My Strive Experience: Stage 1
4th December 2018
By Susie Ma
After months of training and buildup, it’s all over in what feels like the blink of an eye! The Strive Challenge has left an impression on me that will last forever, along with countless memories and once-in-a-lifetime experiences to look back on. I took some time to digest everything and settle back into “real life”, which has been an adjustment after such an adrenaline-fuelled trip, but I wanted to share my experience of the challenge while it’s still fresh in my mind, not only what happened during each stage, but also the many life lessons I took away with me.
I flew into Cagliari on August 30th and was met by glorious sunshine and my teammates, consisting of the Core Team (12 of us) and the Stage 1 participants. After a day of wandering around Cagliari, fuelling up on the right foods that would give us the energy for the next four days of cycling, the team had an introduction from Noah Devereux, the Director of Big Change, to get everyone enthusiastic for the trip ahead, and an inspiring talk from Essie North, the Managing Director of Big Change. I also had the chance to speak to Ali Parsa, a former Iranian refugee whose company Babylon Health is using the powers of AI to change the healthcare system. Hearing about the charity and the unbelievable things that are possible in the world today gave me a huge boost of motivation to start my journey, so I headed to bed for an early night (with the help of my Pillow Mist!) to be ready for the next morning’s challenge.
Day one was cycling from Pula to Sant'Antioco, a distance of around 84km and a climb of 803m. I was nervous as I stood at the starting line, but the atmosphere was electric and everyone was raring to get going.
The ride took us along the incredibly scenic Costa del Sud, Teulada, and across the bridge connecting Sant'Antioco island to the mainland. I was relieved to say that the first day wasn’t as gruelling as I had anticipated, not compared to what was to come later! Next we set out from Sant'Antioco, a distance of 102km ahead of us, and a climb of 1531m, taking in the Costa delle Miniere, the Pan di Zucchero (Sugar Loaf) and a long stretch of golden beach at Portixeddu along the way, before descending to Guspini. I was finding my rhythm cycling somewhere in the middle section of the group, pacing myself and allowing for great conversations with the other participants. That night Matthew Hood from Big Change told us about the incredible support that the charity offers young people, a fitting reminder of why we were taking on the tough challenge.
On day three we cycled through the old mining village of Montevecchio, Costa Verde, and crossed a stunning lagoon in Marceddì before our gradual climb towards Fordongianus, finishing our 100km distance and 1006m climb for the day. I was feeling increasingly glad that I had trained for 4 months before embarking on this journey! We prepared to cover around 111km and climb 1902m on day four, heading north to Paulilatino. Santu Lussurgiu, which was built into the mouth of an ancient volcano, was an exciting and nerve-racking downhill, sending us flying through the thick Montiferru forest and towards the coast, eventually laying eyes on vast sea views in Tresnuraghes. We rode down the coast across the Planargia valley and stopped for a well-deserved lunch in Bosa, one of the most picturesque points of the trip. My plan had been to keep my heart rate below a recommended 120bpm while cycling, and after four days of non-stop exercise I was surprised at how energised I still felt. Despite being physically exhausted and very hot, I was still full of adrenaline, fuelled by the infectious team spirit surrounding me.
With no time to rest, day five took us straight into a two day stint of sea kayaking. It was a welcome break for my legs, but very tough on my arms, covering a distance of 13km on the first day. We kayaked from Hotel Calabona to Lazzaretto Beach, seeing the glorious coast of Sardinia from a new perspective as we paddled, and then on to Corte Rosada.
I was surprised by how peaceful the waters were, which was a great chance for me to paddle alongside Sir Richard Branson and chat to him about business and life, taking in his enthusiasm and knowledge over the 14km distance. We had finally reached the end of the first stage of the challenge, and that evening we heard from hugely inspiring people including Moran Cerf, a neuroscientist who talked about the futuristic advancements in brain research, again vastly expanding my understanding of the human body and the endless possibilities and opportunities we need to grab hold of.
The Core Team said goodbye to the Stage 1 participants the next day, and prepared for a spot of sailing. We travelled from Sardinia to Corsica on a crewed yacht, which took around 8 hours along the coastline, and another 8 hours the second day. I used our sailing days as an opportunity to relax after so much physical work, though not for long.
It was time for the Core Team to take on our own challenge - a beautiful (but exhausting!) cycle from Porto Vecchio to Vizzavona, which covered around 149km in distance and... a 4208m climb! This was the most intense climb we had done so far, and stands out as one of the most difficult sections of the whole trip for me. We set off at 5am and the ride was stunning, winding through the wild beauty of Corsica’s thick forests, rocky mountains and cosy villages. Climbing to Piscia di Ghaddu was not for the faint of heart, and eventually we made it to Vizzavona. This was a gruelling way to end the first leg of the journey, and I can honestly say that after 13 hours of cycling, by the finish line I was more tired than I had ever been in my life.
Already the trip was shaping up to be a life changing experience in a big way. I learned so many lessons and life skills that I will take with me forever, but I recall making one particular decision during this first stage of the trip: I would stop focusing on the end goal. When I was cycling up hills, I had my eyes firmly on my Garmin in the beginning, constantly counting down the miles until reaching my destination. After a while, I realised that I wasn’t paying enough attention to my surroundings. I was missing all of the breathtaking sights of this journey by keeping my eyes glued to the clock on my handlebars, and it was time to ditch the digits and focus my mind on everything that I was passing by. A goal always feels more achievable when you are enjoying the small milestones and the experiences along the way, and it’s important to remember why you’re doing it in the first place. Counting down those numbers was no longer about how far I still had to go, each mile counted for another young person that was able to make their life a success thanks to the money raised, and once my mindset shifted, I began to enjoy the journey so much more.
I’ll be sharing the rest of my trip diary on the blog in the coming weeks, so if you want to know more about this life-changing experience, keep an eye out right here!
Love, Susie xx