On June 22, 39-year-old Ollie Blackmore will set off on a truly incredible cycling adventure.
Totally alone and self-sufficient, he will attempt to ride 2,319 kilometres and climb more than 150,000 feet through the remotest parts of Vancouver Island, Canada.
Apart from the distance, the terrain, and the weather he’ll have to look out for bears and cougars, not to mention mammoth logging trucks.
It’s the kind of challenge that befits an extreme athlete, but just four years ago, Blackmore was anything but.
“I used to be into cycling when I was in my teens, I used to do time trials,” he explains. “I wasn’t particularly special at it, but I really used to enjoy it. Then I discovered booze, cigarettes and girls, so the cycling went out the window, as did my fitness. I became a heavy smoker — I was smoking 40 a day, which was just ridiculous — I had pneumonia as a result and a permanently scarred left lung. I only quit four years ago.
“I got back into fitness, playing football and going to the gym, then I realised I was starting to miss cycling. I bought a mountain bike and used it occasionally, then a friend of mine invited me to go over to do the Tour of the Emirates last February. I really trained hard for that. We did four days in the desert covering 600 miles in 50° heat, and I did a fifth day on my own.
“But I’m not a particularly sporty person, I’ve just put my mind to getting fit again and try to reverse the damage that I’ve done to myself by smoking.”
It’s one thing to enjoy pottering about on a bike, quite another to take on the challenge Blackmore’s got planned.
“After doing the Tour of the Emirates I had no goal. As much as I like going out for a ride with friends or a club run, there wasn’t anything to aim for. So last May I thought: what could I do that would be more challenging?” Blackmore says.
“I’ve got family in Canada and I’ve been to Vancouver Island a number of times. The last time I was there I remember seeing this old guy with panniers on his bike, grinding it up a hill as best he could.
It was absolutely lashing down with rain, people were stopping to see if he wanted a lift because the weather was so bad, there was no civilisation for another 50 miles and he was going that slowly. He refused and carried on.
“But seeing an old guy doing that made me think, I wouldn’t mind having a go at Vancouver Island. I can do it in roughly two weeks. It’s got the element of adventure, you’ve got the wildlife and the associated dangers, and you’ve got a hell of a lot of climbing involved.
I also want to do something where I am self-sufficient, where I’ve got no support. What’s more, nobody has done what I’m doing, it will be a world record attempt over that distance, duration, ascent.”
What lurks within
Certainly there is plenty adventure on offer. “I have had a number of nightmares and sleepless nights thinking about being out in the wild,” Blackmore admits. “It’s very unlikely I’ll be attacked by anything, most animals will run a mile from humans. But I’ll be completely open to any wildlife that comes my way.
“Cougars will stalk you from above and behind, while the only time I’m likely to encounter bears close up is if I don’t see them and they don’t see me and I startle them while they’re protecting their young or they’re feeding.
I have done extensive research into what to do, but yes, I am little bit nervous about the dangers that they pose. So I’ll heed any warnings I hear from park rangers or fellow hikers or bikers I see on the island.
“There isn’t just the wildlife danger. A good 30 or 40 per cent of my ride is on trails or logging roads. The logging trucks are absolutely massive and don’t move out the way.
But I have got the British Columbia government on my side and they’ve put me in touch with all the logging and timber sales companies so they can be a little bit more aware of my presence.
“But the latter part of the ride in the north and west of the island is all through provincial parks, forests, inlets and mountain ranges. So that’s going to be the most challenging part where I’ll have to be self-sufficient.
There are communities scattered around, but I’m anticipating not seeing anyone for three or four days during that leg of the journey.”
Blackmore has spent a whole year planning and preparing for the trip, and his cycling has had to come up a step too.
“I carried on from where I left off after Tour of the Emirates with a few sportives to keep the pedals turning, but once I had decided on this challenge I could focus on specifics,” he says.
“I train very regularly.
I do some club runs, I do short intense rides at threshold and above, I do long, steady distance rides 100 miles plus to build up endurance levels at tempo level. I have to do some turbo sessions if the weather is not too good. I do a lot of weight training in the gym, use the Wattbike and I do a little bit of jogging on the treadmill to balance out the muscles that I’m using.
“Also, I do a lot of core strength training, too, so that I can be on the bike for long periods and benefit from reducing backache. I’ll be in the saddle roughly 10 to 13 hours a day, which will be quite testing. I’ve done a couple of rides of similar length, but they were on a carbon bike and not loaded up with panniers.
“So there are a few unknowns, but I’m confident I’m well enough prepared and I can’t wait to get started.”
How it worked for me
Quitting smoking is never easy, but Ollie Blackmore says the return to fitness was surprisingly quick, and that helped prevent a regression to former ways.
“There was quite a good benchmark from having a really tight chest and coughing every single day to, just a month later, being noticeably healthier,” he says.
“That was a great way to motivate myself to carry on not smoking because it would have been all too easy — as it had been in the past — to have ‘just’ one cigarette when I went out. Four years on, having done general health and lifestyle tests, I score highly in terms of where I am with my overall fitness for my age.”
The managing director of digital agency Selesti is doing his Cycle Challenge Canada to raise money for two cancer charities: the Big C in the UK, and the British Columbia Cancer Foundation in Canada.
To help with his preparation he’s been advised by nutritionist and dietician Dr Sarah Schenker and sports scientist Dr Auriel Forrester. And Britain’s sportive community has played its part too — Blackmore has ridden both the Fred Whitton Challenge and the Tour of Wessex in the build-up.
Details: www.cyclechallenge canada.com