Back in December, Ride Velo met Anna Hughes at the Attack the Pack launch party. She appeared to be just another punter enjoying a card game with her mates at Look Mum No Hands! Little did we know, Anna had recently published her first book and is a celebrated cycle tourer, having completed a 4,000 mile ride around the coast of Britain. She promised to send us a copy, but she didn’t, so we had to buy it. But we’re very glad we did, and here's why: Eat Sleep Cycle.
It’s taken me four months to read Eat Sleep Cycle, but that’s because I wanted to savour every mouthful, rather than wolf it greedily down in one go. This book is such escapism, Hughes really makes you feel as though you’re on the journey with her, experiencing the gruelling climbs and hurricane-force winds by her side (very nice to be reading about them when you’re cosy indoors). But the good times outweigh the tough times and Hughes’ descriptions of the stunning coastlines she experienced on her trip are picture perfect in your mind’s eye.
When I chatted to Anna about her journey, obviously my first question was ‘why Britain?’ Having read the book, I’m ashamed now at my own prejudice against the British Isles. Just because I hate cold, wet weather, my personal fantasy bike tour would always be somewhere hot, as far away from the UK as possible. Vegan Hughes comes across as a very pure soul in comparison:
“I’d always loved cycling for the joy and freedom it brings, for the beauty of travelling for miles and miles simply by keeping the pedals turning. And it would have to be the UK; as an environmentalist I wouldn’t fly, and it felt wrong to explore another country when I knew so little about my own.”
She decided to travel alone, as a challenge, and to get to know herself better, staying with former colleagues from Sustrans and fellow members of the Green Party. Friends and hosts accompanied her en route here and there, but this was Anna’s own personal Odyssey. As a woman, I totally admire what she accomplished – I know I don’t have the courage to attempt a 10 week journey unsupported, staying with strangers much of the time, and riding in often wild and scary conditions.
What I really liked about Eat Sleep Cycle was Hughes’ honesty throughout her adventures. Day 1 starts out with a rather elegant description of riding along the north bank of the Thames into Essex. Now, having visited this area many times and, considering it to be the ugliest of routes out of London, I was slightly skeptical. Hughes brought me back on side immediately by describing how exhausted and dispirited she felt after getting into a fight with a nettle bed and then getting lost. Day 2 was harder still!
But as she crawls around the coastline visiting places, some of which I knew well and others not at all, her confidence develops. Eventually, accompanying friends and family return home, and Anna is left to her own devices, which she initially finds daunting, but she learns to love the freedom and independence the solitary life brings. She picks up a few new cycling buddies along the way too.
I couldn’t help wonder if there was more to a couple of these characters than Hughes let on – she revealed that she’d broken up with her boyfriend Nick prior to starting out on the adventure because she didn’t want to be burdened by missing him rather than concentrating on the actual lay of the land. Maybe I wondered about her love life, not only because she’s young, fit and beautiful, but because she told me she’d dated our very own Super Cycling Man a few years back (although it turns out they only enjoyed a long bike ride together and joked it was a date!) Anna does meet up with ex boyfriend Nick towards the end of the tale, but you’ll have to read the story yourself to discover more.
At Bespoked, we saw Emily Chappell and Julian Sayarer talking about their cycle travels. Both talked about the intense 'down' tourers can experience on returning home again and how they both dealt with that. We don’t get beyond Hughes’ return to her starting point at Tower Bridge, but she does reveal why this can be such a problem:
Hughes completed this journey from August to October 2011. It took her over two years to write Eat Sleep Cycle, and she has been busy working as an cycling instructor and completing many more bike tours ever since, including one from Land’s End to John O’Groats to promote her book. Eat Sleep Cycle has now sold over 3,000 copies, having been published by Summersdale – we’re just waiting for her to write the next one!
My only criticism of the book is that there are no photos, other than a tiny black and white picture of Hughes herself at the front. I guess this was done to save money producing the book. But Hughes was originally offered a publishing deal because of the success of the blog she wrote and religiously updated during her tour. All the pictures you could ever want to see are there – on her Eat Sleep Cycle facebook page. So now I know what Nick looks like ;)
I haven’t felt bereft on finishing a book for quite a while now, but I really felt at a loss when I finally closed the last chapter. And now I can’t stop planning my own fantasy bike tour (somewhere warm). Yes, Anna, you have been an inspiration – thank you. Now please get on and complete the next one!