We set out in glorious sunshine from Loughton, and soon found ourselves in a big peloton, eating up the roads – the excitement made it feel effortless. Surrounded by people from all over the world, I chit-chatted to half a dozen cyclists, as we changed positions within the group. I reached down for my drink and the ring on my dehydrated thumb let gravity take it. There was nothing to be done; I heard it clatter down my bike and ping onto the road. “Was that part of your bike?!” Someone shouted, I shook my head and dismissed it, “JUST MY RING. I can get it on the way back!” …
Lincolnshire. ALREADY?! The blue sky and bright green grass matched our jerseys. We laughed at how flat the roads were and my brain dared to think that maybe this whole thing wasn’t going to be as hard as we’d worked ourselves up for. We cycled alongside a man who was quick to empty our half-full glasses, “You have a tail wind and it’s flat. Just wait until tomorrow.”
K, dude. Take your negativity elsewhere. We got this.
Soon we were at the Humber Bridge. It felt magical. Hannah and James were slightly ahead, their rear lights doing a syncopated dance. I faffed around in my jersey pockets, trying to reach my phone to take some pictures and I couldn’t help but smile to myself. We’d cycled all the way here, from London, in one day.
What followed was a less magical, more worrying section in the dark. The final stretch of the day into Pocklington was via some small country lanes and our front lights were only enough to spot potholes directly ahead. A mixture of joy and relief washed over me as we entered our first overnight control stop.
Dinner: Protein shake; Chips and chilli and peas and gravy and cheese…and gravy; Muffins (one at the table, one for the road…to bed). I’m going to say I ate an apple, I’m not sure if this is true.
The blow-up beds were situated in a sports hall a small walk from the canteen. It was all very organised. We signed in and requested a wake up ‘prod’. Another small walk took us to where the showers were. Unfortunately, that evening, the water was cold. We laid out our damp things to dry around us, plugged in the electricals and pulled masks over our heavy eyes. We’d be woken at 5am.
Such dirty shoes. What did we cycle through last night? No time to think about it. Day 2 wasn’t as long as Day 1, but involved more climbing. We all wanted to crack on with it, knowing our legs would be full of Day 1’s adventure. The next stop was Thirsk, which was followed by Barnard Castle; the home of the best flapjack of the whole trip. There was also the forest fruits juice. “This is everything” Hannah said, as she sipped from the plastic beaker. We filled our bottles with that magic sugar water and headed out. We still had 158km to do. It had been windy and the weather changeable. My jacket had been on and off all day. I wedged it into my saddle bag holster, not securing it properly.
The North Pennines were a slog. The wind battered me. I couldn’t hold onto James and Hannah, but part of me didn’t want to. I wanted to feel like I’d done some of the work. So far, I’d hung onto their wheels the majority of the time.
“A bit further and then it’s all down hill after this.”
OK, James. Sure.
I wanted to believe him, but my brain was in a funk and I couldn’t perk myself up. I kept chugging away, feeling bad for my silence. I’d promised to be the positive one – that was my job. But Brampton, our second-to-last stop of the day felt so far away, right up until we arrived.
Coffee. Biscuits. Cake. More cake.
‘Someone’s already nearly half way. He’s had 21 minutes sleep so far.”
Nearly there. I sucked down hard on an energy gel, making sure I got every last drop. The metal packet pinged the back of one of my teeth that has a filling in it. Gah. I was tired. Two full days of hanging onto wheels and the last section had been along main roads, where we’d been joined by some gents who took some turns on the front. The pace had been pretty relentless.
Nearly there. Nearly there.
“WOH, WOH, WOH!” Came a shout from behind. My bike jolted to a stop. Without thought, both feet were unclipped and planted on the floor. I dragged my bike to the side of the road.
Why is my rear mech. salmon pink?
My jacket had worked itself loose from my saddle bag holster and found its way into said rear mech. The outcome: my rear derailleur was hanging limply from my bike. My heart fell out of my chest, like I’d gone over an unexpected speed bump in the road. Tears rolled down my dirty cheeks as my brain became empty. Hannah was on the phone, James and a Belgian man were pulling my jacket free from the rear mech.
And I stood shivering, imagining myself on a train home with my broken bike.
It was late evening and I was hungry. We decided to make our way to the next control stop (Moffat), eat, shower and make a plan.
Dinner: Protein shake; Cottage pie (extra cheese); Cake; More cake; Hot chocolate.
My frame was irreparably damaged, but there was nothing to be lost from asking the mechanics if there was anything at all that could be done. Maybe there was a fix? Perhaps I could borrow a bike? Going home by any other method than pedalling just wasn’t an option.
Not after I’d poured so much of myself into this challenge.
To be continued…