5000km cycle across USA to support military mental health

May 12, 2022 6 min read

In July 2022, two serving Royal Navy officers will cycle 5000km, unsupported, across theUSA - from California to Florida, in just 35 days, to raise awareness and support military mental health.

Expedition Leader Cdr Pascal Patterson and fellow Wattbiker Lt Cdr Dan Waskett joined the Royal Navy on the same day in 2005 and have since completed multiple frontline flying tours as Aircrew Officers, in hostile environments such as Afghanistan, Somalia, West Africa and the Gulf. It was during these tours that they realised the huge importance of mental health.

We caught up with them to find out a little more about what’s involved, their training programme and how the Wattbike has been integral to their adventure.

The Expedition...

What inspired you to take on this challenge?

We wanted to do something on an epic scale, to draw attention to what we feel is a really important issue; military mental health. Every penny we raise from our ride goes directly to the Royal Navy Royal Marines Charity (RNRMC), to fund the amazing mental health support they provide to serving personnel, veterans and their families. We considered a few different endurance cycle challenges around the world, but there was just something so iconic about going coast to coast across the USA, totally unsupported.

You’re raising money for a cause which is so close to your hearts, why does it mean so much to you?

We have both completed multiple frontline military tours in conflict zones such as Afghanistan, Persian Gulf and Somalia, as well as humanitarian operations in Sierra Leone, Caribbean and beyond. We have deployed the world over, serving on both ships and land bases. Through this, we have seen first hand the pressures that Royal Navy and Royal Marines personnel are under on a daily basis and unfortunately the mental health issues that can arise as a result. The Royal Navy Royal Marines Charity (RNRMC) does an incredible job of supporting our personnel whilst at home and deployed, such as ensuring frontline personnel receive welfare or ‘morale’ packages whilst deployed and putting on events that can really help lift spirits whilst away from loved ones. As if any more reason was required, a very close friend of Dan’s died in Service a few years back, and the RNRMC immediately stepped in to provide welcome support to his family.

The Training...

You’re riding 5,000km in just 35 days. What does your current weekly training programme look like?

Whilst no two weeks of training are exactly the same, the training demand is consistently high. In recent months we have been building our endurance base, which has meant plenty of hours spent out on the roads throughout the cold, dark winter months. We ride 5-6 times a week on average, which equates to 15-20 hours in the saddle. Whilst there is no substitute for time spent out on our expedition bikes, our training programme incorporates a couple of Wattbike sessions each week, during which we focus more on interval and tempo training.

Your indoor sessions must complement your outdoor rides enormously - what sessions are you doing on the Wattbike?

Our Wattbike sessions are a brilliant way to achieve significant fitness improvement in a limited time window.

Whilst shorter in duration, they pack a real punch and normally see us collapsing off the bike in a pool of sweat at the end! Our Wattbike workouts are typically structured around our Functional Threshold Power (FTP). A session that features regularly in our training programme is ‘Unders and Overs’, where we work just above and below FTP. Whilst it is only 45 minutes, the session structure means there is very little recovery time and you are pushing hard throughout. One of the most challenging sessions we complete regularly is ‘FTP Push Pyramid’, which is an even more extreme version of ‘Unders and Overs’ – it lasts for almost 90 minutes! Both sessions are a fantastic way to improve cycling power in a short period of time.

The quality and accuracy of the equipment means we can be so precise with how hard we push ourselves, there is ‘nowhere to hide’ on the Wattbike!

Have you used the Wattbike to setup exactly the same position as the bikes you will be using for the challenge?

We have our Wattbikes set up exactly the same as our expedition bikes to help avoid injury. We both underwent bike fits several months ago, and use these measurements to ensure that our indoor and outdoor bikes are configured in exactly the same way.

As full time officers in the Royal Navy, how have you managed your training load alongside other commitments?

This is singularly the hardest part. Juggling demanding work hours alongside family life, then add in expedition and fundraising admin, that’s all before we even look at a bike! This has made indoor training invaluable. The Wattbike allows us to sneak in 1-2 hours of training in the evening, once all of our other jobs have been done and the kids are all safely tucked up in bed. We can never fully replace training on our fully loaded expedition bikes outdoors, but the flexibility of indoor training has been a real benefit.

Apart from the obvious gruelling task of cycling 170km a day, what other factors are you planning?

So many things! The right kit is essential, any failures or inadequacies will really change how the ride progresses. Mechanical failures on the bikes are a high possibility; we’re putting almost a year’s worth of use through the bikes in just 30 days, in extreme conditions. Fuelling ourselves will be critical.

Pacing will be key too, if we start too strong and burn out then it will make for a long few weeks in the second half of the ride! Recovery is similarly a very important factor in body recovery and mental resilience, we will be factoring in a few rest days along the way and must ensure we don’t skip sleep; whilst wild camping is great and really immersive but won’t give the quality of sleep required for the entire duration. Overall, we must take a balanced approach in everything we do, and look out for one another.

Fundamentally, the relationship between us is probably the critical thing that could easily make or break the ride. If we can keep our strong friendship and teamwork going in the face of some real adversity and gruelling physical and mental stress then everything else will fall into place and become easily surmountable.

Do you have any tips for fellow Wattbikers who might be looking to do a challenge which pushes them out of their comfort zone?

With any expedition or challenge, the biggest step is converting an idea into reality. Coming up with the idea is the easy bit, you then need to commit to it or else it remains only an idea and not an actual expedition! My advice would be to get on and start planning the detail as soon as you can, the earlier the better as this always takes longer than you think it will. Organisation is absolutely key, as you will have plenty of life commitments to balance – family life, work, social media output, actual training (!), recovery (very important) and seeing friends.

Wattbike training can really help with that because the sessions are relatively short but you get stacks of training benefit from them; just be prepared to be in pain as you push yourself in the session!

Finally, be brave. Stepping out of your ‘comfort zone’ is difficult, or else it would be part of your comfort zone! You will have moments of doubt, that is natural and everybody has them. Keep focused on how amazing it will feel to complete your epic expedition/challenge/adventure, you will then have something to look back on for the rest of your life, something that most others haven’t achieved.

Where can we follow your journey?

Throughout our training and the expedition itself, we are posting regular updates on our Instagram (@starsandspokes) and our websitewww.starsandspokes.com.

This challenge is our way of giving something back, to help ensure mental health support will always be there for those who need it. We have set ourselves the target of raising £35,000 for the charity, we are aiming big! Donations are extremely gratefully received at www.justgiving.com/starsandspokes. We are hugely appreciative of any support, whether that be a donation or a message of support on social media! Thank you.

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