As my eyes struggled to focus on the road in the dark, driving rain and bright head lights, I remember thinking to myself that I was grateful to be on my Sonder Fatbike. The descent was awash, gutters full of water, running faster than I was riding, just about above the curb onto the foot path, where some cyclists were walking down, deciding that it was a far better option in these biblical conditions. The streets and headlights reflected over the glistening black tarmac road which was covered in slippery white lines and branches, thrown from the trees in the storm. I rolled past cyclists who had lost confidence in their trusted machines: only a few days ago they were polishing their steeds at home with the dream of completing the much-awaited Lands End to John O’Groats challenge. Now sitting upon the saddle, with weary sit-bones, one foot unclipped and dragging down the road, they were just hoping they were going to stop in time for the right turn at the junction fast approaching. I’ve ridden in some crazy conditions over the past few years, and leaving Bath that morning was up there for sure. But it’s these memories I crave when having adventures.
It was a decision that just came to me, while I was talking to the team at Sense, the charity that had kindly asked me to be their ambassador. I didn’t even think twice about it - during the phone call I said “why don’t I ride my fat bike? It will get loads of attention and hopefully help raise the profile of Sense on the ride.” I knew it was a really stupid idea, that’s why I liked it. Who in their right mind would consider doing such a daft thing? It would probably be the first time that the route had been done on a fat bike, but I didn’t really care about that. I wanted to make it harder for myself. I’ve found that during adventures, the harder things are for me, the more I learn about myself. I like to see where my mind goes in physically demanding times, and how I deal with it mentally. When those things come together, it generally gives me an experience that I’m super proud of myself for achieving. There’s an element of enjoyment, mostly type 2 fun, or retrospective fun. You look back at the end and you forget all the hardships, because you sometimes can’t quite believe you got through it. Experiences like these give me the confidence to try new things, pushing myself further and harder each time. I’ve always wanted to know just what my mind and body are capable of, and mad adventures like this, and making them harder, is simply my ticket to finding out.
The amazing group of riders got through that morning, and a few other mornings and moments like this one leaving Bath, to achieve something extraordinary. Riding the length of a country is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. Travelling by bike has certainly captured my passion for adventures at the moment, and I can’t seem to get enough of it. The beauty of the Deloitte Ride Across Britain (RAB) is that it attracts such a wide range of characters. People are riding for so many different reasons that you can’t help but be inspired to climb on your bike every day and join in the madness! The people I have met over the past few days have been utter class. The way these guys and girls have conducted themselves in some really tough conditions is a credit to them. The reason I say this is not meant to be patronising by any means at all. I ride a bike for a living, so the physical aspect of it wasn’t too much for me to worry about. Sitting on a saddle for that amount of time is something that I’m used to. I camp quite a lot, so spending time in tents in the pouring rain isn’t a new experience for me either. But when this is all pretty much new to you, riding 100 miles a day in the rain and wind is hard enough, then having to sleep on the floor in a wet damp tent at night, only to get up at 5am to do it all again is bloody hard going.
I rode with the same bunch of guys for pretty much the whole 9 days: Matt (el Capitan), Nick (don’t worry, I live here), Peter, Nick, Tom (aka Tommy four days) and James (Mr Rock Tape). For hours we talked our way through 969 miles of Britain. We tried to sing, very badly of course, through the hard times. We fought through relentless headwinds and heavenly downpours, made fun of each other and took the micky given any opportunity. They were my band of brothers, strangers on day one, but good friends by day nine. The great thing about sharing such a tough journey is that you get the measure of the true person, not just the first impressions. I watched these guys push themselves, break down personal barriers and learn about themselves. The same way that I was learning about myself. Events like this form bonds, strong bonds. For that I’m always very grateful, and why I like having new experiences so much.
Each day is pretty similar: you are woken at 5:30 by the first verse of an uplifting motivating rock or pop classic. You then drag your tired and sore body out of your tent, and struggle to stay balanced on your wobbly limbs as you cut through the rows of tents, taking the shortest distance to breakfast. Once in the breakfast tent, you are surrounded by others, who you can tell are in the same boat as you, and you still exchange a up beat and friendly, hello or ‘morning’! You shovel food down your face, eating two or three times what you normally do at home, because you are riding 100 miles. Once the food has been ticked off, you head back to your damp tent via the drying room to collect yesterday’s still soggy kit. Then you start sorting out today’s kit - what you will wear and what you don’t need, get changed and then stuff everything else into your bag that seems to be growing by the day and getting harder to fit everything in, even though you haven’t got anything more than you started with. You clear your tent and zip it up, then head to the bathroom to do your teeth, then to bag drop. The guys there are always super cheery even at this ridiculous hour of the morning. Again there are others stumbling around you like zombies. From there it’s onto the High 5 tent to fill your bottles and grab a gel or two, just in case. Now you are starting to wake up and you see familiar faces, everyone in a rush to get going. You collect your bike from the bike rack, and even though mine stands out, I struggle to find it most days. No one else has decided they want to ride a fat bike today. On the way out of the bike racks you show the guys your wrist band to make sure you have the right bike. I stopped doing this after day 2 as they knew I was the only unhinged person to ride such a random bike on the road.
It’s now about half seven and you start to meet the other guys who you will be riding with. As the last person shows up, you give them grief for being late, even though you were only seconds before them. You switch on your Garmin and lights, and throw your leg over your bike, which gets harder to do in one smooth motion as the days go on. You then feel your sit bones as you lower yourself onto the saddle, and roll off under the start banner to whoops, bells and cheers from the Threshold team. It feels good to be back on your bike and moving, and each pedal revolution is one less you have to do before the end of the day. You know you have 100 miles plus to ride so you ease into the day, chatting as you ride and having a laugh. Before you know it, the first Pit Stop comes around and you’ve chatted away 35 odd miles. You stop to eat even more food. The spread is always amazing, and you can’t help yourself going back for seconds.
You roll out of the first Pit Stop and get on your way to the second. Your legs feel like you have sat in a cafe for hours, even though it has only been 20 minutes. You slowly find your rhythm again as you roll through some amazing countryside, shooting the breeze with the group you are riding with. You roll past other groups, and racers fly past you, often commenting on the fat bike that hums along underneath me, as the fat tyres drag along the road. As you start to tire, you only have a couple of miles before you hear the cheering people and the bells of Pit Stop 2. This is normally around 73 miles and you know there is not long to go. You head for the food tent and go for anything savoury, after eating sweet stuff all morning. A quick refill of the bottles and you are back on the road with cafe legs again. This stretch is often the hardest, as your mind just wants to get off the bike. Your sit bones and other strange parts of your body start to hurt as you count the miles down. You feel relief as you finally roll into base camp and under the big black Threshold Sports banner, to the cheers of the support team, who each day go out of their way to make you feel like a hero.
You thank the guys you ride with and head for the bike racks, ditch your bike and head for tent allocation. Then you collect your bag from the DHL guys who are always a happy bunch to chat to. The next challenge is a mission to find your green tent in a sea of 700 green tents, but they are all numbered, and you find yours with relative ease. If it’s not raining, you stand outside and throw sleeping mats and sleeping bag in before throwing the rest of your stuff in, fill your wash bag and then head straight for a hot shower. The showers are aways hot too, I didn’t hear of anyone having a cold shower which is amazing, and a credit to Posh Wash, the shower people. Once you’re clean and warm, you head into the food tent and start eating again, trying to replace the thousands of calories you have just burnt. Eating and drinking continues as you laugh about the day with your new friends and chat to others you have seen out on the road. You might squeeze in a quick massage or some foam rolling, just to add some more pain to the day. At half 8, you get a briefing from the Threshold team: Daddy Mac stands up and entertains you with stories of the day and a quote or two of inspiration. Then it’s time for housekeeping info and what to expect out on the road during tomorrow’s 100 plus mile day. Before you know it, 10 o’clock sneaks up, and it’s time to hit the hay and prepare for another big day of riding. It kind of continues like that for 9 days. You get more and more in tune with what you need to do around the base camps, which makes the down time and recovery better. Everyone is tired but upbeat at the end of the day, and some of the stories you hear are brilliant. You really have the feeling that no matter how in shape or unfit you are, you are one big family on this journey together.
Being asked to ride for Sense as an ambassador has been a great honour, and something I will remember for a very long time. I’d like to thank all of the staff there who have helped pull this RAB together for me, especially Emma and Damian. I really appreciate everything you have done to make this happen, and I can’t thank you enough.
To my sponsors Alpkit and Sonder: thanks for kitting me out with a record-breaking bike and kit that kept me warm and dry on those tough days. Thanks to Dirty Dog Eyewear for improving my looks and vision on and off the bike, and to 17 Management, in particular Ian Byers who has been amazing at getting my fundraising story out there. It really is an honour to be associated with you all and to have your support on my adventures, big and small.
Day One: Lands End to Okehampton, 105 miles, 2616m accent, 7hrs 36 ride time
Day Two: Okehampton to Bath, 113 miles, 2144m ascent, 7hrs 28 ride time
Day Three: Bath to Ludlow, 106 miles, 1689m ascent, 7hrs 1 ride time
Day Four: Ludow to Haydock, 107 miles, 1023m ascent, 6hrs 19 ride time
Day Five: Haydock to Penrith, 107 miles, 1756m ascent, 7hrs 21 ride time
Day Six: Penrith to Hamilton,100 miles, 1088m ascent, 6hrs 35 ride time
Day Seven: Hamilton to Fort William,126 miles, 1895m ascent, 7hrs 58 ride time
Day Eight: Fort William to Bonar Bridge, 111 miles, 1234m ascent, 7hrs 21 ride time
Day Nine: Bona Bridge to John O’Groats, 104miles, 1510m ascent, 6hrs 33 ride time
Mechanicals on the road: Broken spoke nipple
Below is my fundraising link, it will be open for a while, yet so please feel free to contribute if you can.