Bikepack to Belgium: Rab Wardell rides to race and raise money for mental health charity

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Friend of GritCX, Rab Wardell got in touch to tell us about his bike packing trip to Belgium. We liked the sound of the trip anyway, but learning that it was for a good cause, we thought you’d enjoy the photos and appreciate the opportunity to support CALM. Over to Rab…

Our journey started with the first ever National Trophy Cyclocross in Scotland, hosted at the stunning Irvine Beach park. I had a great race and finished 21st place. I was aiming for a top 10, but it wasn’t to be on the day. I know I’ll be back on top 10 pace soon though!

Earlier this year I hatched a mad plan to bikepack (or cycle tour for non-hipster trendies) to the heartland of cycling to ride one of the most iconic cyclocross races in the world. The Koppenbergcross in Belgium.

As soon as the race was done it was time to load the bike bags, change tyres and turn the bike from cyclocross race machines to adventure whips!

I’d been riding my Stigmata a whole lot and was stoked on how versatile it was. It’s my road bike, commuter, gravel bike, adventure whip and cyclocross race piece!

I want to be open and honest about the fact that riding my bike is like therapy to me – it keeps me happy. Like so many people these days I suffer with high and low moods as well as depression. I now know that I’ve developed poor coping mechanisms over time to deal with this. I avoid my problems far too frequently and I am guilty of distracting myself from them instead of facing them and finding a solution.

Ready to Rock! As we left Irvine I was hoping to cover 160km to Gretna on the English Border… George joined me for the ride and rode my spare bike, which I would need if the Koppenbergcross was muddy.
With freezing temperatures and post cyclocross race stomach pains, I could only manage around 100kms before we set up camp in a small woodland outside New Galloway.

As I grow older (and hopefully wiser) I try to learn from my mistakes. I try to recognise the changes I have in mood, to understand why and then find positive ways to cope or problem solve. During the last few years I have had to deal with grief, bereavement and failure. Social media likes and partying have been a quick fix to feel better for a short period of time, but often the low which follows the high can be worse than the one which came before…

Monday morning at 7:30am… Getting psyched up for 200kms+ in the saddle!

That’s why to me, discovering and choosing positive mental health choices is more important. Regular exercise, personal goals, adventure, real friendships, face-to-face social interaction, more family time, less screen time and a healthy lifestyle routine makes me feel so much better physically and mentally. It’s not always exciting and it takes discipline and sacrifice, but it is worth it.

Travelling light….
Riding into the sunset in the Lake District.

Ignoring mental health warning signs and low moods can result in serious and tragic consequences. Suicide is the biggest cause of death in men aged under 45 in the UK. I know too many people (male and female) who have felt so trapped and helpless that they have taken their own lives.

Our second night bivvy spot wasn’t so pleasant! Under the bridge in Reeth, Yorkshire. 160km left to arrive in hull that day for the ferry to Belgium

Through my blog, and in real life too, I want to try and contribute to the movement to remove the stigma surrounding mental health. I also want to help remove the cultural barrier preventing men from seeking help as they are expected to be in control at all times, and failure of being in control to be seen as weakness and a loss of masculinity.

40kms to go… Tired and hungry but still going and on track to catch the boat!
Celebratory McDonalds apple pie and coffee in Hull before boarding the boat!

CALM is an award-winning charity dedicated to preventing male suicide. I decided that if I was to embark on a crazy adventure with a bike race at the start and end of the trip, I would like to raise money and awareness for their cause.

Ride For Charlie is another worthy charity I support. My Charlie top tube sticker gave me strength when I was feeling tired and low. Nick and Sarah gave George and I a Charlie bag each which we used to carry gear.

Bikepack To Belgium is a wrap. With my friend George Eccleston, I raced Irvine Beach Park National Trophy Cyclocross before riding 535 kms to Belgium to tick the Koppenbergcross off my bucket list. As it stands I have raised 85% of my £2,500 target for CALM. If you would like to help me reach my target you can donate by clicking here.

Belgie! Do You Even Lane Bro???

I want to thank everyone who has shown support for Bikepack to Belgium, as well as a huge thank you to the photographers who have let me use their images below. I have so many people to thank and I will do so in person when I see you, hopefully sooner rather than later…

When we were finally on mainland Europe the pressure was off and we could enjoy the ride.
You gotta have Frites in Belgium!

So that’s a wrap! If you made it this far then thanks and I hope you enjoyed the bants! You can check out the whole ride on my Strava page! One last reminder that if you would like to help me reach my fund raising target you can donate by clicking here.


’til next time….

Over and out


The reality sinks in. Exhausted, but I still had to ride the Koppenbergcross!

If you want to find out how Rab’s race went, head over to his blog for the rest of the story…

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