What’s the magic behind the long distance rides? Toby Willis, our ambassador and ultra man will helped us, with a long chat, to clear our minds about that.
When did you begin cycling?
I’ve always loved bikes and I’ve always cycled. I remember getting a Rayleigh mountain bike for Christmas one year and taking off with my brother and his friend for the whole day (much to the annoyance of my parents) to our local forest. Returning late for the family dinner pushing my punctured pride and joy soaking wet with blue toes. My dad fixed the puncture there and then while I warmed up in the bath. What a legend.
What is bike for you?
Enjoying long days in the saddle. Discovering roads less travelled and conquering tough ass climbs. Laughing out loud like a madman all alone with the reward of a spaghetti like descent. Great Britain can feel like a busy congested motorway with city after city if that’s what you let it be. I’ve found that that isn’t true. Not in the slightest. It’s beautiful countryside from coast to coast. Mountains and reservoirs and endless steep passes. The bike is a huge amount of freedom to get out there and see the world as it changes through the seasons. It’s taught me a great deal of respect for the elements and how fortunate we are to be able to enjoy them.
Most beautiful ride on a bike?
Tough question. Riding the Rapha Manchester to London was so much more beautiful than I could have imagined. Rolling green hills for 200 miles and not a service station in site. The Fred Whitton Challenge in the Lake District is as painful as it is pretty.
There are so many rides I want to list here but I have to say The Bryan Chapman Memorial 600km Audax is my fave. Billed as ‘Wales in a weekend’ it was a stunner. We really lucked out with the weather too. Riding out from Chepstow the route travels through the finest scenery Wales can offer all the way to Menai before turning around and heading back. There were so many great moments, Dylife mountain road, Barmouth bridge, Pen-Y-Pass, Dolfor mountain. Even sleeping on a wooden floor for 2 hours while cleats click clacked all around holds fond memories. It was mentally and physically challenging but the joys were present by the bucket loa
That’s easy. Bwlch-Y-Groes in Wales. Every time. I’ve climbed some fairly nasty hills in my time but this one is just another kind of beast. The English called it Hellfire Pass. It’s rough, weathered and remorselessly steep. It had me walking when we first met. I’ve since been back to lay that demon to rest and every time since it makes my heart pound even before the road veers upwards.
Other climbs stand out in my mind, Hardknott Pass The Burway, Ffordd Penllech, Devils Staircase.
Why long distance?
Riding long distances for me, is all about pushing my own limits. It’s amazing to find out what your actually capable of. You can have doubt in your abilities and you can fear the unknown but if you prepare well enough and are ready to suffer in varying degrees of severity then anything is possible.
Joining Audax Long Distance Cycling Association really helps in keeping things structured and with a goal in mind. There’s so many things for all types of riders to achieve. It’s this that really drives me. Goals and yearly aims that require commitment and perseverance. You won’t always succeed in what it was you set out to do but as long as you are determined then you’ll do just fine.
There’s a strange satisfaction you feel after completing something big and you can’t keep those eyes open any longer, when your aching legs wake you up during the night as revenge for what you put them through the previous day. A satisfaction though that is short lived and you fire up the route planner for the next endeavour.
What is your challenge now? Why this challenge?
I’ve never considered myself a racer, although I’m a fairly competitive person. I’ve always admired racers and watched from afar but it just never really appealed to me. That was until I started following the Ultra endurance races that are now becoming ever so popular. The Trans-America and The Transcontinental are two of my favourites and something I never dreamed I’d take part in. Having a young family and work commitments making a 3 week cycling race seem like a far off fantasy. In December PedalEd and The Transcontinental ran a competition to win sponsorship and a place in the upcoming TCRNo5 and although I didn’t win I was shortlisted and found myself with the offer of place in the race. Not something that comes easily when there are only 300 places and over 1000 applicants.
After a long discussion with the family and a lot of begging at work I decided to accept my place.
In doing so I’ve been reminded about all the feeling I had when I first started riding long distances. The apprehension. The fear. The excitement. The total uncertainty of what is needed to do something as extreme as this. It is considered one of the toughest endurance cycling races on the planet.
Starting in Belgium on July 28th the race must pass control points in Lichtenstein, Monte Grappa, Slovakia’s High Tatra Mountains and Romania’s Transfagarasan Highway before finally coming to end in Greece’s stunning Meteora. Just reading that last sentence back fills me with excitement and gives me goosebumps. Scares the living sh*t out of me too!
What you feel when you are struggling on pedals searching for miles?
No worries (shrugs shoulders). I hope this calm can help me with my future challenges as it’s helped me with past ones. There are always difficult times and there are always people suffering more than you are. Try and take positives from those situations and learn from them. If your having a bout of ‘bonk’ pull over and take a breather. Eat some food and have a drink. Breath it all in and enjoy the moment of where you are.