A day in the life of Ultra Cycling
Cycling a long way, quickly, trying to break some sort of record had been a dream of mine for over a decade. Many failed attempts, various injuries and 60,000 miles on the bike brought me eventually to Cabo da Roca in Portugal at 5pm on the 16th April 2018. The goal: My fourth attempt at an endurance cycling record and 4000 miles of self-supported cycling hell ahead of me as I was about to embark on my second attempt at the trans Europe cycling world record, having failed at it a year previously due to injury.
I’ll happily admit that the 161 mile per day average I needed to achieve the record isn’t by any means ground-breaking from a physical point of view, however fitness I account for only 50% of the success. Logistics, finding food and water, headwinds, rain, road surface and working out when, and more importantly where to sleep, and in my case most often drain-pipes under the road, all significant variables in whether I’d achieve my goal and break the record. This is what a day in my life on the road looked like.
My alarm would go off at 3.58am. I have a weird thing where I can’t put my alarm on an obvious number like 4am or any 5-minute intervals thereafter. Also, having a 3 in the front of time felt like I was getting up really early.
By now my camping mat, which I had to blow up once in the night already was completely flat again due to a very small puncture. I never managed to fix that puncture and had to blow it up once each night for the entire 25 days. I still haven’t fixed it and my track record suggests I probably never will.
Once awake I would give myself a target of 10 minutes to be on the bike. Every minute counts in these records.
The mornings are always cold and it takes me a good hour for my sore knees, aching muscles and crooked neck from a bad sleep to fall back into their relevant tasks of making sure I keep pushing forward. I also get very frustrated by all the amazing camping spot I would have found had I just cycled a mile further. This happens almost every morning.
The next goal for the day was to search for the all-important 3 C’s – Coffee, Cake and a Crap. Until I’d managed to achieve the 3 C’s I felt sluggish and fatigued. With any luck my drain-pipe from the night before was purposefully chosen to be a few miles before a town where I could get the 3 C’s. The earlier this happened the sooner I could get into the swing of the day.
Service stations became my staple hangout throughout the day as I would run in, try and find the most fatty, salty and carb heavy meal I could find. This was always difficult to work out during the first few stops in a new country. It’d take me about 2 days to eventually identify what the best meals each country had to offer, and how to order it as fast as possible. The problem was I usually only spent 3 days in a country so by the time I had worked it out, I was already into another country, with different food by which I looked significantly grubbier, which always made the staff look at me with some suspicion, especially after achieving the third of my 3 C’s, it would require them to order in a plumber. Service stations all across Europe hate me.
From then on most of my day became monotonous. Cycle, eat, cycle, drink, cycle, eat some more, avoid being sucked onto the road by high speed trucks passing inches from me, cycle, eat and drink some more. I was consuming my entire body weight in food and water every 5 days.
Music helped in some way to pass the time however I should have downloaded more than 350 songs to my playlist, especially when, and I have no idea how this happened, two Justin Bieber songs would pop up every now and then. I never in a million years would have imagined I’d know all the words to Sorry, but I do now.
By 10pm I would begin my search for somewhere to sleep. To save 380g I decided against at tent which made the nights where it might rain somewhat interesting. I did have a bivy but even so, I never sleep well when it rains in a bivy as water still manages to come in through the hole.
Eventually I find somewhere suitable to bed down for the night. Over the years I’ve come up with a sort of star rating system for camping spots. They are as follows.
5 stars: Under road drain pipes, church porches, bus shelters that are away from the main road and facing downwind, rain manages to hit you in a bus shelter facing the wind.
4 stars: Under park tables and benches, bus shelters on main roads.
3 stars: Anywhere under a tree or bush away from the road, or behind a building that is facing away from the road and downwind. Even if it rains you can stay somewhat dry here.
2 stars: Just sleeping out in the open, which often means you get wet from dew.
1 star: Hotels. The faff and hassle of trying to check in late at night in a foreign country when you’re so tired you don’t know your own name wastes far too much time, time you just can’t afford to lose in these records.
This night I can’t find any drain-pipes or bus shelters so I sneak off into some long grass under a bush. Again I aim to be tucked up within 10 minutes. I often sleep naked to allow my skin to have a breather from being suffocated by muck and sweat sodden clothes which don’t air anymore. Lastly I put my earplugs in (I always use earplugs to avoid being woken up by passing trucks) and set my alarm for 3.58am. The next morning I find two ticks on me from the long grass. Hoping I don’t have Lyme disease I get up and repeat the process for 25 more days.
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Here are a few bits of writing I have done in the past.