16 September 2019
This, Small City friends, is the youthful face of dogged persistence.
Meet Perth’s Oliver Niven-Smith, hometown hero extraordinaire who recently returned to our shores after an epic six-day charity bike ride across Europe which started – drumroll please! - with him cycling 100km in the wrong direction…
The 19-year-old, who only this week returned to the Small City from his 900km solo adventure from Paris to Milan to raise money for starving children, was so gutted after taking the wrong route that he admits he came close to packing in the whole expedition.
But lucky for us, Oliver got back in the saddle again the very next day and after altering his route slightly so he could lick his wounds with friends, managed to clock up a cool 900km in less than a week – not bad for a lad who’d only been cycling four times since injuring himself during a bike event in May! Phew!
Besieged by travel chaos on his way home which saw him take almost a week to get home, you’d think Oliver, who has so far raised over £2,000 for Mary’s Meals, might be put off cycling (and maybe charity challenges?) but turns out one of the first things he did after returning home was head for a bike ride – and what’s more, he’s already planning his next charity event.
“I learnt a lot doing this challenge, mostly that next time, I need to be much better prepared,” says Oliver, who admits the setback on his first day really affected his confidence, “After cycling 100km the wrong way, I just wanted to go home. I phoned friends who told me to get back out there but I was really down. I couldn’t see how I could take this huge thing on by myself.”
Thankfully Oliver, who works for Johnston Carmichael in Perth, was able to modify his route to go via Geneva where he was able to stay overnight with friends and that plan proved the kick start he needed to get back on track, pedalling a gruelling 500km – and tackling some quad-busting Alpine elevation over three days to arrive in time for a good nosh-up with his pals.
After enjoying a well-earned rest day in Geneva, Oliver was pumped to get back on his bike to complete the challenge, spinning into Milan just two days later exhausted, delighted and eager to get home, pronto!
Unfortunately, Oliver’s homeward bound journey wasn’t all puppies and kittens and after a catalogue of travel holdups and setbacks he admits it would’ve been quicker for him just to cycle back to Paris from Milan. Yikes!
Advised by rail staff to “cut his bike in half” before he could travel on a train from Milan to Paris (he opted not to take the advice…)Oliver was forced to spend two nights in the Italian city – waiting for a bike shop to open so he could buy a box to pack the bike in.
Upon arrival in Paris, Oliver had to spend another two nights waiting for a space on the Eurostar which would have him – and his bike – arriving in enough time to make the connecting train to Perth.
Our hero even had to walk home once he’d arrived in Perth although his mum met him half way and took him on a shortcut to their house.
“Walking through my front door has never felt better,” says Oliver, “I was exhausted and after many hours of travelling, was really, really in need of a shower.”
So after all those hours on the bike, the saddle sores, the fast food grabbed, the highs and lows of cycling solo, the breath-taking Alpine views, the just-as-epic return journey home and all the extra expenses incurred therein (honestly, I’m exhausted just typing this sentence!) would Oliver say it was worth it?
“Definitely,” he chimes enthusiastically, “I would do things very differently next time. The next adventure would be a round trip rather than a point to point and I’ll put a lot more than just two weeks planning and a few days of training into it next time.” Cue our collective sigh of relief!
But prepared or not, there’s no doubt Oliver’s heart is firmly in the right place and he’s delighted with how his fundraising is going for Mary’s Meals, a charity he first found out about at school.
“It’s amazing how many things we take for granted in life and just don’t realise it,” he says, “It costs just £13.90 to feed a child for a whole school year with Mary’s Meals. That’s the same as a few drinks at the pub with your friends. We don’t think anything of spending more than that on our mobile phone bills and yet it can make such a difference to these children’s lives.”
You’re a hero in our eyes Oliver – and that extra 100km only makes you more so! Congratulations!