Saddle Sore – Reviews, Rides & Rablings – Cycling Blog

Category - Interviews

Adventure Cycling and Peta McSharry

I spoke to Peta McSharry about her efforts in Adventure Cycling and learnt how to clear an Irish bar.

At the moment it seems Adventure Cycling is your thing, how would you describe Adventure Cycling and is there a ride you have done that defines it? What is it about Adventure Cycling that you love?

For me adventure cycling is about stepping so far out of your comfort zone an ECG heart reading would be in the red. Each person’s strengths and weakness are unique to them and this is what makes adventure cycling exciting and without boundaries. For instance I have zero logistical talent, map reading may as well be in Chinese and my sense of direction is governed by a magnet next to the north needle on a compass. Don’t get me started on technology. An adventure could be a small leap of faith for one person or a giant leap of faith for another. I tend towards the giant leap, believing that somehow I will plough on through. It, by no means, suggests that I go into these feeling comfortable, my skins prickles with tension into the lead up of an event.

The rides which define adventure cycling for me are those solo, unsupported escapades where all the route planning, logistics and equipment choices are down to me. This could be a weekend or a three week race. Half the fun of the adventure is the planning. My favourite ride was after I retired from the TransAm Bike race after blowing up my achilles. I had a 6 week sabbatical and didn’t want to head back to the UK with my tail between my legs. I needed to swing past the TransAm finish line to collect the bike bags I’d sent ahead. Scouring the maps I found this thin strip of land out to sea – the Outer Banks, it is where the Wright Brothers did their first flight from. Trusting google maps routing and wanting to ride the entire length of the Banks I set the dodgy compass for north and rode the furnace tailwind the whole way up. That was until the road ran out and I was faced with 15 kilometres of beach or a three hour cycle back into a headwind to cross back onto the mainland via the only bridge off the peninsula. You’ll have to wait for the book to come out to find out what happened.

The buzz adventure cycling gives me comes from knowing how useless I am at some of the key components needed to be an exceptional adventurer. Just getting to the start line means I have already won. Finishing it is a bonus and if it all goes pear shaped, there are either some really valuable lessons to be learnt or some complete strangers who blow you away with their generosity and kindness. It almost makes failing worth it.

Trusting Google Maps – how did that go? I’ve tried trusted it before – it didn’t end well.

Trusting Google maps routing is where the real adventure begins, especially when the small print says “caution some of this route may be on private roads”.

In my attempt to ride the length of the Outer Banks I overlooked that warning. Zooming in on the map showed a perfectly rideable route but getting to the beach proved it was anything but. Standing on the side of the road melting in 40 degrees of heat not wanting to pedal back gave me one option only – hitchhike across the beach. Fitting a person and a bike into a small car full of holiday folk was not going to work and after the 8th car shaking their head at me, I was beginning to rethink my plan.  I was busy scratching my head for ideas when a pickup truck towing a trailer of propane gas pull up next to me, I leaned into the passenger side, asking if I could hitch a lift along the beach, the shaking of his head punctuated a “sorry we don’t have space”. The driver on the other hand jumped out the vehicle and clamoured onto the back of the truck, I grabbed the bike (with bags, it weighted about 17kg and if you’ve seen my arms you’ll know thats more than I can bench press) and hoisted it up to him. He mumbled there’s no space here while I hopped up and helped him lay the bike on the gas bottles with an overconfident “gosh there’s loads of space”. The passenger scooted into the middle seat and I melted into the seat he vacated. As the truck turned onto the very soft sand the driver said “beers are getting warm”. It was then I realised the driver was getting the beers out of a cooler box on the back of the truck, not in fact helping me put my bike up. “Fancy a beer?” It was one of my best “caution this route may be on private roads” navigational failures to date.

What bike and specialist gear do you use for Adventure Cycling?
  • Blue Norcross Ex cyclocross bike with aerobars
  • Hand built wheels with dynamo hub
  • Exposure dynamo hub and lights
  • Apidura bikepacking bags: framebag, saddlebag and toptube gas tank, plus a Revelate feedbag
  • Alpkit bivvy bag, silk liner and optional sleeping bag depending on the weather for a rough-it race
  • Integral Designs Silponcho tarp – other sleeping option – I rig this onto my front wheel.
  • Nemo Gogo tent and Nemo Nor matt for a more luxury end trip.
  • Mountain Hardwear Ghost Wisperer down jacket – stuffs into its own pocket – use this for sleeping in on the no-sleeping bag trips and under a rain jacket if the riding conditions turn cold – my best and most used piece of equipment and one that always comes along.
  • Icebreaker merino wool skirt and fold up flip-flops for off the bike.
    1 set of cycling kit, rain jacket, overshoes, UV arm warmers, leg warmers (sometimes I use cut-off womans tights as leg warmers as they are cheap and can be easily discarded, 2 pairs of socks one lightweight and one merino wool. Merino wool base layer.
Peta at Kill Devil Hill

Peta at Kill Devil Hill – Outer Banks (where the Wright Brothers did their first flight)

If you were on Mastermind, what would your specialist subject be?

Randomly useless facts about the human body works.

Alright then…what is that twitchy thing that happens when you drift off to sleep and you sort of dream you trip over and wake yourself up?

It’s possibly sleep apnoea where your body wakes you up due to a low level of oxygen going to the brain.

I see you participated in in the Trans Am and the Trans Continental in 2014, in terms of mileage and climbing the Trans Am should have been the hardest – is that how it worked out?

I did indeed “participate” in them but managed to finish neither, the TransAm due to the aforementioned achilles blowout and the TransCon from a “bus style” failure – my Garmin corrupted so badly it wouldn’t start up, my charging device quit (despite working solidly in the US) and more worryingly my entire body gave up. It was whilst lying under my tarp in Hurricane Bertha with sores in my mouth that I thought “Let’s go find the generosity of some complete strangers”. From chatting to the guys who raced, TransAm is by far the tougher of the two. I prepared for tough headwinds in Kansas – which they got, and when I segmented the course (into 24 parts) the third last segment had the most climbing of the entire race. Feedback from the racers showed none of them had expected the second half of the race to be tougher than the first. To put TransAm into perspective: it’s twice the length of the Tour De France with similar amounts of climbing completed faster (by the winner) or in about the same number of days (by the first 5 competitors) as the Tour. Solo, unsupported. Just incredible.

Do you have any more big adventure rides planned?

Absolutely. Part of me just wants to sneak away and not tell anyone I am doing another race for fear of not finishing. However, it’s hard not to get excited about adventures. The two adventures I am toying with have been in my bucket list for some time, one has been in since 2007. Until all the Ts are crossed I may just hold off on announcing my plans. Until then I’m doing loads of microadventures, wild camping on a week night with some fellow nutters.

What one ride/adventure would you recommend to others as a ‘must do’? What made it special for you?

I would say the TransCon is a great one to start with, it can be completed in about two weeks, easy to fit into a two week holiday and the benefit of rolling out from home towards the start line is great. Getting in some Audax rides is a great way to prep for these adventures and joining a microadventure gang means you can test out some kit and see what others are using. My first forays into adventure cycling was to ride solo, unsupported to two weddings, one in Mid-Devon and one 150km south of Bordeaux – they were great testing grounds for equipment, routing and logistics.

Are you a karaoke fan? What is your karaoke classic?

As the only person in history to clear out an Irish bar on a karaoke night, I may have to pass on this one.

Can you remember the song?

Oh yes! It was ABBA’s Mama Mia. The reaction of the pub goers faces are still etched on my retinas.

Name one bike related piece of kit that you would recommend? What’s so good about it?

Exposure lights with or without Dynamo – these lights are bullet proof and truly lifelong reliability friends. The hardshell waterproof body, everlasting rechargeable battery, exceptional customer service from USE make these the best value lights despite the price, and ones which will light up even the darkest of roads for a weary adventure cyclist. You could also probably use them to crush nuts, knock in tent pegs or as a form of self-defence (please read the instructions before attempting to use the lights for any other than lighting the road ahead as your warrantee may be rendered null and void).

Having never used a hub dynamo (or any dynamo for that matter) does it make it hard to fix a puncture?

The dynamo hub replaces the standard wheel hub, a small electrical port sits off the side of the hub and you can slide off the connector if you need to take the wheel off – the most technical part is ensuring the electrical port is in the correct position when you tighten the skewer.

What is your day job?

My adventures are funded by a passion for sports and remedial massage and I now run a little clinic in the City.

Check out Peta’s clinic here.


Testing kit in Richmond Park

Testing kit in Richmond Park

Have you treated anyone famous?

I treat quiet a few well known professional and ex-pro cyclists, but I’d have to say my most famous person came as a complete surprise. Not long after I qualified I used to work at the Grosvenor House Hotel and they would call me in if anyone wanted a sports massage. On this occasion they needed me for a guy called Peter at 6pm. I’d said I could do 6:30 but they pressed me for an earlier time to which I said I’d try.  I rushed in at about 25 past to find Peter waiting for me, not wanting to waste anymore time by making him fill in paperwork, I read out the contra-indications as we headed to the treatment room. I always asked what their visit to London involved and Peter said he was playing the piano at a charity function that night. I gave him some pointers on how to sit better at the piano to unload his shoulders. After the session, as we headed to reception for him to sign off the treatment against his room, he said “that’s possibly the best massage I’ve every had”. I thanked him and as he signed off Peter Gabriel, I said “as in THE Peter Gabriel?” You can imagine how I kept chuckling the whole way home, telling Peter Gabriel to sit better at the piano. *hand meet forehead*

Where about are you based? Do you commute by bicycle?

I am based in South West London and I commute rain, shine, sleet or snow to work every day. The only time I won’t ride is if I am ill or injured. It gives me an incredible base fitness, especially as I do low heart-rate miles to work.

Cycling wise, is there anything you have yet to try that you would like to?

Nope, I’ve pretty much done every discipline bar downhill and sadly that would be so far out of my skill set that my mother would kill me if I didn’t get to it first. If I can get my off road skills up I’d love to do some MTB bikepacking, I love the wilderness and couldn’t think of a better way to see it.

Do you fancy a bash at fat biking?

I’d love to fatbike – I once had this romantic notion to cycle the length of Lake Biakal in Siberia when the lake freezes over in winter. When I realised I had very little knowledge in ice survival and even less tolerance for the cold – I’ll be the one in arm and legs warmers when everyones still in summer kit – I thought perhaps it might not be my cuppa tea. But you never know.

If you could only follow three accounts on Twitter, what/who would they be?

Channel4 News
National Geographic Adventure

Is there a reason you choose C4 over any other network?

I love their style of reporting, it is insightful yet doesn’t assume you have a prior knowledge of a story – for a lazy follower of reality I can keep current just by following their blogs. I love Jon Snow and Katy Newman’s style of interviewing, they all seem to approach their work from a moral stand point, which I admire.

Where is the best place you’ve wild camped? Or would you rather not say?

In the gardens of a Michelin Star restaurant when I turned up cold, wet and hungry on TransCon when my equipment failed. They were the only hotel for miles but were fully booked and were not prepared to serve me any food. I went to bed hungry, woke hungry and cycled 60miles on a bag of jelly tots the following morning. A close second would be some of the white cliffs around New Haven, Sea Forth. Actually wild camping in itself is amazing and most spots bring a huge smile to my face.

Who would you like to see interviewed next?


I’ll see what I can do.