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Ride Across Britain: 'It's a chance to see what you're capable of achieving on a bike'

Laura Scott
3 Oct 2017

We headed along to the Deloitte Ride Across Britain for the second year running, this time in much more testing conditions

Every summer thousands of determined pannier laden cyclists, take on the challenge of traversing of the whole length of Great Britain between two extremities: From Land’s End and the endless undulations of Cornwall to the rocky cliffs of John O'Groats.

The route has become somewhat of a pilgrimage for cyclists who wish to explore the UK. I like many other cyclists had this classic touring route on my bucket list from the moment I learned of it.

I moved back to the UK 10 years ago this month, after spending many of my formative years in Canada.

Having picked up cycling, and in particular endurance cycling, in the UK, I became fixated with the idea of celebrating this anniversary, by seeing my adopted home by bike.

So when the opportunity presented itself, I signed up to take part in the Deloitte Ride Across Britain.

RAB offers a different approach to your standard end-to-end attempt, as it's fully supported. Not having to worry about route planning, lugging kit across the country, figuring out where the next meal will come from or worrying about where I would sleep each night, massively appealed to me.

I liked the idea of just being able to focus on riding my bike and clocking up those 100 plus miles a day.

Maybe a bit naively, I thought it would be an easy way to check this challenge off my list, as when I have raced self-supported, it is always the admin and logistics that I find challenging.

With hindsight, I now realise how naive it was for me to think this would be a walk in the park…

Over nine days I would ride 969 miles, pedal twice the height of Everest, and tick off 23 counties and three countries, in torrential rain, hail storms, and freezing temperatures.

The night before the ride was set to start I arrived at Land’s End under cover of darkness, to find myself at the first of nine base camps. It was quite the sight.

A sea of matching green pop-up tents, massage zones, a bike repair area, dining/hang out marquee, ‘Posh Wash showers,' laundry facilities, a medical tent – all of which during the week will take the crew collectively 4,000 hours to put together.

After dinner, I was allocated my tent for the night. Having grown up camping in some of the most remote places in Northern Canada, finding myself in a field with approximately 800 other people, was an interesting experience.

I had ignored the memo to bring earplugs, but soon realised why they had been recommended, as the men in the tents on either side of me perfectly time their snoring to start the second the other finished, creating quite the musical interlude.

Fortunately, I can sleep through most things, and quickly dozed off. At 04:00 an unidentified individual’s alarm went off and was snoozed numerous times before the official wake-up call of 05:30.

At this point I realised I’m not so good at following the rules of organised fun, so as everyone else eagerly waited at the start line to set off in smaller groups, I wandered into the dining tent to get breakfast.

This became a bit of a trend for me, and I’m 99% sure I was amongst one of the last people to leave every day.

Some days they had collapsed the start line by the time I hit the road.

With the weather being what it was, I felt no real motivation to rush to another muddy field to hang out in and would rather get more sleep.

This meant I was quickly on the broom wagon man’s radar, as he was convinced I would never catch up. I’m happy to say I proved him wrong and managed to make the checkpoint cut off each day.

Each evening, we would be briefed on the following day’s route, which would invariably be described as ‘lumpy’ or ‘grippy.’

However, as the Threshold Sports team pointed out Ernest Hemingway once wrote, 'It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best.'

So with this in mind, they picked a route that was designed to give a unique perspective on a country, one that had us do a few extra miles each day but took us to the places other rides might miss.

On day three we woke up in the Bath University dorms to biblical rain and wind. At this point, I very nearly called it quits.

I looked at the weather and knew that this was what would be facing for the rest of the week, and was already dreading having to camp in another muddy field, wearing damp clothing and soaking wet shoes.

I grabbed my bike, pretended to leave the start and then went back to bed for another hour while I contemplated if I cared if I finished the ride or not.

What I realised is I don’t mind riding in the rain, but I hate camping in the mud and never actually getting warm or dry after a long day on the bike.

So I decided to push on and figured I could go rogue and make my own sleeping plans if the awful weather continued.

When I reached the first checkpoint that day, I found out two of my friends I had been riding with a bit had decided to call it quits.

The Ride Across Britain prides itself on having 95% completion rate for riders reaching the finish; my guess is the weather this year will have brought this number down.

As the days and miles start to run into each other, you find yourself quickly falling into a routine.

Starting with the 05:30 wake up (me pulling sleeping bag over my head and letting out some string of expletives), breakfast, pack bag, fill up water bottles.

Then at 08:00 realise everyone else has left an hour ago, rush to catch a few people up to ride with, reach new base camp, try and clean bike in vain and mostly just coat it with more mud

Next, drag bag to tent, remove mud and slugs from tent, shower, book physio appointment, get covered in rocktape, eat enormous dinner, stretch, wash water bottles, upload the day’s photos to Instagram, sleep, repeat.

Falling into this kind of routine is one of the things I love about muti-day cycling events. I love knowing that every morning all I need to worry about is riding my bike, taking in the scenery, and eating packet after packet of Oreos.

By the middle of the week, all 870 participants were well and truly in what they referred to as the 'RAB bubble,' oblivious to what was happening in the outside world.

Suddenly it becomes okay to walk around in a sports bra and bib shorts while eating three packets of crisps as a snack.

I predominantly rode by myself during RAB, as it's what I am used to coming from self-supported races.

That said, throughout the day I would usually ride with others for an hour or two and find out what inspired them to do LeJog.

When I asked people why they were there, overwhelmingly the response was it’s a bucket list ride.

Threshold and all of the crew do an incredible job of turning what is ultimately an endurance ride into a sportive, making this kind of cycling accessible to people of varying abilities.

It gave me a profound respect for many of the riders who were there. I had a good idea of what I was getting into when I signed up for RAB, but for many who were there this was their first multi-day event, some had only got into cycling once signing up for the event, training for a year to be able to take part.

Yet they all got up every day and gave it their best despite the challenging conditions.

One afternoon I heard someone yell out my name. It was Sam Weller. She had come to a talk I had given about endurance cycling a year ago and since joined the QoM rides as part of her training for RAB.

'It’s because of you I’m here she exclaimed… you said anyone could get into endurance cycling… I’m just a mum, and I’m doing it!'

It was that moment that made RAB for me. For so many people taking part in RAB it is a chance to see just what they are capable of achieving, and cycling just under 1000 miles in nine days is no small feat!

Deloitte Ride Across Britain 2018

Deloitte Ride Across Britain 2018 takes place on 8th-16th September 2018. To find out more and sign up, visit www.rideacrossbritain.com

Threshold Sports

Threshold Sports organises a range of outdoor challenges designed to push people whatever their age, ability and fitness level to discover their mantra, 'More is in you.'

The events include Deloitte Ride Across Britain - where I met them, the Dulux Trade London Revolution and the award-winning Trail Series, Dixons Carphone Race to the Stones, Race to the King and Heineken Race to the Tower.

The team also create bespoke events for businesses looking to achieve specific objectives such as improved health and well-being, leadership, team building, client and employee engagement and brand building.

Photos

Photos: Laura Scott, Nick Mayer and Race Across Britain

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