Have you ever daydreamed about cycling around the world?
In this interview, we speak with two women who are planning to do just that. Although Cat Dixon, who is one half of TandemWoW, and her cycling buddy, Raz Marsden, are not "just" planning to cycle around the world - they're attempting to become the fastest women to circumnavigate the globe on a tandem.
Cat and Raz met a couple of years ago while riding from London to Paris. They started riding together and Cat shared her dream about cycling around the world. Cat says, "That turned into "let's do it together" - and "why not on a tandem" – and then "we may as well try to break the world record"!"
As you do.
Read on to find out about this incredible attempt that's aiming to raise £18,000 for Oxfam and the Motor Neurone Disease Association.
Want to fast forward and find out how their trip went? Check out our post-ride interview with TandemWow!
Part one: the event
1. Tell us about your record attempt - what, where and why?!
We are attempting to break the world record for being the fastest women to circumnavigate the globe on a tandem. We set off from Oxford (Beeline Cycles on the Cowley Road, Oxford) on 29 June 2019. If you are in the area please come along to see us from 9am!
To break the world record we must ride more than 18,000 miles around the world in less than 320 days. We plan to ride between 80 – 100 miles per day (with hopefully a day off a week!).
The current men's record was recently set at 283 days – the plan is to ride faster than this which means we will be the fastest people to ever circumnavigate the globe in a tandem.
We are raising money for two amazing charities – Oxfam and the Motor Neurone Disease Association. We hope to raise £18,000 – a pound a mile at https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/tandemwow
I've given up my job to do the ride. Hopefully I'll get another job when I get back! Raz is fortunately taking a sabbatical from work. We are both leaving family and friends behind – and although we can keep in touch on social media - we know we'll find it hard not to see our friends and family for such a long time.
That said, we are going on a fantastic adventure and really can't wait to get started.
2. What will the record attempt involve?
The record involves us riding across five continents and more than 20 countries. Will be heading east – crossing Europe and heading to India, Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand, United States of America, Africa and back into Europe.
Overall, we will climb Everest about 18 (and a half times)! Climbing will be tough as we are carrying all our own stuff and the tandem is heavy.
One of the biggest challenges will eating enough and getting sufficient rest and recovery time. We'll be riding between 80 – 100 miles per day – so will burn a few calories!
We are cycling through some amazing countries. We will visit Italy – Florence and Venice, cycling down the Croatian coast, stopping in Istanbul – travelling to Georgia. We will also ride around the coast of India, which should be utterly amazing, and into Myanmar, Thailand and Malaysia.
A massive challenge will be riding across Australia, especially in the summer when the temperatures will be hot! While in Australia, we'll be riding along the world's longest straight road where there is little opportunity to get water and supplies.
We’re also riding through New Zealand and across America, both of which have amazing scenery and culturally it will be interesting, particularly in America as we are riding along the Mexican border (following the wall!).
We'll have a little time in Africa as we ride across Morocco before returning to Europe. The contrast of all these different continents and countries should be fascinating – I'm sure we will see some expected sites but travelling is also about unpredictability and meeting new people and seeing the unexpected on route.
You will be able to follow us on social media at TandemWoW and via our website www.tandemwow.com.
We will also have a live GPS link so that we can be tracked in real-time at https://www.followmychallenge.com/live/tandemwow/.
3. What attracted you to this particular record attempt?
Raz and I met while riding from London to Paris on a charity ride for the Motor Neurone Disease Association. We started riding together and doing several challenges in Europe, including the Etape du Tour in the Alps. We spent long hours together on the bike talking about travelling and I shared my dream about riding around the world.
We talked about all the different countries we could visit and things we could see and this turned into why don't we ride together and why not on a tandem?!
We then thought we may as well try and break the world record...
We decided to go for it in January 2019 because I had to give notice at work and we needed time to plan and start fundraising. We are keen to do something meaningful with the ride – and we are riding for two amazing charities that means we can focus on their work, hopefully visiting some Oxfam projects around the world and talking about the impact of motor neurone disease: Raz is a nurse consultant specialising in MND.
4. What sort of logistics are involved in an attempt like this?
The ride is totally unsupported – which means that we have to carry all of our own equipment. Most of the time we'll be camping so everything we need will be carried in our panniers.
The first thing to work out, kit wise, was the bike. We worked with JD tandems, who were fantastic at helping us design the bike and kit it out. We've gone for a steel frame but with couplings which means that we can take it apart when we fly. We've got reinforced wheels with 48 spokes because we'll be carrying so much kit and going over rough terrain at times. We've been testing the bike on some long rides and the potholes in England should stand us in good stead when we’re riding across Southeast Asia!
I did the route planning – we needed to agree the route in advance with Guinness Book of Records, because we are attempting to break the world record. Thankfully they approved our route, but we have to comply with quite a lot of rules. We must ride a minimum of 18,000 miles in one direction. We can't backtrack or zigzag as we go.
Finding a route which is 18,000 miles long which goes in one direction is quite hard!
We had several options – one was to go north through Kazakhstan, Russia and China and the other was head south crossing Europe into Turkey and seeing some of the Baltic states.
Map showing the route TandemWOW will be taking across the world
We went for the warm option – crossing Europe and following the Croatian coast down into Greece and across into Turkey. Ideally, we wanted to go north in India, tracking the Himalaya but unfortunately, we couldn't get do enough miles and therefore we decided to ride around the coast of India which is longer than taking a more northerly route.
We were also keen to see a bit more of Southeast Asia, but again had to plan the route carefully, because it's easy to end up backtracking and losing miles – we’re therefore heading across my Myanmar (Burma) into Thailand and Malaysia to Singapore.
We are also crossing the United States – we were keen to visit Yosemite and travel down the back of the Sierra mountains – however we don't arrive in the US until January and it's likely to be cold and therefore we decided to head south following the Mexican border to Miami.
We'll travel up through Africa and back into Europe across Spain and France.
This equates to about 18,200 miles – we built in a bit of extra mileage for contingency.
We are really excited about the route. We’re following several coastlines which should be beautiful as well as taking in some amazing countries.
5. Tell us about your kit choices
JD Tandems and Orbit Tandems built the bike – it's bright pink and looks amazing! It has reinforced wheels, with 48 spokes, but most of the other kit on it is standard, so that we can replace on route if we need to.
Schwalbe have supplied us with tyres and inner tubes.
We're using Ortlieb panniers, which are waterproof (which we were glad of this weekend as we rode from Oxford to Hull in the pouring rain!), and are also tough.
We’re using Exped bed sleeping bags and mats in MSR tent and stove. We've gone for lightweight versions wherever we can to minimise the weight on the bike, although it's still heavy to lift when it's fully laden.
We have one luxury item each – Raz is taking a small speaker for music and I'm taking a coffeemaker. I think I'll need the caffeine!
We’re also riding in stolen goat cycling gear – they are kindly sponsoring us. Stolen goat clothing is amazing, it so comfortable and breathable, but also looks great! The stolen goat team has helped us design a jersey for the ride. It has our charity’s logos on it and TandemWoW, and is in our cycling club colours – we both ride for the Cowley Road Condors in Oxford.
6. What are you most worried about?
I'm most worried about falling off!
Or getting ill – as this will make the record really challenging.
As the pilot (the person at the front), it's likely to be my fault if we fall/get knocked off, so if we do I apologise in advance!
As for getting ill, one thing we've had to think about is the risk of rabid dogs.... Raz has had a rabies vaccination – I haven't. I am working on the basis that if dogs are going to bite, they'll get the stoker (the rider at the back) first! If we do get bitten I've got 24-hours to get to a hospital and Raz has 48 hours – this could be a bit of a challenge depending on where we are...
If we fall behind in the mileage, it will mean catching up in countries where the going is bit flatter and we can make good progress on the roads. This will be tough so we will try and keep on top of the miles – but we know that in Southeast Asia the going might be slow particularly, if we hit the tail end of the monsoon – which we might!
7. Have you ever done anything like this before?
I've done a few tough things – I like challenges(!) - but never anything quite like this. I've done a full Ironman, ridden from London to Paris in 24 hours (280 miles), climbed Mont Blanc (and various other mountains around the world) and run the elite start at the London Marathon. I'm ex-army and have done several military skills competitions – which can be tough! I've ridden the Etape du Tour a few times and other long rides such as Raid Pyrenees and many of the Cols in the Alps and Pyrenees. I was also an Outward-Bound instructor and sea kayak guide in Canada for a while – so spent a lot of time in the outdoors in some challenging conditions. I'm hoping all these experiences will stand me in good stead for the challenge ahead.
Raz would be the first to admit that she's probably got less formal "tough" credentials than me! Raz says "Before I met Cat I think my toughest challenge was bringing up three amazing children, whilst studying and working. I have always been quite fit and active but never really push myself to the brink. I guess I have always wanted to find out what I am capable of. That is why when I was asked to cycle from London to Paris in aid of the MNDA I was keen to try. I trained quite hard, so that I would enjoy the ride and not just survive it. After that, when cycling with Cat she would ‘half wheel’ me, constantly challenging me to cycle faster and further. I loved the challenge. When she said, I was good enough to cycle the E’tape du Tour I believed her! We did that last year and the following day we cycled up Alpe Huez. It was exhilarating."
8. How are you preparing for the event?
We made the final decision to go for it in January. I had to give notice at work and Raz had to arrange a sabbatical – we also needed to finalise the route and start generating interest in our ride including sponsorship for our charities and corporate support and sponsorship to help us get around the world.
We are trying to get in regular long rides, but it is difficult to train for riding 80 – 100 miles every day. I'm fully expecting the first few weeks to be really tough before our bodies start to adapt!
Because we are riding for charity, we are spending a lot of time fundraising as well as the logistics like visas, kit refinements, and generally planning our departure and first few days of the route. It's amazing how much time it does take as there is always something to do!
9. How will you organise your nutrition during the attempt?
We have had great support from Active Root – which is a sports drink containing ginger which helps us with our longer rides.
We recently went to Calpe to ride in the mountains and made the mistake of not planning our nutrition particularly well – we won't make that mistake again! We eat regularly on the bike and will stop every 25 miles or so to eat and drink. It will be more challenging in hotter countries and those countries where the food is less familiar – particularly Southeast Asia.
However, with the exception of Australia, when we are riding on the longest straight road in the world, we should have regular access to food and water and will just keep eating and drinking as we go!
We are also taking a small camping stove – so we will cook in the evenings and hopefully having enough left over for lunch (unless we eat a lot)!
10. Not long to go now - how are you feeling?!
It's just a few weeks to go now – we’re feeling a mixture of excitement and trepidation. It's a bit of a rollercoaster ride and there's lots to do before we set off.
In many ways we are focused on planning for the ride which takes your mind off the actual riding.
We will probably realise we have set off when were halfway across France – it's all a bit of a whirlwind!
Part 2: Charity
11. What has motivated you to take on this enormous challenge?
We feel really passionate about the charities we are riding for, The Motor Neurone Disease Association and Oxfam.
The Motor Neurone Disease Association provide care to people suffering from this disease and fund vital research with the aim of finding a cure. Raz is a nurse consultant specialising in supporting people with this terrible disease which currently has no cure.
Oxfam provides amazing support to people in the event of an emergency. They also support women's rights including enabling women and girls to access health and education. This helps people get out of poverty so that they can lead healthy and productive lives supporting themselves and their families.
Please do support our ride by donating to our amazing charities at https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/tandemwow
12. Does all the money you raise go to charity?
All donations will go directly to the charities, to fund their great work.
We are self-financing the cost of the trip. While it would be lovely to have a corporate sponsor funding our ride (if there is anyone out there interested – do get in touch!), and we have received kit from a number of wonderful organisations (see above), at the moment we are paying all the remaining costs associated with our attempt, ourselves.
13. How is the fundraising going?
We hope to raise £18,000 for our charities, which is effectively a pound a mile.
We have made a good start and have currently raised over £4,000.
If you have read this article and enjoy it please do support us as we ride around the world!
14. How can people donate?
You can donate to our charities at https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/tandemwow
You can follow us on social media @ TandemWoW
You can follow us around the world at https://www.followmychallenge.com/live/tandemwow/
Our website is at www.tandemwow.com.
A huge "good luck" to Cat and Raz! We wish them the very best of luck and look forward to hearing more from them on the road!
Update: they did it! Read our post-ride interview with TandemWow, here!
Want more inspiration for your next cycling trip?!
Check out our blog for regular interviews with people completing incredible cycling feats all over the world.
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