What could go wrong

Sometimes I have to pinch myself to remember that I have absolute privilege of kicking off the 2020’s by cycling across America. Not just because of all the amazing people I’ll meet and all the amazing places I’ll see, but because of the fact I’m still here and getting a chance to prove that I am worthy of my existence.

But at the same time there is a nagging voice in the back of my head that lists all the things that could go wrong. Not just because I’m away from home for 3 months and will be facing isolation, but because there is genuinely some risk in what I’m doing. And because I’m trying to share this journey with you all I thought I’d share all the things are worrying me. I’ll  start with the smaller stuff. 

Guns

America is famous as a nation that likes guns so much that the right to bear arms is enshrined in the constitution. In a country of 326 million people there are now approximately 400 million guns (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2018/06/19/there-are-more-guns-than-people-in-the-united-states-according-to-a-new-study-of-global-firearm-ownership/) – with Americans owning nearly half of all of the civilian firearms in the world. Now, I’m really hoping that I won’t get shot (although this is the main reason that I’m debating whether or not to wear my tutu) but the chances of it happening in America are probably higher than they are in the UK. 

Bears

I have no doubt that if I get into fisticuffs with a bear the bear will win. One of the reasons I’m not taking a tent is because of stories like this one (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timothy_Treadwell). In preparation for my trip I’ve been reading lots about previous trans-America rides and many of them have ended up seeing bears. However, the general rule is that if you don’t disturb them they won’t disturb you (and the chances of seeing a bear on a road are fairly slim). 

Mountain Lions.

Let me say that again. Mountain. Lions. But like bears unless I kidnap their litter or interrupt their Sunday Lunch I’m unlikely to be eaten (or even see them). But I’d least I’d get to see a Mountain Lion!

Other wildlife

Snakes. Spiders. Wolves. Moose. Bison. Each one has the potential to turn me from Antony Butcher to Antony Butchered. I’m mostly staying in peoples homes so hope to avoid most of the weird things but with three months to play with who knows what could happen! Probably the biggest worry is large animals grazing on the road and getting spooked as I cycle past them. 

And now the things I’m more worried about 

Semi-wild dogs.

Surprising as it may seem this is the wildlife I am most worried about. Sure, it’s not a hulking great bear but lots of mid-Western ranches will have dogs to whom I will appear to be a threat. Dogs can run at about 15mph – about as fast as I’ll be able to spin on a fully laden touring bike. The internet has thousands and thousands of words about dogs attacking cyclists (see http://travellingtwo.com/resources/dealing-with-dogs. Almost everyone who has cycled across America has been chased by a dog. It’s all fun and games until the dog gets a hold of your calf and knocks you off your bike. I’m worried enough to have done the research and have a plan. If something goes wrong I’ll be stopping, jumping off, getting the bike between me and the dog, and commanding the dog to sit to demonstrate I’m not a weirdly shaped horse but a human being. If that doesn’t work I’ll be carrying pepper spray mounted on my handlebars to be used as a last resort – I love animals but if a dog is attacking me my own wellbeing comes first. 

Weather

America is known as a land of extremes, and the weather definitely fits into this. In the UK we are used to relatively stable weather – but if the average temperature in America is 15 degrees it could snow or the tarmac could melt. During my ride I’ll be climbing three mountain ranges and there is a real possibility that these could still have several feet of snow at the summits. I’ll also be cycling through the midwest when temperatures could hit 40 degrees centrigrade in the shade. I’ll need to be careful about keeping hydrated and suncream (because I burn worse than a vampire). Oh, and there’s also a real risk of tornadoes. 

Injury 

Apart from falling off my bike there are all sorts of things that could go wrong. Any little snag or strain could have big repercussions – I’ll be spinning my pedals over a million times. My biggest concern right now is my knees. On my previous long distance bike ride (where I averaged 70-90 miles a day) I developed Tendonitis in my left knee that left me unable to cycle with that leg. Then last year whilst “running” the London Marathon my left knee went again, leaving me limping over 13 miles and collapsing over the finish line. Whilst this ride will involve shorter mileages I’ll be out for a much longer period of time. 

Crime

I’m not on the world’s most expensive bike but I am trying to see a really wide swathe of America. This means some days in leafy suburbs but it also means that I’ll be visiting places like Detroit with a violent crime rate above 2,000 incidences per 100,000 people per year. In places that struggle with poverty and crime I’ll be an attractive if sweaty target. I’ll be taking some advice from local contacts in big cities and won’t be flashing my cash but if you’ve ever read Mark Beaumont’s book of his first round the world record breaking trip you’ll know that things can go wrong quickly (he was mugged in a motel). 

Mental Health

I wasn’t sure whether to list this or not. On the one hand I’m working hard to get myself into a good place and this ride is part of my own recovery. On the other hand I’ll be physically isolating myself from my normal routine and from the people I love for three months – the trigger for my last breakdown. I’ll also be putting myself under extreme pressure and creating opportunities to feel undervalued. So please do stay in touch and help me keep positive!

Cars

The big one. And this is the one that I’m genuinely writing thinking “I hope that this doesn’t become a painfully ironic post”. 

Ultimately the greatest risk to my life will be my fellow human beings. I reckon that in the UK I have one near miss every 10-20 miles of road cycling I do. At the start of this year a friend was knocked off their bike by a driver who refused to admit that they had hit them – they believed they had left a safe gap. Everything I’ve read suggests that in the vast majority of the country drivers can be actively hostile towards cyclists.

Since I started writing this blog I’ve come across two horror stories that I feel need sharing, because whilst I hope the chances of anything happening are slim this is worrying me. Firstly, Josh Quigly, who was also cycling across America to raise awareness of mental health, was struck by a car just before Christmas in Texas after cycling around the world. He suffered fractures to his pelvis, 10 ribs and his skull, as well as a pierced lung and a broken ankle and heel (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-edinburgh-east-fife-50894202). He’s now back in the UK but it’s proof that a single mistake can be nearly fatal.

And then, whilst looking to get tips on video editing software from a bike touring group I came across this sobering post about a cycle tourist who was killed in Australia, told through the eyes of someone who was a day behind another rider and wondering if they would catch them. It’s worth a read. https://m.facebook.com/groups/484764288212276?view=permalink&id=2935438956478118 

I already know that my wife isn’t going to read this post, so I think it is safe to say that I am worried about this. America is the land of the car and I know from the blogs and books I’ve read that in lots of places cars and lorries will just expect you to get out of the way. If something does go wrong the closest thing I’ve got to an air-bag is a well timed fart. My head says that the chances of something happening are slim, and that if I’m sensible and cautious I can avoid most situations. My heart says that I’ve got 80 days on the road and that’s a lot of opportunities for one bad mistake to happen. 

So, I’m going to keep sharing all the bits I’m excited about. But if I’m going to encourage people to be open about how they are feeling I need to do the same, even when that means admitting that I get scared by worst case scenarios. I quite like being alive – and I’m hoping that this ride doesn’t do anything to change that.


3 thoughts on “What could go wrong

  1. What will you do out there for health care? And, if you do suffer close-encounters or sustain injuries, what will that mean for your return travel to, and your employment, back in the UK? Have you made contingency plans for things going wrong at home? How will being away from your family for so long affect them?-especially your wife and mother.

    Antony, I have donated money in the past, but am not doing so currently because I have my own charities I support. Plus, you’ve done one thing after another, so that becomes A LOT of money spent on one cause! (Is it the MS Society you’re raising for or mental health charities?) Previously, I never heard anything about how money I donated through you is being used. That would be nice to know.

    Lastly, what’s next after America? WHAT can you possibly do next? And will you ever stop? I thought that by doing this you would, basically, go viral!… Are you ever concerned about how your main audience (Facebook, Twitter) is somewhat self-limiting?

    1. Hi there – thanks for the great questions and for your interest in the ride! I’ll try and reply as best I can – I won’t repeat the questions but will answer in the same order. I’ll have travel insurance tailored to long distance bike touring in America. I’ll be going for the most comprehensive insurance I can find, even if this costs more, so that if something goes wrong I’m covered. Close encounters will be scary, but injury is the real worry. The insurance will cover repatriation home, and if the injury is so serious that I can’t work there’s probably not a huge amount I can prepare for now. My work and boss are 100% behind the ride so I’d just have to discuss options I guess. For family – yes, this will have a big impact. I’ll speak with mum regularly through video chat, and my wife will be visiting her more often. Me and Lizzie speak a lot about how this ride will impact us – it’s a huge thing to spend 3 months apart but I know that she supports me in doing this. We’ll be speaking often and are good at talking about how we feel.

      I completely understand about not donating now. It’s a lot after the marathon – but I did that to get fit for the ride, so it had to be close together. I’m asking for sponsorship for the MS Society, and I’m raising awareness of mental health using my own experiences. Everyone has causes close to their heart and I’m just so grateful to all the people who have supported me already in my adventures. It’s hard to answer what the money has been used for. I’ve raised over £20,000 for charity, with over £17,000 of this for the MS society. As a big national charity once the money reaches them it can go to a whole number of things. My passion is research – the MS Society have a big campaign at the moment highlighting how the research they have supported is closer than ever to finding a cure for MS – potentially in the next 5 years (see https://www.mssociety.org.uk/research/latest-research/latest-research-news-and-blogs/stop-ms-news-story). This is my passion – MS has caused such pain in my life and if I can do something to help make sure someone else isn’t in my shoes I’ll feel like I’ve made a difference. But I’ve also worked for and been involved with a range of charities, and I know that whilst money for core activity is great you still have to have a building and write press releases and support fundraisers and have managers and pay the electric bill. To a certain extent I’m trusting the MS Society – the largest MS organisation in the UK and the one my mum is most involved with – to take the money I raise (which is a tiny fraction of their income) and use it in the best way possible to support their work. The only way to have more direct say over where the money goes would be to support a smaller organisation, but these tend to focus on support for people with MS.
      And in terms of what next – who knows! Honestly, part of this ride is my own recovery from my depressive episode in 2017 – it’s given me a purpose to help me find myself again. But it’s exhausting – it’s almost a full time job! I’d like to spend time focusing on family and enjoying the simple pleasures in life. My job also requires a lot of emotional energy and so honestly it will be nice to just focus on that! I also have to acknowledge that the ride could change my views on a number of things and provide other opportunities or perspectives, so I’ll have to answer this again when I get back. Sure, it could go viral, but honestly the larger it goes the harder it is to know what impact you are having. I’ve always said that if through this ride I change the life of one person – through a school talk, through my website, through the people I meet, through the money I raise – I’ll have achieved something to be proud of. And yes – social media is self limiting but it’s a very effective way to raise awareness and allow people to track the journey. At the moment I’m also doing an email newsletter for updates for people without social media, working with a student to help take the messages I share day to day and amplify these on social media and my website, targeting local papers where I live but also along the route, have agreed to send a weekly “letter from America” to a local radio station, am talking about sending updates to local Schools I’ve talked at, and am working on how I could gain some national exposure for the ride with the MS Society. I hope these help – do let me know if you have more questions 🙂

  2. “It’s hard to answer what the money has been used for. I’ve raised over £20,000 for charity, with over £17,000 of this for the MS society.”

    I think you should know; some of that was my hard-earned minimum-wage money. Even if it is just “a tiny fraction of [the charity’s] income”, it becomes even tinier when you belittle your supporters’ contributions! I think when you’re promoting yourself as an ambassador for this cause, you should better acknowledge the people who got you there.

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