“If a huge cycle trip is too intimidating, maybe start with an overnight adventure and then push that to a weekend adventure. I think you learn best by doing – action, no matter how small, is key!”
Laura Kennington is a British adventure athlete. She has completed some impressive endurance journeys including kayaking down the Volga river in Russia, running across the island of Fuerteventura and riding Scotland’s North Coast 500. Laura’s goal is to use her adventures as a way to inspire and encourage children and adults to spend more time outdoors.
Laura Kennington recently returned from her latest adventure: a 6000km bike ride along the North Sea-facing coasts of 8 countries – The Great North Ride. After setting off from the Shetland Islands in Scotland Laura cycled through the UK, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and Sweden before finally reaching Norway. In this interview Laura tells us about how she prepared for this endurance journey and what she learned along the way. She also shares some really insightful tips about how to bring more adventure to your life. I hope you enjoy the read!
You recently completed The Great North Ride, an epic 6000km cycle across 8 countries. What was your main motivation for taking on this amazing challenge?
I was craving a nice big adventure I could really sink my teeth into. 2017 was packed full of much shorter, punchier challenges, which were great in their own right, but I thought it was really important to challenge myself in a different way this year. I think I was simultaneously craving a bit of headspace and some “character building” suffering!
What type of training did you do to get ready for this endurance adventure? In retrospect, would you do anything differently in terms of physical preparation?
I try to keep a good base level of functional strength with kettlebells regularly thrown into my training routine and I also did a lap of the North Coast 500 route in Scotland shortly before as a little warm up. Even with all that, I definitely wish I’d done a better job of testing my kit set up and/or given myself more time to adapt in the early section – the fully loaded bike was super heavy and the first couple of weeks were pretty painful!
How did you plan your route? Are there any good cycling route planning resources you would recommend?
I was actually mostly following an already established route – the North Sea Cycle route, otherwise known as Eurovelo 12. (Warning: looking at Eurovelo routes is likely to induce severe wanderlust). Much of the route is amazing but certain sections just aren’t ideal for road bikes. In the UK for example I often found myself walking the bike through a field or thick gravel. I soon learned to double check the signposted route against other options; in the UK I used the Ordnance Survey app and in Europe I also used an app called Komoot that I was really impressed with.
Did you plan ahead where you were going to sleep each night or did you take it a day at a time in terms of logistics?
This is really geeky but I actually had a mammoth spreadsheet before I left that had a target destination where I aimed to be each day… for all 70 days! I mostly figured out the specifics of where I’d actually sleep whilst on the road but it was important for me to have a rough idea of where I’d be so I could invite people to join me & also that I knew where I’d be for any media/speaking opportunities, etc.
What was your biggest fear before you set off and how did you overcome it?
That something would go wrong with the bike that I wouldn’t be able to fix. I’ve picked up a few tips over the years but I could still really do with learning more! To be honest, I’m not sure I ever really overcame this apart from making sure the bike was in the best possible condition before I set off and adopting the attitude that if something did go really wrong, either I’d be able to fix it or – simply – I’d need to find someone who could! I have embraced a mantra from my friend Jon for situations just like this – “She’ll be right”.
I can imagine it must be hard to choose but what is the best memory of your journey?
Ooh, this is a toughie! I met so many wonderful people throughout the challenge and saw so many gorgeous places. This might be cheating a little bit but my answer is going to be all of Norway. By the time I rolled over into Norway, I was really starting to feel the strain. However, every single person I met, without fail, was so incredibly generous and kind, the terrain was often brutal but the scenery was always stunning – if you’re going to suffer, you might as well do it somewhere beautiful! Norway is such a special place & I’m so glad it was last. It was worth every pedal stroke!
What would you say is the main lesson you have learned through your Great North Ride experienced?
The human body is incredible. It’s not a particularly new lesson and I emphasise this whenever I can but it does constantly amaze me just how much abuse the body can handle and adapt to. At times, the challenge felt genuinely impossible. I would repeatedly feel totally exhausted and unable to continue; I’d reach the end of the day in disbelief that I’d somehow managed to dig deep enough to reach my target. The same would happen again the next day!
I also learned to appreciate human company a lot more! The language barrier sometimes made things a bit lonely & because I was passing through places so quickly, I’d often go for days without any proper conversation. I totally underestimated this side of things before I left – it was tough!
What advice would you give to anyone who dreams about setting off on a cycle touring adventure but is afraid to take the leap?
I’m going to borrow some words by A.A. Milne – I love so much that I keep them on a bracelet as a reminder: “Always remember you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”
There’s a lot to be said for building your confidence in increments as well – if a huge cycle trip is too intimidating, maybe start with an overnight adventure and then push that to a weekend adventure. I think you learn best by doing – action, no matter how small, is key!
You have managed to turn your passion for adventure into your full-time job. What advice would you give to people who are inspired to follow the same path?
Like any potential new career, I think it’s a good idea to gain some experience and try it on for size before you decide to go full steam ahead. I think it’s also important to appreciate that it might take a while to build up and there’s a lot of learning to be done along the way. Start now, get creative, work out the skills you need to improve and steadily target those areas – i.e. building up my public speaking has been a really important part of this for me as it’s where the majority of my income comes from. I didn’t monetise my trips overnight; in the early days I supplemented my income with various other jobs – this career very much started as a side hustle!
To learn more about Laura and her super inspiring adventures: