On the 29 July, St Andrews graduates Chris Lally and Danny Beech set out on an extraordinary 14000 mile quest to cycle the length of the Americas in world record time. An awe-inspiring challenge by any means; the pair from the North of England will attempt to traverse both American continents – North to South along the ‘Pan-American Highway’ – in just one hundred days, pedalling hard to raise money and awareness for Headway: The Brain Injury association.
Funding for the attempt at slashing 25 days off the current world record was kindly donated by the R&A and augmented by The Alex Richardson Award; a fund set up in memory of St Andrews student Alex Richardson – a keen traveller and explorer.
43 days into their seemingly monumental journey, the Highway has led Chris and Danny from one extreme climate to the next, through hundreds of towns with many meetings and greetings from kind locals as they pass. Beginning with a five day battle over gravel tracks through the Arctic reaches of Alaska, the pair have since conquered the Canadian Rockies and powered across rolling countryside and the Western prairies of the USA. At time of writing they are barely a day from piercing into Mexico and into the shortest (2600 mile) Central American stage of the tour.
As normally with a challenge of this size however, the road has been far from smooth. Illness, bears and poor surfaces for the suspension-less touring bikes have been just a few of the hurdles faced. The ‘Cycle the Americas’ blog contains recounts of these experiences with day 1 setting the bar: “We cycled until 3am and then camped; it was a bit like camping on the moon as the tundra was pretty remote! We did see a bear that night, and gave up any thought of settling in for the night, cycling away at top speed.”
A bout of illness for Chris forced the duo to rest before reaching Texas with the “punchy” rider from Macclesfield riding 100 miles one day with a bad stomach bug.
“Chris got giardia which was pretty horrendous and made progress virtually impossible,” writes Danny on the ‘Cycle the Americas’ Facebook page. “Despite his determination to continue we were forced to stop and recover. Since then we have charged down the USA into vicious headwinds and climbing up to 6500ft elevation. We now find ourselves closing in on the Mexican border, cycling 11 hours a day in midday temperatures up to 40 Celsius. We’re exhausted, smelly, hungry and terrified for the Spanish speaking madness that lies ahead.”
Both 22 y/o riders were characteristically keen to focus on the highlights of what has already been a special trip when I caught up with Leeds lad, Danny during their limited down time.
“My highlight was a day in which I saw 3 bears, got 4 punctures, went to some hot springs and then cycled through 2 herds of bison (they’re just massive) – ridiculous day. Chris’ highlight was an 18km decent past the highest mountain in Canada to the best bakery you can possibly imagine.”
The duo also post mention of a setback last week, however.
“Progress was getting better but now Chris’ wheel has broken so we may have a wee challenge sorting this out.”
Friend and former touring partner Nicholas Platt is certain there is no hurdle big enough to trouble the duo, which he accompanied on a European tour from Calais to Rome 2 years ago.
“Although they face an incredible challenge over the coming weeks and months there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that they will achieve their goal.”
“Not once did either of them complain about the miles or the pain. They were – and are – both incredibly strong minded and manage to feed off each other’s efforts. Danny won’t let Chris beat him and Chris will not be outdone by Danny. They are both admirably stubborn. However they manage to keep the journey incredibly entertaining and fun, for which the rest of us were very grateful!”
Nicholas notes that Danny would meticulously plan each day in advance, preparing for every eventuality and that “it was never a question of if we would make our destination each day – rather when.”
“Chris on the other hand was always the man up front. To this day I think that only the thought of cold beer could divert his attention from cycling. He always set the pace for the group that was really a thankless task.”
“It would be fair to say that they gave me some ‘gentle motivation’ in order for me to make the trip from A to B. Without their help I may have opted for a vehicle with an engine rather than something that was pedal powered. For that I am thankful to them.”
“They have trained so hard and sacrificed so much in order to be doing what they are now. Their fitness levels are as high as they have ever been… the only question now is: by how much will they break the record?”
Friend and training partner Brendan Williamson also comments on the “mental toughness” possessed by Chris and Danny.
“We’d often do an ‘easy 40-miler’ after classes. Chris would just cycle to Aberdeen if he felt like it.”
“On one ride we reached Perth and I died but they somehow managed to drag me to Pitlochry [30 miles North]”
For added motivation the pair is aiming to raise £1 for every mile they cover – £14000 in total – for brain injury charity Headway. Keep track of the adventure and donate via their ‘Cycle the Americas’ Facebook page to help ease the road southwards!
Regardless of whether Chris and Danny reach the tip of Argentina in the fastest time, they have already made friends and family immensely proud by setting out on such an ambitious task and Danny hopes they can continue to inspire others to push themselves to the limit.
“I’d like to encourage people to keep pedalling even when the wind always seems to always be blowing in the wrong direction.”
“Thank you to everyone who is tracking and supporting us and to everyone who has donated. The money raised is a huge boost to us out on the highway!”
“We must ride on.”