I have had the pleasure of knowing Jonathan (affectionately known to me as Joss) for all of my life, one of my oldest and best friends.
Despite us both having this weird innate connection that draws us together to firmly establish us as lifelong best pals, we could not be more different as people. I enjoy the solitude of mountains and being in uncomfortable, sometimes painful physical situations and take interest in such pursuits. Joss however, is into fast cars, flash clothing and fine dining. Somewhat more sophisticated than me.
This has led him to a career in writing and marketing, starting off writing creatively for fun along with several small business ventures that never quite got going. Eventually, he established himself as an integral part of a small marketing company, before freelance work for world renowned companies such as Goodwin Smith and Charles Tyrwhitt landed him a job writing about security and operational efficiency at technology giant Avecto.
Needless to say, this positions Joss in a great place to interview the likes of me about my own little challenges to hopefully make for an entertaining read with his wealth of experience in these sorts of things.
Interview from Joss
Joss: What made you want to embark on this journey of epic proportions? What was your motivation behind it?
Stu: As you know I like to set myself little challenges, just to keep myself looking forward to something throughout the year really. Normally something which I can come out on the other side and of had an experience, not always a good one, but something that the average person doesn’t normally have and no matter what I always seem to learn things about myself. Where the motivation came from I suppose, I’d been playing football for, well all my life really and I was beginning to lose interest with the way it has gone in both the professional game and the politics involved even at my standard. With this I seemed to lose motivation to train and exercise, this combined with an incredible busy period of work, I was beginning to feel out of shape and horrible, someone who has always been active and fit it’s a disgusting feeling and wanted to focus on something that would get me excited to train and be healthy again.
Joss: Weather conditions, terrain and gradients must have proved to be challenging variables to face. How would you describe adjusting to them?
Stu: Well, I had prepared for the gradients of sorts, nothing really as sustained as what I faced on the challenge, as in one after another but certainly as steep. So I knew I could do the hills no problem, the unknown I suppose was doing one after another, and it hurt. I suppose it’s just a case of keep bloody going! For the most part the terrain was road so that was fine but there were some sections that was crushed stone and forest track which were not ideal but equally not much of a problem. The killer though was some muddy horrible sections, The Derwent Walk immediately springs to mind that was disgusting on a road bike, I’m just glad it was flat, any hills of significance wouldn’t be worth thinking about. Then the weather, geez! You can’t prepare for that. I think that was the true challenge of the whole thing. Minus three degrees Celsius plus a 30mph wind chill and for the most part a head wind, at times just battering hail and sleet into my face, it was tough. I think the only way you get through something like that is to be a bit stoic and just keep moving with the promise of a warm pub in an hour or two.
Joss: A few hardware questions: what bike was used, what cycling kit, what shoes. Did you listen to music and, if so, what track helped to push you through the hardest times on the ride?
Stu: My initial plan was to use both my mountain bike and road bike swapping at different locations given the varied terrain, but when I looked at the route in more detail I realised for the sake of a few short stretches of off road the logistics of messing around that much wouldn’t be worth it. So it was just my road bike a Viking Peloton 700c 14 speed race edition with carbon forks. Not the greatest in the world but a good solid all rounder. The kit I used were just ordinary cycling lycras, although I did have a pair of cushioned cycling shorts under my tights to double up the bum padding. Then up top just a base layer, cycling top and wind proof jacket with a light waterproof in my pocket and pair of sealskin gloves with some Shimano R088 SPD-SL road shoes and the Boardman waterproof socks over the top. For the music, I cycled most of the day one with earphones in but with nothing on. After a quick stop in Keswick to make sure my tyre pressure was right after a puncture I did put on a few podcasts which were great to take my mind off a particularly nasty climbing section with hail lashing me in the face. I listen to podcasts quite a lot on long cycle rides just because you have the time to do so, my favourite being ’The adventure podcast’ so its people’s accounts of doing similar thing as to what I’m experiencing which allows you to relate quite well and it really helps when you’re in the moment I suppose. For the second day I had nothing.
Joss: As different as this was from your usual climbing exploits, what similarities can be drawn from the experience?
Stu: Climbing is a little different especially summer trad because you have really short lived intense periods were you genuinely think you are going to die and then when you get to a belay or a good bit of gear you relax and think shit that was great I want to do it again. So I would say the climbing experience is more transient and probably more emotional. The only thing I can relate it to in that sense is being on a belay winter climbing. When the wind chill is at minus twenty, you are perched precariously on some god forsaken ledge with crazy exposure and you are covered in rime sat there paying out rope to your partner freezing your bollocks off. It’s just a test of endurance waiting for them to finish climbing so you can get moving again. I suppose in a sense it was a bit like that especially on the climb up to Hartside top I could not feel my fingers or toes or face you’ve just got to keep going.
Joss: Was there ever a point where you considered giving up and – if there wasn’t – what part of the journey tested you to your limit?
Stu: Oh yeah! I think when you do these sorts of thing you always do. That is one thing I’ve learnt for sure. Anyone who says they don’t consider it are lying. There are plenty of moments were its really tough and you just think, I have put myself in this situation for no good reason and it hurts and its unpleasant so I’ll just stop. But that is what makes it so appealing for me, to test the boundary to see where that limit is and have this internal conflict within yourself before you feel the swell of pride in your own head when you tell it to shut up and carry on anyway. Then inevitably you get to the end and complete the challenge and think, well actually it wasn’t that bad I don’t know what I was moaning about, I suppose that is why you go back for more.
Joss: From a nutrition perspective, how did you keep yourself fuelled on the journey? I imagine a big heavy meal wouldn’t go down too well on a lengthy bike ride…
Stu: Surprisingly, I can eat whatever on a bike ride, running is a different picture but on a bike anything goes for me. I think this is quite specific to different people but generally I’m lucky I guess. Breakfast was cereal and full English on both days, staying in bunkhouses I got two great ones cooked for me. Then along the way I had a gel every hour, a couple of oat bars through the day and a pocket full of jelly beans to keep me going. Dinner was a pub lunch and I had scampi and chips the first day and a BLT with salad and a big cake for afters on the second day.
Joss: In your stop-offs along the way, which place surprised you the most? Any quaint little pubs or towns you passed through that people should know about?
Stu: To be honest I didn’t really stop much, I think mainly due to the weather, it was torture to come out of a lovely warm pub by a fire into freezing cold wind and sleet. I did pass through lots of lovely places though. Braithwaite is nice which I have been to before a few times now, a great local butty shop! However, Greystoke seemed quaint with nice pubs and local things, but just the setting of it all is brilliant, whizzing through little hamlets that you would normally never see is ace. Most of these places don’t have much apart from a pub, a farm and maybe a school but it’s the strange little character they all have that makes them individual, you have to experience it to understand really. Like Nenthead where I stayed the night halfway, there is nothing there really, but with a friendly pub and interesting people you can’t help but not like it.
Joss: After it was all over, did you treat yourself to a nice few days of relaxation, or did you get back to training immediately?
Stu: I actually drove to Snowdonia the day I finished to finish off Easter with the family. Having my bike with me I also planned to do a couple of 50 km rides on the two subsequent days, but the weather was foul and I’d had enough of cycling in the rain and wind so we ended up having a few quiet days which I suppose did me good. I have done quite a lot of climbing and bouldering since, almost every day. I have also been out on the bike once but I am still yet to go the gym. I will be back in next week.
Joss: If someone wanted to give this a go for themselves, what advice would you offer when it comes to training and equipment requirements?
Stu: I know I trained for it, but I wouldn’t say it was very specific training for the challenge, it was just very general stuff to get me active. I would say if you fancy it. Go for it! I think a lot of people get put off by worrying they won’t be able to complete it or its too committing or they will get lost or they don’t have the time or the right kit or some other elaborate excuse. As a result, no one ever does anything, you don’t need any super powers to do these things, just a bit of drive. Sorry to be a bit cheesy, you’ve just got to ‘Carpe diem’ (laughs) you know, take control of your own life a bit and throw yourself at these things if you want these type of life experiences. If you don’t you end up being the guy sat in the pub just listening saying ‘Yeah that sounds cool, I’d love to have a go of that.’
Joss: What’s next for you? Would you consider doing the iconic LEJOG (Land’s End to John o’Groats) ride? How would your preparations differ for that?
Stu: Absolutely, it’s the natural progression isn’t it?! I did actually have it pencilled in for the summer because ideally, I’d need a week for that (and preferably better weather). However, I am going to the Alps for two weeks in the summer now and I am also busy doing my ML this year that will take up a lot of time, plus various camping trips and things I have planned I don’t think I’ll have the time. Maybe next year though? In terms of what is next then… If I am honest I already had my next challenge booked before I even drove to Whitehaven. I am planning on doing an Ultra-marathon in October, that’s all I’m saying about that. You will have to wait for the next blog post for more information.