Cycling from the northernmost part of Europe to the UK
03 June 2021
Allan Rutland was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 1980. The doctors told his parents most people with diabetes don’t live beyond 40. In 2019, he took on an epic cycling journey from the northernmost point of mainland Europe, riding back to the UK and celebrating life.
The trip took 28 days. It was May 2019. The plan was to ride 4200 kilometers all self-aided. I looked at the weather forecast a month ahead and it was 6 or 7 degrees Celsius (82,4°F) – fantastic, I thought. When I got to Nordkapp in Norway a month later, a blizzard came in and it was minus 28 Celsius wind chill (-18,4°F).
Off I went into the blizzard. I’ve done some big rides before, but I was riding slower than walking. Ice forming across my goggles and freezing up my derailleur. The wind was so tough.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, let me tell you a bit about how I got to this epic cycling journey.
I was 4 when I got diagnosed with diabetes, so I’m old school. I’ve been through all the different technological stages of living with diabetes starting out with glass syringes that needed sharpening and steaming.
My parents found the diagnosis very difficult, especially as it was not helped by the doctor at the time telling them I wouldn’t ever be able to do sports and that most people diagnosed with type 1 around that age don’t live past 40.
A fun extra story for you: On my 40th birthday I left work, rode to the train station, took a train to London and when Big Ben went bong for midnight to mark my 40th birthday, I pointed the bike south and rode to Paris in a day (285km).
I first got into cycling to lose weight. Back at that time, I was a complete wreck, skipping injections and ignoring blood testing. It actually got to a point where I was being scraped up by paramedics twice a week for epic hypo’s. We’re talking going MIA at work, dancing around the Post Office with an old lady doing a rendition of singing in the rain, and destroying Easter egg displays in the local supermarket before proposing to the paramedic level of hypo’s!
I was a very “bad” example of someone not coping with the condition. Mentally I was a wreck faking blood glucose books for doctors and things, and generally not getting the support I needed.
But cycling fixed my mind, it got me active, the mental changes from the feeling of riding actually got me testing properly and caring about my diabetes more.
I lost about 30Kg. Riding has done me so much good.
Now you know a little bit more about how I ended up riding from the Northernmost part of mainland Europe back to the UK.
On day 2, the snow ploughs had been through early in the morning and cleared the roads but coming down one hill, there was a 50 meter patch of ice. I knew it wasn’t going to end well. Bang, down I went. I was in the middle of nowhere. When I collected myself all I saw was reindeer around me. I didn’t see them immediately because they were so well camouflaged in the snow.
There was nothing else around. My only option was to get back on my bike and ride to the next town to find a hospital.
It turned out I fractured my scapula and some ribs. The doctor gave me pain killers and said off you go. It was painful going uphill, trying to breathe and riding through tough winds. As I moved further south it continually improved, and by the time I was leaving Denmark a few weeks later, I started feeling far better.
I went through Finland, Sweden, into Denmark, Germany, Netherlands and back to the UK. The wind was terrible in the Netherlands. On one day in the Netherlands I rode 180km in one day with a tough headwind the whole day. It was brutal. I was looking at my glucose levels and it was just bouncing off the minimum level all day.
Germany was fun. All the farms were selling fresh fruit on the side of the roads. I’d buy a whole box of strawberries for 1 Euro.
I was riding on average 10 – 12 hours a day so they were long days.
I had 4 pannier bags with me and my tent strapped to the top of my rack. One of them was completely dedicated to my diabetes management.
I would arrange my accommodation just on the day depending how far I got. I had a minimum distance to do everyday to make sure I made it home ontime to be back at work but other than that, I would just see how far I got each day.
One day when I was in Angelholm, I checked into accommodation on an old air base. The next morning I asked the reception what all the noise was as there were car engines going all the time. It turns out I was staying at the Koenigsegg factory with their car engines making all that noise. Seeing the fighter jets was stunning.
Coming back home, I was on the ferry and I ordered a Diet Coke. They give me a pint of beer, an unusual mix up from the norm of getting a full Coke. I hadn’t drunk alcohol in almost 10 years but I felt I’d deserved that one.