Tom and Will were two men on a mission. Two men who, in their own words, were ‘overweight and underprepared’ for this cycling feat. Armed with copious peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and with a journey of around 1,500 miles before them, how did the peppy pair get on?
Will and Tom met at university, where they soon became fast friends (“we were in the same WhatsApp groups so it must have been serious”). Both work in London: Will in management consultancy and Tom in the civil service. The boys wanted a physical challenge to get fitter and commendably raise some money for a good cause. Tom’s charity of choice is SUDEP (Sudden Unexplained Death in Epilepsy) in memory of his friend’s sister, who tragically died when she was 19. Will opted for GOSH (Great Ormond Street Hospital) as his cousin’s daughter spent a lot of the first 3 years of her life in and out of the hospital (thankfully she recently got the all-clear), and one of his best friend’s little nephew is currently undergoing treatment there. “It felt like the right one to go for.”
Before you started to prepare for your big cycle trip, what sort of exercise did you do?
Tom: I played squash twice a week. That’s probably about it!
Will: My exercise routine goes up and down a lot depending on what sort of mood I’m in to be honest. For a long time I used to run after work but just before we agreed to this challenge I was just playing squash once or twice a week, occasionally with Tom, and football once a week.
Have you ever done anything like this before?
T: I’ve done a few cycling trips before this. I did London-Amsterdam and Paris to Perpignan, but this is the biggest by about 550 miles.
W: Until about 3 months ago I had never cycled more than 30 miles in one go and now we’ve just done 1300.
What did you do to prepare for this challenge?
T: We cycled a lot!
W: We were actually playing a cricket match in August or September of last year and Tom cornered me after I’d had a few beers and said he was thinking of cycling to Gibraltar. Having had those few beers I said ‘that sounds like a great idea!’. I bought my road bike in October [Will has a Cannondale Synapse Carbon 105, Tom has an aluminium Giant Contend SL 2] and with the arrival of the bike I really had to step up my training. Literally the day my bike arrived from the shop I ruptured pretty much all the muscles in the base of my foot. I was running and something gave around my big toe and as a result all the muscles in my foot went. So, I couldn’t do any form of exercise until January this year. I went into the festive period – rather than training like I was meant to be – eating, drinking and putting on more and more weight! I started doing around 30 miles after work and at the weekends we gradually ramped it up. We only started cycling together around the start of March.
T: Because it was far away; an end destination, but one you can do in 2 weeks – we couldn’t take off much more time than that really. And the weather’s good!
W: Although the weather was crap during the ride! For the first week basically all of France was forecasted thunder and lightning every day. We actually only got caught in it twice.
What’s it like cycling in that kind of weather?
W: We never had lightning overhead, which was a big relief, but cycling towards huge forks of lightning is pretty intimidating.
T: There was only one evening where we were worried. We were cycling directly south and we cold see the town we were trying to reach, and 5 miles past it we could see a thunderstorm with big bolts of lightning coming down.
Any accidents along the way?
W: Yeah… Maybe.
T: We had two accidents. One was my fault and one was Will’s.We were at a roundabout where I looked back to see if there was space to pull out and did so, then looked forward to see if I could get onto the roundabout and couldn’t, so I stopped, Meanwhile Will looked back to see if he could pull out as well, but didn’t look forward and rammed into me at the roundabout. We fell over in this small French town of about 20 people just looking at us like we were morons.
Got a picture of that?
W: Unfortunately we neglected to capture that moment…
T: The second accident was more my fault. I was about 50 yards behind Will while he was trying to work out the route. He said “This is the way!” and pointed up a hill. I was looking about 1 foot in front of me on the bike going about 12/13 miles an hour and just ran into Will who hadn’t set off yet.
W: Tom had the Garmin so he knew the route so I said “you just go around me”, but he hadn’t heard me so he assumed I had set off. I literally stood there and he ploughed straight into the back of my bike.
Any damage to the bike or yourselves?
T: Bikes were fine. Pride was bruised.
W: I had a nice bruise on my left cheek.
T: I went into Will, and his bike seat went into him.
W: Fortunately the alignment was off.
Give us some interesting titbits from your journey.
T: The focal point was definitely lunch.
W: The highlight of the day. Mum also made us some flapjacks which went down really well.
What did a typical day entail?
W: The alarm would go off at 6:00. I’d be up and about by about 6:15. Tom would surface about half an hour later. He’s a very dormant human being at times.
T: I need my rest.
W: Breakfast was always peanut butter and jelly sandwiches because it’s got carbs, sugars, everything you need, but by about day 7 we were so fed up of it. We’d aim to set off by 7:00 but realistically it would be nearer 7:30. We’d cycle for a couple of hours, break a bit and then continue. We’d aim to do about 30 miles every couple of hours which we pretty much stuck to. Coming out of San Sebastian there was a thousand foot’s climb of roads doubling back on themselves which slowed us down a bit.
T: In France we had a good rhythm as the roads were so flat. We’d do these 2-hour stints; Will would lead for the first half hour then we’d swap around, riding in each other’s slipstreams.
What was your highest speed?
W: 44 miles an hour! In terms of consistency on day 6 we did about 120 miles in 7 hours.
T: 7 hours cycling, but not in total. We stopped for lunch.
W: We’re not quite Lance Armstrong and Chris Froome.
Did you feel pressure cycling for charities, with people donating to the cause?
T: It was a great way to keep motivated.
W: It was an added incentive. I probably wouldn’t have had the motivation to do it if I didn’t have people relying on me. It certainly helped me a lot, especially on the last day – 25 degrees of heat, massive headwind coming up from Marbella into the mountains, and a 1.5 thousand foot climb – which was really grim. That was the closest I’d come to saying “You know what, sod this”, but you don’t want to fall at the last hurdle or let the charity down.
How do you feel now that it’s all over?
W: A lot fresher than I expected to. I thought I was literally going to finish and collapse but I feel oddly okay… but it’s great not to be wearing the Lycra.
T: The pain was more noticeable off the bike than on it. It was halfway through that we felt the worst, because our legs were stiff, we still had miles to go, and there was only peanut butter for breakfast. A terrible mood! I wouldn’t do it again for a while.
W: I’ve got my sights set on the Scotland 500; it’s meant to be 500 miles of some of the most picturesque road routes in the world up near the Hebrides.
And with that, I pointed the adventurous duo and their Neapolitan ice cream T-shirt tans in the direction of the Med Steps to appreciate the views on their first and last day in Gibraltar which, in hindsight, probably wasn’t the smartest recommendation after 12 days of cycling. Sorry guys!
Follow the boys’ journal entries via Will’s Instagram: wemmers1. To donate, visit goo.gl/KC1Vx1. A special thank you to Will’s parents, Charlie and Isi, for their continued support.