Category Archives: Charity Bike Ride

My London to Brighton experience

After all the preparation we almost missed it.  We had decided to take advantage of the option to “ride later than our allocated start time” to make the morning a little less frantic, to avoid the crowds at the start of the event and to ensure careful coordination of our arrival with lunch in Brighton.  Our plans were flawed on several fronts!

Our London to Brighton experience started smoothly.  We left the house at 09.06, just 6 minutes behind schedule.  Not bad!  We had even had time to capture the moment for prosperity…

Brothers - Before & After

Brothers – Before & After

 A “thumbs up” from “@LDNtoBrighton” (The official Twitter account for the event) reinforced our level of comfort as we set off for Clapham.  How were they to know where we were?  After all, there was a lot going on!

We abandoned the car (Thanks Michelle!) at the first sight of cyclists, just south of Tooting (09:46).  Crossing the torrent of participants to make our way to the start line on Clapham Common spirits were high.  The bubble was almost burst when we arrived at a rather deserted start area.

A few Marshalls were rounding up the stragglers, encouraging them to “Start ASAP!”  It turns out the final start time was 09:30.  A minor detail that had passed us by.  A schoolboy error!

Fortunately it didn’t take us long to catch up with the first tail-backs, perhaps not coincidentally in Tooting.

L2B Tooting

30,000 cyclists + London traffic + major junctions = Frustration!

It didn’t take us long to see the first of what turned out to be several accidents either… within a mile of the start, a chap (who, it turns out, wasn’t even participating in the London to Brighton event) managed to cycle into a stationary car at speed.  The result of the collision was a cut chin and, I suspect, concussion, as well as badly damaged wing mirror (on the car).  It was relief that we discovered that the carbon frame of his bike had also been broken as he was insisting that he was OK to ride on.  He clearly wasn’t!  We left him in the capable hands of a Marshall with Medics on the way.

Travelling through South London was a stop / start affair.  The Police were doing a fantastic job of clearing the roads of cyclists by sweeping up the rear to stop traffic, maintaining momentum one junction at a time.  It wasn’t until we hit the first hill however that our expectations for the rest of the day were properly set:

With so many cyclists even the smallest bottleneck can impact the flow.  Bottlenecks included narrowing roads, hills, accidents, traffic controls and confusion caused by refreshment stops (“Should we or shouldn’t we?”).  A combination of a narrowing road and a “steep” slope was enough to bring everything to a grinding halt.  It was annoying the first time, but became less so as we relaxed into the day.

Reigate Selfie

As we headed south, out of the hustle of London and into the countryside, the atmosphere changed.  Communities turned out in force to “make a day of it”.  Quiet villages took on a carnival atmosphere as brass bands played us on our way.

Refreshment stops were frequent and well stocked.  Even private dwellings offered “a free sit down”, sweets and showers from Water Pistols,  People generously came out of their houses to cheer us on our way; each cheer being greeted with a “Ping” on Philip’s bell.

It felt like we were part of something meaningful and positive.  A feel-good factor was capped by the way people ascended the final climb of the day;

Ditchling Beacon had been billed as the big challenge.  The most significant hill on the ride.  It was all downhill to Brighton from the top, but getting to the top would take some effort.  If it went the same way as the other substantial hills we’d encountered there would be no way of us cycling up it because of people walking.

Fortunately people seemed to decide to walk at an early stage of the Ditchling Beacon ascent, and then considerately moved to the left-hand side of the road.  As a result, despite arriving at what was probably the busiest time of the day, we were still able to cycle all the way up.

It wasn’t without it’s hairy moments, but we both managed to stay on our bikes.  For a few minutes, the other participants became vocal onlookers, like an over-enthusiastic Mountain-Top crowd in the Tour de France.  It was a special feeling to get to the top!

The thousands of people at the finish on the front in Brighton were the cherry on the  cake!

L2B Finish 3

So, a HUGE thank you to all the people involved in organising and supporting the event, the Marshalls, the Medical Staff, the Caterers, the Mechanics, the Supporters, etc. etc.  Thank you all for making it such a fantastic event!

A great way of celebrating life!

 

Countdown to L2B

Two weeks today, June 15th, Father’s Day, I will be participating in the British Heart Foundation’s Flagship charity event of the year; the London to Brighton (L2B) bike ride. It’ll be a mere 54 mile jaunt from Clapham Common to the Beach in Brighton, and I’m expecting a quiet affair; just me, my little brother and about twenty-five thousand other people.

Last year’s starting line… while I was enjoying my first day in hospital post Heart Attack.

One of the main reasons for participating is that it will mark the anniversary of my Heart Attack; one year to the day when our lives were momentarily turned upside-down. The fact that I’m not concerned about the physical aspects of the cycle shows how much things have changed since last Father’s Day.  It’s amazing what you can achieve with the right motivation and a little hard work (not forgetting the drugs of course!).

I’m so glad that I decided to take up cycling as the mainstay of my fitness regime.  I don’t remember there being much conscious thought in it at the time… it just seemed like the right thing to do.  As well as getting me in shape, it’s opened up a whole new social dimension, and has re-introduced me to competition without needing to be in competition with anyone but myself.

I am personally aware of several other people that are participating in the event having been impacted in one way or another by Heart Disease. Many people will be there for a fun day out, but there will be a lot of others for whom the journey will be much more significant.  I’m sure it’ll be a special day!

Coincidentally, I lived just off Clapham Common (the starting point for the ride) for about five years when I first left University. It always used to play host lots of community and charity events. Generally I’d watch them from afar with a combination of curiosity and (occasionally) a little envy. It’s not without irony that it’s taken 20 years, a move to Aberdeen and a Heart Attack for me to participate in one.

I’m really looking forward to enjoying the occasion with my brother. It’s been years since we did anything like this (if we ever have). I’m also looking forward to participating in a sporting event with him in which we’re on a fairly level playing field… it’s definitely been a long time since that’s been the case! (Not that it’s a race, of course! Don’t worry Mum!)

Brothers

Philip & I circa 1978. The awesome power in our legs was evident even then!

For those of you who are participating, I’ve included a photo of the 2 of us so you can spot us in the crowd. People say that I’ve got cuter over the years, but I don’t think either of us have changed a bit. You won’t be able to miss us!

ECC Day 5: The day after the night before

The day after the night before…  I awoke in the 6th bed in 6 days, a delightful pull down number squeezed into the corner of a double room.  It had been a relatively late night and promised to be a very slow start to the day.

We had the morning to ourselves.  The only deadline was to get ourselves to the Train Station by mid-afternoon.  It was relaxed.  For once there was no-one to giving us orders.  There was no-one to follow.  We were alone.

After four days riding across Northern Europe blindly following a man with an iPad we had been given control back.  The Guides had travelled ahead with the bikes.  We were left to look after ourselves.  Without any counselling we had been abandoned, left to re-integrate into society.  Alone.

Sightseeing in Brussels

Sightseeing in Brussels

I felt a strange sense of freedom… a day without Lycra.  I was able to walk normally, without cleats, able to put my feet flat on the floor.  I was without bike, able to sit inside and watch the rain rather than being out in it.  I had nowhere in particular to go.

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Generally I felt more “normal” than I have in a long time:

The previous night’s beer didn’t seem to do me any immediate damage, I hadn’t fallen over or experienced any side-effects, and I woke up feeling fine.

The first beer since my Heart Attack

The first beer since my Heart Attack

Possibly more importantly the Euro City Cycle is behind me.  It has been a real focus for me for the past 10 months;  the end of a key recovery phase?  I can now look forward with a little more comfort, a touch more relaxed.  It feels good!

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After a relaxing two-hour journey we arrived at London St Pancras.  The Guides were waiting for us:  We were instructed to follow them to an unknown destination.

We blindly followed them; winding our way across the station concourse in a chain which gradually fragmented as people lost contact.

We emerged into a light drizzle… normal business had been resumed!

ECC Day 4: Falling down and bouncing back

Richard, Geoffrey and John are locked in the dungeon and Henry is coming down to execute them:
Prince Richard: He’s here. He’ll get no satisfaction out of me. He isn’t going to see me beg.
Prince Geoffrey: My you chivalric fool… as if the way one fell down mattered.
Prince Richard: When the fall is all there is, it matters.

The Lion in Winter, 1968

To be a cyclist means giving up an element of control.  Whether it’s relying on other traffic, experiencing hazards along the way, trusting the person in front, or simply sitting stationary with a cleated shoe attached to a pedal, there is an element of risk involved.  Improved bike handling skills and general awareness can reduce the risk, but it’ll never be eliminated.

As with life in general, bad things happen.  The most important thing is how you deal with them, and how you bounce back.

Over the four days of the Euro City Cycle there have been a number of incidents.  Fortunately none of them were too serious.  No serious damaged was caused other than a little bit of hurt pride.

With many of the incidents, the comedy factor was high:  Irrespective of fault, Guides going down is always hysterical, like a Referee falling in front of a large crowd, you just have to laugh (quietly, of course!).  Momentary lapses of sanity are also worth a giggle, a man hanging from a lamp-post unable to extricate himself from his pedals for example, or user-induced brake failure resulting in a tumble down an embankment.

Bridge 4

Negotiating a bridge under construction… like you do!

Despite these occasional incidents, over the course of the trip people’s confidence visibly grew.  With a little encouragement and practice, everyone became more comfortable, cycled a bit faster, a bit closer together, we slowly developed to become part of a team.  I’m not saying we got there, but we got better.

For a few seconds on the final afternoon we almost managed to draft, cycling in formation into a head wind, the lead rotated to share the effort as we pushed to maintain a steady pace.  For a few seconds, we almost managed it.  It felt good!

Despite having to battle the elements once again, we all made it from Breda to Brussels.  If I had been in Scotland I would have described the weather as dreich (“Low End” also works).  The persistent rain and low temperatures made the going tough.  Dampness got everywhere causing electrical equipment to fail left right and centre.  However, we fought through and made it.

Broken bike through broken camera

Broken bike through broken camera

It’s been a pleasure to share this experience with the 20 other participants.  I’m sure everyone felt some emotion as they approached the finish line; a sense of accomplishment or satisfaction.  It wasn’t the hardest cycling ever, but there were definitely moments when everyone will have had to dig deep, calling on hidden reserves of energy and endurance to see the journey through.

For me, the overwhelming feeling as we crested the final hill and rolled towards the Atomium in Brussels was relief.  My journey didn’t start in Brentwood, it started in a hospital bed last June.  I’ve cycled just under 300 miles in the past four days, but over 3,000 miles preceded them as I worked to get myself fit and strong again.  There was a “Finish” sign next to the Atomium, but my journey is far from over.

Along the way, we’ve managed to raise just under £3,000 for the British Heart Foundation.  Thanks to everyone who has donated and for all your support over the past few days!

(Incidentally, it’s still not too late if you’ve been meaning to contribute: Click here)

ECC Finish

Relief, pride and satisfaction… what’s next?

Jersey of the day: Euro City Cycle

For the final day of the Euro City Cycle, it felt appropriate to sport the team colours of the tour.

Euro City Cycle

According to the organisers, Global Adventure Challenges, the Euro City Cycle is…

“An exciting charity cycle combined with breath-taking city sights make this a European charity challenge extravaganza! This superb charity bike ride caters for every level of cyclist.  It takes in the rolling countryside of Essex, the plains of Holland and the sleepy lanes of Belgium.  One of the best cycling challenge experiences in Europe!”

So far we’re about 200 miles into the adventure.  Our itinerary has included:

Day 1 – London to Harwich – ferry to Hook of Holland
Day 2 – Hook of Holland to Amsterdam
Day 3 – Amsterdam to Breda
Day 4 – Breda to Brussels (Today’s challenge)

So far it’s been a blast… and it’s not over yet!

ECC Day 3: Why are we here?

Why are we here?  This isn’t intended to be a grand philosophical question, but some days you have to ask yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing.  Some days everything seems to be against you.  Today was one of those days.

The Day 3 route promised to be long; the longest of the Euro City Cycle.  It was further than many of the participants (including myself) had done before.  As well as being long, the route was complicated, circuitous and fiddly.  It required navigation through the backstreets of towns and travel across several bodies of water by various means.

As it happened, the weather also conspired to make the day even more challenging.  It had been suggested that it would be wet throughout; wet and windy… joy!  So it was with some trepidation that we set out to make our way from Hoofddorp to Breda.

Rain

Time to cover up… here comes the rain (again)!

Each participant has their own unique reasons for participating in the challenge.  As we battled against the elements, driving rain and near gale force winds, it would not have been unreasonable for some of us to question why we’re here.  It wouldn’t have been a surprise is some of the group decided that catching a lift in the support van was a sensible move.

Every time we crossed open ground the elements seemed to re-double their efforts to make the day difficult, to make us miserable.  We slowly made our way along the route, back-tracking on many occasions as our guide grappled with the finer points of navigation.  Ferry crossings required patience, breaking any rhythm we may have built.  Even the railway crossings seemed to conspire against us, waiting for us to approach before flashing warning signs and bringing us to a halt.

In particular, the Moerdijk Bridge tested our resolve:  The bridge spanned about 700m of open water.  It was positioned perfectly to expose us to the worst the day could muster including gusts of wind of over 55 km/hr.  The wind carried rain that was being propelled with almost enough force to draw blood.  Each crossing was long and dangerous as we leant into the wind at a precarious angle, trying to adjust for every gust and lull.  It was really windy, painful and more than a little bit scary!

Bridge

Relief at reaching the other side!

Despite the challenges, everybody made it.  Everyone made it across the bridge, and everyone made it safely to Breda.  I didn’t hear anyone suggesting that they had had enough, they couldn’t do it or that they were going to pack it in.

There was relief at reaching Breda.  There was a real sense of accomplishment (despite the route being slightly shorter than advertised).  Individually and collectively we overcame the challenges the day could throw at us.  Together we had made it!

Rainbow 1

Somewhere, over the rainbow… almost there!

It turned out that everyone’s answer to the question “Why are we here?” was enough to get them through.  For me it is because I can be, because of all the hours I’ve spent on the Turbo Trainer over the winter to get myself in shape, because there is life after a Heart Attack, because I’m lucky, I’m alive.  Not doing it isn’t an option.

Tomorrow promises to be another challenging day.  I am confident that it will be another successful and rewarding one.  Bring it on!

Jersey of the day: The Sandpiper Trust

Today I am proud to be representing the Sandpiper Trust, a charity dedicated to saving lives by improving immediate care in across Scotland.

Sandpiper Trust 1
The aim of the Sandpiper Trust is to help save lives in Scotland by improving immediate care especially in the remote and rural areas, through the provision of appropriate standardised and uniform medical equipment, known as Sandpiper Bags, for use by specially trained GPs, community nurses, paramedics and A&E Consultants, all of whom operate on a voluntary basis.

The administering of rapid and appropriate medical intervention to a patient during the critical “Golden Hour” not only contributes to an increase in positive patient outcomes but also raises community confidence and resilience especially in remote parts of Scotland.

Such has been the success of this initiative that it has been endorsed by the Scottish Ambulance Service and incorporated in their 999 Emergency Response network, thereby helping reduce response times. In simple words – more lives are now being saved.

Over the past 12 years they have raised over £1.5 million pounds to improve pre-emergency medical care in rural areas of Scotland, and not just the Highlands and Islands where there is an obvious need for enhanced kit, but Stonehaven, Inverurie, Banchory.

Every £1,000 that is donated buys a Sandpiper bag that contains equipment to save a life.

For more information visit:  http://www.sandpipertrust.org

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The Sandpiper Trust will be supporting Ride the North with the provision of medical support throughout the weekend.  As the person most likely to need their support, we are very grateful for their continuing assistance!