On 1 July 2022, Barry Dillon and his twin sons, Ricky and Gavin, embarked on the challenge of a lifetime to raise vital funds for our hospice in memory of beloved wife and mother, Carol.
The trio took on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route – the longest off-road cycle route in the world – in Carol’s memory. You can watch their video story here.
On 11 October 2022, after cycling over 2,700 miles and crossing two Canadian provinces and five American states, the Dillons arrived at the finish line in Antelope Wells, New Mexico.
The Dillons’ incredible challenge has raised a whopping £10,181.39 for Hospiscare! This is enough to help fund 347 hours of expert care on the specialist ward where Carol spent her final days.
Just weeks after their return to the UK, the lovely folks at The Tasting Room in Exeter, where both Ricky and Gavin work, hosted a Q&A for the Dillons to share their incredible experience. We went along to hear all about their travels and present them with hugely well-deserved medals and certificates.
Q: How did you feel at the end of day one?
Gavin: As soon as we left the track, it was like, bang! We thought we’d taken on too much.
Ricky: At the start we were hitting it quite aggressively and doing around 50 miles a day. By the time we got to the half way mark, we were slowing it down with more rest days.
Q: What was the weather like?
Gavin: We had all of the weathers! It was very cold when we set off in Canada. In Montana, we had heat waves and then at higher elevations in Colorado, we had a lot of frost – near to the point of snow. When we reached Mexico, they were in a drought but towards the end of our time there, the monsoon hit and there was flooding everywhere. We had pretty much every weather apart from snow!
Q: What did you miss the most?
Gavin: Running water and showers!
Ricky: A good night’s sleep!
Q: What was the best part of the challenge?
Gavin: The best part had to be the generosity and the hospitality that we received from everyone while we were over there. There was one town called Grant that had a population of about 50 people and rather than seeing us as foreigners, they really greeted us and made us feel welcome.
The most touching moment for us was meeting a family who were on holiday and the lady came over and asked what we were doing with our bikes. We told them about our challenge and that we were raising money for Hospiscare in memory of our Mum and she just burst into tears. She had just lost her father-in-law and she was there with her mum and husband. They invited us to have lunch with them and we shared our story again with these complete strangers and they were all crying – it was so touching. We’ve kept in contact with them.
Q: What was the worst part of the challenge?
Ricky: Dad’s snoring I think!
Barry: The worst part was just before Kremlin. It was the first time that we’d gone above 9,000 feet. I don’t think I drank enough water and there was a heatwave. I got off my bike and pushed it but then I couldn’t do it anymore.
Gavin: Ricky put his thumb out and flagged down a truck and they put Dad and his bike in the back. We had to carry on though! That was the most worrying part for us.
The only other time that we feared for our lives was a two-mile stretch of road that we had to take. Most of the roads have big hard shoulders but there wasn’t one on this road and it was Labour Day – the equivalent of a bank holiday here in the UK. In America, everything’s bigger, including the vehicles! They were passing within inches of us and I can definitely say that’s the fastest two miles that we did!
Barry: And then there were the hills…
Gavin: It could take us four hours to cover just two miles because we had to hike our bikes, loaded with all of our water and gear.
Q: Was there a time when you thought you weren’t going to make it to a campsite?
Ricky: There was a time in New Mexico – we’d been washed off the route because of the mud so we had to take the road. We reached the place where we were meant to get food but there hadn’t been a shop there for 20 years. We were completely out of food and water and we knew we had to cycle another 20 miles to find some.
We cycled to this place called El Rita and there was a restaurant, but it was cash only and we didn’t have any. It was dark and it was raining and we didn’t know what to do. I asked a lady if she knew where we could camp and she said we could stay in her garden! We set off for her house and then a woman caught us up in her car and asked if we’d been able to get any food. When we said no, she gave us $30 so we could go back and get some!
After we’d eaten, we found the woman’s house and rather than camping in her garden, she said we could stay in her caravan instead.
Barry: We had a day off after that and we saw the lady go in and out of the campervan and we found that she’d left us $100! She came back again that evening with her wife and brought us dinner. It was amazing, and kindnesses like that, they happened quite often!
Q: What was it like doing this challenge in memory of Carol?
Barry: The challenge kept me busy and there were times when I thought that I was coping with losing Carol, but I wasn’t. All it took was to meet people on the trail who’d suffered a loss like ours, and it all came back up. It was so good to share our story, and to hear the stories of others. As difficult as it was doing the challenge in memory of Carol, it was good to spend time with my boys and we know what a difference we’ve made to Hospiscare.
Q: Did you ever feel like giving up and if so, what stopped you?
Ricky: Yes! But it turns out we’re just too stubborn! Knowing that everyone back home was rooting for us, as well as all of the people we’d met along the way, kept us going.
Q: How did it feel to cross the finish line?
Ricky: It was such a strange feeling when we reached the end. For the following week, even when we were back in the UK, I kept waking up and thinking I had to cycle again!
Gavin: Even though we were relieved to finish, we felt quite sad too. It’s a simple way of living, getting up in the morning and knowing that you’ve got a day of cycling ahead.
Barry: There’s no reality as such. Normal life disappears. You get up in the morning and cycle, then eat and sleep and then get up and do it all again.
Q: What would you say to anyone considering taking on a challenge for Hospiscare?
Gavin: We really hope that people will hear our story and be inspired to take on their own challenge for Hospiscare. None of us are cyclists, and we’ve managed to complete this challenge of a lifetime. Our Dad always says, ‘step outside your comfort zone’ and we hope other people will too to support the charity that means so much to us.
To find out more about taking on a challenge for Hospiscare, please click here.