He’s back at his desk, but to look at him you wouldn’t believe Ollie has cycled over 1,300 miles over the course of just two weeks, dodging bears, cougars and extreme weather - and all for cancer charities the Big C and BC Cancer Foundation.
Between catching up on emails and getting over a bit of jetlag, we managed to grab him for a quick chat about his experience of Cycle Challenge Canada.
I think the first thing on everyone’s mind is; what was it like seeing a bear up close?
Pretty terrifying at times! I saw seven of them in total, but the time I stopped to try to get one on film and it took a hesitant step towards me, my heart was in my throat a bit!
Also having one sneak up on me while I was taking a picture of a nesting grouse was quite a shock, although it was hard to be scared of it too much because it just looked like a massive toy bear standing on its hind legs!
Other than the bears, how was the challenge?
It was certainly even harder than I expected, and that’s saying a lot! Not only did I get lost a few times in the pouring rain at the same time as having popped tyres and bears in the vicinity, the weather also swung right the way to the other extreme.
For example, perhaps the worst day I had was on the 1st July - Canada Day. The island saw record breaking temperatures and the tarmac was getting up to about 37 degrees! Trying to do a 3 mile climb to Port Alberni behind logging trucks pumping out hot exhaust fumes - without any water I might add - was definitely not an experience I’ll want to repeat too soon! It was very physically draining and I was glad to get my hands on an icy and very sugary drink.
Camping also presented a challenge, as after a long day of riding the last thing you want to do is cramp up in a sleeping bag. Picking the huge amount of slugs that infest the island off the roof every morning wasn’t particularly pleasant either!
But that’s not to say I didn’t love the whole experience. I met some fantastic people and saw a huge part of the island where only 3% of the entire population live - and few residents actually even travel to! The views, wildlife, and of course the great cause all made it worthwhile.
As the MD of a digital agency, of course you were going to use some modern tech and online tools to help you with the challenge. What do you think helped you most out of all the things you used?
Difficult to say really, as it was all pretty indispensable and helped me a great deal.
For example, from a route perspective I used a wide variety of mapping and gps software as well as my own Garmin to both plan the challenge and help me get around when I was out there. It was really helpful to get an idea of the terrain through platforms like Google images and Flickr too, but nothing could really prepare me for what it was actually like.
JustGiving was of course an essential part of the challenge. I’m happy to say that I’ve raised just over £16,500 now for The Big C, and this fantastic charity fundraising tool has made it all the more simple for me to do so.
I was surprised to get internet regularly on the trip as well, it’s often faster even than Norwich and they have 4G in lots of places! So staying connected through social media was really great as well, being able to keep the many supporters on my Facebook and other accounts up to date with my progress was something that really helped with donations and gave me some real motivation too. I’ve even heard that people were sharing pictures of my jersey on Twitter, which is fantastic!
You mention motivation through social media, did you get many messages that really helped you get through the tougher parts of the challenge?
There was a whole lot of support through my Facebook page especially, and I’m very grateful to everyone that took the time to read each and every one of my posts every day. People who had done similar challenges before who offered advice and tips throughout the journey, as well as some kind words of encouragement, really helped me to push on.
It was the stories of those with cancer that really helped to motivate me though. A couple of messages from people who had been or were suffering from cancer at the time were a distinct reminder of why I was there; even when I had to turn back on the road to Port Alice after a terrible day of rain, punctures and scary bear sightings.
I didn’t just hear about people’s experiences through social media though, I also spoke to people on Vancouver Island who had suffered from cancer or whose relatives had the disease. For example I spoke to the wife of the Mayor of Zeballos, who was seriously ill with cancer at the time - her and many others encouraged me to keep going even on the hardest days.
Would you change anything about the challenge? Do you think you took too much tech for example?
I did perhaps rely on my Garmin and Google Maps too much at times, when they can’t possibly be as up to date as they need to be with all the overgrown logging roads that I was travelling down. But this isn’t the devices’ fault, the conditions were extremely challenging at times! If I was to do it again, I’d probably take more notice of local knowledge and use an actual map as a contingency in case I get lost.
Otherwise, no i don’t think I took too much. I got some great footage on the cameras I had as well which I’ll soon be putting together - even if my GoPro shot a bit more of the handlebars than anything else!
Eager to get back on the bike?
Definitely, I’ve got the London Ride 100 in three weeks and am keen to get back in the saddle for that!
I’ve also signed up for Tough Mudder in October, which is something a little different, so I’m going to be getting back in the gym to ensure that I’m fully prepared for everything that will throw at me. Although after the challenge I’m fairly used to being wet and muddy, so that won’t be an issue!
This is certainly not the last you’re going to hear of Cycle Challenge Canada or Ollie’s fundraising for The Big C, and he’s even got some ideas for his next adventure so make sure you stay up to date!
Of course, if you haven’t donated yet, please head over to www.bike.cx and give generously to the charity of your choice today.