30 Days, 2,000 Miles, 15 National Parks and Zero Emissions… This is why it’s going to be so tough…
It seems bonkers that the time has come around already.
At the time of writing, it’s five days until we will begin our Ride for the Wild challenge. Cycling 2,000 miles – 60 miles a day – to all 15 UK national parks in 30 days. Unassisted, camping and completely plant-powered (more trip details here).
There’s something about ditching the concrete walls and living from your tent, being constantly embraced by nature and exploring landscapes with only your human power… it’s absolutely blissful.
We’re about to spend 30 days cycling to some of the UK’s most inspiring natural areas. Spending our time zipping through dense woodlands, washing in lakes and waterfalls, eating amongst animals and rising and falling with the sun.
There’s no work, no emails, no monotonous chores, just 30 days where our soul task for each day is to cycle from A to B. It’s simplistic and absolutely amazing.
At the same time, it’s also going to be – without a doubt – the hardest thing we’ve ever done. We don’t even know if we’ll make it around in the month.
Every one of our training rides has confirmed it. So have our bodies and bikes, friends, family and other riders when we’ve chatted to them about it.
The prevailing emotion is excitement but there are also underlying nerves and apprehension. This article is all about the things causing the latter. The parts of the tour and elements of the challenge that we’re expecting will kick our arses, or at least be a pain in them.
Things That Could Suck on Our Ride for the Wild
The UK gets a bad rep for its weather. Sometimes it’s justified. Other times it’s not.
Going in September and covering nearly every inch of the UK, you could get an awesome late summer with mild temperatures, seriously stormy weather or even snow further north.
And though we’re fine cycling through winds, rain, thunder and snow, it’s less than ideal on a tight schedule. Completing the ride in 30 days will be impossible if we get hit by heavy storms, as was the case on our UK Three Peaks by Bike Challenge and the first week of our England to India ride.
Besides just making cycling damn harder and potentially more dangerous, bad weather makes taking breaks and outdoor food stops real shitty. Camping in the rain also means you’re confined to your tent. This ain’t a real biggie on short trips, but over 30 days it leads to lots of achy muscles and cabin fever.
Besides just the national parks, our 2,000-mile route will also take us through some of the biggest urban areas in the UK. We don’t do so well in these kinds of places…
It means traffic, lots of people, loud noises and generally an environment much more intimidating to two exhausted cyclists.
Cities are damn tiring because you’ve got to stay alert, navigate busy networks of roads, avoid pedestrians, cross dodgy estates etc. When you’re physically and mentally worn out, it’s not an enjoyable prospect.
If possible, we’ll try and time our rides to take on the urban sprawl during the day with full energy, then be back into the solstice of the wild come evening.
Finding spots to wild camp
Finishing our route within a month is going to be right on the edge of our physical ability. Once we hit the 60-mile point each day, we’re ready to crash out. Cognitive functions stop and we just want to be in our little shelter, cooking up some food and falling asleep whilst eating it.
It’s very unlikely our daily 60 miles just happen to finish by good camping spots. Cut a day short and it makes the rest of the trip harder. Keep cycling past 60 miles, we end up completely frazzled.
This typically means nights are spent in very dubious wild camping spots. Whilst the image of wild camping is often depicted by mountain-top locations with stunning views, most of our evenings will be spent hunkered on the edge of stony farmer’s fields or tucked into small roadside woodlands.
And it’s more than just having a nice view. When we’re camped – technically illegally – in populated areas, safety is a concern. It’s hard to get a decent kip with this is playing on your mind and you end up very sleep-deprived.
If we’re close enough to campsites, we’ll most definitely treat ourselves, but outside of popular outdoorsy areas, they can be few and far between.
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For back-to-back multi-day challenges, getting the right food and nutrition is absolutely vital. Our bodies will be craving calories and nutrients to repair and rebuild. If we don’t eat enough, it can be hard to crawl out of the tent. And if we just fill up on junk food, we have no energy and will likely end up injured quickly.
Fortunately, enough plant-based grub can be found in most shops around the UK and we’ve got our vegan cycle touring food down to a tee. But, finding shops isn’t always so easy.
Being in a rush, again, is the issue. Any small diversion to a shop adds on time and miles, so we do our best just to stay on route. This can mean not having grub when we want it or that when we finally go past a shop it’s just as we’re getting into a good pace.
Finding water is actually more of a headache than food.
We drink roughly 2 litres of water throughout the day but it’s wild camping that is the most water-hungry.
When we finish the day, we try to drink a lot and rehydrate. Then dinner on the camp stove requires water. So does breakfast, teas and coffees. Because of this, we aim to fill up just before finding camp, but then we’ll be high and dry again come morning.
Altogether, it means mornings and evenings are spent trying to find a reliable source of h20. Which, again, can be a pain in the backside when you’re trying to cover ground quickly and there’s nothing much around.
This one seems pretty trivial but can actually be damn frustrating.
We take 2 pots so we can cook dinner and breakfast without needing to wash ’em. But, then it needs to be washed again before the following night.
If you’re at a campsite, this is nice and easy. If you’re camping wild, you end up with the awkward situation of trying to wash crockery in a public toilet or swinging by a campsite and politely using their amenities. More diversion. More time.
Though we’ve been a bit vague about it, Sarah has had huge issues with saddle sore. Those who have experienced it will know it can be debilitating. To the point where we’ve been unable to keep going on multiday training rides.
She’s tried different seats, pads, bike setups and creams… with some success but it’s still not perfect.
If it flares up on the ride, there’s almost nothing we can do. It just gets worse and worse each day, which can end up causing big problems.
The whole of the build-up to this challenge has been plagued by bike issues and malfunctions.
Both our bikes (Betty and Roger) are pretty damn old and were bought second hand nearly 5 years ago. They’ve definitely seen better days. They definitely weren’t up to the task for the first few months of training.
Getting new bikes wasn’t an option and instead we’ve made lots of mods and adjustments to get them as solid as possible.
My bike (Betty) is now running like a dream however Sarah’s bike is still less than ideal. I think we’ve both realised it’s time to upgrade, but it won’t be possible before the challenge. Fingers crossed it all holds out whilst we’re on the road. Or, that we’re at least close to a bike shop if Roger (Sarah’s bike) throws a tantrum.
Being able to stretch enough
I (J) get bad knee issues if my quads get too tight and Sarah gets an iffy back if she can’t stretch it out.
In an ideal world, we’d have a good stretch at the end of every day. However, it’s not always so easy. If the weather is pants, it’s very difficult to have a good stretch in a tent, especially when sharing with someone else. Also, if we’re shattered, it can be hard to motivate additional movement at the end of the day, even if it will undoubtedly be beneficial.
Phones and cameras will be used for navigating, communication, weather-checking, documenting the journey and social media updates. Altogether, this means we’ll use a lot of battery.
English weather is not reliable enough for a solar charger. Instead, Pedalcell has sponsored our trip with a rim dynamo. It’s ace on flatter ground but not ideal for hilly sections.
We’ll have a battery pack and it should be possible to leave it charging in campsites, but we’ll likely spend long periods just camping wild. Fingers crossed there’ll be enough juice with a combination of the Pedalcell in flatter regions and campsites in other parts.
From our plotted route, we have about 3,100 ft of incline to tackle each day. To put that into perspective, that’s only slightly less than cycling up Scafell Pike – the tallest peak in England – every single day.
We quite enjoy a good hill but it definitely takes it out of you with loaded bikes.
The real worry is that 3,100 ft is the average across the 30 days. Some sections, like the south coast and the Fens in East Anglia, are almost perfectly flat. That means, there will be lots of days with heaps more than 3,000 ft of incline…
Any injuries will be a big kick in the balls, but so will just generally getting ill. Even little issues can really add up because there’s no time to rest.
This is tricky to avoid. We need to hope our training has paid off, cycle efficiently, stretch and keep fueled on decent grub to keep feeling tip top.
All these difficult elements can really take their toll on your mental health.
Each day will have its own stressful situations, our bodies will be aching, the weather could be pants, we’ll constantly be on the move and getting crappy amounts of sleep. It’s not a good combo for mental wellbeing.
Staying positive, determined and enthusiastic is vital for getting the miles done, as well as for us to actually enjoy our time riding to some of the most beautiful parts of the UK.
We both help to keep each other in check and can tell when things are getting to one and other. That’s when it’s time for a bit of TLC.
Sometimes, all it takes is just an extra 10 minutes zipped up in sleeping bags, perhaps a hot drink or just sitting in a nice, natural spot and chilling out for 10 minutes, a cuddle. It’s all worthwhile to keep the clouds at bay.
Hitting our fundraising target
We feel so passionately about our natural areas and embracing the wilderness we have left. The more we ride and explore these types of landscapes, the more we feel compelled to protect them. Trees for Life are really doing awesome things to make this happen and so we’d love to generate heaps of support for them and awareness of the issues revolving around our outdoor lands.
We set ourselves the target of raising £2,000 and hitting this number has weighed on our minds a lot. I know it’s just a figure, but it feels integral to the ride and part of the challenge itself.
I’m confident we can get there by the end of the 30 days. If you’d like to help us, you can check out our fundraising page here.
We’re SO ready to ride
And still, after all these things, the good definitely outweighs the bad – we can’t bloody wait to hit the road.
It’s been a long summer, chockablock with achy muscles and smelly tents, forecast-checking and bag-packing, camp stove meals, copious amount of peanut butter and porridge, saddle sore and stiff necks, constant nature appreciation, stunning views, devilish climbs, mindblowing descents, 24/7 voracious appetites and constantly growing thighs…
Now it’s only a few days till our departure date and we’re eager to get going!
It really is going to be brutally hard and we appreciate all the encouragement and support you guys have given us. It does make a huge difference reading your motivating messages and comments.
And now to pack…
A few months later… the Ride for the Wild film is now out!
Wanna see how it all unfolded, all the twists, turns, highs and lows? Check out the video below or the Ride for the Wild post here.