Three Peaks cycle challenge is a family affair

For many of us, a milestone birthday is an opportunity to gather friends and family, pop some champagne corks and reflect on the past decade.

That’s not how Neil Lumsden and Alastair Baird do birthdays. With 20 years and an ocean between them, the uncle and nephew have established a tradition of collaborating on major fundraising challenges every 10 years. Recently, Alastair marked his 40th and Neil his 60th, which inspired them to take on an epic adventure. The men, who originally hail from Sussex but live in California and London, decided to climb Snowdon, Scafell Pike and Ben Nevis and – as if that wasn’t enough – cycle the considerable distances between them.


Montage of images of Neil and Alistair


It all started when Alastair, then 19, was badly injured in a car crash. His broken pelvis scuppered plans to travel in Africa and Neil, visiting him in hospital, joked that he would have to run a marathon instead. “He looked at me and said, ‘I will if you will,’” remembers Neil. The result? Running seven-and-a-half times around Tresco, in the Isles of Scilly, in what has been dubbed ‘the world’s smallest marathon’.

Ten years ago, they followed that by completing a 24-hour walk starting at Big Ben, completing more than 60 miles. This time, Neil wanted to fulfil a long-held ambition to complete the Three Peaks Challenge and persuaded Alastair to continue the tradition.

Long-distance training

With thousands of miles and an eight-hour time difference to contend with, training together was not easy. “We did virtual training together once a week and then cycled independently,” says Neil.

“I’d never owned a road bike,” says Alastair. “I bought my first road bike at Christmas and borrowed an indoor trainer from a friend.

“We usually got together on Sunday evenings because of the time difference, and we’d do 30 or 40km together while chatting over WhatsApp. Technology really helped – looking at Strava and being able to see Neil’s average times meant I could try to keep to the same pace. But the first time we ever actually cycled together was when we set off from the foot of Snowdon.”

Neil interjects, “He has a 20-year advantage and he’s more of a sportsman than I am anyway, so I had more trouble keeping up with him. But it worked well, and we kept up a really decent pace. Amazingly, not one single cyclist overtook us the whole way. We’re pretty pleased about that!”

All for a good cause

Before moving to California, Neil lived in Hassocks and he says that supporting Chestnut Tree House was a very easy decision. “I had a tour of the hospice and just fell in love with what they’re doing,” he says. “I was totally in awe of it.

“We both have children and, by the grace of God, we haven’t needed Chestnut Tree House personally. But we know plenty of people have benefited from their care and we wanted to help the charity reach even more families.”

Alastair and Neil raised an astonishing £12,289 – more than enough to pay for 24 hours of hospice care for local children and their families. “We were worried about how much we’d be able to raise for the charity,” says Neil. “There are so many problems all over the world, and so many good causes vying to raise money.

“As it turned out, this was a challenge that captured people’s imaginations. We were lucky to get some very big donations at the start, and I think that set the tone!”

“The other thing that helped,” says Alastair, “was the fact that we were religious about sending round photos and videos and updating our JustGiving page over the course of the nine-day challenge. It got picked up by friends on social media and reminded people to donate.

“But I think the main thing is that we don’t do charity fundraisers that often – just once every 10 years! You build up a lot of credit with people you have supported in the intervening time.”

Peaks and troughs

For each peak, the men were joined by Neil’s wife Meme and Fiona – Neil’s sister and Alastair’s mother – who, remarkably, had a hip replacement in March.

Asked to name their highlight of the adventure, both men laugh and mention the same incident. “We were cycling in the Lake District, on a notoriously steep stretch of road at Kirkstone Pass, nicknamed ‘the Struggle,’” says Alastair. “We had about 120 kilometres to cycle up to Scotland and we suddenly found ourselves on an incline that lasted five kilometres, with a gradient ranging from eight-and-a-half per cent to 16 per cent. It was unbelievably tough, but the scenery was incredible and the feeling when we got to the top was amazing.

“Unfortunately, that was followed by huge frustration because they’d closed the road at the top. Normally when you do a big climb, you get the fun of going down the other side, but the builders told us that we had to get off the road and walk down an old bridlepath with our bikes and our cleats.

“It took us about an hour to walk down and at the time it was very frustrating. Looking back on it, it’s very funny and I’m so glad we did that climb.”

Next steps

Now both have returned to their respective homes, their thoughts have turned to their next adventure. “We’ve mooted the idea of crossing a country,” says Neil. “We might try to combine hiking, mountain biking and kayaking. A fairly difficult one logistically, but we’ll dream up something.

“The only thing is, I don’t know if we want to wait another 10 years! We might have to do an interim challenge in five years.”

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