I joined the Army with the sole intention of deploying on operations and leading soldiers into combat. My opportunity to deploy on operations came in 2014 when I was deployed to Helmand Province in Afghanistan. In 2014, the large-scale combat operations the British Army had been conducting were coming to an end and the government was focused on withdrawing all of our forces as quickly as possible. This meant that rather than deploying as an infantry platoon commander, I deployed in a staff role which was mainly office based. I spent 4 months in the UK’s largest base, Camp Bastion and assisted with the withdrawal back to the UK.
This isn’t how I imagined the highlight of my career to be. I joined to be tested in the most challenging environment possible. To lead soldiers in combat. Instead, I was pushing a pen in a huge concrete building.
Don’t get me wrong. The work I did, needed to be done. It’s just not how I imagined my first deployment going.
When I have spoken to my colleagues and friends that have been in combat they tell me that I should be careful with what I wish for. That it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be. I completely get this, however, I still had an urge to test myself. To escape from the desk and go on an adventure.
Whilst in Afghanistan I read the book ‘moods of future joys‘ by the adventurer, Alistair Humphreys. It is an autobiographical account of Alistair’s four-year cycle ride around the world. I was instantly hooked and spent the majority of my time in Camp Bastion, dreaming about escaping on a bicycle and travelling around the world by bike.
However, there were a few problems.
- I didn’t own a bike.
- I had a full-time job as an Officer in the British Army with limited free time.
- I hadn’t really cycled since I was at school.
- I had a Mrs at home that would probably not be happy that after four months away, I decided to spend my time off on a bicycle trip.
Once you return from military operations, you are given some time off to ‘rest and recuperate’. This is important if you have just been involved in highly kinetic combat operations. Not as much so if you have just been sat comfortably behind a desk.
I planned to spend this time on my own bicycle tour. Unfortunately, I didn’t have four years but only two weeks. Still, this would be sufficient to buy a bike and go on my first bicycle adventure.
Firstly, I had to buy a bike. After searching online for a cheap second-hand one, I bought what I thought would be a decent road bike. I knew very little about what was required for a long distance cycling trip. My cycling knowledge was based completely on what I had seen in the Tour de France and I thought a light bike, like the ones you see Bradley Wiggins on, would be ideal.
Next came the location. It was the 100th anniversary since the start of the Great War. I wanted to visit the war memorials in Belgium so I decided to set my route from London, through Belgium, Luxemburg and onwards to Paris.
Rather than just doing it for the sake of adventure, I decided to use my adventure to raise money for a charity. This would also help my Mrs to agree that it was a good idea. I chose to raise money for the military charity, SSAFA. I had seen the support and good work they have done for serving and ex-serving forces personnel so it felt like a great fit.
I am certainly not what you would consider to be a typical cyclist. I am much happier in the front row of a rugby scrum than I am in a super uncomfortable saddle and light carbon fibre frame. Rather than just setting off straight for France, I thought it would be best to train for this adventure. I spent most of my evenings in Afghanistan on the static exercise bike. Burning calories and getting used to time in the saddle. This is the best I could do until I could return home and buy my own bike.
My warm up event was a 100-mile cycle through the Yorkshire hills. From East Yorkshire to West Yorkshire. This was a gruelling day. I loved the views, the speed and the cheap, simple freedom that cycling had to offer but my bottom was sore and my back and hands were not used to spending so long in the same uncomfortable position. I had a long way to go.
At the last minute, my good friend Ollie Bambrick decided to join me for the adventure. I was more than willing to head off alone but to have a companion to share this experience with was very much appreciated.
Rather than writing about this adventure here is the film I made shortly after returning. It’s a long one at 18 minutes. Enjoy!