EXTREME CHALLENGES ARE VEHICLES FOR EXPERIENCING THE GREAT OUTDOORS
In May travel writer, broadcast journalist and Dundas man, Simon Parker was managing to jet all over the world from the comfort of his vegetable patch. Since then Parker has been making the most of what has been possible, he has just completed his most recent project - Britain By Bike.
Dundas London: Hey Simon, how’s it going? We’d love to hear what you’ve been up to since May, how have you kept your thirst for adventure quenched?
Simon Parker: Earlier this year, once lockdown lifted, I completed a gruelling circumnavigation of Madeira for The Telegraph. It was the toughest cycling I've done anywhere in the world! You can watch the film and read the article here.
Now I am coming to the end of my current project, Britain By Bike. Since the second lockdown has been announced I have been in a race against lockdown to complete the challenge!
DL: Sounds exciting, tell us more about Britain by Bike.
SP: Britain by Bike has been a chance to do something big and adventurous closer to home. Usually I'm on the other side of the world in far-flung communities, but that is obviously on pause at the moment. I've almost completed a 2,000 miles or so cycle from the northern point of Shetland, all the way to the southern point of Jersey. The true Britain end-to-end - wild camping and exploring is what still makes Britain so exciting, even in our strange modern times.
Although this adventure has been more of a journalist challenge opposed to a physical one it's been pretty exhausted. Starting in the Shetland Isles means that we had to face the Scottish Highlands pretty early on which was tough. 4000 ft in elevation each day, 10-12hrs on the bike in gruesome conditions and with very little light. I’m on the road at sunrise and use every hour.
DL: The Scottish Highlands are no mean feat. Can you tell us more about the journalist side of the trip?
SP: The purpose of the trip was to connect with interesting folk in the nooks and crannies of Great Britain and learn how Covid-19 has changed the lives of the most rural citizens of our country. I’ve met with fisherman, thatchers, distillery workers, those who work for the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) and the list goes on. I believe every human on the planet has an interesting story to tell and it’s my job as a journalist to uncover those stories.
Throughout the trip I have encountered resilience and innovation towards Covid-19, but also a sense of the feeling of despair. Cycling through the remote corners of Scotland I had, wrongly, assumed that national lockdown had barely registered in the hinterlands, but despite their splendid isolation, the past six months sounded oddly familiar. On the Isle of Arran, I was shocked to hear that at the height of lockdown, one dairy farmer was spreading 5,000 litres of surplus milk on his fields every week, because it was impossible to get his product over to the mainland.
However, I was struck by the enduring sense of community spirit, despite the vast distances between homes. A local cheese maker I talked to said he sold 930 hampers of cheese over lockdown (compared to 43 in 2019) and it was mainly to people buying hampers for relatives, more than 50% were to people buying gifts. This sense of community stretches to people leaving their front doors and windows slightly ajar, regardless of the inclement weather. This will surely be the winter of tea cosies and patio heaters.
DL: What has really stuck with you from your trip?
SP: I have been struck by the resilience most Britons seem to be showing, despite the confusion and setbacks they face on a daily basis. Many have felt robbed of a fundamental human right, yet they throw mud at the wall and hope some of it sticks.
DL: What would you say to young adventurers when it comes to resilience and motivation?
SP: I wouldn't call myself an adventurer but my advice to someone who is looking to get out there and discover is to enjoy the adventure. It’s good to remember no one is forcing you to do it, you can stop if you want to. Enjoy seeing the world. Extreme challenges are vehicles for experiencing great outdoors and recapturing the gregarious days of old.