with every bump, my confidence was now taking a battering. Maybe undertaking such a route on a Gravel specific bike was not a great choice. Some suspension would have gone a long way in preserving my energy. Then came the squeak. There isn’t a lot in this world that annoys me but a squeaking bike is one of them. The high pitched moan following my ride now. I jumped off and applied some chain lube, hoping that would be the end of it.
Ingleborough was my next stop and following my route, I continued to follow the walking paths of the Pennine Way and now onto the Three Peaks route.
Turns out, this is when I met my nemesis. A climb that in hindsight, was unneeded, unwarranted and could have been easily avoided if I had spent a little bit more time planning the route.
But before I began this wonderful climb, there was just time to stop and wonder at Gaping Gill. Hidden in the southern shadows of Ingleborough, Gaping gill is a natural Limestone cave which holds Britain’s largest unbroken waterfall. The cave with a 98m deep descent was discovered and first descended in the 18th century. I stopped to look down, it was a long way. The waterfall sounded beautiful. I wanted to spend more time here. I looked at my route, and I had a long way to go. The Gill will have to wait for another day.
For a mile I followed the trail upwards, leaving the Gill behind and advancing to the Ingleborough summit. The sodden ground, much wetter than before obviously all fed into the waterfall I just left. This was on another level. My tires sank and squelched with every rotation. The ground, grasping at my wheels with every turn. My legs, now burning with the pressure brought on a sudden feeling of disappointment and anger, I wondered what the hell I was doing. In the distance I saw walkers, strolling along with ease up the trail to the summit of Ingleborough on what looked like a gravel path and with a quick zoom out of my Wahoo map, I realised this was the path I had to reach. That was the path my map had previously told me to leave, that was the path I should be on. I had just done a big loop of the area for no reason and spent most of my energy doing so. I laughed it off with gritted teeth, put some music on and pushed and pulled my way to the much needed solid ground.
I reached the top of the marshland climb, my thighs burning and my mouth dry, tired, exasperated and weary. I paused and looked back on the now naturous climb and shook my first. I was now in the shadow of the mountain before me. The path I reached however, on closer inspection wasn’t anything of the nice gravel accent I dreamed of just minutes before. Large Rocks and loose pebbles filled the path leading up the steepest part of the ascent. I attempted to ride as much as I could before the gradient looked up and my tires spun on the loose ground. It was that time again. And with the front fork in my right hand and my rear fork in my left I bent down and hoisted the bike on my back. This is the only way I would reach the summit. However this time, it was a long way, and upwards.
After half a mile I reached the steepest part of the ascent, now my progression was in the form of steps carved out of the rock face sometimes half a meter tall. I progressed slowly and carefully, every lunge awaking my muscles from my ankles to my neck. As a cyclist my legs take a good amount of battering so I am used to this but what I am not used to is carrying around 16kg of weight on my bike whilst doing so. A whole new level of pain and adventure.
The heat, more noticeable now as it reflected off the rock face became a contributing factor in my speed. The temperature was a steady 28 degrees and the sweat was falling from my face to the ground in front of me. Walkers, passing me in the opposite direction gave me a nod and a smile as they passed. A fell runner, notably one of the most craziest of all endurance sports due to its list of injuries that occur on a daily basis with the athletes told me;
“You’re carrying that all the way to the top? You’re a bloody nutter”
My confidence then took a turn, maybe I wouldn’t reach my target for the day, maybe I would just reach half of what I had intended but that was OK, this was a challenge, an adventure. Yes, I was a bit of a nutter and I was enjoying it. I had a new sense of energy and with that, I climbed to the summit.
I received more looks of bewilderment from onlookers as I pedaled the bike to the trig point and took my pictures. I reached the summit of Ingleborough (723m or 2,372 ft) in just under four hours since my last trig point. The panoramic views from the top were incredible. The wind, more than a soft breeze threatening to blow my bike out of my hands, the lush Yorkshire valleys below created by historic floods now filled with wildlife blossomed in the now late morning sun. it was a special feeling. The sense of achievement overwhelmed me a few seconds before I looked at my map. Again, I had to get down the same way I got up.
Once again, with the bike on my back, I started to make my descent. A passing walker asked me which route I was taking, noting that one of them was not advisable due to it being so sodden and as an experienced walker would strongly advise against it. Well, guess what. Turns out that was my route.
The sharp descent made it exhilarating and scary, wide enough only to fit my bike at times and had a sheer drop on one side of more than 100ft. I had to keep calm and focus, the bike was now skipping gears and I didnt have space to jump off to look at it so I plowed on using only one gear. On my way down, I reached my fourth trig of the day. I took my pictures and continued descending down through the farmland. The track was so steep it was more like riding a competitive downhill MTB race against myself. I weaved down the mountain from left to right, skidding my way down the saturated ground down the next road. The road, leading to my car.
I reached the car at around 1:30pm. Myself and my bike covered head to toe in mud, my back aching from the hiking, my arms feeling like they’re ready to be shook away from my body, my legs feeling as though I had ridden for a solid 100-200 mile ride. I was beaten up. However, I wasn’t ready to give up. I decided I would climb another of Yorkshire’s Three Peaks and then make a decision. Pen-y-Gent was my target and after a short break, I set off.
My bike, however, decided to call it a day. The noises, more regular now or maybe it was more noticeable as I was on flat tarmac roads. The gears skipping at every opportunity. I stopped and tried to index but it wasn’t possible. My lightest gears, used for climbing, wouldn’t work, there was a larger issue afoot.
Beaten, battered, bruised and covered in mud, I was defeated in the Trig battle.
I loaded the car and took the bike to the local bike shop who proceeded to tell me I shouldn’t be riding on it. Turns out, due to all the riding and the 42,000 ft of climbing I have done recently I was more than my legs that took a battering. My chain was about to snap, the tension created in climbing the great Yorkshire Mountains had taken its toll, my cassette, trying to keep up with the changing tension had seen a lot of better days and the only remains of back brake pads were but a whisper and my bottom bracket was barely but a dream. I booked the bike in to be repaired, cringing at the thought of another bike bill and headed home.
Looking back on this day, I was quite disappointed at the time. I really thought I had a chance of making it to at least 15 trigs. However, upon reflection and removing the fact I now have a looming bike bill, I feel positive, I am putting it down to one hell of an adventure and a learning experience. I only wish I had taken more time to enjoy the views and taken more pictures and videos.
The things I will take away most from this are that route planning, route knowledge and attention to detail with bike maintenance should not be overlooked and if anything more time should be spent on each of these over the course of many days before an event. Not two days before.
It is not enough to trust applications alone. Whilst they’re wonderful and helped me plan a good outline of a route, I should have spent more time researching the route and making each section more adaptable for unforeseen circumstances such as thunderstorms the night before etc. The time I spent traveling from trig to trig via farmland, was on its own a huge expense. Not only in time but in effort and energy. My time would have been better spent traveling on roads in between these.
Listening to the advice of bike racers such as James Mark Hayden (2x winner of the Trans Continental Race) would have been a great start. In Jame’s recent podcast with Bikes or Death (I highly recommend this podcast!) he talks about his meticulous planning when it comes to routes, sometimes creating two or three routes per section. I remember listening to this podcast and feeling inspired. However, somewhere along the line I forgot to put it into action. It won’t be happening again.
Or maybe I am taking it too seriously. It’s just a bike ride after all and hell, I had a great time and have made some great memories!
I have also now acquired a new personal challenge. Once I get my bike back, to attempt to ride the all of the Yorkshire Three Peaks in 24 hours. An achievable ride, one that includes much of the riding or should I say, hiking of this day but with some better planning one I am confident in completing.
Once the United Kingdom, along with the rest of the world was put on hold due to the Coronavirus pandemic, everything in my world stopped. I was about to begin a new job, a job that would have been a big step up in my career and opened many doors in the future. Once lockdown was announced. The contract was canceled. Limbo, my friends, a great big pile of limbo.
My former employer, whom I worked with for nearly three years didn’t want to know. They refused me any help, refused to re-employ me and put me on furlough which would have cost the company nothing. All in all, a pretty big kick in the face for me following years of hard work and putting my heart into the company and watching it grow.
My studies within the industry continue. I am currently undertaking a Historic Building Conservation Degree course. I had coursework due, so on top of all the news encapsulating the world, the news of global death tolls reaching my eyes and ears everyday, world governments seemingly more interested in saving and/or making money rather than saving lives, I became increasingly despondent and completing my coursework was a task on its own.
On top of all this, living in London, my closest family member of my immediate family was around 300 miles away. For three months my only contact was text and video calls and whilst I am in no doubt that this is better than nothing, It was, and has been a hard time.
I completed all my coursework on time and decided it was time to leave London. There was nothing keeping me here now. I have been applying for work and have been contacted on numerous occasions but the building industry is slow to start and more specifically, the historic building industry and the prominent buildings I work on. There is enough red tape surrounding the jobs now with social distancing that you could wrap christmas presents for a lifetime. So, until I got something concrete (pun intended) I decided to go home.
Komoot was my app of choice this time. Following the success on my recent trip to The White Cliffs of Dover, I decided to only use this app. I chose a start point, my house in London and an end point. My family home in the Yorkshire Dales. I then delved deep into the route and adapted to suit my riding. I wanted gravel and single track, villages and towns not main roads and cities. It didn’t take me long. Alongside Komoot, I use a Wahoo ROAM. This alone has opened up my riding to more adventure. If I veer off track the ROAM will automatically route you back which is a game changing feature and one I use on every ride.
It was then a waiting game for the great British weather to give me the go ahead. Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait long and the next weekend it looked ideal. The day before setting off I shopped for some essentials, cereal bars, energy gels, cup-a-soups and anything light and small that would give me sustainable energy on the road. Then it was the bike’s turn, handlebar bag, frame bag, seat post bag and cargo bags loaded and full. I was ready.
3:30 am the next day my alarm woke me up from a deep sleep in my London bedroom, the house is dark and eerie, everyone was asleep, I crept downstairs to get a final feed. Porridge with fruit and yogurt and a fresh coffee. I double checked the bike, I triple checked the bike, I attached the lights and the wahoo, I squeezed the tires for the 50th time that morning. I could have forgotten something but the sun is coming up, I check the weather, maybe showers, should I wait? I stop myself making excuses and leave the house. I complete the hardest mile, the doorstep mile. I roll down the road, Yorkshire here I come.
My route out of London was a delight. Away from the roads, I followed the canals paths North-West from my house. I had no idea this was possible. This is why I chose an application like Komoot, they have somehow managed to gain enough data from around the world to ensure you only ride the surfaces you want to. Pretty bloody good if you ask me.
It was early morning, a faint fog lingered on the rolling canal, sporadic fisherman lined the bank hoping to catch something to brag about. I raced passed on the gravel, the sun was breaking through and it felt good to be back on the bike with an adventure ahead.
I reached Buckinghamshire. the sky changed, the sun had different thoughts now as it hid behind the darkening clouds. The smell of damp gravel and grass filled the air. I smelt the rain was coming. I emerged from a canal path and looked to my left. Apocalyptic cloud formations ahead, time to get the jacket on.
Reaching the historic village of Chenies in the Chiltern District of England, I was just in time. The village famous for its royal history, notably where both King Edward I and King Edward II were known to have resided, was now my emergency residence. The sky filled and poured with rain, I took shelter in the bus stop. Was this going to last all day? I hoped not. I had a cereal bar and some water and looked at the buildings. Beautiful brickwork lined the streets. I wonder what the Edwards’ would say if they saw me now?
Continuing on through Buckinghamshire and onto another sleepy town, this time Winslow, a farmers market kept the locals entertained. I sat and enjoyed my second coffee of the day. A strange mix of 50’s blues music and “buy one get on free’” noise encompassed the market. I sat and watched the world go by enjoying how utterly bizarre it was.
Stowe School, just outside of Winslow was established in 1923 is a private boarding school. A building designed very much with Palladio in mind is now cared for by the National Trust along with the school board. Sir Richard Branson was schooled here. Unfortunately, you are not normally allowed to take bikes into the grounds, but on this occasion, as I was passing through and I am assuming due to the pandemic, very few staff manned the gate. I peddled on. I had a lovely bike ride, took some pictures, got some questionable looks from onlookers and continued on my journey.
It was getting to that time of the day now, I had put down some good opening miles so I decided that once I found a good spot I would begin shut down for the day. It was then, just outside a town called Kelmarsh, I found the tunnels.
The first, approximately a mile long carved under the road and through the rock face, large enough to fit pedestrians and bikes and maybe a single car but nothing more. Filled with darkness. Not the kind of darkness you get when you close your curtains, this was pitch black. Entering the tunnel all you can see is the exit at the other side. The exit, the size of my little finger at this point was the only source of light. Realising this, I reached to turn my front light on, nope. The light was gone, I must have lost it during the single track riding. I just had to go for it, hoping for the best.
My legs progressed tentatively, my senses alert to every small bump on the gravel floor, I could hear people but couldn’t see them. The musty atmosphere seemed never ending. I can only compare it to a rollercoaster, flying blindly into a tunnel when you have no idea what is coming next. However, at least on these you have some resemblance of safety. My hearing flattened, the hairs on my arms stood up, my face became tense. I had no option but to go towards to light. I pushed forward focusing on the light coming towards me, slowly growing with every push. The bike was shaking, or was that me? I continued. The exit came and a let out a sigh of relief.
Riding a further couple of miles along the cycle way, I came to the second. I stopped at the entrance. I took a breath and rode in, immediately surrounded by darkness, my eyes raced to catch up with my brain, my hands squeeze the handlebars and my legs turn slowly. Voices at the end, people with small lights approaching and the sound of dripping from the rock above. I press on, bumping up and down with every undulation. Emerging from the end, I prized my hands from my handlebars and let out a sigh of relief.
Thinking back to these now, it was an amazing experience! Sure, riding with lights would have been a good idea, a safe idea, but where is the fun in that.
I pushed on for a few more hours, metally rejuvenated from the tunnels. The wind was really starting to pick up now. Everytime I turned towards the West I was exposed to the blistering head winds. My legs were telling me to stop. I found a field and camped. As my tent fought with the wind, the sheep in the neighboroughing field heard the commotion and came to watch. I closed my eyes. It had been a great day.
The wind didn’t stop all night, I woke up shifting in my sleeping bag wishing for a couple of hours of peace. Like a proud father, I patted the wall of the tent and thanked it for keeping me warm(ish). I got up and made food around 4am. Back on the road at 5am. I was excited for what the day had in store. Yesterday was up there with my favourite days bikepacking.
Leaving my field hostel for the night I was gifted with another glorious sunrise. Standing in awe looking down the valley I had to capture the moment.
Much like my first day I didn’t have any targets, as I didn’t have an in depth route planned, I didn’t want to put pressure on myself. I wanted to experience the ride. This, thankfully is exactly what I did. The route took me once again along canal towpaths and through fields. The only indication of the trail highlighted by the gaps in the growing corn.
After pressing north for some time, I reached woodland. A lot of woodland, in fact, I reached Sherwood Forest. Famous for its historic association with Robin Hood, Sherwood Forest National Nature Reserve encompasses 423.2 hectares (1,046 acres). Reportedly, the forest attracts over 350,000 people each year from around the world and thankfully, given the recent situation that number was significantly lower today.
The winding tracks in and out of the trees spark the brain into action, bird song fills the air, the trees battling with the winds above me seem to be attempting to blow England over to Europe (if only). Thousands of wildflowers burst into life on either side of my wheels, the floor crunching with every rotation.
I take it in, I devour the moment like it’s my last, I stop to take pictures. I look around and wonder what it must have been like to discover this place, unknowing of your surroundings or the outside world. I imagine the thought process behind writing the story Robin Hood and if I was on the same paths as they once, figuratively stood. Simply magical!
It wasn’t long before I had reached a town situated horizontal on the map to Doncaster. All day I had been enjoying the ride and now, my mindset changed. It was 3 or 4 pm and by my calculations (Bare in mind, I left school with no GCSE’s) I figured if I pushed on I may be able to reach my Dad’s house which is just outside of Harrogate, by the end of the day. The thought excited me! I haven’t seen my Dad for months, he has had a hard time during the lockdown also, due to his pre-existing condition called COPD he is on the ‘At Risk’ register in England and has been self isolation for over 130 days, on his own. I called my dad and told him my plans, he sounded tired and surprised. I wasn’t supposed to arrive for another day.
Excited by the thought of a warm place to sleep and a pizza my legs came back to life, thumping down on the pedals I started to see more and more street signs I recognised from my childhood. I was nearly home.
I reached my Dad’s house around 7:30 pm that evening. It was a special moment to see him and to see him so happy. I ditched the bike and jumped in the shower. Once out a pizza was already in the oven. I slept well that night.
The next morning feeling refreshed I was safe in the knowledge that I would reach my family home with most of the day to spare. I have ridden harder and further than I had before in the past couple of days leaving only 40 miles to my final destination.
I waved to my Dad as he stood on the doorstep and pressed on, crossing the bridge over the Nidd Gorge and headed north, finally into the Yorkshire Dales. If you have ridden this area before you will know that a short 40 mile ride is never a short 40 mile ride. The Yorkshire Dales has hills. On top of these hills, there are hills and below these hills, there are hills. It is stunningly brutal. Villages built from local sandstone line my route and vistas of farmland, as far as the eye can see. Colours seem to be more vibrant here. Maybe it’s the air, the lack of pollution, maybe I was just excited to be home. Maybe I was just tired, it is beautiful.
I reached my destination exactly at 10 am. I was ready for a rest and to my shame left the bike in the garage untouched. It was amazing to see more of my family away from a computer screen.
Once again, I had planned the ride to be longer than it was, Initially I planned an extra day. I need to change my mindset and stop underestimating myself. I now know that I can ride 100-150 miles a day quite easy and in comfort.
There are a few things I need to change on the bike, new lights and maybe a different handlebar set up. On my person there are various kit changes that are needed. My shorts are growing holes, my jerseys are seen many many miles.
Until I can source an income these things will have to wait.
For now, it’s about the adventure. Smiles over miles.
The day before this trip began, I awoke not knowing that within 24 hours I would be looking out upon the ocean wondering how far my bike would take me. It was only the night before, looking at the weather forecast that I decided, It was time to pack the bike.
This would be my second ever bikepacking trip, following my adventure along The South Downs Way.
I have already begun to realise what is essential whilst on the road and what is not, what is worth that extra space in the bags or what I can do without.. More space for food, less space for clothes seemed to be the common theme.
The aim of this ride was to see The White Cliffs of Dover for the first time in my life. As a 32 year old English man, that’s quite an impressive and embarrassing statement. The White Cliffs of Dover are a testament to the ruggedness and beauty of the English coastline. Facing France, The white chalk cliffs stretch for around 8 miles around the fishing town of Dover and reach a staggering height of 350 feet (110m) in places. During the second world war, soldiers arriving from the great evacuation of Dunkirk are said to have been welcomed by the sight of the cliffs whilst reporters gathered on the cliffs wishing them a safe return, watching the aerial battles above them between the German and British aircrafts.
I used various apps and websites to research a route. Seeking out local knowledge and previous rides logged on applications such as Komoot and Strava. I stitched a route together that suited my adventurous style of riding. I estimated I would take between four to five days to complete. However, that was loose. Bikepacking or Bike Touring, however you would like to call it is about the experience not the times or the miles.
I endeavour to make this my rule – smiles over miles!
I woke up at 3:30 am the next day, and had my now customary bowl of porridge with fruit and yogurt and a fresh cup of coffee. A staple for a pre-ride I have come to learn. I attached my Wahoo, my lights and myself to the bike and began to pedal. Dover, here I come.
The first day, I left the hustle and bustle of London life and headed south into Surrey to pick up the first of my stitched together routes. The trails of Surrey and the hills surrounding this area deserve a blog post on their own, the place is full of adventure. I was soon greeted by one of the vistas that makes the place so special. As I pushed up the gravel track to Reigate hill, opened and closed the gate behind me and looked to my right. The sunshine cleared the sky before me, the horizon stretching over the towns and villages in the valley below and onwards to The South Downs, remembering the times I had there just weeks ago. It was a nice moment.
As the Great British summer time settles in to provide yet another season of roulet weather, the colours are changing. Lush greens dominate the landscape, splashing of dark yellows pinpoint the growing corn fields and dashes of warm reds notify me of the poppies in their infancy. It is hard not to fall in love with the country I inhabit.
Following National Cycle Routes (NCN’s), through farmers fields and small quaint English villages that all seemed to be surrounded by hills. I continued, my legs were feeling it after around 6 hours on the bike. I decided it was a good time to begin the hunt for a campsite and somewhere to fill up on water for the night.
I found such a place in a sleepy village called Hollingbourne. I reached the village just as the shelfs were being packed down for the night in the local shop. I couldn’t help but raid the fresh pastry section for a little post ride treat! I was soon chatting with the owner of the shop and explaining my ride. Impressed at my efforts it was suggested that camping up on the meadow at the top of the village would be fine. What a win! A campsite right next to the local shop, this had worked out great. I would return in the morning for a coffee.
Thanking the shop owner, I jumped on my bike and headed up the small winding road to the meadow, hopped over a fence and peddled to the upper most corner, there was no one around, the sun was setting and I was beat. I set up camp. The days tiredness only hits me once I am done for the day, once my brain tells me body you can rest, shut down begins, I only have a short window to set up camp before I am sleeping in a bush.
Camp set, stove boiling and sunset outside my door I laid down to read my book.
It was the dog I heard first, sniffing and rubbing on the tent, then the footsteps and then, the voices. “Hello? Is anyone in there?” said a woman. “Yes, I am” I replied and after a few back and forths between myself and the couple they seemed to be annoyed but walked away. I remember thinking I should pack up the tent and just move, however, shut down had begun and it was an effort now to do anything but lay back and read. I sat with the tent door open and watched through the bush in front of my tent as another person walked past and stared back at me, I smiled but I got no response. I am not sure if they saw me. They were certainly checking out my tent.
Then, a faint buzzing began, louder and louder as it approached and soon overhead. A drone! Someone was watching me. I got out of the tent and waved at the drone but could not see the pilot. This is getting strange now. I just wanted a cup of tea and to sleep and it felt like the world was watching.
More footsteps, approaching the tent directly this time. “Hello, are you in there?” “Yes sir, I am, how can I help?” I peered out of the tent and smiled. It turns out, the man was the custodian of the meadow and that the entire meadow was publicly owned by the village, each person owning a tree following a buyout with the government years ago. As such, it would seem the tree owners are very protective of their land. I explained my trip, my leaving no trace mentality, no fires and that I would be out early in the morning.
Thankfully, he was more impressed by my efforts than annoyed about my camping. We shared a laugh about the situation and he told me that I was currently the talk of the village and pictures of me were all over the local Facebook page, they thought I was moving in. Happy with the outcome, he walked away promising to call off the village, celebrity manhunt and wished me a good night.
It was all very strange, the shutdown was over and I closed my eyes.
The next morning I awoke to a sunrise that matched the sunset, warm reds, purples and yellows filled the sky. The smell of damp, freshly cooked grass filled my tent as I opened up for the old man, stretching and groaning. I was excited for the day ahead, barring anything cataclysmic, I would reach Dover by late morning safe in the knowledge that I was a local celebrity. I wish I had asked to see the Facebook posts. Nevermind, I was packed and back on the bike waving around the town that provided me with a night I will never forget.
I reached Dover around 10am, climbing up the road to reach Dover castle first and then along to the White Cliffs. I somehow managed to get a little bit lost and ended up carrying the bike and myself up graveled steps to the summit.
Once at the top I passed the visitor centre, filled with happy motorcyclists or cheaters as I like to call them and smiling cyclists who have just cycled up the calm winding roads on the other side. Fantastic.
I found the view and stopped. I placed the bike on the ground and sat besides it, like an old couple who had experienced so much we looked out to the ocean. I let out a WOOOOP! I could contain my excitement and sense of achievement. Successfully scaring the passing tourists walking past. I didn’t care, I have done it! I set myself a goal, and I achieved it. There is no better feeling. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath.
The White Cliffs did not disappoint. Pictures do no justice. The atmosphere of the place is why you should visit. The sheer scale of the White Cliffs is immeasurable. The white chalk, stained deep with black flint showing the scarring of years of ocean corrosion. The result of which leaves sharp lines, insteps on which Peregrine Falcons nest, circling the air above, hunting down breakfast at tremendous speeds. They have been clocked at reaching over 200MPH in this area. Their calls are loud and proud over the fields of native wildflowers. The result of all this, a sensory explosion.
Descending down from the cliffs and into Dover, my plan was very loose. I didn’t map the route. It was simple, keep the sea on my left shoulder, push the pedals and if you see something interesting, stop and look. Oh, and keep eating and drinking!
I continued down and passed another very special place called Samphire Hoe, only accessible by an old train line bored out of the white cliffs themselves, closed to the public due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, I sneaked through and had the whole place to myself, more incredible views along the British coast to Folkestone and beyond, It was very tempting to stay here for the night but I decided It was too early to stop. I pushed on.
Following the sea, I passed thousands of people enjoying the weather, laughing, eating, drinking, sunbathing, kitesurfing and swimming. Families making the most of their time together, It was nice to see and it was an even better bike ride. The surface was smooth and the avoidance of people rather than potholes was a welcome change.
I finished my day just outside of Brighton, making the most of the sunshine. I achieved more than I thought possible but enough to ensure that tomorrow I would be able to get home for that recovery pizza. Thankfully, having learnt my lesson from the night before I waited until the sun was very low in the sky before making camp. I found an abandoned pub and pitched in the beer garden. Settled and fed, shut down was fast. I didn’t read, I closed my eyes.
After a solid night’s sleep without any paparazzi at my door, I was once again on the road at 5am heading towards Brighton. The route of the day was one I had done just a few weeks ago during my South Downs Way ride. Once I hit Brighton I jumped onto the old railway lines that link The North Downs and headed…up! I was on my way home.
Brighton is a strange place now, one that seems to be lost and a little left behind. The hotels that were once full of tourists during the 19th century and the seaside boom are now eerily empty. The steel remains of a once great town centrepiece, the pier, stands alone in the ocean a victim of an arsonist attack in 2003. Heading through the town the tram shelters are full of people drinking alcohol and whatever else they fill their time with, the beach was full of rubbish left behind by the sun worshippers of the day before, showing complete disregard for anyone and anything. I was happy to leave.
Once on the old train lines and heading north the route is simple and predominantly flat. Entering back into Surrey the trail changes and from train lines to canal towpaths, locks become the normal. Wonderful symbols of past engineering masterpieces separate the river to ensure safe passage, once for the builders of the industrial revolution and now for weekend adventures.
I reached home with plenty of time to spare. It had been a great trip. I had set out with a target of four to five days and completed it in two and a half. Maybe I should have stopped more, spent more time enjoying the scenery or taking it in, maybe, but I was happy. This is just the beginning of my adventures and it’s good to know where I am at, how long and far I can go, what is needed to do it and how much food I can eat to keep myself upright on the bike.
Planning a bikepacking trip for the first time is not only nerve-racking but it is scary. The unknown. Yes, watching Youtube videos, listening to podcasts and reading blogs is going to help, double-checking all your gear and doing trials is certainly going to stop those little mistakes but how ready can you be heading into the unknown?
Cycling took its firm grip around four years ago, snapping up a second-hand bargain and discovering Richmond Park was my first introduction. Since then I have been hooked and trying to find my ‘niche’. Road riding has taken up most of this time to my great enjoyment. I have been lucky enough to travel up and down the country discovering new roads and last year took part in my first cycling holiday in France.
Being part of a community like cycling has not only introduced me to some life-long friends, it has allowed me to grow physically and been a great output mentally.
Once I became comfortable on the bike I continued to progress with my riding and for the first-time followed training plans. A change was coming. However, I always wanted to challenge myself a bit more than just a Sunday morning ride.
My first opportunity came during a 24-hour endurance bike ride to help raise money for StreetInvest. A charity based in London, helping disadvantaged children around the world. Not only did I manage to raise a staggering amount of money for this cause (£1,205), I completed the ride covering 311 miles in 24hours. I realised that I had the endurance and potential to just, keep going.
It wasn’t long before Bikepacking came to my attention. After falling headfirst into the Youtube wormhole, I was hooked. It was then I discovered the Silk Road Mountain Race and the subsequent podcast covering the race. Every morning on my commute to work I would listen to the story of the riders, how far have they travelled today? What bikes are they riding? How much gear are they carrying? And more importantly…why would these people put themselves through this?
The Silk Road Mountain Race is an unsupported bikepacking race across the wilderness of Kyrgyzstan. 1700 kilometres and 30,500m of climbing. In 2019, Slovakian Jakub Sliacan set a new race record by completing the race in 7 days and 46 minutes. This, as I am sure you will agree, is mind-blowing. Not only that Jakub is superhuman and rode the race with very little sleep but human endurance in general. This caught my attention.
To my detriment on occasions, I am very focused. If I decide I want to do something I will do what I can to make it happen. I will research, I will seek out the people to help me to achieve this. It was about this time I came across the G!RO podcast. Listening to stories from Matt Falconer, racing across the world in the Trans-Continental and Jimmy Ashby who set off & succeeded into cycling the world at 18 years old.
I was inspired! Why can I not do this?
Sensibly, I decided to ease myself in. First on the list – The South Downs Way, noted for its stunning views and potential for bikepackers around the world, this was where I would start.
From the comfort of my home, I worked out a route that would take me from my home in London, down into Winchester. I would then pick up The South Downs Way route from Winchester and head to Brighton where I would pick up the old railway tracks and canal routes back to London. I figured I would be able to do this in four days give or take.
The number of miles did not bother me, the solo riding did not bother me, over the past few weeks with the ongoing C19 saga this was exactly what the doctor ordered. At the same time, I can sing (very badly) to myself for many hours so that wasn’t an issue. This issue was the unknown.
The night before I set off, I slept badly. I knew I was overthinking everything, every little detail. Did I pack my extra light? Do I need to take an extra charger? What happens if both my tires go flat, my seat gets stolen and the world is attacked by aliens? I forced myself to sleep.
On the first day, the weather was forecast was perfect, I had some nervous porridge and coffee and packed my bike. The tyres were inflated and my trusty Wahoo blinking with excitement showing me the directions of my first ever bikepacking adventure.
Leaving the comfort of my home and heading south I was continually surprised by the route. I soon left the busy roads behind me and I was following bridleways and forest routes dodging nettles and thorns like a bike rider from the film The Matrix. It was fun! This is the kind of riding I have been wanting to do, this is an adventure.
The highlight of the day was cycling through The Alice Holt Forest in Hampshire. The beauty of the place was something to behold. Tress as tall as towers, the orchestral sounds of birds were the only thing to fill the air. I was in my element. I will be returning one day, on this occasion however I have a target to hit. I wanted to get around 10/15 miles away from Winchester and set up camp.
I pushed on and after 67 miles and 6.5 hours on the bike I set up camp, very stealth-like in the corner of a field. I soon fell asleep following a camp meal and a cup of tea to the beautiful sunset at my tent door.
The next morning, awake and eagerly making porridge at 4 am, the sky changed from blue to pink to red with the sunrise, I was excited. Today I was going to hit the route, I was ready to take on The South Downs Way.
Leaving Winchester, you are greeted with miles of eye-watering, 360-degree vistas. Concentrating on the trails, not running people over or falling off comes in a close second to what these have to offer.
The unrelenting gravel trails both up and downhill take no prisoners. The steep gravel ascents spin the tyres out leaving you with the only option to keep on pushing the pedals and on the odd occasion to get off and push the bike. The (what seemed like) steeper gravel descents punished the body to its limit. Navigating a fully loaded gravel bike with no suspension down the flint and chalk downs, all you can do is hold on the brakes and avoid ‘the big ones’.
As I reached closer to Brighton the trails became less brutal offering slight relief after a long day in the saddle.
My aim for the day was to reach approximately 10/15 miles away from Brighton, I reached my target after 8.5 hours riding, 7,884ft of climbing and covering just over 76 miles.
However, I would say the descents took most of my fatigue on the day.
As the sun was setting I set up camp, made some food and a cup of green tea and was flat out.
Like clockwork, I was again awake at 4 am and following a double porridge and caffeine dosage, I packed up camp and hit the trails. I was greeted by the most spectacular sunrise over the downs. To my left, London. Directly in front, the sunrise and to my right, Brighton.
I made a point of putting some extra miles on my day by visiting The Devil’s Dyke, noted for its beauty it did not disappoint. My last hours on the SDW were stunning and will not be forgotten, I descended the Devil’s Dyke through the mountain bike tracks and winding trails to finally join up to a London gravel route heading home.
The route home was a welcomed relief following the ups and downs of the day before. The relatively smooth and flat gravel paths over old railway lines and scenic towpaths took me back to Hampton.
My only aim of the day, to get home for a pizza and beer. This was accomplished. I reached my target after 5.5 hours riding and covering just over 63 miles.
In conclusion, in these uncertain times we all must find and focus on something that makes us happy, something that when you think about it, it makes you smile. To me, that’s being on my bike. My mind is clear, my worries escape me and leave me with the wonders of the passing world and the kindness of passing strangers always willing to say good morning and ask why you have so much stuff strapped to a bike. I think I have found my niche. It makes me smile.
Heading into the unknown is thrilling, each day brings a new challenge and that is why Bikepacking and I will be good friends for many years to come. I am now planning my next trip with my eyes firmly set on Wales and the Brecon Beacons. My plan, to do a few multi-day trips and then who knows, maybe I will enter a race.
Full disclosure, it has been over a month (September 2020) since myself and Emma had the chat below. The whirlwind of an pandemic, still apparent around the world came to a small, personal conclusion during this time. I landed myself a full-time, contracted job, following my career as a Historic Building Conservation Specialist (rolls of the tongue…). My time on the bike has been limited, not only by the influx of full-time work and part-time Degree studying but also by my recovery management. It has been a long road back following the injury that I sustained on my ride from Yorkshire to London.
All of which I will go into in the forthcoming posts.
Now, however, I would like to share this chat with Emma Wallace. I found Emma through mutual friends whilst on Instagram and was instantly taken and inspired by her words and attitude. I soon got in touch and asked to talk about her story. The result of which is below.
Unfortunately, the below now comes with a heavier burden following the devastating news and loss of Emma’s partner Rachel. As I didn’t know Rachel personally, I won’t share anything further, only that I echo the thoughts and prayers and hope the below chat will now also emphasise the need to be open with all those around us. Finally, I can only commend Emma once again for all of this and thank her for sharing this story and pushing me to publish this post following recent events.
Emma, you’re an inspiration.
Hello Emma, before we start, I just wanted to say a big thank you for taking the time to chat and agreeing to share your story with my readers and me. I have been following your Instagram account (@emmawallacecoach) for a couple of months now and have found your posts to be very honest, revealing and inspiring. The subjects you speak about are challenging, at the very least. I hope that in sharing your story, it will encourage more people to do the same in the future. Please introduce yourself, what is your background? What you do now?
Hey Samuel, thank you for involving me in this conversation and hello to your readers, thank you for sharing your time with these words.
So I’ve always been equally passionate about the arts and sport/sports science. Growing up, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I initially went down the ‘arty’ route, graduating with a degree in Graphic Design and Interactive Media. However, after a year or so working in the industry, I was hit by my first significant bout of depression. Fitness (predominantly gym workouts and yoga) became very therapeutic for me. As a result, I retrained to be a Personal Trainer to promote a healthy lifestyle.
Health and fitness is an area that never ceases to amaze me.
I love learning about the human body and recently graduated from BSc Sports Science and Human Performance. I pride myself on very personalised coaching, incorporating my knowledge of mental and physical health into programming rather than ‘cookie-cutter’, ‘one size fits all’ online programming that seems to be on the rise!
This passion for helping others and interest in anatomy and physiology has also lead me to enrol into a voluntary position. Alongside my coaching business, I am training to be a Community First Responder for the Ambulance Service. A CFR is a trained but unpaid member of the ambulance team that is sent to 999 emergencies to provide sometimes lifesaving first aid to a patient in the crucial minutes before a paramedic arrives.
A big part of your online presence and the part which I find so honest is how open you are to share your story and your battles with mental health issues. At the time of writing this post we have just passed the 10th September, for those who may not know, this is Suicide Prevention Day. In one of your latest posts, you talk about this time and your time in Australia. Can you share this story?
When you read my answer to the previous question, it sounds like everything was all sunshine and rainbows after a bout of depression, but that’s not the case. As well as many personal and career highlights, I have struggled with turbulent hypomanic episodes and severe lows.
In 2017, I rather spontaneously decided to go backpacking in Thailand and Australia. I set off with this golden image of how everything would work out just fine despite not having much of a plan. I had a one-way ticket, and a few tourist stops booked and a backpack that weighed about the same as me! That’s not the full story of that period; without going into detail, the following words fill in the gaps when contemplating my behaviour: overly energetic, impulsive, full of grandiosity and carefree to the point of reckless. This was one of several undiagnosed hypomanic bipolar episodes. It was hectic.
I don’t regret the adventure over to the other side of the world at all; I have some fantastic memories; I lived a life full of wanderlust. But after highs, there are often lows. Mine kicked in once I settled in Perth (Western Australia), a beautiful coastal city. I was working as a PT in an awesome gym (shout out to @roar_fitness247 ) and I should have been the epitome of happiness, I was ‘living the dream’. However, my mood was fluctuating so much, and I couldn’t work out why; I had to see a GP. They gave me the questionable diagnosis of PMS and prescribed the contraceptive pill as a way of balancing my moods. This triggered a terrible, terrible, drop in mood.
On top of that my relationship with a girl I met over there was becoming strained due to impending visa deadlines on my part. I was so low in mood and stressed by my visa worries that I excused abusive behaviour from my partner. The relationship became so toxic that my health rapidly deteriorated and I experienced my first dysphoric mania bipolar episode (still undiagnosed at the time). Within that period, I began acting on thoughts to take my own life. The pain in my head was too much; it even manifested itself physically. One night, during an overwhelming moment, I drove myself to the river that ran through the city with the thought of drowning myself. I knew I was a poor swimmer and found comfort in the fact I would float away into the darkness and not return.
Passers-by snapped me out of my state of mind. But later that night I returned to the city with the view to jumping in front of a land train (HUGE truck for non-Aussie readers), selfish some might say, but to me, I’d no longer be a burden to the world, it was selfless. Luckily, I was taken to the hospital at this point which is when my formal diagnosis and path to recovery began.
What made you want to share your Mental Health issues so openly? Has sharing these stories helped in any way?
Mental health is widely discussed now in terms of mild depression and anxiety, which is great, it keeps us in touch with our feelings, and downward spirals can be stopped early. However, I think it is still very much a taboo subject when it comes to more ‘uncomfortable’ subjects: psychiatric hospitals, psychiatric medication, more uncommon or severe mental health conditions, suicidal behaviour, self-harm…
I knew nothing about the mental health system before my diagnosis, and I didn’t know what it meant to be ‘bipolar’. The only representation I had seen of both was through horror films and TV shows… hardly accurate and hardly a way of combating stigma. I think by sharing my story, it is a way of normalising my condition for others and me. Yes, I have an invisible illness, but I am not a ‘psycho’, I can lead an everyday life (whatever normal is these days!), and I am proud to say I am continuing to learn about my conditions and evolve as a person. I wish to help others on their journey.
Utilising social media as a platform to discuss mental health encourages discussion, the breakdown of stigma and offers a place of support.
Alongside sharing your stories about mental health, you have a significant focus on your physical health, whether that be in the gym or out on the trails running with your dog Cookie. How do you think these two correspond? Has the physical work aided your focus and recovery in any way?
They go hand in hand for sure. The body and mind are so intrinsically linked I not sure one could go very far with good health in one but not the other, a breakdown of some sort would occur.
Personally lifting heavy weights provides a sense of accomplishment for me, which is a great way of improving self-efficacy. Over the years, sports such as boxing, football and CrossFit have opened doors socially. And my most recent physical endeavour, trail running, has ignited an inherent love for the outdoors. I’ve found this sport in particular boosts my mood and fulfils my needs. It seems to tick the ‘wanderlust’ box without creating the overwhelming desire to impulsively and recklessly go backpacking on a one-way ticket and turn my life upside down!
Do you have any advice for people who may find themselves in similar situations which are not currently adapting a fitness-focused and a healthy lifestyle?
Two invaluable tips:
Stop comparing yourself to others. Everyone has a journey. Whether that be your running times/distance on Strava or the amount you can lift in the weights room. It is near impossible to stop comparing, but if you can let go just a little bit, and focus on number 1 (you!), you will feel more empowered. Do it for you, not for them.
Discipline. I can’t stress enough how important routine and structure is. When I got out of the hospital, it felt like I had nothing. I had no job, no friends, no visa, no prospects for the future. If you can relate, be disciplined and pen in some manageable daily tasks as an appointment with yourself. Whether that be a morning walk/run, 5 mins of stretching, two sessions at the gym this week. Slowly but surely, sticking to this will bring you a sense of accomplishment and with that some purpose.
You’ll begin to feel more optimistic, and doors will open.
Moving forward, what are your hopes and dreams? What keeps you motivated? What scares you?
Huge questions!! What scares me? I guess relapse. With my conditions (bipolar and EUPD), fluctuations and flare-ups are inevitable. It is unrealistic to think everything will remain perfect and steady, and I’ve had a couple of episodes since the one previously discussed. However, full-blown relapse scares me. Going back to that dark place that I thought I couldn’t escape. However, I have to remind myself, I did, and I can again. I’ve also got a lot more support this time around and a ‘mental health tool-kit’ of therapies and medication to help pull me through should I face a trigger.
What keeps me motivated? Setting myself challenges. Whether that be intellectually or a physical endeavour, this year I completed a degree, next year I am signed up to my first marathon! I’d also say that helping others and seeing others achieve keeps me motivated, but that happens so intrinsically as part of my nature that I forget to mention it!
Hopes and dreams, stability.
I dream of a realistic level of stability where I can have a family and feel my mental health is well managed. I’m getting there. It is no longer day by day management, and it’s more week by week/month to month. That’s progress, and I’m happy with that considering my diagnosis wasn’t that long ago.
I’m also hopeful that mental health becomes nourished and an integral part of education for future generations. The more we discuss it, the more likely it is that it’ll happen.
Do you want to share anything else?
I’d just like to point out that it is important to recognise that everyone has mental health; it is a continuum that goes from poor to good, illness to wellness, just like physical health does. So just because you aren’t in a bad place right now doesn’t mean you should neglect your emotional needs. Prevention is the best form of treatment in my eyes. Look after yourself. Lastly, if you are someone that cares about someone with a mental health condition/illness, please be patient. Mental health recovery isn’t linear, and there will be ups and downs. Even if they aren’t expressing their gratitude right now, know that they really, really are or will be appreciative of your support.
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