Completing the Hebridean Way
Caitlin Duncan is a 2nd year PhD student working on precision medicine within the Institute of Infection, Immunity and Inflammation. In March, she told us about a challenge she was undertaking with other members of her lab public engagement team. Now, a few months later, she's back to share how they got on...
Several months ago, I wrote about a challenge myself and the rheumatology public engagement team were undertaking in May this year. Having now completed our journey, I thought I would write about the experience and what we all learned along the way.
Firstly, I am happy to report that we successfully completed the challenge in our desired time of 4 days and raised over £3000 for the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society (NRAS)!
The main aim of our trip was to promote the ‘Don’t Delay Connect Today’ campaign, giving us the opportunity to speak to those living with rheumatoid arthritis, members of the public and healthcare professionals on the islands. EULAR, the organisation who introduced the campaign, sent a film crew to the islands to document our challenge. The finished video was shown at the EULAR international conference in June and it was well received!
We had great fun on the trip but it was not without its challenges. On the days the film crew were with us, we were lucky to have some lovely weather, however this was not the case for the whole challenge! During the first 2 days of the cycle, Glasgow was experiencing some uncharacteristic sunshine, as a result we had many messages from people assuming we had the same weather. However, this was not the case, we faced non-stop rain and the infamous island head winds, something that we had found difficult to train for on the mainland, did not disappoint. Yet, as much as the wind and rain made the cycle more difficult, the motivation of raising money for a worthy cause kept us going. Another one of the challenges was climbing some particularly tough hills- ‘hilly Harris’ certainly lived up to its name! However, we managed to all work together as a team and made it to the top of every hill.
Despite the challenges, exploring these remote islands on 2 wheels was truly special. To anyone who has not visited the Outer Hebrides, I would urge you to make the trip. The scenery is stunning and there are so many beautiful beaches to go and explore, most of which are deserted. Harris was a highlight for many of us and we conveniently had an hour to visit the Gin distillery in Tarbert while we waited on our hostel to open. However, if you do chose to travel to the islands, I highly recommend some travel sickness tablets before you embark on the ferry journey. We sailed from Oban to Barra which is a particularly long sail during which you leave the shelter of the inner Hebrides, sailing across more open water, which even on a calm day can feel pretty choppy. Needless to say a few of us did not manage to find our sea legs for that voyage!
If you fancy taking part in a challenge like this yourself, it is easy to get started. In training, we used the many canal routes which are easily accessible from the West End of Glasgow. These provide miles of off-road cycling which can take you to places including Loch Lomond, the Falkirk wheel or even Edinburgh, which are all places worth visiting during your time in Scotland. Cycling is an ideal weekend activity and is a great way to get some fresh air after a long week of research. If you don’t have a bike, there are several places around Glasgow where you can hire bikes or buy them second hand. We bought and hired bikes from Bike for Good which have stores in the West End and the South Side of the city.
Getting involved in an activity like this has plenty of benefits for a PGR. This challenge gave us all a whole week away from the lab bench or desk, and we had the privilege of speaking to people affected by the disease we all spend our time trying to understand, which also meant that we were also able to develop the invaluable skill of communicating our research to a range of audiences. This put everything into perspective, and was a great reminder of why we chose our research projects in the first place. We all came back inspired and ready to continue with research life.
Now that the challenge is over doesn’t mean that Rheumatosphere aren’t busy! We continue to promote the ‘Don’t Delay Connect Today’ campaign and the wonderful work of NRAS at our public engagement events. If you want to keep up to date, please follow us on our social media platforms.
Facebook: Rheumatosphere DDCT
All images - Caitlin Duncan
Congratulations to Caitlin and the team! Are you taking part in any similar challenges which you'd like to share with us? Let us know in the comments below, or fill out our guest post submission form.