Spotlight on…Hilary Galea Lauri
Cycling 1,600km For A Charitable Cause
Hilary Galea-Lauri is an Audit Partner at KPMG. He is a Council Member of the Malta Institute of Accountants and is the Chairman of the MIA Accounting Committee
It started with a thought one fine morning as I got up at my usual 5am time – why not a physical challenge beyond the norm, one which would see me push my boundaries in endurance and – at the same time – raise funds for the many needs of the beneficiaries of Inspire Foundation?
That thought quickly matured into a dream and before I knew it I was researching a long-distance cycle trip, stumbling on the iconic ride from Land’s End to John o’ Groats, which is the traversal of the whole length of the Island of Great Britain between its two extremities – in the southwest and northeast – covering some 1,600 kilometers in under 12 days. That was early in 2014 without yet owning a road bike, which unfortunately did not arrive in time for me to clock the miles in preparation for the event later that year. However true to my no-quitter approach to a challenge, I settled for a shorter ride from London to Paris which I completed in just over 2 days.
As 2015 rolled in, the prospect of cycling the length of Great Britain on my now (priceless) Cannondale Synapse, started to haunt me again and early in the year, I began looking into the logistics behind that trip. Before long, I was enrolled to commence my ride on the 1 September. The days and months started to fly by and, again, there I was unable to keep up with the demanding training schedule due to the many conflicting calls on my time. I knew then that I had to condition my mind to persevere against all odds and, if push comes to shove, it will have to boil down to mind-over-matter, being a firm believer that willpower can overcome physical obstacles. And so it was.
Ahead of my adventure, I recall myself saying that 50% of the challenge was getting myself to the start – clearing as much of what I had to do before the trip and prioritizing between multiple demands on my time was a huge challenge in itself!
Planning my nutrition before and during the trip was another challenge. I read around the subject and found vastly conflicting views. In the end, I was guided by a well-balanced diet combining carbohydrates (about 60%), protein (about 15%) and fat (about 25%), with carbohydrates providing the main source of energy, and, of course, plenty of fluids.
Besides rising to the challenge, this trip was also a means of exploring the length and breadth of Britain – a way to get off the beaten track at a slower pace to really experience the country at close quarters. Driving it would bypass the most interesting bits and I didn’t have time to walk it, but cycling it gave me just about the right balance of completing it in a manageable time and being able to appreciate the journey. I’ve only taken up cycling in any serious way in the recent past so I still have a lot to learn. My muscles are used to medium-to-long distance running, trekking up mountains or resistance training, but cycling gives a rather different workout that my body is now getting used to – a form of cross-training and easing off from just pounding the roads.
I would not be true to myself if I said that the journey was a breeze which I completed in my own stride. It was tough – the toughest physical challenge I’ve ever done since summiting Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa in 2007 – and it didn’t help that I travelled over to the UK only partly recovered from an elbow injury. There’s no denying that the pain of a sore arm pulling on my bike’s handlebar, especially as I climbed some seemingly endless hills and the discomfort of being cold or wet, were tough at the time. Not to mention the headwinds and the hail I had to embrace as I cycled further into Scotland through to the finish in John o’ Groats. In a nutshell it was hard work, having endured exhaustion, battled lactic acid, burn and a boil or two in uncomfortable places. But they are all relatively easily forgotten and it was definitely worth it for the overall experience.
Besides crossing the finish line, one of the most notable moments I experienced was the Shap Fell climb over a distance of 16 kilometres with a height gain of 370 metres, a height altitude of 420 meters and a maximum gradient of 8%. The feeling at the summit was exuberant, especially as I then looked ahead at the (scary) descent – one I then enjoyed tremendously.
In writing this article, I cannot fail to mention some of the most scenic places I was so lucky to set my eyes on, particularly when riding through Cornwall in the southwest of England and the Highlands in Scotland. Some of which are really only accessible when off the beaten track, no words can adequately describe them.
And then the people I came to meet. Those I was honoured to ride with were simply amazing, all with their own stories and purpose. Helping each other out when coming across a fellow rider in difficulty – typically changing a tube or a chain (that happened to me too!) – was one aspect which resulted from bonding with each other after the day when we would meet up to exchange stories and experiences. On the other hand, the locals I met enriched my experience as I conversed with them on history and traditions. Highland cattle and other animals (such as bulls) wandering loosely across the moorlands provided interesting encounters when it came to deciding who had the right of way – they did, of course, slowing me down on the ride but affording me the time to capture them through my lenses!
What I’m now left with is a sense of achievement and the wonderful memories of places, sounds, smells and people. There are many other places I want to visit and this trip has just whetted my appetite for tougher and more enduring challenges, so watch this space.
My advice to people thinking of cycling end-to-end is to not underestimate the time and effort the trip will take. You need to bear in mind that this is a commitment that goes far beyond just the time it takes to cycle end-to-end. And if you are not the resilient type, go for something within your reach – a fit and able body will not land you where the mind does not travel.
Finally, the response to the parallel challenge I set for myself in raising EUR 5,000 (subsequently raised to EUR 10,000) for Inspire Foundation was just overwhelming, with the figure currently standing in excess of EUR 13,000. People (including many unknown to me) have been incredibly kind and generous in donating money. That, in itself, was also part of the motivation which had me pedalling away.