Click here to eSo the challenge was to see if I could do the Three Peaks Cycle challenge in a long weekend. That involves cycling 140 miles and climbing a peak each day. Although it's far off a record attempt, it's by no means an easy challenge. I had planned to do it with Andy Brown (The fastest person to row the Atlantic solo) but due to other commitments he had to pull out at the last minute. I was all prepared to do it solo until Sophie came to the rescue!
I had only met Sophie the week before and mentioned the challenge to her. I loved the fact that she is a spontaneous adventurer and decided quite last minute (the night before actually) to commit. I was looking forward to sharing my adventure with someone but was also equally nervous. What if she was really slow, or really fast? I haven't cycled much since I got back, which was two months ago now. I could very well be sub par on this. I also knew nothing about Sophie and she knew nothing about me. But in a way I loved that. Two people who have a passion for adventurous challenges meeting up and getting on with it.
So on Thursday afternoon Sophie and I, along with Jon (our driver and photographer) and Jez (in charge of nutrition, route planning and an experienced Three Peaker) all set off for Snowdon. The drive was long and wet but we eventually arrived at the foot of Snowdon, had a pub dinner and found a place to camp wild. It was late and the rain was coming down sideways. Not the ideal start but our excitement overshadowed any discomfort.
After about 4 hours restless sleep we got up. It was 4.30am. By now the rain had stopped and we started to climb Snowdon at around 5.30am. It was dark and a little spooky as we head torched our way up into the mist covered mountain. Within the first mile I knew that Sophie and I were going to get along. She was constantly smiling and getting us all together for some fun photos. She was clearly super fit too and has done the Three Peaks twice before. I'd have to step up my game in the walking department to keep up. Walking uses a whole new set of muscles which i'm not used too. (too much time cycling) Another good thing was we seemed to both have the same goals in mind for this challenge. Push ourselves without sacrificing adventure while having a good time along the way.
We made it up and down in 3.5 hours. The scenery was incredible and Jez even managed a cheeky cold swim on the way down. We all naturally watched and took photos.
Our changeover to cycling was by no means fast. In fact we'd probably have been disqualified from any Triathlon. It's always like that at the beginning of any adventure/challenge. You still need to work out a system - like don't leave your cycle shoes right at the bottom of your rucksack which is right at the back of the boot. By 10am we were on the bike and greeted by 10 miles of downhill as we left Snowdon. Our legs were fresh and our pace fast. Sophie was clearly a strong cyclist too. We headed North-East towards the coast and then along and around to Liverpool making the most of a good tailwind. We made good time and only stopped once for a puncture. Jon and Jez stopped 45 miles ahead for a feed station. We had a sandwich and a shake and hit the road again trying to keep time off the bike to a minimum.
Getting through Liverpool wasn't fun. It's always slow getting through towns. I kept thinking there must be a better route but there isn't really. We slogged on though and eventually managed to get off the busy A roads and onto some quiet farm roads. By nightfall we'd done about 115 miles. Sophie was definitely a strong rider but failed miserably on having enough light for cycling at night. Luckily I had the mother of all bike lights (1000 lumen) and managed to keep us both out of trouble.
Jez's parents live in Kendal which was a convenient stop for day 1. We arrived by 9.30pm to the best Lasagne I have had since Italy made better by a few beers. My body felt good but I was very sleepy from a not enough sleep the night before. At least we had a bed tonight.
Total mileage cycled: 145 miles.
Up at 4.30am again. It was dark and a little cold. We were ready to go at around 5am only realise Sophie had another puncture overnight. There is nothing worse than waking up to a puncture. We fixed it and started the 40 miles ride to Scafell Pike.
The mornings are always slow and today was no exception. Partly because we were tired and partly because the scenery was so beautiful we were stopping loads to take photos. We were both tired but still managed to find ourselves in stitches a lot of the time. It's great when people see the funny side when things are tough and Sophie was certainly good at that. A true adventurer. We were talking a lot about challenges, past and future. We both have some big ideas and it was good to see another person's view on all things adventurous.
It was a lot more hilly today and we eventually made Scafell by 9am. We were a little quicker at the turnaround this time. I didn't even bother changing out my cycle gear for the climb. (bar shoes of course)
Scafell was a lot harder, longer, and more technical. It was slow going but we eventually made the top by around midday. The views were incredible and the weather had pulled through for us. We all sat in the sun eating a few homemade sandwiches and chatting to a few other climbers. Quite a few people took their dogs up and one decided to come over, sniff my beard and then turned away in disgust. This obviously looked a lot funnier from where Sophie, Jon and Jez were sitting because they couldn't stop laughing. I wasn't that impressed. I was under the impression that big ginger beards are loved by the canine world. Obviously not.
Coming down Scafell was even slower. Both my knees started to hurt and I had forgotten to bring my walking poles. We arrived back at the car at around 1.30pm only to find Sophie had another puncture. Right! Time to get rid of her front tyre and give her one of my spare Continental GP4000s which hardly ever flat.
Getting back on the bike was tough this time. We still had 120 miles to cycle. Our frustration grew even more when Sophie got yet another puncture about a mile down the road, this time on her back tyre. Time to replace that one too so I gave her another spare Conti GP4000s and we were off again. She didn't get another puncture after that.
By 4pm we'd only managed 75 miles and it soon became clear we were not going to make our 145 mile target. Jez reevaluated the route and found a few potential places we could camp. Both Sophie and I were quite tired and didn't want to cycle much past 11pm so that we could get a good nights sleep. We pushed on through Carlisle and onto the Old Glasgow Road. It was getting colder and colder the further North we went.
At around 9.30pm and 120 miles in we then hit another hurdle. My light stopped working. 18 hours burn time my ass. We were now pretty much going blind. It was fine when the roads were empty and we could navigate with her small light and the moon, but every time a car came towards us we were blinded to a complete stop. We also nearly ran over a badger. I'm not sure who got more of a fright, him or us.
We called Jez and he managed to find an old truck stop about 10 miles ahead and we decided to camp there for the night. It was getting quite cold and although we were both really tired we still stayed up for an hour sitting around a campfire with some port and cheese. I could have sat there all night but at 11.30pm we decided we should probably get to bed.
Total mileage cycled: 130 miles
It was freezing last night and we woke up to frost covered everything. Sitting on a frost bitten saddle is not much fun. Our alarm was set for 4.30am but we only managed to get on the bikes by 6am. It was just too cold to do anything. I had to warm my water bottle in my thighs just to get the lid off.
We thought Saturday morning was slow going. Today was a whole new level of slug. Nothing worked and we were tired. I even managed to farm a gaggle of stalactites to my beard. That helped lift my mood a little as only real adventurers get ice on their beards right?. Maybe Iv'e finally been upgraded.
By 8am we really needed to warm up so made our way into a service station for some coffee and hot chocolate. Sophie made friends with a hand dryer and my new beard melted all over their floor. 20 minutes later we were kind of ready to go again.
We pushed on through Glasgow only stopping briefly for a bacon and egg bun before heading on to Loch Lomond. Finally the busy duel carriageway gave way to the scenic loch-side road. It was really beautiful and we were making good progress. Our last obstacle was the long 1200ft climb to Glencoe. Both our legs were starting to feel the effects of the last two days. We stopped one last time about 50 miles before Fort William for a protein shake and some food. The last climb was slow and my right knee was starting to feel fragile. Neither of us were even talking about the notion we still had to climb Ben Nevis. In fact we weren't talking at all. Finally we reached the top of Glencoe and were greeted with one of the best downhills ever. A much needed boost to our average speed and definitely in my top 10 of all downhills.
The last 20 miles are always the worst. In your mind you've 'made it' so your body shuts down a bit. It's a real struggle to keep the pace up but eventually after 150 miles, body broken and mind tired we rolled into Fort William. Total distance cycled: 425 miles. Both Sophie and I pretty much felt like we had done it now. Ben Nevis wasn't a hard climb and knowing we didn't have to get back on the bike was such a good feeling. We faffed around for nearly 2 hours having a proper dinner (not just a protein shake) and sorting out what camping gear to take. We had planned to camp on the top all along. Both Sophie and I wanted to add one more night of adventure rather than come back down to a campsite.
I cant really remember much of the climb. It was slow, misty and the top was still snow covered. My head torch also stopped working which made it a little sketchy at times. (really need to rethink future lighting strategy). It was good to have Jez and Jon with us on all the climbs. They kept us entertained.
We made the top by midnight or so, cold and tired. It felt like we were in some sort of space alien filmset as the mist rolled in through the moonlit landscape. It was A LOT colder, wetter and windier than expected. We couldn't camp wild so had to squeeze in to the emergency shelter. Even that was too cold but going back down wasn't an option. I wanted this adventure to last a bit longer and if that meant be cold for one more night then that's just what needed to be done.
We all squeezed in and opened a bottle of whisky and chatted about the weekends adventure. There were many highs, a few lows and a great sense of achievement. By 1.30am and an empty bottle of whisky, we all settled in for a cold night at the highest point in the UK.
We slept in till 8.30am. It felt weird waking up when it was light. We packed up and started heading down. The mist opened up and the views across the Scottish highlands were breathtaking. Coming down during daylight hours was certainly worth the cold night.
This was certainly one of the best challenges I have done. It was tough, but doable, fun and adventurous. Could we have done it quicker? Of course. A lot quicker. But I am glad we didn't. We managed to equally balance; being adventurous, having fun, and pushing ourselves.
I really think the Three Peaks Cycle Challenge is one of the best long weekend adventure challenges you can do. I really hope more people try it.
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.
'10 great, life-affirming reasons to commit to a solo challenge.'
‘Dear Sean. We’ve recently had a crew member drop out for our four-man ocean row challenge later on this year. We thought this may interest you. We would love for you to be part of our team?’ Regards, Anonymous.
At least twice a year I get this type of email, it’s not all rowing of course, if anyone has done any research they’d have found out I get terribly seasick and as such would be a lousy rowing partner. Sometimes it’s climbing mountains, sometimes it’s cycling countries. No matter, the point is there are an awful lot of people doing team events and this is great, for them, and I have no quarrel with that, but for some reason I have never been into buddying up for challenges. I much prefer going solo. Of course this has its drawbacks but for the most part I think everyone at some point in their life should embark on a solo adventure. This is why!
A logistical wizard
When deciding and planning your solo challenge, for the most part, you will be doing everything yourself, everything. Yes, you may have some friends and family helping out with the odd thing but at the end of the day it’s all down do you and you alone. You can’t palm off some of the rubbish jobs to another team member because you have Ukulele practice that evening. In turn you become a genius at time management and logistics.
Hard as nails
Often, in taking on a solo challenge you will need a quite uncomfortable shift in your own fitness. Hours in the gym, out on the road, and realising burpees are the worst invention known to mankind. And all of this hard work for the most part will be done alone. No team members WhatsApp group or early morning texts keeping you on schedule. The solo training is hard, but it makes you hard too.
This is an obvious one and doesn’t need much explaining but nevertheless its worth writing about. When you’re on your own, cold, wet, miserable, hungry and tired, your mind goes to places you never knew existed and no one, no one, will be around to send you a lifeline. It’s up to you. This is a very important process, and on your return, and often only years later, will you realise how much you grew up.
MacGyver has naught on you
If you asked me how to fix a water filtration system today I’d probably just shake my head, say I can’t do it, give up and start thinking about that single malt I haven’t opened at the back of the whisky cabinet. Give me the same problem when I am alone in the middle of the Pacific, and you can be sure I’ll work it out, fast. Solo challenges make you resourceful. They teach you how to fix problems, how to work out solutions, make decision and get things done.
You get good at singing
Trust me, with no one around, you will let your lungs go wild and it will give you as much energy as the best carb loading.
Alone, not lonely.
It’s very rare nowadays that we get to be alone, even at home by ourselves were glued to Instagram or Facebook which means we’re still connected to the world in some way. The Magic has gone a little. Going off on a solo adventure forces you to relax, become comfortable with your own thoughts, let them meander, fade, pounce and stir havoc. It’s important for humans to do this once and a while. I truly believe it resets your clock, buys you brain-space you can use later in life. If anything, at least you’ll panic less when your phone runs out of battery in the future.
No get out of jail card
When going solo there is no rest, there is no off button. You can’t ask a team mate to keep watch while you have a nap, or fix your puncture because you’ve hurt your wrist. To turn off is often to fail.
Go with the wind
One of the best reasons to go solo is the ability to change your plan, at a whim, and this from my experience is where the real adventure is. Yes, some adventures, record in particular, have no room for spontaneity however many adventures do allow for it. If it’s just you on your won, you have no one to consult, no one else to compromise with, you can take this change in wind direction and just go with it.
The door is always open
It’s well documented that a couple or group of people sitting in pub or on a hill side will almost always be left to their own devices. However, someone sitting alone in the same situation will more often than not get someone come up and chat to them. This will almost always lead to something, whether it be some local knowledge, a bed for the night or an opportunity to ‘go with the wind’ as mentioned in the previous paragraph.
Take the glory
Finally. It’d be naive to think that people don’t go on big epic challenges for a little bit of glory, (sometime a lot) and there is nothing wrong with that at all. Whether it be from colleagues, mates down the pub, or that boy or girl you’ve been trying to impress. Whatever your reasons, when you achieve your epic goal, return home wise, knowledgeable, in the peak of your physical ability and a lifetime’s worth of stories, you can take all the credit . . . just don’t let it get to your head.
There are good and bad ways to train for a swim run event, especially the Breca Jersey, coined as their hardest one. 47km or running and 6.5km of swimming along the rugged north coast of the idyllic little channel island.
The good way to train would be to get the miles in the legs and arms. If all else fails, volume training, (not overtraining of course) will almost always get you to the end.
The bad way to train would be to sit on a beach in Cuba, drink copious amounts of rum, and learn you have a cigar problem, even though you’ve never smoked in your life, which is exactly what I did. It wasn’t all my fault though, I was in Cuba on my honeymoon and loved every bit of it and even have a box of overpriced cigars on my desk as I write this, which no doubt I’ll never smoke again. It’s just not the same.
It was only when I arrived back in the UK less than a week before Breca Jersey that I knew I was in trouble. The only running I had done in 6 weeks was the time I ran a good bath. Jokes aside, I was woefully underprepared.
I landed in Jersey and met up with my race partner Victoria Williams for the first time. She had won a competition to be my partner in crime, something I could see she was immediately regretting due to my lack of fitness when I huffed and puffed up the stairs of our hotel. On another note of; ‘How not to do a SwimRun’. Don’t meet your partner the day before the event for the first time. Do some training with them or at the very least go for a pint to make sure they’re not a crazy person. Thankfully Victoria was a complete joy to buddy up with and her enthusiasm was infectious.
Anyway, race day came and we were off. Lacking any logistical symbiosis we landed up near the back as we tried to tether together for the swim. We might as well have been doing a three-legged race. We survived, just, and got out for the first run in good spirits. We even started overtaking a few pairs which you can be sure surprised the hell out of me. Then just as we were getting into our rhythm we were back in the water, this time the tether really annoying me so after that swim we ditched it. We ran again, then swam, then ran some more, then swam a bit. I found the swims much harder than the running partially, no, entirely due to the fact that in 2009 I chased some cheese down a steep hill in Gloucester and did a right proper job on my shoulder. (Google Gloucester Cheese Rolling if you have no idea what this is. It’s a 200-year-old English tradition. It’s also very stupid) This makes my left shoulder pretty useless for swimming unless I do a lot of strength work on it.
We were getting into the flow but dreading the real kicker in this event. A 10km run, with a short 400m swim, followed by a 20km run. So apart from the 400m swim we’d basically be running 30km in one go. It broke the field, and nearly broke me. Everything hurt but we pushed on. Then to add insult to injury the second last swim should have been 1000m but was nearly 1400m because the tide had come in so what had been a run up the beach, was now a swim instead. We were freezing, dehydrated and running on empty.
We hobbled the last few miles before the final climb out the water and up a huge flight of stairs to the pub, also known as the finish line. We had done it. I remember half way around the course thinking, I’m never ever doing one of these swim run things again, but now as I write this staring blankly at my overpriced cigars, I have changed my mind entirely. I loved it. The ability to do a multi discipline event without having to carry a bike, kayak, SUP or other large equipment made it so easy. One bag of hand luggage on a cheap flight from Manchester and an hour later I was there.
Swim run events are tough, hard, cold and absolutely worth it and I urge everyone to have a go one day. Just make sure you train for it, your knees and shoulders will appreciate that.
It wasn’t just hot, it was nauseatingly hot, breathtakingly hot, hot, hot, hot, the type of heat that not even a swim can cure. Not that we had any swimmable water anywhere near us anyway. Our only option was to shelter in a military open aired bunkhouse for half an hour. We were on the verge of serious heat and sunstroke but were both in surprisingly good spirits, it was our honeymoon after all and we were in Cuba!
Honeymooning in August in the Caribbean is extremely warm and humid but because Caroline and I fancied the idealistic leave-straight-from-the-wedding honeymoon, it was our only option. We were going to be away for a month and the idea was to do some ‘adventuring’ at the beginning and some ‘more traditional’ honeymooning at the end. So, with panniers packed, bikes boxed, and mountain bike tyres added to our touring bikes we set off.
Selfishly, knowing full well Caroline hates bugs, I decided on Cuba for quite a few reasons. Old cars, Swimming, Cycling, Whisky and the name Ernest. Now I know what you’re thinking, Cuba does not have whisky, and you’d be right. What they do have though is cigars and I figured as a big whisky fan I should probably compliment the overall experience with a fat Churchill.
Cuba successfully delivered all of the above, including bugs, as I was often found staring, mouth wide open and smiling, at all the incredible vintage cars from the 50’s. Fords, Plymouths and Cadillac all bombing along, engulfed in clouds of their own smoke as if they were just about to fall apart like a badly made mekano set. It was brilliant. Suddenly my 1967 Mustang that I’m currently restoring seemed boringly modern – it does have power steering after all.
Cycling around Cuba too was very easy (besides the heat) as we headed West from Havana. The road quality was better than we thought, the drivers very accommodation, and we both felt very safe. In fact, I think Cuba has to be one of the safest places I’ve cycled in outside of western Europe. For the most part no-one gave us much attention and we could happily divert off main roads down small dirt tracks to a farmer’s field who give us some mangos and avocados to help us on our way. The people too were extremely friendly.
After a few days of cycling we landed up in Vinales, the picturesque cigar region where for the next 5 days I discovered I now have a cigar problem, partly influenced by one of the famous Ernest’s of Cuba – Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara. He used to dip the mouth end of a cigar in honey – it really does add to the flavour.
With a pack of overpriced cigars that I bought from a Cuban farmer while horseback riding, we then went further West towards a beach to spend a week snorkelling and swimming. The sea water in Cuba is crystal clear and the only downside to the week was when a sucker fish decided to attack us. We frantically swam ashore laughing as the little bugger tried to attach itself to Caroline. She was later horrified to learn sucker fish usually attach to whales but I managed to somewhat make her feel better saying they also attach to sharks. I feel we shall be repeating this story to our future grandkids until out dying days.
After our beach adventures we went back to Havana for me to indulge in the second of the famous Ernest’s of Cuba, Mr Hemmingway. His house is now a museum and my itch to be a proper author one day was gloriously scratched. Hemmingway bought it with the money he earned from; For Whom the Bells Toll. The open plan bungalow mansion overlooking the Havana skyline with its own, swimming pool, tennis courts, cock fighting ring, dog graveyard and writing tower is exactly how I would like to author one day. I’d better start hanging around some old fishermen then.
With our ‘adventuring’ over we then went to a fancy honeymoon resort where we did absolutely nothing at all for 7 days and it was glorious.
Cycling in Cuba was very easy. Its adventurous but safe, very safe. I’d happily let my future teenage child go and explore there on their own and not worry about them at all, I really would. Our month was one hell of an epic and I really would love to go back and explore the East one day, possibly not in August though.
* A. Attitude. Adventure isn’t all about rowing oceans or climbing mountains. Adventure is a way of thinking. And to start any adventure you need the right attitude. Remember if there is no risk of failure or peril, then it’s not an adventure, it’s just a holiday.
* B. Blisters. Whether these be on your feet, hands or backside, make sure you tend to them asap. When I swam the length of Britain I got the smallest blister on day one and didn’t take any notice of it. Within a week it was a gaping wound that took over two months to heal. I even gave it a name. Stuart. Stuart the Scab. I still have the scar to this day.
* C. Camping. Most of my adventures are solo where I need to camp wild, on my own. This can often be daunting but as long as you set up camp late, get up early and don’t leave a mess, you’ll soon realise that no axe wielding psychopath is going to come and find you in the middle of the night. At worst a badge may pee in your tent.
* D. Dogs. As you will know, dogs find cyclist very confusing. Apparently, it’s because they think we’re animals or something. When cycling around the world dogs were chasing me constantly and I often found their owners happily let them do it. I decided to invent a game called ‘Chasing Dogs’. The goal was to see how far I could make a dog run away from its owner. Cycle too fast and the dogs gives up too early, cycle to slowly and you inevitably get bitten, as happened to me in Peru. It’s a great game.
* E. Eat. EVERYTHING. Often when you do long days and feel pretty knackered at the end, you think it’s down to lack of fitness. But more often than not you’re just not eating enough. Getting food in your system fast is super important. So much so that I once ate dog food and also asked a pub to blend my roast dinner so that I could get the calories quicker. Less digestion the better.
* F. Frame. I have tried touring on everything, (almost) aluminium, carbon, and even bamboo but I keep coming back to steel. Just writing the word ‘steel’ gives me a warm fuzzy glow inside. I love riding steel bikes, 853 is my favourite. There is something magical about it, the comfort, the skeleton like design and the fact someone needed a hammer to make it. It also makes me feel like my cycling hero; Tommy Godwin.
* G. Gnarly. When things get tough that’s when you feel alive. They call it ‘Type Two’ fun. When its cold, wet, gnarly, and miserable, you’ll hate it at the time, but years later you’ll look back and love it. That’s what you want. Make it gnarly.
* H. Heatstroke. When I cycled across The Outback I needed to drink 15 litres of water a day, roughly a litre an hour. I could only carry 6 litres on the bike so I had a three-litre bottle I’d fill up and then wave drivers down and ask them to leave the bottle 100km ahead for me on the side of the road. (Bear in mind I was cycling 250km per day) This worked a treat and helped me cross the outback.
* I. Imagination. This is something I feel will make your adventure so much better. Trying to imagine what life is like for the people past and present. Your mind will swirl with ideas and questions and this will in turn make you appreciate your adventure more and fully immerse yourself in the culture.
* J. Journal. Trust me. You may think you have the best memory in the world and no matter how amazing that unique and daring experience was at the time, you will start to forget the details so it’s important to document your journey. I do it with voice notes now. It’s great to listen back to what I was going through at the time.
* K. Keto. The nutrition debate rages war online it seems. Keto this, paleo that, high fat, grain free, etc. My advice is to try different things. We are all different and our bodies need different things. The only dietary advice I give is to eat food that has as little human influence as possible. So if you can dig it out the ground, pick if off a tree or catch it, cook it and then eat it, that’s what I like to eat.
* L. Luxuries. I remember when I cycled Land’s End to John O’Groats back in 2008. I took everything with me. A pair of jeans, trainers to cycle in, and a separate pair for the evenings, books, prayer flags I got in Tibet, hand cream, a smart shirt, and the ist goes on. I had so much stuff that on one occasion when I had to lift my bike over a barrier, I had to take all the panniers off. It was too much. You definitely don’t need as much as you think. When I bikepack nowadays I can get my entire kit down to around 15kg’s (including bike). I even go as far as only taking one pair of socks. I wash them in a river and then wrap them around my thighs overnight to dry them out.
* M. Mascot. It started out as a bit of fun but when I got Little Flying Cow (I’ll agree he’s not very creatively named) back in 2008 in a charity shop for £1, but in the past decade he’s travelled to over 40 countries with me. We’ve had the most incredible conversations and I’m certain we’ve discovered a solution for world peace in the process, then immediately forgot it due to extreme fatigue.
* N. Ngicela amanzi. This means ‘Water please’ in Zulu. Something I have written on laminated cards wherever I travel. Other useful phrases to translate onto cards are: Hotel please. Where can I get some food? Which way is Kathmandu? Where can I charge my phone?
* O. Order. Before you depart on any adventure make sure you get your life at home in order. It’ll be the little things like council tax bills, or your car running out of MOT while you’re gone that’ll annoy you. You don’t want these worries to get in the way of your adventure. Before I ran the length of Britain my car developed a tiny fuel leak a few days before I started. I couldn’t get it fixed in time so I had to drive the car as much as possible around my village and the eventually when the fuel light came on I drove up and down my road until it conked out. I then pushed the car into a park space. I knew now that I would only leave a tiny bit of fuel on the road instead of a full tank. I then put some cardboard under the leak and covered it with a bucket of sand. So make sure you sort life admin out in advance.
* P. Pistons of endurance. Remember, in order to make good progress and feel on fire make sure you concentrate on my ‘6 Pistons of Endurance.’ Planning, Food, Water, Sleep, Muscles & Mindset’ If all these are firing, your engine will run sweet.
* Q. Quitting. There will be times when you want to quit. That’s normal. In fact if there isn’t a time when you want to quit I would argue you’re not on an adventure. Try and put as many things in place to stop you from quitting. I call them ‘Dangling Carrots’. These could be raising money for charity, beating a personal best, or for me, trying to impress my wife and son. The more ‘Dangling Carrots’ you actively put in place, the more likely you’ll continue.
* R. Recovery. The more exercise you do, the worse of an athlete you become. It’s only in the recovery that you get better. Give yourself some good recovery time, eat well, hydrate and you’ll notice a huge improvement in your motivation to improve.
* S. Spontaneity. Someone famously said. ‘With enough planning, you can successfully take all the adventure out of your adventure.’ I fully stand behind this. If every day, every meal stop, every night’s accommodation is planned in advance, then where is the adventure. You’ll miss out on spontaneous opportunities like playing rock, paper, scissors in a library that turns onto a bar at night with a Mongolian throat singer and a Salvador Dali lookalike in Lhasa’s Old Town in Tibet. This genuinely happened to me. Don’t over plan. Be spontaneous.
* T. Trolls. What a bunch of simplistic halfwits. And that’s exactly how you need to think about them. When you have a big idea, for the most part, people will be very positive and supportive. There will however be one or two that decide your idea is stupid. Please remember that more often than not, their negativity towards you is stemmed from jealously. They wish they had the gumption to give it a go themselves.
* U. U-Turns. Sometimes the path or journey you’re on comes to a dead end. When I was going for the round the world cycle record, my dead end was getting run over in America. I had to make a U-Turn on the record and then concentrate on a new goal which for me was getting around the world in time for the Olympics. Yes, its wasn’t the plan but I had to make the most of my situation. Sometimes you will have to make a U-turn but as long as you keep pushing forward, you’re still having an adventure.
* V. Videos. A bit like journaling I think having videos from your adventure will become very precious to you later in life. I wish my grandparents had videos from their adventures, of which they had many and were far more perilous than anything I have done.
* W. Wind. Of all the terrible days I’ve had out on the bike, I’d say 8 of the top 10 involved wind. Whether it be tornadoes in America, being sandblasted from the side in the Atacama or the constant barrage of vortex wind created by huge road-trains in Australia, wind can really affect your adventure. Take time to research wind-roses, times of year and overall direction of travel . . . and don’t cycle around the world in a westwards direction like I did. Go east!
* X. X marks the spot. This is another brilliant memento from your adventure. Using a proper paper map and putting various ‘X’ on them while writing a bit about what you saw or did there along with the line of the route you took. It’s great to look back on in years to come. Who knows. It may one day be framed and put up in the RGS.
* Y. Yoga. Stretch, stretch and stretch again. As I approach 40 I feel the benefits of this even more. Stretching falls under the ‘Muscles’ piston too. Keep your muscles in good order and you’ll feel much better, go further and faster.
* Z. Zombies. This happens every time you get back from a big adventure. It seems the rest of the world are like zombies, walking down the street, heads down, usually staring into their phones. It’s depressing. You’ve just had the adventure of a lifetime where you engaged with people, eye to eye, and now you want to come back and share your stories but everyone seems caught up in their own little bubble and no one seems to care. This is normal. Don’t let it depress you. To relive the stories, I often turn my journal onto a novel. I like the format of a novel, but you may prefer a blog, or an editorial.
My altimeter said we were at 5500m, 18000ft, although one bought on eBay for £30 was likely to be highly suspect. However, it excited me having these sorts of gadgets, paper maps, compass, medium format camera with slide film, and a twine bound leather journal. I felt like a real adventurer. My altimeter was however completely pointless because it wasn’t as if Maritz (my friend and room-mate from London) and I were doing any serious mountaineering, just trekking, and now at 5500m we were in the back of a battered old Landcruiser driving the Friendship Highway from Kathmandu to Lhasa. My head felt like it was about to burst out my skull with every heartbeat as I stared out the window at Everest far away in the distance. The Tibetan plateau was barren and beautiful. I loved it.
We eventually reached Lhasa and had a few days to relax and explore the city. The first thing on my priority list was to somehow acquire a Tibetan monks robe. These seemed like a fairy obvious trinket to take back home with me, however Maritz thought it was a stupid idea. Nevertheless, he came with me as we were directed to a market in the oldtown. We perused the stalls where quiet contended sellers just sat swinging prayer wheels, not trying to force you to buy something, a nice change from the bombardment of Kathmandu. I eventually came to the stall where they sold the robes. There was no price but I was told they were the equivalents of £10 for one of the winter robes, the ones that just drape over your shoulders with orange fluffy velvet on the inside. It would make the perfect Sunday lounge suit I thought to myself. The haggling began soon after and within minutes there was a huge crowd of people, laughing at the ginger kid trying to get a better price. Eventually we settled on £6 and as I paid the money the crowd cheered. I’m not sure if they were happy for me getting a good bargain, or the seller making a killing. Anyway, as I left with my prize position someone came over to shake my hand. I did so and the person behind followed him to shake it too. Then within about 5 seconds everyone had formed some sort of queue to shake my hand. What was happening? I shook another 10 people’s hands before I saw almost everyone in the square starting to join the queue. It would take hours to shake everyone’s hand so I just put my arms in the air, laughed and waved at everyone. They all laughed and waved back understanding the predicament I was in.
That night excited by my new purchase we read about a bar called ‘The Book Bar’, a library by day and a bar by night. On the way there I found a hat in the gutter, a bit torn up and tattered but it looked cool so I wore it. Turns out it was a police hat and over the next mile everyone I passed would look, point, and salute while shouting ‘China Police’
We eventually arrived at the bar. It was small, sort of independent book shop size. There was one group of about 8 people at the main table. We (Myself, Maritz and 4 other travellers who came to Tibet with us) went and sat in the corner by ourselves and ordered a Lhasa Beer which came in 75cl bottles. After that first round someone from the main table invited us over to join them. He was Mongolian and could speak some English and had a moustache exactly like Salvador Dali. This turned out to be because he was apparently the world’s biggest Dali fan. A second round of Lhasa beer came and we soon discovered we were drinking the beer all wrong. You’re meant to have a double shot glass, pour the beer into the glass and then down that. We chatted about where we were from before a game began, a drinking game no doubt. Rock, paper, scissors, which in Tibetan or Mongolian, we never found out, was ‘Kai, yamma, heh’. It was a free for all, anyone could call out anyone else for a game. This just involved pointing at them and the game started immediately. It was fast, intense and multiple games were all happening at once, most of which were directed at us of course. The looser had to down his shot of beer. During this both Maritz and I were asked if we wanted to marry one of the two girls at the table. Fast thinking I moved a thumb ring I used to wear to my wedding finger under the table and then proclaimed that I would have loved to but I was in fact married already. The general consensus was that I was missing out big time but fair enough, I was a taken man and off limits. An hour went by when another kid joined the table. He was 19 years old, sporting a guitar and was also Mongolian. He was soon singing Mongolian throat music while I tried miserably to play the Tabla (drums) still wearing my china police hat. All I can remember was thinking that he was going to lose his voice by thirty. He basically sounded like a digeridoo. It was beautiful though.
By the end of the evening, at around 2am, we decided to call it a night. We got the bill and everything apart from the first round we ordered was crossed off. Mr Dali was covering it for us. What a kind gesture. We staggered home to our hotel, brimming with joy. As far as days in your life goes, this had been quite a memorable one indeed and Maritz and I still message each other every now and then saying ‘Remember that night in the book bar?’
That was 12 years ago and I still have my Tibetan monks robe, but sadly I’ve since lost my China Police hat.