The Prologue

Not long now until our epic adventure and everything is starting to come together… or at least almost everything! We are still short of the new bike and despite multiple phone calls and emails our plan to get the frame wrapped with our sponsors design has completely fallen through.  The wrapping company who initially offered to do the wrap as sponsorship came up with a number of delays and what was meant to take a week took the best part of two months… only for the bike to arrive badly wrapped in the wrong colours!! 

We decided against this version…

Lesson learnt and out of time we are having the wrap stripped and the Tandem Shop are coming to the rescue to build our new machine ASAP! We can’t wait to see her…

Barring this, we are getting most of the other kit together and it was time to try it on the road.  Using the last of Laura’s holiday, we planned an epic training trip ahead of our epic ride to circumnavigate a country instead of the World but at the same pace: Around Wales in 8 days was born! 

The plan was simply to ride as we will be around the World and, as much as the distances were similar, the elevation was not and even the flattest days in Wales were near equivalent to the hilliest countries around the World.  Route planning through Ride with GPS helped flatten things out slightly and also helped us figure out the best roads to ride, not dissimilar to RTW (round the World). 

The new tandem not being ready we were on our reliable Dawes Galaxy twin and this did have some benefits in terms of not wearing out parts before we set out but we will still need to make a concerted effort to make sure we have thoroughly trialled the new bike before we go.  We were able to load her up with our new panniers and frame bags from Cycle Touring Life and work on our packing strategy.  The panniers not only look stunning on the bike but worked really well in terms of our packing, we quickly twigged it was worth labelling which one went where to save time loading up and settled for S1, S2, P1 and P2 (starboard front/back, port front/back; we are captain and rear admiral after all!)  

Loaded up a ready to gear up and go!

 We knew from previous experience that the front end needed to be light so this was packed with spare clothes, sleeping mats and bags.  Laura’s back pannier (P2) contained emergency food, kettle, pot, gas and stove, battery packs and leads, day to day spare layers and food.  Stevie’s (S2) had the tooling and more of his spare clothes in as well as the luxury of a pair of flip flops! 

Guess what’s in my cup!?

We also had one large frame bag on the back (Laura’s waterproof, windproof, spare garmin batteries and GoPro), one small top tube pack on the front (sun cream, hand gel, tissues, vaseline, strepsils, caffiene gum) and two Almighty Cups on the handlebars for snacks! 

This set up worked really we and we had plenty of space, the panniers had lots of pockets and different spaces and were easy to access, we had a slight problem with some of the clips on the handles vibrating free but this was easily solved with a bit of electrical tape.  Stevie was delighted to finally have his own nosebag so he can sneak in a snack! 

The other main kit to trial was the sleeping system and the stove.  We are still hoping for an Ordos 3 lightweight tent from Alpkit, especially as Stevie doesn’t really fit in our current 3 man!

There’s a 6’3″ man in there somewhere…

The combination of our Cloudbase inflatable mats easily put up in seconds with the air pump dry bag proved very comfortable and arguably more comfortable than the thermarest type ones we used to use, but the best bit is how tiny they pack down and how light they are.  We agreed we will likely take a folding foam mat which will fit on the back where the tent is currently (the smaller one should fit in panniers!) as this will be a good back up in case of puncture but also functions as table and seat. 

Snug!

Despite only using the air pump to inflate the mats they did develop a bit of moisture on the inside and have now been thoroughly dried but we will have to monitor this on RTW (although hopefully it won’t always been as damp as Wales!) The new pipedream sleeping bags were a complete revelation for Stevie, not only dreamily soft and warm but also the long version he has is long enough he can get his head comfortably in the hood.  Combined with his down booties he was snug as a bug in a rug! 

Packing up in minutes!

Camping was made infinitely more pleasurable by having the tiny Kraku stove to make a brew or a pot noodle in the mornings and didn’t slow down proceedings in terms of packing up- in fact we figured out we lost more time packing up and then trying to find breakfast as you are never as efficient as you think when tried and gagging for a cuppa.  

Brew’s on!

The trip in general was a good test of all these sort of strategies and what seems like a good plan when comfortably sat at home may well fall apart on the road.  We quickly settled that splitting the day into thirds ~35miles then ~65-70miles to have a main stop worked best and the days where we didn’t follow this routine e.g. stopping for breakfast we lost more time.  These stops would often be major breaks of 30-45 minutes adding up to 1.5hours to our ride time but add on shorter stops for loo breaks, taking layers off or putting on or numerous other distractions soon add up to hours off the bike during the day.  We decided we need to minimise this as much as possible but focusing on the two main stops and maximising them by e.g. making sure we have enough water, buying breakfast for the next day at the last stop and considering layers before we set off. 

Some stops were essential!

Another trick was to plan where we were going to stop/ what we were going to do beforehand otherwise we would end up having a discussion as to whether we sat down in a café or pushed on the find the next chippy! We hope our ride time day to day will be less some days than on this recce as even on the flatter days we were foiled by busy beachside cycle paths, poor road surfaces, convoluted routes through cities or headwinds. Overall we were really pleased with our progress and strategy day to day and have lots of ideas to continue to improve on this. 

Part of the strategy too was using a variety of places to sleep/accommodation. We almost bailed out to the Travelodge the first night but after a bit of scouting found a quiet spot near Flint to wild camp.  Following the rules of wild camping of arrive late and leave early and leave no trace we were perfectly comfy and not bothered at all.  By sitting down in a warm Indian restaurant for dinner before had us going to bed warm with full bellies that helped and we implemented this startgey again later in the trip (complete with another curry) feeling more confident this time. 

The only downside was we did faff about a bit too much both times before making the decision  to camp but hopefully we will get used to this routine on RTW where necessary.  Otherwise we had 3 nights in Warmshowers.  Warmshowers is a organisaiton for cyclists to provide somewhere to sleep for the night, to access the host you must agree to host yourself and pay a small subscription fee.  Hosts and guest have profiles and reviews so you can suss each other out and the only rules are no money is charged and a warm shower is provided and somewhere to sleep- but this may just be somewhere to camp.  As it was our first host was away but in a wonderful demonstration of trust allowed us to camp in his garden and access his garage (with shower) to get clean, cook and charge devices. We camped for the following and were treated to dinner as well (and a homebrew beer… which is where things can get dangerous!!) and the final one not only fed and watered up but let us sleep in a bed in the spare room! It seemed too good to be true on paper but what a fantastic organisation this is and we met some great people who were all keen to hear about our trip: Gareth, Carolyn & John And Brian we cannot thank you enough! 

We had one further night with a good friend and after spending too long trying to decide between a campsite or wild, bailed into a B&B with a vacancies sign in Porthmadog. This may seem like a bit of a cop out but actually created more work in some ways and everything went on charge, we both got clean, we washed some clothes and then still had to go and hunt down dinner (as opposed to wild camping where we’re straight to bed).  It did feel quite luxurious though and the Owner was really friendly letting us store the tandem in her garage, even if she couldn’t quite believe how much Laura ate for breakfast!  

Breaking in nicely!

These aspects are all absolutely key to success but of course we cannot ignore time on the bike! Our two new Brooks B17 carved saddles arrived just in time (Stevie has the champion, Laura has the short) to start breaking in.  Now normally you would break in a leather saddle over numerous short rides over weeks to months, but we were so excited with our beautiful new saddles we went for it on this trip and weren’t surprised to experience a bit of discomfort and have certainly made good progress toughening up our derrières! Stevie was particularly happy with the cut out with has helped with pudendal nerve pressure and also provides more ventilation.  

Fetching combination

Other new kit included transition sunglasses and helmets from Exustar- we had never appreciated how simple it makes things to have transition lens adapting to the light without having to worry about switching lenses and they are so light Stevie forgot he had then on his face! Stevie chickened out of trialling his Exustar SPD sandals for this trip but with some spare thick socks packed Laura decided to give her trial pair a go. 

These proved not only comfortable and suitably stiff but also plenty warm enough even when Stevie was getting cold feet in his normal shoes.  We suspect we will still need full shoes (provided by Exustar) and toe covers/overshoes (provided by Huub) for Canada but we have a lot of confidence in these for the warmer climes. We were also treated to such good weather our Exustar windproof/showerproof jackets were all we needed and also looked quite snazzy as a pair, we’re still on the look out for waterproofs for RTW however. 

#matching

In terms of clothing our Huub kit is still doing us proud and by layering the beautifully lightweight short sleeve with the lined thicker long sleeve jersey and gilet we were able to deal with the whole range of temperatures from chilly mornings to sunny afternoons.  We are lucky enough to be getting new sets of kit for RTW and can’t wait to trial these too but are convinced by the quality and comfort- Stevie has added a mango gilet onto his kit list he was so impressed with the version we are training in for keeping him warmer on the front. 

We were lucky not to suffer any mechanicals but the front brake did need pulling up sooner than expected… but that’s the hills on the Pembroke coast for you!  The navigation from the Garmin Etrex went well and usb rechargeable batteries worked well, lasting just over a day but we will need to be more cautious/efficient with battery charging on RTW and will take a solar panel to assist with this.  The GoPro filming from the back was a bit of a chore at times, but the footage looked good.  It was tricky to narrate so much when tired and easier to film the view.

In terms of comfort Stevie is very much looking forward to the custom built frame and different gear levers being a better fit and taking the pressure off his left arm/ shoulder as he changes with the right and also looking into some mini aerobars to improve comfort. 

1/5 a day?

We carried some excess stuff e.g. my socks but also didn’t carry a full trauma first aid kit or solar panel for this trip so we hope this will even out for RTW packing so are overall happy with everything we took but the verdict is still out on flipflops or not!  Other things we skipped on a relatively shorter trip than RTW were getting a full kit wash done and managing days without power or internet, we did try an focus more on  nutrition, swapping haribo for apricots and getting the veggies in wherever we could but one of the main learnings was that sleep is key and we definitely struggled more when we hadn’t had enough! 

Enjoying his “holiday”

We covered 821.6 miles in the 8 days (including one “rest” day of “only” 80 miles so are tremendously pleased with our fitness and endurance and certainly felt like we could keep riding at the end… especially with a beautiful evening descent over the Dolfor hills. 

Riding around Wales was an absolutely amazing experience, 8 days and seeing the country change between farmland, industry, coastline and cities really gave us a feel for travel at the speed of a bicycle.  We are full of confidence for our upcoming trip now, but there is still plenty of work to do to get to the start line on 5th June! 

The whole route!

Logistics


This last month has not been an epic month of bicycle rides.
I grimace a bit writing that as of today we have just under 3 months to go until we set off and need to be training in earnest, but with storms Dudley, Eunice and Franklin we have been somewhat at the whim of the weather.

It’s even been epic walking weather!

What has been epic is the admin…  Mark Beaumont often comments in how hard it can be to get to the start line of and epic challenge and boy don’t we know it at the moment! 

~Non-stop planning!

With Australia finally opening its borders we could finally start applying for visas and after filling in what felt like the name of every childhood pet,  what we had for breakfast a week last Tuesday and the shoe size of our great aunts twice removed we are most of the way through the process.  It’s still unnerving to be waiting on the last few to come through with the potential to complicate our plans. This combined with the fact one of our lovely sponsors Cycle Touring Life is on the East coast of Canada we’ve decided to give USA customs a miss and re-route across Canada!  After a bit more research into bear spray and route options (there is a cycle across Canada route network!) we looked like we are finally getting our plans set.


It’s also a good time to finalise our route in general before flights are booked and as much as we are relieved we were never intending to ride through the Ukraine and Russia, the horrendous situation there has made us realise just how privileged we are to have this opportunity and how we need to make the most of experiencing different places and cultures. 


Route planning itself has been a challenge- in some places it is fairly obvious which route to take due to there being limited roads e.g. the Nullabor plain in Australia but in Europe and India there are a miriade of options. 

Sometimes we are able to use routes from those that have ridden before like Mark Beaumont, Jenny Graham, Tandem WoW and Ian Walker but the individuality of our ride means no one route fits all our needs.  Where we are routing ourselves the best we can do is use a combination or cycle OSM maps (showing cycle paths and lanes), heatmaps (showing where people have ridden before) and satellite images on Ride With GPS.  We will likely run the GPX files through Komoot too before we go to break it down into more manageable distance but Ride With GPS perform as well for such long distance route planning.  But just because there is a cycle lane or someone has ridden down that road before doesn’t mean it suits our purposes; there are plenty of dust tracks, miles long tunnels or 3 lanes highways people have allegedly ridden down.  And then there are ferries which we are keen to avoid to prevent being slowed down and the odd bridge that may or may not exist… we take no responsibility for online route which may not be updated!

Yeah… not all is what it first appears!
Spreadsheet version 2.10… we’re probably now on 3.155….


So after painstakingly going through the route mile by mile we also need to plan for the day to day necessities.  In places like Thailand and India there are shops, hotels and restaurant every few miles but in Australia and Uzbekistan facilities are distinctly more sparse so it is worth planning whether there will be anywhere to get food and water in the next 100miles, never mind somewhere to sleep!
We also need to be careful to abide by the Guinness World Record requirements and a refresher geography lesson about longitude and latitude was needed to make sure we didn’t go back on ourselves unnecessarily, check the co-ordinates of various twists and turns of our route.  Another thing to get our head around has been time zones and the date line… somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic we will be crossing over the International Date Line and where we had been losing minutes everyday suddenly we gain a whole day back!


And as if this all wasn’t enough to figure out we still had actually figured out how to physically get to the start line.  The bike is obviously capable of being flown but with every flight is a risk of damage whilst it is our of our sights so we prefer to make sure it comes with us to the start.  Whereas on our Land’s End John O’Groats trip previously we were able to hire one way vans from the start and finish we quickly figured out this just wasn’t possible from the UK to Europe.  So after looking into numerous options the simplest solution seems to be to hire a car from  the UK to drive over with the bike and very kindly my Dad has offered to drive it back!

The tandem itself is still yet to materialise but is in the UK and is currently having a special wrap courtesy of Essential Wraps for our sponsors Huub.  It is then to be lovingly built by tandem expert Pete at the Tandem Shop before we get our hands on it to start trialling and testing it.  It all seems a bit surreal we haven’t ridden the bicycle we will be depending on to get us around the World but there’s plenty of time still and we don’t want to wear it out before we go.

We have managed a couple of spins this month and it was third time lucky for my planned “Fixties” ride… a completely arbitary early year challenge I set myself by ride one of our favourite training routes the “Fixed fifty”, firstly “broken” on heavy weight steel framed Betty then on the slightly lighter but fixed wheel “Kathrim”

And a spin up over down and back of the Snake Pass while it was briefly closed to car but open to cyclists- what a joy!

And now with hopefully most of the admin in hand we can start to focus on the fun stuff including some AMAZING episodes of “Stoked to be here“, an in store talk at Alpkit Hathersage and planning our grand depart and leaving do… oh and more riding bikes of course 😉


Training

“How training going?” is one of the most popular questions people ask me along with “I bet you’re really excited aren’t you?”

The second question is easier to answer, if not what people want to hear: There is still so much to do in terms of logistics even the start line seems a very long way away and I’m pretty sure I won’t feel excited until I’m actually in the backseat of the bike!

Backseat riding…


The juggling act of a full time job as a veterinary surgeon, training, staying healthy, planning the route, finding and keeping in touch with sponsors, making contacts in our drop points, podcasting, you-tubing, organising the bike build and then learning how to build it ourselves, sourcing all the kit, booking flights, arranging visas, checking WiFi access / currency / vaccinations we need, updating social media and building our following and then organising our leaving do leave little time or energy for feeling excited about the trip of the lifetime yet!  I also am expecting and prepared for the last minute dilemmas which will undoubtedly prevent too much excitement creeping in until we are on the road and speeding East.  So, no I am not excited, but I am very much looking forward to the point I can be!!


But as far as training is concerned that is not as straightforward as you might imagine.  In my first year of meeting Stevie we played our now typical double act of him “making” me “train” for a 100 mile sportif ride I had set my sights on by sending me up immense infamous hills such as Wrynose and Hardknott on my old hybrid bike or “making” me do laps on the pool whilst on holiday in Crete. 

Anyone that knows us well enough quickly sees through this façade and is quite clear I rarely do anything I do not want to and of is more of a spoof of couples and athletes that take themselves too seriously. 


Stevie does have more of a background in sport than I and knows what it is to train at high intensity and develop those fast twitch muscle fibres.  Neither of us have ever particularly worked with heart rate or wattage though (with the exception of my running high intensity session I did in preparation for coast to coast run but more on that later.)


The easier way to “train” is not to, or rather make it part of your day to day life.  We have both been avid bicycle commuters for many years, although Ste has arguably managed to get much more benefit from it that me on heavy steel or fixed wheel bikes pushing his pace all the way home whereas I am prone to stump into the saddle after a long day and fail to put the effort in.  But all miles count for something and in my heyday I was commuting 36 miles a day around night shifts which quickly boosted my yearly miles.  Aside from that not owning a car means many trips to town, friends or the shops are done by bike and if I have a meeting away I will opt for a train/bicycle combination. 


This goes someway to a baseline fitness, but in reality  I suspect more comes from our consistent riding on events and holidays. We love a good cycle tour and in the Summer months usually find a couple of weekends to fill up our panniers and disappear into the sunset.  A (usually) full calendar of tempting audax events also lures us in as we conveniently forget the ” never again ” we cried the previous year.  Aside from 2020 we have completed an Super Randonneur series (200, 300, 400 and 600km event) every year after that first one and the jump in fitness is noticeable especially after we’ve recovered from the bigger rides. 

Riding off into the sunset…


But that leaves the challenge of the winter months.  This is where staying bike fit really takes some focus and training tricks.  Some years we have attempted the “Randonneur round the year” award where we must ride a 200km event every month and this encourages us to either book on events or make them up ourselves.  Riding 200km in the winter is tough; cold, dark and all around a hard ride so there needs to be some motivation to do it.  This year catching Covid19 in October left us still not healthy enough to complete a ride in November so the Challenge failed and we needed another goal.  For me this was in the form of “riding home for Christmas” and the Festive 500km run by Rapha. “Riding home for Christmas” has become a bit of a tradition over the past few years, where we take the tandem from our home in Derby to my parents near Thatcham: a 135miles ride around what time I have off over Christmas, and then back again.  The festive 500km is a fairy crazy challenge to ride 500km between Christmas Eve and New year so riding home for Christmas is a great way to get the majority of this done.  Despite an epic effort in awful weather last year to complete the challenge, Stevie wasn’t on form enough to undertake it this year so I decided to brave it alone.  Its the furthest I’d ridden since October so made for a tough couple of days but a good way to kick-start training before the New Year.

Riding home for Christmas


Now the festivities are over it is time to build a more structured plan.  The only time I have actually worked to a “training plan” was last year in the build up to my Coast to Coast run, which worked well in the end but certainly wasn’t the most professional approach.  This year my aim is similar but with more cycling and less running.  Having said that I’m still using running whilst daylight is short and the weather is icy as a great way to get shorter sessions in than if I went out on the bike.  Cross-training has a lot of benefits in terms of cardiovascular fitness, using different muscle groups and, for me as a female especially, bone strength and density.  I also practice yoga for improved strength and suppleness (and it helps keep me sane) so currently am aiming for a run and a yoga session a week.  Then on top of my usual commute to work I am initially aiming for 1 longer ride per week, building gradually up over the next few months to 1 ultra long ride, 1 medium ride and a fast session per week as we get closer to June.  This will have to be flexible around my work schedule (for example I work 1:4 Saturdays) and some weekends we will be looking to do back to back longer rides to build up endurance as well as fitness. 


 Recovery can be just as important too and the faster/higher intensity rides will need to be timed when our bodies are fresh to get the most benefit of pushing our upper end threshold.  We will not be doing any super long 400km or 600km rides though as these are well beyond the remit of our daily planned mileage around the World and the recovery is just too long.  Focusing and being faster and more efficient over a 200km or 110mile distance will be of more benefit as even though this is a distance we are already very comfortable with the faster we can go, the more time we will have for rest and recovery everyday.

Not sure we will have much time for hot tub recovery around the World…

This challenge is as much about the time off the bike as on it and the logistics and time taken to do tasks off the bike to allow us to rest sufficiently to ride strongly daily for 180 days.  We are planning a “training trip” to test run out entire set up: packing, navigation, camping, cooking, charging devices and even updating blogs and social media on the road! Hopefully this will put us in a strong position of knowing how everything works before we leave and trimming down what we need and what we don’t.  We are used to packing light on the bike but sometimes it’s hard to gauge the specifics you need until you are on the road. 


Which leads us to another main issue: weight.  The bike itself is of course a fixed weight but we then have two main variables: what we pack and how much we weigh.  We are already sourcing specialist lightweight kit and are very grateful for companies who’s like Alpkit for their support with this and have a tremendous set of frame bags and panniers from Cycle Touring Adventures to pack it in. 

But there will be some places e.g. the Nullabor plain in Australia where we will be carrying a significant weight of food and water. Obviously the weight on the bike is going to contribute to how much energy it takes to move it and the heavier the load the harder the handling and increased wear of component parts, especially on the back wheel.  So we can make a significant difference ahead of our trip by controlling our own weight. I’m aware this can be a sensitive subject and there will be those that will be crying out that we are skinny enough already, to those that will know what it is to monitor your bodyweight to power ratio be conscious of the effects this has on top end performance and endurance (two very different things…).  We certainly do not intend to set off looking like Chris Froome or like we are going to snap in two in a strong breeze; more and more RED (relative energy deficiency) syndrome in ultra-distance athletes is being talked about and this could have a negative effect on our performance as well as risk of injury or illness.  But despite this we both know our bodies well enough to know that some weight loss before this trip will be of benefit- I was around the 57kg mark after the Christmas indulgence and although my lowest weight has been a potentially too lean 46kg. Around 50-53kg I know from experience will leave me plenty of strength and reserves but improves my performance and power to weight.  I can be impressively efficient with food and my metabolism burns fat well (one large pizza once got me 140 miles…) so it will take a bit of care with my diet on and off the bike to keep it healthy and gradually reduce.  I have gone down the route of specific fad diets before including the 5:2 diet, which at the time was a great way to learn how to deal with being hungry and not eating constantly, but nowadays feel its much healthier to eat lots of fruit and veg, avoid processed foods and aim for a healthy balance of different food groups depending on what I want my body to do that day- carbs for pre ride energy and protein for recovery.  We mainly eat vegetarian home cooked meals on weekdays but our occasional pizza and curry blow outs at weekends will have to be saved for post ride treats too…

We love cooking!


I write this knowing opinions on this may vary and Mark Beaumont famously went around the World being not a dissimilar height from Stevie but 10kg heavier! But after several years of long distance riding we know what works for us and how we want to approach this (especially when we have to lug 20kg of water across the Nullabor…)


So with the training plan, test run and weight loss plan in place we have a structured timeline leading up to our trip.  We will be looking for our speed to increase on set rides, our weight to drop and our recovery time to shorten.  This may not be the most scientific ,or even the best approach, but we know what works for us and every attempted circumnavigation will be planned in a different manner so we must trust in our own processes to make it happen. 

It’s worked in the past!

Motives


Yes, not motivation… we’ve (kinda) got that sorted… but motives. 

This has come up few times in our planning and talking about our plans especially on social media. Most people have been wonderfully supportive but certain groups have queried why we want to go fast and other people have asked why we feel we deserve sponsorship…
And considering these responses has made me realise our motives are not quite as straightforward as may first appear.

Obviously one of our main priorities is to look this super cool…

I started questioning this more recently as I am working my way down my pile of Around the World or similar books I have just read two World Record breaking accounts that were completely different in motivation, tone and how they left me feeling. 

I’m building quite a collection!

The first was a rather embittered tale of a cyclist who did not have his record verified by Guinness and despite his protestations that he was dismissive of Mark Beaumont (or Kash D’Anthe as he weirdly called him) having a supported record he seemed unable to let this drop, referring to him continually.   He chose to ride self supported, with no sponsorship or publicity and suffered the trials of the road this brings but instead of acknowledging this being the path he had chosen seemed taken aback when things went wrong and his bicycle continually broke.   

He was unable to graciously accept the help of strangers, particularly financial and almost seemed resentful of having to accept assistance he sorely needed.  What particularly grated on me was despite his claims to want to see the World and immerse himself in different cultures, he descriptions descriptions the different ways of life and ethos the people he met had showed he had very little tolerance for a different way of life and seemed to actively dislike having to interact with different people.  It was easy to read between the lines to see why he didn’t make to record criteria, even though he did complete the trip.
I ended the book feeling disheartened and a bit sour about his account, but also wondering if there are many people like him that will be so negative about the way we chose to do our ride.


My next book was like a breathe of fresh air! Despite a truly horrendous childhood and an awfully traumatic experience Juliana is described as a phoenix rising from the ashes and her powerful positive motivation comes across clearly from the pages.  She is not out to better anyone else but herself and pours her passion into an epic ride.  She is also unsupported on the road, but in contrast asked for crowd funding to support her trio which her followers happily give in return for being able to follow her progress on social media.  She obviously also inspires people and this makes then want to support her in turn.  She is incredibly gracious for all the help she is offered and already very worldly so aware of cultural difference and what to expect.  She frequently writes kindly of the people she meets on the road and when she does fall full of problems she is not bitter and angry, but reflective, pragmatic and resourceful. 
If I had just read the first book I would have been left questioning myself and our motives but Juliana’s account gives me inspiration and clarity that we are doing things in the way we are for the right reasons.


1. The Challenge 

Yes we could tour around the World over years, or even go slower and take the record but there is something inspiring and exciting to us about making it a challenge.  Riding at the speed we plan to will be a very difficult experience from touring slower and the expenses are different.  We cannot deny we will feel very privileged hold a World Record and hope that the speed we plan to set it at will make it a true challenge to beat. Having said that if another mixed pair come along to take our crown we would wish them the best and give then our support- there are only so many people prepared to do what we do and we are all kindred spirits (and ever so slightly nuts!)

It feels good to complete a challenge!


2. The Inspiration 

What better thing to do on this planet to inspire others to change their lives for the better!  If there was a chance that our ride could inspire one person to take on a challenge, follow their dreams, ride a bit further, see the World or even take that first step outside their front door it will all be worth it.  Especially through Covid19 mental health issues have been increasingly apparent in our society and we would love to think our exploits might help bring a bit more positivity to some people.   This is one of the reasons we have chosen two of our charities which are related to mental health  (Mind and Vetlife) and we don’t expect anyone to jump on their bike and ride around the World but if it encourages people to take that first step to a healthier, happier and more balanced life that would mean a lot to us.

A glimpse of sunshine on a winters ride certainly cheers me up 😀

3. The Charities

Last year I organised a particularly daft Christmas pub crawl/march  walking 34 miles between the Derby Brewing Company pubs in one day… unsurprisingly people we met along the way were quite astonished by this concept and even more so when we had to admit we weren’t raising money for charity, just doing it for fun! 

But the problem is if we fundraised for every challenge we undertook our lovely and supportive friends and family would likely become a tad fed up with continual requests and also a bit broke!  So this is the chance of a lifetime to raise a really significant amount of money for a group of charities we are really passionate about. 

And that is why social media and sponsorship are so important to us too- partly to spread the word to help inspire others but also once we reach the start line so that we can raise as much as possible by having a large online following. Liaising with sponsors is not only beneficial in terms of taking some of the financial pressure off (as we are self funded) but also allows us to use great kit and gives us access to the audience and followers of these sponsors too.  We have tried to work with and support local companies and will not accept sponsorship requests from companies who’s  products we wouldn’t be happy to use otherwise. 


4. The Experience 

And aside from the obvious; obtaining sponsors, creating a social media following and content, route planning, risk assessment, logistics and even podcasting are all part of this immense project and are skills and experiences we wouldn’t otherwise be having.  I’ve been interviewed on local radio, written articles and blogs and been on and started my own podcast.  I’ve spoken to and been in contact with so many amazing people already and we haven’t even started pedalling yet! 

Yes… that is Jason Kenny Gold medal holding Olympic Cyclist!

And of course obviously seeing the World at the speed of a tandem bicycle, working as a team with my favourite person and having all those experiences together… even now it is an indescribable feeling.

Or seeing Stevie’s lower back for 6 months…


But one thing I took from Juliana’s writing was : gratitude. We are so grateful to have this opportunity, we hope to do some good a long the way but it is undoubtedly a massively privileged position to be in and we will never take that for granted.

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 😀