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Jane Sowerby on a handbike

Devon Coast to Coast handbike ride

By Jane Sowerby

On 24th April I finally returned to the UK after an incredible, but very full-on season. So after five months of hard work it was time for a rest, right? Wrong! I’d signed up to do the Devon Coast to Coast bike ride which I was really excited about, until it dawned on me that it was less than a month away. So, I went straight into training: although I was fit from the ski season, I needed to train up the specific muscles used for handcycling. Of course, the lovely British weather wasn’t exactly assisting, as it pretty much rained constantly from the moment my plane from America landed, until about two days before the ride. So, I set up the bike inside on a turbo trainer and turned my lounge into a temporary gym, and whenever the rain did let up, I joined some fellow handcyclists for outdoor training with slightly better views. 

What motivated me most to train hard was knowing that doing the bike ride would raise some much needed cash for Back Up, a charity extremely close to my heart. I know first hand how Back Up can totally transform lives following a devastating spinal cord injury, as they saved me from sinking into the depths of depression after my accident, showing me how many sports and activities you can still do. The first Back Up ski course I took part in was a real turning point for me, as I had no idea such exhilarating disabled sports existed. 

24th May, the day of the bike ride, was suddenly here and amazingly so was the sun. We had a team of about 30 able-bodied riders and four handcyclists. The starting point was Ilfracombe and we had a beautiful ride around the coastline from there before heading inland. 

However, I realised immediately I’d been in denial about what the ‘rolling’ hills of Devon actually means. A whole lot of pain mainly! There were some real killer hills that my shoulders were not at all happy about. 

We stayed in luxurious accommodation such as one place offering an ‘indoor camping experience’, which basically means: no beds, a two-inch thick mattress on the floor, no pillow, eight people to a room and 30+ people to get through three showers – fun times! It meant we saved money though and raised more for the charity. 

The weather really was spectacular; we were so lucky after the recent downpours, but it did make it a little challenging in the heat. I had a major dip on the second day when I didn't think I could face any more super-steep hills, but luckily got a second wind. Even a few of the able-bodied riders couldn't finish. 

Our hard work was rewarded with incredible views of the rolling hills of Devon, and the adrenaline rush of the (occasional) downhill sections, but my happiest moment was definitely when we finished! 104 miles in total – from Ilfracombe to Plymouth, up innumerable killer hills (Did I mention the hills?).