Gavin Towers is setting out to cycle 230 miles a day for 21 days in order to break the British Coastline Cycling record. Not only that, he has Retinitis Pigmentosa, a degenerative eye condition that can severely affect his vision while on the bike. BIKE Magazine caught up with him to talk about the challenges he’s facing, and embracing, on this epic undertaking.
Q: When did you start cycling and what about it do you enjoy so much?
A: My love for cycling started when I was 12 or 13 and we moved briefly to the Lot Valley in France. A total unknown, the language, the place, the people and school were all welcoming, but it was a big change. Cycling gave me a chance to explore the area, meet new people and to race in a country that was all about cycling. It was great. I would cycle to school, a 30 minute bike ride instead of a 1 hour bus trip, with, what seemed like, two decent climbs and on the way home if the season was right, a cherry tree you could stop at to refuel.
The school had an old changing block that was no longer in use, I’d arrive early, set out my clothes and get a wash before anyone else arrived. It was cool and felt like freedom. In France we would have a half day of sport on Wednesday, initially I continued to play football like I had in the UK, but over time cycling took over, I loved the feeling of peace and independence when I was in the saddle and I loved the challenge, the cycling was not easy but it always felt rewarding.
On the weekends I’d go for long rides to explore new routes. Sundays were always interesting, as hunting was really popular where we lived and every Sunday there seemed to be more hunters than wildlife, I was always a little concerned I might be mistaken for a wild boar!
The city closest to us, 36k away, was Cahors and the bike shop there was called Cycles 7, the owner Alain Cabrignac took my under his wing and started to get me into the group rides and races, it was really a great time, the people were great, the race atmosphere was fun, the weather was invariably good, it made for a great mix and made it a lot easier to feel part of the community.
Q: You’re aiming to cycle 230 miles a day for 21 days in order to break the British coastline cycling record. Why this record in particular?
A: I had plans for this year that were crazy and more ambitious than this. But lockdown and Covid meant I needed to reassess, which was a good thing. What had been two record attempts in one year became one, The British Coastal Circumnavigation record attempt. Initially planned for May, we postponed to August and it has given us more time to prepare and build a team, it’s nice.
On one level the record attempt is a bike ride, with an amazing team, passing through amazing places and encountering amazing people – raising awareness about Retinitis Pigmentosa and how we are all people experiencing things in different ways.
That said, the record attempt represents a deeper moment of acceptance in my life, a meeting of me and my eye condition. A meeting with and acceptance of fear and appreciation. A recognition of a need for care and support to achieve a goal an acceptance that after the record attempt is over the deterioration of my eyesight will continue. It is a strange feeling, one that I know I need to be aware of but struggle with. In many senses the only way I could bring myself to start and accept that was to attempt the unthinkable.
Undertaking this record attempt is a choice and I’m really looking forward to it. There are elements of the challenge we can be sure about and elements that are out of our control. We do know it will come to an end, hopefully having completed 4802 miles in less than 22 days and having set a new record.
The challenge is exciting, amazing, unknown, reassuring, uncertain and fear creating. Everybody faces challenges, every day. We all have challenges, we all experience things differently, we all deal with things differently. I am doing this to encourage me to be more accepting of myself and of others both in moments of joy and of adversity.