I first got into cycling at University, back in 1995, when my flatmate Dave Coombs introduced me to mountain biking. My first bike had been a Grifter, and I was soon seduced by all the anodised metal and cool stickers on Dave’s bike.
Before I knew it, I had bought my first serious bike – a Kona Cinder Cone with rigid Project 2 forks, an eclectic groupset and my first clipless pedals in a beautiful gold painted chromoly frame. I soon added anodised gold X-Lite bar ends and cool stickers and took it to the woods on Corstorphine Hill, Edinburgh.
Unfortunately, I was rubbish at Mountain Biking… So after a couple of nasty crashes, one requiring a new helmet, I slapped on some Continental slicks and took to the road. After a few short rides, and some brief touring in the Isle of Wight, I decided I was ready to tackle John O’Groats to Land’s End.
I set off in August 1999 having done precisely two training rides and headed south anticipating meeting up with my girlfriend (who conveniently lived in Cornwall) in just over 2 weeks. I had a couple of changes of clothes, a shoe in each pannier (for balance) and a mini bottle of champagne for the finish. To say I was green was an understatement, but I battled through with aching thighs, sore knees, a buckled wheel and a broken spoke to make it all the way on schedule, and to raise about £5,000 for Farleigh Hospice. I even ended up on BBC Essex talking about my sore bottom!
To say I was subsequently hooked on cycling would be a lie – but I loved the journey – seeing how a country, my country, changed slowly as I travelled through it. We tend to think about places in isolation, but cycling joins them up, gives them a narrative. So although I’ve gone on to have a myriad of outdoor adventures – mountaineering in Europe and Africa, trekking all over the world and ski touring in the Alps – cycling is still the best way to travel and I find myself coming back to it time after time.
And I still tour on the Kona – the last adventure was 3,500km through Patagonia in 2017/18!