From a career-ending injury to biking 14,000 miles in under 100 days, Dean Stott's story is as inspiring as it is incredible.
As humans, we’re capable of some pretty impressive feats. From deadlifting over 1,000 pounds to cycling 14,000 miles in under 100 days, the sky’s the limit when it comes to how far we can push our bodies. Dean Stott, the man responsible for that world-record breaking 14,000-mile bike ride in under 100 days, knows this well.
We recently got the chance to speak with the former Special Forces operative-turned-record-breaking adventurer and author to unravel the thrilling tale behind his epic bike ride and one of the most remarkable feats on two wheels. From the challenges faced on the open road to the sheer determination that fueled his journey, Stott opens up about the highs, lows, and everything in between.
Headlines Over Sidelines: After 16 honorable years of service in the military, what led you to set the goal of cycling the entire 14,000-mile length of the Pan-American Highway? It’s our understanding you had never cycled more than a few miles prior. Where did the mental health awareness portion come from, as well?
Dean Stott: I was medically discharged from the military and told I could not run again, which affected me mentally as I had an identity crisis. My whole military career leading up to and while in the Special Forces was due to my physical attributes. I had suddenly lost that after my parachute accident. I tore my ACL, MCL, lateral meniscus, Hamstring, Calf and Quadricep.
For the next five years I worked in the private security sector building up a reputation and becoming one of the world’s leading security operators. During this period, I neglected my own physical well-being to concentrate solely on work. After a task which involved me single-handedly evacuating the Canadian Embassy from Libya, my wife Alana pointed out that something had to change as I was either going to die, or worse, get divorced.
My injured leg was now 2kg lighter than the good leg due to muscle wastage. To help build leg strength, I bought a road bike and cycled to and from the office (8 miles each way). Cycling was a great discovery for me – not hurting my injured knee, being physically active again, getting cardiovascular activity in – I felt a huge weight lifted off my shoulders as I could push myself hard again.
Approaching my 40th birthday, Alana encouraged me to do something physically and mentally demanding that didn’t involve rescuing people and smuggling across borders.
My wife bought the Guinness Book of Records and we sat scanning it to pick an interesting one for me to try to beat. She pointed out “the world's longest road” – the Pan American Highway from Southern Argentina to Northern Alaska (14,000 miles/22,000Km). Despite the fact that the longest distance I had ever cycled to that point was less than 20 miles, I applied for the world record, which stood at 126 days, and later became 117 days when I started training.
Prince Harry was a good military friend. He and I had done a lot of veteran and wildlife charity work together before. I rang him and told him of my challenge. At the time, he, Prince William and Princess Kate were launching a mental health campaign called “Heads Together” which fit perfectly for this challenge.
Alana and I were asked to help support Heads Together with this effort and we set a target of £1 million while promoting the message that “Physical activity helps your mental state.” This was the birth of the PAH18 campaign.
Beating the record was hugely rewarding for me, but most meaningful of all is that Alana successfully raised $1.3 million for the Heads Together campaign as a result of our efforts. For this charitable fund-raising effort, Alana has been awarded the MBE from King Charles III. You can read more about this in Alana’s two new latest books, “How to Ask for Money” and “She Who Dares.” I also share my own perspective of the story in my own book, “Relentless.”
HS: Will you walk us through what your training looked like beginning in 2016 and the structure of it up until you began your attempt to complete the ride in 2018?
DS: I had never distance cycled much before but knew I had the mental attitude and physical endurance from my time in Special Forces and just needed to translate that to the bike.
I just needed to learn more about cycling and get the right training.
Once I got started, my coach was Ken Bryson from Total Endurance in Aberdeen. He formulated all my training which involved a lot of strength training as we needed to build up my muscle mass. I would cycle one to two century rides a week. The remaining rides were shorter strength training and in a short period by strength and muscle mass gained.
I ultimately did cycle from Land's End to John O Groats (the entire length of the UK), having only cycled a few weeks, and then did the reverse ride six months later. These were considered to be training rides and I approached them as that. The Pan American Highway was 15 times longer back-to-back at a 6-day pace, so mentally these UK rides had to be achievable and non-strenuous.
I also did a large amount of research regarding the Pan-American Highway’s countries, temperatures and conditions I would be cycling and tried to replicate.
I flew to Dubai for heat training for two weeks to help replicate the Atacama desert in Chile as I would be passing through mid-Summer. In Thailand I conducted some strength and conditioning training as it was 90-100% humidity – a close approximation of Central America. The biggest climb on my Pan-American challenge was 67km from seal level to 4500m. To satisfy that I would cycle at altitude. Any time I was in London I would visit the Altitude Center and utilize their facility. The biggest ride I did was a 10hr watt bike session at altitude.
Also, I was conscious of the fact that this challenge was like a polar expedition and I would be losing weight from the moment I set off.
Alana, after struggling to find a nutrition plan that worked for my exact needs, trained up as a sports nutritionist and then as an advanced sports nutritionist to help manage my diet and keep my weight on throughout training. I started at 90kg in the best condition possible. As long as I could get to the start uninjured then the rest was up to me.
HS: We’ve read about your run-in with food poisoning in Peru, crashes in Chile and Colombia, and the tornado you encountered. Will you describe the biggest obstacles and hardships you faced during your world record attempt, and any role your time in the SBS and military played in overcoming these obstacles and accomplishing this feat?
DS: When conducting a challenge as big as this you will no doubt encounter obstacles and unforeseen circumstances. When planning the project we looked at all the potential scenarios and circumstances. For certain situations you can have a contingency but not many, as you have to still cycle the road.
There were certain situations that were out of our control such as natural disasters and coups. So I factored a week’s elbow room should we encounter any of these so they wouldn’t eat into the challenge and aimed to cycle in 110 and not 117 days.
Four weeks after passing through Nicaragua was the start of the Nicaraguan Protest and coup attempt which lasted four years.
I encountered strong winds in Argentina for a week, food poisoning twice in Peru, crashing my bike in Chile and also being knocked off my bike in Colombia but these did not affect my time and I took 10 days off the South American world record for doing it in 48 days.
Then, 22 days later, having completed Central America and Mexico, I entered the USA on day 70 and was 14 days ahead of the then world record. An hour into Texas, my wife rang me to tell me that we had been invited to Harry and Meghan’s wedding and I was now one day behind due to the new forecast.
I had 17 days planned for North America, but eager to make my friend’s big day, I cycled it in 11 days with the majority of cycling at night when winds subsided.
A week outside of the finish point at Prudhoe Bay in Alaska, I was informed of another cyclist who had three other endurance cycling world records who wanted to be the first person to cycle the Pan American Highway in under 100 days and so again my target moved.
My time in the Special Forces was very similar to this challenge, we would go into countries not knowing the infrastructure or lay of the land. We did however have a mission and objective that needed completing. Often, things would not go according to plan and we would react to the situation as it unfolded and still complete the mission. This was no different for the bike ride.
I would say the hardest challenges were the behind the scenes stuff – “the admin,” as I would call it. Luckily my wife dealt with most of this and tried to keep it away as much as possible as she was well aware my mental state was key to the success of the challenge.
HS: What was the final stretch like? Finishing within 12 hours of going over the 100 day mark must have required an increase in effort and perseverance.
DS: With my new target to get in under 100 days I got myself into a position where I had 250 miles to cover in two days on Dalton's highway which was very gravelly and a through-way for many large trucks. (It’s where they film Ice Truckers). My plan was to cycle 150 miles in the first day, leaving me 100 for the last day, which would get me in under the 100 days.
I cycled the first 50 miles and at noon met a road construction stop sign with a very serious woman holding the sign. I was informed I could not pass until 20:00hrs that night, which lost me eight hours of cycling right there.
That evening at 20:00hrs, I hopped back on my bike and cycled non-stop except for occasional hot drink stops for the next 200 miles through to the following afternoon. It was the land of the midnight sun – meaning it was solid daylight at night time – which totally confused my body.
My wife and children had also flown into Prudhoe Bay and so I knew they were there waiting for me. I had cycled 22hrs in the last 30hrs in -18 degree temperature to finish the challenge in 99 days, 12 hrs and 56 minutes to become the first man in history under 100 days. Not bad for a 41 year old novice cyclist.
HS: What’s next on your list? We read somewhere you’re planning to kayak the length of the Nile River.
DS: The Nile has been on my radar and with COVID putting original plans to a halt, now with recent fighting in Sudan it looks like this will need to be put on a shelf for a while. I do, however, have another huge challenge forthcoming. It’s currently under embargo but it will be another world first and I’m excited to share it publicly soon. What I can say is that it will be the biggest and highest stakes challenge I have ever done!
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