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A Q&A with Simon Parker about the Clipper Race and trans-USA cycling

by David Schmidt, Sail-World USA Editor on 28 Jun 2016
Simon Parker leaves Seattle on a transcontinental race against the Clipper Race fleet to New York City Marina Thomas
When it comes to daring adventures, it’s hard to top sailing across oceans, unless of course one also involves a multi-sport element such as climbing mountains, running marathons or long-distance cycling. Simon Parker, a British journalist who calls his sea bag and passport home these days, began experiencing this sort of boldface adventure when he signed on with the Clipper Round the World Race to sail across the Pacific Ocean (Qingdao, China to Seattle, USA), followed by a transcontinental bike ride (Seattle to New York City), before rejoining his mates aboard Garmin for a transatlantic sail from the Big Apple to Derry-Londonderry, in Northern Ireland.

As if this wasn’t enough of an undertaking, Parker challenged himself to beat the fleet to New York City—a challenge of many thousand miles that was decided by a delta of roughly (ballpark) 12 hours.



While Parker spent plenty of time hiking long, high-altitude trails and spinning his pedals prior to this year’s adventure, sailing was an utterly foreign experience. And while everyone has to cut his or her bluewater teeth somewhere, few start with an undertaking as bold as sailing across the Pacific Ocean, a distance of nearly 6,000 miles, yet this is exactly what Parker freely elected to do. I recently caught up with Parker at the Clipper Round the World Race’s New York City stopover, where we had the pleasure of sailing aboard Garmin in New York Harbor, to learn more about his adventure.

So you're the bloke who was crazy enough to ride your bike from Seattle to New York. And you beat the fleet here, is that right?
Yeah. It was extremely tough. Having [just] crossed the Pacific, I was not in a very good way. I lost probably about 20 pounds of weight in 28 days. I'm no sailor. I suffered from some really, really bad seasickness. But then I arrived in Seattle and had a few days to recover and then I raced the Clip Round The World Race fleet from Seattle to New York, and I managed to get here about 12 hours before them. It was extremely tough, but seeing America in that fashion was just amazing.



I've done a lot of crazy stuff: I've visited almost a hundred countries around the world, working as a travel writer and foreign correspondent. I get to go to some amazing places; but I think it was probably the best two months of my life in terms of the level of adventure. I had no idea where I was going to stay each night. I would cycle around a hundred miles a day and then just arrive in a small town or in a kind of a village and just ask a few people and most nights I would get invited into people's homes or camp in people's backyards. It was amazing.

Were you following the fleet to know if you needed to push extra hard to beat them to New York?
Yes. I was following the race tracker to see exactly where the boats were, and around three days before I arrived in New York I could see that Tropical Storm Colin was pushing the fleet towards New York extremely fast. And I thought to myself, ‘[I’m] about 500 miles away from New York’. And I said to myself, ‘Well, what is this all about? Is this just about the adventure, or do I really want to beat them there?’ And I decided that I hadn't come this far not to beat them to New York. So, I had to cover 500 miles and cross the Appalachians in three days.



So, on day one I covered 173 miles in 17 hours and crossed the Appalachians, pulling all of my kit, carrying everything I had-all of my broadcasting equipment, my laptops, my microphones, my tent, my sleeping bag, everything. I pulled up on the side of the road, got into a sleeping bag in a bivy [sack], and just slept for about four hours. Before sunrise, I was up the next day and did another 18-hour day on the bike. And so in the end, over three days, I managed to cover around 490 miles and make it to New York about twelve hours before the boats.

What was harder-sailing from China to Seattle, or the cycle from Seattle to New York?
I think it's all about comfort zones when it comes to adventure, and endurance, and exploration. And the ocean just isn't somewhere I'm used to. Also, I seem to be prone to suffering from bad seasickness. So it really annoys me because generally when it comes to high-altitude hiking, long-distance cycling, I'm pretty tough-or would like to think I am. But the ocean-just that constant rocking motion-just doesn't do my brain and stomach and eyes any good. So for me, the Pacific was toughest [of the two challenges]. We got hit by some extreme weather out there. It was the harshest and most grim environment I've ever seen on the planet. And I hope to never see anything quite like that again. The [transcontinental] cycle was tougher in terms of physical endurance, but I'm a bit of a sadist for hard exercise. Twelve hours on a bike gives me a pretty decent buzz.



What are you most looking forward to on the transatlantic leg?
I'm looking forward to hopefully enjoying some more favorable sailing conditions. Hopefully some downwind, sunny stuff. We got hit by such huge storms in the Pacific- you didn't really have much time to just sit and savor. When you were outside it was so...kind of rocky and tempestuous, it was just so all over the place. I'm looking forward to a shorter, faster race on this one. Twenty-eight days to spend in this environment with another 20 people is really tough. I'm used to spending a lot of time on my own, traveling around the world on my own. And for me, the dynamic of working in this environment with that many people is probably the biggest challenge for me.



Is there anything else you'd like to add for the record?
People have been following [my] whole journey all around the world [on my professional Facebook page] - 'Simon's Sail and Cycle 2016.' And on there it's just a load of blogs from each day. Photos, videos, from the whole journey. So if people are interested then definitely check that out because it's got a pretty cool reception. People are really interested in it. And I'm just excited about the next challenge, so I'm always open to hear from people. If people are going on adventures, I'm always looking to be involved!

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