A breed apart
Ultra-distance cyclists are a breed apart from the rest of us, and are uniformly characterised with an almost grim determination. Emily Chappell is certainly no exception.
In common with many (though certainly not all) such riders, Chappell seems to be a remarkably humble human being.
Not your normal ultra-distance book
I’ve read a number of books by ultra-distance cyclists, and the theme often is very similar: telling the story of the ride in chronological order, starting with what lead to them doing the ride, through a stage by stage account, culminating with achieving their objective at the end, and sometimes followed by either lessons learned, or hints at future attempts. That’s only natural, and to be honest, if I cycled across Europe, I’d shout about it from the rooftops, even if it was a leisurely tour, rather than a hard-as-nails race like the Transcontinental.
When I first bought Chappell’s book, Where There’s A Will, I expected to read the story of her becoming the woman who won the Transcontinental, after having had to abandon more than halfway through, the year before. I expected an account of a highly disciplined athlete, focusing with laser-like precision on achieving her goal.
While her training was surprisingly haphazard, what I read was so much more! Where There’s A Will is an incredible book, extremely well written, and I simply couldn’t put it down. It’s a story of being human, fragile even, and it’s brutally honest. It’s a story of hope, of very real mental health issues, and of struggling to find your place in the world. It’s a story of kindness, and friendship. A story of hope, and this book touched me more than anything else I’ve read for a long time.
An accidental Trans-Continental
Chappell tells the story of her, almost accidentally, entering the Transcontinental, and of a blossoming friendship with the legendary Mike Hall. There isn’t one story in the book, but rather a stream of stories, intermingling, almost randomly out of sequence, yet all meshing together in perfect harmony.
It tells, as if by chance, how Chappell won the Strathpuffer 24 – a gruelling 24-hour MTB race, and surprisingly, continues after her becoming the women’s winner of the Transcontinental.
The book shares details about her strong friendship with Mike Hall. This, to me, was a particular unexpected bonus, as I have enormous admiration for the man. I’ve never met him, but everything I’ve ever read of him tells me he was a humble, kind-hearted man, who cared for people and wanted to make a positive difference in the world. That’s in addition to being a superb, utterly determined athlete. The picture Chappell paint of him simply reinforces that image, and reminded me of the social media hashtag, #BeMoreMike.
Coined after Hall’s horrific death, the hashtag serves as a reminder to us ordinary mortals to strive to be more like Hall was, as that would make the world a better place.
Understandably, Chappell is protective of Hall’s memory, and hesitant about people putting him on a platform and idolising him. If you have friends in your life that will be that protective about your memory, then you’ve amazing friends.
As Chappell writes of the deepening bonds of friendship between herself and Hall, I felt so sad for her, realising all the pain that awaited in her immediate future. They really were cut from the same cloth, and while reading, I found myself bracing for the inevitable heartache Hall’s death caused.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough, and I know I will read it again in future. I have no doubt that you will be left feeling the same way, after reading it. I also am painfully aware that my clumsy attempt at a book review simply cannot do Where There’s A Will the justice it deserves.
You simply must read it yourself, and I’ve no doubt you’d agree with me, afterwards. You can buy the book directly from Chappell, from any good bookshop, or from here.