Bye Bye RRTY

RRTY= Randonneur Round the Year, it is a fairly simple concept of an award run by Audax UK: 

You ride 1 calendar (organised ride on a specific date), permanent (set route/ride, but on a date of your choosing) or DIY (route and date dictated by yourself, but meeting specific criteria) event of at least 200km for 12 months consecutively.  Simples. 

We started in May this year, almost incidentally, and then as the months continued so did the impetus to keep going… especially as we would finish very conveniently in April 2022 leaving May free for our final preparations for the Round the World record attempt.  It was a great motivator riding 1 long ride a month, planning them in and keeping momentum.  An then we got Covid19 in November and missed our calendar ride.  So, we planned a permanent version for the last available day we had in November.

One last chance.  

Poorly with Covid19

Now there will be two schools of thought here: 

#1 Why on earth are we exercising so soon after Covid? We should be resting to ensure full recovery and minimise the risk of complications.  Especially as sub-zero temperatures and high winds are predicted with storm Arwyn (you know it’s bad when they have a name) and we should be wrapped up home with a mug of cocoa. 

#2 It’s only 200km, ~130miles, in 14hours.  Our average speed would need to be 9.5mph (even I struggle to ride that slow) and with a flat route, designed for winter riding with plenty of controls with hot food a drink.  Surely, we should be able to drag our sorry arses around that after already done 6 out of the 12months! 

But of course, it is not as simple as either.  We are talking endurance riding here, not max wattage sprinting with our heart rates through the roof.  The pace will always be steady and given that I have already been commuting to work on the bike and done a few short runs and rides and I would like to think we have taken ourselves to the limit enough times to know what we are capable of without putting our health at risk.  But 9.5mph is easy on paper but not when you factor in stops, and the complications of winter riding. 

And this is the key to RRTY: the winter months.  It’s much easier if you have a whole month of weekends (or even weekdays) to choose from, but if like us you are restricted to certain date it is inevitable at some point you will be at the mercy of the UK weather. 

It is not just the weather that makes winter riding hard though, but all the associated complications of colder temperatures and shorter days.  The air is somehow heavier in winter, harder to move through the lungs and it feels like you get less oxygen from every breath as it mists out of your mouth.  You expend more energy trying to warm the air up as it enters your body, and more energy in general is lost trying to stay warm.  Maintaining heat while riding is a tricky balance between staying warm and not sweating as the sweat instantly cools against your skin making your body heat plummet, usually on the inevitable descent.  And then if you have to stop for any reason, it is a race against time to do what needs to be done, I suffered a puncture in the back wheel in the first 15miles of this ride and we both worked quickly together to fix it and were cold enough after this.  Hands are the worst, not only for the hot aches when they do finally warm up which have driven me to tears before, but also because of the impact it has on braking and changing gears subtly reducing your speed further.  Every sip of your water bottle feels like and icicle has been driven directly into your chest and it is near impossible to stay properly hydrated in these conditions without stopping. 

Don’t lose your hands!

So, stop we do, spurning our usually petrol station forecourts for the warmth of cafes and pubs where this inevitably take longer, and the reluctance to leave is greater, dragging yourself from centrally heated bliss into the freezer outside once more.  And then there are the layers, not only the time taken putting on and taking off, but the extra weight, the extra energy to move through limbs that feel stuffed like the Michelin man and the continual adjusting to maintain homeostasis. 

Wrapped up and ready to go!

And then there are the roads, we were lucky today as it is cold but remarkably dry but there is still the risk of icy- one of the most dangerous things to encounter, alongside some of the winter driving skills of the general public.  I hate ice. It terrifies me. 

And then there’s the other usual obstacles too…

So, with all these extra issues add on the seconds and minutes, these quickly become hours and your average speed drops dramatically.  And then the sun sets mid-afternoon.  

I love night riding, but there is no doubt it is slower.  It takes you longer to read the road, motivation can drop, it’s hard for cars to pass you and easier to miss signs and get lost.  So, time must be factored in for night riding and on a 200km this could be 5 hours in the dark, where this risk of ice with falling temperatures is higher too. 

But knowing all this from numerous winter rides over the years we had a rough idea of what we were in for on the permanent version of Mr Pickwicks Crych Cymru (if anyone knows who Mr Pickwick is I’d love to know…) I spent the week before neurotically checking the weather on a range of sites and apps including epic ride weather which handily plots the weather along our route.  It was obviously going to be a bit touch and go weather wise with the best case being a very chilly start (feeling like –6’c with wind gust over 30mph) but at least it was dry so with a much lower risk of ice thanks to Storm Arwyn blowing the dampness from the ground.  

Dry roads

Another problem we had was that we had originally planned to camp over in our campervan before the ride to allow for an early start and speedy get away.  This is usually fine, but there is not heating in the van when parked and the thought of trying to dress and get bikes off in the cold was just too much, so we bailed and decided to splash out on a Travelodge which provided us with somewhere warm to dress, eat breakfast and get as many cups of tea as we could stomach.  

Just a light breakfast
Dawn at the Travelodge

With this plan in place, I convinced Stevie we should at least start the ride.  We both acknowledged the conditions were far from ideal and that we might still be so compromised from Covid the ride might not be possible, but I strongly felt we should at least start.  Not just for the RRTY, although this means a great deal to me in terms of my motivation, but because we are cyclists; that is what we do.  I had desperately missed being out on the bike in self isolation and I’d felt frustrated that I hadn’t been able to get beyond the usual lanes in so long.  I didn’t just want an hour mooching about, I wanted the peace in my head that only comes from a whole day on the bike when your thoughts quieten and all you have to do is keep turning the pedals… 

Start we did, full of an all you can eat breakfast and wrapped up warm- it was a great chance to tr out our Huub winter training jackets and these proved to be just the tickets- warm, stretchy, breathable and yet able hold off a light shower.  I’m usually not a fan of fluorescent colours but I was certainly glad of the visibility of these when the light levels dropped. 

Wrapped up well!

If was a crisp and clear as expected and a very pleasant route out of Tewkesbury, meandering through the valleys.  Stevie suffered with his hands a bit and then we both did after the puncture but warmed up again.  However, we were obviously not back to peak performance, fine rolling along the flat but any hills had us crawling with tight chest unable to summon the power in our legs we were used to. A wrong turn and an unintended climb near Symonds Yat had us gasp for breath and questioning our ability to keep the speed up. 

“Let’s get to Monmouth, there’s a Wetherspoons there” 

We rolled along an unexpectedly gravelly track to the familiar riverside town and proceeded to take full advantage of the bottomless refills of hot drinks.  But we had a problem: we were at quarter distance and by the time we had eaten this had taken us 4 hours… so making the 14-hour time limit would only be possible by riding faster, which was certainly not going to happen once it got dark. 

The tuna baked potato of despair

We discussed it over yet more food, but the conclusion was clear- we would never make it round in time and it would a futile and extremely hard ride.  As we had chosen a route that was pretty much out and back it was easy for us to turn around and ride back.   The aches in our legs from so much enforced time off the bikes confirmed this was the right decision and Stevie is convinced the exceptional soreness in his derriere is a complication of Covid19, not lack of time in the saddle. 

So, meander back we did and were definitely pleased with our decision as icy shower set in for the last 5miles into Tewkesbury- we would have coped but it would have been miserable and when we got back the van we had done 75 miles the thought of doing another 55 miles seemed impossible. 

I am absolutely gutted to have to call it a day on another amazing challenge, but know we have made the right decision- we are still very much in recovery and know how far we can push ourselves.  I am exceptionally proud of how we worked as a team, risk assessed the ride and made the appropriate decisions before and during the ride.  It is these skills we will need to break the round the World record, not battering on regardless.  I didn’t even have too much of a strop! 

Bye bye RRTY… but onwards with training and riding and enjoying bikes! 

No love lost for dragging him on a ridiculous ride!

“’Ungry then boys?”

A post about being a female cyclist.

….“Ungry then boys?”…

Boomed the jovial café waiter as I inhaled a plate of cheesy beans on toast topped with 2 fried eggs immediately after devouring a rather large bacon butty.  I fear the combination of my lack of ladylike decorum and the busy café being packed with mostly male and middle-aged cyclists meant the waiter assumed I was one of the same, if slightly more diminutive. 

It’s a joke that keeps on trucking between my husband Stevie and I, but does make the point that you see what you expect to see and if every other person in the café is similarly dressed and male it was a reasonable assumption to make… Or was it? 

Don’t worry, the women were back in force the following year!

Historically Audax has suffered from being linked to a specific demograph and infamously several years ago now ran the London-Wales-London audax with more participants that were called Dave than were female!  I do feel the difference has shifting somewhat to be much more inclusive in general in terms of age, sex, race etc and people like Katie Kookaburra are doing a lot to promote broader participation.  The fact still stands however that it is a majority of white older male riders who turn up to events. 

The question why is potentially less straightforward than it seems: is it just that men on the brink of retirement can find nothing better to do then ride their bicycles exceptionally long distances while their wives cook dinner? Many do have a loved one at home, but there is certainly a fair share of solo riders too and arguably women of the same generation are equally likely to be retired and therefore free to ride their bicycles.  Is it a generational issue related to women? This doesn’t quite seem to ring true to me as increasingly there are many great female endurance athletes competing at the highest levels of their sport: Mimi Anderson, Nikki Spinks and Rosie Swale-Pope are some of my favourites (see this article for more speculation why).  And in terms of the culture of women riding bicycles there are plenty of strong female riders from the history books; Beryl Burton being an exceptional example and there are many stories from wartime Britain and earlier of female cyclists.  There are certainly strong older and wiser female riders putting us whippersnappers to shame currently with Marcia Roberts  (LeJogLe female WR holder) and Judith Swallow (Audaxer extraordinaire). 

So, without a clear answer to why more women aren’t participating alongside their male compatriots, maybe clarity can come from why some women are…  

I have always been a bit of a tomboy, more interested in climbing trees than playing with dolls and being part of my local Sea Scout group growing up allowed me to be as rough and ready as any of the boys, not afraid to pitch in and get a bit muddy on occasion! I have always felt like there are very few barriers to doing what the opposite sex can and have had a strong sense of pride and independence based on this.  This did however make for a rather sudden reality check when all the boys hit puberty and I could no longer match them kayak racing (my sport of choice at the time). 

I have always had plenty of male friends too and frequently find girly gossip about make up, fashion and celebrities confusing and not part of my world… and don’t even start me on what leggings to wear to go to the gym!  I am much more interested in which waterproof is best, maps and how to fix my bike.  So maybe it was no huge surprise I felt quite at home on my first audax rides and even with that case of mistaken (sex) identity have never felt particularly unusual, unwelcome or exceptional because I’m a girl.  The only other acknowledgment I can recall is when organisers have been happy for me to have bunk in the male dorms so Stevie and I can stay together with our shared kit/alarms etc. One particularly gruff organiser showed his soft side by even dragging two airbeds together for us once! 

Maybe it is ingrained in the self-sufficient nature of audax too that I am never offered unwelcome help or it assumed I need special treatment because I’m female, it may be that Stevie is often with me (although the one occasion I did have some chauvinistic interference on Paris-Brest-Paris, Stevie was there and failed to intervene!) but on the whole I am left to my own devices.   

But as well there is an element that I don’t expect special treatment either.  There obviously are differences between men and women and it is foolish and detrimental to pretend there are not, but I have always been determined to find my own way of adjusting, rather than expecting adjustments to be made for me.   I know the limits of my own strength and speed, and therefore factor this in.  There are some bonuses like I take a lot longer to “bonk” than Stevie and I have heard the theory this is due to women carrying more subcutaneous fat, which I could believe.  I have times of the month I am ropier than others, but accept this and move on rather than whinging and moaning.  I have perfected my super speed squat for a pee so that I can still modestly relieve myself without full facilities… only to be recently foiled by bib shorts very kindly donated by our sponsor Huub.  But, adjusting again, I am working on becoming proficient at the standing she-wee –wee with these! 

So, I feel a big part of being accepted, is by not making myself the exception.   

Sport should be inclusive for all but sometimes I feel the need for “changes” to make sport inclusive for women is overblown and actually we just need to get out there and do it. After all men have their own challenges too (where do they put all those bits to avoid saddle sores!) 

The biggest factor is seeing, hearing and watching other women get involved and I have been really lucky to speak to and meet so many super inspiring women recently from the wonderful Jessie Stevens (14yr old riding 500miles to COP26) to Emily Chappell. 

There is so much negativity in the media at the moment surrounding women, exercise and the outdoors and undoubtedly some truly horrendous things have happened but I believe it is important to have a “can do” attitude and to get out there!  When Stevie told a female friend I was wild bivvying last Summer they were horrified saying they would never let their daughter do that… I found this quite confounding as there are less boogie men in the bushes on a remote hillside in the Peak District than in Derby city centre and with being prepared and sensible, I felt quite safe.  Why would you consider denying your daughter than opportunity if that’s what she wanted to do? Is it really riskier than a night out in a city? 

I took sustenance and a guard dog too!

I hate to think that women are now too scared to venture out alone- I often ride the back roads and run off road by myself at night (with Stevie knowing my route and eta) and rarely see anyone else and can rarely be seen with my headlight dazzling anyone I do see.  I worry that some of the commotion about the recent awful events is segregating and scaring women when these mindless acts of the deranged are in fact few and far between and sadly unpredictable. 

Maybe I have been exceptionally lucky in my life, but I have no “me too” story here, just many years of feeling included, safe and welcome in the sport of my choice.  I hope this will be increasingly the case for women, and everyone, who wants to get involved in sport and the outdoors, but in the meantime just get out there and give it a go! 

If you are looking for female inspiration the Tough Girl Podcast and the multitude of groups on facebook such as Peak Brevettes are great places to start. Remember: you don’t have to be a woman to be inspired by one either 😉

All Points North: Part 4, Perseverance

I woke up to morning sunlight streaming onto my closed eyes while the nagging alarm refused to let me slip back into blissful sleep in the soft sheets… I stirred and groaned as every muscle in my body complained at the rude awakening, only to groan even louder as I sat up on my tender derriere!

The fourth day in the saddle and it was beginning to show. Lathering copious amounts of sudocream on we kitted up quickly and stumbled blinking into the hotel foyer and then into bright sunshine. The Tuesday morning traffic hummed past and it felt surreal to mount the bicycle to join the commuting traffic for the final 172miles of our ride… that’s right only 172miles to go!

Finally as average speed over 10mph! It didn’t last long though…

We took the main road out of Middlesbrough which was busier than we would have liked but at least directional and made quick progress spurred on by the promise of a hot breakfast supplied under a couple of golden arches. 15 miles down the road I was delightedly stuffing my face with as many McMuffins as I could comfortably consume (3, in case you are wondering) and some fanta and a coffee made me feel all brand new. We are not usually huge fans of Mc Donald’s but in cases like this it definitely hit the spot! We saw another rider there who looked as tired as we felt and it was certainly an easy point in the race to hit a low.

My breakfast!

We were determined to stay focused, and set our sights on the next goal : Runswick Bay. This was only 10miles down the road but luckily this was just enough time to digest before the “best” down and up to a checkpoint yet! I had had a clue this would be a steep one from posts on social media and tried to gently give Stevie the heads up but on reaching the crest of the 30% decline he was not so amused at the organisers knowing we would be coming straight back up it! The information we needed for the brevet was right at the end of the road too so took some finding before we dropped into our lowest gear to winch the bike back out of the picturesque holiday beach scene. “Are you sure about this?” I gasped to Stevie as we crawled past bemused holiday makers strolling down the slope carrying buckets and spades. The truth is we are proud we can get the tandem up pretty much any climb in the saddle (honking is a different skill entirely) and have conquered Hardknott, Wrynose and Rosedale chimney to name a few so weren’t going to be beaten this time… also the amount of effort it takes to push a laden tandem uphill is quite remarkable and much slower!

The exertion had me miss a turn at the top but this was soon made up and we headed inland and West towards the North York Moors. More familiar territory from Coast to Coasting and we had been particularly cautious of our route in the area to avoid getting sucked into the likes of Rosedale chimney of other infamous climbs the merciless Andy Corless had inflicted on us in the Mille Pennines. It was the hottest day yet however and even the exposed moorland on the tops was baking in the heat. A brief respite for ice creams, biltong and cold drinks in Castleton keep us going for a bit but soon Stevie was craving a chip shop. We were defeated on numerous occasions with red herrings of signs for chippies that were then closed and settled for more pasta salads and cold drinks in Helmsley which was packed full of tourists. I was feeling distinctly hot, bothered and a bit dizzy when a biker noticed our ride and said to Stevie, “Goodness, you look knackered! Must be because she’s not doing any work on the back!”

Luckily he was just about far enough out or range for me to summon the effort to launch myself at him so I quickly stormed off with a temper as hot as the midday heat. “She’s got her feet up on the back” is all part of tandem stoking, but this was not the time or the place to accuse me of taking it easy!!

All too soon out of the town we were climbing again up to our 8th control point Reivaulx Abbey. Somewhere I had never heard of before and a beautiful, yet isolated place of course involving a down then up to get to the phone box which marked the control.

After Runswick Bay the climb seemed mild and we were quickly pushing on through the moors and out towards Malton where we cracked again and screeched to a half in front of Costa for iced coffees and toasties. We tried not to linger long and we still had the last checkpoint to go and the clock was still ticking. More rolling roads out to Beverley made for tough riding and we were pushing hard, the sun started to dip in the horizon and I was desperate to make the control before sunset, partly to feel like we still had some control over this ride and partly because I really wanted as little night riding as possible. It was not to be however and the descent to Beverley weaving through a tunnelled canopy of trees meant the lights had to go on and another frustrating stop be made. Stevie was still after his fish and chips as we felt confident we would find some quickly in this large town. We found the “North Bar” easily, one of the old city gates, and quickly scouted the illuminated signs around: pizza, Chinese, Lebanese but no good old trad fish and chips! We road a few metres down the road and still nothing but passed a fellow cyclist having a pint after his ride. He gave us directions to the nearest chippy which not only didn’t prove as near as we had hoped but was also shut! What a waste of time!

Beverley North Bar 553miles

The kind hearted cyclist then asked where we were staying and we then had to explain the whole scenario of the event but he still didn’t seem convinced and pedalled off still offering us a bed for the night… I suppose ultra distance doesn’t make sense to many people!

We resigned ourselves to more pizza and I made a split second decision from the menu before nipping to the pub across the road to buy a half pint of diet coke so I could use their loo. I was struggling a bit to make conversation with the friendly bar lady, but desperate not to recount our whole story again so managed to turn the conversation to weather in the nick of time. As I crossed the road I came back to a very upset Stevie as we had managed to get the most generously topped pizza in the North that was going to take time to eat, we’d lost a lot of time already and he was convinced we wouldn’t be back before 4:30am at the earliest and then an equally flustered Anisa road up with a broken Garmin and also well behind where she expected!

Similar to my meltdown the night before I think the tiredness and strain was just catching up with Stevie, and arguably he has a harder mental challenge captaining the tandem for so long. I convinced him to eat some pizza, we packaged up the rest and headed into the night and the final significant climb leaving Anisa to sort herself out- this would have felt harsh in other events, but she seemed spurred on by seeing us and the self supported nature is acknowledged by all participants. It was 8:30pm by the time we reached this last control so the finishers meal would already have been well underway and we had 65miles left…

The climb I had been fearing was much less of an issue after everything else we had been through and we soon started to pick up speed again. Finally the tandem got to stretch her legs on the flat and I started to get excited about picking up speed and it actually looking we might finish this ride! We had already completed the 10 points, now just to ride home!!

Essentially, it was a choice between being excited or being sleepy so I tried to stick with the former. We seemed to have picked a strange route which took us along peaceful back roads and alongside numerous waterways which I suspect would have been quiet scenic in the light. It wasn’t the most stimulating of environments though and the speaker soon came on and the caffeine chewing gum came out for Stevie. I tried to stick to sour chewy sweets for as long as I could and when the music started to fail inflicted my manic chatting on Stevie to try and keep him awake. His digestion was suffering though and we made frequent stops to try food, Rennies, paracetamol or just a bum rest, while I tried not to get frustrated by the loss of speed. Eventually we came across a petrol station and Stevie was whacked and needed a cat nap, I flicked through social media and paced up and down as quietly as I could to try and not slip into sleepiness too, focusing on the relatively short distance we had left. 10minutes of resting his eyes and a strong coffee certainly helped but the next challenge was our routing in….

Cat napping

We had chosen to follow a National Cycle Route which would have been perfect to avoid busy main roads in the daylight if we were on it 5-6pm as planned, but at midnight a dark rutted track with overhanging branches was the last thing we needed. Emergency rerouting by me resulted in us pushing the tandem up some steps and back onto the main road to essentially follow signs for Sheffield. Stevie still exhausted seemed unable to process the distance left and as we dropped from 40 to 30 to 25miles left it still seemed as if he didn’t believe we were reaching our arrivee. But as we know from audaxes, it can all still go wrong in the last 15miles and given our routing misdemeanour earlier I was paranoid about the route I had planned and its suitability. Furiously I panned in and out of the GPS trying to figure out the most direct way to our destination. On entering the city it felt like every decision I made, be it whether to follow the GPS track or divert off it was wrong and we seemed to zigzag towards our destination and certainly took in one extra unnecessary climb before finally the chequered flag of the finish appears on the screen- I had barely dared to look up at the sleeping city around. As we neared the flag my cloudy and confused mind had a panic- the finisher meal was at the Heeley Institute but when was the control moving back to a Different Gear? Was it tonight or tomorrow? I just couldn’t remember and the extra mile suddenly felt too much. I was disorientated on the approach and fearing that we would waste more time figuring out where to go when suddenly there were a couple of people on the corner and hushed cheers- we had made it!!

Having been self sufficient for so long suddenly we could not have been looked after better, Tori and another helper got the tandem inside, noted our arrival time, brought beer and curry and generally couldn’t do enough for us whilst putting up with our almost incoherent attempts at conversation (although they did note our slight unconventional route in). We had made it! And typically I just felt tired and anti-climactical, all the emotion having been drained out of me by the enormity of the ride. But there was a sense of relief, the pain could end, the rest could come and we knew in the days to come the immense sense of achievement would build as we truly began to process what we had done.

Round up: Anisa rolled in at about 9:30am having rested overnight but we were delighted to see she got round safely. Of 80 entrants, 68 road and there were 5 pairs. 45 riders finished, with a 30 second gap between the two first (epic dot watching!) and 3 pairs, including us, the only tandem finishing in 79 hours 34 minutes.

We are massively grateful to Ang, Tori and everyone that put on such an epic event- the amount of work that went in was astounding and made it a very special experience.

After this, going around the World should be easy…. right?!

It definitely felt warmer than 26’c but that might have been the hills!

Stats…

  • Number of pizza consumed around the event: 9

Laura

  • Best food: The curry from Bhaji Shop at the end
  • Worst food: The rubbish wrap that was designed to be warmed up, eaten cold at Malham Tarn
  • Best stretch of road: The descent down from Upper Coquetdale at dusk
  • Worst stretch of road: The yet another climb just before Durham in the icy mist
  • Biggest success: Relying our plan/processes, even though it took longer than expected without the plan I feel we would have lost the plot before the end!
  • Biggest lesson: Attention to detail with the route… especially at the end and have a back up plan if you arrive at a different time than you expect!

Stevie

  • Best food: Breakfast at the A66 cafe
  • Worst food: The wrap. Again. It was awful.
  • Best stretch of road: 50mph descent
  • Worst stretch of road: A66 before the A66 cafe, too much traffic!
  • Biggest success: Climbing everything in the saddle (to protect the tandem back wheel), including Honister and out of Runswick Bay.
  • Biggest lesson: Remembering that plans and schedules are fluid and not everything pans out as it does on paper. You need to be reactive to what is happening right now in front of you.

Watch the footage from the “backseat” on YouTube on our SteLa Tandem channel: here!

We are also delighted to feature in Episode 171 of the Cycling Podcast and interviewed by pro-cyclist Lizzy Banks!

See the other ride reports from All Points North 2021 here!

All Points North: Part 3, Pride

Again, the alarm went off far too soon and we bundled ourselves out into a soggy grey morning as quickly as we could. The beautifully peaceful empty carriageways of the early hours had been transformed into a gritty, busy, hectic scrum of Monday morning traffic and I realised the initial plan had been to ride this stretch earlier in the morning before we realised there was no point getting to Upper Coquetdale before 5pm… the road closed for firing until then.

Roadworks made the traffic even worse and we road in silence for several miles unable to talk over the string of lorries thundering past, luckily the hard shoulder left room but it was far from a pleasurable experience. Last night’s (or rather early morning) pot noodle was wearing off already and we were trying to reach Brough where we turned off onto quieter roads to get a break when suddenly a sign for a cafe appeared in my limited peripheral vision around Stevie’s lower back- we barely needed to say anything to know we were pulling in. Cafes are always a risk when you are in a rush as it can be amazing how long it can take produce some hot food. Sometimes as if it is a complete surprise to the kitchen staff that we have ordered something to be cooked off the menu and they must first acquire the raw ingredients and then build a cooker from scratch before individually cooking each item with the finesse of a Michelin starred chef… but in this case we were lucky and a full English with bountiful hot tea was rapidly produced and then consumed! There is no doubt that this took longer than eating cold sandwiches on the pavement but the boost to morale was worth it… just!

A veritable feast!

As soon as we turned off the relatively flat main road we started to climb, and this was to become the theme for the rest of the day. We had learnt from Anisa some riders were heading to Carlisle before cutting across to Upper Coquetdale and we started to wonder if we had missed a trick here but crossing the lumpy Northumberland terrain. I love this part of the country though, Stevie finds the isolation eerie but to feel so separate from civilization fills me with peace and excitement in equal measure and takes me back to our last couple of days on the Pennine Way where we were completely alone in the wilderness.

More familiar places from the Pennine Way came in the form of Grassholme Reservoir and we saw a couple of other APN riders whizzing down the the checkpoint here as we ground our way back up yet another out a back climb. One rider was planning to try and exit from Grassholme the other side as he was going the other way around from us… I’m not sure if there are solid roads there so hope he faired ok!

Grassholme Reservoir 287miles, not even halfway!

It is now 10:50am and we are 287miles into the ride and focused on getting to Upper Coquetdale by 5pm when the red flags will be lowered and we shouldn’t get shot!

Middleton in Teesdale felt very familiar from various cycling and hiking events and holidays and we avoided getting lured into the shops and cafes here only to cave and pull over for coffee near High Force to try and perk us up. The road was rolling flatter here, but is suspect it was a gradual climb, especially with the River Tees thundering down the falls alongside it. Then up and over again and through the Wearhead Military range which had a distinctive enough red flag to make us stop and check we weren’t “in range”, but it turns out 1 area to dodge bullets was actually enough for this ride and the road was free to ride. Time seemed to both drag and speed up at this point as every mile seemed hard won and the hours seemed to slip by, especially as the afternoon heat kicked in. We managed to hold out until Hayden Bridge before another stop and knew we must fill up and fuel up here as otherwise it would be a detour off route or close to 80miles before the next shop.

Stevie got collared by an enthusiastic bloke from Essex on his holidays who insisted on knowing the whole story of our ride. We normally stick to naming the last place we’ve been through and the next place we are going implying they are the start and end points to prevent confusion, but this gent was insistent and then incredulous and then determined we would repeat the whole saga for his rather uninterested wife! Making a speedy exit before anyone else twigged what we were up to we made our way up into the glorious peace of the hills again but for more slow progress and the aim of reaching the bottom of the road from Upper Coquetdale looking increasingly unrealistic.

Eventually reaching the old Roman road called Dere Street I had been optimistic of making up time along what a appeared to be a relatively flat, straight road and made the mistake of letting Stevie know it was now a 50miles out and back to this point. Sometimes ignorance is bliss though…

You know you’re up North when…

The road was not flat as of course if you build a straight road from a to b (especially in the North) it just goes up and over every incline and contour in the landscape. A steadily rolling road sapped any speed we could have hoped to have before three short sharp descents guaranteed us we wouldn’t be going any faster on the way back either. I was devastated to lose so much more time as had my heart set on clawing back time along this stretch before the final climb up to Upper Coquetdale. Our sleep deprived brains struggled to make sense of the miles remaining to the checkpoint and the time and distance just didn’t seem to add up.

Eventually reaching the turn for the Otterburn Ranges we were obviously well outside of firing times, as much as army vehicles were still out doing whatever army vehicles do. The single track road was at least pretty empty and the countryside around beautifully in that wonderful feeling of space the Cheviots have. A bit of passing traffic from some cows on the road at the climb actually went better than expected… before the typically unnecessary steep 25% descent to a carpark with a sign that was the checkpoint. We met another rider there that had gone the longer way round and then a third soon caught us up from the same direction- it seemed everyone was converging on the checkpoint at the same time! We made a quick turnaround though filling in the Brevet card with 19:50pm, almost 2 hours later than hoped, getting our photos and beating up the short climb before enjoying the long steady descent. Or at least I was enjoying it, Stevie has the job of avoiding kamikaze sheep and rabbits on the road and after a bit of “discussion” I conceded and agreed we should put the lights on which was just as well as it was pretty much dark before we reached the rolling Roman road.

It wasn’t quite as bad as expected, but not sure the prior knowledge did us any favours and we had lost more time before reaching the intersection again. A bit of flatter terrain gave me false hope of picking up speed as we road into the night but there were of course more climbs to come and one particularly stiff ascent left us rolling through Durham too late for even Dominos pizza which was open until 1am! Over 48hours of hard riding and little sleep or respite was starting to wear on me, I was just completely determined that we could stay on track but too befuddled to realise this was no longer a possibility. We stopped briefly in a carpark to stretch the legs and I started to lose the plot completely, frustrated we couldn’t raise our speed and that no matter what we did time was slipping away. Watching the speed drop to 9…8…7…6…5mph was soul destroying when we had worked so hard, the bike and us were just too heavy to climb faster. Even if we had put in everything we had on those hills we would have gained barely any speed and the effort would have been counterproductive in the long term, it was just so hard to accept that we were moving so slowly. Stevie at least would have been faster around the whole course on a solo bike, but even I would have been faster up those hills!

When the next “top of the mountain” icon appeared on my Garmin miles down the road I almost went into full-on meltdown, even considering a massive detour to avoid another time-sapping climb- I’d rather have ridden faster for longer than keep grinding at this point. Stevie convinced me to stick with it but my exhausted head became introverted and as much as I was awake I was in a dreamy state and not able to make conversation, feeling numb and overcome with the challenge. Then the icy mist descended as well and even though it probably wasn’t as cold as it felt it seemed to penetrate to my core and the next time Stevie pulled us over he found me shivering and barely coherent on the back from exhaustion. He soon bundled me up in more layers and the rest of the climb at least warmed me up, to only plunge both of us into more freezing mist on the descent. And emergency stop, down gilets on and all the layers. We then road off with Stevie forgetting his glasses were on the back rack resulting in another emergency stop and a jog up the road to get them.

Icy mist

We had had very little to eat apart from the snacks we were carrying since Hayden Bridge and had missed any form of evening meals, but still needed to fuel through the early hours and couldn’t imagine much better than a hot coffee to spur us on. My control sheet showed a 24hour garage a few miles up the road and I desperately hoped I’d got my facts right… the neon light eventually welcomed us in and the lovely night shift worker passed us hot coffees and hot pasties through the hatch- absolutely delicious!!

I tried not to over analyse the time too much at this point, but it was clear our schedule would need a rethink. Initially the ideal was to arrive at Middlesbrough at 2am and leave by 4am but by the time we found the Premier Inn it was 5:30am. The part of my that wanted so badly to stick to schedule wanted to push on but Stevie talked sense in that this would be false economy and we were certainly need to stop somewhere so it may as well be a comfy bed as we were not set up to bivvy. Another super quick turn around and I had passed out in bed before Ste was out of the shower, determinedly ignoring the dawn chorus starting up outside.

It was going to take a lot to swallow my pride and just admit that 8pm was no longer realistic and we would now do well to complete before midnight on Tuesday. It was not for lack of trying- my legs were in tatters, not through lack of experience- we know how the tandem rides, and not through lack of planning- although a hilly route any other would have been similar or added more distance just more about being realistic as to what can be achieved. The ride was always going to be an epic challenge and it was not our fault we couldn’t achieve more speed on our heavy machine… I just needed to get my head around the fact this was not a failure and we were still very much in the race!

Weather forecast: it definitely got colder than predicted in the icy mist!

All Points North: Part 2, Performance

And so it was we found ourselves rolling out of a Different Gear into the dusking light and through the city of Sheffield. My stomach was comfortably full of pizza and the remainder was strapped to the pannier rack for later, but I was hoping to ride right through this first 50 miles. Riders quickly diverged and we bumped into a few a couple of times on the way out but very soon we were riding alone in the darkness.

The night was warm and peaceful and I pushed hard to make good progress on this first leg, the terrain slightly rolling but the road shadowing the motorway was direct and reasonably quiet. One brief toilet break and we were soon approaching Wetherby services where we planned to stop for the night at just about 00:15am. Pleased with our progress we checked in quickly not to lose time and ate a bit more cold pizza before bed.

Unfortunately the hotel was serving as base for a wedding party and the sounds of merriment, which seemed so out of place considering what we were trying to achieve, kept us awake at first eating into precious hours of rest. The 4am alarm went off far too soon and I had to be shaken awake having slept through it. Groggy minds made for a slower packing up process and when we left closer to 5am I realised this was time I had not factored into the plan, today was the longest day and I was determined to stick to schedule to have any hope of making it round the ride.

Once on the road it was a relief to have some flat miles to start with, with a minor set back when the shop we were relying on to be open was very much closed meaning we hit the first control before breakfast celebrating with cold pizza again. Leeds Pal Memorial was to set the theme for controls the whole way around, necessitating an out and back detour, uphill and then straight back down. The weirdly isolate memorial seemed a lonely place surrounded by farmland and it was made even more poignant to learn the answer to the first control question was what age had Private Willy King died :aged 19.

We were keen to push onto Middleham at 93 miles where we next expected there to be a shop to stock up and were even more delighted to find it had a coffee machine (although only after we’d bought cold sandwiches did we find it had a microwave and we could have treated ourselves to warm food instead. The next stretch was at least 50miles without facilities so we ensured our water was topped up and we were full with egg sandwiches, cold baked beans and sausages and yoghurts.

This was where the terrain certainly started to get lumpier as we entered familiar territory of the Yorkshire Dales. Many an audax ride has taken us along these roads and we couldn’t resist and ice cream and a freshen up at the public loos in Kettlewell. We often ride the Etape du Dales route out of here too(and the Selad ud Epate when we do it in reverse) and felt more confident for being on familiar roads and reminisced about the various times we’d ridden them before.

The climb up to Malham Tarn was instantly familiar once we were on it and we groaned and settled down to a steady grind up one of the top 100 hill climbs in Yorkshire (according to Simon Warren), and unfortunately this wouldn’t be the last on our route.

We were treated to a descent to Malham Tarn checkpoint however, but the rougher surface and walkers and tourists made for careful going so we didn’t gain time. An open toilet provided a much needed top up of water bottles and a bit of refreshment but the unappetisingly beige wrap we had bought earlier seemed for reward for our efforts… we needed the fuel though.

Malham Tarn 125mile

Pen-y-Ghent raised it’s familiar peak in the distance and our thoughts turned to walking the Three Peaks and Pennine Way in this area. The familiar site of the Fourth Peak snack bar was too much for Stevie and he pleaded for a stop for hot dogs washed down with cool drinks in the midday heat while I tried not to witter about the time lost by stopping.

We knew the next stretch was a gentle drag so yet again settled to steadily pulling up to the top. Our next control was certainly not gentle and yet again prior knowledge meant we knew we were in for a steep pull up to Dent station through some wicked switchbacks. I’ve never been in the actual station before but it was no surprise to find out it was the highest in England.

Dent Station 148miles

Time lost climbing could not be recouped on the technical descent, but the morale boost of having 3/10 checkpoints done was great and a cracking gradual downhill heading toward the West coast felt well earned. I was starting to feel increasingly edgy though, the Dales had taken it out of us somewhat with so much brutal climbing and we never seemed to be getting a break to go faster with our average speed, including stops, slipped below the 10mph I’d hoped for. Arriving at Silverdale, (175 miles) just in time for my plan but then lost time looking for the control question answer put me in a particularly bad mood and Stevie was rapidly getting fed up with me moaning about a schedule that was meant to be entirely flexible anyway. I only settled down a bit when the main road up towards the Lake District proved a flyer with a tailwind and pre-ordering some pizza from Ambleside cheered us up even more as what felt like the first solid meal of the day!

Yet another out and back and epic climb for our 4th control: Honister Pass. We knew the climb well and knew we would be able to get up it on tandem, but this still didn’t change the fact it was going to be slow. It had long since got dark and I had watched the sunset over lake Windermere a few hours earlier and we were starting to feel the drag of tiredness on the one way route to the climb. We had resorted to putting the speaker, filled with cheesy upbeat tunes, on along the quiet country lanes and were suddenly shocked by another bike light on the road and experienced ultra cyclist Anisa Auben popped out of the dark. She had just stopped to rest her eyes too after an even longer day than us- she had had next to no sleep since starting but had another checkpoint in the bag having headed to Reivaulx Abbey first. She was delighted to see us for a bit of company as , as much as the rules forbid drafting, we are allowed to ride together for a short distance. We excitedly chatted about how our rides were going and what other things we’d been up to since we last saw Anisa on the Old 240 audax in the Yorkshire Dales a few years ago. The difference in pace of the tandem, faster on the descents, slower on the climbs made for a slightly broken conversation but we were all glad to have an excuse to chat as it kept us stimulated and awake to the foot of Honister. Anisa opted to save her knees and walked the toughest gradient while we grinded up to the old slate mine at the top. Now I was reminded of my Coast to Coast run earlier in the year and flying down to the slate mine on a shaley track after an epic day or trying to run uphill.

Cycling up the road proved only slightly easier for our tired legs and by the time we had found the information we needed for the Brevet Anisa had joined us at the top. We soon sped by her on the descent however and called to wish her luck for the rest of her ride. Now with all the big climbs out of the way I was ready to put the pedal down and power through Keswick to Penrith where a comfy bed awaited. The main road was wonderfully quiet at this time of night but a hard day on the front was starting wear on Stevie and firstly the music came on again and then the caffeine chewing gums followed by me trying to bully him into staying awake. I felt we were making up time on this section and desperately wanted to get to the hotel for 2am to feel like we were still on schedule. He was less worried about the actual time and struggling badly with the doozies but eventually we rolled in at 2:15am. We had a plan in mind: 1. kettle on 2. clothes off 3. water in pot noodles 4. super quick shower 5. super quick shorts wash 6. eat pot noddle 7. bed!

Feeling full and content with my efficiency I was out like a light and the alarm went off a 6:15am the next morning to get us out of the room by 7am for a 10hour 100mile ride to our most Northerly point: Upper Coquetdale.

Weather forecast: pretty much what happened, but no rain 😀

All Points North: Part 1, Preparation

And suddenly I don’t know how to start, how to describe this ride, how it came about, how we ended up on the start line, how we kept our pedals turning through 617miles and everything that happened along the way. It’s 57hours after we finished, way under our finishing time of 79hrs 34minutes and there still seems so much to take in but I wanted to write something while the memories are still fresh and the emotions (and saddle sores!) are still raw.

I had heard snippets around the inaugural All Points North event in 2019 but being a through and through audaxer at this point and focused on Paris-Brest-Paris paid little more than passing attention. The following lockdowns set a different vibe of riding for us so it was only when I interview Angela Walker for our podcast “Stoked to be Here” my interest was piqued yet again. Ang is a very experienced rider in her own right and with background with the TransCon and audaxes would know exactly what would make such an event tick on UK soil. Her passion for promoting the inclusivity of the sport of long/ultra-distance cycling and helping run A Different Gear, a not for profit bike and workshop supporting the Heeley Trust and local community make All Point’s North a special event to be part of.

The ride has a unique feel with cap numbers and dot watched tracking similar to international ultra-distance events but a small field and the impression you are part of a tight knit group of single minded folk.

Having said that the chat online in the run up to the event was suspiciously quiet… until one brave soul confessed their nerves only to be followed by a stream of similar comments from those suddenly doubting their wisdom in entering such a race.

It had been several months before when I had completed the application forms, hoping we would be unusual enough to warrant a direct place. There was reportedly a large number of young/middle aged males planning on a fast route around and weighting was given to others falling outside this demograph: seeing as we were half female, a pair, planning to complete with little time to spare and on a tandem I felt this would give us the edge in the application process! There were a number of questions to answer too regarding past experience and our approach to different scenarios and as much as the question about military firing ranges seemed a bit odd, my cheeky response to what we would do about a snapped drive side rear spoke in the back end of nowhere (I said I’d get Stevie to fix it while I got the snacks out!) we still soon had an successful entry… and then it all seemed a bit too late to reconsider!

It’s not like we haven’t undertaken similar events before; Stevie’s palmares has a bunch of LELs (London-Edinburgh-London) and PBP (Paris-Brest-Paris) audaxes as well as his own DeLEJoGDe (Derby-Lands End-John O’Groats-Derby) completed in 9 days unsupported, but we’d completed the extremely challenging Mille Pennines 1000km audax in 2017 and I had finished PBP on a solo bike a few hours out of time after sickness in 2019.

But somehow APN was a different beast.

The first challenge was the planning- we are used to riding set course audaxes, or planning touring rides where time and distance are less of an issue but suddenly routing was key to success. After plugging the controls into Komoot and Ride with GPS and experimenting with different directions and controls I settled with Ride with GPS being most user friendly for a basic idea of routing- our aim was to keep distance as low as possible and we were willing to take the hit of some less scenic roads to accomplish this.

However, it was important the route was a joint decision and Stevie not being as keen on the new fangled planning apps had me resort to purchasing some trusty old (well new!) 1:250 000 OS road maps. Initially we underestimated the amount North than All Point’s North might travel so the Southern Scotland map was purchased too!

Planning meeting in progress!

A planning meeting was booked at the one place I knew I could rely on Stevie to be: the Hole in the Wall, our local micropub and they were very tolerant of us commandeering a couple of tables to spread our maps out. Being able to see the route on a scale great than that of a laptop screen was definitely a benefit and I transposed it onto RWGPS along the way.

It was certainly not looking flat, and many roads we were familiar with from audaxes covering the same terrain- there were often few road options and without making large time consuming detour we accepted that hills would feature frequently on our roads, as would a fair few out an backs to checkpoints which were obviously strategically positions to make for a challenging ride.

The real sticking point came when we realised the Upper Coquetdale was in the middle of the Otterburn Military firing range (that question in the application process hadn’t been quite so random after all…) and we would either have to hope the range was closed or make a 30mile detour. It took a fair amount of research to discover the bridleway, usually something we would never consider riding in a tandem, was in fact asphalt with parking places visible on google earth but memories from when we walked the Pennine Way the previous year and listening to the ranges firing noise through the dark isolation of the Cheviots at night left me with a sense of foreboding about this leg of the route.

Other than this, preparations were pretty standard, I felt I have a more structured training plan than I have previously had for other cycling events having trained to a structure already this year for my Coast to Coast run. Having said that I was still pushing hard to fit training around work and Stevie, despite being by far the stronger rider, was struggling to get out on the bike around renovations going on at home. We had however already completed a Super Randonneur series in typically challenging conditions this year which gave us some confidence we had the distance in our legs and riding this sort of event to finish, fitness is only a small proportion of the means to success: strategy and mindset are at least as equally important.

So for us having a strategy beforehand was key, we had an idea of what we could achieve on the tandem as we were never going to break any records around a course like this, in fact we were being extremely brave/ foolish for trying and agreed in advance that we both acknowledged there was a real risk of not finishing the event and we may have to pull out, especially as I would be back to work within a few days. There could be no rush.

The second main strategy was sleep. Firstly because being sleep deprived is the most miserable part of these rides for me: memories that still make me feel giddy and sick are day 3 of the Mille Pennines stood on a quiet Yorkshire road in the early hours getting alternatively rained on and bitten by midges whiles sucking on a pro-plus lodged under my tongue wondering how I was going to stop falling asleep on the bike and to struggling to see where to place one foot in front of the other on PBP 2019 having hallucinated giant bunnies in the bushes at the side of the road. These experiences are one I was not keen to repeat and we were also keen to enjoy the ride as much as possible- there is no point in cycling through all the most beautiful places in the North in darkness.

Shattered on the Mille Pennines 2017

We are also becoming firm believers that being sleep deprived just makes for a slower ride- your pace drops, you stop more and it takes more energy to keep going and more time lost on multiple stops when one long stint would be of greater benefit in the long term. So this is what lead us to plan our 3 hotel strategy.

This is the height of luxury for us, we are quite used to sleeping on village hall floor amongst the cacophony other exhausted fellow audaxer snores and have bivvyed already this year on our 600km audax. But in this instance planning to sleep meant: a warm cosy bed for proper rest each night and the ability to use the “it’s a whole new day mindset” upon getting up after what might be only a couple of hours, the facilities of charging points, showers and a kettle which may sound luxurious but saved on batteries/food luggage and time on breakfast, finding morning cups of tea and also getting clean is a great strategy to stave off saddle sores. Most budget hotels will let you take a bike in the room or have provisions for one so we planned to stop in these accordingly.

A rare hotel room stop- the height of luxury!

The last thing to set up was kit. By this point we know what we take and what we might need on a 200km, 300km, 400km and 600km ride and on this case the only extra things we took were plugs and charging packs and toothbrushes.

So finally it seemed we were all set! The last two weeks of training were absolutely draining around a chaotic time at work but all too soon I was in my last week of tapering desperately trying to get everything ready and make sure I had enough rest and check the route and firing times and get my kit packed and ready and get the correct provisions in and make sure everything was charged up and get my head in a good place.

Not quite a kit grid…

Stevie isn’t on social media, but I was left feeling more anxious than I normally would after reading the post full of other riders’ nerves and qualms about the ride to come. Had we really bitten off more than we could chew? Were we really experienced enough to take on such an event? What had we missed with the planning or route? What had I forgotten to take?

At this rate it would be a relief to get going when all we have to do is turn the pedals!

Weather forecast, pretty accurate!

Epic Riding Weather!

So this month has been focused on training for our biggest ride of the year: All Points North 2021

This is an ultra-distance cycling event organised by a Different Gear in Sheffield in the North of England. Riders start from Sheffield and must pass through 10 control points in a 72-hour time limit. They must be unsupported, receiving no outside assistance which is not readily available to everyone (no friends, family or well-meaning dot-watchers), can ride the controls in any order they wish and must design their own route. The route will likely be over 1000km and the controls are, shall we say, particularly scenic…( often up big hills!)

There is a mix of riders and we are in the pairs category and the only tandem to have ever dared to enter… it remains to be seen if we will make the finishers meal at 8pm on Tuesday!

But YOU can be the first to know! “Dot watching” has become increasingly popular recently and you can follow our virtual “dot” at :

Track Live Progress of APN21

We are APN21 Pair 76a and 76b! So come and virtually cheer us on!!

This has meant a shorter blog post this time but our friends at Epic Ride Weather have kindly posted one for us about all things epic and weather on our Super Randonneur series which has been the lead up training for this event. Check it out HERE .

Finally we would like to say a massive THANK YOU to our new sponsors Exustar Global who have not only fitted use out with some rather fabulous helmets and jerseys we will be using for APN and ARW (Around the World!) but also some SPD sandals which we are really looking forward to putting through their paces once we’ve recovered from APN… it’s never a good idea to trial new kit on a big ride no matter how comfy they feel and how high quality they are!

So… we’ll see you on the other side!

Getting kitted up

How are you going to carry all your stuff around the World and how much gear are you going to take? Is a question we are commonly asked and the short answer is simple:

‘We don’t always travel light…

On the bike and just as much as we need but no more!

The longer answer, I figured, is worthy of a blog post!

Choose what to take, and potentially even more importantly what not to take, can be key to the success of a ride or any other adventure for that matter. Not only do you need to be safe and have the essentials you need, but on longer events, there is a lot to be said for the motivation of comfort and being self-sufficient on the road. Taking too much though is a massive no-no as weight is key to speed and speed is key to success.

I think knowing what to pack is very much down to experience. Many riders and adventurers will publish their kit online or in their books such as Jenny Graham and Alastair Humphreys have done for their round the World trips but there is a massive amount of variation between individuals. We are of course packing for two as well which has the benefits of being able to share some items, but we will have only one bike to put it on!

And sadly Geoffrey won’t be able to packhorse us…

When we retraced a few days of the Pennine Way recently on foot with full camping weight I was impressed by how much it is now second nature to pack for these sorts of trips for us. You can read forums and streams of posts online about people agonising about what to take and how heavy their pack should be but we have a sense of what we will need and use from numerous previous trips of this sort and came back with a few extra layers of clothing unsued but pretty much everything else served a purpose. Similarly, a long weekend away bike touring was a simple case of a couple of panniers filled with the essentials and a few creature comforts to reflect our more sedate pace.

We’re used to camping up and making do- note the sock drying system!

Another nice system that has developed over time is how we can now pack separately with very little discussion but still, everything gets packed without duplication. Stevie: packs tooling, toiletries, lighting and I pack: Food, first aid kit, charging, caffeine and we both pack our own clothing.

It didn’t always work out like this and I once went on a cycling weekend without cycle shorts and we may have started a 200km without waterbottles recently but we certainly just keep getting better and better and packing smart and slick.

A new look for cycling?

I think it helps that we are of a similar ethos and both of us are quite minimalistic in the way we live anyway; not using a vast array of different products just a few key ones, (mostly Sudocrem, Aveeno and argan oil) and are quite happy in the same set of clothes for days on end… even if people around us are not!

We also are both keen on getting the most out of our kit and don’t believe in buying in the next new fashion or upgrading kits every few years. We want stuff that lasts. Some of Stevie’s legendary fixes involve patching and mending with rubber sealant and cable ties. His oldest Carradice is the Junior bought in 1998 and used lovingly for 33 years- I’m always proud to have this bag on my bike, it could certainly tell a lot of stories! We are keen to recycle kit where possible too, often coming up with hidden gems from the bargain bins at York Rally and all my cycle shorts are 2nd hand from eBay (new not used…!)

However, some kit needs to be 100% reliable and durable and this is where we do invest more. We splashed out on new walking waterproofs last year and the developments in terms of weight, comfort and performance have obviously been massive compared to our old ones. We are sizing up options for a tent, sleeping bags and mats which will probably weigh less than half and take up a lot less room than our current set up and Alpkit seem to fit the bill. Alpkit is a fantastic locally based company which not only has amazing kit but also promotes sustainability and going nice places to do good things! We would love to have them sponsor us in some way towards kit and are on a bit of a campaign to liaise with them on our round the World adventure!

We even went to visit them!

We have been massively fortunate to already have some amazing companies on board to support other pieces of kit and have a massively exciting one in the pipeline! Cycle Touring Life are not so local, being based in Canada, but we were so impressed with their Erro panniers we asked them if they would like to help us out and they have agreed to kit out the tandem with all the luggage we could need! We will be taking 4 panniers- 2 front and 2 rear with a couple of frame bags-including a new “nosebag” for me and a bar bag to carry everything we need. We had a similar set-up when we road LeJog and considering we had a much bulkier kit this should be more than enough for day to day around the World.

LeJog packing- how did we get that lot on one bike?!

Day to day is one thing, but 180 days is a bit different and we can expect to wear kit out in this time. We have a list of spare/ replacement parts we will need for the bike based on the mileage we are doing and carrying up to 10 new chains is not really practical.

Some of the spares…

So we are planning 4 kit drops around the World to take the pressure off and pick gear up. At the moment we are looking at Biskehk, Singapore, Vancouver and New York for these and if anyone has any contacts in these places (and Auckland), especially with bike shops we would be keen to know as we will be needing bike boxes to pack the tandem in two too! We are delighted that Schwalbe are helping us out with tyres and tubes, the Tandem Shop are helping us get all the gear together and around the World and even Village Biltong are sponsoring us brake pads to “break for Biltong!”.

The rest of our cycling clothing is being specially designed by another potential sponsor we have in the pipeline which promises to be an amazing collaboration… details TBC!!

So some things are obvious: we have decided having lightweight camping set up will give us the most options in terms of where we stop so tent, sleeping bags and mats are all a must. We feel we would find trying to find accommodation too restrictive and bivvying, although fun for a couple of nights, would decrease our comfort over more than that and could affect our recovery each day. It is vital we are well-rested and recovered to keep the pedals turning consistently for 180 days.

One sticking point we have at the moment is the stove. Advice from Mark Beaumont is not to take one and technically this makes sense, we should be able to get refreshments all over the World and we can make do without hot drinks and meals for as long as we need to. But there is just something about a nice cuppa tea in the morning! I failed to not take the stove (as in gas canister with screw-on attachment) twice recently walking and bike touring and not only does making your own pint of tea in the morning save money but also often time and there is no doubt that a hot meal helps raise morale when it’s cold and wet far more than cold sandwiches… one to ponder more…

And then there’s all the other “bits and bobs” we will need over 6 months; we already use solid shampoo and conditioner (which I make myself!), suncream will be p20 where a little goes a long way and lasts all day but we do have the issue of maintaining Stevie’s molasses consumption for beard health- maybe some form of molasses toffees? Some things may seem a little luxurious but can work wonders in terms of motivation and motivation= speed. Listening to (and singing along to) cheesy music on our tiny 180g speaker on our recent 600km event certainly helped us up the pace in the wee hours and sleepy spell midafternoon.

Wander Wye 600km audax

We will have to keep all these electronics charged, making sure we have a solid GPS track around the World to ensure our ride is verified by Guinness. A dynamo in the hub of the front wheel is one option and what we run on our serious Audax solo bikes, but if it failed it would leave us in a right pickle so we plan to use a combination of solar panels and a power pack, recharging whenever we stay somewhere with power points to use.

Powered by the sun!

We hope and plan to have all our kit tried and tested before we begin because as much as our experience means we know pretty much what we will need it will be important to trim down on anything excessive. I am thinking my luxury item with be my shawl which (hitch hiker’s guide to the galaxy style) also doubles up as a towel, blanket, cardi, pillow, sarong, beach towel, headrest for planes, headscarf where locally cultural, scarf, skirt and I’m sure some uses I haven’t discovered yet.

Another aspect to try and test is how we are going to (virtually) take lovely people like you with us! Mobile phones nowadays are so versatile we will be able to do live updates and maybe even podcasts around the World. Filming is more of a work in progress but I’m getting used to what works and what doesn’t with my little action camera and have been recording all our significant rides this year. We would love to have a collaboration with someone more professionally involved in adventure filmmaking, but in the meantime, I’m loving all the different shots you can get from the back of a tandem!

Now, what have I missed? What would you take? Let us know in the comments below 🙂

“At Brandenburg Gate, turn left…”

Where to begin… literally! And how do you plan a route around the World? How do we avoid getting lost, pick the best roads, avoid mountain ranges and potholes and still see the best sights all in record breaking time?!

The answer is not of course a straight forward one.

Where to start the ride was actually not that tricky, as tempting as it is to ride from the front door, the need for speed means that extra delays in crossing the channel make mainland Europe a safer bet, and we have spent plenty of time cycling all over the UK already right?!

Just the length of the UK!

In a nod to the rather fantastic Jenny Graham, who arguably has been one of the greatest inspirations for this ride, the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin seemed a great place to start our adventure too; and with Stevie’s brother Michael living nearby it will make it a great hub to depart and (hopefully!) arrive back 6 months later. We have finally settled on a departure date for the ride too of Sunday 5th June 2022 which is conveniently at the end of the Platinum Jubilee Bank Holiday, giving us time to get pack and any well-wishers the chance to wave us off.

Jenny Graham returned to the Bradenburg Gate after an amazing 124day!

So we just head East from there right?! As much as some World cyclists have been known to navigate by compass alone (mentioning no names @TimMillikin…) we need to take a more structured approach and for this ride at least will need to stay ON the beaten track and make good progress. There are also stipulations from Guinness with which we must abide to qualify for the record:

a)    Start and finish points must be the same location. Check.
b)    The journey should be continual and in one direction i.e. we will travel West to East, as many have before. This tends to favour prevailing winds. Any considerable distance travelled opposite to the direction of the attempt will be discounted from the overall distance. (So we can’t just fly back to the start of the same piece of flat road and cycle that repeatedly!)
c)    The minimum distance travelled by the chosen means (e.g. bicycle) should be 18,000 miles (28,970 km), and the total distance travelled by the participant (e.g. by public or chartered transportation), should exceed an equator’s length or ‘great circle’, i.e. more than 24,900 miles (40,075 km). Land’s End to John O’Groats was about 1000miles…
d)    The participants must pass through two antipodal points on direct opposite points on the globe. So we can’t just cycle around the North pole in circles too!

We aren’t the first people to have this idea, and Mr Mark Beaumont has done it twice! Maybe let’s just follow him…

Mark Beaumont’s second and the fastest route around the World

Well, he did go a different way the second time, and the first time was still in the era of paper maps and planning. His account of the first attempt highlights some of the difficulties of route planning and logistics where through Pakistan he needed a police escort to cross the country safely and at many borders needed support from home and the British Embassy to ensure crossings were smooth. It is worth taking into account border crossing will likely cost us valuable time, but nowadays many visas are available online, streamlining the procedure somewhat.

His second record was intensely researched and planned to allow for the fastest route- just the logistics of this are mind-boggling, and yet he still had to take “public” flights so have a team set to make sure he was straight off the plane and straight on the bike with as little time as possible lost. Having roadside support, even though he avoided drafting, undoubtedly had benefits though in terms of having a bed, shelter and food wherever he chose to stop instead of being tied to the next village or town for supplies. He was able to travel incredibly light and have spares and kit transported for him. Guinness World Records do not distinguish between supported and unsupported attempts because it is too much of a grey area- where does the line fall? No one can carry everything they need to circumnavigate the World but if you are unsupported can you accept the help of friends or must you pay for and resupply everything yourself? Can you accept a night’s shelter from a stranger or must you camp in all weathers and terrain?

We would be delighted to go for a fully supported attempt, akin to the absolutely astounding achievement of Mark, we just need a tiny bit of sponsorship money to cover the wages of a support team of 40 people, so drop us a line if you are interested…

What I believe to be another benefit of the support vehicle is protection. Jenny Graham pretty much followed Mark Beaumont’s route and it obviously worked well for her too, with what arguably is just as much of a feat of endurance as she was completely unsupported for her 124days. Her account of cycling through Russia is pretty terrifying though, to the point where she felt it so dangerous she switched her body clock to ride at night to avoid the lethal trucks and traffic.

http://theadventuresyndicate.com/round-the-world-podcast

I do feel that a support vehicle would have provided some protection for a lone cyclist and having spoken to Jenny, have reservations about whether the risk is worth the benefit of this route. It may appear the quickest and most direct on paper, but I do wonder if the psychological aspects. Russia is a VERY big country and I think the motivational impact of checking countries off the list quickly should not be underestimated. I think an extended period in Russia (likely a couple of months) could have a negative impact on morale, whereas crossing more borders and cultures will give the impression of making more positive progress; it is similar to an audax where we focus on riding the next control point, not the end destination. I really would have liked to go to Mongolia though… maybe next time!

So, where next? A route through Europe and Turkey seems very amenable, and many round the World cyclists will then opt to cross the Caspian sea into the ‘stans and ride the famous Pamir highway and Silk Road routes. These exotic sounding locations, and amazing views are certainly tempting and I have spent a fair bit of time wistfully flicking through the amazing images taken by @pedallingtheplanet photos from their ride which are available in a rather beautiful photobook raising money for World Bicycle relief.

They made a choice, as many do with time on their hands, to take the rather infamous boat from Baku to Aktau. This legendary boat has no time table, no booking system and you can only buy your ticket the day the boat leaves…Bit of a conundrum there!! The boat usually goes once or twice a week but as this could risk us a 3-4 day wait. It is just not feasible; every day lost is >100miles we need to make up on other days so the thought of tagging 400 extra miles on is not great.

So, we avoid the Caspian sea (or at least save it for next time!) and look into other routes. In 2008 Mark Beaumont’s route took him through Turkey, Iran and Pakistan to get to India and this creates a nice solid line across central Asia. However, as I mentioned the political situation in some of these countries caused set backs and as much as the reports of riding through Iran are that they are the most friendly and welcoming country on a cyclists trip (some travellers have left with more food and money than they entered the country with thanks to the immense hospitality of the Iranians). Unfortunately the impossbility of us getting visas has put paid to any ideas of visiting. Even though the risks of visiting these countries should be taken seriously, I have now read so many accounts of wonderful experiences that I can’t help but feel there is a Western bias against them due to a small mislead minority that do not represent a nation of good people. I suspect we will actually be at more risk in more Westernised countries, in built up cities, than in the countryside of the Middle East and the most horrific incident I have heard of happening to a cyclist was when Verdangi Kulkarni was intentionally knocked off her bike, held at knife point, robbed and left unconscious on the side of the road! This was in Spain!! Sadly, there are bad people all over the World, but happily they are greatly outweighed by the good.

At this point I decided to put Central Asia on the back burner and focus on the rest of the World. If we weren’t going through Russia and Mongolia, India, Myanmar and South East Asia would be a possibility and an infinite number of possible routes through Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Malaysia, but these would be dependant on distances completed on other legs.

Australia was always going to be a necessity and having heard so many accounts of riding across the arid Nullabor plain and the infamous 90mile straight it seemed inevitable we would head this way too. We figured Mark was going to have this route down pat now having crossed Australian twice and nabbed his route, which is handily widely available online and on Strava.

New Zealand is a lot of flying for not a lot of miles and also a ferry between South and North Islands, but contains our antipodal point at Wellington. There are surprising few of these points, direct opposites on the planet, that are on land so we were actually quite limited in out selection. The other “side” will be near Alaejos in Spain. Again Mark’s routing came in handy for this stretch excepting that he made some diversions for road closures on his trip and we are avoiding some busier roads nearer to Auckland. We may encounter similar issues nearer the time in terms of changes to the route and as much as we are determined to get a solid basis for where we will go, we accept that there may be many revisions and reviews before we set off and on the road. Most of the planning so far has been done using a combination of Ride with GPS and Komoot, two great route planning platforms which allow for uploading and downloading routes and planning your own with features that pick out routes best for cycling and give distance and elevation. Ride with GPS I have found easiest to get a broad outline of routes and also to find routes that others have planned and used and Komoot is great for details, right up to including terrain and barriers to cycling. Komoot have kindly sponsored us with a premium package which will allow us to download offline routes to navigate by and is also really easy to work on a mobile phone to make route adjustments as you go, it is perfect for more leisurely rides, runs and walks too!

Back to routing… at this point we are over half way around the World! And the next stop is America.

I spent a long time toying with the idea of South America, a continent I would love to visit again and tales such as Alastair Humphries “Thunder and Sunshine” have done nothing to quell my wanderlust, but the practicalities and safety aspect finally got the better of me. Many of the South American countries are not exactly flat, and although many do cycle tour there (Colombia for example has recently become one of the top cycling destinations in the World!) we need to prioritise speed and safety on our trip. Tandem WOW, the awesome female record holders went South through the USA whereas Mark and Jenny started in the North, riding from Alaska to Canada to the Northern USA. Jenny has also released her route recently on Ride with GPS too, so it’s easy to “borrow” that too!

However, there are some considerations with this route: firstly bears! Listening to Jenny Graham hiding in a toilet whispering in case the bears hear is just gold:

https://fb.watch/5AxJwN2M1T/

But I feel more of a reflection of her state of absolute exhaustion having cycled most of the way around the planet, by herself and unsupported for hundreds of miles a day than proportional to the actual risk. Alaska and Canada are more isolated places though as when supporting yourself you need to take into account getting supplies and shelter along the way, the weather will be colder too which would mean we would end up carrying more kit.

I have a strange bias against the USA, as it seems statically this is the country in which Round the World cyclists are knocked off their bike, robbed or both (Sean Conway, Mark Beaumont, Tim Millikin…etc) and although I suspect more coincidence that statistically fact, the thought still sticks with me… But with Stevie having travelled in the States before is certainly excited to go back and I conceded crossing the US of A is the most sensible route- there’s still some epic climbs though! We looked at numerous routes but eventually settled on the TransAmerica Trail cycle route.

This is a route designed for cyclists, meaning not only should the roads be smooth and safe, but also that there should be good facilities for cyclists along the way. As much as this is a challenge and we will be pushing our limits to get around the World in record time, this is only going to be made easier by having beautiful and amazing routes and food and shelter close to hand.

And then with a few tweaks to the route to get us to New York, a hop across the Atlantic to Lisbon, Portugal, a skip across Spain, a hop across France and we’re there! Around the World in 180 days!!

We must be careful not to underestimate this last stage, about 2000miles long and Spain will be one of the hilliest countries we pass through. I cannot begin to imagine how we will feel by the point in the ride, but I doubt we will feel like we are on the home straight until the Brandenburg Gate is in sight…

And so much can happen along the way, already a major stumbling block in our planning process is a huge military coup in Myanmar and a year long state of emergency! UK national have been evacuated and it is certainly not safe to travel at the moment and we fear it won’t be by the time of our trip. This is a very sad turn of event as TandemWOW were lucky enough to ride through the country and had some fantastic experiences doing it.

So our dilemmas over routing through Asia still remained and now we had even more miles to factor in. And then I had a brainwave: if we can’t go across and under the Caspian sea, why don’t we go over it? That way we will go from Georgia, avoid Azerbaijan which was looking slightly dodgy in terms of visas, into Russia and then through Kazakstan to Biskek in Kyrgystan. We might even meet Borat! On a serious note cycling in the ‘stans is becoming increasingly popular and with events like the Silk Road Mountain Race these lesser-known destinations are becoming better suited to intrepid cyclists. What’s the worst that could happen…

So, that is the bare bones of our route.

https://ridewithgps.com/collections/23213?privacy_code=mPft6YUdAJ8scp7z

The route we may or may not take…

There will be undoubtedly many more tweaks, adjustments and full on reroutes to come, and we are keenly aware that COVID may still have an impact, but at this point we are keen to continue as planned and as Mark Beaumont says, ” just ride the road in front of you”.

Do you have any thoughts on where we should or shouldn’t go? What would be your dream cycling destination? Where do you think we will have the best time? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!