An interview with...Steve Phillips
Go light, go alone, go fast, go far
19 June 2023 at 19:00:00
Whilst I can’t say I’m in Steve’s inner circle, as a fellow cycling adventurer, I’ve been in touch with him since our paths virtually crossed as I cycled to Greece, a year after moving to the Forest, as Steve cycled to meet club members down in southern France. With many of our club burning paths on paths less cycled, I thought it a good time to resurrect interviews getting to know our club member. We join Steve as he approaches the end of his current jaunt, heading north from the southern most tip of Europe on dusty gravel trails and mountain passes.
Who is Steve?
64 years young. Retired at 55 after 38 years 112 days in the army. It was like closing the cover on a well thumbed book. A story I’d lived. Knew well. My dream. The final chapter written. As Omar Khayyam said ‘the pen having written writes on’. I was ready in 2013 to start a new chapter as Steve in Lydney.
No one was inspirational in that sense. I’m more my own man. I’d rather you hated me for who I am than loved me for what I’m not. One early influencer was the Polish-British mathematician and philosopher J Bronowski and his book and TV series ‘The Ascent of Man’. He said that the spirit and creative energy of people was what drove discovery. His thoughts led me towards a learning culture that was to have a profound impact on my life. I could learn, I could challenge, I could change. I was fifteen. I still have that curiosity. I want to look around the corner, wonder why or know how.
What were you doing at various intervals whilst writing your response?
3 hours ago, cycling into Lourdes, 6 hours ago cycling past the monument to the marquis in the Pyrenees. 9 hours ago asleep in tent ⛺️ 🤣 No breakfast. Somewhere I stopped for breakfast,and lunch at a Carrefour supermarket of Brie, croissants 🥐, box of Nutella biscuits washed down by Yop Coconut yoghurt drink.
Is this current adventure different in any way to previous trips?
Yes in two ways. Firstly it’s my first long distance journey by gravel, or all roads. My previous journey’s have been MTB or by road bike. I had planned to cycle from Lydney across France and Spain to Gibraltar and then fly home in 2022. But the lingering affects of COVID meant I judged that the time wasn’t right. I filed my plan under ‘pending’.
Fast forward to October 2022 and my friend Iwona suggests that our group of friends go rock climbing in El Choro just north of Malaga in late April. El Choro? That sounds familiar. El Choro was on my planned 2022 route. Iwona’s creativity had sparked a new idea. What if I fly to Malaga go climbing with the group and start my journey from El Choro?
Time for a quick military appreciation of the art of the possible before I launch my invasion. April in southern Spain is warm enough for cycling and I should keep the good weather if I travel north. June in France and England should see good weather and a week’s climbing will start my acclimatisation. All I need to do is reverse the 2022 route. Clearly a sign from the Gods! I booked a one way ticket from Bristol to Malaga.
The new plan was to spend the first week climbing in El Choro, push south to Gibraltar before turning North and strike up the centre of Spain to Granada, Pamplona, across the Pyrenees, Burgundy, Paris, Caen, Portsmouth and home across the south downs way, Salisbury plain, Devises and the Kennet and Avon Canal to Bath and then to Bristol via the old railway cycle path. New for 2023 I included the inaugural Gaudix Gravel Festival just east of the Sierra Nevada mountains with the Schwalbe Gorafe Epic gravel race across the spectacular Gorafe desert. I chose the Medium race 120km + 2000m.
I launched operation fitness in December setting weekly goals of 250km cycling, 20km rowing, pilates twice a week, sports massage once every two week plus climbing indoors couple times a week. Equipment I had everything from previous trips but I upgraded to Garmin 1040 Solar. The week of climbing would serve as ‘tapering’ and rest.
Pinky’ Lauf Seigla (Icelandic for True Grit).
AXS Eagle R10-52,F40T. Vittoria Terreno Dry gravel 38mm (Now my favourite dry tyre). Pink Muc Off tubeless valves, extremely robust! Well worth the extra money. By Pamplona Pinky needed new rear tyre, pads and chain, topped up sealant. Otherwise she hasn’t missed a beat.
Garmin 1040 Solar GPS, route download to RWGPS on phone, Apidura bags. 2 X water bottles were certainly need in Spain’s mini spring heat wave where temperatures topped 40 plus in the afternoons. Water stops weren’t abundant either. SIS/High 5 electrolyte tablets.
Front bag 1728 grams: tent, sleeping bag, silky, mat, flip flops and adventure towel.
Rear bag 1586 grams, shorts, T, pants, Rab LT weight hoody, charging cables/plug euro/UK, toothbrush/paste, hand wash detergent, Speedo’s, sun cream.
Both double bagged to ensure they are 100% waterproof Total 3,314
Blue bag on back ready to use Castelli shake proof (134g) and hat. Centre bag 2 x hex keys (7mm fits seat, bars, post. One fits brake pads and out front mount). All bolts are torqued and thread locked by me before I leave. Haven’t needed the hex’s. Lezyne micro floor pump (150g), 6 oz Wolf Tooth oil (170g) rag for chain, passport and credit card, Lezyne tubeless plugs, Never weighed these and bags but I’d guess about 700g.
Without water and phone about 4Kg. Go light, go far, go fast. Ride the bike you love.
What about Logistics?
I’ll live off the land. Bars, cafes, restaurants, supermarkets, tent, home stays, hotels. Pamplona is halfway and so I’d book the bike into a bike shop and get new chain, pads and tyres or anything else that needed replacing.
The second change was that my journey would begin this time, not alone as usual, but with a brilliant week of climbing and via ferratta with my very closest friends.
What’s your style of travel when adventuring?
Go light, go far, go fast. Minimalist. Solo. I actually believe in supporting the local people by staying with them, eating in their restaurants, shops or bars. I think it puts something back. I tend to meet lots of people by being solo. I’ve always been met with kindness.
What is your go to food when: there’s a restaurant at hand, and when there isn’t and you’re starving?
Starving, supermarket, it will be 1 litre of YoP Yoghurt or milk and a box of Nutella biscuits. UK, fish chips and mushy peas. If theirs a restaurant I’ll likely choose the plat de jour or chef recommendation or local dish. The chef is rarely wrong and I like to experiment. Drink, I never say no to an ice cold Guinness unless I hit a wine area then of course local wine. First wine region this trip will be Cahors for a fine Melbec, AOC. Kinda of fits with my philosophy of sampling as I go. Im already looking forward to I hitting the Burgundy region and staying in Chablis village. I’ll be heading for the best local wine for a plate of chèvre and fresh baked bread. And it will be good to pause and savour the moment. Perhaps I do dream ?
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt as a cyclist and if your grandchildren got into cycling, what would be your most important lesson?
To teach them how to live without certainty and yet without being paralyzed by hesitation. I’d teach them that very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself. It’s in your way of thinking. The grandchildren love cycling, shorts are optional when your a boy in a hurry.
Do you relax and if you do, how?
I certainly relax. I don’t wear a watch. But I’m never late always early. I never waste your or my time by being late. I awake when the dawn reaches into my tent or bedroom. Reading, thinking, podcasts always listen to music while cycling. Philosophy, cosmology, military history, ancient history. Comedy show and dinner with friends at the Tabacco Factory or plays and ballet at the Old Vic in Bristol. Secretly I enjoy cooking and hosting dinner parties for friends which with too much alcohol often ends in much hilarity and bad behaviour! I relax on the bike by changing the intensity. I let the area define my riding. Spain, off road amazing miles of gravel but was hard. Big hot days, long off road climbs with little food. I dug deep. But in France the chemin’s are easy back roads and lanes. Stop for a coffee and cake at the boulangerie. Sit, relax, contemplate. As I ride look at the countryside, wonder who or what went this way before in ancient times. For surely I’m not the first to pass this way? I like to think I create a learning environment. How do you live and cycle?
Baja California Peninsula looks interesting. Thinking of Sienna, or Tuscany Trail across Italy. Quality gravel and countryside. Maybe more mountain biking. I have a few draft plans in pending. Definitely looking forward more bike packing, climbing and via ferrata with my group and most of all with my best buddy Emila. I don’t tend to dream about something. If I did I’d go and do it. I often fill in gaps in groups at the last moment or when someone drops out. ‘Steve, this is an all girls group but we need one more’. Excellent, I’ll bring a little black number then. Or they need someone who can navigate. I have the time and skill to fit in a group. It’s resulted in some great new friendships and adventures. Often pushing me out of my comfort zone. I say yes. It’s like a throw of the dice.
What or what raises your pulse more than cycling?
That would be those moments in my past life.
If you could only relive one memory on any cycling journey over and over again, what would it be?
It’s the end of another chapter but also the start of the next which I’ve yet to discover; serendipity (finding valuable or agreeable things not looked for). My life spreads out before me over as large a surface as does all eternity to a god. Letters from a Stoic. Seneca.
Emila, Jarek, happy single guy, Iwona, Matt. The farewell and start of my adventure 2 May 22.