Updated: Sep 10, 2019
Tonight I had the pleasure of sharing some thoughts about my adventure with fellow RCC members at the Rapha Cafe in Soho. It was an informal event for RCC members and I spoke alongside two other members who had been completing 'colidays' for the past few years ( a great idea I thought) where they travel around Europe riding the most famous Cols or mountains from the grand tours. Theirs was an interesting comparison to mine, as they went as a group with a support van to drive them around and pick them up when they were tired!
(Obviously I couldn't help myself from starting by saying how nice it must be to be collected in a van just because you are tired)
I briefly shared a few key lessons from my Adventure. It’s your Adventure. There are no rules that say you must sleep in a ditch, eat roadkill and grow a beard to be considered a proper touring cyclist. I had no interest in camping and I wanted to travel light, so I stayed in Airbnb places all the way. But I have friends who travelled with a support car and stayed in great hotels on a ride from Paris to Nice. I have a friend who cycled half way around the world alone with everything packed on his bike. All are valid. Pick the way that you can imagine that will allow you to get on the bike day after day. Because this kind of ride should be an adventure, where you do something unknown and untried for you. It's a mental and physical challenge This kind of ride does not require any great sporting ability. It does require fitness of course; I rode almost 5,000km in preparation for this, starting with the Rapha Festive 500 seven months before hand. That challenge in particular is a great starting point, not just for the distance you are covering, but for the test of getting out and riding every day. The real test on this ride is a combination of physical and mental challenges. It is getting up every day and doing it all over again.
There will be dark moments Where you will question why you are doing this and where you start to think about ways to shorten the journey. At these moments it is absolutely vital that you have a well of experience that you can draw upon. I am huge believer in the fact that if you don’t put yourself into challenging positions in training then then you won’t learn how to deal with them when doing the real event/ride. We will all have different ways of coping with physical and mental challenges and it really helps to be able to remind yourself ‘I have been here before and I managed’. The converse is true. If all you can remember is that you have dropped out every time things got hard in training, then you will definitely struggle when doing the real thing. Choose your own route As it is is your adventure, you may as well choose your own route and destinations. Why follow the same beaten path as everyone else? I specifically avoided looking at Lands End to John O Groats because so many people have already done it. When someone tells you that have just finished it, you ask, 'how many days did it take?’ That's because we now just grade that ride based almost entirely on speed. The fact that a record even exists, put me off doing it. I feel that the LEJOG ride has gone the same ways as marathons. 20 years ago it was only the office nutter who ran the marathon and everyone wanted to see their medal on a Monday morning. Now that you know some bloke dressed as a chicken has done it in under three hours and even fat Janet from accounts has finished one, it doesn’t feel as impressive. I am not saying that diminishes the level of physical achievement for anyone doing these things, they are still very hard to do, but they have lost their cache. I will place a bet you don’t know anyone who has ridden the route I picked from London to Milan. Picking a unique journey for me meant that I was only ever measuring my achievement against myself.
Touring is not about speed. If it is, then you are on the wrong journey or you are the wrong person for this kind of journey. If you want to go far and fast then find a race for that. It’s not about speed or even distance; it’s about the hours you spend in the saddle. It will be slower than you normally ride because you have kit, you are navigating and hopefully you are stopping to enjoy the views. Get the best kit you can. Yes you know a woman that knows a guy that knows a guy that rode the route of the tour de France on a fixie wearing only army surplus gear. But you also know this is bullshit. Riding for hours on end in badly fitting kit will hurt a lot. Also you will be riding in it a lot, be sure it won't fall apart or stink after a week. Practice and test it all. It might be romantic to think of getting a new bike and completely new kit for the ride, but again, you will feel like an idiot if you discover your kit or worse still your bike doesn’t fit. The Rapha Brevet kit was fantastic. As was the luggage. Get out of your comfort zone in every sense possible. Physically and mentally. Push yourself to try something new and different. The rewards will be greater. Ride somewhere new. Ride further than you ever have before. Embrace local culture. If you are touring outside of the UK try to remember that you are the foreigner. The country you are visiting will not bend to you. It must be the other way around. If everywhere shuts on a Saturday afternoon (France) or Monday morning (Belgium) accept it and deal with it. Also learn some words in the language of the place you are visiting. At a minimum learn how to say; hello, thank you, sorry, I don't speak xxxx, yes, no, this/that, can you help me please? Open yourself up to the new and different. This ties in to all of the above. But be open to new experiences and to meet new people and share stories.
I am sure that there are more than just 8 lessons I could share but I only had 10 minutes and tried to cram in as much as possible.