The world of continuous endurance cycling events is relatively unknown, it’s superheroes like the author and her peers, certainly not household names. Chappell invites the reader into a magical world of dot watchers, Audax riders and fairy godfathers who appear in the dead of night to offer replacement bike lights. Their feats and distances so extreme and savage as to make the average cyclist, who has pushed themselves to do a long distance sportive, feel they have barely touched the surface of suffering on a bike.
The Transcontinental is a self -supported 4000km ultra cycle challenge across Europe, the course and checkpoints changing each year to add to the mystery and excitement of the race. In 2015 Emily Chappell entered but withdrew at the halfway stage, badly fatigued and mentally exhausted. Where There’s a Will is the story of her second attempt the following year.
As preparation for the Transcon, Chappell enters the Bryan Chapman, a 600km Audax UK race to be completed in one go. Her fearlessness in the face of this epic challenge is contrasted in her mind by nagging questions about her ability to complete the distance:
‘I knew, somewhere in the furthest recesses of my mind, that I was entirely capable of finishing this ride, but this knowledge was so expertly hidden by my habitual fear and self -doubt that I rarely met it face to face.. ‘
An average Transcon day involves cycling 300km, up steep mountainsides, then hurtling down hairpin bends, fortified only by a quick roadside espresso and an ice cream. Sleep is snatched in the form of a few hours hunkered in a cold doorway or parking lot. If really fortunate a pizza and a cheap hotel materialise where the rider can shower and sleep for a few hours, always in the knowledge that the clock is still ticking and time spent asleep could be better spent riding.
However this is not just a memoir about an amazing adventure. Chappell is disarmingly frank about her own painful metal health battles. She includes a sensitive tribute to Mike Hall, a fellow cyclist and man she hugely admired who was tragically killed in 2017 whilst taking part in the IndyPac, an Australian endurance cycling event. In Hall, Chappell had found a real friend and soul mate and someone who completely understood her attitude to taking part and winning these brutal long distance races. He also understood the sense of deflation, depression and emptiness that emerges once the race is over.
Chappell more than does justice to her incredible cycling achievements in the quality of her writing. Every sentence is crafted and necessary to tell her story, not a word is extraneous or irrelevant. A fabulous read.