Fundraising for Cancer & Challenging Herself - Lydia's Adventures by Bicycle
Lydia didn’t mean to fall in love with solo cycling. Her first trip was supposed to be with a cycling partner and a support vehicle, but when those plans fell through, Lydia kept going.
“You learn the most about yourself when you have no one else to lean on... and that is the draw for me.”
Since that first trip, Lydia has done many more solo bicycling adventures, each more arduous than the last. These intense “bike challenges,” as she calls them, are for her own benefit as well as others: Lydia raises money for a charity called Love Hope Strength Foundation to support those with cancer.
In this exclusive interview, we catch up with Lydia just before her biggest undertaking yet - a solo ride through the Trans Ecuador Mountain Bike Route.
“My bicycle is… a conduit for adventure, a place where I find peace, and it’s also the torture chamber through which I try and find my breaking point.”
Lydia, where do you live and what role does a bicycle play in your life?
I live in the UK, but I can be at home anywhere that my wheels touch the ground. My bicycle is occasionally a means to get me from home to work... but my bike is more than that: it’s my escape mechanism, a machine to help me realize my dreams, a conduit for adventure, a place where I find peace, and it’s also the torture chamber through which I try and find my breaking point.
What inspired you to travel solo?
My first big challenge was initially supposed to be a supported 2 person bike tour to ride Route 66 from beginning to end, Chicago to L.A. When the support team and the other cyclist didn’t commit to the challenge it never occurred to me not to go. Since then, I wouldn’t consider anything other than cycling solo and unsupported. All decisions are yours alone, only you can get yourself out of a tricky situation, only you can drag your battered body from off the floor and your mind out of the hell it has sunk into. My challenges are intended to see whether I will break, or whether I have the strength to continue turning the wheels... my strength alone. You learn the most about yourself when you have no one else to lean on... and that is the draw for me.
“I enjoyed the planning stage... where the possibilities are screaming out to you and the adventures begging to be taken.”
Tell us about your preparation for your first major bicycle adventure.
My first bike challenge (Route 66) had to be completed in 4 weeks... all the time I could get off work at once. When you added in flights, a charity gig in L.A and an obligatory day off to visit the Grand Canyon, I had a total of 24 cycling days, which meant 100 miles per day.
I didn’t have vast amounts of money to buy the latest and lightest kit and my bike was the reliable, but heavy, Dawes AL13. I had not been introduced to the world of bikepacking but still kept my pannier weight to around 20kg (44 lbs), including a tent for emergencies. My kit was not tried and tested, and I was very “wet behind the ears.” My training consisted of a couple of 40-mile rides per week, and I had not a clue about what to expect.
Did any fears arise while you were getting ready? What helped you keep going?
I enjoyed the planning stage... researching the different ‘Route 66’s’ I could take, and researching kit (gear). The planning stage is where the possibilities are screaming out to you and the adventures begging to be taken.
Skip forward to that moment when I sat outside Chicago airport, contemplating heading up the ramp to the main road into the city. It was the first time I had cycled on the ‘wrong’ side of the road, the first time I had embarked on such an undertaking, the first time hundreds of people were following my exploits... would I succeed, or fail miserably?
My heart was beating furiously as I talked to myself under my breath... “C’mon Lid, time to go!” 5 mins later: “C’mon Lid, time to go!” It took a lot of willpower to turn the pedal for the first time. Look left, cycle on the right... As soon as the pedals turned, a strange thing happened: All the fear and anxiousness melted away... forgotten, blown away by the wind.
“As soon as the pedals turned, a strange thing happened: All the fear and anxiousness melted away... forgotten, blown away by the wind.”
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced while bicycle touring?
All of my big challenges (Route 66, New Zealand, and the Tour Divide race) have had different hurdles to overcome. Each challenge has got harder, mainly to justify people sponsoring me over and over again. Route 66 was a big struggle at times, 100 miles a day for 24 days is not something your body tends to enjoy. The headwinds of 90 miles an hour in places sapped all strength and mentally bashed me, and by the 4th week my body was breaking down, my hands were numb and kept seizing up and I was totally physically drained. Some days the head was fragile for a bit, with thoughts of just giving up.
North to South through New Zealand was hard for other reasons. Whilst I was out there, someone I loved died from cancer. It made lots of things seem futile but reinforced why we must make the most of what life we have.
“My moments of greatest joy or fulfillment have been preceded by difficulty.”
The Tour Divide race was brutal. I did it as an Independent time trial and during the time I spent on route, I dealt with fear of bears, fear of moose (they are huge!!) bivvied in bear country next to a digger, rode 114 miles off road with 2 passes in a day, and pushed my bike 6 miles up an avalanche chute. When failure to complete the route became a reality, I created my own route down to New Mexico with its own joys and vistas to behold.
What are some of the greatest reward you’ve experienced?
I think it’s true that there are no rewards in biking without pain, hardship and suffering... most of my moments of greatest joy or fulfillment have been preceded by difficulty:
Reaching the Grand Canyon and standing on a rock holding prayer flags with names of loved ones who’d sponsored me came after around 1500 miles of pushing myself to the limit day after day.
Standing at the top of the Million Dollar Highway in Colorado, having failed to finish the Tour Divide race but pushing on, on my own route.
Cycling over 2 mountain passes and 114 miles off road ... my longest day.
Being cheered by strangers and a couple of friends at Santa Monica pier, with a broken body (but not mind).
Singletrack downhill after a rough climb up a pass, with bear signs all around me.
Being scared out of my skin by a moose that came crashing out of the undergrowth in the dark.
So many stories, so many memories, so many once in a lifetimes... but probably worthless without the pain and the tears.
“When failure to complete the route became a reality, I created my own route down to New Mexico, with its own joys and vistas to behold.”
Tell us about cycling to raise money for charities. What do you love about it?
I cycle to raise money for Love Hope Strength Foundation, a rock n’ roll cancer charity. We swab people for “The List” (the International Bone Marrow Registry) at gigs and festivals to find potential bone marrow matches for those with cancer.
Cycling for the charity adds another purpose to the very selfish thing of having time by myself, doing what I love, in the peace and quiet of nature.
It reminds me that there are others out there who are not as lucky as myself, and it puts any pain and suffering I go through into perspective.
“Cycling for the charity adds another purpose to the very selfish thing of having time by myself, doing what I love, in the peace and quiet of nature.”
What has bicycle touring taught you about the world we live in, and about yourself?
If you read the news, you would be forgiven for thinking that the world is full of axe murderers, terrorists and other nasty people. When you step out into the world, fight the fear of stepping over the precipice and give yourself up to experiencing what the world has to offer, you will find nothing but generosity, kindness and friendship.
In all my travels, I have met so many nice people, usually only for 5 minutes. Some chat with me and then follow all my other journeys, buying my books and supporting what I do. Some offer me a place for the night, or a bottle of homemade lemonade, when I am hot and tired. One kind gentleman, having met me when he was out for a ride, then caught up with me later in his van to check if I needed anything. One lady I met whilst training in the Peak District in the UK picked me up years later at the end of my New Zealand ride.
“In all my travels, I have met so many nice people… they remind me of the goodness in humanity.”
I feel privileged to meet these kind and generous souls out on the road, they remind me of the goodness in humanity, if only you are brave enough to open yourself up to it.
What advice would you offer to women who want to try cycling, but are hesitant to do so?
Not just to women, but to everyone who dares to dream:
Fight the fear.
Embrace the randomness.
But above all... Go With The CraZy!
I am not a professional cyclist, and I’m not sponsored. I work full time. I am not the fittest individual in the world, and I don’t spend all my spare time training. In short, I am totally ordinary... and I want to show people that they, too, can follow their dreams and go explore the world.
“You don’t need the latest kit, you don’t need thousands of pounds.
Whether for 1 night or a few months, you just need to dream, plan, and then grab your bag and go!”
Any big plans for the future?
Yes... My next challenge, Dirt Roads and Mountain Madness, is a solo, unsupported ride of the Trans Ecuador Mountain Bike Route, followed by a climb up Cotopaxi, a 6000m active volcano: all in 4 weeks. I will be blogging every day so that you can follow the highs and lows of this enormous challenge.
How can we support you on your adventures?
You can read the blog here: http://1challengeatatime.blogspot.com/
All the blogs and pictures will also be on my facebook page: www.facebook.com/OneChallengeAtATime
And why not check out my YouTube channel, which will have videos from the journey? You will also find the documentary of my Tour Divide attempt here: One Challenge At A Time.
Finally, books about all my previous challenges can be found on Amazon: Lydia’s Books