Upping the Andes
8 legs, 8000 miles, £80,000
On 1st January 2015, Archie Innes, Guthrie Fenton, Toby Mckean and Tom Lawson set out to cycle from the southern-most city in the world to a solitary desert lighthouse that marks the most northerly point of mainland South America with the intention of raising £80,000 for charity.
They were to cover 42º of latitude, primarily over the world’s longest mountain range, the Andes. They had to adapt to fluctuating conditions from cool of the far-south and the high-Andes, through the driest place on earth (the Atacama desert), to the equatorial heat of Colombia. In addition, they carried up to 50 kilograms of kit each, averaging 50 miles of cycling per day.
To give you some context, the traditional distance of Land’s End to John O’Groats by road is 874 miles. So, for anyone short of a calculator, the lads faced the equivalent of cycling from one end of the British Isles to the other – and back – almost 5 times. That’s roughly 4000 trips to your local one-stop, 128,000 lengths of a football pitch, or 1/3 of the way around the equator.
An expedition such as this inevitably presented varied challenges in terms of preparation, training, marketing, and route-planning etc…, all of which the team took responsibility for. Similarly, on-the-road challenges ranging from mechanical problems, poor road quality, large trucks with unscrupulous drivers, dehydration, altitude sickness, prevailing winds, to rabid dogs and jaguars, had to be addressed with no support network. Perhaps more significant than the trial of physical endurance, was the test of will and the psychological challenge presented by long, hard days on the bike spent on empty roads (many of which were sloping upwards) and sleeping rough much of the time
At 4.31pm, on Tuesday 9th June 2015, after 155 days battling mountains, deserts, cold, heat, illness, mechanical failures, exhaustion and sometimes each other, they made it to Faro Punta Gallinas, marking the northern most tip of South America. The final 8-day stage of the expedition saw the lads pushing themselves to the limit, often cycling over 150km a day in order to finish six days ahead of their already punishing schedule.
“As we came down out of the Andes for the last time, it had felt like the battle was won. However, the days were long, the roads were flat, and the sweltering heat was exhausting. What we thought would be a relatively easy sprint to the end evolved into anything but. Testament to how our perspectives have changed the distance covered in our so called ‘sprint finish’ alone was still equal to a “John O’Groats to Lands’ End” – so very much a challenge in itself. As we drew closer and closer the days seemed to slow with the hours becoming as stagnant as the air around us, and the kilometres stretching out in front of us like a never ending piece of string.”
After cycling the equivalent of 5 times the distance between Lands’ End and John O’ Groats, the lads and their trusty steeds had conquered the Andes and in doing so, had raised in excess of £100,000 (£20,000 more than their initial target) for their chosen charities.
Guthrie Fenton’s chosen charity was the Mark Donegan Fellowship, set up in memory of his friend Patrick’s late father. His three fellow cyclists raised money for Cancer Research UK, DMRC Headley Court and The Charlie Waller Memorial Foundation.
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