Talking Of The Longest Ride: The Transcript
Dave Buchanan went out for a ride and came back as the first man to ride the length of Wales and back again non-stop – all 59 hours, 448 miles (721km) and 73,162ft (22,300m) of climbing of it. This is the full and unabridged transcript of the interview with Dave that became The Longest Ride feature in What Mountain Bike’s present issue – WMB124, Summer 2011 – which is in the shops now, and available from www.myfavouritemagazines.co.uk.
The feature profiles both Dave as a person but also the story – and background – to his record breaking 48-hour distance record ride from the south coast of Wales to the north coast, and back. Grab a brew, sit down, and enjoy this unadulterated insight into the highs and lows of Dave Buchanan’s epic challenge.
Interview: Matt Skinner
Photos: Matt Cope, Tom Simpson and Simon Smith
Date of interview: 27 May, 2011
Matt Skinner: Talk us through your support team and how crucial they were to your ride.
Dave Buchanan: “They’re the best in the business. Jo’s the only one who’s done supporting in the past really in the team. We’re all very lucky in the South Wales area as we have a very close-knit community of friends, if you like. They’re super-supportive. The team were:
“Joanne Evans– my partner who’s fantastic; Paul B Mugenyi (aka ‘Mugs’) – both he and Jo were absolutely pivotal in formulating the whole plan. You saw some of the documentation last night – you saw a schedule of where I was going to be and when, who was going to set tents up, who was going to give me drinks and where and when, and basically did all of that. Nick, who’s [been] a friend of mine for 25 years, did most of the driving in my car, while Simon from Loco Suspension, one of my other sponsors, did all the driving in the mechanics’ van with Huw and Scott in there, plus Mark Huskisson of Reset Films.
“But the two pivotal ones, Paul Mugs and Jo, had planned everything down to a T. And there was redundancy in the timing system too so that if it fell apart because the weather was bad or whatever, they arranged it so that the redundancy in the schedule could be followed on from there. It was just amazing. Absolutely amazing; the rest of the crew were Jim Calder; Huw Thomas; Scott Hodgskin; Mark Deacon; Zoe Frogbrook; Andrew James; Matt Page; Loco Simon; Nick Shenston; Matt Cope; Rob Khoo; Tim Press; Mike Hall; Mark Huskisson; Jon Shergold; Rich Holmes; Dave Evans; and Rob Evans.”
MS: How long had it been in the planning process?
DB: “From the moment I did the single coast to coast [in 2009] – north to south – I finished it high on caffeine and said, ‘Oh, that’ll go as a double.’ And I was really high on caffeine – over double what I should’ve had due to inexperience. And then a colleague from racing – Jack Peterson from Numplumz Racing called and said, ‘Can you ride it from south to north?’ And I emailed him back saying, ‘Well, no, no you can’t. But give me a bit and I’ll have a look.’
“So I reccied the route from south to north, which turned out to be a bit tougher really, and I thought, ‘I need to join this together really.’ From that point on it was always going to happen – especially as I’d dropped myself in it in the beginning and said that’ll be done as a double. That was 2009 – just over two and a bit years ago. It was all ready to be done last year – Chris [Eatough, Dave’s coach] got me fit as hell. I was rocking and then I got an illness and a new job, and I went away abroad for a bit and it stuck with me for a whole year. Then I was treated for asthma for the whole year – I don’t think it was asthma but I was treated for it. I got better through the winter and then hit it. I didn’t think I was fit before I did it [pauses, musingly] strangely.”
MS: And now afterwards?
DB: “I feel awesome. Absolutely, totally awesome – I don’t think I’ve felt this strong ever, and this is two weeks after the ride too. It’s awesome [you wouldn’t expect that?] Not with me – I’ve always struggled with recovering from things – especially from a 24 or 12 hours. My Twentyfour12 solo I really struggled to recover but this has been fine. This is down to the tips that Chris has given me. I would count Chris as a sponsor as well because he’s invested a lot of time and effort too and not had what you would term as reasonable renumeration for it. He’s there all the time, for anybody that wants help. He’s awesome.”
MS: Who inspires you?
DB: “It’s not so much the guys who have done this and that – although they do motivate me – but the guys who motivate me the most are the ones you look at and think, ‘They shouldn’t be out here,’ or ‘they shouldn’t be doing that’. The big man who’s trying to lose a few stones of weight but who’s giving it some out riding – that actually drives me. I love that, because cycling’s such an open sport for people. So I love to see folks who have to work really, really hard to do it.
“But outside normal folk like them and me there’s Matt Page, who was out on the ride with me. In the last few years he’s come out of nowhere to be a dominant force in 24-hour racing. He’s alright, he’s a good wee man and he inspires me because he just gets on and does it. Anthony White is another guy who just gets on and does it. He’s a year younger than me but he’s not slowing down.
“A lot of my riding colleagues here in Cardiff all have in some form or another something to inspire you [for example] the likes of Tim Press who says, ‘I’m no good climbing, I’m no good going fast’. He’s 50-odd and he is. You get him on a downhill bike and go downhilling with him and you can hardly catch him up – he’s a really good downhill rider. Everybody’s got something to offer – in fact, every one in my group of friends has something to offer which actually drove me and still drives me on.”
MS: What about non cyclists?
DB: “It’s not non-cycling specifically, but there’s a guy I met on one of the forums called Bull Heart. He has a myocardial carcinoma of some form around his heart, which has spread. He seems to be phenomenal. I was reading his forum entries and getting all upset because this guy was getting on and doing it. He was saying: ‘Sod you all, I’m going to do this, I’m going to do that,’ and he has.
“He’s doing well. He’s actually been really supportive because similarly he’s been watching what I’ve been doing too, which I find dumbfounding. But this guy has been amazing.
“In my work – doing orthotics and prosthetics – I see a lot of different patients and also I work with a lot of Para-Olympians and I find them inspiring too as they just get on and do it, and they do stuff that is amazing. And there are the rheumatoid patients who battle against everything; they give me a lot to go for too. As you know, it’s not all physical, it’s mental too.”
MS: Has this ‘can do’ spirit always been with you?
DB: “I think so – I’ve always done quite difficult things. From the climbing, the paragliding and the boxing, I’ve just got stuck in. I’ve never really thought about it – I’ve just got stuck in and done it.”
MS: Is that something that’s been natural?
DB: “I was always an outdoors boy. I used to work on farms and worked hard when I was a wee boy – I worked really hard and got some right blisters on my hands. Then there was the motorcross and I’ve always been sort of outdoorsy. I just like a buzz, the excitement, I don’t care what level I get it at; I just like a buzz.”
MS: You’re always quite effacing in the sense that sports don’t come naturally – you’ve had to work hard. Has that work ethic always been there?
DB: “Yes, if it wasn’t I wouldn’t be any good at anything. There was that necessity to work at it too I suppose because if I do anything I want to enjoy it and I want to enjoy it at a half decent level, so that probably drove me on as well.”
MS: You’ve said before there was no question of you not finishing the ride…
DB: “No, not at all.”
MS: How did you build up to that mentally?
DB: “I think Jo did it for me… I built myself up to it because I just imagined it as the worst 24-hour race of my life and I’ve had a few dicky ones. I suppose it started in 2009 when I did Relentless. I pulled out of Sleepless In The Saddle (SITS) as I pulled my back – and I was doing okay there, I was doing alright – so I wanted to do Relentless at the end of October but I had a medical problem at the time. I thought it was a gall bladder problem and thought the gall bladder was coming out. After the race it turned out I had a stomach ulcer and I’d done the whole race with it. When I found out it was a stomach ulcer I thought, ‘Oh god, if I can do that then I can probably do anything and stick with it as that [racing with a stomach ulcer] was quite uncomfy.
“I was planning on doing The Hobbit’s Tale by then so I used that as ammunition. And then after all the planning that Jo and Paul had put in, Joanne said, ‘If you pull out of this I’m going to kill you!’ And I could see it in everyone else’s faces too as they’d spent so much time and effort there was no way I could let them down. If you’ve got that entourage of people helping and following it there’s no way I could let them down. Absolutely none. I didn’t even consider it – even when I hit rock bottom and couldn’t walk, couldn’t talk… I was finishing it no matter what. Home is home, just click your heels together and off you go that was all I could do.”
MS: Was that bonk the worst it got?
DB: “Oh god, yes. In Llyn Brianne I was in trouble. It was 45/46 hours in because I actually slept through the 48-hour window for the Guinness Book of Records, as they had to take documentary evidence that I was asleep in a van.
“I had 10 minutes rest when I knew the bad bonk was coming, then an hour later I hit rock bottom when Scott was with me and I had this major bonk. I couldn’t walk, couldn’t stand, couldn’t talk. I basically just collapsed in a heap so I had a lie down while he went for help just in case. That was a bad point. Scott was so switched on – and actually quite quick – cos he went off like a bat out of hell. Actually, he woke me up when he came back as he skidded to a stop.
“I lay down with my buff covering my face to stop the midges, as there were tons of them about that time in the morning (about half seven). By the time Scott came back I’d had about 10 minutes shut eye on a log and I could just about stand up. I don’t know what had happened but it was like I had rebooted. I could then stand up and then just about walk, could then just about balance, could then just about pedal – cos I had to be self-powered, no two ways about it for me – and then I eventually got down to Llyn Brianne near Llandovery, where I basically got in the van and said, ‘Get me up in two hours, I’m going riding.’ I had those looks that said, ‘oh god, I’m not sure if he is going to go riding.’ But there was no doubt in my mind: I was getting up and I was going riding as I had to get home. I actually got up in an hour and a half and I was looking out the window looking at them all waiting on me, I got up, went to the toilet, got some food, and my legs felt fantastic. Then rode on and got stronger and stronger all the way home until I was stood up pumping up climbs all the way into Cardiff and getting spaced-out looks from folks who asked, ‘What are you doing?’ ‘I don’t know – my legs feel great.’ I was pumping up the climbs up to Castell Coch and folks were struggling to keep up. Maybe it was because I was on my way home but I was flying.”
MS: Did you see it coming?
DB: “I knew it was coming but I didn’t expect it to hit me quite so hard as it did.”
MS: Can you describe it?
DB: “Yeah. I stopped in the car and I just felt low, I felt tired and Huw (Thomas) was with me; that was the second time I had ridden with Huw and I rode with him at nine hours and I had a bonk then – I went too fast early on, well too fast – and he kept me going. Just before I could feel it coming on, I said, ‘look, I’m in trouble here, something’s going wrong.’ I rode with him for another hour because I wanted to get to Llyn Brianne anyway as it was a goal – but before I got there I just felt dark, my vision went and everything was dark and out of focus. I couldn’t talk straight or walk straight. I just felt out of control; I had no control of my eyes.”
MS: Did you feel unconscious?
DB: “I knew where I was. I just couldn’t do anything about it. I tried to walk with the bike but I just couldn’t. And then I started to lose consciousness. It was a very strange feeling because I had no sensation of cold or warm – nothing at all. Absolutely nothing. When I woke up again I was cold, very cold; when I got back to the van I borrowed a sleeping bag as I was so cold.”
MS: Was this at night?
DB: “No, it was after first light on the Sunday. There’s a photo of me and Scott riding down to the cars near the chapel and there’s a half side on portrait of me just looking knackered, that’s when it was starting to happen. I knew it was coming, but I wanted to go on in case something miraculously made itself right, which it didn’t until I actually stopped. I felt it coming on but I just didn’t recognise it properly.”
MS: How did you feel on the first leg up to Caenarfon?
DB: “Awesome, absolutely awesome. Even with that appalling headwind, even with the frost and the rain I got there within 10 minutes of the time I had hoped to get there. I sat down in the car out of the wind, had a wee chat, had some food with Mark Huskisson taking video and Jo saying, ‘You look great!’ ’Do I?’ ‘Yeah, you look really fresh.’ ‘Oh, great!’ ‘What are you going to do now?’ ‘I’m going to ride back.’ ‘You’re not going to wait for a bit?’ ‘No, no, I’m going to ride back.’
“So I just got up, picked up another rider, Mike Hall again, and rode back to Coed y Brenin – about 70km. I had lunch, then got changed into some nice dry weather clothing, rode out the far side of Coed y Brenin and then the sky dropped its guts. It rained its heart out the other side of Coed y Brenin. It rained basically from there until the arch near Devil’s Bridge in mid-Wales [a very long way] – solid rain. Mike accompanied me up the climb onto the tops on the Mach 3 route near Machynlleth, which is the longest climb in the world. We got onto the track between Mach and Nant y Arian and the rain just went sideways, thunder and lightning came in and the cloud cover came in even lower. Mike just dropped his head and said, ‘If this doesn’t break you, nothing will.’ I was like, ‘What do you mean? I’m alright.’ I just focused. Normally if it wasn’t me doing the ride and being so focused it would’ve been me saying, ‘This blimmin’ rain is doing my head in.’ But it just didn’t register.
MS: What was the river crossing like?
DB: “It was above the axles so not too bad.”
MS: When you were coming into the end, was it the highlight to the ride or a great finish to the ride?
DB: “No, it was a highlight. There were two highlights related to that: back along the Taff Trail and down some concrete steps and over a humpy hump back bridge, past a café and up a really steep climb I stood up and pumped up there. Rich Holmes, who’s a really fit, strong rider was stopped at the top side-on looking at me as if to say, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ And I was like, ‘I don’t know! I don’t know what’s happening.’
“Then up the really steep climb to Castell Coch I thought, ‘I feel really good here’. Rich and Mike were riding having a little race together, I stood up and pumped past them. Whether my body had settled into cycling enzyme mode or what I don’t know, but I pumped past them and they were like, ‘what the effing and jeffing are you doing?’ And I’m like, ‘I don’t know I just feel good and I’m having a cycle.’ And it was probably faster than I’ve ever ridden before up a hill. I don’t know what it was but I was awesome. It may never happen again, but it was pure magic.”
MS: What bits of the ride – just pure riding – really stick in your mind?
DB: “The last skull and crossbones sections of Coed y Brenin are great, I just love them. The Chute in Mach was good. It was actually a lot more fun than I thought it’d be; I’d been dreading it. The other highlights were The Gap descent. I was with Matt Page and it was hammering down then actually. It’s difficult because it was full of highlights. I’m just stunned it’s been done because of the help of all these people…
“Coming back through Castell Coch from Brecon we started to pick up people who’d come out to meet us – friends of our local group VORB – stopping to say hello and say, ‘hey, you’re looking really good – well done!’ This slowed the last bit down by quite a margin but that didn’t really matter as I’d done the ride by then. It was odd but we used Brecon to Cardiff – which is a route that people train for – as our warm-down, saying ‘we’ll be home soon. But hang on, that’s a 90km ride – what’s happened to our thought processes?’
“So were picking up all these friends and one boy said, ‘Do you want a beer?’ And I said, ‘No, I’ve got to get to Cardiff.’ And he said, ‘Oh right,’ and put the beers down and followed us. We kept picking people up on the way – Rich Landsdown and Dominic and people like that were waiting for us along the way. Eventually we came in front of the opera house in Cardiff, which is incredibly photogenic. I came in with my lights on and the rest of the Loco team came in beside me in an arrowhead formation and it was, ‘Oh wow!’ Everyone else that I knew in cycling was there in the Celtic Ring, then up went the cheer and then this huge group came in behind us. It was amazing, it was fantastic.”
MS: And then you fumbled with the bottle of Cava at the end…
DB: “Cava! Cava?! Cheapskate! [laughs] I had no strength in my upper body as I had fixed and become very stiff on the Taff Trail as it’s just pedalling. Because I was having trouble with it somebody said to me, ‘bring it close to your body and get some leverage’. ‘No chance, it’d blow my head off!’ But eventually it came off and I did the shaky-shaky thing and it was fantastic spraying champagne everywhere. Then I got a hug off everyone. I said hello, had a wee chat.
“Everyone was absolutely knackered so Mark Huskisson, Jo, Mugs and I went back to my house and Jo’s parents bought us some pizza. We sat and ate pizza ‘til midnight and went to bed. Then I was up at 5am to say goodbye to Mark who had to get his flight back to Glasgow. Then I was up all day and that was it. I felt a little tired, a little run down – I’ve had a coldsore – but I’ve not had any knee pain or back pain, nothing. Some foot numbness and a little bit of numbness in the old boy but that’s all settled now – from when I got tired I forgot to stand up. Apart from that I’ve been out riding and been feeling great. I’m amazed. I thought, and Chris Eatough, thought at the time that I was going to need six weeks off the bike, but I don’t. It’s weird. I lost two stone on the ride but I’ve probably put half a stone back on and I’m now at racing weight.
“When I started the ride out I was a good stone heavier than I thought by deliberation because I knew that this was going to happen. I actually took larger clothes for the outward journey and smaller compression garments for the way back. I’m glad I did, because everything turned into baggies. That worked well.”
MS: Was it actually dry on this ride?
DB: “There was some nice weather but it was still windy. There was ‘Dave’s Cloud’, as the guys christened it because wherever I was there just seemed to be this pigging great cloud raining on us all the time. So if I wasn’t in my softshell I was in my Pac-Lite trying to keep dry and comfy.”
MS: When you did the C2C the first time, was the plan to do the most direct or most interesting route?
DB: “Well, we’re mountain bikers so it had to be interesting. So I sort of set a goal… First off, I looked for the most easily accessible legal route through Wales with help from Jack Peterson Ian Barrington, Matt Page, and some guys in North Wales too, again it was a team effort. Then I looked at ways of taking in good places as well – so The Gap, the tramway climb in the Brecon Beacons, the Nant y Arian stuff, the Chute on the way north, the Climachx descent on the way back – things to make it hard so that you can only do it on a mountain bike rather than a cyclocross (CX) bike.
“Perhaps I made it a bit selfishly so that you can only do it on a mountain bike as I don’t own a cyclocross bike. You couldn’t ride on a CX bike, well you could but you’d have to walk a fair bit. And taking it through some historic places like Strata Florida, Ponterwydd, Nant y Arian, Devil’s Bridge area – that’s a huge tourist area so people could stop there for a few days and then get back on the ride – so it was about keeping it interesting.”
MS: Were you thinking of the route beyond yourself?
DB: “Yes, to make it more interesting for anybody else who does it over two days, four days, six days – whatever. Otherwise folks aren’t going to do it: if it was just a sub-24-hour route I could make it a straight line but that’s no good to anybody apart from three or four folks a year. But now five or six folks have done the route: Steve Heading’s just done the new coast to coast as I was fore-warned that there may be some access issues with part of it; so Steve’s done the new diversion and really enjoyed.
“If people of his calibre are doing the route and enjoying it then – apart from my friends who said they enjoyed it, they would be kind to me, but Steve would have no reason to be – I think it’s a good route. Luckily. I’m proud of it, but I’m also proud of the fact that the people who helped me had a hand in it too.”
MS: How did The Guinness World Record come about?
DB: “I looked on a website – there was a 48-hour mountain bike race in the States. Two or three years ago one chap did 350 miles on an essentially flat course around a lake. And I thought, ‘ooh, 48 hours.’ And for some reason I found myself looking for 24 hour greatest distance achieved and I saw that a record had been filed for that based on a 24-hour race in the US, which I don’t think was subsequently completed – the record attempt.
“I though that’s a good idea, then kind of just combined the two together as I’d already coined The Hobbit’s Tale [he elaborates: ‘There & Back Again, because I’m not the bright’].
“I thought, ‘I wonder if there’s a record for that – let’s have a look and see’. And there wasn’t, or there wasn’t as far as I could tell. So I thought, ‘Let’s ask Guinness.’ A lot of people pay attention to Guinness y’know – a lot of people grew up with Norris McWhirter and Roy Castle. I don’t think that what we do inspires folks, I think it gives people the choice to be inspired.
“People can look at it and go ‘pfft.’ Or they can look at it and be inspired – but they make the choice themselves. And given that The Guinness Book of Records is an inspirational thing for aspirational people I thought it might help to push it that bit more to show people what’s potentially possible with the human body. It just seemed to gel. We got it organised after a few stops and starts, as it’s got to be done in exactly the right way, and we got the record sorted. We need to cross some Ts and dot some Is to make sure we present the evidence in the right way as that’s equally important as it’s got to be right for them. It was the first time anyone was going to do a ride of that nature outside of a race course, and even then it had only been done twice, so that would’ve been a first; the record would’ve been first; the fact that I was riding from south to north was a first; there was so much going on that I just thought ‘I’ll do that.’ And I get a certificate if I complete it properly – waheey!” [Laughs]
MS: If you were being quite cut throat about and said I’m going to have the record, you could’ve just ridden around an athletics track. Why did you choose to do it the hard way?
DB: “Because we’re mountain bikers, and because if it wasn’t fun I couldn’t have done it. Even when I was cream crackered I was enjoying the descents. I may have been doing that at a relatively snail’s pace because I was so tired, but I was still enjoying them. If you’re trying to give people the excuse so that they can choose to be inspired and go out and do things themselves they’re much more likely to be inspired by something rocky and scary than Tarmaccy. So it was selfishly about me enjoying myself but also for more people to enjoy themselves too.”
MS: What would you like to see as The Hobbit’s Tale legacy?
DB: “Legacy?! Everybody thought I was nuts and nobody said – apart from Matt Page who said, ‘I think you’re nuts,’ but Matt and I can talk like that. Everybody else thought I was insane but they didn’t tell me then; they all wanted to be there to help me but didn’t think it could be done. I don’t think Chris Eatough thought it could be done but he also thought that if anybody could do it, it could be me. Maybe because I can switch off, I’m dumb or I’m a bit thick, I don’t know. I’m no fast rider but I can just ride, and ride, and ride.
“I think those were indications of people’s preconceived ideas of what’s possible. I hope I’ve helped in showing that we’re just starting to show what’s possible with the human body, the human mind, with all this fantastic technology we’ve got as bikes. I think bikes are amazing, they’re so much fun. If I’ve showed that then I think in 10 years time more folks will be doing this because they see it’s possible.
“It’s like what John Stamsted did before – you know, we’re all racing 24-hour races now – but I don’t think 48-hour races would be appropriate because it’s a whole weekend, so I don’t think we’re going to go that way. But it’s the fact that people now realise that we can go that bit further. And even further and a lot faster than I’ve done.”
MS: Your own personal story… I’ve read before in previous interviews that you’ve got a chip on your shoulder about cancer… and I know that your comments following on from national media interviews that they’re pushing the whole cancer story, how do you view what happened to you compared to who you are now?
DB: “I’ll get slated depending on how I put this – it was almost, from certain viewpoints, a good thing for me. Certainly I was ill: I was fairly gravely ill at some points and even more gravely ill on the chemotherapy things, but I still went out climbing, I still went out running 10km every day, I still boxed although I couldn’t compete in boxing as I wasn’t allowed a license, I was still being active. I was still out with Mountain Rescue, although they stopped me going out on the hill they still let me go climbing, which was a holiday, really. But it was good for me because I changed my job, I went to uni afterwards, I met Jo first and foremost. Then I changed my job because she wanted to upgrade me, so I went to uni and got a degree and got the job I have now. I work with people who need help as I needed help myself in the past. It’s almost a bit melodramatic really, but I get to help people in a similar vein to the way I was helped in the past.
“And I do have a chip on my shoulder about it, although it’s a lot less than it used to be – because I had to stop a lot of things I loved doing at the time because I just wasn’t fit enough to do them. All the veins up my chest went black like one of those zombies with black and blue veins; and although I was built like a brick outhouse because I was climbing and boxing, it still wasn’t very nice.
“I would almost say that that was where I saw the first elements of what you might term mental fortitude because I was going down for the surgery and not knowing what was coming – because they couldn’t tell me what was going to happen. My mum was in pieces as it’s harder for people around you rather than for yourself when you’re ill. And I was like, ‘come on, let’s get this over with. I want to get home, I want to get fit.’ I was like that all the way through and I’ve been like that ever since. So that was almost a tipping point, the flicking of a switch. But it did stop me doing an awful lot of things completely.”
MS: What do you mean by ‘having a chip on your shoulder’?
DB: “Well, I was a bit of a shit at times. For a while, and I can still be guilty of it now, I can be a bit self centred, and [tails off] I was a shit one day in Tremadog: I was climbing and a lady came up to me and said – Jo thinks it’s funny now but I’m embarrassed by it – ‘Hey can you give money for charity – it’s for cancer?’ And I was like, ‘No thanks, I’ve got no money right now and anyway I should be having that [money] – I’ve got cancer.’ Which I thought was funny to say at the time but it was shit thing to say and the lass didn’t know what to do.
“I’ve always regretted saying that: but that’s always been an indication of the chip on my shoulder. And if ever I was ill or I had something wrong then [adopts melodramartic voice] ‘it must’ve been the cancer back.’ It ruined my life from that point of view for five, six or 10 years afterwards. If ever I was ill, it was that. Also the doctors tended to concentrate on that if I was ill – and I did spend a lot of time getting ill after the chemotherapy so that’s sort of an explanation on the chip on my shoulder, although I find it hard to explain. It’s definitely still there but it’s getting a lot milder and less of an issue with me now.”
MS: Is that because of time passing or because your energies are directed into other positive things?
DB: “Probably a bit of both. But with a lot of other folk concentrating on it… and maybe I’ve self perpetuated that myself; in fact, I know I have. It does catch a headline a little bit more: ‘Cancer survivor did this!’ And I think, ‘oh no, I shouldn’t be writing that’ but then I’ve done it anyway which is self perpetuated that potential for maintaining that chip on my shoulder.”
MS: How do you describe yourself?
DB: “Headstrong. I think I’m just headstrong: if I want to do something – it causes arguments at home, mind – but if I want to do something and somebody says, ‘You’ll never do that.’ I’m like, ‘Well, oh really? I’ll give it a go. Let’s see if it works. If it does, it does, if it doesn’t, it doesn’t.’ I’m very lucky in that I’ve never failed on anything because I’ve got stuck in and maintained that headstrong attitude. Not bullish, I think. I just keep at it. It’s that resilience thing I was talking about earlier.”
MS: Your body’s been through a lot – the whole cancer thing aside.
DB: “Yeah. I did six bones in two months; I had two dislocations; I’ve had the bowel operations, I’ve had shoulder operations because of arthritis, I’ve had my knees operated on twice each I think. I’ve had a bum hole op because of painkillers for a shoulder op – good god. Yeah, I’ve been through a lot really.”
MS: How are your knees now?
DB: “If I was still running they’d be ruined, but thanks to the cycling they’ve rounded off – I’ve got stage four or five arthiritis in my knees and the cycling wears those round and on the patellae because cycling’s non-weight bearing. So I’m in a lot better state than I would be if I was still running, boxing, or hill running. Gone are the days when I’ll go and run 50 miles off road. But cycling’s good. Cycling’s good for a lot of people – you just have the odd mishap where you break things or fall off and graze things. But apart from that, getting out, the air, the scenery, the health implications, it’s fantastic.”
MS: Could you ever see yourself without bicycles these days?
DB: “No. No. Actually, I sort of thought prior to doing the Hobbit’s Tale, ‘I’m going to be sick of the sight of bikes after this. What am I going to do if I don’t like bikes after this?’ But the next day [after finishing the Hobbit’s Tale] I went for a bike ride and enjoyed it. I thought, ‘ooh, this is weird: I want to ride my bike.’”
MS: So what’s Jo said you and your bullishness?
DB: “I’ve put Jo through hell. Definitely. But then Jo’s allowed me to put her through hell because if she didn’t want it to happen, if she wasn’t so supportive of what was essentially a self-centered dream, then it wouldn’t have happened properly. She’s always been there like that. But now it’s time for her to do her stuff because she’s a good racer herself – a very good racer – so I’ve got to support her now and let her do her things.”
MS: How did you two meet?
DB: “Climbing. Just off the coast to coast route at Merthyr I was out climbing with my RAF PTI (Physical Training Instructor) mates – I wasn’t a bad climber so I used to take them out and show them techniques and how to do hard routes – and I met Jo that night. And then we became an item. I met up with her a few months after I had my appendix out and two/three weeks later I was diagnosed with cancer. She didn’t do a runner, so I thought, ‘ooh, this ones a good ’un, she’s a keeper. Definitely.’”
MS: Were you living in Wales when you met Jo?
DB: “Yes, I was living down in South Wales as I was working for the RAF in St Athen while I was on Mountain Rescue there. After we got together properly she finished her physio degree and I was upgraded. She said, ‘You need to become an orthotist and a prosthetist because they do this, that and that,’ and I looked at her and she said, ‘It’s just the same as aircraft engineering – just with humans.’ So I did it. I got top student. I got a first class degree. Only because I’d been doing that sort of stuff…”
MS: So she was vindicated?
DB: “Yes, yes, wholly. But I really enjoyed the uni and I was glad I was given the opportunity to do it as otherwise I wouldn’t have done it and I’d still be fixing aeroplanes and up to my eyeballs in gunk. I did it for eight years. I arrived in South Wales on 6 September 1987 to start work.”
MS: So what’s next?
DB: “I really daren’t say because I’m not allowed to have a project because it’s Jo’s time. However [with a glint in his eye] it’ll be something big that, hopefully, people will say, ‘Oooh, that’s going to be hard – is that actually going to be possible?’ And if I get that for the right route and it is actually possible I’ll do it. I’ve got some ideas but I daren’t say anything unless she kills me. She will, yes she will. Because anything big will take more logistical planning and I daren’t put my friends through that for a long time either – until they offer and then we’ll take a look at it.”
MS: This ride has seemingly turned you into a local celebrity…
DB: “Yes, I’ve done a few presentations [at local a school] for one of my friends from the Miggly Moos, Gaz Williams, who’s a hell of a rider himself. He asked if I’d come and talk to the kids about resilience. He actually asked me before I did the ride because I think he thought I was going to do it. In fact, I’m positive he thought I was going to do it.
“This week I’ve done two presentations at his school for the grown up kids and the younger kids at his secondary school and they were enthralled: when you start mentioning the key stats they stopped talking amongst themselves, looked up at me, looked up at the screen and were like, ‘Wow!’ And they watched and they listened. I was very pleasantly surprised and it was a nice feeling.”
MS: Is this something you want to do more of?
DB: “Well, I do a lot of presenting for my job anyway but yeah, I’d love to. If folk can find any source in any of the stuff I’ve done – because I’ve learnt a lot of what’s possible about myself through bloody mindedness and sheer hard work – and there’s resilience and sticking at it – I probably would, yeah. But I’d need to keep the balance that I’m a normal person and people need to realise I’m just a normal person and I’m doing the stuff that I do because I think it’s possible.”
MS: Is this something you’ve always had?
DB: “Yes, in paragliding I did all my exams really quickly and I went to do all my exams and this, that, and the other. When I was climbing I latched onto some top climbers – I used to climb with John Dunne who was a very controversial climber – he did the first E10 which is a massively difficult climb – but I used to climb E6, E7s with him and I could never do that before I met him. Then I ended up soloing E6s and E7s because I got in with the right people with the right mindset.
“Running was the same and I ended up to be running with guys on the RAF Mountain Rescue who are deemed to be quite special troops, quite tough troops. I’ve always been lucky to get in with the right guys because if you get in with the right people they bring you on to their level quite quickly, if they don’t kill you. I’ve always liked to do the best that’s possible with the time that I’ve got.”
MS: We’ve talked about the change a significant event in your life can have on your philosophy… How would you help or evangelise that shift in perspective that you’ve had in other people without them having to go through it?
DB: “Sometimes people almost let life get in the way if they want to do something. But for me, it’s something that I’ve been criticised for in the past, I can be selfish. But sometimes you need that selfishness to make the decision so you can go and do it. But if you can’t be selfish about it and you still need to take people into account, then give yourself little feed-in goals so you can get to that point to make a decision. ‘This week I’m going to do this, next week I’m going to do that, the week after I’m going to make a decision.’ Give yourself short-term milestones. Then, get to that point, make a decision and go and do it. But even then you can get to that point but go beyond prevaricating and you just have to say, ‘Right, I’m going: I’m off.’ By making it easier to get to that point, I think more people can do more than they think they can. Almost like me building up my mindset. And that was multi-step without a doubt: getting my mindset right and then saying, ‘Right, I’m ready now.’”
MS: What would you have written on your tombstone?
DB: “I’d like to say Spike Milligan’s, ‘I told you I was ill!’ [laughs] because that’s just stuck in my mind. [Pauses, thinks] ‘He did it, he did.’ Yeah, something like that. But I’d probably still want Spike Milligan down there somewhere because he’s blimmin’ funny.”
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