400 Miles in 4 Days
St David’s to Lowestoft.
I wish to dedicate this book to my darling wife Vanessa
who has struggled so much with her Vasculitis illness.
Many Thanks to Duncan Adams of Dunx Cycles
from Lowestoft for organizing and being the support
driver during this adventure.
Your choice of music during every rest stop was a classic mix of rock music which would of
made a great soundtrack to the ride.
Despite being a “Barking Mad Business Man”, me and the other riders couldn’t of
done this ride without you.
I also want to say a massive “Thank You” to everyone that kindly sponsored me during this ride. With your kind generosity, I managed to raise over £800 for
This is the story of a cycle ride I completed in May 2018, riding across the widest part of the United Kingdom with a great bunch of cycling friends and acquaintances from Lowestoft and surrounding areas all of which are united by Dunx cycles.
Dunx Cycles is a cycle shop in Lowestoft run by Duncan Adams who originally came up with an idea of organizing a coast to coast cycling event and asking members of the Team Dunx Tuesday and Thursday social rides group who would be up for this challenge. I of course would be instantly interested, having cycled from Wales to Lowestoft in the past.
With interest growing between the Dunx riders, plans were already falling into place but to ride 400 miles in 4 days?
That’s going to be pushing it a bit……..
The Very Start.
It is August 2017 and I find myself cycling with a group of cyclists of all abilities from Dunx Cycle Shop in Lowestoft which holds cycling social rides on a Tuesday and a Thursday evening during the summer months, usually cycling to a pub somewhere within a 20 – 30-mile radius of the cycle shop.
Shop owner and friend Duncan Adams organises these rides which normally attracts a good crowd of fellow riders, some of which seem to be uber fit, some like myself, ex-smoker in mid 40s and some who are at the autumn years of their cycling lives, but all united through Dunx Cycles. Just recently there has been a lot of talk and discussions about doing a large ride that could be ridden over a few days and with this in mind I couldn’t help to mention that I had previously attempted to cycle from Aberystwyth to Lowestoft a few years ago. To my amazement everyone seemed really interested, which seemed to be a really good opportunity to hand Duncan a copy of my book that I wrote shortly after completing the ride and to my surprise nearly everyone in the shop read it over a period of a few weeks.
October came along and the social rides have come to an end as days now are getting shorter with autumn approaching and only the diehard riders are riding weekends. I really hate this time of year with its unpredictable weather and I long for the warmer spring and summer months riding greater distances. I happen to need some bike spares and I thought I would pay Duncan a Saturday morning visit and once in the shop he tells me that plans are afoot for a ride from St David’s in Wales back to Lowestoft and most of all, would I be interested in joining a group of riders doing it. I can’t really say that I needed much persuading as I had one day wanted to go back and complete a Wales ride without abandoning it half way due to bad weather or some other misfortune, but the only thing that is concerning me is, he is planning for us (the team) to ride 400 miles in 4 days!!!!!!
I hadn’t considered riding that sort of distance in that sort of time span. In the past when I had ridden from Paris to London 350 miles in 3.5 days it was relatively flat, but this is Wales that I’m talking about…… There happens to be massive hills, mountains and most of all bad weather, but I thought if I train hard over the winter months, I might be fit enough to complete it. I asked Duncan when he is planning to do this ride, “May” he replies. “May”!!! That doesn’t give me too long to train on proper road miles IF we should have a cold winter.
Without giving it, another thought I told Duncan to count me in as there was no-way that I was going to be missing out on this adventure and low and behold he said that he had already spoken to some of the others who were also really interested. This ride looks as it is really going to happen and maybe just maybe I can complete this ride in one go this time and lay the last attempt to sleep for good. With Christmas now firmly behind me, my thoughts are quickly turned back to training for this ride but mother nature seems to be against me as the “Beast from the East” (pt1 & pt2) of winter 2018 really sets in.
I don’t remember seeing snow like this since I was a child and the bitterly cold easterly winds that arrived with it seemed to freeze my very soul and even riding on the turbo trainer in my garage with the fan assisted heater switched on was most unpleasant. I remember trying to set a target of 75 miles of simulated riding but to be honest, I was struggling to achieve that sort of distance. This was how it was, pretty much until the very end of March and I had longed to get out on the road again as riding on the turbo trainer never really compares to riding on the road, but it is good for maintaining good muscle memory.
April arrives and at long last I am out on the road. The Dunx cycle shop social rides have started on a Tuesday and Thursday evening, so I am now beginning to get some rides in. I would like to be able to say in glorious weather but no, I’m riding in cold and wet conditions normally associated with this time of the year and I am only riding some very short distances of only 20 / 30 miles. Hardly enough miles to call it proper training. I am slowly beginning to worry a little bit as I was only 7 or 8 weeks away from the St David’s to Lowestoft ride. I at least wanted to try and ride a 100-mile training ride with some friends beforehand but with family commitments and a new job, I was really struggling to fit any distance rides in at all. I have however started cycling to work every day and instead of cycling along at a nice comfortable pace, I am really pushing myself hard in some sort of effort to try and build some sort of fitness up any way possible.
Training help arrives in the form of my best friend and cycling comrade Mr Marvin Coe who has recently contacted me to ask if I fancied going for a ride that would take in 4 football stadiums, Norwich, Ipswich, Colchester and Chelmsford at a distance of 101 miles in total.
This is exactly what I needed, a long-distance ride with a great mate who would be supportive of me if I were to struggle on the first 100-mile ride of the year. I have to say that the ride past without any sort of hitch or problem and I was really impressed with my own level of fitness considering the distinct lack of training which helped me to forget about my own worries and concerns about riding that sort of distance. My only major worry was………… Could I repeat this sort of distance day after day, after day, after day! with hills and with mountains.
I am now a couple of rides into the Dunx evening cycle rides calendar and there seems to be a lot of excitement between the other riders who are taking part and lots of rumours and micky taking about the handful of unknown riders that are also joining us. I suppose at this stage I should introduce the team of riders who are also taking part in this mammoth ride.
Apart from myself, we have Karl Blake (Dunx), Simon Newell (Dunx), Chris Read (Dunx) Carrera Steve, Neil Sibley (GYCC) Garry Brooke, Steve Wiltshire and last but not least Duncan Adams (Dunx) support vehicle driver, mechanic and supplier of fruit and refreshments, route and accommodation organizer and I suppose, entertainment manager too. To keep costs down Duncan has arranged that riders should share hotel rooms (not beds) together, which I have to say that none of us had a problem with, unless someone was going to be a particular bad snorer. The funniest thing that was being said among the Dunx riders was, “Who were these other guys?” Nobody really knew anything about them? Rumours were flying around that one of the unknowns looked a lot like a cycling serial killer and then very jokingly comments were said about who was going to be sharing a room with this particular individual. (I am not naming names either) I was just hoping it wasn’t going to be me.
As the next few weeks rolled by, I had started to notice that the Dunx riders’ bikes have had very subtle changes made to them in the form of larger gear cassettes. I remember looking at Chris Read’s bike and admiring his cassette, only for him to tell me that replaced his old cassette which was 28-11 with a 34-11!!! With his small chainring only being a 34 toothed, he now would be able to obtain a first gear ratio of an impressive 1-1 that would make him and his bike be able to climb the steepest of hill with ease. Simon Newell had also done something very similar to his bike and I remember the pair of the saying “Oh you’ve not changed your cassette!!!!” A mistake I would soon regret when I got to Wales. I had only very recently fitted a new cassette to the Ribble and I mistakenly thought that having a 25-12 cassette would not really be too much of a problem.
Someone once told me that……. “Life lessons are the hardest to learn” That someone must have been a cyclist.
I finally feel that my fitness is beginning to build as I am pushing myself ever harder on the cycle rides to and from my work, trying to complete the 5.75-mile route in a sub 20-minute ride. Most of the time I am achieving this although traffic and pedestrians dictate my pace as I cycle through Great Yarmouth. It’s just a shame that there are no really big hills to practice my climbing on. I shall just have to take them in my stride.
T-Minus 24hrs and Counting.
It’s the day before we depart for Wales and I have wisely taken a day’s holiday from work to do the last final checks and tweaks to the Ribble. I know deep down that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the bike but it doesn’t stop me looking and adjusting it even if it is for my own piece of mind.
My bike has to be delivered to Dunx cycle shop before 3pm so Duncan can load the bikes onto his trailer, ready for the trip to Wales tomorrow. All that’s left now is what to pack, after all I am going to be cycling through Wales and Wales = rain and I remember thinking waterproof jacket and overshoes will be a definite must for this trip. Bum Butter is the second most important thing to pack. If I am going to be cycling 100+ miles day after day, chaffing and saddle sores need to be kept in check and under control and I am glad to report that the £18 that the small pot cost me was worth its weight in gold. A real must.
A pair of jeans and a couple of t shirts for evening wear as lycra shorts worn in a restaurant would I imagine be frowned upon. 4 pairs of cycling shorts and 4 cycling jerseys including my Vasculitis UK charity jersey. 7 pairs of socks and 3 pairs of boxer shorts. Chargers are the next thing to pack. Mobile phone, Garmin and GoPro.
Duncan has requested that all fellow cyclists can only bring a small bag / case for clothes as space in the rear of his car was going to be at a premium as his car is going to double up as the support car complete with tools, mobile workshop and feed station all inside a Ford Mondeo estate.
It’s now 2:30pm and I have loaded the car with my bike and driven to Dunx cycles in Lowestoft to drop off the Ribble so that Duncan can load it on to his trailer with the other rider’s bikes. One or two of the other riders are there too and the excitement hangs in the atmosphere of the shop like some sort of nervous fog. Everyone seems to be worrying about what and how much to pack. Me, now I’m more worried about the weather. It’s been hot and sunny for a few weeks, but now because I’m going on a cycle adventure mother nature decides to conspire against me. One of the riders, Karl Blake is there, finalizing his route with Duncan. Karl in the past has ridden the double Dunwich Dynamo and has decided that he going to attempt to ride from St David’s to Lowestoft in 2 days? 2 Days????? I think he must be very slightly mad although he gets my full respect for having a go, but I think he may have underestimated the sort of terrain that he will be cycling across, you will find out later in the story what happens to Karl.
Duncan, Karl, Chris and Simon all remind me again about my 25-tooth cassette may not be the correct choice for this ride and I think Duncan sees a potential opportunity to sell me a bigger one, but I’m sticking to my guns because if it’s not broken then I’m not fixing it. After 20 minutes of banter and coffee, I decide to leave the shop and my beloved bike and go home to do my double checks on my packing. Roll on the morning, I want to get this trip underway.
Driving back home it suddenly dawns on me, the feat that I am going to try to attempt. The last time that I had tried to ride from Aberystwyth to Lowestoft, I failed. This time I had to try and ride that distance in 1 day less and not only that people have sponsored me £840.00 to do it. Until this moment I hadn’t given it a second thought but now the weight of the world is upon my shoulders and the serious doubts have started to creep in and with the lack of training, I am secretly concerned and now the what ifs are also starting to creep into the back of my mind.
What if I can’t complete this ride? And what am I going to say to all the people that have sponsored me?
What if the choice of gear ratio on the cassette of my bike is drastically wrong?
What if I am not really fit enough and will everyone be patient and wait for me if I should fall behind?
What if …………
I guess it’s just too late to worry about all of that now and I just have to concentrate on being mentally strong and mentally fit and hope the rest will all fall into place somehow.
Off to Wales we go!!!!
Thursday 24th of May. Departure day. I am waiting for Simon Newall and his wife Claire to arrive and pick me up so we can meet Duncan at Enterprise car hire in Great Yarmouth to collect our Renault Captur, which will be carrying half of us cyclists to Wales and the other remaining riders will be travelling with Duncan in the support car. Everything goes to plan, we collect the car and drive back to Lowestoft to meet up and collect the bikes and other riders from the shop. There is a little bit of sniggering and silent laughter going on as the bikes are being loaded as amongst all of the expensive carbon fibre bikes there is a Carrera TDF. Who could this bike belong too? We soon found out that this steel framed beasty belonged to Mr Steve Jackson (aka Carrera Steve as he would be called later). I should mention that this bike is what you would expect to see in any “Good” Halfords store. Renowned for being extremely heavy and not always having best of Shimano equipment fitted to it, I suddenly didn’t feel quite so worried about my choice of cassette.
With all bikes loaded onto the trailer and both cars loaded with riders and luggage we head off west, well…….. as far as Thetford to start with as our hire car needed some fuel. Simon was driving the first leg of the journey and I would be taking over from him midway. In the rear of our car we have Chris Read and Karl Blake who have rightly started to complain about the sound system within our car. I guess if you wanted to hang out with the cool kids in some supermarket car park late at night or maybe cruising up and down a seafront somewhere then this would be the very car for you. Even with the radio turned almost right down, the bass levels made your brain and eyes vibrate at the same time. It was truly awful. It must have taken 20 minutes of trying to figure out the correct menu to select in the over complicated media system, that must have been designed by the same guys who gave Professor Stephen Hawking’s, his computer which allowed him to communicate. Maybe I am just getting old, but why does adjusting the bass level have to be this hard? Touch screen navigation / media system!!!!!! PAH!!!! Soon we were all calm again, listening to Ken Bruce on BBC Radio 2 with a much lower bass level and with order in the rear of the car restored we carried on with our journey.
A few hours had past and I had taken my turn behind the wheel, we had also stopped for lunch at some motorway services (sorry I can’t remember where) and a trip to Burger King was in order for me. I have no shame as I watched some of the fellow riders considering some other sort of healthy option as I was munching through a large Burger King meal. I can’t help laughing to myself as I am also sitting there with a diet coke (see…. It wasn’t all bad). I had figured out in my own mind that I would already start by doubling my calorie intake a full day before everyone else. Well like I said in my mind in sounded like a good idea. Back in the car park a decision has been made to swap some of the car passengers around so that everyone can get to know one another on the way.
Karl has left our car and has been replace by Steve Wiltshire who happens to be a very keen mountain bike cyclist, which kind of adds a bit of variety to the mix of us other cyclists. Steve seems to be very laid back and unphased be the ride ahead of him, or unless he has some sort of cycling poker face, although I think he happens to be a nice guy and I look forward to cycling along with him.
A few more miles have past and BBC Radio 2 has been changed over to Planet Rock, which amazingly everyone in the car is happy to listen to and no one more than me. The weather and the mood in the car have changed as we have left the warm sunshine far behind us in East Anglia and now, we are heading for what looks like heavy rain as we travel ever closer to Wales. I feel my mood starting to drop as back home it has been dry and sunny for weeks and lo and behold as soon as we drive across the English / Welsh border, the heavens open and we are driving through continuous rain. I was rather looking forward to seeing some scenery and maybe just maybe an occasional Red Kite, but unfortunately its misty, grey and pouring with rain with not much to see at all.
Okay enough doom and gloom…… We arrive in St David’s at our hotel, well a hotel for half of us. The other 5 riders are staying in a hotel a little further down the road. Our hotel is called the Grove Hotel and it looks like quite a nice place on first impressions. I have to say that the room that myself and Chris shared wasn’t the cleanest, but it was satisfactory for one night’s sleep. It was agreed that we would meet up with the other`s later for a meal in town which gave everyone a chance to unpack and settle in. It didn’t take me long and I was soon in the hotel bar for a swift pint while everyone was getting ready. I wasn’t the only one, Steve Wiltshire soon joined me and we happily chatted about cycling. Steve had heard that I was doing this ride for charity and wanted to ask me lots of questions about Vasculitis and how it had affected Vanessa. After a quite lengthy conversation, Steve very kindly gave me £20 for my fundraising. As we chatted about illnesses, Steve happened to mention that he had contracted Lymes disease while cycling off road in Thetford Forest. He told me that on a visit to the forest, a tick (a parasite that sucks blood from wild animals) had attached itself to Steve’s leg during a ride. I was really surprised how to find out how bad the symptoms and side effects of Lymes are!
St David’s is a city, but I must admit I think it has to be one of the smallest cities that I have ever visited. I wish we could’ve had a little bit more time there so I could have explored but this was not a site seeing visit, for tonight’s mission was to meet up with the other guys and find a pub / restaurant for tonight’s evening meal. It wasn’t long before we found a restaurant called “The Bishops”. This restaurant was a bit like Doctor Who’s TARDIS, from the outside it only looked like a normal size pub, but inside it contained room after room after room with a massive bar in the middle. We 8 cyclists and Duncan are seated in the largest part of the restaurant on one massive table. The place was heaving with diners and I was quite surprised we were seated as quick as we were. The meal was delicious and the beer was good too.
Cue the first of many of the funny moments that happened along the way…….
Just as we had finished our meal, the landlady of the pub came through to our part of the restaurant and started to apologise profusely. On a neighbouring table sat a guy on his own, his head was down and he sat there almost motionless. The landlady then shouts and shakes the guy shouting…….. “Come on Denzel, Wake Up, You Must Go Home to Helen Now, She Wonders Where You Are!!!” Apparently poor Denzel would come into the pub every day for a pint and a kip. We all laughed about it afterwards. Who was Helen and was she an old dragon that Denzel would escape from by hiding in the pub? Well at least she didn’t have to look too far for him I guess.
After our meal and having various conversations and discussions about what tomorrow holds in store for us, we make the 20-minute walk back to The Grove Hotel, still laughing about Denzel and Helen. I make a suggestion about having a night cap before going up to our rooms, but rightly so, there are no takers. Tomorrow we have to start clear headed and alcohol free. Everyone decides to retire to their rooms for the night and including myself and Chris, where I discover that Chris has a real talent for insanely long and loud flatulence. This would also be the recurring theme over the next few days within Chris’s company. I am still amazed that he never shat himself on at least 3 separate occasions.
I want to say at this point that me and Chris had separate beds. With lights out and good nights said, we both try and grab some sleep but it’s not too long before we both find out that our bedroom is directly above the hotel’s kitchen. I’m not sure how long after we had gone to bed that a colossal crash came from the kitchen. I am not joking when I say that the crash was comparable to a suit of armour falling over in the dead of the night and it must have woken everyone within the hotel. I’m not sure if the noise scared Chris but he farted again shortly after. It must have been at least another hour of further noise before I drifted off to sleep.
St David’s to Llandovery.
Friday 25th of May. Day one is finally upon me. I awake feeling edgy, nervous and very anxious, with one of those stomach aches when you’re not too sure if you’re going to be sick or need to go to the toilet. Either way it’s not a good sign as I really need to eat a very large breakfast this morning to help give myself enough energy for later. Chris and myself take turns in the bathroom while the other person packs clothes and provisions that will be needed throughout todays ride. While Chris is taking his turn in the bathroom, I decide to look out of the bedroom window to a very damp, grey looking morning. Waterproofs and overshoes are definitely going to be needed.
We meet the other guys downstairs for breakfast and to my surprise, there seems to be an air of anxiousness amongst them. Conversation is already based around Karl and his attempt to tackle this ride in 2 days, wondering how he was doing, as he had set out on the road some 4 hours earlier.
Watching everyone order the breakfasts was quite interesting to me. Some of the more serious riders are going for porridge and fruit and others are going for the full English (sorry anyone from Wales, that should’ve read, “The Full Welsh”). Myself, feeling nervous and slightly sick, tried to eat as much toast and croissants as possible washed down with strong black coffee whilst feeling like I’m being frowned upon by others. With breakfast out of the way, we meet Duncan outside and load our luggage into his car and make our way down the streets of St David’s on foot (fully dressed in our cycling kit, looking like a cycle race posse without bikes) to the other hotel where our bikes had been stored overnight. I was surprised and a little concerned that the secure cycle storage that was promised, was the hotel garden, behind a wall and not under lock and key in an outbuilding of some shape or form. Luckily no one had stolen or tampered with our bikes and only the dampness was a slight inconvenience that we all suffered.
Standing outside the hotel, all 7 cyclists and bikes reunited, we are ready for the off and on our short but somewhat challenging ride to the start. Our destination was the RNLI lifeboat station at St David’s. Now this shouldn’t have been too much of a problem to find but Chris thought he knew the way, as he had previously been there albeit a few years ago to collect his son. I hadn’t given it any thought about finding the start as I thought it would at least be sign posted, so I hadn’t planned the route on my Garmin. There were a few miles of country lanes and a bit of second guessing before eventually finding the right route. It was whilst cycling on this part of the ride that I suffered a mild panic attack. It really caught me by surprise as I don’t suffer from conditions like this but, I think with getting slightly lost and the anticipation of the ride of the first day had got to me. All of a sudden on a relatively small hill, my breathing became very erratic and I struggled to keep up with the others. This was not the start that I wanted.
We eventually arrived at the lifeboat station whereupon all the obligatory photos were taken and shortly after we were waved off by Duncan, not to be seeing him again for another hour or so. All of us are riding with the full wet weather kit on, overshoes, coats and jackets donned. As we make our way back through the streets of St David’s the rain starts to fall in earnest making riding somewhat unpleasant with water being sprayed in my face by riders in front, making wiping my cycling glasses a very regular event. Again, the scenery is shrouded by a veil of grey mist which cloaked the countryside, hiding what I imagined to be rolling hills and coastal views that would of look amazing on any other day. I don’t think there’s going to be any sightings of the Red Kites along the road on today’s ride.
After a few miles we all cycle through a village called Solva which sits right on the very edge of the coast and the road to it descends very rapidly and I can’t help but think that on a dry summer’s day, I could have rode down into the village at some very high speeds, apart from one nasty hairpin corner that any motorcyclist would’ve been proud to of scrapped a knee on the floor around it. The road then descends again to the very bottom of the hill, whereupon the road runs parallel to the beach which is not at all sandy, in fact it’s made up of quite large pebbles and shingle. A bleak looking kind of place really. Well…… What goes down must go back up and the climb out of Solva seems brutally hard and a taste of what was to come. It was at this stage that the other guys may have been right in saying that my choice of cassette was a massive mistake and it was also at this point that my legs would have agreed with them too.
The rain continues to fall as we head for Llandowror near St Clears. Our lunch stop is at the Old Mill Wood Yard at Llandowror, which is an unlikely place for a restaurant / café. As we ride into the car park, Duncan is there to welcome us in, but we are all surprised to see that Duncan is not there on his own and is in the company of a familiar face. Poor Karl hasn’t even made it half way through his first day before his chain had snapped causing all manner of damage to his bike. Duncan in between meeting us for rest stops now had to try and find some local cycling shops to try and buy some spare parts to get Karl back on the road again and of course, he got lots and lots and lots and loads more abuse from everyone about his bike with its Compaqnolo group set, which certain individuals among us thought was slightly inferior. This is something that Karl would have to suffer for the rest of the ride, the constant abuse. It was funny though.
Lunch was very delicious and the latte was very welcoming too. I did however leave a small belonging there in the restaurant just behind the tourist information leaflets. Let me explain. I did this 400-mile ride for the Vasculitis UK charity who had given me some fund-raising bugs, these were bright blue with googly eyes along with adhesive feet so that the bug could be stuck to something of your choice. My bug had been stuck to my cycle helmet but the rain had more or less washed it off, so in the restaurant I carefully peeled it off and hid it. (I wonder if it’s still there!!!)
After about 45 minutes we decide to head off and get back on the road again and once again in the ever-depressing rain, heading in the direction of Carmarthen. I can’t really say that too much happened during this section, apart from lots of the team talking about Karl and his bike, how maybe that he had finally took on a challenge that was too big / hard for him or his bike to complete. I just hope he can get his bike fixed to continue the ride with us.
Carmarthen, here was the first of few navigational issues for us riders using gps / sat-nav via the Garmin or Wahoo cycle computers. The Wahoo’s were saying that we should’ve gone straight over this particular roundabout and those of us with Garmin’s were saying turn left. Well I am a Garmin owner and I’m about to argue about what’s best, but we followed what the Wahoo users said and shared in their walk of shame back up along the grassy bank that ran alongside the duel carriageway, back up the roundabout 100 metres behind us. I can’t help but laugh as I remember 2 Welsh policemen in a police car gave us the evil eye as they drove past. After another 20 or 30 more rain-soaked miles, we stop for another rest and refreshment stop and of course another Karl ragging session, but there is much talk of a place called Bethlehem that has a notoriously steep hill (apparently) as some of the other riders researched. Bethlehem???? I think I may need some prayers to get me up this one, I think to myself. Everyone apart from Karl at this point are doing well with some obviously better than others. Neil and Chris are charging ahead on the hills, with myself, Simon and Steve Wiltshire, holding a good pace on the flatter sections, with Garry and Carrera Steve only ever a few minutes behind us. It was at this point as we all stood around eating fruit, drinking water and consuming energy bars and gels that I discovered that Duncan had quite a good taste in music. He had made some sort of compilation cd of his favourite tunes to play in his car between rest stops and driving the countless miles across the country with us. I think I surprised him a couple of times by naming various bands and songs etc.
Back on the road again the rain seems to be turning into more of a fine drizzle now which still cloaks the distant hills and I am pleased that the new waterproof jacket and overshoes I purchased just before this ride are performing brilliantly. As we head towards Bethlehem, we are following the beautiful river Towy which winds its way down this amazing little valley. We stop occasionally to take photos of this awesome landscape too, but it’s not long before we start climbing again and I can’t help to think that we are heading towards the Breckon Beacons national park and Bethlehem. Lo and behold we are there, it felt as if it crept up on us without anyone realizing. It was at this point that we all said to one another that whatever happened we would wait for one another at the top, to let the faster, fitter riders go off at their own pace. Bethlehem’s hill rise’s from start to finish at various inclines of between 7% & 9% over a distance of 1.2 miles. I know that doesn’t sound far but, when your speed is down to a painful 5mph, then you could say it was a bit of a struggle. All of this was at the 79-mile stage of today’s ride. We all stopped at the top and waited for everyone to catch up and as we rest, we laughed in admiration for Carrera Steve who again was only a few minutes behind us. We can’t believe that Steve on his steel framed road bike is never far behind us.
With another quick pit stop and a tad more Karl ragging, we quickly carry on riding the last 11 miles to Llandovery. I am at this stage quite happy with how I have coped with the ride so far today. Earlier after having a panic attack at St David’s I was worried about how I could manage cycling 100 miles over a far from flat terrain, but so far things have gone really well for me, although I am already worrying about tomorrows first climb but I am in a great team of riders here and we are all riding through this together and everything will be ok. After an hour and half, we arrive in Llandovery and immediately get lost again, Yet another Wahoo / Garmin conflict. All we had to do was ride straight into town but no, we had to turn off left 100 metres before we needed too. We arrive at the Castle Hotel and WOW, what a gorgeous building with its oldy world styling, it was absolutely perfect place to stay. Duncan is already there to welcome us in and to my surprise he has managed to find a cycle shop along the route and purchased some new parts to repair Karl’s bike. Karl and Duncan would work on this overnight to get him back on the road tomorrow.
We were allowed to store our bikes inside the hotel in a small back room overnight and after that we made our way to the reception to book in. Again, I was sharing with Chris so I was going to be in for another windy night. The evening meal tonight for me was a large Welsh steak with all the trimmings, Well, you have to keep the calories, up don’t you? Washed down with a nice pint of local beer and plenty of banter, what a great way to end day 1.
Day 1 complete.
87.5 miles ridden.
1 Bike broken.
Llandovery to Evesham.
Another night of disturb sleep due to the temperature of these hotel rooms and the thickness of their duvets. I swear that I was sleeping under a 15-tog winter duvet at Castle Hotel, but if I am totally honest this was my only complaint and I would gladly stay for a week there and be very happy. Breakfast again was great and massively better than the previous day. My decision again was what to eat!!! I looked to Chris to see what he’s having but porridge and fruit for breakfast is not my idea of taking on fuel for the day as I think I would probably be hungry again within the hour. A full English looks very appetizing but with an 8-mile climb ahead of us this morning, I’m not sure that this will be the correct choice either, so I decide that scrambled eggs and toast will be my fuel of choice along with a number of croissants. It was while eating breakfast that I looked through the window to see once again a very damp looking morning view and as I munch on another croissant, I have already made my mind up that the full wet weather attire will be donned to start today ride.
There’s a lot of chatter this morning between everyone about the first 8 miles of riding as its 8 miles of climbing constantly and a tad over 600 feet of assent, but the good news comes from Duncan who says that there is an ice shop at the end of the climb that finishes in the town of Brecon. Chris and Neil are already talking about how to attack this climb, but myself, Simon and Karl (yes! his bike is fixed) are just going to take it in our stride and our own pace as we are all of the same pace and fitness. Garry and Carrera Steve are both remaining very quiet and as the slowest of the riders, I was wondering how and if they were going to manage to keep up, although the same etiquette would apply again whereupon we would wait for them to catch up at every peak but with 8 miles of constant climbing I’m not sure how this was going to work.
With breakfast over and water bottles filled, we all gather at the front of the hotel for the obligatory team photo and the last little bit of mickey taking out of Karl. Duncan has agreed to meet us in Brecon at the ice cream shop as it would be a perfect first rest stop after the climb. He waves us off and we are on our way once more heading east out of Llandovery and we cycle quickly through the streets and it’s not long before the climbing starts. I don’t know what I was imagining as we started to climb, I may of thought that it was going to be a very hard 8 miles, and yes, our speed was somewhat slower but after a grey / damp hour in the saddle we arrived into Brecon. It was the first time on this ride that I had felt like I was riding in a bubble almost in a world of my own, with just me and my thoughts thinking about Vanessa, home, work, my son.
We hadn’t ridden far into Brecon before we arrived at Llanfaes Diary ice cream parlour. An ice cream parlour that boosted 40 different types of ice cream and although the weather was cold and damp, we all enjoyed a well-deserved ice cream. I’m not sure if Duncan had one as he was left out on the pavement with Karl’s bike suspended from a workshop stand as his gears were still not right and some fettling was required. Some of us laughed among ourselves as Duncan looked as if he had set up some sort of cycle surgery where locals with bike problems could have been sorted out. Standing there in Brecon under grey skies, I spot my first Red Kite. As I look up from where I am standing, looking across the road towards the church, it gracefully glides and hovers on the breeze above us. Watching this magnificent bird really lifts my spirits.
8 cyclists full of ice cream and 1 bike fettled, we head off once again in the direction of Hay-on-Wye and the English border. Unfortunately, the weather still hasn’t improved with rain very much off and on. I’m secretly praying for some sunshine as I starting to get slightly fed up with riding in wet weather clothing, as it would nice to be riding back in a jersey and shorts again. The landscape is changing constantly as we cycle east as we leave the steeper hills of the Brecon Beacons, we are now cycling up and down some beautiful rolling hills, less steep but more of them.
As we approach Hay-on-Wye, we are greeted by crowds upon crowds of people and it suddenly dawns on us that it is Hay-on-Wye book festival week. I remember cycling through one particular street and it felt like we could’ve been riding a Tour de France stage. It was quite surprisingly dangerous as a number of pedestrians would periodically step of the pavement and on to the road without looking. We quickly rode out of town and met up with Duncan again for another rest stop and a fettle with Karl’s bike once more.
Karl had to also fettle himself this time in front of everyone as he decided to try and reapply some more chamois cream roadside, while wearing bib ‘n’ brace shorts and removing his jersey to do so. I sight that will forever be etched in my mind. It was at this point that Duncan had received news from back home that Lowestoft town council had refused to allow us to have an official finish line due to “Health and Safety” concerns. The funniest thing was, the council had branded Duncan a “Barking Mad Business Man” to which we all laughed greatly at. Sorry Duncan.
With the “Barking Mad Business Man” back behind the wheel and 8 cyclists refuelled, we continue back on the road riding towards Hereford, not knowing that we have already ridden over the English border as we continue looking for a sign that says “Welcome to England” which would’ve been a great photo opportunity. The weather is continuing to be against us with a mixture of intermittent rain and fine drizzle which is not doing any favours to the wonderful scenery made up of rolling hills and woodlands. Over the next few miles I am cycling in my bubble of thoughts again with memories drifting back to me about my last attempt at cycling across the country and how I needed to be much more mentally stronger this time as I wasn’t prepared to fail again, come what may with this unseasonably wet weather.
After another hour or so we arrived in a village called Madley (Insert Duncan joke here) where we should’ve been stopping for lunch at a pub called the Red Lion, which Duncan had previously booked prior to this ride. Unfortunately, when we rode into the car park at the front of this public house the place looked deserted. Great!!!!! We are in the middle of absolutely nowhere, 8 very hungry cyclists…….. WHERE ARE WE GONNA EAT NOW! There’s nothing more to do than ride on and try and find somewhere else to eat but to our surprise, just outside Madley, a pub standing lonely on its own was just ahead of us, please be open I remember thinking to myself. It was already nearly 2pm and thoughts of getting turned away because the kitchen was closed were nearly unbearable to think about. The Comet (Pub / Restaurant) was fortunately open and we were given a very warm welcome by the landlady who informed us that the Red Lion had been taken over by a young couple that had been having some serious staffing issues as well as a few personal ones by all account.
I was pleasantly surprised by our warm welcome as myself and the 7 other cyclists were absolutely dripping wet, but she welcomed us in as we stepped out of our wet weather cycling attire, she took our drinks orders and wasn’t at all upset when we asked if we could have some food. Talking of food……… it was as great as the landlady’s hospitality. We all enjoyed a variety of great food. Duncan pushed the boat out with his order of French onion soup which he constantly commented about how good it was with every spoon full. Afterwards he found out that it contained a large amount of brandy, not good when you’re the support driver, and as we sat in the conservatory eating our delicious lunch the clouds finally parted and the sun comes out, perfectly timed.
After an amazing meal and another couple of drinks (coke) it was time to get back on the road again, this time in full sunshine and with all of our wet clothes bundled up into the back of Duncan’s car, we set off in the direction of Hereford under beautiful blue skies. The next few miles were really great, cycling past field after fields filled with apple orchards and more rolling hills. Everyone seems to be in good spirits too, it’s amazing what the sun can do when it shines upon you. It was at this point while riding into the outskirts of Hereford that Simon and Karl both ask me, why doesn’t your Ribble make that horrible rattling noise that Neils bike does? I answer with, it’s because of his carbon fibre wheels that are inherently noisy. It was also at this point that Simon and Karl reminded me that yesterday, Garry’s bike had fallen against Neils Ribble, scratching the new paint job that he had only a month or so previously had done. If this wasn’t bad enough, Garry’s bike had knocked Neils Di2 electric rear mech which panicked him into asking if anyone had a laptop that he could connect his bike to, to make any necessary adjustments. What’s wrong with a good old cable mech anyway? Okay…. I am very slightly jealous as Neil’s Ribble is a very nice bike and I guess if it was mine, I would be panicking too if anything should happen to it.
Riding through Hereford was nice, crossing the beautiful river Wye and on into the town centre. The traffic was quite heavy as we all try our best to stick together through various numbers of traffic lights, although sometimes a red light is quite welcome as it gives you chance to take in your surroundings. From what I remember from Hereford, there were lots of shops but a slight lack of any historical buildings or it may just have been a case, that the road we were cycling along bypassed the old part of town. Back out on the open road and with lighter traffic to contend with the ride gets a little quiet again as all riders seem to dig in and ride with very little chatter. I find myself in my bubble again with thoughts drifting and favourite songs being played in my mind. This afternoon tunes are Lynyrd Skynyrd “Freebird” and The Answer “Solas” and I very often whistle the chorus or my favourite riffs. It’s a great way to while away a few miles without really noticing.
I am very quickly brought back out of my bubble when we arrive at the Aylestone hill roundabout where the A465 joins the A4103. Chris is leading the pack as we enter the roundabout, I was riding 2 or 3 places behind him and as we navigate our way around, just at the halfway point, an elderly guy in a car cuts Chris clean off at our required exit. Chris Neil and myself all shout at the driver as he just carries on. I still don’t know if he did ever see Chris or was just shocked by the amount of shouting that was coming from us cyclists, but it really brought things into perspective as cycling these sorts of distances without any sort of instances would be just pure luck. Fortunately, Chris was ok and just more upset than anything else.
With that drama out of the way, we continued heading towards Worchester but before we all get there, there’s an awkward obstacle that stands in our way that’s going to test every single one of us, although it will affect some us more than others and this obstacle is known as the Malvern Hills. As we ride through Bishops Froome and some of the most beautiful countryside that I have ever ridden through, we can already start to see the Malvern Hills in the distance. Karl is already looking further ahead by checking the up and coming terrain on his cycle computer and as I ride beside him, he shows me a climb that partly disappears from the screen. I had thought that we had conquered the last of the hills from earlier. How wrong I would be!!!!
As we leave Bishops Froome, we seem to be cycling out of what could be a small valley as the road gently rises as we go but midway between Bishops Froome and the next village, Acton Green is the mother of all hills. A monster that boosts a 13% climb. As we start Chris and Neil are already pushing ahead. Watching Chris climbing like that is really impressive and I can’t help thinking that all of the training he had been doing was paying off. Myself, Karl and Simon on the other hand, struggled. As I hit the bottom of the hill, every bit of speed dropped off really quickly, first gear was not low enough!!!!! Most of the top half of my body felt like it was hanging over the handlebars and front wheel and the amount of effort I was putting through my legs and pedals was enormous. Riding that slow caused massive balance problems due to the lack of forward speed.
I was pushing myself so hard that I felt like I was going to pass out and I could feel my own pulse thumping away within my head. I am not sure that I’m going to be able to make it to the top as this just keeps going and going. My inner voice was telling me to get off and walk and take the easy way out. It was at that very moment that the most positive thoughts and memories of watching my poor wife Vanessa suffer the effects of Chemotherapy. How sick it made her. How at her lowest points of suffering from the cronic symptoms of Vasculitis would battle on and wouldn’t let this disease beat her. So why would something like a massively steep hill that I would only have to suffer for a few minutes beat me, when she has suffered so much more.
Somehow, I made it to the very top with Karl and Simon not far behind me with Chris, Neil and Steve waiting at the top, not hardly showing any signs of exhaustion. Me, I’m puffing and panting like an old locomotive train but as we are standing there at the top of that hill waiting for Garry and Carrera Steve, a local man in his mid 50s riding an old town bike, wearing beige trousers and a shirt cycled up behind us, said good afternoon and wasn’t breaking a sweat at all. I guess he has been cycling up that hill since he was a boy. Talk about fit. It was at this point again that Carrera Steve and Garry caught up with us. I cringe to think of the effort Steve needed to pedal his steel frame Halfords special up that hill. I take my hat off to him.
What goes up must come down again and a high-speed descent down to the village of Longley Green and with speeds topping out at 35+ mph down single-track road was really exciting and was exactly what was needed after that monstrous climb but I experienced one of the scariest moments I have ever had since I started cycling. The road ahead rounded a couple of sharp corners, one to the right and one to the left followed be another steep descent. I was riding mid peloton following Steve Wiltshire very closely, only a few inches from his back wheel and still travelling over 30 mph. We came out of the left-hand bend and just as the road straightens up, a massive pothole appears in the road in front of us, luckily no one rode through it but in avoiding the hole I ride over a large rock. Instantly, my rear tyre deflates and I am left struggling to control my bike as I try to bring it to a gentle stop. It truly was a scary moment. Luckily Karl and Simon stayed with me as I did a quick inner tube change and a thorough check of the tyre. As I looked around, I couldn’t believe that a piece of granite, the size of a golf ball had not only punctured my inner tube but has also sliced the tyre in 2 places and without a replacement, I was starting to worry that my rear tyre might not last the remaining 200+ miles. With tyre and tube back on, myself, Karl and Simon get back on the road, to catch up with the others who have pulled over a few miles up the road at Acton Green.
Regrouped, we get back on the road heading towards Longley Green and through a very beautiful valley within the Malvern hills with its green hills, tree’s and meadows it was a real joy to ride through which made a nice break after that last hill and puncture. Talking of which, I am starting to feel tired as my muscles are still burning as I think I pushed myself a little harder than perhaps I should’ve, but with another 15 miles to ride before we meet up with Duncan again, I find myself slowing down as I am struggling to keep up. The closer we get towards Worcester, the more I am feeling exhausted and the further I fall behind.
We finally meet up with Duncan and I must admit it’s not a moment too soon as I need to try and take on as much water and food as possible as I need to build my energy back up for the last few miles remaining, but it’s not easy to eat or drink when you are that exhausted. The rest stop seemed to be somewhat shorter than earlier ones and before I know it, we are back on the road again and cycling into Worcester. Duncan has to re-direct us as we ride over the bridge over the River Severn, turning right to ride along the river for a short distance. I can’t believe how many people are enjoying the afternoon down by the river, sitting around outside restaurants and bars. Worcester really surprised me as it was quite a nice town to cycle through and although the traffic was relatively heavy our journey through wasn’t hampered.
Just as we ride through Pershore, I feel my energy levels drop again and my leg muscles begin to feel like lead, my head now starts to ache and throb with every pedal stroke as the point of exhaustion is reached again. I just hope and pray I can make it to Evesham. The next few miles behind the handle bars remain a bit of a blur between desperation and pure exhaustion but somehow, I have made it to Evesham and all I have to do is make to the Travelodge on the other side of town, but my body has other plans as my own fuel runs out. I instantly feel extremely sick, dizzy and faint and I was unable to ride in a simple straight line, just hanging on to the handlebars and trying not to fall off. I was riding now in my lower gears as I just didn’t have the energy required to push the pedals. Luckily Duncan wasn’t too far behind in the support car and must of seen me as I remember glancing over my shoulder and seeing him close behind me with his hazard warning lights on to keep traffic away from me.
By the time I made it to the Travelodge my body finally quit. I remember riding / wobbling into the grounds of the hotel with everyone looking really concerned, as I just crashed my bike up a grassy bank and fell off. As I laid there, everyone gathered around me asking if I was okay, to be honest I felt fair from okay. I was gazing up at the sky, feeling like I was passing in and out of consciousness. I remember briefly asking someone to get me a can of Coke and a Mars bar as I needed to try and get my sugar and energy level back up. The others were already booking in at reception and luckily someone had already booked me in. I think that the receptionist thought I was drunk or something as I staggered in looking really worse for wear.
As I stood there, I noticed a vending machine and hurriedly bought another Mars bar and scoffed it there and then like a starved animal. I don’t really remember much after that, going to the hotel room and showering etc, but that night in the restaurant I ate a 3-course meal with steak and chips for the main washed down by 2 of the most delicious pints of Guiness I think I’ve ever had. I was definitely on a mission to replace as many calories as possible and I have to admit that I didn’t let myself down.
Back in the hotel room, Chris was trying to explain to me how important it was to consume energy gel and bars during the ride and to eat food at the rest stops that contain slow release energy. Deep down I knew that he was right in what he was saying as I have already told other riders the same in the past. A classic case of practice what you preach. Apart from yet another very windy night over Chris’s side of the room, I slept very sound and never heard the severe thunderstorm over Evesham that night.
101 Miles ridden
1 Broken rider at the end.
Evesham to St Neots.
A new day and a new start. I awake feeling surprisingly good considering what had happened to me on the previous day and with the conversations with Chris from last night still fresh in my mind, I decided to adopt a new strategy by eating Jelly Babies on a regular basis while riding along. I had also packed some malt loaf in with my luggage but it didn’t really survive the journey in the back of Duncans car.
This morning was the first time on this journey that I enjoyed a full English breakfast as I am still trying to replace fuel from yesterday. As I munch away, I glance out of the restaurant window on what first appears to be a wet start to the day. The weather looks to be clearing and I make a decision not to wear any wet weather clothing, a decision rightly made for once because as soon as we meet in the car park for the start, the sun starts to come out and we witness our first glimpse of blue sky since we started this ride. Everyone seems to be in good spirits again, with yet more mickey taking out of poor Karl and more farting from Chris. I beginning to think he has a real talent as he seems to be able to drop his guts at will.
We finally get out on the road and head for our first stop just outside the town of Alcester. The scenery is changing to a flatter terrain, the kind of terrain where you could almost be cycling anywhere. There’s not really much to look at, at all. I start riding in my imaginary bubble again, just me, my thoughts and favourite songs. In fact, I don’t really remember talking to anyone too much until our first rest stop.
Riding through historic Alcester this morning was awesome, it was as if Duncan had spoken to the town council about 8 cyclists heading east, as the high street was lined with red, white and blue bunting along with Union Jack flags and I have to admit it was one of my most favourite towns to cycle through. A real pleasure.
It’s now mid-morning and the temperature is rising nicely, this is the type of weather I had wished for from the very start and riding through some pretty country villages, I can’t help feeling so lucky to be a part of this journey. The guys are also in good spirits today with lots of laughs (mainly at Karl’s expense again) along the way. The bikes, albeit very dirty are behaving themselves mechanically and I am still the only rider with a puncture to my name. Even Carrera Steve’s bike is holding its own with no problems at all.
Things are now starting to look very familiar as we all head towards Warwick. I rode through Warwick on my last east / west attempt. This again happens to be one of my favourite towns to ride through with its medieval timber framed buildings and narrow streets, museums and memorials and of course it’s famous castle, that somehow again I have managed to cycle past without glimpsing it. We ride through the town, all 8 of us together, over the river Avon and along an avenue of trees that border Banbury Road. We stop once again to meet up with Duncan again for yet another welcome pitstop. With the temperature rising, we are all drinking a lot more water that has started to concern Duncan as he will have to stop off along the route to replenish the supplies. This time Duncan surprises us with a fruit cake that his mother had made for us just before we left and I must admit it was a very good fruit cake. I joked about how much alcohol was in it, and Duncan gave a sly smile. We all agreed it was a great cake.
Onwards we head towards the next town of Towcester (Why is it pronounced toaster?) riding once more through some quaint villages. I have completely lost track of all time on this cycle ride as one day is blending into another. Today is Sunday, so that kind of explains why people / families are out and about this morning going about their weekend chores, from people gardening, kids playing and other fellow cyclists out about on their bikes, probably out for a quick 20 or 30 mile blast.
As we cycle through the villages of Bishop’s Itchington (that’s not a joke name), Knightcote, Wormleighton etc, it feels like myself and the 7 other guys have ridden through some sort of time porthole. As we ride into a village called Culworth, it was like going back 300 years in time. This village with its beautiful stone-built houses and buildings, wouldn’t look out of place in Derbyshire or Yorkshire. We stopped for a quick group photo on the side of the road here, but I would have been happy to find a tea room or a café and enjoy a cuppa watching the world go by. It got my vote for the prettiest village of the entire ride. From here we ride over an ever-undulating countryside of Northamptonshire with its beautiful rolling hills and into the town of Towcester. Again, another very historic town with its origins going back to the Roman times. Moving on and back to 2018 and back on with the cycle ride, we ride up to some amazing stone gates and gatehouse as we wait for Steve and Garry to catch back up, I can’t help to notice that we have stopped at the entrance to the famous Towcester Racecourse.
After watching £1,000,000 horse box lorry’s and top of the range 4×4 vehicles drive past us while Garry and Carrera Steve catch their breath and take on drink, it’s time to get back on the road again. We are currently riding on and beside the A5 for a couple of miles before turning off and heading east towards Stoke Bruerne and the Canal Museum (formerly known as The National Waterways Museum), which is todays lunch stop. As we arrived, we had to leave Duncan to park the support car further up the road in a meadow, as it being a Sunday, the Canal Museum and its pub, restaurant, museum and café, was absolutely heaving with people and kids. I can’t help thinking that I wasn’t the only one of us that was feeling a tad uncomfortable walking around the place in my lycra.
Lunch today was courteous of 2 young lads working behind the counter in the museum café, working their weekend jobs. I think it was the younger one of the 2 lads first day, talk about slow and bloody useless. (poor lad). As it was already about 2pm, the café had more or less been emptied of food and to say there was a lack of choice, was a complete understatement. Anything like paninis were completely sold out!!! I decide that I was going to have an egg mayo sandwich and went for the option of having it toasted. What a mistake!!!!
I was hoping and expecting them to toast the bread first…….. No…. They made the sandwich with the egg mayo and then toasted it, which also took an eternity to toast. By the time I received my sandwich it had turned into the worst sort of scrambled egg sandwich I have ever had, but after a morning of riding about 70+ miles, I gladly ate it. I followed that by eating a strawberry Cornetto.
Again, I wish I could’ve had the time to have a good look around the Canal Museum as there was plenty of vintage stuff there that I would’ve been interested in. Back on the road again we are heading in the direction of Olney and again it seems like we are cycling in the middle of nowhere. Even the villages seem to be more sparsely spaced out, not the kind of place that you would want anything to go wrong with your bike. Cue Karl’s second mechanical failure!!!!!!! Just as everything seemed okay as we were all riding along, there was a strange twang type of noise that came from his rear wheel. Yes, you’ve guessed it, Karl had broken a spoke. Duncan was soon to the rescue and it was at this point that Karl announced that George (one of Duncan mechanics from the shop) had given Karl some replacement spokes prior to the ride. The funny thing was, He had given Karl a handful of spokes, none of which were the correct size. I don’t know what was worse for poor Karl. On one hand not having the correct spoke or having 7 fellow cyclists ragging him senseless again about his bike. This wasn’t the last of the funny things to happen this afternoon…….
It was while Karl’s bike was being examined that Simon decided that his double shot caffeine energy gel that he had been contemplating taking was consumed. I hate to think how bad this gel must have tasted as I have never seen anyone pull a face like that before, but there must have been something good within that gel,
as within 30 minutes of being back on the road Simon was leading the group and not being caught. (Here comes the funny part).
Somehow, we had caught up with Duncan in the support car and Simon, still high on his double shot caffeine gel decided that he would ride close enough to the support car and its trailer to try and draft it. He did very well indeed at first, to keep up, but he had failed to notice that the support car had a diesel engine and it was at that very moment, sitting almost on the bumper, that Duncan dipped the clutch and floored the throttle causing a cloud of thick black cloud of rancid diesel smoke that would have made a great smoke screen in a James Bond movie. I was amazed that poor Simon didn’t look like some sort of cycling black and white minstrel after that.
We continue on, still cycling through the Bedfordshire countryside. The landscape has changed to a more familiar flatness similar to back home which makes riding a lot easier in this afternoon’s heat of 28 degrees. Realistically, we only have another 15 miles to ride to St Neots but it is decided that we need another rest stop to take on more water. As we all stand on the side of the road in a place called Thurleigh posing for photos and consuming water at a rate of knots, some of the riders are noticing that they are suffering from sunburn. This is when the next funny Karl moment happens. As the sun beats down on us at the side of the road, Karl decides to remove his cycling helmet to cool down. Now Karl is what you might say is follically challenged (Bald) and when he removed his cycle helmet, he had 7 cyclists and 1 support driver in absolute floods of tears with laughter as he has suffered sunburn to his head, through the vents and gaps of his cycle helmet. The poor guy looks like a badger with the white stripes over his bald head. I can’t help feeling sorry for him as this ride has thrown everything at him.
I am riding like a different person today as I have been eating a jelly babies at a rate of 1 every 15 minutes or so as I ride along. I am amazed at the difference this has made to my energy levels. I am not tired and I feel really good but it’s really hard to eat jelly babies when you don’t actually feel like eating one. There were many occasions when I held one in my cheeky instead of chewing it. We are not too far away from St Neots now and Duncan has to park up on the side of the road and manually diverts us, as the Premier Inn has been relocated from one side of St Neots to the other. This was done by Duncan waving his arms frantically as we approached him. (He almost looked like some sort of “Barking Mad” person.)
We arrive at the at the Premier Inn to a great welcome and chocolate bars in the rooms. Last night’s Premier Inn had heard that some of us riders were riding for charity and wanted to do something for us, so they contacted the St Neots Premier Inn who kindly gave us the chocolate bars. Me and Chris are sharing a room again tonight so it will be farts ahoy later. After a shower and a change of clothing and an update of social media it’s time to head out for something to eat. Tonight’s restaurant is a Brewers Fayre. Not renowned for the best of food, but food is food and I think I will be going for the steak again.
We all meet in the restaurant and drinks are ordered and the banter begins and as we sit there having fun, we all notice that the restaurant doesn’t seem to be very busy but it is a Sunday evening after all. After what seems like 20 minutes a very young waitress comes over and takes our food order. All seems normal. After what seemed like 45 minutes, our food still hasn’t arrived and we all start joking about what’s going on in the kitchen. Jokes like the chefs gone home and stuff like that. Chris jokes that everything is ok as to get 9 meals out at once, they will use a microwave to warm every dish up. I kid you not, not 10 seconds after he had said that remark jokingly, there was a definite ping sound that came from the kitchen and our food followed a few moments after. Coincidence……. maybe, but it makes you wonder. I can’t say the meal was great but it was definitely very average. Poor Karl got more ragging at the table, not only about his bike but also his spokes and sunburn. Now that we have ridden over three days, the pressure of this ride seems to of dissipated and the ride ahead of us tomorrow is going to be the longest in distance of the whole four days of riding. We all know that we will all be in the company of our family’s and in our own bed’s tomorrow night. I am really missing Vanessa and I can’t wait to see her tomorrow afternoon.
97 miles ridden.
1 spoke broken.
1 sunburnt head.
1 microwave ping.
St Neots to Lowestoft.
Well it’s the final day and I awake with the excitement of finishing this challenge and laying ghosts of the past attempt to rest. I received a text message last night from my mum asking if her and dad could catch a glimpse of us riding along the route as we ride nearer to home. I am amazed that they want to come along to cheer us on as they have not been there for the other rides that I have done in the past. I am really pleased that they want to support us along the ride.
Another full English breakfast was on the cards for breakfast this morning as this will be the last one, I have for a long while. Breakfast seemed a bit serious today but I guess the other guys are also feeling the anticipation that I’m feeling too. With bags packed and bikes checked, we check out of the hotel and meet up in the car park for the final days briefing from Duncan. He suggests that with a foggy morning start and with Cambridge being as built up as it is, our first rest stop would have to be a few miles outside of the town. I really enjoy cycling in Cambridge with its networks of cycle lanes and paths but it’s a real shame that the local council don’t maintain them better as they a very rough to ride along on a road bike.
As we ride into Cambridge there seems to be a lot of American vehicles and servicemen around. As we ride past a massive graveyard, there appears to be American servicemen everywhere. I later found out that it was Memorial Day (in the US). Apart from that, the traffic at the moment seems quite quiet but I guess that’s because it’s still early. I am constantly amazed by the number of bikes that people own in Cambridge. Literally every house seems to have at least 3 bikes in their gardens in all manner of conditions and states. The weather still remains overcast with low cloud and mist in the distance. As we ride out of the town towards Cambridge airport, there appears to be a bunch of plane spotters standing on the side of the road at the very end of the runway. I can’t help to wonder what they are doing there considering it’s a bank holiday Monday.
I can’t believe my luck as just as we ride past the end of the runway, I hear 3 jet engines followed by 3 Alpha jets from the Patrouille de France (the French Red Arrows) as they took off over us. It was really awesome to see them so low and close as they took off and disappeared into the low clouds. From the airport we continue on through selection of roads and cycle paths until we stop for the first rest stop of the day at the village of Stow-Cum-Quy. Some of us joke about how Duncan has gone the extra mile by organizing us a flypast by those aircraft at Cambridge. Well done Duncan, we don’t know how you managed it.
After water, energy bars and fruit were consumed and comfort breaks were taken, it was time to get back in the saddle again and head in the direction of Newmarket. This was not the most interesting section of this part of the ride, riding through open countryside often running parallel to the A14. The weather is now starting to break as the fog and mist is starting to lift and as we ride past some of the paddocks of the racecourse, the sun comes out and the temperature instantly rises. I can’t help thinking and laughing to myself about Karl’s sunburnt head and how, if the sun comes out again today how much more his head will get burnt. Chris, Neil and Steve are leading the group into Newmarket town centre and traffic seems heavy as the town was really busy with lots of starting and stopping at various traffic lights and roundabouts and getting caught up in the horsey community hustle and bustle.
Leaving all of that behind us, we head out of town on a very familiar road that I have ridden a few times before. It’s one of the many surprise climbs of the day as this road starts off flat as you ride out of town, with paddocks either side of the road then rises and the climb starts. Gentle at first and then it very gradually rises, but it’s the length of the climb that catches you out, as it goes on further than it looks as you are riding up it. Watching Chris drag Neil and Steve up it was amazing as Chris just takes this in his usual stride of attack, attack, ATTACK!!! I’m tackling this at my own pace of push, push, “oh sod it I will get there when I do” and “I’ve got another 90 miles to ride yet”. Again, laughing to myself, I know what else lays further ahead.
From the top of this climb we all regroup and ride together into the village of Moulton, where there was the most amazing descent down into the village. Down on the bars in full aero position, slip streaming the others in front of me hoping to hit the magic 40 mph, but sadly denied by slow moving traffic ahead of us. Slowing down to a more normal pace, we saw two buzzards circling around over the top of us, calling to one another almost like vultures waiting for a cyclist to fall. It was at this moment that surprise climb number 2 reared its ugly head as we had to climb back out of Moulton. This hill happens to be one of nastiest hills in Suffolk that I have knowledge of, with its many grades of steepness. This muscle burner has caught me out before and from what I saw, it caught a lot of the other riders out too.
Regrouped once again at the top, we head off to the next village of Gazely. This is the second rest stop of the day. Gazely is another one of those pretty little Suffolk villages that’s a bit off the beaten track but is worth a visit. We stop for our rest stop near the church and take on plenty of water. The 2 bottles that I’m carrying on my bike are not lasting very long at all as the temperature is already up to 24 degrees and its only about 11am. As we stand there with Duncan refilling our bottles and consuming fruit and energy gels, we can’t help to notice this local teenager on his mountain bike trying to do some tricks and stunts along the pavement and verge on the opposite side of the road. We can’t resist cheering and blatantly take the mickey out of him, every time he wheelies or jumps. He thinks he’s cool but really, he was just a poser!
After laughing and cheering at the teenager that refused to fall off, we get back on the road again. Bury St Edmunds is our next large town to ride through but before we get there, we cycle through a place called Higham where amazingly the landscape changes once more. After cycling through a flatter terrain for a while we were all surprised by the rolling hills and a small valley, of countryside around Higham. I made a promise to myself that one day I would come back and explore this area again by bike. A little piece of cycling heaven in deepest Suffolk. Before we knew it, we were entering the outskirts of Bury St Edmunds and on into the town centre. Again, the town centre seems quite busy as people are going about their business on a bank holiday, visiting the famous abbey and gardens. Unfortunately, we don’t have time to stop as we are heading to Thurston for our lunch stop at the fox and hound’s pub. On the way there we cycle passed the famous WW2 airfield at Rougham.
We arrive at the fox and hound’s and to everyone’s disappointment the pub is absolutely rammed with people and over an hour’s wait for food. None of us wanted to wait that long as we want to get to Lowestoft today, not to mention that we didn’t want our muscles to cool down that much. We very quickly decided to ride on and find somewhere else. Luckily there are 2 pubs in Thurston and the Victoria was the second choice of the two. As we rolled up, we noticed that there was something going on in the beer garden at the rear with a BBQ and kids everywhere. However, this didn’t put us off. We went in, but very soon felt as if we were invading and gate crashing someone’s birthday party but luckily, we were all made to feel very welcome and we soon purchased some burgers from the BBQ in the beer garden and returned back inside the pub to eat them. They seemed quite cheap from what I remember but they tasted very good. With bellies filled, we all meet Duncan back in the car park to re-fill our bottles and take on more energy gels etc. I make a phone call to my mum to let her know a rough time for when we will be arriving at The Shadingfield Fox public house, so that her and dad can wave me on or buy me a very quick drink. I am hoping to arrive there at 4pm but I think that maybe a little bit optimistic in this heat.
The temperature is really starting to soar now as it edges close to 30 degrees. I can feel a slight uncomfortable feeling as I think my chamois cream is starting to wear off and for the first time ever, I start to feel a strange sensation within my feet. I wouldn’t really call it cramp but there is something starting to feel wrong and with around 350+ miles ridden so far, I suppose my body is beginning to feel every one of those miles. Back on the road again the pace quickens as everyone within the pack of 8 riders begins to feel like we are getting ever closer to home. Riding through Pakenham and on to Great Ashfield, we are still very much out in the wilds of the Suffolk countryside with the odd occasional village along the way.
We stop once again in the village of Finningham for another well earnt rest stop. This time I am forced to re-apply the chamois cream. I am starting to feel quite saddle sore if I am honest at this point as my body is starting to feel very sweaty. I also have to massage my feet for the first time during this ride. I think that I am beginning to suffer from pressure points from where my feet are sitting on the pedals. It’s really uncomfortable and with my feet being hot, the heat is really adding to the problem, I’m beginning to feel like the end of this ride can’t come quick enough.
It is at this point Karl removes his cycle helmet. Instantly 7 cyclists are almost reduced to tears as Karl’s sun burnt head looks even funnier now. It still looks as if he is still wearing a helmet, even though he has taken it off. The ragging starts again, from him looking like a badger to looking like Eddie from the “Book of Souls” Iron Maiden album cover. I wonder how one bloke can take much ragging without losing his cool. Top fella.
Pushing on again with saddle sores and aching feet, we cycle around the shaded roads of Thornham Magna, 8 cyclists still heading east. It’s quite refreshing riding under these magnificent trees with a very slight refreshing breeze. Everyone is still in great spirit, Chris, Neil and Steve are continuing to lead the pack at this stage followed by myself, Simon and Karl with Garry and Carrera Steve bringing up the rear. The suns heat feels relentless as we ride back out into open countryside again, beating down on our backs with very little or no wind at all. My estimations about what time we will arrive at Shadingfield maybe off by an hour or so as I think we will need at least 2 more rest stops before arriving there. I am consuming so much water, that a bottle is only lasting me 30 minutes at the most. I have decided at the next rest stop I have to make a phone call to my parents and let them now that we are running behind our original time.
Riding through the town of Eye and the village of Horham, we stop once again in the village of Stradbroke. My feet are really throbbing now and I am feeling like the arches of my feet are swelling, as it feels like I have flat feet when I get off the bike and walk. With the swelling is coming lots heat and as I sat there on the back of Duncans bike trailer massaging my feet again, I am now worried about actually being able to finish this last days riding.
Duncan surprises us all on this rest stop as he has been fruit shopping along his journey and he pulls out a Cantaloupe melon and some orange’s cut into quarters. It was the most amazing fruit I think I have ever tasted as my mouth still tasted of the SIS tablets that I put in my water bottles and the constant drip feeding of jelly babies. The juice from orange was really refreshing and cleansed my pallet perfectly. Water bottles filled again and comfort brakes taken we are back on the road again. As I am riding along, I am now counting down the miles. Its 12 miles to Halesworth and then another 10 miles to Shadingfield and about another 10 or 15 miles back to Ness Point at Lowestoft.
I was hoping to arrive at the finishing point in better shape than I am currently in. I am fully aware that 35 miles will complete this ride, which doesn’t really sound that much considering how far we have come in the 3 days previously but I’m not only physically tired, I am mentally exhausted too. Maybe it’s all in my head!!!! Maybe because I know it’s the last day and my body and mind are getting ready to stop. I only have to make it to Halesworth for our next rest stop and a 30-minute ride after that will get me to Shadingfield.
For the first time on this ride, I have made a phone call while riding, something I wouldn’t recommend for the amateur rider to attempt. I have to call my parents and give them an update about my ETA. To my surprise they are already parked up in a layby on the Halesworth / Beccles road ready to try and take photos of us all. I also call Vanessa to let her know where I am, so she can get ready to make her way to Ness Point.
We are now riding through the villages of my childhood. Laxfield, Ubbeston and onto Heveningham. I really love to ride past Heveningham Hall with its rolling hills and fantastic architecture set behind a really gorgeous lake, one of Capability Browns better efforts in designing this beautiful house and gardens. From here to the next village of Walpole and all 8 of us cyclists are riding together in a group again as to edge ever closer to Halesworth.
As we arrive on the outskirts of town, we meet up with Duncan for what is going to be the rest stop. The last rest stop!!!! It’s strange to think that this is and will be the last time all 8 of us cyclists will be eating fruit, eating energy bars and gels and most of all, bouncing banter off of one another. It’s an almost emotional stop as within a couple of hours this epic journey will all be over and the bond that has formed within myself, Duncan and the other 7 cyclists will be broken. We’ve travelled so far together and experienced so much, that tomorrow when we wake up in our own beds with our wives and girlfriends etc, normality will take a bit of getting used to. Mind you, I think Karl will be relieved as there will not be any more ragging about his bike or sunburn. The end really begins to feel close. I even think Duncan feels the same emotions as he seems a little bit quieter at this stop.
It should be noted at this point that Duncan has done an exceptional job of being the support driver, bike mechanic, event organizer and route planner.
I find myself massaging my feet again at this stop. It’s almost to the point of being so painful that I can’t hardly touch them in some places as the pressure points are so sore. I am just hoping now that my adrenalin can carry me to the finish line. Duncan informs us that some of the guys from Dunx Cycle Rides (Paul Cyprus and Barry Last) are going to ride out to meet us and ride back Lowestoft with us. Rest stop over and back on the bike again we ride through Halesworth heading to Shadingfield, through the villages of Holton, Sotherton and Brampton. Something happened along the way that I hadn’t realized had been planned. As we cycled through Brampton Chris, Neil and Steve all dropped to the very back of the group to allow me to lead so that it would look as if I was the pack leader as we cycled past my parents who were waiting with cameras at the ready in a lay by along the road.
As I rode past them, they looked so proud as it was the first time that they had ever been present at one of my cycling events. I had ridden various other charity cycle rides and wanted them to attend but for one reason or another they have never been able to attend. I was quite touched actually as they would normally say I was mad or just give a strange look if I said I was going to do a massive cycle ride. Seeing them gave me the final lift and push to ride the remaining miles ahead of me.
We finally arrive at the Shadingfield Fox public house to be welcomed by my mum and dad and various other people who were friends and relatives of the other riders. In fact, my parents had introduced themselves to Simon’s parents who kind of knew of each other in a roundabout kind of way. (Small world). My mum bought me a drink from the bar and I must admit it was the quickest orange juice and lemonade I have ever drunk. No sooner had I got the glass to my mouth, then everyone wanted to push on and ride the few miles to Lowestoft. What happened after this remains a bit of a blur as we are hurrying back out on to the road. 8 riders have now turned into 10 as we have been joined by Paul Cyprus and Barry Last. Duncan has driven off to the finish at Ness Point were some of the rider’s family members will be there waiting to welcome us back. I can’t remember how or what happened but there was a definite split in the pack as Chris, Neil and Steve have ridden off at the front as we head towards Lowestoft. Someone has said that there was a bit of rivalry going on between Chris and Neil over who was the fittest and fastest and some sort of race was going to go on at Cous Cous Pinnacle. Still to this day I don’t know who won.
Still trying to figure out where the leaders had gone myself, Simon, Karl, Garry, Carrera Steve, Paul and Barry are riding along the back roads of Hulver and into Mutford, with still no sign of the others. My feet at this point are screaming and any chance of speeding up to try and catch up is near to impossible and I don’t think I’m the only one as the pace within our newly formed group is far from pacey to be honest, it’s more like a gentle cruise. As we roll into Carlton Colville, I am conscious for the first time that people are looking at us as we are cycling along and thinking “oh look at the bloody cyclists taking up the road”. If only they had known how far we had ridden, maybe just maybe they could’ve given us a tiny amount of respect.
Finally, we ride into Lowestoft and the last funny moment of the journey happens as we cross the bridge. Paul Cyprus and Barry Last lead us into town but Paul is needing to quench his thirst, just as we get onto the very middle of the bridge in 3 lanes of traffic, Paul drops his drink bottle from his bike. It skips and bounces down the road like a water filled torpedo that’s on a destructive course to wipe out any cyclist riding behind him. As soon as he dropped it, the bottle went one way (towards myself, Simon and Karl) and Paul went the other way, all in 3 lanes of traffic, in the middle of the afternoon on a bank holiday!!!! It could’ve been “Game Over” within half a mile from the finish line.
Drama averted, we carry on and it looks as if Mother Nature has plans for the weather as we have gone from blue skies and temperatures in the low thirty’s, to a really thick coastal fog and temperatures down in to the low teens. This ride has literately had it all with the weather. From a foggy grey, drizzly damp start to heavy rain, overnight thunder and hail to blisteringly hot sunny days and back to fog again.
We turn onto Whapload Road and my heart starts racing, as within the next couple of junctions and corners I will be reunited with my wife Vanessa. I can’t wait to see her but I am a little worried about how she will react when she sees me walk as my feet are so painful and I won’t be able to hide the limp that will follow. Somehow or another (I don’t really remember), we have joined back up with Chris, Neil and Steve just before the end and we all ride around behind the rear of the Birdseye factory, 10 cyclists, united as 1 as we cross our finish line and ride up onto the Ness Point marker near the rocks with the North Sea lapping up at them.
We’ve made it……… 400 miles in 4 days!!!!!!!!
Vanessa rushes over to me to give me a massive hug and to congratulate me. I think she has missed me and much as I have missed her. As we stand there hugging, I become aware of how many of the other rider’s wife’s, children and family were there to welcome us back. It was really awesome and for the first time it really hit me, the thought of the feat that we had accomplished, a hard lump formed in the back of my throat and my mouth went dry. It really was an emotional moment. We all line up for the obligatory finish line photo and as we all stood there, I looked around to see all the proud faces that welcomed us home. Duncan also looked very proud too although “The Barking Mad Business Man” tried his very best to keep out of the limelight but he should’ve been in the photo too, after all the hard work he put into organizing this ride.
With emotions still running high, we all decide to head our separate ways. Me, I’m getting Vanessa to drive me back home to where I am going to have the longest soak in the bath ever and quite possibly a beer too and contemplate what I have seen and done. As for my bike, it can have its bath tomorrow.
109 miles ridden.
8 cyclists safely home.
1 torpedo drink bottle.
2 sore feet.
1 very proud and happy wife.
Thanks for sharing this journey with me,
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