Samantha Markham: My Cycle USA Challenge

By: Maxine Sheppard

April 4, 2014

From left to right: Samantha Markham, Louise Cole, Leanne Palmer, Natalie Barnes

Last week we wrote about the Virgin Atlantic staff members who gave up their time to volunteer for our charity partner Free The Children‘s global movement We Day. Being a Virgin employee opens the door to all manner of exciting fundraising opportunities, from working with our adopted villages in Kenya, China and India to taking part in one of our hardcore sporting challenges – all with a hefty dose of fun and community spirit thrown in.

One such recent challenge was a demanding cycle ride from Boston to New York, which took place last year. We caught up with staff member Samantha Markham, a marketing executive for Little Red, who gave us the lowdown on the event – and what it meant to her – in her own words…

Soon after I joined Virgin Atlantic, I received an email about all the exciting, adrenaline-fuelled trips that employees could participate in during 2013. As I scanned the list (everything from trekking the Great Wall of China to climbing Mount Fuji), the thought of completing a 4 day cycle from Boston to the Big Apple sounded truly appealing – and slightly nerve-wracking – with a distance of almost 260 miles”¦

Two wings, two wheels

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Camaraderie and high spirits for the Cycle USA gang

That said, I was delighted to secure a coveted spot on the trip and spent much of the summer fitting in as much training as possible. On the day we flew to Boston, I felt a mixture of excitement about the adventure ahead and apprehension as to whether my legs would withstand the cycle to New York, but from the moment we arrived there was an instant feeling of camaraderie and high spirits amongst the group. Many of those taking part had completed several Virgin Atlantic expeditions before, and it was a great opportunity for them to share tales from trips gone by. However, even as a newbie, I felt welcomed and part of the family.

After the first of many carb-loaded dinners, we headed to bed for a good night’s sleep. The next morning just over 50 of us cyclists – a mix of Virgin Atlantic staff, plus some friends and family – cycled en masse to Boston Common, where a special send-off awaited us: a fabulous starting line in true Virgin Atlantic style, complete with crew members, banners and balloons.

And they’re off

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En route to New York City

As we made our way out of the suburbs towards Smithfield, Rhode Island, it was great to chat to people from around the business that I wouldn’t normally get the opportunity to meet – everyone from crew, engineering,  and contact centre staff. We all nattered away and shared our experiences of working for Virgin Atlantic and life outside the day job, and over the next four days we continued to bond and laugh and get to know each other.

After being well-fed en route and with superb support from the Cycle USA and Great Freedom Adventures leaders, we arrived in Smithfield with approximately 62 miles behind us. And as a few tales emerged of those who’d got a little lost along the way – in fact we near enough all took a wrong turn at some point – we made a point of brushing up on our map reading skills for the next day!

Day two was a really pleasant ride through forests, orchards, turkey farms and New England hamlets, including a stop at Mystic Seaport for a spot of sightseeing and a well-deserved drink. Two down, two to go, but day three was to be the biggest test”¦.

90 miles and counting

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Arriving in New York State

On the third morning we caught an early ferry across to Long Island. This was the day to aim for a 90 mile ride, if we wanted –  however, for those who fancied a more comfortable finish there was also the option of hopping on a US school bus after 60 miles – an example of how accommodating the trip was for everyone. And if we didn’t feel bonded by now, nothing brought us together more than arriving in the town of Melville in central Long Island at the end of 90 miles (with blood, sweat, tears and general exhaustion”¦) rounded off by a celebratory drink in the hotel’s hot tub!

New York bound

As the final day dawned, I had mixed emotions. I was unbelievably excited to see Manhattan, having never been to New York before, but also sad the trip was near its end. The last day was a more manageable 35 miles, which we rode together side-by-side (well, as much as possible through the busier New York boroughs!). As we climbed Queensboro Bridge, I was mesmerised by the view as we descended into the city. I truly cannot think of a better way to see the Big Apple for the first time.

At the finish point in Central Park, we were greeted with open arms by friends, family and colleagues from the US office. A few tears were shed but it was mainly lots of smiles as we reflected upon the four day challenge and the fun we’d had along the way. The spirit of our “˜Everyday Pioneers’ mantra had truly been alive on the trip – Cycle USA was an opportunity for all ages and all abilities to participate in something special, which ultimately provided not only good memories, but ones to last a lifetime.

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They did it – and you could be next

Want to take part in opportunities like this? Find out more about working for Virgin Atlantic on our careers website.


Maxine Sheppard

Maxine is the co-editor of the Virgin Atlantic blog. Travel and music are her joint first loves, and despite having written for Virgin for more years than she cares to remember she still loves nothing more than jumping on a plane in search of new sights and new sounds.

Categories: Our People