Cycling – 50 miles / Rowing 90 miles / Hiking 20 miles – Within 36hrs
The weekend was incredible, I was nervous about what to expect as I wasnt really experienced in any of the disciplines but I am always talking about going out of your comfort zone so I thought I should taste some of my own medicine.
Friday 9am I was met by Edinburgh Personal Trainer Kyle Faningham , Kyle is based at Edinburgh’s Factory Gym and had been a great lad at the training day in Wales. We were waiting in St Andrews Square for Mark Beaumont to arrive from Perthshire.
The plan was to meet at 9am, head to the team HQ in Wales and meet the rest of the team. We left Edinburgh at around 9 30am and took the Biggar road towards England.
When we arrived at HQ there was nobody there, we had come from furthest away and were first to arrive, we managed to get access after getting a code for the front door from expedition manager Margaret Bowling.
We settled down and waited for the rest of the team to arrive. Once everyone was settled we had dinner and prepared our kit for the next 48hrs.
A team briefing from Nate Fulcher and there was nothing left to do but go to bed and hope for a peaceful sleep.
Saturday 9th July 6am – The alarm went off and the place sprung to life, everyone was clearly excited and eager to get on with the challenge. We loaded up the support vehicles with the bikes and were on the road to Holyhead at 7 20am.
We boarded the Ferry to Dublin and tried to get some sleep, it would be a three hour crossing to Dublin so it was important that everyone tried to rest.
In Dublin we were driven to the start line (cant remember where that was) Everything David had worked towards came down to the next 36hrs, from my own experience in organising large events im sure it must have been a very special moment for him.
The plan was to cycle the 45 miles to Arklow in 3hrs, the reality was different. Busy roads out of Dublin and some navigational problems meant it took longer than expected to hit the coastal road. After a tricky opening 10 miles it all fell into place, we made it to the coastal country roads and settled into a steady pace. Twenty miles went by in no time. I was surprised at how difficult I was finding the cycle but I reminded myself that it was not a race and getting to Arklow fresh was the main goal. With 40 miles done and 10 to go I was feeling it in my legs, I knew once I got to the boat I would be ok but it did concern me slightly.
We all finished at around the same time and the first crew board the surf boat while the rest of us took on some fluids and much needed food. We boarded the boat and were given a run through of the captains code of conduct while we were on board. Things can go wrong very quickly at sea and it was important to take this seriously.
The cycle had taken 4hrs 15mins which meant we were already running later than planned, conditions on the Irish Sea the previous night had been terrible. We could only hope that they would improve for our crossing, they would have to.
Getting out of the harbour for the first team was difficult and given that Kyle, myself and another crew member Stuart were all novice rowers it was going to be tough.
The plan was for the support boat (a large fishing boat) to follow on ahead and the rowing team to follow it. I was in the second team to row and I was nervous, I had only previously been in a boat for about an hour and I didnt want to let anyone down. We stepped into the boat and began to row. The conditions were good for us, not much swell and plenty of moments where the sea was glassy. My team were fantastic, Jum Houlton, Philippa Capel, David Bedford and sweeper supreme Justin Scholes. The sweeper has a hugely important role, not only does he steer the boat but he keeps the team together and in time, what ended up happening was that Justin coached me all the way across the Irish Sea for 21hrs and basically taught me how to row. The fact that I had such a strong team in my boat definately helped me, keeping in time with Philippa was easy because every one of her strokes was perfect.
We finished our first shift and worked out that our next one would be at midnight, we went below deck to try and get some sleep, something I would try to do but never really manage.
Our midnight shift came, it was cold but the sea was calm, the RIB took us out to the rowing boat and we swapped teams over, once the support team left us alone the feeling was something that will stay with me forever, we were alone in the Irish Sea, in the pitch dark, crossing the water on our own strength. Its always special being part of a team but the feeling of counting on each other in the middle of the sea, at night was very special. From rowing in a team I can tell you that I havent experienced such a team bond in any other sport, you are absolutely dependent on each other, if your not in sync, your not going to go anywhere.
When our third shift came around nobody wanted to get up, not that we were negative but I think each and every one of us were tired and cold. We went to the RIB, swapped over with team 1 who had finished their shift and began rowing. I could tell that everyone was tired as nobody said a word for the first 30 minutes. Justin soon piped up and gave us a boost and we began working in tandem to make good progress. The strange thing is, at the end of this hard shift we had rowed 9 miles in 90 minutes, our biggest mileage yet, we just got on with the job.
The time was around 7am and we were on for our 4th and what we thought might be final shift. It was a beautiful morning with perfect conditions, the more experienced members of the team had been saying how we could have attempted this crossing 100 times and only once had conditions as good as this. We all felt very small out there in the middle of the water and very greatful that the Irish had allowed us to cross so far without issue.
We had noticed something black off stroke side earlier in the evening, we were sure it was a dolphin but couldnt get a good view to be certain. Once our 4th shift was over we all settled down on deck, it was a beaufitul morning, Olga, who was in crew 1, suddenly screamed! Oh no, whats happened I thought, “dolhpins!”.
We all raced to the front of the boat and seen a pod of dolphins jumping and leaping from the water, clearly playing with each other. I joked that the dolphins had been with us since we first seen them in Wales and had given us safe passage over the sea, it was meant as a joke but after I said it, the thought of that made me happy so thats the story im sticking to.
We could see land by this point and we were flying towards Porthmadog. With 9 miles to go it became clear that my team would be the one to bring the boat home, I couldnt believe it, I felt very lucky but at the same time tired! We had been on the boat for over 19hrs and had 2hrs or rowing left to do. The entire team had worked incredibly hard and we wanted to finish it strongly.
We began rowing in the hot sun, the atmosphere on the boat was special, we had all came together as more or less strangers and now we were bound together through one common goal. We got closer and closer to the finish and were met by Porthmadog rowing club who one of the crew members Sarah Medcalf rows for. Upon arrival there was a lot of support to greet us, I especially felt happy for David, he had worked on this for close to a year and was seeing it all come true before his very eyes.
We docked in the harbour and lapped up the glory, Margaret met us with bacon sandwiches, some of us had showers, we had been on the go for 27hrs now.
I had always looked at the climb as the lap of honour, I dont know why, it just seemed so easy after the crossing. In fact after all the dust had settled on the challenge, I would look back and have to say that the walk was the hardest part, followed by the cycle then the row!
We started walking towards the foot of Snowdon, it was 10.5 miles, I wanted to run this part but after all that we had done it was probably wise that we didnt. It was a glorious day and the team moral was high, there was a constant chatter between us all, if we didnt know each other at the start, we certainly did now. There is something special about being a team, no matter if its two of you or fifty, going through something together and seeing off hard times brings you very close.
After 10.5 miles we reached the bottom of Snowdon, the highest moutain in Wales. We took on some final food and drinks then set off, I walked a large part of this with my assigned buddy Jim, i was fascinated at how he had rowed the Atlantic (as had two other members of the crew, nutters!). Jim was also a vet, as an animal lover we had a lot to talk about. I had left Jim sleeping on the crossing and had acquired a beer fine because of it. We bascially had to wake poor Jim up, drag him from bed, literally 30 seconds after waking up he was on the RIB heading to row.
The climb really started to get steep and the legs began to bite, I think everyone was feeling it at this point. We reached the point at Snowdon just before the final ascent to the top, this is the part people say you have to scramble, it wasnt really that bad but it was steep.
We kept safe distance between each other and began making our way to the summit. While rowing we had seen the sun set and rise, now we wanted to make it to the top of Snowdon to see it set again on the Irish Sea. Sunset was 9 40pm and we made it up in time to see her set.
The total time of the challenge was 33hrs 17mins.
WE MADE IT!