The 5 Things I Learned From Cycling the Coast of Brazil

This month I have had the privilege of being able to work as the doctor accompanying a group of 60 women cycling the coast of Brazil to raise money for female cancer charities – Breast Cancer Care, Ovarian Cancer Action and Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust. In this event I cycle along with the women and am on hand during the day and in the evening in case of any problems. I have done  a few of these events, but as this one drew to a close and I reflected upon the week I realised it was probably one of the best. The days were challenging – see the blog post for more details – but the lunch breaks were spent on the beach and the evening by the pool with a Caiparinha. As I reflected back upon the week, and on how lucky I am to have the job that I do, I couldn’t help thinking about what this trip has taught me.

Women are frickin awesome!

I knew this already. Of course I did, and I reflected on it many times throughout the event. But on our final day as we cycled through the large costal town of Ilheus with our police escort,  all of the women in their yellow event t-shirts cycling en-mass through the town, I felt a lump growing in my throat. These women are not elite athletes. Many of them hadn’t been on a bike since childhood before they started training for this event. But each on of them had been touched in some way by one of these cancers – either they had survived one themselves, or they knew a close friend or family member who had been affected or even killed by one of the three cancers. In response to this, these women had not sat down and given up, complaining bitterly about the cruel hand they had been dealt. These women that were now streaming ahead of me in their women vs cancer t-shirts were fighters. They decided they were going to take this unfortunate life event and they were going to turn it into something incredibly positive. Sure, they struggled through the steep climbs, long days and blistering heat. But they did it – and they raised almost a quarter of a million pounds for the three charities as well. If that’s not a lesson in how to deal with life’s set-backs, I don’t know what is.

You should train before you cycle 350km on a bike

I am a pretty fit person. I love nothing more than a long trail run, a challenging ultra marathon or scrambling up a mountain to watch the sunset. So when this trip fell in the middle of a period of other travel which precluded any real cycle training I wasn’t too bothered. And boy was that a mistake! Sure, I could keep up fairly easily and even cycle at the front when needed – but the saddle sore that I experienced was something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy!

Brazilian’s are very friendly

I’ve done cycling trips through many countries on several different continents, but this was my first in South America. The normal scenario that I have encountered is that the children chase you excitedly through the streets shouting ‘hello, hello, hello’, whilst they adults regard you with a mixture of suspicion and bemusement. Here in Brazil, however, it was a very different scene. The children gazed open-eyed but reserved from their parents arms, occasionally coaxed into giving a shy wave, whilst the men and women of the towns and villages took obvious delight in the spectacle of 60 women cycling through. They cheered and waved, the cars honked and rolled down their windows to shout encouragement. There was a real warmth and sense of welcome that I have never experienced anywhere else. Each town that we entered we had local cycle teams coming to cycle and keep us company for the day, we even had the mayor of Ilheus organise a local drum show for us on the last day. What an incredible country!

If there is something you really want to do with your life you should do it now

I debated for about 8 months whether I should leave my full-time training job and launch a career in expedition medicine. I was filled with doubt and anxiety – even after I had handed in my notice. The last few weeks before I finished work were some of the most stressful and uncertain I have ever experienced. But as I dozed in a hammock on a beach during my ‘lunch break’ between cycling I couldn’t even conceive that I ever considered not making this career change. So many people find themselves trapped by the corporate wheel – especially in careers such as medicine. I would advise anyone who has a longing to make a change to do it now. You are only going to get older, to get more responsibility and to think of more and more reasons why you shouldn’t. Do it now, you won’t regret it.

Living beside the beach is a very sensible life choice

Do I need to explain this one? The pace of life along the Brazilian coast, the abundance of good food, cold coconuts and the ability to swim or surf whenever the notion takes you. Why would anyone live life differently?

If you live in the UK and have been affected by any of the cancers mentioned in this post, or just fancy the sound of the trip, then check out to see what challenges they have coming up – personally I’m very tempted by their trekking trip to Uzbekistan and their cycle challenge through Costa Rica. Maybe I’ll see you there?