What can I say except what an amazing trip! A year ago in 2016 I attempted the world record for the most countries cycled in 7 days, The Record was 11! On that trip I broke the 24 hour record but on the 4th day had to pull out due to an injury! I had a lot of unfinished business when it came to this trip, I knew I had to give it another go. 2017 had been a really tough year, I had a few good trips, a few bad ones, the TCR unfortunately I had to pull out of due to personal reasons, but I was feeling good about the record attempt, so I started the planning on finding a way to beat it! I had a look at the maps and planned the route, I didn’t was 12 to beat the record I wanted 14 to smash it!
This was my set up, extremely minimal with very little sleeping gear, I was attempting this in September, looking back I wish I had gone earlier and not put my work first, this is a mistake I will never make again. I am using a Lynskey Sportive Disk, Kinesis Tracer 1.5 forks on Reynolds Attacks, Shimano 105 Groupset, with Ultegra brakes and shifters, a mix of bags including Blackburn and Lezyne, Brooks saddle and a mix between Pro and Deda zero 100 finishing kit. My clothing I used was Le Col. The set up was perfect for me I tend not to sleep rough much but use hotels for short rests and every few nights do a full night ride. On the TCR I took way to much and suffered because of the extra weight.
I wanted to mix it up a bit and keep it interesting for myself so instead of starting in Holland like I did in 2016, I started in Poland to work backwards. I haven’t done much in eastern Europe but was very surprised to find big hard shoulders, silky smooth roads and people very friendly. I flew out and arrived in a place called Katowice, a short 20 mile ride and train to the start I got a hotel in an old water tower, where I got a really good rest before starting the clock. I knew conditions were not going to be ideal this late in the year, I had to think positively and remember that nothing on a trip is ever ideal. My forecast said I was going to face a lot of headwind on the first day, so up in the morning I got and made my way to the border where I was starting at 6am.
The clock started and off I went, tracker on, legs pumping and feeling in very high spirits, I promised myself whatever happened I would have a positive attitude on this trip, no matter what no moaning. My Mum always told me to never act the victim, I’m unsure what see mean’t, I just related it to cycling haha. The miles came hard, my normal 16mph average was about 13/14mph but I didn’t really mind I was making really good progress and was enjoying the beautiful countryside, I had a great route, it was pretty flat the first 2 days and I was in places I had never been before so got a real kick out of being there.
As I said I started in Poland and started making my way south through Czech, Slovakia and Austria, that was my first day although super tough work and under the mileage I needed, I understood conditions were not ideal and got in late that night to sleep, the hotel was creepy and had a wedding on, I walked straight in the peak of the party quickly got a room and got my head down. When I left the next morning at about 4am the party was still rocking, I was impressed at their endurance haha.
When I left I was quite tired I didn’t really cycle much the week before so the miles had defiantly got into my legs. About two hours in I was all warmed up the sun was rising and I was really enjoying myself, I checked the forecast the night before and it said the wind would be a 6mph cross. This couldn’t have been further from the truth, it was another 14mph headwind, I felt annoyed at how it had changed but I though to myself just pace on and get to Slovenia where the hills will shelter you more. I got into Hungary and started making my way through. I found food and supplies very easy to get even though it was Sunday, I knew I should work as hard as I can as I might have to stop earlier today due to very few places being open throughout the night.
The work was still really tough and mentally I didn’t like my average at all, I was listening to Sean Conways cycle the world book on my phone, this really helped me and I think the book is awesome. Miles past so quickly and I came to enjoy the quiet little forest lanes I was riding through. It was getting dark though and I was heading into a region that looked very rural so thought I’d find a cheap hotel and stop to get a good nights kip, I was on track for the day and had even put a few miles in the bank I was really happy. The hotel I got to was in the middle of nowhere, in fact I do not believe it was a hotel at all. It was a house. When I got there the people were very surprised and put me outside in the garden while they said they would clean the room haha, this was about 9 or 10 at night it made me chuckle. One was cleaning the other member of the staff made me dinner and got me water, I didn’t ask for this they just did it how nice. I got to the room and it was a little single bed I asked them if I could pay now because I was planning to leave at 4am, I was so unsure of the price they wrote in down in Hungary’s currency, I wasn’t sure what it was so gave them my card, they chuckled, of course they didn’t have a machine. I asked them the price in Euros, they said 12 including dinner, I gave them 15 and went to bed, lovely family.
As I woke I felt ready for the next day I was really enjoying the riding and didn’t feel much pressure when it came to mileage as now I was ahead of my target. I paced on towards Croatia, I didn’t have time to even get warmed up before I hit the border, passport checked and on my way I went through security guards acting all tough as they do. A quick stint through Croatia and I was in Slovenia, I couldn’t wait it’s a place I had always wanted to go as my Mum raves about how nice it is. 2 hours later I was crossing the border in Slovenia, it was really muggy and I was getting super hungry. I came to a Lidl and got brunch, this consisted of about 2000 calories as I had missed breakfast, packed the bike up with snacks and had a sit down. Within 10 minutes the heavens opened and I was in the middle of some very torrential rain. I checked for the forecast and to my surprise I had heavy rain for the next 2 days. How had I missed this? Where had it come from? I checked it a day or 2 back and it was fine. That’s something that you have to learn to forget about the weather. I promised myself positive thoughts, so I said at least it’s not a headwind and I smell pretty bad so a good soaking can only help.
A good soaking is defiantly what I got I found the roads were getting thinner and the groves made lorries spray me with such a force it was nearly knocking me off. I had to stop when it got very bad and unfortunately this was very often. I was losing time and I was getting upset, the towns were so much bigger than I thought they would be so I was getting really slowed up by traffic and struggled to stay warm and motivated. I had been so excited by this country and I felt a bit upset I wasn’t enjoying it as much as I should be. I had a long spell before I had to get to Italy, my progress was slow and felt to wet and cold to go through the night. I found a hotel and supermarket after an appalling day that had set me back about 20 miles less than my target. I went to sleep gutted and after checking the forecast realised I had it all again tomorrow. I struggled to sleep, I was staying in a cheap hotel, it was also a casino and a nightclub. Honestly it looked pretty dodgy and I thought it was a front for money laundering at one point, you can see how my mind wanders. I did think about just leaving in the night but I was to wet and cold.
I woke up and felt in a good mood, the air was really fresh and the rain was very light, listening to podcasts from Tedx, I was enjoying the ride, and hour or 2 in I was hit with heavy rain again but it felt really warm where I was so I quite enjoyed it. I knew that afternoon I was going to make it to Italy! I love Italy, I lived there for a year so it feels like home, and the place always smells good. The riding felt pretty easy I was having to do a lot more climbing which I was enjoying the changing of position of the bike and the challenge of new terrain. After checking the forecast at lunch I knew I had a storm coming it then when I hit Italy it would be dry and warm, My GPX file on my garmin told me I had 2 very big climbs before then a very big decent. The first climb wasn’t to bad, the second I found very tough it never seemed to end and my garmin was playing silly buggers and kept losing data gggrrrrrrr.
When I got to the top of the climb I was very cold and wet I didn’t mess around and got straight into the decent, as I dropped hundreds of feet I felt warmer and the rain was clearing up with a tiny break of sunshine in the clouds in front. This made me so happy I was over what I though was the worst. Italy was good, I had a massive tailwind and was being thrown across near Venice at about 20mph I loved it and wanted to take full advantage. The road were thin and Italian drivers did get very close, so late into the evening I found a hotel ate and rested up. The Italians are great hosts and I was extremely well looked after at the hotel I was in. I left early in the morning and planned to see if I could get to Lake Como that day it was about 230 miles. The wind didn’t really favour me, but my mood did I was having so much fun on my travels.
Cyclists were everywhere sun beating down that much I even put cream on! The day went pretty well but I was starting to get a bit tired as I entered Bergamo, I had really done well today and found a nice pace and had a really good routine for resting for about 6 hours then riding again. I normally don’t really ache but I was today I was hurting I found a place to sleep and was planning on getting over the Alps and into Switzerland the next day.
The next morning I woke up feeling quite unwell, bloated and like I wanted to chunder, I thought not today no no no! Shoes on bike prepped off I went I can’t let a bit of illness put me down. It didn’t get any better I was really not right at all making my way towards the Alps I wasn’t hungry or thirsty at all I just wanted to sit down. I was getting bad stomach cramps I couldn’t stop them and they were causing me to have to stop all the time. I found a small restaurant by Lake Como and sat down ordered a pizza and a can of coke, hoping that would sort me out. The cramps got so bad I remember going to the bathroom then that was it. I woke up being dragged up some stairs then past out again, to find myself in a bed. My bike was at the end and there was a bin full of sick next to me. I had a very bad headache and was extremely cold. I had a very bad stomach and need to go to the bathroom, when I got there it looked like I had been before and it wasn’t pleasant at all. I was so weak and dizzy, I drank my water and made my way downstairs to see the restaurant and staff, they asked if I was ok I said sorry, thanked them and then they gave me the uneaten pizza, I took it to my room and rested again for another 8 hours.
By this point I knew that I was very behind and had been thinking about calling off the record attempt. A quick cry and chat with my Mum and Girlfriend and I made the choice that I had to give everything. I knew I felt awful but sometimes in life you just have to get a shovel and dig deep.
After a very long rest I worked out my mileage, I had to cover 250 miles and 14,500ft elevation in the next 23 hours. I got ready and left, nothing like an 6600ft Alpine pass to start the day. I ate and drank very little as I was scared it would come back up, this didn’t help me in the climb. At the top of the pass I met a couple from Edinborough of all places, they said they were on there way to Basel airport to find a hotel and fly out in the morning, I joked as said il see you there as that’s where I was finishing. I hoped I meet them again they actually helped so much I really wanted to surprise them. I knew id be cycling though the whole day and night to be at Basel by 6am. I started feeling a little better and the food was going down better than before. Into Lichtenstein I went crossed the border and back again into Switzerland. Views crazy beautiful, I will never forget passing the lakes at about 11pm, the lights twinkled like stars. I kept think about the couple and hoping to see them at the finish, they were my goal for some reason.
At this point my Garmin broke… no!!!!! I need maps! Luckily for me I had a spare GPS Garmin on me it didn’t have maps just a Nokia 3310 snake like route. I was struggling to navigate using my phone and knew I was taking on more miles than I needed to. I was doing ok for time at 12am, I had just found a store which was closing for the night, I was able to get enough food to last me until Basel, this was something I was very worried about as I didn’t know if food would be available along the way I was going, I didn’t have time to check the roads. I gave my main Garmin another try and it came to life! Yes! I had the info again! 40 miles and 2000ft to go BABY and about 3 hours 30 minutes to go!!! I can make it! Food down, power down I knew I could do it, coldness, tiredness was no match for my determination to complete this ride, I had give 18 months to this record and nothing could stop me!
With 45 minutes to spare I was at the airport finished! I went to the counter and asked to buy a bike box and a ticket, they asked where I said UK then they said where in the UK I said anywhere… I looked around for the couple and no luck in finding them, this really upset me. I was happy to have finished, I had cycled through 12 countries breaking the record of 11, I wanted 14 but due to the conditions couldn’t make it. I was really happy but still left feeling like I wanted to go back and get 14.
A very big thanks to my Sponsors without you I couldn’t have achieve this! I am forever grateful!
Kevin at the Nelson Burnham Market, Helen Mileham Glorious food, Dan Kelly BNI, Peter Flett Fatbirds, David Flynn Hotlines and Rory from Upgrade. Forever grateful!