2 Months to go!

After 5 years of planning, and two years of everything being on hold, it continues to look like I’ll be able to set off on my solo bike ride across America in just under two months time. As the countdown keeps ticking away I’ll be sharing how planning is going – and rather excitingly it’s all starting to come together! Here are just some of the highlights of what’s been going on over the last month – there’s not space for everything but do let me know if you’ve got any questions.

Me smiling in on the bike with an American and British flag behind me
Smiling in the sun

Highlights

The biggest highlight is that I now have flights booked – something that I’ve been worrying about (and putting off) for over 6 months. This is the moment where everything turns from “I’m hoping” to “I’m doing” – and it feels so much more real now that I have specific dates to work off. These are:

Flying to New YorkWednesday 20th April
Setting off from New YorkSaturday 23rd April (9-10am New York time – 2-3pm UK time)
Arrive in San FranciscoWednesday 13th July (approx 11-12am local time – 8-9pm UK time)
Flying homeSunday 24th July

Route planning

Now that I have dates, I’ve been able to start confirming accommodation. As you might know I’m not planning on taking a tent, because I’ve learnt that being isolated is really bad for my mental health. Instead, I’m planning ahead to stay with friends of friends and Warmshowers contacts (like Couchsurfing but for cyclists) who have generously agreed to host me for a night or two. So far, out of 85 nights on the road, I’ve got 36 nights where someone has generously agreed to host me, 11 nights where I’m still confirming details, 19 nights where I have options for accommodation but haven’t asked hosts yet, and 19 nights where it looks like I’ll end up paying for a room in a motel (if you’d like to see my route, click here). I’ve also started reaching out for advice on route options from hosts and locals – and rather excitingly, someone has offered to come and cycle the last few miles into San Francisco with me!

Next steps: Start to create route maps for each day of cycling. Over 65 days there will be some days where the route directions are “follow this road all day”, and others – especially in urban areas – which will need careful planning to ensure I’m following a route which is safe, efficient, and interesting. This involves using a combination of online bike route planners (mostly Garmin and Komoot) with Google Maps – which allows you to see what a road actually looks like. On the busiest days I’m hoping to tap into local knowledge to supplement the planning I can do online. I’m also going to continue to get in touch with potential hosts as well as looking at booking some nights where I’ll be staying in very rural locations with limited options – I’d hate to turn up to a small town motel and find that they are fully booked!

Talks

As part of my plans to cycle across America, I’m hoping to share my story with schools and community groups both before, during, and after the ride. I’ve been getting in touch with local groups and am confirming details for a couple of talks, with hopefully more on the horizon. I’ve got a couple of talks booked whilst I’m in America, although a couple I had planned in 2020 look like they won’t happen as the Schools aren’t letting in visitors at the moment. Alongside talks, I’ve also written a guest blog about my mental health journey for Presca, who kindly designed and printed the ride tops I’ll be using free of charge. I’m keen to use the ride across America as an opportunity to share my mental health journey, and to encourage people to make talking about how we are feeling more normal.

Next steps: Keep planning local talks! As well as reaching out to local schools and community groups, I’m going to start reaching out to places along the route, as this will be quite hard to do when I’m on the road.

Training

Whilst it’s cold and wet I’ve been training on a static bike in the cellar regularly, to build up strength and to get used to sitting on a saddle. I’ve also done the first of a couple of fundraising static rides at local events, which involves spending 3-4 hours on the turbo trainer. Whilst this doesn’t sound long as you are sat down and pedalling the whole time, it can be a bit more intense than “real life” cycling – as you don’t get to coast down hills/get out the saddle up hills/stop at traffic lights/stop at cafes.

Next steps: As the days get a bit warmer I’m hoping to supplement evening turbo sessions with rides out into the Yorkshire Dales. If I’m honest I’m less worried about having the strength to cycle across America, and more worried about making sure I’m used to sitting on a saddle!

Fundraising

Last month I did my first fundraising activity of the year, a static ride at a particularly wet local food market. This raised over £250 for charity – which is the most I’ve ever raised at a bucket collection! I’ve also had a few donations coming in online.

Next steps: I’ve got a couple of static fundraising rides already booked in, and I’m hoping that as we get closer to the ride and awareness spreads, more and more donations will start to come in. If you can think of any ideas for fundraising please do let me know!

Other bits

There are dozens of odds and sods that need to be sorted before I set off. Over the last month I’ve been researching everything from GPS trackers to new bank accounts and options for having a mobile phone that works. None of this is particularly glamorous, but I’ve only got two days in New York before I set off so I want to make sure everything is sorted.

Next steps – get my bike serviced – stripping it down to individual parts, cleaning them, and putting it back together. The best way to avoid any mechanical issues is to make sure it’s in good condition, and keep a close eye on it so I can pick up on any potential issues before they arise. I’ve also got a few bits of kit to get – from new sunglasses to a second pannier bag – and I’m hoping to make sure I test all of the kit in the UK so I know if anything doesn’t work before I set off. Now that the flights are booked I also need to sort out how I’ll get to Heathrow and pack up the bike for the journey.

Publicity

I’ve been gathering some contacts from local and regional media outlets, and have had a really exciting conversation with the Press Team at the MS Society looking at how we can share my journey as widely as possible. I’ve also been speaking with contacts in the United States about the ride to try and start making contacts with the National MS Society (who lead on MS research in the USA) to create opportunities to share my story whilst I’m in the States. You can also find a recent blog post I put together with Presca (the people who kindly designed and printed the cycling tops I’ll be using on their website).

Next steps – over the next month I’m hoping we’ll be able to start getting in contact with potential media outlets and put together a plan for sharing the story both in the UK and the USA. This will likely involve newspapers, radio, and TV.

So – with 50 days until I set off, things are starting to come together. There’s still lots (and lots and lots…) to do. And in reality – I probably want to do all sorts of things I don’t have time to do (hello, writing to schools en route). But with lots to do it’s also important to find a balance and look after my own wellbeing – I’m taking Lizzie away on a secret trip in a few weeks, and I’ve also booked in a couple of massages for a self-care moment.


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