The Adventure Syndicate launched their long distance, self-supported race team this week and Pete caught up with Emily Chappell to find out more.
If you’re not entirely sure who The Adventure Syndicate are, a good place to start would be our interview with co-founder Lee Craigie after her marathon Highland Trail 550 effort and subsequent journal, Joining the Dots. Read the full interview here.
For those that are familiar, catch Pete’s chat with The Adventure Syndicate’s other co-founder below.
Photos by James Robertson.
Who is Emily Chappell?
She’s a former London cycle courier who got a bit carried away, and has also cycled across Asia, Europe, Iceland and North America, survived temperatures as low as -40C on the Alaska Highway, and more recently stumbled into endurance racing. She won the Transcontinental Race in 2016, and then surprised herself by coming first in the Strathpuffer, despite being #notamountainbiker.
She’s still quite ambivalent about being a ‘proper’ athlete, who wins races, and always thought she’d end up being a writer. Her first book, What Goes Around, was published in 2016, and she writes an award-winning blog about her travels. Together with the infamous Lee Craigie, she’s a co-founder and director of The Adventure Syndicate.
How did The Adventure Syndicate come about?
We [Lee and Emily] had had one too many conversations whining about the cycling industry, and how it just couldn’t seem to get it right with regards to women. We both often felt like we had to twist ourselves out of shape to fit into it, and we suspected a lot of other women probably did too. I think what eventually happened was that we realized we had it in us to change the world. We could do things our way, and there was half a chance people might follow.
As it turns out, there were huge numbers of women eagerly waiting for ways of being a cyclist that suited them better, and we’ve unwittingly found ourselves at the forefront of a movement. We quickly realized that we could do much more than just display ourselves as potential role models, and a cornerstone of the Syndicate’s work is personal contact.
We spend a lot of time on the road, and we meet, talk to, ride beside, camp out with, and learn from dozens of people every week, finding out what it actually is that’s keeping them from cycling, or from cycling more, and figuring out together what we can do about it. The answer’s different for everyone.
What’s your background in cycling?
I started out as a commuter in London ten years ago, quickly got addicted, worked as a cycle courier for six years (as far as I’m concerned, the best job of my life), then set out to cycle round the world. Eventually I graduating from traditional touring to lightweight bike-packing, and somehow I’ve ended up becoming a racer, despite never having thought of myself as an ‘athlete’.
Why a race team?
Although the Adventure Syndicate includes a whole range of different cyclists, a lot of us compete in long-distance, self-supported races like the Tour Divide and the Transcontinental and really, although these are high-level athletic events, they still showcase the Syndicate’s principles of adventure, self-reliance, and pushing yourself further than you originally thought you could go.
The lessons we’ve all learned from races like the Transcontinental have had a much wider overall impact on our lives, and the stories we tell about them have affected even people who will never race a day in their lives. So we felt confident that we could use the platform of a professional race team to give us better stories to tell, to help us reach more people, and to push the boundaries we all still face.
How many people make up the Adventure Syndicate race team, and what do they do?
There are four of us (hence our name: The Quad): Lee Craigie, Rickie Cotter, Emily Chappell (me), and Paula Regener. Lee and Rickie predominantly focus on off-road events (though they’ll turn their hand to anything – Lee recently aced the 312, and Rickie rode the Transcontinental in 2014), and Emily and Paula race on the road, with occasional excursions onto gravel.
This year Lee and Rickie will be riding the Tour Divide, while Paula and Emily tackle the 2,500km TransAtlanticWay race around Ireland. We’re still waiting to see if the Transcontinental will go ahead, after the tragic loss of Mike Hall, but even if it doesn’t, there will be some sort of adventure across Europe for Emily and Paula.
Why did you choose to focus on self-supported endurance racing?
Because that’s what we do! And for me in particular, this was a perfect compromise between being a ‘proper athlete’ and being a grubby independent adventurer. If we were an ordinary race team, we’d be expected to commit to events every single week of the calendar, and that’s just not practical when the races you do are 4,000km long, and require weeks of logistical preparation, and at least a month of recovery time afterwards.
This style of racing suits us personally a lot better, and we are lucky enough to have some wonderful sponsors on board (Leigh Day, Apidura, Findra, Exped), who don’t care that we won’t be wearing their logos on the podium every other weekend. We’re all in this with a much deeper social and professional purpose than merely promoting our names and furthering our reputations.
How does the team fit into the bigger Adventure Syndicate picture?
The Quad are just four of the 12 athletes who make up The Adventure Syndicate, and although our job in this particular case is to race, we’re all also heavily involved in delivering the Syndicate’s other activities, hosting training camps and riding weekends, running workshops, giving talks, and mentoring and encouraging fellow riders on an individual basis. We ride and race in Adventure Syndicate kit, and it’s gratifying how often we’ve run into another cyclist on the road, or out on a hill, and they’ve said ‘oh, The Adventure Syndicate – I’ve heard of you!’
What races is the team competing in and how does having the team set-up help prepare for them?
Over the next few months we’ll be racing in the Tour Divide (Lee and Rickie), the TransAtlanticWay (Emily and Paula) and (hopefully) the Transcontinental. We’re also talking about entering the Strathpuffer as a quad, which will be interesting, given that only two of the team have much mountain biking experience! Although we’ll mostly continue to race as soloists, we do hope to have a few adventures as a gang of four.
How did you choose the people to make up the team?
It wasn’t that hard really. There are only a few people in the world who are as talented at speaking, writing, communicating and connecting with people as they are at cycling. We’re also very happy that we have a variety of styles, personalities and backgrounds. One of us has a PhD in psychology; one of us works full-time as a painter-decorator; one of us is a former cycle courier; one of us used to race for Team GB. We’re about as far from the typical cookie-cutter pro race team as you can get.
Where next for The Adventure Syndicate? How do you plan to go about getting extra helpers, etc. etc.?
The Syndicate is going from strength to strength, almost faster than we can keep up with it! Our aim over the next year is to carry on reaching as many different people as we possibly can, both online and in person. We’ll be running more training camps and riding weekends. We’ll be taking more gangs of teenage girls out to bivvy on hilltops. We’ll be giving talks in schools (and wherever else they’ll have us) to encourage active travel. And we’ll carry on creating inspiring films, stories and images to capture imaginations and challenge comfort zones.
We’ll also try to consolidate our hard work into something more closely resembling a business – with defined roles and perhaps even an income, so that we can carry on doing what we do in a more sustainable manner. We’re very heartened by the number of people offering us their support, practically, financially and spiritually, and we’re also excited to partner with organisations up and down the country who share our aims, and whose good work we hope to amplify. And of course, we’ll all be escaping on our own adventures on a very regular basis.