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Project: To cycle the length of Britain

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Paul Evans decided to take on the challenge of travelling from John O’Groats to Land’s End on two wheels. Here’s how he project managed it.

Cycling the length of the country is regarded as one of the UK’s top cycling challenges and something that has been an ambition of mine for several years, but one I’ve never had the time to train for. With the country in lockdown and foreign holidays still looking risky at the start of 2021, now seemed a good time to tackle this challenge. However, it’s more than a case of just hopping on a bike and pedalling, and the more I looked into it, the more complex it got – just like a typical project!

The vision

Any successful project needs a clear vision. My wife and I would be cycling this together and decided to use this as our summer holiday, visiting friends and family along the way and raising money for charity. We’d keep our daily mileage reasonable and visit places of interest along the way. We’d also stay in B&Bs so we wouldn’t have to carry camping gear and could get a hot shower every day. With our vision set we could then be agile in how we approached planning the trip.

As we were going to be self-supported, we needed to plan not just the route but the training, equipment, nutrition and accommodation. Like many projects, we were doing this for the first time so we looked to others for lessons learned and advice and guidance. The internet helped provide suggested routes and ones to avoid, as well as kit lists, advice on nutrition, training and how to get to the start/back from the finish. We also popped into our local bike shop to discuss it with them and get some advice.

The project life ‘cycle’

Our research had shown us there were a lot of options to cover, so we’d need to reduce these before deciding our final route. The first option to assess was travel to and from the start, which would also dictate whether we went south to north or vice versa. Key considerations were the time taken to travel, comfort of the travel (how tired would it leave us before we had to start?) and the ability to transport the bikes. Of the options of car, train and plane, we opted to fly to Inverness and take the train from there, as otherwise a pure train or car journey would be too long and tiring.

Although this meant we had to pack up the bikes for air travel, we could discard the cardboard boxes (kindly provided for free by our local bike shop) in Inverness, and we’d also be able to spend an extra day after the finish on the beach in Cornwall.

We plotted the route, booked the accommodation and flight, but had to wait until the train tickets became available, which we thought was a small risk mitigated by making sure I got up early and booked them as soon as the ticket office opened. Our first problem! Apparently you could book tickets earlier through customer services so all bike spaces on our planned trains were gone. Taking an agile approach I revisited our options and opted instead to hire a car one way from Inverness to Wick.

As with all projects, things go wrong throughout that you have to adapt to and overcome. The heavy rains of April and May made us feel that we were taking a waterfall approach to our training. We learned from and adapted to our experience, replacing kit that didn’t quite work, learning how best to refuel throughout the ride and checking ahead of time to see if there’s a café in which to take a break – the extra 10 miles to find an open café can take a very long time.

Managing the risks

One of the early risks we faced was whether we would be permitted to travel at all or whether there would be another lockdown. We decided to proceed on the basis that the lockdown restrictions would be lifted and push the start date into August. We also ensured we selected accommodation that was fully refundable, even if this cost us a bit more – the cost of mitigation!

We also mitigated the technical risks of the bikes needing repairs by getting them serviced just before we went and identifying bike shops at key towns along the route. We also opted to fit new tubeless tyres to reduce the risk and impact of any punctures. A blowout during one of our rides forced us into thinking about how we would deal with this if it happens in the middle of nowhere.

One risk we didn’t anticipate was deer. Several times during our training we were nearly taken out by suicidal deer crossing the road. We did anticipate the risk of impatient drivers but could only mitigate that partially through choosing quieter roads.

Like most projects, things haven’t always gone to plan and we hope to have mitigated the risks still remaining – but we just have to cross our fingers for good weather.

Project launch

Like many projects, things started great. We got ourselves and our bikes to the start line without problems and the project team were in high spirits as we hit the official start in John O’Groats (actually 20 miles in).

We’re also having to deal with the risks as they rise. It’s one thing to think you’ve successfully mitigated them, until they occur. For us, this was the glorious August weather of strong winds and torrential rain leading to delays and questioning the project vision. With the ongoing rain, it’s proving harder to dry out our kit overnight too.

One unexpected issue is that the hotels start breakfast too late for us, but we’ve quickly adapted to that and resolved that issue.

Now it’s a matter on focusing on each day and not looking too far ahead, which can be daunting and discouraging. We’ve got to keep on motivating each other and we’ll get there, thinking about the benefits we’re accruing along the way and not just the miles covered or metres climbed.

Project sponsor

Every project needs a good sponsor, and you can be ours. We’re raising money for the Disability Sports Coach charity, which provides opportunities for disabled people to participate in sports and live healthier, happier lives. During lockdown, it provided home sports kits to hundreds of people who were isolating. Find out more about DSC.

To help raise money for this very worthwhile cause, please donate via Virgin Money Giving.

THIS ARTICLE IS BROUGHT TO YOU FROM THE AUTUMN 2021 ISSUE OF PROJECT JOURNAL, WHICH IS FREE FOR APM MEMBERS.

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