I recently completed a 1,000 mile solo charity bike adventure.
Ten days on a bike changed my perspective on life. And it gave me a LOT of time to think…
Back in January, I was seriously moved by the gut-wrenchingly awful video footage of the Australian bush fires and the poor animals being hurt and killed in the devastated landscapes.
So, in a pre-Covid world, I immediately decided to do something positive and try and raise some funds for World Wildlife Fund Australia. At that time I felt extremely grateful that I was healthy enough to contemplate a physical challenge and being my own boss, I could afford the time and investment required to make it a success.
I had always harboured a desire to complete an iconic UK cycle challenge, Land’s End to John O’Groats, 970 miles from the southern most tip of England to the most northern part of the wild coastline of Scotland.
Now, bear in mind that at this stage of the year, it was the middle of a Scottish winter, the ride would be a thousand miles, and in the previous year I had biked little more than 100 miles in the entire year.
So, it would be fair to say I had a lot of work to do. And as my darling wife reminded me, I wasn’t exactly in the first flush of youth…
The early training was undertaken in my bike shed!
And then, as if I didn’t have enough of a challenge already, the worldwide pandemic tightened it’s terrible grip on everything and I was temporarily banned from cycling more than 5 miles from my home base.
The next couple of months were spent building up my fitness and my leg strength using very structured HIIT sessions, high intensity interval training, mixed with longer endurance rides. All of it was done in my bike shed.
One small advantage I had was the fact that I am a fully-qualified British Cycling coach and a former Fit Pro of the year, so I do have the chops where fitness training knowledge is concerned. But if you have ever spent a minute on a gym treadmill which felt like an hour, then you’ll have some idea of how tough some of my 3 or 4 hour static bike training sessions were. The daylight hours are short during a Scottish winter, and I remember one day when my son came out to the bike shed to see where I had vanished to and found me grinding out my warm-down session in almost complete darkness.
Training in my shed was bad enough. But Covid-19 wasn’t finished with us just yet.
My cycle challenge was scheduled for May 2020 and the start location was at Land’s End in Cornwall, England, 700 miles from my home. I had paid out a chunk of cash to a professional touring team to allow me to join with them for the ride. Peak Tours would plan my best route for me, they’d provide mechanical backup and food during each of the 10 days and arrange accommodation each night.
All I had to do was ride the bike.
Then the trip had to be cancelled due to the nationwide lockdown.
By this point I only had a few hundred pounds in sponsorship, but I still wanted to honour my pledge to cycle the distance. So I made a video, which you can see on my JustGiving page and got the go-ahead to cycle the thousand miles in the Scottish Highlands instead of the original plan.
In some ways, it would be easier as I would be home each night, but if you know Scotland, you’ll know there’s no flat land in the Highlands, the clue being in the name.
The other downside, which I should have anticipated better, was that I would have to do the entire thousand miles on my own…
And that’s exactly what I did.
I planned out my rides with what I thought was meticulous detail, keeping a beady eye on the weather forecasting sites, particularly where the wind and rain was concerned. I tried to pick interesting routes so I could get some nice photos of my beautiful Scotland. But on a more prosaic basis, I also attempted to balance tough rides with ‘easier’ rides.
So… how was it?
The Lessons Learned
Well, it was tough, to be honest. Harder than I thought, especially the second week. It was bad enough doing 100 miles the first day and then having to do the same again the next morning. But I had trained for that. I hadn’t trained for day after day after day at that mileage however. And the mental game is something I would pay more attention to next time.
What did I learn…?
I learnt a lot!
There were many aspects to my ride which translate well into real life and in particular, the life of an online business entrepreneur.
When you climb onto the bike at 6.30 am with your legs already fatigued from the day before and after a troubled nights’ sleep, it was tough to think about the mileage and the hills you had to conquer that day.
Many of the routes were not totally familiar to me. I would tackle an enormous hill, half-dead, only to find another one just as tough within minutes, then another and then an even bigger one after that. Undulating hills, a constant feature of Highland roads, are energy sapping and I soon realised it would be the strength of my willpower that would get me home, rather than the power in my legs.
Life on two wheels was just like real life. There were many ups and downs…
Ying and Yang
You had uphill and downhill. Whatever I had to climb, I would get to go down the other side later on. It was yin and yang on wheels.
Some of the high points were to do with the gorgeous environment I was cycling in. These few pictures don’t do justice to the beautiful Scottish Highlands. If you haven’t been there yet – put a visit on your bucket list!
Another lovely aspect was my experiences with the natural world. Being on a bike means you are usually pretty quiet and so you can get glimpses of nature which you could never hope to see from a car.
At one point, I was heading down a long fast descent, way more than a mile long, where I didn’t need to pedal even once.
I noticed a squadron of little sparrows, flying just off my left shoulder. They seemed interested in what I was doing and they stayed with me for several minutes, much like a dolphin would do in the bow wave of a boat.
It was like they were wondering how the heck I was able to fly down that hill just like they were doing…!
On another day I saw a pod of dolphins and they actually followed me as I biked along the edge of the water for over half a mile.
Over the 10 days, I had the sheer joy of interacting with so many different animals and birds including; Sea Eagles, Golden Eagles, Buzzards and other birds of prey, Sheep, Cattle including Highland Cows, young Deer, smaller song Birds of every colour, Rabbits, Foxes, incredibly beautiful insects like Dragonflies, Butterflies, Bees of many description and too many others to mention.
Being on my bike day after day reminded me of how tough my early days online had been.
When you start out as an entrepreneur, there’s a lot to master. A great many seemingly insurmountable mountains to climb.
Joint Ventures and so on…
If you were to think too hard about everything you needed to get to grips with then you’d probably not get going. A common problem in online business is ‘analysis paralysis.’ It can also be called ‘Overwhelm.’
I learned during my ten-day ride to focus only on the road just ahead of my front wheel. If a huge incline was ahead, I wouldn’t look too closely at it. As long as I kept my pedals moving… that’s all I needed to do. If my bike was moving forwards, no matter how slowly, I would get to my destination, my goal for that day.
Instead, I would look back downwards at the climb I had just beaten. I gained so much confidence seeing the severity of the hills that I was able to ride up.
Pedal stroke by pedal stroke, minute by minute, I would grind out the toughest days.
Just like in business. What’s that saying again?
‘How would you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!’
What else did I learn?
A key element to my success with this epic bike ride was preparation and support.
Just like with your online business venture, if you prepare properly then you will be better positioned to take advantage of every situation.
I made sure I was up at 6 am at the very latest. I had my bike kit packed the evening before. I had a flashcard written out and pasted onto a piece or cardboard, with all my ‘must-have’ items listed. It was a genius move as I soon discovered how easily a fatigued brain can miss something obvious. Just like a nervous and in-experienced online marketer can forget something vital in business, unless they are prepared.
I knew the route I would be taking each day, although not always the elevation – big mistake!
Even over ten days, my experience grew hugely, enabling me to make better decisions and more quickly, with less drama.
You’ll find the same thing if you challenge yourself to making a daily Facebook Live for example. On day 1 you’ll be nervous, you won’t know how long you”ll be talking for and you’ll make mistakes and feel awkward or self-conscious. However, after a week it’ll seem so much easier! Just do it!
Support is vital
At this stage I have to give a huge shout out to my family, without whose support, I could never have done the full 10 days.
The support I received ensured I had the right food at the right time each night, my cycling kit was washed and ready every day and I had peace and quiet to recover as well as I could as the toll on my body and mind increased exponentially through the second week.
Another plus point about being out and alone in the remote Scottish Highlands, was the relative peace and quiet. I had so much time to think.
I am a thriller writer [ as Alex Breck ] when I’m not doing crazy stunts or helping my gold business teams. During the ten days, I mapped out the entire plot of my next novel which I am starting in September. I had the peace and the space to work through any plot twists and complications ad infinitum.
I also had time to consider what was important to me. Feeling like death at points, focused my mind on ensuring my family were financially secure. Being so physically exhausted but then also becoming so much stronger and fitter made me vow to keep some of that rude health and live a healthier and more outdoor life ongoing.
The Mental Game
In conclusion, I’d like to emphasise the critical importance of the mental element of the 10 day challenge.
There were times I felt like giving up. Bleak moments out on the bike where I couldn’t see how I was going to get through the ride, or catch the boat ferry in time, as all the energy in my body had seemingly vanished.
Just like in real life, in business.
All too often, people give up just before that point where they were about to make their all-important breakthrough. I have seen it too many times.
I didn’t give up. I cycled over one thousand miles in ten days. And at the time of writing this, I have raised a four-figure sum for the ravaged animals of Eastern Australia’s awful bush fires. You can still sponsor me HERE for another month or so.
And I urge you, whatever your involved with, to persevere and battle through until you achieve YOUR goals.
Don’t give up. You’ve got this.