Little Interview: Emily Chappell
Image by Selim Korycki
Emily Chappell began her commitment to two wheels as a London bicycle courier almost 10 years ago and has since solo toured more places than you can imagine. In January this year her first book 'What Goes Around' was published by Guardian Faber. We caught up with her to talk all things bikes and not forgetting food. Read on, get inspired and get preparing for some cycle touring.
Do you have a favourite bike?
Whichever one I'm riding at the moment! Currently my beautiful new Shand Stooshie, but I also have a soft spot for my Genesis Zero.4 and my fatbike.
Anything that is hot, filling, and comes at the end of a long day on the bike. On my travels, I particularly enjoyed the cuisines of Turkey and Japan.
Best place you have ridden?
It's impossible to pick just one! Some of my favourites have been Western Canada, Qinghai in China, Slovenia, and my home in Mid Wales.
Most memorable touring meal you had on the road?
The hamburger a man handed me when I was riding along on a dark windy night in Northern Japan. He just appeared by the side of the road, a second after I realised I was hungry, and handed it to me. He didn't speak enough English to explain why he had been there, or why he happened to have a spare hamburger.
When did you start cycling and what brought you to being a courier?
I started cycling in 2006, and at first I was just a commuter. Then things got a bit out of hand. I ended up becoming a courier when I finished my second degree as the recession was taking off, and couldn't get any other job.
Are you the kind of tourer who will plan everything with a spreadsheet, listing the individual weight of each item you take along?
Most definitely not! I do make lists, but I'm not obsessive about weight. I've reduced the amount I carry over the years, but I still think that a couple of extra kilos is just an excuse to strengthen your legs.
You’re a huge inspiration to us, so we’re keen to know who and what inspires you?
I have so many role models, it's hard to narrow it down to just one or two. I'm always inspired by the people who do what we do without making a big deal out of it - often riding much further or faster without any thought for fame and self-promotion.
What has been your hardest ride or journey so far?
For a long time the hardest ride I'd done was 11 days in Eastern China, when I had to cover more than 1,000 miles in order to beat a visa deadline. A lot of things went wrong, and I did the last few days on almost no sleep. At that point I knew I was right at the limit of my capabilities. A few years later I entered the Transcontinental Race, where I rode almost 200 miles a day - and now I think that's the hardest thing I've ever done.
What do you struggle with when on the road?
I think headwinds are the worst struggle. At least with climbing a hill you get a sense of relief when you get to the top.
What is your one top tip for touring?
Never turn down an invitation, and always explore the quiet roads - that's where the magic is.
What attracts you to cycle through a place?
The promise of good food, beautiful mountains and new friends.
Is there one item you could not tour without?
Apart from the obvious, like bike and passport and toothbrush, there's no one item I couldn't live without. I've toured with all sorts of different set-ups, sometime carrying 50kg of luggage, and sometimes just with a tiny bag strapped under my saddle.
You’re obviously a wealth of knowledge when it comes to touring, where and how did you learn?
Slowly, by making mistakes and figuring it out for myself, by asking people's advice, by hanging around in bike shops, and by reading other people's websites and books like the Adventure Cycle-Touring Handbook.
What advice can you give to someone keen to start touring?
Set a departure date, tell everyone about it, and suddenly your trip will be a reality! And remember that you'll never be completely ready to leave. Most people set off with loads of things left on their To Do list, and it's always OK.
What do you have planned next?
I'll be cycling down the US West Coast later on this summer, then supporting a friend who's doing the Race Across America. Then I'll be entering the Transcontinental again in August (aiming to finish this time!). Then in September I'll be riding in the Deloitte Ride Across Britain, from Lands End to John O'Groats, and hoping that after the Transcon it'll feel like a bit of a jolly. Then, if I have any energy and money left, I'll put some snow tyres on my bike and head off into the winter wilderness...