Steve Fabes is cycling six continents in five years to raise money and awareness for UK medical charity, Merlin. France was his first stop.
You’re aiming to cycle six continents in five years. What was your inspiration for the trip?
I cycled the length of Chile when I was 19 with my younger brother. It was an immense adventure and we learnt a lot from the experience. Ever since then I've been yearning for another big new adventure and a brand new challenge. Like all ideas of great consequence, I put together my route around the world in a pub garden, beer in one hand, mini atlas in the other.
France was the first country on your epic journey; the rest of Europe, then Africa followed. The French leg must now seem like a lifetime ago…
It does, but some memories are still vivid. Tackling the Alps in mid-winter is one! France is great for cycling. The drivers were really considerate, often giving me so much room that I feared they would collide with vehicles coming in the other direction, and yes it's easy compared to Africa. I think the cold made it tough at times. The winter of 2009/10 was the coldest in northern Europe for almost 30 years and I was camping at minus 20 degrees celius.
What other memories do you have of cycling through France?
Chilly ones, as well as incredible hospitality. French people often invited me in to stay the night and sometimes paid for my breakfast. I remember some tough climbs in the Alps and I remember the confused looks on the faces of car drivers as they watched me erect my tent in thick snow in the Alps.
You headed south-east from Calais – how did you choose your route?
Well, the cold dictated it really. My plan was to go south where I hoped it would be warmer. I was also keen to ride through the Jura mountains which were magnificent as well as the Alps.
How are you coping with the loneliness of the long-distance cyclist?
I have a friend with me for the Africa leg so it's not so bad at the moment. I'm sure this will be one of the hardest things to deal with after Africa.
How many books are you getting through a week, and what’s your best read so far?
I often fall asleep before I've managed to read that much, so maybe only one every three weeks or so. Best read? I loved The Road by Cormac McCarthy and Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts.
How are your bike and your kit holding up?
A little problem with my hub but almost all my kit is top quality and I've had very few problems so far.
You’re riding for the charity Merlin, whose work has parallels with your own as a doctor. How did you go about identifying which charity to ride for?
As a doctor, off on a truly global adventure, I felt it was important to help a charity which delivered medical aid worldwide. A friend told me about Merlin and I did some research. I was really inspired by Merlin’s dedication and approach to providing medical humanitarian aid. They are the only specialist UK charity which responds worldwide with vital health care and medical relief. They work in the world’s most difficult and dangerous environments: in countries ravaged by civil war, blighted by drought, devastated by earthquakes and landslides and their teams of doctors, nurses and public health specialists don’t stop working just because an em ergency is over. They stay in place until lasting health care services are rebuilt.
You’re hoping to raise £50,000 and you’ve already raised more than 30% of your target. How have you gone about raising money, and what advice can you offer other charity cyclists?
I tried every avenue. I approached my old school who then offered to give the proceeds from a sponsored walk to Merlin. I organized fundraising events. I hit up everyone I knew. I secured a little corporate sponsorship. My advice would be just to work hard at it. Lots of cyclists off on big adventures often neglect this aspect of their project and focus on planning the route in great detail or reseraching equipment. The fundraising aspect is where the real work comes in.
You plan to (eventually) return home to the UK via a return ferry crossing from Calais. Do you expect to be a changed man by the time to reach French territory for a second time?
I don't think so. Perhaps my priorities and future direction will change, but not me as a person. Friends joke that I'll return with a wild stare and talking only in grunts after spending too much time on my own in the wilderness.
See more of our charity bike ride articles:
- Charity Bike Rides: Taking the Plunge
- Marketing Your Charity Cycle Challenge
- Tips for Raising Money
- How to Cover Your Costs
- Robbie Sage's Global Guitar ride
- Organising a 1500km ride for 80 charity cyclists