P2P comprised Joss’ three great passions; travel, cycling and mountaineering. The aim was to reach the highest point of all forty-two countries in Continental Europe, travelling by bike as high as possible, then switching to mountaineering mode on the true mountain climbs. Other than four short sea crossings by ferry, it was to be an entirely human-powered expedition. This was the start of a journey of perseverance, countless adventures and encounters of incredible human kindness in unlikely places. Joss’ experiences included the trials of climbing Europe’s highest peaks in the Alps and Caucasus, saving a friend’s life during a terrifying accident in Romania’s Transylvanian Alps, being rescued by local people after damaging his bike in the remote Western Steppe of Russia and living on the road in extreme winter conditions to name but a few.
P2P would require 27,000kms of solo, self-supported cycling to every corner of Europe in just 10 months. Joss needed a machine that could go the distance efficiently, whilst also having the strength and capacity to carry his 45kg cargo. This included all the usual touring equipment he required to live on the road, as well as the mountaineering equipment he needed to climb the highest point of each country, including ascents of European giants such as Mount Blanc and Mount Elbrus.
P2P included technical high mountain ascents in ranges such as the Caucasus, Alps, Balkans and High Tatra mountains. It was clear that a traditional touring setup would be required to provide the necessary carrying capacity for Joss’ bulky mountaineering equipment, such as crampons, ice axes and mountaineering boots. After research and advice from experienced bicycle travellers, it was obvious that steel was the way to go. Joss’ journey would take him through some very remote areas with little infrastructure and at times very poor roads, including countries such as Russia, Ukraine, Moldova and Albania. The strength, repairability, reliability and comfort of steel became primary factors in Joss' choice of ride.
With its Reynolds 725 heat-treated chromoly, the Genesis Tour de Fer quickly caught his eye. A perfect long haulier, ready to carry Joss to every corner of Europe straight out of the box. There was one snag, the flat bar handlebars had to go. Road racing forms the bulk of Joss cycling experience and so a conversion to a drop handlebar had to be made. Joss says “It’s good to see that Genesis have reverted to a drop bar on their 2017 Tour de Fer models. I spent many long days on the bike during my adventure and being able to change position from time to time was important. A drop bar offers more positions than a flat bar, and thus, in my opinion, is much better suited to long distance touring.”
Joss tells us that everything else on the bike was ideal for what he required. 700x35 Schwalbe Marathon Mondial tyres rolled smooth and fast, lasted way longer than expected and picked up minimal punctures. Joss only replaced them three times in 27,000km’s! Sun Ringle rims were bomb proof and he never had to worry about or touch the Shimano rear hub. Joss coupled the Shutter Precision Dynamo Hub with a Busch & Muller USB-Werk via the Busch & Muller front light, to provide instantly available power whenever he was moving. This worked flawlessly and kept his Garmin Edge Explore 1000 running. He used the Garmin to navigate and GPS track his entire journey, you can check it out on Strava if you’re interested (https://www.strava.com/athletes/6450776). Rock solid Tubus racks finished off the build, supporting his full Ortlieb pannier setup perfectly and holding up over many miles of rough terrain.
As it transpired, Joss’ Tour de Fer took him through 44 countries, including Georgia and England as his two originally unplanned ‘bonus countries’. His bike carried him over 215,000 metres of vertical ascent, allowed him to survive off-grid in relative comfort, with temperatures ranging from -25c to +42c, reliably persevering with him through every kind of weather and terrain imaginable. Joss gave the bike some serious hammer and other than one freak mechanical incident in Russia, for which Joss says, “The bike itself cannot be held at all culpable”, it performed perfectly. Although the Russian incident did generate a degree of stress, it produced a fine story of human kindness and generosity in foreign lands, here it is:
I’d recently crossed the Caucasus Mountains from Georgia, riding over the spectacular 2300m Jvari Pass into Russia and skirting round the northern Caucasus to the base of Mount Elbrus. Here I pulled off one of my biggest goals, completing the climb to the highest point in all of Europe, Mount Elbrus at 5642m. From there I rode north, bound for Moscow, eventually exiting Russia into Latvia. A third of the way into this stretch I was riding through the Pontic Steppe, a vast, remote, flat land savannah, stretching from Ukraine across Russia to Kazakhstan. I was in the middle of the nowhere with temperatures pushing 42c, when disaster struck.
I'd had a stop off in the city of Volgograd, previously known as Stalingrad. After exploring many of Volgograd’s war memorials I set off on the bike again. I was almost 200km out of the city when it happened. A new road was being laid and it was covered in countless tiny stones. As the trucks overtook me, myself and my bike were literally sprayed with thousands of the stones. Some of these stones got stuck in my chain, and as they travelled through my rear derailleur they jammed and ripped the part clean off. It was completely irreparable, I wasn't going anywhere and needed a new derailleur! The nearest civilisation and bike shop were 200km back to Volgograd. I tried hitching a ride but had no luck. Even with a lift, there was no way I'd make it back before the shop closed, plus, due to a national holiday, it was closed for the next three days meaning I'd be delayed for at least four days. In any case, there was no guarantee they would even have the part I needed. I was worried, as losing that amount of time would make riding out of Russia an extremely tall order, probably unattainable, I was already under the cosh with my visa expiry looming. You can picture the scene, there I was sat on the roadside cooking in the 40-degree heat, wondering what the hell I was going to do. Well, surprisingly, it turned out that I didn't have to do all that much!
Just two days before the incident, two friends of mine from Cumbria had put me in touch with a guy called Alexey who they'd met six years ago when travelling by motorcycle through Volgograd. I had some patchy phone signal and in desperation, all I could think to do was send Alexey a text message, on the off chance he might know someone who could get me a ride back to Volgograd. Alexey had since moved to Moscow but he was straight on it, contacting his friend Aleksander in Switzerland, a cycling enthusiast who was also originally from Volgograd. Amazingly, within 30mins, they’d hatched a plan to sort me out. Between them, they had managed to source the part and contacted another of their friends, Medhat, a Palestinian doctor living in Volgograd, who was now on route to deliver the part to my location, this would be a 400km round trip for him! Aleksander had also managed to contact some of his relatives, another guy called Alexey, his wife Uliya, their young daughter Yliana and nephew Costya. They just happened to be at their ‘dacha’ (Russian summer house - a very basic building situated in the middle of nowhere) for the weekend. Aleksander arranged for them to come and pick me up in their Russian Lada truck. They took me back to their dacha where I was able to repair my bike and stay the night with these kind people. So, after thinking I was going to be off the road for four to five days, I'd actually received the part and made the repair within four hours of the incident!
I was overwhelmed by the kindness and support of all these strangers, who had gone completely out of their way to get me back on the road…absolutely unbelievable!
I was then able to enjoy a great night with Alexey and his family, a truly authentic Russian experience! They spoke no English and me no Russia but it didn't matter. These were just exceptionally warm, kind people and even though conversing was difficult, we still enjoyed a night of fresh food, either caught or grown by Alexey. There were non-stop laughs and too much of some very strong spirits.
This is just one story of a journey that generated so many. But it’s a prime example of how my perspectives were changing through my experiences. In the beginning, I was insular and focused only on the task at hand, all I wanted to do was reach the summits, no matter what. But, as my journey progressed, my values changed. It soon happened that the mountains I wished to climb and the hard, long days on the bike paled into the background somewhat. It occurred to me that the goals that I had placed so much importance on were only there to provide the framework for my journey. Those goals and my bike took me to far flung places of incredible beauty, but it soon became the relationships that I formed with people all over Europe that provided the most fulfilment!
On the 23rd December 2016, almost ten months after setting out from Porto, Portugal, and in the midst of Storm Barbara, Joss and his trusty Genesis steed, along with a few hardy souls who’d come out to brave the elements, struggled through the final kilometres to his home, a remote hill farm in Cumbria, North West England. He’d reached the summit of 39 of the 40 country high points in Continental Europe, only missing the Swiss peak, Dufourspitze, due to extreme weather conditions.
Like so many, Joss’ family has been affected by Alzheimer's disease and having learnt more about it, he came to realise the vital need to find a cure or at least a way to alleviate the devastating consequences to families. Throughout his journey, Joss campaigned to raise money for Alzheimer’s Research UK and continues to do so through his talks and future expeditions. If you’d like to support ARUK and Joss’ fundraising efforts you can do so via this link, https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/jossysjourneys