It has been ten months since I walked from Mexico to Canada.
Since then I have embarked upon a number of smaller adventures with varying degrees of success, including a failed attempt to climb Trolltunga, an almost-failed attempt to cycle to Paris and a terrifying – yet successful – tour of Mont Blanc. That said, I don’t consider not reaching the destination to be a failure. Attempting something and not succeeding is better than not trying at all.
And now I have conceived another adventure. Possibly more ambitious. Certainly more arduous.
I’ve been tentatively throwing this idea around in my head for months and until now I didn’t have a firm plan other than a starting point and a destination. All good adventures are simple enough to be described in one concise sentence and so this is what I’m doing:
Over 17 days I will cycle 1200 miles from Gibraltar to London, beginning at Gibraltar Rock and ending at the Shard.
From one iconic British landmark to another.
(Between a Rock and a Shard Place?)
I still have to work out a few details in terms of exact route and there will almost certainly be some improvisation while I’m out there – sometimes I get seduced by fun-looking off-road tracks – but the rough plan is as follows.
I will fly into Gibraltar and from there, ride towards home through the Eastern mountains of Spain, crossing the Pyrenees into France and cycling north to Dieppe. From there I will make the ferry crossing to Newhaven and continue north to London Bridge where I will triumphantly end my journey at the Shard. What better places to start and end my journey than two of Britain’s biggest and most recognisable landmarks.
I have 17 days to complete the route and no more, meaning I will have to average 70-75 miles a day. Not an easy task, especially considering the difficulties I had cycling from London to Paris earlier this year. If anything goes wrong – horrendous winds, bike malfunctions, navigational disasters, animal attacks etc. – my plans may be scuppered.
In plotting my course I wanted to take the shortest route possible while avoiding busy roads where I can. I know nothing about what the route has in store for me. I’ll be wild camping along the way, buying my own food as I go and pretty much playing it by ear.
This is my first long bikepacking trip so I am expecting a number of difficulties. The physical struggle will obviously take its toll. I am 11 weeks into an intensive 14-week training schedule leading up to my trip, allowing me to manage the physical challenge as much as possible. This mainly involves getting up at disgusting hours of the morning to ride, eating lots of food and running up escalators in the Tube.
But what I envisage to be the number one difficulty is all mental. The monotony of getting up day after day and cycling for 12 hours down endless roads in blistering August heat. The frustrating Sisyphean task of cycling face-first into violent headwinds. Eating the same food for days on end. Being in constant pain and discomfort. The isolation and the loneliness. The wanting to give up. The vows never to attempt a difficult challenge like this again, while deep down knowing I will forget all the bad times as soon as I reach the end.
I’m no stranger to the mental struggle that inevitably comes with a big adventure – the five months I spent walking from Mexico to Canada had some seriously low points – but it’s something you can never really get used to. You can only manage it, not eliminate it. There are always good days and bad days. Days where you love everything and can’t wait to continue on your journey, and other, probably more frequent, days where the prospect of even getting out of your sleeping bag is too much to bear. It’s how you handle these days that matters.
In my experience the best way to prepare for the mental side of adventure is twofold. The first is to know exactly why you’re doing it and what you will get out of it. This means that when you are having one of those inevitable bad days when the end seems too far off and unattainable to even contemplate, you can motivate yourself by thinking about how good it will feel and all the rewards when you finish.
The second technique is making the leap from pre-adventure life to mid-adventure life as easy as possible. Jumping from a sedentary sofa-based lifestyle straight to a half a year of walking through the wilderness will be a real shock to the system. Your chances of succeeding will be much greater if you actually take some time to accustom yourself to some of the conditions you will be facing. I’m currently cycling a set number of miles every week, stepping it up more and more as the day approaches. I will also take pains to step myself away from the creature comforts of social media and TV just to make that transition back into the adventure lifestyle as smooth as possible.
I will be posting more updates on my training and preparation in the coming weeks. Subscribe below to keep posted!