Taking the long way: St Andrews graduates tackle the Pan American Highway

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This summer, Chris Lally and Danny Beech plan to cycle the Americas. Photo: Chris Lally and Danny Beech
This summer, Chris Lally and Danny Beech plan to cycle the Americas. Photo: Chris Lally and Danny Beech
This summer, Chris Lally and Danny Beech plan to cycle the Americas.
Photo: Chris Lally and Danny Beech

Next month recent St Andrews graduates Chris Lally and Danny Beech will attempt to set a new world record for the fastest time to cycle the length of the Pan American Highway. Their 22, 530 kilometre (14,000 mile) journey will take them from Prudhoe Bay on Alaska’s North Slope to Ushuaia, Argentina, a resort town located in the southernmost tip of South America. They plan to make this trip in 100 days.

Chris and Danny met at the beginning of their first year in Andrew Melville Hall and became fast friends. “Chris had been into cycling for a while and got me into it at university,” Danny says. By the end of the year, they had already hatched a plan for a serious tour. Along with three other friends, they cycled from Calais to Rome – a 1,700 kilometre trip – in just three weeks.

At the end of last year, “the Pan-American Highway dream was born,” Danny says. It was perfect timing, too, as both were final year students. “Both Chris and I were keen to do something exciting before going off into a job for Chris and clinical years for me as a medic,” he adds.

The Pan American Highway cuts through fourteen countries, including Mexico. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.
The Pan American Highway cuts through fourteen countries, including Mexico.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The Pan American Highway presented the ideal challenge for a number of reasons. “First, it posed a truly epic physical challenge through incredible places. Second, the record looked breakable. And third, it offered a project that seemed feasible within the £10,000 budget of the R&A scholarship,” Danny says.

Danny had heard about the R&A International Scholarship from a previous recipient and he sensed an opportunity for another cycling adventure. He and Chris applied for the R&A International Scholarship, which was established in honour of the University’s 600th anniversary and designed to fund up to a year of international travel. However, while the full scholarship is listed at £10,000, they were only granted £6,000.

“We knew we needed at least another £4,000 if we wanted to make a genuine attempt at the full Pan-Am record,” Danny says. Luckily, the University’s Development Office suggested he and Chris look into the Richardson Award, which was established by the Richardson family in honour of their son Alex, a Spanish student at St Andrews who tragically died of a brain injury in 2009. It is typically awarded to a student who excels in modern languages. But after speaking with Chris and Danny, the Richardsons decided that they wanted to support their trip and the pair was chosen to receive the Richardson Award.

[pullquote]We both just can’t wait to get to the start line and start pedaling![/pullquote]

With all of their funding accounted for, Chris and Danny still needed to decide on a charity to support. “During [our] conversations with the Richardson family, we decided that we should cycle in aid of Headway, the brain injury association,” Danny says. “This seemed appropriate both in memory of Alex and because of Headway’s cycle helmet campaign for brain injury prevention and awareness.” They aim to raise £14,000 – or £1 per mile – for Headway, and they say that this goal will be a great motivator for them to keep cycling until they complete their challenge.

While Chris and Danny are both experienced cyclers, they are still busy training ahead of their attempt to break a world record. “We plan on pushing body and bike to the limit before we go, which we feel will be the best preparation possible for any obstacles we may encounter on the way,” Danny says. In order to do this, both have been cycling nearly 500 kilometers a week as well as practicing lots of core fitness and running. Plus, Danny adds: “After graduation we plan to do a seven-day tour of Scotland averaging 150 miles [240 kilometers] a day to get used to doing the long days back to back.”

With the start date fast approaching, they have a lot to be excited about. Danny is looking forward to the wilderness of Alaska and Canada; “just days and days of no people hopefully, just nature.”. But they are also quite nervous about the challenges posed by the terrain of Central and South America. Both can agree, though, that their excitement outweighs their anxiety. “That feeling of being on a journey almost the whole length of the world is going to be awesome,” Danny says. “We both just can’t wait to get to the start line and start pedaling!”

To learn more about Chris and Danny’s trip, check out their website: www.cycletheamericas.co.uk.

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