How do you justify driving all over the country whilst making this film for the environment?
This is a really great question and one we have worked hard to address right from the beginning. Our ultimate goal was to run Abbie Bikes Britain as a carbon neutral project and one that leaves the planet in a better state than when we started.
We had three months to plan our expedition, which is not a very long time given the scale of what we hoped to achieve (more on that later). As such we found ourselves having to negotiate many things and struggling to implement many of the ideas we had in order to offset and mitigate our footprint. One such example was driving a hybrid or full electric van, which it turns out are hard to find!
We then considered whether we should simply cycle our route and abandon the idea of using a support vehicle, but given the amount of gear we needed and the style of our project, this simply wouldn't have worked. We needed clothes for cycling, bike repair and spare parts, hiking kit, camera gear, portable power, food, WILD store products, and more. Our four little panniers would have struggled!
We then debated whether driving a van the length of the country would actually amount to more of an impact than our usual driving to the shops and to work every day when at home. We live on a farm on the edge of Exmoor and so most trips require the use of a car. We quickly realised that on our expedition, just like at home, we were still very in control of the decisions and choices we could make every day in order to minimise our environmental footprint. This led to us deciding that we would drive a diesel van but alongside do everything in our power to remain conscious of our impact in every possible manner, from the food we were eating, routes we were taking, picking up litter, and of course, using our voice.
We chose to believe that the message we were carrying forward along the way trumped the impact we were having through driving. Our goal was to use our voice through the radio events we engaged in, the walks we ran, and the three films we have produced in order to change the narrative around nature and biodiversity loss. We wanted to kick-start a snowball of positive change and create a ripple effect that was larger than the impact of us driving the van 2000 miles.
The last thing we’d like to share is that this style of expedition was a one off for WILD and in the future we want to ensure we are as close to carbon neutral as possible. If you know anything much about this subject we would love to welcome a conversation!
I want to get into cycling - where do I start?
It is easy to put barriers in the way of ourselves and so the first step is to identify what they are. Do you lack a bike? Are you anxious about busy roads? Do you know where you can and can’t cycle? Does wet weather concern you?
Once you have worked out what is stopping you from getting out, you can make a plan. The key - just get going! Pump up those tires, throw on some clothes, don a helmet, and just go! Start with cycle paths if that feels easier and make sure to stay hydrated and well fuelled. Try not to bite off too much too soon, especially if it has been a long time since you rode a bike. Take it steady and have fun along the way -heading out with friends and family can be a great motivator.
How far did you cycle each day?
Average 40-60 miles a day. My shortest was 32 miles and longest was 90 miles.
What was your diet whilst on the trip?
Initially during training and trip I found eating and digesting food really hard and I couldn't stomach much. My theory is that this was due to the pressure I was putting myself under. But around half way things calmed down and my one staple was waffles. Sugar waffles to be specific. I love waffles.
Alongside a staple of waffles, I live off a plant based diet which on the expedition looked something like this:
some kind of nutty muesli for breakfast with a couple of cups of coffee to get me going
wraps with hummus and veggies for lunch
In the evening anything Anna whipped up - veggie mush, curries, salads etc. Lots of veg, beans and legumes. Generally not too rich in flavour but always delicious!
What equipment did you use for the trip?
You’re in luck! I have two extra videos you can watch to find out the answer to this question due out in May 2022!
What equipment did you use to film?
The three films we have produced following Abbie Bikes Britain are co-produced by me (Abbie) and a small production team. If you'd like to learn more about our filming kit please head to the YouTube page of this website.
How many rest days did you have and when?
We had factored in 5 rest days on our 55 day expedition and knew these would be vital for recuperating, stretching, eating well and catching up on general admin. However, as becomes apparent in our films, we faced many challenges of a nature that we never could have anticipated, from the national fuel criss to business threats and family bereavement.
As such we only managed half a day of rest during the entire trip as how we used our time was not entirely in our control. Still, the half day that we did get just outside of Bath was spent lounging in the sun and did us a lot of good!
What did you learn about yourself from the trip and how did 2000 miles change you?
This is a very hard question to answer as we all have so much going on inside of us at any given time that trying to communicate such a personal thing is tough! I can however confirm that Abbie Bikes Britain certainly changed me for the better and that crossing the finish line was a huge life changing moment for me.
I suppose overall I was reminded afresh that I am capable of pushing through a lot of suffering and very skilled at using it to propel me forwards. I feel that off the back of the expedition I am more focused and determined to keep going no matter what; I know inherently that bad times always pass; and that you really can make big dreams come true if you're willing to put in the work.
Why did you plan it in such a rush when you could have planned over a longer period and raised more funds?
We only had 3 months to plan Abbie Bikes Britain. Planning involved mapping out a route, finding partners, raising funds, teaming up with national parks and small mental health charities, training, and more.
As a team we debated many times about whether to push the expedition back to 2022 but we agreed that coming off the back of covid our message, particularly about the power of community, was never going to be more relevant. If that meant a bit more stress and a bit less funding, then so be it!
Why did you not raise money for a charity as well while you were raising awareness?
Our project was a not-for-profit challenge designed to highlight the power of bottom up initiatives as opposed to top down. We wanted to share individual stories and leave those following our journey feeling empowered in understanding that they too can be a catalyst for positive change. That being said, we did explore the option of teaming up with two notable charities in the mental health sector but lost many, many hours chasing them to no avail. One even came back with a quote that matched our entire budget just to work with them.
In the end we agreed that the most powerful tool we have during our time on earth is our voice and that we can use it to create a bigger ripple effect of change than by donating money. Voice is accessible for everyone, and so whilst our expedition was not glamorous, we managed to raise the funds needed through personal savings and public support and hope that our message will continue to ignite change through the films we have produced and stories we have told. See ‘what's next’ for more on this.
Would you have done this completely on your own with just a bike and no support from anyone and how do you think you would have coped with that?
The idea of cycling the expedition solo crossed my mind once or twice, but as already highlighted, it would have been a totally different experience and perhaps not have created the impact we did with Abbie Bikes Britain.
What have you learned about the benefits of active travel, such as changing our mindset around how we move between places, time required, shift in pace of living etc...?
Coming from a hiking background, I already knew that I enjoyed the simple, slower pace of life that backpacking and walking creates space for. In fact, at various points during training I was concerned that I felt quite disconnected from the landscapes I was travelling through, what with the movement of cycling being faster than my own two feet!
However, about a week into the ride and I found myself falling in love with life on the bike. It felt like a form of escapism and I quickly realised that you can connect with nature when cycling! I would ride with birds flying alongside, note the ever-changing colours of the hedgerows as banks of flowers passed by, get tickled by butterflies and buzz along with bees. From the wind on my face, the sun (or rain) on my skin, and the feeling of my body work, it was almost primitive and I was totally grounded in this new form of travel. It felt great to get from A to B by human power alone and I vowed to keep cycling whenever possible in the future. A win for the planet and a win for me.
What sort of things did you think about on the long pedalling stretches, lots of thinking time?
Whilst cycling I listened to audiobooks, music and podcasts.
I did a lot of thinking too, often random and quite unworth me sharing in any detail here. I struggled at points to keep my mind off competitive thinking about timings and mileage, when all I wanted to do was just enjoy the ride and let things take as long as they took.
I thought a lot about the end of the trip and what life would look like once we got back home. Did I even want to go back home?! Perhaps I should just keep cycling… You can see how easily one can let the mind wander!
I also thought about waffles and food, a lot.
Now you have biked JOGLE, would you attempt hiking it?
Yes but it’s not at the top of my list.
Has the project achieved what it set out to achieve? How will you measure the impact?
Great question. Initially I would say, yes. We set out to cycle 2000 miles, hike to the highest point of each national park and make three films that will leave a positive impact; and we have done just that.
Measuring the level of impact however is the challenging part as we didn’t set benchmarks or parameters in order to know how far our message has spread.We can start by looking at numbers, but the truth is, Abbie Bikes Britain is not an isolated project; it is part of a bigger body that is WILD - an organisation with the sole purpose of creating meaningful change.
Would you change anything if you did it again?
It is always easy to look back on a project and consider all the things you would have done differently in hindsight, but for me I wouldn't change much. Some things, yes, but these I won't share here. Instead I’ll say that what happened on the trip is what made the trip our trip. We got through it. We championed our mission. And I am very proud of everything we have achieved.
How safe did you feel cycling on the busier roads? Did the near misses shake your confidence?
I only had a couple of close calls during the expedition. One was a sharp emergency stop as a van pulled out of nowhere and nearly mowed me down; the second being undercut on a roundabout in Cornwall that left me lying on the verge uninjured but a tad shaken. It was actually once Abbie Bikes Britain was behind us that I got knocked off my bike during an easy ride just 3 miles down the road by our postman!!
Generally though, I felt very safe on the roads across the UK. The only places I felt unsafe due to the driving appearing more aggressive and less bike aware was in the centre of the UK and down in the south west, Cornwall in particular.
The busier roads were sometimes hard for me as I lacked the confidence, so I would simply get off and walk. I figured it wasn't a good idea to pressure myself unnecessarily and that safety would always come first.
How did you and Anna ensure your relationship was still nurtured amongst such a high pressure period?
Anna and I set off onto Abbie Bikes Britain with a pact that if we ever needed time out from expedition, we would ask for it. To be honest, we were quite naff at this, but we did go to Bamburg castle in Northumberland after a particularly hard night, for example.
We tried very hard to stick to our values of laughing every day, and staying honest in our communication. We had our struggles but also looking back we can acknowledge that sometimes have to be brought to our knees in order to get stronger. We also remained grateful, always.
Apart from the fuel situation did you have any bike issues?
Funnily enough, the ‘fuel situation’ didn't make finished films. But essentially during September 2021 the UK was in a fuel crisis and we got stuck just south of the Peak District unable to source any diesel. The story evolved into us spending the night on a petrol forecourt and then being very kindly supported by a superhero of a chap who got us some fuel the next morning as a lorry came to deliver. The kindness of strangers.
As for bike problems, I didn't have any. In the full 2000 miles of riding, plus training, I haven't even had a single puncture! Mad, I know!
How did you find changing from cycling to hiking?
I loved the mix up. Walking every few days helped with my recovery and gave my mind a shift that was very refreshing. The group walks were so much fun and a great opportunity to connect with new people and keep things fresh.