What it feels like…cycling a very, very long way.

By Chris Oliver, Edinburgh.

Endurance bicycling is amazing, either crossing a whole continent or country always has led me to an amazing sense of fulfilment and reassurance of life.

My first long ride was End to End; Land’s End to John O’Groats, over 1000 miles. Not really knowing I could achieve that distance in three weeks was mentally and physically challenging.

My second long ride was TransAmerica, Los Angeles to Boston, a distance of 3,500 miles, knowing that I could endure the physical challenge left this ride a battle against staying sane. Cycling 80 to 110 miles a day, every day, for seven weeks is simply mind numbing.

Chronic fatigue, aching legs, arms and backs are coupled with a brain turned into mush by too many towns and too many miles in too little time. But riding Los Angeles to Boston, was also a life affirming experience, and the culmination of a life changing one for me.

In 2006 I could only ride a bike 200 yards, after battling with obesity for years. A gastric band helped me lose 77kg, but limited what I could eat. So, a fortnight before the ride began I had the band relaxed.

I had grown fearful of food, how could I now cope with eating the 6,000 calories a day needed to complete the ride? Food remained a challenge throughout. When you fail to eat enough, you’re compromising your ability to recover, as well as increasing your risk of getting sick.

What I learned is that you eat today for what you’re planning on cycling tomorrow. It also means pre-loading energy stores with hearty breakfasts before big rides, so you stand a better chance of mitigating the energy depletion from each day.

Being still heavy at 95kg – I was once more than 170kg – the climbing was and still is particularly tough. Some climbs across the Rockies could last 15 miles. In all, I climbed almost 100,000feet.

My daughter, Catherine, 23, a keen cyclist, joined me for the entire ride. Being 30 years younger than me meant I was always chasing her.

There were other challenges. The heat in the Mojave desert in the first few days felt like riding in an oven. I was drinking four litres of fluid every 25 miles, and couldn’t have got through without vehicle support.

Early on I got nasty hand blisters, followed by hand numbness from constant vibration, which made changing gears difficult. I was tearful at a few points: going over my first big mountain pass, crossing the Continental Divide and finally riding into Boston.

This summer I cycled from St Malo to Nice, France a mere 1000 miles, still the same cycling excitement and sensations of achievement, I still cried coming over The Massif Central, but knowing having a much harder mental resilience made the distance tiny compared to the USA.

Riding a bit shorter distances each day, meant more time to take in the scenery. I plan to return to do a long endurance ride every year and ride TransAmerica again 10 years’ after my original journey, at the very least it’s a target to help keep my weight down.

Mr Chris Oliver is a consultant orthopaedic trauma surgeon at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.

Follow Chris on Twitter at @cyclingsurgeon
Mr Chris Oliver Website http://orthodoc.aaos.org/chrisoliver/