ElliptiGO caught up with Nahla Summers toward the last days of her 2020 Challenge. Here, she shares the upsides, the downsides, the wonderment, and the hardship of carrying the message of Kindness across all of Great Britain’s country roads.
Spreading Kindness across England
The hills had been brutal the day before, but on that day less severe elevation lay ahead, with more gradual climbs. Riding over the Yorkshire Dales. Vast open space and barely a soul in sight, the season was in the midst of change. There were moments I was able to glide with the sun low in the sky and the shadow of myself and “Charis” paved the road. I want to always dream of that moment. -Nahla Summers, on one of her favorite memories from her incredible months-long quest of riding through all of England.
Tell us about your 2020 Challenge and the Sunshine People Movement!
Sunshine People is a social movement to promote and inspire kindness. Each year, I undertake a physical challenge, and instead of asking people to donate money to a charity I simply ask them to do an act of kindness for a stranger. I call it #sponsorkindness, and it’s created to start a conversation about the power of kindness over money. This year’s challenge is to ride 5000 miles on Charis (my dear ElliptiGO), taking me through every city in the UK, to write the word Kindness across England.
With multiple annual challenges, taking you wide and far – do you have a background in endurance sports?
I’ll be honest, I am not a fitness person. My preference is a little walk with a pub lunch, reading books, films, and all the quiet things in life. However here I am doing these, what appear to become larger, challenges year after year. Of course I am active, but the gym brings me no joy at all – I prefer the outdoors! For most of my life, I’ve generally been overly slim. Since removing sugar, gluten, and doing work on my gut I have been able to start to gain some healthy weight. In summary, I would say I am an inconsistent fitness person.
When not traveling, I live in the South of England in a small town called Sturminster Newton in Dorset county. It is where I was brought up and my folks have lived in the same house for forty years.
What made you pick up ElliptiGOing?
I chose ElliptiGO because it would get noticed; it would grab media and public attention. When you have a message to get out in the world, you need the media to help that happen. My bright red 8C Charis has done an amazing job of achieving that! With the steep hills, at times I wished for her sister, the 11R.
Before the challenge, I had not owned an ElliptiGO. It arrived, and honestly, I’d already committed to the challenge so it was just a matter of getting on with it. I got on it and fell off pretty quickly. Later I went out for little rides to start with, then worked up to the roads. I spent hours going up and down this slightly inclined street to master one-handed riding, making me a more confident rider overall.
In the first plan, the Challenge was set to ride through 20 countries of Europe, 20 Kindness Challenges in 20 countries. With COVID, I changed that idea. There were many changes over the past year and half of planning…
What was the biggest adjustment you had to make to the Challenge due to the Covid Pandemic?
There’s so much to mention but in the same breath, there’s nothing at all. For the most part, I have been alone on the trip and there is a long story about that. I ride through remote areas and built-up areas. Wearing masks is the norm for everyone now so I don’t feel much adjustment there, and I spend most of the day outdoors. What I found most concerning was others’ fear and panic in their very being about this. To keep us safe, I believe we all need an element of fear, but this has been out of proportion at times.
One big adjustment for me is that I haven’t been able to hug anyone. I am a hugger, and at certain times not being able to hug someone has been very hard.
You’ve taken on a very long journey. Can you tell us one of your happiest memories of this adventure so far?
I had quite a severe foot issue (it’s a long story) and had pulled over wondering what to do to fix it.
Walking Charis up onto the pavement, I was thinking about how I was going to be able to carry on, and how to and use the said foot to lift off. Rounding the corner, there, like a beacon was a shop that said, ‘Foot care’. Thinking it had to be too good to be true, I wandered in and said, “I am sure you are booked but I am in real pain with…” before I had finished the lady said, “No come on in, sit down. I’ve had two cancellations today which is very unusual so I have time.” As she nursed my feet we talked about our life stories and that conversation will forever remain with me.
Of course what has truly kept me going are the stories of Kindness that have been done under #sponsorkindness. One school made a hand tree of kindness with the story of what I was doing on the tree trunk, and each child doing their own kindness.
I was completely moved because it was a powerful reminder that we have a choice on what we put into the world, and how we choose to influence others. I will always try to not take that for granted.
How have you dealt with difficult moments during the challenge?
So many moments… But you always find a way if you really want to, and therefore nothing is difficult with the right mindset.
We make choices every day if we want to find problems or solutions. I spent the entire trip in a state of finding solutions to the many, and often bi-daily, problems that came up.
There were injuries, but they were just superficial in many ways. The real demon is the mindset. You have to keep working on mindset even more than body fitness. Fitness will come but can be ruined by a weak mindset.
I tune into that voice in my head and listen to what it is telling me. When I realize it’s not good, I work actively on turning the inner voice into something that will drive me forwards rather than pull me back.
Anyone along the road you met during this challenge that you’ll always remember?
I have loved so many people on this trip, it’s hard to pick just one. People I’ve stayed with, people who have supported me, passers-by, and I have made so many new friends. Still, there was one in Ireland I think I’ll always refer back to because in so many ways she epitomized what I was doing.
The day before I met her, actually let’s take it back two days. I had left Carlisle (North England edge of Scotland) and had a two-day trip to get to the ferry going across to Belfast to pick up riding northern Ireland and the cities there. Riding there was a total of 120 miles, so I had found a place to stay approximately halfway.
The issue was the headwind on the first day of this section. It was relentless and brutal, following a terrible TV interview may I add. Reaching a town, I was still 25 miles short of where I needed to be, with nothing more to give. I had to pay for a BnB but felt it was the only way, I was exhausted.
On the next day’s long ride I would need to get to the ferry by 2.30 pm. It was almost impossible but I was determined. I went so hard, repeating the mantra ‘I am strong’ to get me through, even though I had felt quite the opposite. (It worked, I did feel really strong by the end of it.) Wonderful weather, beautiful scenery, and I was doing good time.
Just six miles short of the ferry, I realized I would arrive too late and wouldn’t make it… The next ferry wasn’t until 8 pm. Stopping at a petrol station for a food break instead, it wasn’t until later that I learned I could have made it after all – the ferry was delayed. Another lesson about not stopping until you know for sure…
Catching the 8 PM ferry, I wasn’t finished for the day in Belfast until 2.30 AM, with a looming 7 AM takeoff for the next 48-Mile day.
My face was like a balloon through the sheer tiredness. I was exhausted. Stopping to sleep a few hours, getting back up feeling terrible, still, I knew I had to keep going. After climbing a 10-mile incline coming out of Belfast the inclines started to get harder. The sun was shining but I felt physically sick, wondering for the first time if I was physically able to make the day out.
How do people react to your ElliptiGO bike?
A woman walked past me on the country lane as I looked down on the city I had just climbed out of. In a daze I missed her first words; she was asking about the bike…. Everyone always asks about the bike. She invited me to sit in her garden and have lunch with her and her husband. Once I got there, it turned out he had heard my story on the radio the week before.
We had french toast, they helped route me, rode along with me, found a place to store Charis to make the day easier, and still stay at my pre-arranged endpoint. Their day had become all about me, a stranger. A woman they had never met had become their priority.
Kindness should not just be directed to the people you like, it should be to every person. She picked me up and tuned in to what I needed. She was a light in the dark as so many were on this trip. Without her and others this challenge would never have been possible to complete.
What are you most grateful for in deciding to do a ride of this length?
That’s easy, my fitness! But also to see the country change, through seasons and weather patterns. People’s accents changed as I passed through the various counties, their voices carrying in the wind.
It remains as a privilege with me, seeing the country like this while gliding along on Charis. I can now say I have visited every city in the UK, except Londonderry. I’m not sure that is something to ever take for granted.
With months on end on the road – did you ever feel lonely?
Just one week before speaking for World Kindness day at an event, I was canceled. Charis had needed some maintenance, my laptop was not working despite being told it had been fixed, and I was having to replan the entire ongoing leg again for the sixth or seventh time. All while the country was going into lockdown. I was still able to carry on legally and within the guidelines however, people were questioning this.
Calling my best friend, I sobbed on the phone. I’d had enough of the hits as they had just kept coming relentlessly over the time of the challenge. I felt alone only by the fact that it felt like it was just me fighting to push forward this message of kindness. Or, at that moment it felt like that anyway.
However, for the most part, there’s been no loneliness. Loneliness is, in my opinion, something that is an internal feeling – you can be in a crowded room and feel lonely. We just have to work on our mindset in that scenario.
What has been different than imagined when you first rolled out?
Everything and that has made it all the better. I had not planned to do this solo; it was meant to be filmed by others, and so many things were meant to happen. In the end, it was just me for the most part, with people stepping in for short periods or remotely to support.
What I have learned is you can only truly rely on yourself, and to never be disappointed when someone doesn’t do what they have agreed to.
Any advice for riders hesitant to try something new and demanding like this?
Be confident that lots of things won’t go the way you planned. That simply means you’re growing stronger and are going to feel incredible afterward. Simply embrace the bad parts as they will be the things that are the gold nuggets.
Also, don’t worry too much about having every detail sorted; we paralyze ourselves with the feeling we can’t do something until ‘this or that’ happens. It is short this life of ours, and everything you want to do is simply within your own gift.
Any early goals or plans for 2021?
Yes, the Challenge next year will be to have a go at the 24-hour record. The Guinness World Record for the furthest distance is a challenge, as the GWR will not allow you to go around in circles. I need to find roads in England that are flat to get up speed on, and get the route approved. No doubt, it will be pretty brutal, but I will have a good go. I am already building the support crew for it, having learned lots about this in the past four months.
We’re so happy you braved this adventure. On behalf of the ElliptiGO community, we thank you for being an inspiration.
I came into the ElliptiGO world by accident in many ways, like so many things in my life – my next book is called The Accidental Adventurer. What I found within this community is an incredible group of genuine and kind people. People who live without judgment, people who want to support others in whatever journey they are on.
The ElliptiGO was named Charis as it’s the Goddess of Kindness, and in so many ways it seems fitting to the world I have found within the ElliptiGO community. Keep being kind, keep giving feedback, keep GOing! Thank you to all for your support – it has been one of the great joys of the past four months.
At the time of the interview, Nahla was finishing up the Challenge by riding and drawing a giant heart, inspiring other riders to use #sponsorkindess and to carry on the challenge. ❤ ElliptiGO stands and rides with you Nahla!
Since the time of the interview, Nahla has concluded the Challenge, completing her mammoth 5,000 + Mile journey. On November 23rd, she finished with a last long day, by riding a Century, supported by long-time ElliptiGO customer, Andrew Nuttall. This final 100 Mile ride was her 114th day, ending with a cold and dark section in the short British November daylight hours. Amazing effort Nahla!”
Contributed by Elinor Yee – A rider considering herself lucky for each day on her ElliptiGO, drawing inspiration from fellow riders conquering obstacles big & small.
Want to inspire Elinor? Contact ElliptiGO with nominations to Rider of the Month or share your own story. It may just be the next feature!