Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Islay's Story and Tiny Lives - Part 1

Hi everyone,

Thanks for checking in, reading my blog, and supporting my Iron Butt challenge.

As many of you may know (or guess from my pseudonym) I rode my bike to the Arctic in 2014 to raise money for brain injury charity Cerebra, who have helped my little brother and my family for many years. I knew from quite early on I wanted to help give something back to Cerebra but it just took me a little while to figure out how to do it.

This time around, it didn't take long after our family got support from Tiny Lives, when my daughter Islay was born prematurely, that I knew I was going to be jumping on my bike to 'give something  back' again.

Now not many outside my family and close circle of friends really know Islay's story but I wanted to share just a glimpse of it to give you readers an insight into just why The Tiny Lives Trust means so much to us and why I'm determined to raise some money so they can continue to help other families.

My buddy Ant, part of my 'Welcome Home Party' - June 2014
Rewind to June 2014 and I'd just got back from the Arctic and things seemed pretty good. I'd completed the trip of a lifetime, raised a shed load of cash for charity, and I had the full summer to spend with my wife Kirsty before our first baby was due to be born in the middle of September. I wasn't to know that one morning at the start of August would be the start of my daughter Islay's amazing journey.

Kirsty and I pre-baby
It was Sunday the 3rd of August 2014, over a month and a half until Islay's due date so I can categorically say both Kirsty and I weren't prepared for the arrival of a baby. I woke to Kirsty seeming a bit concerned. As a precaution we went to the hospital to get Kirsty checked over and spent the full day with Kirsty wired up to different monitors and speaking to different doctors. They'd decided to keep her in overnight to keep and eye on her but the message I got was that Islay wasn't arriving just yet.

I wasn't allowed to stay at the hospital with Kirsty so the next morning I headed up in my work suit to see how things were going, expecting to spend some time in the office that day. Not long after I arrived Kirsty was getting wheeled into the delivery room... the baby was coming. The whole day was a blur. Kirsty was amazing, so much so she even let me eat the toast the midwife had brought her. As Islay was 6 weeks early and on the way, the doctors briefed up that when she was born there might be some issues and to try to not get too concerned if they had to whisk her off as soon as she was born. This was such a scary thought but I knew I had to put on a brave face for Kirsty, and have faith in the doctors. When Islay was born she let out a big cry and I was even able to cut the chord... everything seemed ok. Islay had to be taken away to get some antibiotics but apart from that it had gone to plan.

2 hours old Islay and I
I wasn't able to stay with the girls at the hospital so again I trooped home for the night. The next 24 hours Islay stayed on the ward with Kirsty and I was able to visiting during the day, get a little cuddle and come to terms with being a dad. Islay was having a some issues keeping her first feeds down but the midwives and the doctors were keeping an eye and said to use she might just be a sickly baby... I didn't know any different and was caught up in a world wind of emotions. Again that night I went home trying to get the house sorted for our new arrival and buy some tiny clothes for our tiny early baby. It was from then Islay's story turned into a nightmare.

That night around 10pm I got a phone call from Kirsty. Islay still wasn't keeping her milk down and the doctors were becoming increasingly concerned, they rushed her into the special care baby unit (SCBU) to work out what was wrong... I had to get to the hospital as soon as possible and meet them at SCBU. I immediately jumped on the bike and bombed up the hospital to be with Kirsty and Islay.

One of the scariest memories of Islay's story for me was the first time I was outside the door of SCBU. I remember going on a tour of the maternity unit only a week or so earlier with Kirsty. We were taken past a ward which I now know to be SCBU. I have such a clear memory of the midwife giving the tour and saying as we passed SCBU "This is ward 35, the Special Care Baby Unit, Its where all the sickest and critically ill babies go, but don't worry your baby won't end up here"... but my baby had and I was terrified of what could happen.

With tears in my eyes and a huge lump in my throat, I stood at the door of SCBU and rang the buzzer. From there for me the SCBU journey with Islay and Kirsty began.

Islay's Story and Tiny Lives - Part 2

**You can donate to my Iron Butt ride for Tiny Lives on my Giving Page**

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Iron Butt 'Warm up' Ride to The Highlands and prep

Greetings to the latest edition of The Arctic Rider blog,

Its just over 3 weeks until I set off to take on the 'Iron Butt' challenge to raise money for The Tiny Lives Trust.

No two ways about it, taking on ~900miles in a single day riding is going to be a challenge. I consider myself a somewhat seasoned long distance rider but I must admit I've been out of practice since I returned from the Arctic. I've done a few 250 mile days to the South West of Scotland to see family and the odd ride around Northumberland, so I knew I needed to get a good 'warm up' ride in preparation for the Iron Butt.

6am start from Newcastle
So last Sunday, I set my alarm early and got myself on the road by 6am ready to get the miles under my belt. I loaded up the bike with my touring boxes to get a feel for having a fully loaded bike again. The weather forecast was excellent but as I headed up through Northumberland en route to Scotland I was greeted by fog, cold temperatures, empty roads.

On-board cam in drizzly Northumberland  
Even with the fog and cool morning I made really good time and got the 120miles to Edinburgh by 8am, where I stopped for a drink and some fuel. I had planned to ride around 400 miles so having done a 3rd of that in 2 hours was good progress.

The bike felt really good, nimble and quick on the country roads, as well as being fast and smooth on the dual carriageways and motorways. The only issue I had after my first stop was the state of my legs. I've recently been diagnosed with tendinitis in my right hamstring and after 2 hours on the bike I was sore and very stiff... this continued to be a problem throughout the day.

Warm-up ride route
Concious not to waste to much time stopping, a skill I'll need on the Iron Butt, I jumped back on the bike and headed up the motorway to Stirling. I wanted my warm up ride includes as many elements of my Iron Butt as possible. It included fast country roads (Newcastle to Edinburgh), Motorway Riding (Edinburgh to Stirling) and finally highland 'A' roads (North of Stirling into the Trossachs national Park).

I'd set my sights on making it to Lochan na Lairige next to Ben Lawers, Scotland 5th higest peak. I ramdonly came across it on google maps a few weeks ago and through the roads and scenery looked good, and wow was I not disappointed. In fact it was stunning.

The Road leading to Loch Tay
The weather broke and the ride from Stirling up the A84 to Loch Tay was a dream. The combination of Lochs, Glens, and blue skies made me think I was riding through a postcard. I'd go as far as to say that this was one of my top 5 rides ever as a biker, it was that good.

At just after 10am, after a few map check stops, I made to to Lochan na Lairige and it was breathtaking. At 1800 feet above sea-level, at the end of a single track road, Lochan na Lairage is was Scotland is about.

Pano shot of Lochan na Lairige
After a short wander around and a bit of my sandwiches I headed back off home, possibly setting the world record for the quickest trip to The Highlands from England of all time.

Heading back on the same route I rode home, stopping to take a few photos and grab some fuel. Knowing I needed it test myself for my pace for the Iron Butt it was a case of head down and get back to Newcastle. I managed to get home for just before 3pm, meaning I had covered 400 miles in just short of 9 hours. I even had enough time to get changed and head over to a birthday BBQ for the afternoon... cash back. What a day.

So the warm up ride was a success but it was a good reminder of what I'm going to need to remember for my Iron Butt ride.

1. Thermals are a must in the UK, no matter what the forecast. I just about froze my knees off riding the morning Northumberland fog when the forecast was for bright sunshine all day.
2. Ear plugs Ear Plugs Ear Plugs... I forgot my ear plugs and the wind just about destroyed my hearing.
3. Shorter stops - I made 3 'proper' stops on my warm up ride and a few map checks, but I need to have them shorter and more efficient to give me the best chance of completing the Iron Butt. I'm planning to stop around every 150 miles and I need to be ruthless and do a quick leg stretch, grab few, throw down some food, and get back on the bike... Thats going to be tough.
4. Photos are for the way home. I could have stopped a dozen times in the highlands to take photos and admire the scenery but I'm just not going to have time at all. Luckily I'll have a camerman Andy with me and my GoPro to try and capture the best bits.
5. This is going to be tough. If I'm being honest, when I got back to Newcastle at 3pm all I wanted to do was go for a kip... I was bloody knackered... and that was less than half the distance I need to cover on the 5th of July. The day before the ride I'll be doing a 500 miles day just to get to Lands End... wow.

So that was my warm up ride done. Next up is a service and new set of tyres for the bike and more fitness work for me to try and get my body in some sort of  good condition for the punishments I'm going to be putting through over a few days at the start of my ride doing the Iron Butt.

Hopefully by now you will know that the whole reason I am doing this ride is to raise money for The Tiny Lives Trust in Newcastle. If you think a few bob is a good exchange for my body, my mind, and my safety to be on the line on 5th of July the please donate at www.virginmoneygiving.com/thearcticrider

Finally I'd like to give a short mention to Ian Bell who passed away racing at the Isle of Man TT today. Ian was a big character in the North East motorbike community as a racer with the NEMCRC, and as a bike shop owner with his dealership in Bedlington, Northumberland (where he sold me my first big bike). Also Ian was a generous support of my Arctic Ride in 2014 and I had the pealsure of presenting him and his sone a triophy at the NEMCRC meet at Croft in 2014. Rest easy mate.

April 2014 - Presenting the sidecar trophy to the Bell's (Bottom right)
And as a final sign off as always, Ride safe.


Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Planning and Prep - 6 weeks to go

Hi everyone,

Its now only 6 weeks (43 days technically) until my ride gets underway and I'm getting both excited and nervous.

I've done some planning of when and where I will need to stop and suddenly the reality of what I'm undertaking has become apparent... its a bloody long way in 24 hours.

Below is my draft plan, based on my riding experience and guidance from the experts, of what I think I will be able to achieve. I'm going to be getting up about 4am to pack the bike, get some breakfast in me, and get down to the Lands End Visitor Centre from my hotel ready for paperwork signing and the launch at 5.30am... so before I start I'll already have been up for over an hour.

By the time I've usually finished the nursery run and starting work I should be ~150 miles in and at my first stop at Taunton... then by lunch time I'm hoping to have hit the 300 mile mark... which is usually a substantial and fairly long day from my previous rides.

By the end of the working day at 5pm I should be near Stirling in Scotland and the end of the motorways having done nearly 600 miles, which in itself will surpass my previous longest days ride of 550 miles when I rode from the top of Denmark to the Netherlands on Day 20 of my Arctic Ride.

Then in the evening I have the task of riding another 'full day' of nearly 300 miles to get from Stirling to John O'Groats in the Highlands, hopefully before midnight and I certainly hope before the 5.30am mark which will be the cut-off for my 24 hour window.

Looking at it now I'm thinking this plan is looking slightly optimistic and that I'll either have more stops, especially in the evening on the highland roads, or even a power-nap somewhere along the line. Either way I'm looking at this and realising just how much of a challenge this really is going to be and the dangers involved in pushing oneself to the limit.

Now I've been a bad lad so far when it comes to training and life has really been getting in the way... The weekend just gone I had planned a practice ride form Newcastle down to London (a mere 300 miles) to visit my sponsor Devitt at their office in Romford, and link up with some of the YouTube MotoVloggers at the annual 'Monkey Meet'... however I ended up travelling with work which put an end to that.

Regardless of my work schedule I know I need to get some big miles in before the ride at the start of July to get me back in the mode for long distance riding. So in a few weekends time I've planned a day trip up to Glen Lyon, via the Loch Lomond National Park. This route will see me take on motorways, 'A' roads, and some twisty unclassified roads which should be perfect practice for what I will experience on the Iron Butt. The route there and back from Newcastle is around 500 miles which will be a big day. I'll also be riding Scotland's 5th highest pass, the beautiful Lochan la Lairge, pictured below.

 Lochan la Lairge
So that's my plan for the ride and getting some practice in. Whilst I'm looking forward to the challenge I'm also apprehensive but I know that I'm challenging myself and my riding skills to raise money for an amazing charity in the Tiny Lives Trust. Before I depart in July I'll share a little more about my daughter Islay's story and why I feel so indebted to Tiny Lives and the staff at the RVI hospital in Newcastle.

To find out more about Tiny Lives, visit their website.

Big thanks to all the recent donations which sees my total sitting at nearly £600. I know that times are tight and there are lots of great causes and fundraising events going on but any donation to my total is appreciated and will go towards helping babies like my daughter Islay at the most precious time of their life as new born babies. And please think about how cold and wet (I'm making assumptions based on that I'm travelling through Scotland) I will be after nearly 900 miles on my bike and just how sore my backside is going to be... surely that in itself if enough for a few beans to go into the jar?

To donate please visit my virgin money giving page.

Thanks for reading and ride safe.


Saturday, 23 April 2016

The Media 'Frenzy'


Welcome welcome welcome, to the latest edition of The Arctic Rider blog.

Its now only 75 days until I attempt to ride the length of the UK in less than 24 hours to raise money for The Tiny Lives Trust... man I'm getting excited.

Post-brew at the Tiny Lives office
A few weeks ago I popped into the Tiny Lives office, leathers and all, to give the team an update of my plans. In return I was given a very tasty cuppa, a choccy biscuit, and some encouragement from the team.

The past week has been a media frenzy for The Arctic Rider and The Stuart family. Islay (with Kirsty and I) recently starred in new film being produced for Tiny Lives to help raised awareness of parents' journeys when having a premature or sick baby who is helped by Ward 35 at the RVI in Newcastle and Tiny Lives.

Appearing on BBC Look North last weekend
It all started last weekend when the crew from BBC Look North turned our living room into a studio and were interviewing Kirsty and I, and filming Islay, on a rang of topics from Tiny Lives and their new film (starring Islay) to my Iron Butt fundraising efforts.

Online version of the Newcastle Evening Chronicle Article
The next appearance was mid-week, when (a young looking) Islay and I made page 13 of the Newcastle Evening Chronicle. This article focused less on the recent film and more on Kirsty and I's much needed fundraising activities for Tiny Lives. As I'm sure you know by now I'm doing my Iron Butt challenge this summer, and my wife Kirsty is running 365 miles in 365 days finishing with the Great North Run in September. 
Waiting to be interviewed at BBC Radio Newcastle
Finally, last Friday we all spent the morning at BBC Radio Newcastle's studios recording an interview with Jon Harle for the 'Today's North East' programme due to be aired on Monday. It was great to spend a few hours as a family promoting a superb charity in Tiny Lives which has had such a big impact on our family. 

It was until Friday night when we were home and Islay was tucked up in bed that I took a moment to realise how lucky we are. Without the help of the staff on Ward 35 and the amazing work of Tiny Lives, I dare not to think about where we would be as a family. There are many a family who never get the chance to take their baby home from special care which makes me even more grateful for the help Islay got. But even in these horrific times Tiny Lives fund a bereavement counselor and other services to help families in their darkest hour.  

As you can see I've been working really hard to get the word out about the amazing work that Tiny Lives do (thanks to Liz W for your contacts and advice) and I'm going to keep plugging on right up until I set off in July.

If you'd like to support Tiny Lives and my ride you can donate some much needed funds on my Virgin money giving page. No sum too small.

Thanks for reading.

Ride safe.


Tuesday, 29 March 2016

99 days until lift off

Hello there,

Welcome to the latest edition of The Arctic Rider blog.

It's only 99 days until I set off from Lands End ready to attempt to get to John O'Groats within 24 hours.

Some of my regular social media followers will have noticed that I have changed my logo. I was messing around on my laptop one night and ended up coming up with the below design which I kind of liked. It got the wife's stamp of approval so I thought I'd go for it!

At the same time I also designed this logo for my Iron Butt ride, incorporating the Iron Butt UK logo. Again this got the OK, this time from the UK Iron Butt association, so it's official.

As you can imagine I've been thinking a lot about my ride and chatting to other bikers I know and some of my buddies on Twitter. It's a very different challenge to the one I faced in 2014 riding to the Arctic. Back then it was more of a long term view, with that trip being 3 weeks, and all about long but steady days, making sure I was well rested for the next days riding. I was also able to plan contingency into the ride and I knew up front  hat if I had a slow days riding I could make up for it in the following days.

Fast forward to 2016 and this time I've got very little wiggle room and any sort of mechanical failure would pretty much end my chances of completing it in 24 hours. This ride is ultra endurance over a short period of time. I've done some basic planning and all going well I'll complete the ride in around 20 hours. This includes planned stops of between 15 to 30 minutes for fuel and food, plus riding slower around Bristol & Glasgow when I expect it to be rush hour. I've not factored in any sleep time!

Summer sunset at John O'Groats, Scotland.
The details of the ride certainly aren't an accident, they've been well thought out over the past months. For example I'm riding South to North specifically so that I:

a) have more sunlight later into the night. Being ~900 miles further North, I'll get almost an hours extra sunlight at John O'Groats in Scotland than I would have down at Lands End. This will help when I'm tired and on the country roads.
b) finish in Scotland so I am closer to home after the ride, meaning I have fewer miles to ride when I'll no doubt be knackered.

I've decided to do my ride the first week of July so I get almost maximum sunlight due to the summer solstice for reason 'a)' above but the school holidays won't have started. Also I've chosen a Tuesday as its typically the quietest day on the roads (thanks to Andy my cameraman, who used to be a tour manager for bands).

For me I'm genuinely unsure if I'll make it in the 24 hours or not. I'm really going to have to push myself. I've also got a 500 mile 9 hour ride down to Lands End the day before I set off. This could be the make if break for my ride if 'day -1' doesn't go to plan. I need to get an early start to get down to Cornwall in time to get well fed and rested before the big day. My plan is for a 4am start on the day of my ride. Luckily my little girl Islay has been training me to get up at that time, so I'm already well prepared.

I'd love to hear any questions or advice that any of my readers have about my Iron Butt! If you do please post them on my facebook or Twitter and I'll include them in my next blog.

That's all for the blog. The clocks have changed and the riding season is upon us so expect more updates about my preparation!

If you want to support my ride and The Tiny Lives Trust, please visit www.virginmoneygiving.com/thearcticrider  no donation is too small or not appreciated.

Ride safe,


Wednesday, 17 February 2016

The Sponsors have landed

Greetings to the latest Arctic Rider blog,

In the past few weeks I've made some great progress in my preparation for my Iron Butt challenge.

Firstly, I've finally set a date for my ride which is going to be Tuesday 5th of July... so only 139 days to go... wow that's not long at all until I set off.

Secondly, I had a great meeting with film maker Andy Qualtrough who came to meet me in Newcastle. We had a good chat about how to make the film as wide reaching as possible and how we are going to film some of my pre-trip activities such as planning, the bike being serviced, and the annual monkey-meet biker trip at the Ace cafe in London. Its going to be a great watch indeed.

I've also had from great news on the corporate sponsor point of view. In the past few days I've managed to secure two new corporate sponsors.

I'm delighted to confirm that Puddle Ducks North East are going to be a sponsor of my Iron Butt challenge. Puddle Ducks provide baby, toddler, and child swimming classes and my daughter Islay, who my ride is all about, has been attending classes at Puddle Ducks since she was just 4 weeks old (and not long after she left hospital). Puddle Ducks also already do some amazing work with the charity Tiny Lives Trust. Big thanks to Carolyn and the team... great to have you on-board.

I'm equally pleased to announce that SportsBikeShop.co.uk will also be sponsoring my Iron Butt challenge. If you are a biker you need to check out their store which has great products and equaly great prices. Big thanks to owner James, Chris and the team for their support.

Support from companies not only gives more money to the charity but also helps boost my profile to a wider network which in turn I hope will raise even more money! All good for Tiny Lives Trust and the great work that they do.

I'm also very please to announce that my employers, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, have agreed to match the next £175 of donations for my ride... so if you are thinking of donating then what better time than now to make it count for double!

My running total has make great strides and I'm now at  45% of my target for my ride. If you'd like to donate you can do so at http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/thearcticrider

Thanks for reading and supporting my Iron Butt challenge.

Ride safe,


Saturday, 30 January 2016

You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks

Welcome back to he latest edition of The Arctic Rider blog. 

It's my first (proper) blog of 2016 so I can officially say it's this year that I'm doing my Iron Butt challenge! Woohoo! While it's not as big an undertaking as my trip to the Arctic Circle in 2014, it's still going to be a mighty challenge but one that I am really looking forward to. 

It was Winston Churchill who said "You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks"...And like my Arctic Ride in 2014 I've managed to attract some unexpected negative responses...

 Only a few days ago at work I was chatting to a colleague about my Iron Butt ride and another colleague (who I don't know) butts in and queries  "Are you doing it on a peddle bike, like?" To which I truthfully replied "nope, motorcycle in less than 24 hours" "well how's that a challenge? People peddle it in a few days don't they?"  

Now I'm not a big cyclist, so I don't know how quickly the 875 miles could be covered, but in my mind I know I'm covering a lot of miles in a short space of time even though I'll have an engine helping me along. I'm putting my body under intense mental and physical strain in order to complete this challenge. The biggest motorcycling day I've ever done was from the Northern tip of Denmark to Central Netherlands (over 1,000kms) which by the end of that day I was absolutely knackered.... And that was all motorway. 

Enjoying a Coke after a 1,000km day - July 2014

Whilst I've not had a lot to blog about over the past few months I've been making good progress in the background and I've managed to secure a film maker by the name of Andy Qualtrough who has kindly offered to film my challenge to support Tiny Lives. Much like my Arctic Ride, I'm trying to open up as many avenues as possible to raise funds and awareness for Tiny Lives, and having footage of my trip is key to this. 

I've also had the annoying news that my bike, a Suzuki GSX650F, has a recall out against it for a stalling issue. Suzuki are recalling 68,000 bikes worldwide according to CNN. Many Suzuki models between 2008 and 2012 are affected so check out the CNN article for more info. Big thanks to my biker buddy Paul for sharing the news.

I'm now working really hard on getting my ride out there and my press release will soon be going out. Also I've already blogged about how companies can get their logo on the bike and sponsor my ride. Check out the Becoming A Sponsor of the Iron Butt challenge page.

Also, my sponsorship page is now open. Click here if you'd like to sponsor me. Any donations, now matter how big or small, are welcome.

Until next time...

Ride safe.