In the dark days of the Covid-inflicted lockdowns, Simon Parker had come to a head. A career in travel writing and journalism had faded and soon after, like many others at the time, he heard the news that a close friend had passed away.
It has been well documented that due to the tsunami of grief that the pandemic has unleashed, cases of anxiety and depression have skyrocketed. Simon’s life was no different and he soon found himself feeling the effects of panic and anxiety attacks.
That was until his bike started calling with the promise of hundreds of stories just waiting to be told across the country.
“I think due to the circumstances we were in, with social distancing, regional lockdowns and the fact that we weren’t really allowed to talk to people inside, being on my bike was just the perfect mode of transport for an adventure in Britain in the pandemic, ”said Parker weekly cycling.
“I was also dealing with my own mental health crisis, and I think any cyclist will be able to relate that there is something very therapeutic and calming about the forward motion of being on a bike. ”
“It did wonders for my mental health when, like millions of other people during the pandemic, I went through depression, stress and anxiety,” he adds.
In what ultimately totaled a journey of 3,427 miles, Parker traveled the length of the country to the farthest corners of Shetland and Muckle Flugga Lighthouse, to the depths of Lands End and the Isles of Scilly.
He would eventually document his experiences of the epic ride in “Riding Out” (opens in a new tab)his first book which came out earlier this year.
Parker explains that documenting his travels in this way was only possible because he was on two wheels.
“I think none of us should ever overlook the power of the great outdoors to benefit our physical and psychological well-being,” he says. “There’s something about having the sun on your back, the wind in your hair and the rain on your face that makes human beings feel better.”
“I think in that sense we are still very prehistoric in terms of the needs and demands in life. When I took this trip and cycled 60-70 miles a day and then camped on a beach, it felt like an incredibly rewarding and simple way of life,” he explains.
“I think the life that most of us live, most of the time, is unnecessarily complicated and filled with extra things that none of us really need. The convenience of modern life is also what makes life really complicated. When you remove that, the adventure becomes a much more rewarding experience.
CORNWALL “HARDER THAN THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS”
Parker is not new to adventure cycling, far from it. As part of various projects, he has cycled across America as well as the length of Scandinavia and through Europe. Although even after riding in the Rockies, he still says Cornwall provided some of the toughest terrain he’s ever experienced.
“Cornwall and Devon are incredibly tough places to cycle,” Parker says. “I have cycled all over the world and Cornwall is one of the toughest cycling routes I have ridden in the world. In the Himalayas, Pyrenees, Rocky Mountains, you get those beautiful switchbacks that gradually take you up and down a mountain. Then in Cornwall you suddenly go up or down a hill, there is no middle ground.
“I’m not ashamed to say that in Cornwall, when it got really bad, on 20-25% inclines with me carrying 20kg of gear, I went down and pushed! There’s no other way to do it,” he jokes.
“The kind of adventure biking I do isn’t about breaking records. I try to move slowly and understand the world around me. I’m not on Strava, I’m not trying to promote a super male form of cycling. It’s hopefully seeing from the saddle perspective, an interesting world unfolding in front of me,” adds Parker.
At one point in the book, Parker is joined by fellow long-distance cyclist and author Markus Stitz in the Scottish Borders. In 2016, Stitz, a friend and regular collaborator of Mark Beaumont, became the first person to cycle around the world on a single-speed bicycle. Beaumont, on the other hand, recently set a new record on the NC500.
Although he was joined by Stitz for part of the ride, Parker admits he couldn’t stand the test of trying to set similar records.
“I have tremendous interest and respect for the world record projects that Markus and Mark have done over the past 10-20 years, it’s incredibly impressive. I always enjoy reading about the people who do things like that,” Parker says. “There’s definitely a little something in my mind that wonders what it would be like to try to break a world record and cycle around the world in the fastest possible.”
“Although at the same time, it’s not really me,” jokes Parker. “I’m not really a cyclist!”
Thinking back to all the landscapes he’s explored on his bike during the pandemic, one place in particular keeps coming back to Parker’s mind as a place to ride his bike once again. Shetlands. He explains that the terrain on offer is something he would recommend to all long-distance cyclists.
“Getting up in Shetland for a week is a must. There are these epic rolling mountains, great glens and lochs to traverse. From Muckle Flugga Lighthouse at the very top, to Sumburgh Head Lighthouse at the bottom,” he says. “You can also do it cheaply because in Shetland, Orkney and mainland Scotland you have the right to roam. You are legally, as a Brit, allowed to wild camp. You can camp in national parks, beside lochs and on hundreds of beautiful beaches.
Bike theft in Britain has increased in recent years. Even after cycling around the British Isles, Parker says he only feared for the safety of his bike once and therefore locked it once.
“I tried to always follow a rural route where I could. I think in rural areas you tend to have a much better chance of your bike not being stolen,” he says. “I only locked my bike once, and that was for five minutes on the south coast! I guess I got lucky on the ride, but knock on wood I didn’t have a hard time.
“I hope it will be the same for the rides next year.”
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