The adjective ‘inspirational’ is almost as overused as ‘iconic,’ but that was the word that came to mind when a customer with cerebral palsy, David Reilly, sent us his piece about riding the length of the Hebrides. It was our great pleasure to sponsor David on his epic adventure.
Earlier this year I set myself a challenge of cycling the entire length of the Outer Hebrides to emulate the recent journey completed by around-the-world cyclist, Mark Beaumont. Many cyclists have made this journey but I believed that, if I achieved this, I may be the first person with cerebral palsy to have done this. Cycling is my passion and I want to show that disability is not a barrier to achieving great things in the same way an able-bodied person can, and that there are no restrictions when it comes to enjoying the great outdoors.
My journey began in Barra and took in the southernmost tip of the Outer Hebrides before heading north onto South Uist through Benbecula and Grimsay. The next step is North Uist and Berneray. The mountains of Harris proved the biggest challenge before heading up to the Butt of Lewis. The journey took me 5 days cycling to cover the 186 mile which took in 10 islands and 4 ferry crossings. On the whole I was lucky with the weather, I got rained on a couple of days but, with only light winds and mild temperatures, it could have been so much worse.
There were lots of great moments on the trip and it is difficult to single any of them out as my favourite, although a few stick in my mind. The first day I spent on Barra was special because I had put a lot of planning into the trip and it felt like it had finally arrived and I was there. The sun shone the entire day and, again the blue Hebridean sky, the long white sandy beaches were just idyllic. I got the feeling of freedom that comes from cycling, particularly when you are in a more remote place when its just you, the bike and the great outdoors. The other highlight was cycling over Harris. The weather wasn’t good at that time but it just added to create a wonderful atmosphere while I tackled the mountains through the rugged landscape which I really loved. Cycling in the rain can be fun and I certainly had a ball that day and put that down as one of the best experiences of the trip.
Cycling Is A Passion
Despite having been a cyclist for many years, this was the first big journey or tour I had attempted. I had wanted to tackle something like this for a long time and my circumstances were just right this summer so I took the opportunity. I have always been interested and have taken part in outdoor pursuits when I could. Since being in Scouts as a youngster, I have tried many different sports like skiing and Munro Bagging, but none give me to joy and the freedom that I experience when I’m cycling.
Over the last decade cycling has become a bigger part of my life both for getting around and for sport. The truth is I was booked to go on a ski holiday about 10 years ago and thought riding the bike might help so I started trying to get fit on the bike. The rest is history as they say, and before long I was riding with a local club and was hooked on cycling
Of course, having cerebral palsy has made things more difficult and I have had a few extra challenges than most. I’ve always been very determined to try things and have really pushed myself as hard as I could. I have worked really hard at my cycle, doing fitness training, classes, and indoor sessions in the winter. I continue to train as I attempt to keep up with other non-disabled people. I also work with a disabled cycling group where I try to help other disabled people to get the same enjoyment out of cycling as I do. Over the years I have learned to set my on goals and try not to compare myself with able-bodied riders. Everybody has different challenges and they are all personal to us, and it doesn’t pay to compare yourself to others.
I have had tremendous support from local clubs such as Edinburgh Road Club and CTC, where people have encouraged me and made me very welcome in the club. Having cerebral palsy has of course made it a little more difficult for me and at times I have questioned whether or not I would ever keep up with able-bodied people. Thankfully, and through a lot of training, I have managed to enjoy cycling at club level and am very grateful to ERC for their patience!
I am also very grateful to the Edinburgh Bike Coop who have supported me on this trip and sponsor my ongoing work.
It is my intention to continue cycling and attempt more adventurous challenges to try and encourage other people, both disabled and not, into participating in cycling and outdoor sports in general. Through my website, I try to promote cycling and adventure sport to the community to show the benefits to both physical and mental well-being. As well as blogging about my adventures, I have been asked to give talks about what I do in order to motivate others. I am already working on my next challenge and hope to write and share it with people in the near future.