How a cycling novice faced down hypothermia, a crash, and torrential weather on a 1000 mile cycle expedition from the UK to Northern Spain
I am a cycling novice. Or at least, I was before March this year. I know - this is perhaps not what you’d expect from someone who has just cycled a thousand miles across the world. But, if you have been following the adventures of Daniel Eggington, you’ll know that I am no stranger to adventure.
Naturally, having only begun cycling on a simple £100 road bike this year, I committed to an epic multi-day endurance cycling expedition, covering more than 1000 miles in just 12 days. What could be more adventurous than picking up a completely new physical activity - and heaving yourself across multiple countries against the elements?
There was a very good reason for this particular adventure. I was raising awareness of a charity supporting healing in Venezuela. Last year, when I was travelling around Colombia from Venezuela, I witnessed children with no clothes, travelling on foot with no shoes, walking the same distance as I was. They faced untold dangers, in the jungles, and from the illegal groups that function on the border. My trip was by choice, theirs for survival. I had to do what I could.
I was to cycle from my hometown of Birmingham, UK, 1000 miles, to Northern Spain - an endpoint chosen for its links to Venezuela. Both countries speak Spanish, of course, but also the ongoing issues in Venezuela means many citizens actually seek asylum and make new lives for themselves in the region. I plan to go to Venezuela to help in the future, but for now, this was my way of creating a connection.
The endurance test pushed me to the limit in a way I rarely have been for. And as an explorer, that’s a big statement. Even logistically, this was a challenge: because I was cycling completely solo, I had to carry 18kg of kit on a bike rack myself... all while being exposed to the elements. Which turned out to be almost nine days of rain and relentless wind from the coasts. If you think that being from the UK, you’re used to rainy weather, try cycling for nine straight days in it.
On one particular night, I was so hypothermic, that a little old lady who worked in a bakery took pity on me. I could not stop shivering, so worried for my health, she walked me to a hotel. It turned out to be closed, due to Covid - an extra challenge along the way - but she pleaded with the owners to allow me one night. She knew what she was doing, because it worked. With that, she simply smiled, waved and walked off, her mission complete, and my shelter found.
I had trained in advance for the trip, of course, with long cycle days back to back and weighted runs. But no matter how much you train, you can’t prepare yourself very well for is the solitude of being alone with yourself for such a long number of days. At the same time, one of the other biggest difficulties in a solo expedition like this is the repetitiveness in each day’s monotonous, day in, day out cycling. It requires immense discipline to keep working towards the end goal.
Despite the mental challenges, the biggest obstacle to the trip was physical. On day nine, the bike crashed.
I had to take the bike for essential repairs at a shop - they had fixed it as best they could, but as soon as I got to the bottom of a big descent on a nearby hill, the bike failed again. The combination of the terrible weather, and an overweighted bike, meant I slipped off, my feet stuck in the pedals. (I had been assured that clip-in pedals would make my life easier on the trip, They did not.)
Gravity did the rest of the damage. The bike rack and spokes broke, and all of my equipment spilt out into the road. I was seconds away from throwing it all to the side of the road and walking away from the journey. Where to, I didn’t know or care. I was done.
Thankfully, unlike my bike, I was still in one piece. I took a breath and assessed the damage to me, and the bike. The tyres were still inflated, so I relaxed and got to work fixing it. I tightened the back wheel, did my best to fix the damaged seat, and remedied the rest with a quick fix of cable ties: one of the most essential bits of equipment out there.
I cycled 15 minutes with my patched up bike to arrive at a small town. As soon as I arrived, a renewed sense of happiness washed over me. I had got a second wind - the trip was going to work out, after all. The seat of the bike never did stay in one place after that, though.
That was a sight for sore eyes, and there were more along the way. La Rochelle, a coastal city in South Western France, was the most beautiful town I cycled through. But it had strong competition: the forested regions of Southern France, covered in swathes of woodland, and populated by the regular sight of deer were an unrivalled experience, too.
It’s hard to describe the joy I felt upon reaching my destination in Northern Spain. I loved it. There
Was a 15-mile hill climb before the border, and that meant I was in for the same distance going down. This time, the long hill descent was elating. When I reached the bottom, the familiar Spanish accent filled the air. Somehow, my bike seemed to be enjoying it too - it ran smoother than it ever had done on the final two days of the trip.
After a gruelling twelve days, I had finally arrived. My destination, a traditional, colonial-type town, was full of narrow roads, complete with horses trotting along the street alongside my bike. It was picturesque and peaceful. But I was soaked and ready for a rest.
I celebrated with a party for one at the first bakery I came across. I sent a text to my family back home in the UK, and ordered a cake and a hot chocolate - and they had never tasted so good.
Covid may have changed my plans to travel the world in the near future. But rest assured, the moment the opportunity presents itself again, I will be on the first flight to Medellin. Right now, I’m keeping fit and planning trips to the Indus River, the longest river in Pakistan, and I’m working towards a Papua New Guinea trip to spend time with the famous Crocodile People of the Sepik River. Because no matter how much of a novice I may be at an activity, I’m always ready for an unexpected adventure.
Here is the video