We all know about FKTs and ITTs but there’s a new acronym on the ultra scene: PFT. The brainchild of Taylor Doyle, PFT stands for “plastic free time,” and was an ultra-racing style she undertook last year on the 2,600km Pan Celtic Race. The effort was so eye-opening about the amount of single-use plastics that are thrown out during most ultra distance cycling events that she’s back now with a new kind of challenge for would-be ultra racers: the Ultra Distance Plastic Resistance pledge. Read on for the full deets about this inspiring challenge!
This is an invitation to try out riding a #plasticfreeultra in the form of an open pledge. By having folks share their pledges with us here at The Radavist, we hope to bring together a community of like-minded riders to support one another; we also hope to share some of the stories that come out of these rides! This challenge isn’t a pretentious, performative, holier-than-thou proposition, it’s about inviting in a slightly different set of priorities when it comes to racing and riding bikes long distances. It’s not the ‘purest’ way to race or ride, it’s just one way. It’s about curiosity, experimentation, and pushing the limits of what is possible. You might even discover a better, more rewarding way of moving far on your bicycle.
The Glorification of the Smash-and-Grab
We’ve all seen it. Images of our ultra heroes rummaging through the snack aisles of a roadside stop searching for sustenance and generally looking like haggard badasses. Ultra Distance Plastic Resistance was born out of a humble questioning of the glorification of this gas station smash-and-grab style that’s become prevalent in long distance cycling culture. That is, the armfulls of single-use plastic and packaging one tends to generate when rocketing through the peaks and valleys of an ultra distance cycling event.
Since abiding by the plastic-free strategy (I do think it’s a viable strategy!) myself last year while racing the Pan Celtic, I’ve had multiple bike buds excitedly inform me that they are going to ride in the same style at ‘x’ event or race this coming year–which is so very cool! After hearing about others wanting to try out PFT rides, I created the following framework and archive to reference and work within, in the form of an open pledge. I present to you the #plasticfreeultra pledge, all laid out and ready for you ultra folks who would like to challenge yourselves and your priorities, to ride or race a plastic-free ultra.
Before I continue, I want to acknowledge how ruddy awesome the ultra cycling community is, from the sleepless dotwatcher rushing barefoot across their lawn to cheer as you pass their house in the dead of night, to the emotional elation felt at the sight of a fellow rider’s rig parked at your cafe stop when you haven’t talked to anyone in days. The wildly supportive and welcoming community that I have found in long-distance cycling is full of down-to-earth folks with a slightly unhinged thirst for adventure and a deep, shared love of the wild spaces we have the privilege of moving through. It’s full of my kind of weirdos and people who certainly like to do things differently. This is why I know that this pledge will be embraced in the right light and by those who would like to try it. Like ultra-distance riding, opting into the plastic-free approach won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, and it certainly isn’t the only way to ride. It’s simply there, should you want to take on the challenge, once or forever.
Upon trying to describe the true spirit of this pledge over the phone with the legendary Emily Chappell, she echoed my sentiments back to me and said “Yeah. Not faster, but better” and in that instant I knew she understood what this was.
“Racing a bicycle – a super special object that could truly and viably save the world – in what could be described as a potentially unconscious and at times positively delirious way (i.e. as quickly as possible, at all costs) – got me thinking about the ultra community, and care; ultimately for each other and by extension our environments and the spaces that we love to roll our wheels through.
The copious amounts of single-use plastic I was generating while racing made me ask myself what it was about riding a bicycle as far and as fast as I could that all of a sudden made me an unconscious consumer, in a way that I wouldn’t be if I wasn’t in race mode. It also made me wonder if I could find a better way, and still race (yes, RACE!) the thrilling and ridiculous races I found myself most interested in doing.”
– Taylor Doyle, excerpt from Zero Plastic Ultra Distance at the Pan Celtic Race
Spolier alert: the answer that I found was yes, yes I most definitely could.
The current rules for the #plasticfreeultra pledge are here to provide structure and a communal opt-in to what this challenge entails. Broadly, they only apply to food and drink and are as follows:
- No single-use plastic food or drink products.
- No ‘Recyclable’ single-use plastic either (let’s be honest, most plastic just isn’t recyclable, regardless what the label says).
- Aluminum cans are allowed but must be properly recycled.
- Paper and other organic materials are allowed and can be disposed of at any time (no littering).
- Restaurant, cafe, hotel, and pub, etc., food stops are allowed. Any personally generated plastic waste (i.e.: ketchup packets, to-go containers, chip bags, plastic straws, plastic cutlery, etc.) are not allowed.
- Any and all intentional, accidental or otherwise unavoidable ‘verboten’ food or drink-related plastic waste must be carried to the finish and listed in the report form after completion with reason for acquisition.
- Don’t bring any single-use plastic to the start line (if you are re-using a plastic bread bag to carry your trail mix we think this is okay).
- All 2023 pledges must be completed within the year 2023 and submitted through the report form. Any pledges left unreported on after December 31st, 2023 will be considered and archived publicly as unfulfilled.
- Riders must abide by all other standard self-supported guidelines.
You Might Be Thinking…
“Restaurants aren’t single-use plastic free in their food production.”
Sure, this may be true BUT, typically the meal you’d get at a restaurant—that comes on a washable/reusable plate—leans towards a more bulk preparation mindset, and produces less waste per person served at a rate closer to at-home cooking. This is one of the parameters for the pledge; rules make things interesting and don’t necessarily claim perfection.
“Who can take the pledge?”
Anyone planning on undertaking an ultra-distance ride, race, multi-day event, self-planned or pre-existing multi-day route or tour, or an FKT attempt (does not have to be multi-day)! If the challenge you decide to take on in the spirit of this pledge is ‘ultra’ for you, that’s good enough. Who takes the pledge and what is considered ‘ultra’ is absolutely not policed. This is a pledge for anyone who feels the pull.
‘Paper’ cups are typically lined and not fully plastic-free unless stated on the cup, which is currently uncommon. So you may want to carry a refillable vessel for hot drinks, opt for sit-in hot drinks in ceramic mugs, or carry all takeaway cups to the finish.
Remember that this is all about trying your best. If you do end up acquiring single-use plastic, it doesn’t mean that you failed so long as you carry it to the finish and submit all items with your completion form afterwards. Though the spirit of this pledge is to keep this to a minimum, there is theoretically no limit to the amount of plastic you can carry to the end as long as you list all items in your report with reasoning.
This pledge is not about sacrificing health. If completing this pledge safely in the circumstances you find yourself in is not possible, let it go and share what happened following your attempt.
The only way that this pledge can be unfulfilled is if you decide not to start the route under the pledge rules, or if you dispose of any single-use plastic along the way.
Any questions or updates on your pledge can be directed to email@example.com
Caring Feels Good
Lasty, I have this to say…
This IS Possible!
“Ultra racing is one of the more all-consuming sports out there. Most people who begin an ultra race have had it in their calendar for the last year. It is all about planning. Planning your strategy, your time, your fuel, sleep, and riding patterns day-in and day-out, and into the night. I’ve seen the most detailed, laminated, backup maps, with all refuel supply points listed, shelters, accommodations, and bail-out points researched and included, neatly tucked away into a handlebar bag on many a start line. I certainly do not race to this level of planning and organization, but many do. Even a more spontaneous and ‘follow your nose’ approach to ultra (definitely more my vibe) still requires a boatload of time and attention, travel scheduling, work arrangements, gear sorting and acquisition, financial commitment, and an acute awareness of the essentials; food and water levels, and where you can go next for more. Adding a dedicated recognition of our environment, and what we are leaving behind (for lifetimes longer than our own) as we do all of these things, is totally possible, and it doesn’t have to be perfect.” – Taylor Doyle, excert from Zero Plastic Ultra Distance at the Pan Celtic Race
Ultimately, and if nothing else, caring feels good. Yes, we know that crippling eco-guilt cannot lie on the shoulders of the individual. One consumer cannot change a broken system. The spirit of this pledge will stay with you on your chosen journey and guide your race/ride/event/challenge before, during, and beyond. It aims to start conversations (and believe me, you will have many), and help you grow a little closer to the earth as you ride over it.
Consider it an experience and an exercise. I’m certainly not the first person to race while considering waste and environmental impact. The Racing Collective and their #noflyride ethos (i.e. you’re not allowed to take a flight to get to their events) is much of the same good energy and is back for 2023 which is awesome to see. The GBDURO ‘23 rule #6 in their entry manual specifically states that you must: “Carry all non-biodegradable waste packaging to the end of each stage – This rule is designed to reduce the amount of single-use plastic we generate.” It’s awesome to see a race organizer commit to their values in such a clear way.
Also, yeah, we’re coining groundbreaking new lingo here. ‘PFT’ is how you refer to the time of a finisher who has completed a #plasticfreeultra. For example:
“Oh yeah, she finished that route with a PFT!”
“Did you see that they got the Badger Divide FKT with a PFT? Wow!”
“He did the Pan Celtic as a PFT, what a badass!”
…or really, however else it makes sense in your head to use, there is no right or wrong way!
Join the Ultra Distance Plastic Resistance Community
Are you ready to give this a try? Join the Ultra Distance Plastic Resistance community by taking the pledge and tagging @plasticfreeultra on Instagram or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org to share your unique stories. Remember, it’s all about the experience and sharing the things we learn along the way, not about being perfect. Once you have made your pledge it will show up on our running Google Form, and once it has been completed and you’ve fulled out a Report it will be marked as so and your name can live immortally in glory on this page for as long as The Radavist exists (obvs until the end of time).