Emma Timmis : Why I Elliptigo Across Australia
Emma, in 2014 you ran across Africa and in August this year you’ll be riding an Elliptigo across Australia. That’s an incredible long way. Tell us more… how did this epic adventure come about?
Something that I am starting to learn about myself, is that I get a tiny, little seed planted in my mind and then some ridiculous, gigantic adventure seems to grow out of it! A friend came to drop something at my house one day and she travelled there on her Elliptigo (an elliptical bike). This was the first time I’d ever seen one. I had a little go and probably only covered about 100m. I was terrible. And in fact, my mum had a go and was far better than me, she actually managed to turn a corner whereas I got off and pushed it around!
Time passed and I thought no more about the Elliptigo. At the beginning of last year, I was feeling the need for a big adventure and was really getting into long distance running. I seem to be prone to injuries and was thinking what big adventures I could have without getting injured. I love cycle touring but I feel that the fitness from it is very different to running fitness. I remembered about the Elliptigo and my brain went off on an adventure tangent.
All of my previous big adventures have been inland and I had a real desire to explore a coastline. Wild-camping on beaches, watching the sunset over the sea and feeling the fresh salty air on my face were the thoughts going through my mind (this may be very different to reality!). So as I fixated on Google maps, in search of places with beautiful coasts, Australia stood out as the perfect location. A country big enough to have a real adventure longer than a few weeks and warm enough to tempt me. I was sold.
What is an Elliptigo? Did you always know how to ride one or have you had to learn?
Elliptigo is a brand of elliptical bike. It’s pretty much like a cross-trainer in the gym but it’s for outdoors. Like a bicycle with no saddle, so you have to stand up! I have probably had about two months all together to master the skills and improve on my fitness on it.
How did you prepare for such a big trip?
My preparation is always the same for my adventures. I break it down into elements of the trip. How am I travelling? Bike, walking, running? Train for that specific activity. How long will I be exercising per day? Get used to being active for that duration each day. What kit will I need? Make sure I know everything about all of my kit, how to use and how to fix it. I also get very familiar with my maps. Having a mental picture of what to expect is important, for example, I know that the first half of my adventure is going to be very isolated. I’ll need to be very organised with food and water, whereas the latter part of the trip I’ll have access to much more and surrounded with more people. Have a clear idea of how much contact I’ll have with people is really important too, you don’t want to be expecting a party only to find yourself alone.
Have you done anything like it before?
The closest thing I have done to ‘ElliptigOz’ is probably my adventure to the Dolomites. Myself and my climbing partner Mike packed up our touring bikes with everything we needed for three months living wild. We cycled 2000km from Manchester to Northern Italy to spend the summer multi-pitch rock climbing. This was the best trip I’ve ever done. It wasn’t for charity or for a record so there was no pressure, it was purely for fun. I love climbing and I love living a dirtbag lifestyle, this was the perfect combo!
It took us three weeks to ride to the Dolomites, passing through seven countries on the way. As we approached the Alps we started to question our sanity combining cycling and climbing. Climbing kit weighs a lot, so do touring bikes and all of our kit. Weaving up the alpine passes was seriously slow going and exhausting but the rewards at the top made it all worthwhile. We’d find somewhere discrete to camp each night, as close to the crag as possible, wake up at sunrise each day and spend almost every minute of daylight climbing. Surrounded by the huge mountains and spectacular landscape, no five star hotel could beat our simple canvas home. We’d then pack up our kit after a few days and cycle on to the next crag.
This trip really highlighted what makes me happy. I love to have a very simple life based around being physical and living close to nature. Many elements of my Dolomites trip have been passed forward into ElliptigOz.
As a child, did you have quite an outdoorsy upbringing?
I don’t think I was particularly encouraged to be outside. My parents didn’t direct me and my brother towards outdoor activities but we naturally enjoyed it. When we were little we’d spend our time digging up mud in the garden. I would love climbing trees or anything that I could find.
Let’s rewind to a few years ago… in 2014 you ran 3,974kms across Africa, from the ocean’s edge in Nambia to the Indian Ocean in Mozambique. A physical and psychological feat which many of would struggle to imagine. How did this adventurous thought start? And how did you prepare during the months leading up to the first step on the route?
It’s funny you say that as I actually find it hard to imagine it now looking back! This challenge began in a very different way to all the others. The sprouting of the idea may have involved a bottle of Tequila, and a friend suggesting I do it to raise money for a charity she was involved with. It’s interesting how things like running across a continent seem like such a good idea when you’ve had a fair few shots!!
After this drunken conversation, myself and my friend both thought each other might not be fully serious, but as time went on planning and training gradually built up and we realised what a mammoth task we’d committed to. There was a lot of hard work, blood, sweat and tears involved but we got there and accomplished the goal.
I took the same approach as I always do with preparation. I broke down the different components of the challenge. I spent a lot of time running, but not wanting to over-train I focussed on more time spent on my feet rather than just all running. I divided my mileage over the day as I knew that’s what I’d be asking my body to do in Africa. Sometimes, I’d wake up and do 20km before work, have a full day at work and then do another 20km straight after work. Luckily, we had quite a good summer in the UK so I managed to train in progressive heat and acclimatize well. I was extremely fortunate that my physio sponsored me with free treatment so I got regular massages and had any niggles addressed immediately. She also gave me a set of exercises to complete daily which would protect my knees from injury. I love maps, so spending hours studying the route was a great way to mentally prepare for what was to come.
Some of your travels have taken you into remote places where there aren’t many, or sometimes any, people. How does your mindset change to cope with being alone to being surrounded by others?
That’s a great question. I guess life can be very different on expeditions depending on the people you’re surrounded with, and in everyday life. I’m the kind of person that is completely content being alone, I know not everyone is comfortable with that so I’m pretty grateful to feel this way.
I would say that in terms of being with people on a challenge it really depends on the people you are with. Other people can make or break the trip. I’ve been on adventures with people that have been lazy and negative, this obviously makes a huge difference to the whole mood of the journey and makes everything hard work. On the other hand I’ve been away with very positive, bubbly people that create energy and make even the hardest challenges seem fun and exciting.
Tackling adventures on your own has its own difficulties. You are responsible for everything, there’s nobody to run ideas by and discuss options. But this also means you create the mood and atmosphere. In my experience, when you travel alone, you are more open to meeting new people and having people approach you. There’s been times when I’ve travelled alone and actually found it hard to get time to myself!
During your training, what kept you going? Do you have any rituals? Any must-haves?
Thankfully, I don’t really need rewards to encourage me as I enjoy what I do. I love being outdoors and I love training. Something I have previously struggled with is convincing myself to do all the stretches and strengthening exercises given by the physiotherapist. But as I get older I find that I need more of this in my training to avoid injuries so I’m pretty happy doing this too.
There’s one thing which is kind of a ritual I have, I tend to run on an empty stomach and just have a coffee before. I absolutely love coffee. Having a decent coffee and then getting out to train before most people have woke up is brilliant. You would have never heard me say that a few years ago, I’ve always been a night owl and early mornings have only really featured in my life the past year or so.
I’m still learning what works for me. My life changes all the time, from the country and climate I live in, to the adventure I’m preparing for, so I have to be flexible. I enjoy working out how to train for something new and getting to grips with new skills and challenges. For me life revolves around being adaptable.
Do you change your diet when your training? Or part taking in any of the events discussed?
Well… this is something that really interests me at the moment. I’m not going to gross you out with the details but to keep it brief I’ve had pretty awful stomach problems since running across Africa and I’ve been testing things out to fix it. The most recent thing I tried was a low carb, high fat diet and it worked really well. Unfortunately, this is not the easiest diet to stick to if you have to carry your own foot across a desert for a week! As it’s mostly fresh food.
On most of my adventures I tend to have a lot of carbs as they are the easiest thing to carry in dehydrated form. My newest favourite is cous-cous as you don’t have to boil it, you just add boiling water so this saves fuel and cooking time. Tinned tuna is also tasty, nutritious and easy to carry. Unfortunately, most of my diet decisions (on expedition) are based on being functional for the challenge, not so much for nutritional value.
Do you track your running? How do you do so?
I don’t particularly track my running. Where I live in New Zealand I find it takes ages to get a signal for GPS and in the mountains often it’s unavailable. At the moment I’m in the UK and I’ve found tracking a bit easier but I don’t do it all the time. I like to know the distance that I’m running and that’s all the info I need really. I’d rather run without any gadgets. I still love running for the peace and quiet, and time to think. I do try to take the odd photo of me running to share on social media but most of my runs are gadget free.
Are there are sports/styles of ‘adventure travel’ you wouldn’t like taking part in? Any phobias?
I recently had to overcome a fear of mine, and I’ll be honest with you, I’ll never do it again!!! I’m very proud that I braved it but no way again! I completed a Tough Mudder event. The majority of it is great fun and you get to run around a muddy obstacle course with a team for half a day, running, jumping, skipping, messing around. That bit is fantastic, the ice bath is not. I am one of those people that goes blue when I get to cold. I hate the cold, it’s just not my thing, hence why I’m coming to Australia!
What is your perception of women’s part in leading adventurous lifestyles, embarking upon challenging journeys?
Personally, I don’t see that there should be any difference in women taking on adventures to men doing the same. It really frustrates me that men get so much more media coverage than women do, this is across the board with sport, not just adventure. There are so many women doing incredible physical and mental feats, and very little attention is given to them. I can see how younger females feel that they need to be the pretty, delicate, little things observing the big, strong men, as this is what the media portrays. This is clear to see in adverts and articles published all over the world. There needs to be coverage given to the women out there being courageous and healthy, not skinny and dolled-up, so the younger generation believe it’s possible. If you see it, you can be it!
Do you have any female idols? Who do you look up to?
I am very fortunate to have incredible females in my family to look up to. None of them in a sporting sense but just for being fabulous. My mother is the most caring individual you could imagine, she will do anything she can for others and always puts everyone else first. She taught me and my brother to be strong and independent which no doubt lead me this adventurous life. My gran is one of the strongest women of her age you could think of. She’s in her mid-eighties and she still maintains a huge garden where she grows all of her own fruit and veg. If she was born in this era I think she would love to travel the world. She got her first passport in her 70’s to visit me in Taiwan. My aunty is very kind, thoughtful and spiritual, she reminds me that the power we possess as humans comes from within. I look to all these women to find strength and power.
Emma set off on her adventure on Friday 25th August 2017
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