While the rest of us are sitting down somewhere warm and comfortable reading this blog, 21-year-old Alex Staniforth (he turns 22 on June 18th) is pedaling, walking and running his way around the highest points in all 100 UK counties to raise money for Young Minds UK.
The only motorised transport Alex has afforded himself on his epic 5,000-mile challenge is ferry rides to Northern Ireland and the Scottish islands, which makes the fact he plans to complete the whole thing in just 72 days even more incredible. We caught up with Alex on day 30 of Climb The UK to find out how he’s getting on…
Most obvious question first - where in the UK are you right now?
I'm at the SYHA hostel in Stirling. Climbed Ben Lawers (Perthshire) this morning but I’ve been ill so took a big detour off route and I’m currently trying to work out Plan B!
It’s day 30 of your challenge – which has been the most enjoyable so far?
My day in the Orkney Isles was shorter mileage with brilliant weather, so I had the chance to enjoy somewhere so fascinating and beautiful. Most days it's just focusing on A to B and I finish late so there's lots of places I want to revisit. Any day with company is always a real mood booster too. So far I've been joined by both experienced and first-time hillwalkers, achieving their own goals in the process, which is amazing.
And which has been the toughest?
It's the hardest thing I've ever done. There's been a few breaking points. Probably cycling 90 miles to Ullapool. Featureless route on A roads, totally alone, a knee injury, headwinds forcing me backwards and penetrating rain was demoralising to say the least.
Be honest, how are your legs holding up?
Apart from cuts and bruises from various falls (and a barbed wire fence) they're honestly pretty good. I sprained my medial quad muscles quite quickly into the challenge. My knees weren't used to carrying the weight of a loaded touring bike so the first 2 weeks were worrying and almost crippling at times. Managed to keep it at bay with higher cadence and painkillers. Your legs get used to it after a while. I'm taking it quite easy but sometimes my legs feel heavy and it's like lugging dead weight so I usually walk up hills and run down when I’m on my own. I also usually send tweets and emails when walking uphill to save time!
How much excess kit have you ditched along the way?
To reduce the knee pain I've ditched a few bits. My CAT S60 smartphone has a good enough camera and I always have it on me, so I left my camera with a friend on day 5. Even in driving rain I found my legs were pretty waterproof and I stayed in my shorts anyway so also left my waterproof trousers, some toiletries I could do without, bike accessories, battery pack, and my own sanity somewhere too.
And what’s the one piece of kit you couldn’t have done without?
Without sounding biased, for the walking routes I've been using the ViewRanger app to navigate entirely and have been able to rely on it 100%, with the rugged CAT smartphone surviving all the weather I've had. ViewRanger saves so much time and extra stress, I just turn up, choose my route, and off I go.
What snacks are you eating to keep up your energy on these long days?
I'm taking the cycling so slowly I'm not really burning huge amounts or needing many carbs, so I'm using food as an incentive and a feel-good. I have a huge appetite too. I'm using Mountain Fuel supplements to make sure I'm recovering properly. Breakfast is usually porridge or their Morning Fuel packets, then I try and get one 'proper' meal a day. I crave healthy stuff because when on the road I tend to grab petrol station pies and coffee for saving time. Depends where I am too – I’m partial to Scottish fudge tablet, and Irish Potato Scones... just need to find a deep fried Mars Bar.
Where’s the weirdest place you’ve woken up so far?
In my tent about 3 miles short of Glen Affric Youth Hostel, the most remote youth hostel in the UK. I'd arrived too late the night before and it’s a 10km boggy trudge up the valley. Exhausted at 10pm, I just put the tent up by the path and ate my protein shake cold with my finger.
If you could sum up the challenge so far with one photograph, what would it be?
Probably this one on Carn a’Ghille Chearr. With my schedule I have been on my own for quite a bit of Scotland unfortunately and I've rarely had the views to talk about either! My saddle soreness wouldn't make pleasant viewing...
Of all the peaks you have left to climb, which are you most excited about?
I'm glad to have almost survived Scotland, although it means things will get a bit less interesting. At least I'm ready for Norfolk now. I think I'm most looking forward to Snowdon on my penultimate day as although I've done it heaps of times, I have a lot of people joining me and it will have a special meaning this time.
What are you most looking forward to doing when you finish the challenge on July 23rd?
Doing absolutely nothing, and not having to get up and cycle/walk for 12 hours every day in atrocious weather.
And finally… what advice would you give to anyone thinking of taking on such a crazy challenge?
Be stubborn. Only we are in the driving seat and only we know what we are truly capable of. If we doubt ourselves we have to question whether it's a genuine problem or if we're just looking for an excuse. Be flexible – as Ranulph Fiennes said there's no point crying over spilt milk. Things will always go wrong. Some days it feels like everything has conspired against me but good luck usually follows bad luck. We have to adapt and overcome regardless, that's what adventure is all about. Keep the momentum going. It's so much harder to start again once you stop.