Dr Steven Fabes

Dr Steven Fabes

Dr Fabes talks to Raise Your Game just before he embarks upon his solo journey that spans the length of six continents, all by bicycle.

Raise Your Game: How did this journey all start?

Steven Fabes: The idea began when I was 19-years-old. I set off on a journey in my gap year, along with my younger brother who was 17. Our plan was to cycle the length of Chile and we did it over the course of about five months.

We were quite young to try such a big, unsupported trip like that and as soon as I came back home I started to think about doing something bigger and bolder. I wanted a big adventure and so I started to plan this next journey.

RYG: What inspired you to attempt that first Chile trip?

SF: We wanted to do something that was going to be more of a challenge compared to what other people had done in their gap years. I spoke to the Royal Geographical Society and soon realised that Chile has many different climates and terrain, such as lake districts, rain forests and deserts, in one country and that really interested me.

Steven Fabes Exploring by bicycle is just a great way to travel. You're not jumping from one tourist spot to the next and you get to see all the places in between.

RYG: How important was camaraderie and teamwork to keep each other going?

SF: It was very important. We were young, we made lots of mistakes and had many misadventures along the way, but this proved to be very character building.

We ran out of food, we ran out of money, we broke the bikes, because we didn't maintain them very well, but we learnt from these experiences. We felt a great sense of achievement once we had finished the trip.

RYG: You are about to embark on a new solo journey cycling the length of six continents. How do you think you will cope on your own?

SF: That's the most daunting aspect of this trip and is certainly something that I think will be the most challenging. It's not so much the physical side, it's the fact that I'm going to be alone for long periods. I don't really know for sure how I will cope with that. I prefer being around other people, but I'm also fairly comfortable in my own company so I should be ok. I will still be in touch with friends and family and hopefully people can join me for little sections of the journey.

RYG: Have you had to plan the routes in great detail?

SF: I've purposefully kept it fairly flexible because issues such as the weather and political situations can change quite quickly in some countries. I also like the idea of being able to plan my route by speaking to people along the way and finding out about an area once I'm there.

RYG: Is planning important?

SF: You have to plan carefully especially with risk assessments for health and safety.

It's also very important to have a very professional package when you are approaching sponsors. There's lots of people doing these sorts of adventurous activities and you have to make yourself competitive. You have to be able to offer companies x, y and z and highlight what you are specifically after. So you have to be very detailed in your planning.

You have to think it through and the best way that I found to do that was to speak to people who have completed big bicycle trips like this before, get their advice and find out what they did and what their tips and tricks are.

RYG: What skills have you learnt through these adventures?

SF: I think certainly organisational and planning skills. I have been working full-time whilst planning this trip and as a doctor that is a 60 hour week so having to plan this trip has been tricky.

I have also developed new skills along the way, such as writing and photography. I have completed a survival skills course and also a 10-day bicycle maintenance course so these new skills will help me on my trip.

RYG: By travelling to all these new places you will get the chance to experience different cultures and languages. Is this another skill you are looking to develop?

SF: I'd like to yes. I am not going to be in places for extended periods of time, but I think Spanish would be a good language because I will be in South America for about nine months. With all the other places my goal will be to get to grips with the basics of the langauge.

RYG: As a full-time doctor how are you training for this event?

Steven FabesSF: I haven't been doing a lot of physical training and the reason for that is that this trip it's not really a sprint. I can increase my fitness levels en route. I have completed a couple of long training rides with my kit to make sure that I am happy with the bike and my gear. I've spoken to other cyclists and they've said that they did the same really. I have spent my time getting everything else ready for the trip.

RYG: Many athletes have described mental toughness as being more important at times than physical fitness. Is that something you are working on?

SF: I have been thinking about what the trip might entail and I have read books that other cyclists have written on long solo journeys to get inside the mindset of what it might be like to spend a long time on my own.

It will be tough because obviously there's no one else there, no one checking that you're not cutting corners, the pressure is all on me. I'm just putting myself in the situation of what it's going to be like in the next four and a half years.

RYG: How will you keep yourself going in those dark times when you are tired?

SF: It's realising that even if it's a bad day, really that's a good day. I met another around the world cyclist who had a bit of rule that he'd never give up or quit the trip if he was tired, cold, hungry or if he was feeling lonely. He found that he felt completely different once he found some friends and had a good meal. If I can pull through the bad times, then things will eventually get better.

The fact that I am also raising money and awareness for Merlin, the only specialist UK charity which responds worldwide with vital health care and medical relief for vulnerable people caught up in natural disasters, conflict and disease, will also keep me going. I feel a responsibility towards them as well as all my friends and family.

RYG: As a doctor are you looking to do any work while you're out there?

SF: Yes. I've got an interest in tropical diseases, and my plan is to stop off at remote hospitals and clinics en route and try to learn more about the people being treated on the front line, especially for infections called the Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) which are defined by the World Health Organisation. These diseases tend to only affect the poorest of communities and I think that it would be interesting to speak to people that are part of the effort to try and eradicate these infections.

RYG: How will you plan your diet?

SF: I will eat what is locally available. In some places I will probably live on a staple of rice and pasta for a while, anything with lots of carbohydrates to keep my energy going.

RYG: Is rest important?

SF: If you cycle day in and day out for months and months you will start to get injuries if you don't rest. It's also important that you enjoy the experience. It is a challenge and I want to enjoy the fact that it is a challenge.

RYG: This trip is a long-term goal. Do you think goals are important and how will you keep focused on such a long-term goal?

Steven FabesSF: Yes goals are important and they are the best way to achieve anything that looks insurmountable such as this. It sometimes looks daunting if you look at the big picture. Even getting to the start line has been a challenge in itself. I've broken things down into sections and categories and asked myself 'What can I do today?' It's that sense of satisfaction of putting everything together.

During the challenge I will think about what I have to achieve on a day by day basis and not think too far ahead. This will allow me to enjoy the present and to focus on what I am doing.

RYG: What are the benefits of an active lifestyle?

SF: Cycling is tremendously good for you and it has been proven that cyclists have a lower prevalence of heart disease. I think it's good for your physical health as well as your mental health.

When many of my friends who are doctors found out about this trip they asked to subject me to a range of tests which I will repeat when I come back in 2014. This will be interesting on a personal level and it will give me a good idea of how my body changed over the duration of the ride. I think that could be important in helping to promote the health benefits of cycling.

RYG: How does it feel to embark on one of your dreams?

SF: It feels good and a bit nerve racking as well. It will be a huge lifestyle change when I leave and I am looking forward to it. I won't have the modern possessions that I had before and I won't have personal contact with family and friends very often so it will be a big change.

RYG: Are there plans for any future trips?

SF: I'm mainly concentrating on this trip at the moment, but I am definitely keen to continue as a doctor as I enjoy my job and I would like to potentially work oversees in the future and use my skills.

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