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Four days, three nights, 386 miles in the saddle

A Business Intelligence Developer with YHA for the past three years, Rob Abrey set himself a mammoth fundraising challenge in late 2019: a self-supported cycle across England and Wales. He’s this issue’s hostel hero. 

Rob Abrey knows plenty about staying on the move. Growing up as the son of a railwayman, he was born in South Africa but has since lived all over the UK, as well as in Paris. He developed a love of hiking from his parents and – thanks to a bike built from spare parts and gifted to him by a great uncle – has been cycling since he was seven.

But even for a lifelong bike nut, the ride he decided to undertake in the autumn of 2019 was something remarkable. “I love to challenge myself,” he explains. “The route for this particular challenge was a combination of two routes, the Trans-Cambrian Way and Coast to Coast mountain bike routes. Both of these are typically completed in three days and two nights, but I decided to do them both in four days and three nights, self-supported, carrying everything I’d need for both day and night.”

Put another way, he would be tracing a wriggly, west-to-east route across the entirety of Wales and England, camping on any piece of flat, dry land he could find. “The total route distance was 386 miles, with 43,339 ft of climbing,” he says. “It made perfect sense to raise money for YHA, to support the great things we do as an organisation – particularly for young people with challenging lives. This was actually the second time I’ve done a challenge like this for YHA. For me, a bike is the perfect adventure tool, allowing you to cover a good distance while still really getting off the beaten track.”

His training regime was helped by the fact that he frequently cycles to work at our Matlock national office – a 30-mile round trip – but the ride itself was still an epic test of stamina. “It was some of the toughest days’ riding I’ve ever endured, but it wouldn’t have been a challenge if it was easy!” he recalls. “I loved the feeling of exploration and adventure from not knowing what might be around the next corner: a tearoom, a really hard climb or a herd of cows blocking the route?”

Naturally, the ride didn’t go without its hitches. “The hardest part was having to trudge through a Lakeland bog for five miles in the rain. Wheeling a bike caked in mud through conditions you can barely walk in was really tough. But at the end of that section I was welcomed by a committee of sheep and some sunshine. Now this might seem silly, but when you’ve been walking for about two hours and not seen a solitary creature for some time, sheep and a touch of sunshine are a truly wonderful thing!” 

And the highlights? “There were so many. Riding through the mist at sunrise in the Cambrian mountains, making fresh tracks in the dew and dreaming of bacon sandwiches. Fording the River Duddon in the Lake District and living to tell the tale. Overall, it was just great to be able to get out and have an adventure. It taught me that a human being can endure a lot and still come back for more, and also that we have so much on our doorstep. You don’t need to travel far to really take a break from it all and enjoy what wonderful England and Wales have to offer.”

After close to 50 hours in the saddle, he arrived on the Yorkshire coast weary but ecstatic. “The elation of completing the challenge was just great. After reaching Robin Hood’s Bay I cycled along the beach to YHA Boggle Hole for a beer and a burger. I think I’d earned that, right?” 

Sponsor Rob here.

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The Journey: spring 20Four days, three nights, 386 miles in the saddle