Sunday 5 June 2016

Riding for Sponsorship.

It's getting near to the Ride London event. I have ridden it twice, 2014 and 2015. I decided to take a break this year. I do it for the Multiple Sclerosis therapy centre my wife goes to. I have been fundraising for them close to twenty years.

That's another reason for taking a break. This time of the year people start to expect the email or phone call asking for sponsorship. 

It has been a great experience.

The first events were in Snowdon National Park. A person with MS is carried in a wheelchair with a frame attached by a team around a 10km route. It goes through the forest, sometimes on gravel trails, more often along muddy paths. I have been up to my waist in mud, holding the wheelchair aloft.

The best part was always near the end. The river crossing. A chance the wash the mud off. I don't think the passengers were that impressed. On occasion the river was pretty deep and fast flowing. I wish I had pictures for back then. They are around but it was pre-digital. So I'll have to find the draw in which they have been stored.

The type of event changed to cycling in 2005.

And these are the events that have most changed my life. The first time I somehow volunteered for one, I didn't own a bike and hadn't ridden one since my teens. Twenty plus years previously.

I agreed to 15 miles that first year, and borrowed a bike. I had an exercise bike at home. Like most of them it was used to hang cloths on. But a few hours a week meant I was prepared enough for the distance. And I really liked it. I got a bike, said I would do 50 miles the next year and got a bit more serious. It was then that over a curry a plan was hatched to cycle with one of the friends every weekend. He too wanted to ride regularly, but motivation for us both when on our own was a problem.

But together there was no stopping us, except maybe heavy rain.

I gained a good level of fitness, lost two stone and had some great experiences.

I wouldn't have ridden to Paris, completed the South Downs Way and taken part in the brilliant Ride London. And numerous other wonderful moments with my friends, just cycling around Surrey, Sussex and Kent.

It also helps me unwind at the end of a busy, stressful week.

I didn't write much about these events, which is a shame.

Here is what I have written.

London to Paris 2011.

Matt, Richard and myself first talked about riding from London to Paris a year ago, but only recently did we start taking it seriously.

Richard found a route posted online from Dieppe, so it was decided that this would be our starting point in France for Paris. It would mean catching a ferry to Dieppe and arranging a few B&Bs. After that, all that remained was getting a day off work, booking the ferry and Eurostar and then just doing it.

Back in July, as a warm-up, we had a trip planned from Tring to the Cotswolds. This went well and boosted our confidence about tackling London to Paris.

Even so it was with some trepidation that we made our way to the start opposite the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben at seven in the morning. It was 26 August, the bank holiday weekend and the weather wasn’t looking good. Still, we took some photographs.

It was overcast as we set off, but the grey cloud was nothing compared to what came next.

We cycled through quiet pre-rush hour London streets and being as we were ‘counter-commuting’ there were no traffic problems. We were heading south and made it to the. Rendezvous cafe on the A22 in Kenley by nine. As we munched our much-needed breakfast, it started to rain and this set the scene for the rest of the day. The rain got heavier and heavier as the day wore on. The A22 is not the place to cycle in heavy rain with lorries throwing huge plumes of water all over us. Two hours in the pub at lunch time and still it was raining hard, but, an hour or so from Newhaven, it started to brighten up – and then, as we arrived in Newhaven and were looking for our first B&B, Matt got a puncture. Fortunately, there was a Halfords nearby.

The following morning we had an early start with a full English breakfast and then a short ride to the ferry where we queued up with around a dozen other cyclists. Some had support vehicles with them, but we didn’t.

It took four hours to reach France where there was no sign of the bad weather from yesterday.
Our plan meant a ride of about a dozen miles before joining a cycle path converted from a railway track. This was brilliant. No traffic, no map reading needed, and no hills. It was around thirty miles to our B&B. The cycle path still had the old stations along the way and yes, at times, I secretly pretended to be a train. En route there were some impressive chateaus, which made for good photo opportunities. It was early evening as we reached Forges les Faux.

In the morning we enjoyed croissants and coffee in the village square and prepared ourselves for what would be a much harder day. It was hotter for a start and while the countryside was pleasant enough, there were some pretty steep hills too. And being a Sunday, there weren’t many shops open for food and drink. We kept going until we found a bar in a little village where we enjoyed a couple of glasses of nature’s energy drink before speeding off to our next overnight stop at a hotel in Cergy.

Fortunately, there was a Chinese restaurant a walk away from the hotel where the phrase ‘Trois pour le buffet s’il vous plait’ tripped off the tongue. In English, that’s ‘three for the buffet, please’.

The next day we had more croissants, coffee – and some cake - for breakfast and this set us up for the last push to Paris.
After a few hours of riding on the road we entered the first of the parks that would take us to within a mile of the Eiffel Tower. The weather was great, and once into the parks there was no traffic to worry about. Who would be the first to see the Eiffel Tower?

We entered the centre of Paris on a converted aqueduct, which proved to be one of the highlights of the trip. We’d already had a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower earlier on, but as we crept into the French capital it started to get really close. We cycled around the Longchamp Racecourse and out of the last park with only about one mile to go.

As we rounded the corner, there was the Pont d’Lena bridge and the Eiffel Tower on the other side of the Seine.

We had done it! 

London to Paris on a bike and under our own steam. What could be greener? Matt and myself called home and Richard was able to wave to his family who were halfway up the Eiffel Tower – all that remained now was a ride across Paris to the Gare du Nord and the Eurostar back to London.

Now, where are we going next year, I wonder?

Well the next year was the South Downs Way.

Matt said he had heard about the South Downs Way (SDW). Nearly 100 miles off road along bridleways from Winchester to Eastbourne. Richard and myself thought for a while and said okay. How hard could it be?

We decided on the May bank holiday. Where to stay on the Saturday night? We thought it better to have a longer day on Saturday so we booked a B&B around 50 miles from Winchester. Just 40 odd miles on the second day. The London to Paris ride had 40 to 50 mile days with the first day being 70 miles. Should be easy.

For me it started very early on Saturday, cycling to East Croydon at six thirty to catch a train. After a change at Clapham I cycled from Winchester station to the King Alfred statue. The official start of the SDW.
After some pictures we all set off.
It started very well, for about a mile. Then it got muddier and muddier. It was getting more and more difficult to keep going. The mud was about 6 or 7 inches deep, and very sticky. On the flat it was very slow going as the bikes seemed to double in weight as the mud stuck to everything.
When it came to the hills it was impossible to keep on the bikes. We had to get off and push. On a couple of hills it was all we could do to keep upright even when walking. By midday time we had barely done a third of the distance to the B&B. It was starting to dawn on us how hard it could be. We passed a few cyclist with punctures. We all silently prayed that the same fate would not befall us.
The day could be summed up in a few words. Mud, more mud, hills, more steeper hills and no time left. Somehow we kept our spirits up and kept going. But at an average of 3 or 4 miles and hour it wasn't looking good for getting to the B&B in time. Seven o'clock came and we were still around 20 miles from the B&B. Around another 4 hours still to go. It wasn't going to happen. We decided to call for help. A cab company had a van available. Not for a couple of hours, but it would mean we would make it. We made it to the overnight stop after they stopped serving food. The chef looked at us and said he couldn't just give us sandwiches. Give him 30 minutes and he would see what he could do. It was a very welcome pie and chips.
The next day could started with steady rain. Great.
It was easier going as the mud was not as deep or sticky.
The route was now across the rolling downs. Some big views all around. Eleven hours of cycling, still not an easy day.

And then there was the Ride London 2014.

My mate Sam picked me up at 4:30 to drive me to my drop off point in Jamaica Road. The traffic at 5:30 when we got there was busy. A five mile ride to the Olympic park followed.
The weather was okay. Overcast, and the roads were slippery.
It was good to cycle with gradually more and more cyclists as I got nearer to the park.
Praying it the weather reports wouldn't be right.
Finally got started at about 7:45. Cycling through London with just bikes on the ride was great. Even overtook some people.
The first forty miles went past really quickly. Actually it took around two hours. To say I was pleased would be an understatement.

Then the weather went mad. Firstly very heavy rain. The roads started to flood. And the wind started to increase.

There was one section under a bridge that had easily ten inches of standing water. After an hour or so the rain eased off, to be replaced a few miles later with hailstones.
Then back to very heavy rain. I couldn't believe it when I got a puncture. A spectator held an umbrella over me whilst I repaired it. Then did the same while I helped another cyclist repair her fifth puncture.
Fingers crossed that I didn't get another puncture.

Now at eighty miles the rain stopped and it started to warm up. I took off my coat and continued; showing off my SCMSTC t-shirt. I even started to get a tan.

Cycling back through Kingston and Putney in the sun was great. All around the ride people were out cheering us on. Even in the worst of the weather. Which was great. But now the weather had improved more and more people came out. Which helped keep me going.

The feeling as I cycled along Whitehall, round Trafalgar Square and up The Mall was incredible. It was the hardest charity event I have ever done. A real test of mental strength. 
I don't mind saying I was a little emotional after finishing. Something that took me by surprise.

I collected my medal and prepared to cycle home. Just another fifteen miles. And the hailstones returned. Everyone ran for whatever cover they could find.

It only lasted a minute or two.

I then cycled home...