Interview: Elaine Hirst, Cycling Superhero

By on November 6th, 2017

You never know the connections that you will make as you go through life. One of those unknown connections, from working in Greece eight years ago, popped up on my Facebook a few months ago informing people that her amazing mum was taking on an awesome cycling journey. This amazing lady was taking on the amazing challenge of cycling from York in the UK to Cadiz in the South of Spain whilst raising money for a charity called war child. I caught up with Elaine this week to find out what drove her to take on such a massive challenge.

The first question that you must always get asked is, Why are you doing such a crazy challenge? It really didn’t seem crazy to me! I was finishing work after about 40 years and I wanted to mark it in a significant way – and in a way that demonstrated that stopping work is not about stopping! I love Spain. I love cycling. I love doing things solo – so there you go! You were raising money for a charity called War Child. What is it that you love about this charity and why did you feel so compelled to cycle across Europe for them? We know that children are the helpless victims of war: they always have been... and we know some of the stories..... but I think the current images from for example Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and of displaced children on the move and in refugee camps tell stories that are even more raw and more distressing. The need to support the children who have suffered such trauma seems more urgent now. I had been in touch with the Director of Development to see if the skills and experience I had could make any useful contribution to their ongoing work. We had a discussion about their principles of locally sustainable solutions delivered by local people – and the principle of paid staff – not volunteers. Principles I absolutely agree with. So my respect for the organisation was the second motive for raising money for them [gallery ids="803,801,799"]

1,600km is a huge distance to cycle, what was your preparation and training like beforehand? Is there even a training plan for cycling almost 100km a day! 

Preparation??? Training??? I only stopped working 3 weeks before I set off. For a couple of weeks I tried to ride every day – even if only 10kms to the shop. I did two longish rides to see friends. I did one ride on the Monday of the week I set off with panniers with approx. weight in – and a climb or two. The rest was blind faith! If you say you are going to do it – and people have donated you have to do it.

I had no worries about the challenge ahead, the only concern was that it might be hotter than I had anticipated. It was hot!

Can you pick out a particular highlight, or the most memorable day of the challenge?

I couldn’t pick out just one. I loved it all – Yes there were a few really hard days when things didn’t go as planned – when it was too hot, when I had an upset stomach, when I missed a turning, when the roads were very rough and the ride was longer than I anticipated but you have to expect that. But rocking up somewhere new every day, being welcomed by friendly Spaniards who thought I was mad, staying in small villages and towns, visiting interesting cities – eating and drinking well on local food, speaking Spanish, seeing the landscapes change was just brilliant. It was a whole experience – it wasn’t just about riding the bike.

What was your feeling when you first saw Cadiz on the horizon?

“I’ve done it!” It WAS on the horizon too – for a long time – because you come all the way round a bay and then over a very long spit of land to arrive. It was just amazing seeing it there.

Do you have any words of encouragement and advice for anyone who is thinking of taking on their own challenge. Be it a huge journey like yours or even just a 5km run for charity?

Live the whole experience – don’t see it as a physical challenge in isolation. Let the whole purpose and the whole environment – and so the whole context fill your head – and your senses. Smell touch and hear it all – as well as feel the physical effort – and pride in the effort.

You must have you eyes on another challenge now that you have recovered from this ride. Maybe Spain to Greece?  

I will be doing other physical challenging stuff – I am encouraged to test myself further  e.g. I am hiking the Andes in spring but not a challenge that is for charity or that attracts attention.

You are an inspiration to show people that you can achieve anything if you put you mind to it. I wish you all the best hiking the Andes and i'm excited to see what challenges you set yourself over the next few years! [gallery ids="802,800"]