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Where There's a Will: Hope, Grief and Endurance in a Cycle Race Across a Continent

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Emily Chappell's story of transformation into a cross-continental bike racer, pushing the limits of her endurance

A London cycle courier with a taste for adventure, Emily Chappell entered an extraordinary new race - The Transcontinental - in which riders must find their own way, entirely unassisted, across Europe in the shortest time possible. On her second attempt, she won the women's event, covering nearly 4,000 miles in 13 days and ten hours, sleeping in short bursts wherever exhaustion took her.

In the aftermath of a win that troubled as much as pleased her she worked with Mike Hall, the founder of the race, until his tragic death on the road.

Where There's a Will is a book about a normal person finding the capacity to do something extraordinary; the paradoxes of comradeship, competition, vulnerability and will and the shock of grief, combined in a beautifully written and very human story.

288 pages, Hardcover

Published November 7, 2019

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About the author

Emily Chappell

6 books23 followers
Emily Chappell is a freelance illustrator, artist and silkscreen printer based in Glasgow, Scotland.

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5 stars
390 (52%)
4 stars
261 (34%)
3 stars
87 (11%)
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10 (1%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 71 reviews
Profile Image for Paul.
2,143 reviews
March 13, 2020
I have been a follower of the Tour de France for three decades now. It never ceases to amaze me the limits that these guys can push themselves to, just to complete the course. Some have used artificial aids, but even with that, it is still a mammoth achievement to complete the 3000 or so kilometres.

There is another cycle race across Europe though that is twice the length of the Tour. The race is called the Transcontinental and rather than having the luxury of team members and lots of support, the entrants must cycle their way without support in the fastest time possible. Whilst the Tour takes place over three weeks and is a very fast race, the Transcontinental has one stage and four checkpoints. You’d think that they would struggle to find people to take part in this, but they do find people and those that do must be utterly mad.

Emily Chappell is one of those. She began as a cycle courier in London, but her taste for adventure transformed her into an ultra cyclist and she decided to enter this. To get across a continent in the fastest time on a bike means that you have to ignore things like sleep and sensible diets, push so far through the pain barrier that you are on the limit of doing permanent damage to your body. She made it halfway before bailing the first year that she entered. Undaunted by this, she trained hard with the guy who founded the race, Mike Hall and entered the next year.

It took her 13 days and 10 hours to cycle the 4000 miles and she won the women’s prize. She consumed countless calories every day, existed on little or no sleep and pushed her body beyond any sensible limits. As staggering as that sounds, she was still five days behind the overall winner, Kristof Allegaert. A substantial part of the book is about the platonic relationship that she had with the founder of the race, Mike Hall and the rides that they used to go out on. It is a tribute to him too and the disciple that he founded as he was tragically killed on another race in Australia.

This is one of the best cycling books that I have read in a long while. Not only is it lyrical with a strong narrative, but Chappell is searingly honest about the few highs and many lows of pushing her body well beyond any limits in this most extreme of sports. Superb book and possibly one of the best cycling books I have ever read.
Profile Image for Kathrin Passig.
Author 47 books409 followers
October 24, 2021
Ich weiß nicht, ob ich schon mal ein Buch gelesen habe, in dem so viel geweint wird. Es war alles sehr interessant, viel interessanter als in den mir bisher bekannten "und dann trainierte ich hart und gewann hier und triumphierte da"-Berichten.
Profile Image for Cliff M.
222 reviews16 followers
November 20, 2019
Incredibly well written for a ‘cycling book’. Emily could write anything and make it come to life. A rare talent. She has an admirable ability to be completely honest at all times about feelings that most of us hide from the world as a matter of course.
A shocking event towards the end of the book elevates this from being a tale of incredible endurance into being something else. Something much more important. The person involved couldn’t have asked for a better testament.
Profile Image for Frauke.
44 reviews3 followers
August 13, 2022
I hope that I'll meet Emily one day. What a woman and oh my can she write. Loved every page of it. She's able to describe her experiences without making me feel weak or a lesser cyclist. Thank you.
Profile Image for Jill.
106 reviews3 followers
October 11, 2020
This may be my favorite endurance cycling memoir of any that I've read. Emily Chappell's writing is beautiful, her imagery compelling, and she succinctly captures a depth and range of emotions that we all experience in these endeavors.
Profile Image for Zachary Kjellberg.
59 reviews2 followers
October 26, 2020
As I've been getting more interested in ultra cycling, I decided to pick up this book. Often, we glamourize these events due to the adventure and extreme challenge, but due to the high tempo, it is hard to get perspective on what the riders go through.

I enjoyed hearing Emily's experience, starting as a bike courier, and then joining ultra races, surprised by her results. It was also wonderful hearing of her friendship with Mike Hall, evolving into training partners, encounters during races, and then the horrific experience of hearing of his passing.

The book highlights the brutality of these races, due to the extreme mental and physical fatigue of racing such a lengthy event. Emily shares her experiences battling the wear and tear on mind, body, and bike. She highlights the difficult situations that can occur on such lengthy routes, where logistics can become a major worry, such as bike failures riding across mountains. Even the simplicity of luck with bike tubes. It highlights the raw challenge the incredible events demand.

Ultra Athletes are a rare breed and this book gives a wonderful perspective of the limits pushed on these adventures.

I removed a star, as I lost some momentum in the middle of the book, but still found it a wonderful read.
Profile Image for Cat.
23 reviews2 followers
December 21, 2020
As a fan of cycling and a keen cyclist myself, this book appealed to me from the outset. In it, the author recounts her exploits, and hardcore long distance adventures as a bike courier and racing cyclist.

The story is told honestly, warts-and-all from Chappell’s perspective, and it is so refreshing for an author to write about taboo subjects, seemingly without a second thought. (Periods whilst on a stupidly long bike ride, anyone?)

It documents the highs and lows of her training and her subsequent race, her drop to despair and how she copes when the race is over, and what comes next.

No spoilers, but this is not a book to read if you are lacking in emotional resilience. It was difficult to not get swept up in the story and I found my empathy for the author very real, especially at the end.

If you want a book to inspire you, this is the one.
January 26, 2020
I absolutely love this book because it really took me along and is so well written! It made me want to take my bike immediately and explore (in less extreme ways - I'm only a very recreational cyclist). Emily also writes honestly about certain feelings and thoughts that I don't think I've come across very often in a book. And although I have not been in the same situations, they touched me very much. She's a great writer and seems an amazing human. I wish the book never ended.

And if you happened to have been a dot watcher for the Indy-pac, you might appreciate this book even more.
Profile Image for Kira Laktionov.
10 reviews
March 22, 2021
The books by athletes about athletes are amazing when it comes about their enormous devotion to the sport, the way they cope with wins and losings, bear emotional ups and downs and end up being people we know. What I feel this book lacked is the way Emily prepared for her endurance races and events, as I believe it might have taken about 80% of effort. It is also about willing to perform and willing to stand against your fears, anxieties, andbasic human weaknesses. What this book does good is it motivates one to jump up on a saddle and spin for another hundred kilometers.
Profile Image for Jason.
533 reviews45 followers
January 9, 2021
My daughter Samantha bought me this book for Christmas. I have been very excited to read it and I was not let down. I gobbled it up! Just the sort of story that I love to read about. Endurance cycling is fascinating to me. Also, so sad portions of this book where . I'm very happy to be introduced to endurance cycling through this book and I'm looking forward to reading others on a similar theme.
Profile Image for Ron S.
420 reviews27 followers
September 10, 2020
Former bike courier turned ultra racer Chappell writes about her experiences racing The Transcontinental (Belgium to Istanbul in an unsupported, choose your own adventure format) and her relationship with race founder and fellow cyclist Mike Hall.
Profile Image for David Freeman.
97 reviews4 followers
September 3, 2020
A good story with a very sad ending. Emily writes very well. What a cyclist though.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Cordelia.
29 reviews25 followers
September 27, 2021
Such a moving and beautiful account from a real fucking incredible woman
9 reviews
August 18, 2020
Awe inspiring, well crafted and puts into words lots of things about cycling that I find impossible to normally!🚲
Profile Image for John.
84 reviews
November 25, 2019
A pre-ordered copy arrived and took over my “down time” for the next two days. Non-cyclists might find it hard to comprehend the enormity of the challenges Emily took on. Cyclists may feel something of the experiences she had, and suffered, and will read in awe. Long distance riders (as I once was) might find themselves emotional, and somewhat jealous of her, and also grieving for loss of strength and capacity brought on by the passing of the years. Emily writes with a fluidity and purpose, her words create images and bring back memories of youth. A tremendous book
Profile Image for George1st.
298 reviews
September 12, 2019
I have not ridden a bicycle for many years but nevertheless I became totally immersed in adventure seeker Emily Chappell's account of the challenges she faced while undertaking her passion for cycling very long distances. The main narrative centres on her participation in The Transcontinental which is a single stage 4,000 mile race across Europe with four mandatory control points which guide the route and where each rider plan, research and navigate their own course and choose when and where to rest.

Emily graphically describes the sheer determination, will power and resolution that is needed to complete this arduous journey .Having little sleep and eating and drinking when you can Emily will be pushed to the limit both physically and mentally. But just as important is knowing when to give up and on her first attempt due to illness this is what she must do.

This is a book that is a lot more then just endurance long distance bike races for Emily provides a honest account of her life and the full range of emotions that she experiences both on and off the saddle. The most poignant section concerns the sad and tragic death while riding in Australia of the founder of The Transcontinental Mike Hall and the effect it had on Emily. If you are looking for a book where the author looks into her very soul while pushing herself to the very limits of her being then this is for you. Well worth a read.
Profile Image for Jessica Luther.
Author 2 books111 followers
February 18, 2020
I read Chappell's memoir in preparation for interviewing her for the feminist sports podcast I co-host, Burn It All Down. You can hear that interview on Episode 142: https://www.burnitalldownpod.com/episodes/142.

It's beautifully written. You don't have to care about ultra-endurance cycle to be invested in this story, especially when you make it 2/3 of the way through and realize that the book does not end on the high of Chappell's career (winning the 4000K trans-European cycling race, the Transcontinental). She offers a glimpse into the after of it, a time in her life filled with unexpected grief and how she got through it.
Profile Image for George.
105 reviews
December 30, 2019
There is a lot of great cycling in this book, but that’s not what makes it noteworthy. In addition to a page-turning account of her experiences on the epic Transcontinental Race, Chappell provides us with a window into the emotional side of endurance cycling and loss following the death of her friend Mike Hall. This book about accomplishing ambitious goals while plagued by self doubt should appeal to cyclists and no-cyclists alike.
Profile Image for Anna McNuff.
Author 9 books171 followers
February 20, 2020
This is SO beautifully written. It’s less about the physical pain of enduring a self-supported bike race across Europe and more about the mental struggles that we all go through - in everyday life and when facing the loss of someone we love. Think Amy Liptrot’s Outrun, meets Dervla Murphy’s Full Tilt.
Profile Image for Rickie Franklin.
63 reviews1 follower
August 17, 2023
If you like hearing about long bike rides or overcoming challenges, the struggles while doing them, long adventures, imposter syndrome, or failure, then you will like this book. It also touches on travel and food if you're also into that.

"The arrival of a friend made me feel a little more like I belonged here"

If you aren't from the UK or in the biking community, there may be words you don't know and that a dictionary may not be able to tell you, so don't worry if you struggle.

"Often, when I read of a new round-the-world record, or when a roadie friend would boast about the 200km sportive he was training for that summer, I would think of the audaxers, many of whom will quite happily cover 400 miles in a weekend, before heading back to work on Monday morning, simply because they claim to enjoy it."

This is one of those books that has certain parts that suck you in, and you want to continue reading, so keep an eye on the time.

"I was still doing it, I reminded myself. As long as I kept moving forward, even if I was walking, even if I had to stop every five minutes, I was still in the race, and I would make it to the top of the mountain, no matter how long it took."

"Anticipating the moments of panic I knew I’d experience later on in the ride, when I’d convince myself that I was a failure and didn’t even deserve to be there, I told myself that, as long as I was riding my bike, however slowly, I was doing it, and I was on my way to finishing the Transcontinental, no matter how long that might take."

While I understand why certain stories were included, I felt some could have been removed to shorten the book or make it easier to keep track of everything.

There is a very sudden end to this book before the epilogue.

"people would find my persistence inspiring if I carried on regardless. I didn’t tell her that the very thought of that made my stomach clench."
Profile Image for Mike Langan.
66 reviews
January 14, 2020
The Transcontinental is a 4,000km unassisted bike race across Europe. In other words, the rider is totally self-reliant with the only requirement that he or she checks into the various appointed check-points along the route.

Emily Chappell embarked on this formidable challenge. She made it half-way on her first attempt but entered again a year later and won.

The book doesn't pull any punches or try to glamorize the race. The descriptions of physical discomfort and mental exertion bring home the effort, dedication and never-say-die attitude required to even complete the race not to mind winning it. All without a support team.

The book provides an insight into the mind of a singularly determined and driven individual with great candour and heart.

Anybody who has ridden a bike or tested themselves in other sports will appreciate and wince at the descriptions relating to the effort required to conquer the mountain passes, the dangers encountered in charging down the other side, especially if the rider has only snatched an hour or so sleep in the past twenty four hours; the mental toughness required to force yourself onto the bike knowing you face a repeat of yesterday's self-inflicted torture; feeding as and when you can and all while trying to navigate through foreign lands over remote and often gravel roads.

The book also deals with the camaraderie and single mindedness of the individuals who attempt the challenge and doesn't hide the depression that often follows completion of the challenge.

An excellent read, well written; forget the biographies of 21 year old mega-rich footballers; this is what sport, personality, heart, determination and skill is all about.
8 reviews1 follower
January 9, 2021
In her second book, Emily invites the reader to follow her in the 2015 and 2016 Transcontinental Races. The Transcontinental, or TCR, is a self-supported bike race from one end of Europe to the other, approximately 4,000km long. Approximately, because each rider devises their own route, threaded between several mandatory checkpoints which are often at the top of mountain passes.

These riders can become slightly god-like to the average cyclist, with their feats of endurance and willingness to suffer seeming like such a leap from the every day. As such, it’s a delight to the reader that Where There’s a Will reveals Emily is indeed human. She writes beautifully, making you feel as if you’re riding along with her in the mountains, in the storms, through the night.

Emily’s athletic achievements are part of the book for sure, but I would wager that someone not especially interested in cycling would still find this a gripping read. Emily is brutally honest about the highs and lows, and I appreciated that the book didn’t finish with the end of her TCR race. The writing of the relationship with her mentor and friend, and on the grief of loss, elevates this beyond being another sporting memoir.
105 reviews
August 14, 2020
As someone who rides cycles both as a weekend leisure cyclist and tourist this book simply had me awestruck. The thought of riding 300km per day for 13 days with very little sleep is so far from my own expectations that it is almost incomprehensible. Chappell offers a no nonsense, honest account of riding the Transcontinental written in a very accessible style. This is not a technical cycling book but simply a wonderfully written exploration of human endurance and incredible mental strength. Undoubtedly one of the best cycling books I have ever read. In addition to the trials of taking part in a gruelling race Chappell also opens her heart to explore the pain and emotions of losing a dear friend. Chapeau Ms Chappell
Profile Image for Marta.
87 reviews1 follower
June 23, 2021
An unlikely journey of a London bike courier turned ultra-endurance cyclist. She writes with candour about her experiences fending off depression, as well as the emotional ups and downs - tempered with reason and massive fortitude to just brush it all aside and continue - during her first Transcontinental race. I liked this book because there is no hero complex - no aim for her to come up on top and all ultra-unbeatable at the end of every day. It is a very human and perhaps by comparison to other ultra-stories out there, appears as a subdued affair. But if you pay attention to the words, there is a lot there. She is a very good writer on what happens in her mind when the body is truly pushed to the limits and beyond.
46 reviews1 follower
October 5, 2020
Well written description of the mental and physical challenges of extreme endurance activities. I felt it fell to pieces towards the end after the death of Mike Hall.
I know well the pain of riding 250 km on a bike. It's hard to imagine where riders like Emily get the strength to continue for day after day.
One thing that concern me is that these activities are being followed by huge numbers of armchair observers which puts pressure on the athletes to continue even when injured. I don't think that people pushing themselves beyond their limits should be for personal discovery and not be a sport
8 reviews
February 13, 2022
I’m not a ‘cyclist’ or fan of cycling events but it turns out you don’t need to be to feel gripped and inspired by Emily’s journey. Her honesty in the challenges she’s faced translate to any woman who has lived through life’s difficulties. I was struck by how a woman who from the outside I’d consider so focused and ambitious, so different to me, faces those same constant demons of imposter syndrome. That even achieving one’s goal does not bring a nice neat validation. Her writing avoids all the cliches of an ‘adventure book’. She writes in such a way you feel you are sitting down with her for a heart to heart. I felt moved and touched by her experiences.
Profile Image for John Hintz.
7 reviews
May 3, 2020
I actually listened to the Audible recording of this rather than reading it. It's read beautifully by the author herself. It's a simple, unpretentious heartfelt account of two things: (1) endurance cycling, and (2) her relationship with her friend and fellow endurance cyclist Mike Hall (RIP). Endurance cycling is a fairly arcane pursuit, so I am not sure how wide of an audience this book will appeal to. I am a cyclist, although neither a competitive nor endurance cyclist, and I found it compelling and enjoyable.
9 reviews
February 7, 2020
Emily writes exceptionally well. The subject is well-known to me, I raced in the Transcontinental Race which Emily won. So there was an extra enjoyment for me, of recognising people and places that hold a special place in my heart. The second part of the book deals with grief at loss of a treasured friend. It's a universal subject and would be enjoyed by anyone, not just endurance cyclists. Enjoy Emily's gorgeous writing and emotional honesty.
332 reviews
March 9, 2021
This is my first cycling book, so I don't know how it compares to others, but I enjoyed it and I'm going to go out on a long ride tomorrow, and I want to plan a cycle tour vacation so I guess it was inspiring!

I'm going to add her other book about being a cycle courier to my list too, since that sounds like an interesting job.

I can't decide if people with no interest in cycling would like this book though.
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