Day 4 Rugby to Nettlebed
By day four I was beginning to feel like I had almost completed this challenge – just 80 miles to ride today, and with plenty of company to keep me going I was hopeful that we might even finish during daylight for the first time! There were two sections to the day, the first was about 50miles from Rugby to Milton Keynes where we would have a quick stop by our old family home. The second section was 30miles and took us to Nettlebed, the Oxfordshire village where my Mum grew up and where her ashes are buried alongside her parents.
Today we had some extra riders with us, (half) Iron Woman Lucy Black was joining us through to the finish and my sister Jen had come to join us for the day too.
Jen was a bit nervous as she had never even ridden a road bike before! These two alongside me, Cat, and Jon meant we had a proper team of riders alongside the support car. Me, Cat and Lucy rode the first leg out of Rugby – 25 miles of rolling hills through beautiful countryside. The weather wasn’t great but spirits were high and it was a lovely bit of riding. To be totally honest I spent most of the time listening to the girls chat rubbish, sing ‘songs’ (I’m not sure “the wheels on the bike go round and round” counts!), and giggle. Again, it was fantastic to be sharing the experience.
Jen joined us after the first rest stop for the ride to Milton Keynes, she was riding Jon’s bike while he was driving, however nobody had quite realised how poor Jon’s brakes had become – he had worn through his brake pads the day before which meant Jen’s first experience on a road bike was a bit sketchy at times. In fact, it was remarkably similar to when we used to ride as kids – she had to use her feet to stop! Although Mum wasn’t there to tell her off this time!
This section of the route was more or less straight along a busy old roman road to Milton Keynes which made navigation easier. However, NickNav was back as we got to the outskirts of Milton Keynes and I almost took us down a 70mph dual carriageway! There was a large four lane roundabout which was difficult to get round as cyclists. Jen and Cat went first with me and Lucy behind them, as we came off the roundabout Jen shot off and by the time I’d caught up and got them to stop we had to walk a few hundred metres back along the verge and take the next exit down the much quieter (correct) road! Once in Milton Keynes we benefited from the redways -a network of segregated cycle paths across the whole town, although I did manage to get us lost a couple more times on them too!
Eventually we arrived at Vache Lane, the street we used to live on. It was very strange riding along the street, we all have so many memories there and it hasn’t changed a bit. We met Janetta, an old family friend who took some photos for us. This felt like a significant moment in the challenge, it was the end of the longest leg of the challenge (Link House to Milton Keynes) and left me only two more shorter legs to do. Unfortunately we couldn’t stop for long because we were all wet and getting cold! We ‘hopped’ (painfully and slowly creaked) back onto our bikes and got going again.
Lucy and Jon were riding the next section with me which would take us through to Nettlebed, a relatively short journey of 30 miles. Somehow, I managed to get us on the wrong road out of Milton Keynes which added about 7 or 8 miles to our route. I’m not quite sure how I managed to take so many wrong turns in the city that we grew up in when I had navigated half the country with barely a problem!
The weather was now getting steadily worse, as it had been all week. We were now riding in steady rain on what felt like a never ending route of villages and lanes. We were counting down the miles and I was feeling pretty chuffed that according to my calculations we could only have a few miles left and it was still daylight! We stopped with the car and Cat told me that according to the sat nav we had another 9 miles to go – I genuinely didn’t believe her or the sat nav. It couldn’t be right…could it? We cycled on, convincing each other that there must’ve been an error – “maybe she’s set it to the hotel not Nettlebed”, or “maybe she has to go round a one way system…” Eventually we saw some road signs that confirmed she was right, and that once again we’d be finishing in the dark!
I knew the finish of this day had a large hill to climb which took us basically to the village and the churchyard, and to be honest I wasn’t sure I would have the legs for it. Since day two I’d been having some occasional issues with my knee, it was flaring up which made putting pressure through the pedals very painful. On flat roads I could get away with using one leg until it eased, but the hills were more difficult. It hadn’t been a great day for my knee so I was dreading this final climb.
We got stuck into it as a trio, but it got steep quite quickly and it became every man for himself! Riding in the dark meant that you were never quite sure how much hill was left. I’m still not sure if this was a good or a bad thing, but the longer it went on the more determined I became that I would finish it on two wheels. It was a really emotional section for me; climbing what felt like a never ending hill in the pitch black;, hoping that round every corner the top would appear; I was exhausted, but finishing strongly by my Mum’s grave was really important to me. I’m not sure how, but I got to the top and actually felt pretty strong towards the end. Jon and Lucy will attest to how hard the climb was at the end of what had been a long day in the saddle. Once we re-grouped we rode the last couple of miles to the churchyard where we met my Dad. It was too dark, wet and cold to visit the grave by then, so we packed ourselves into the cars and headed to our hotel for the evening!
We checked in and got showered before heading out for my birthday meal. Dad had booked us a really nice restaurant, but I don’t think I was the best company. I had my first beer in over a month, followed by some beautiful food and then felt incredibly tired! It was a pretty low key celebration, but there was still one more days riding to do!
Day 5 Nettlebed to Pancreatic Cancer Head Office, Vauxhall
Waking up on the final day was a bit of a struggle, the repeated late nights, early mornings and constant cycling had worn me out and the advert doesn’t lie when it says you’re guaranteed a good night’s sleep at a Premier Inn! Disappointingly the majority of our kit was still wet, but with the weather that was forecast it wouldn’t make too much of a difference – it was going to be a lovely start to my birthday! The weather is one of my main memories from the last days riding, it started out cold, then got windy, and then it started raining heavily!
I was excited about ending the challenges, and from the start of the day I had one eye on the celebration at the finish! However, there was still 50 miles of cycling to do, and today there were a few more checkpoints to make where we were picking up friends who were joining me on the ride. Anyone who knows me, knows that I had every bit of the day planned out in detail! I wanted to get going to make sure we had plenty of time and didn’t keep anyone waiting at the finish…!
We drove back to Nettlebed and me, Cat, Jon, Jen and my Dad visited Mum’s grave. It felt like the perfect way to start the final day. My friend Big Guns (Chris Eley) met us there and had very kindly offered to take some photo’s for us, we took a few outside the churchyard before setting off!
We picked up one more rider for the peloton in Henley; Lucy’s fiancé Mike. The next checkpoint was 17 miles away at Dorney where we met Gareth and Rhiannon. It was on our way there that the weather got really bad, we were soaked through quite quickly and the wind was making riding hard work and certainly making me very cold.
The wind got so strong at one point that we were forced to lean into it to prevent being blown off!
Once we had Gaz and Rhi with us we were now a peloton of 6 – next stop West Drayton 13 miles away for the final pick up! We started to slow down a bit on this section as the roads became more congested, and we struggled to get everyone through traffic lights and across junctions together. We got ourselves to West Drayton with no mishaps, although by now I was very cold – we were soaked through to the point where we could wring the water out of our gloves! In hindsight it might not have helped that I hardly ate anything on the final day except a few cups of coffee! We had a longer than planned pit stop at West Drayton – each time we went to leave someone else needed the toilet or a new water bottle. I put my last dry coat on from the car and we set off with Chris and Tim joining us.
We were getting updates on the fundraising total each time we went past the car. It was climbing all day. Each time I heard it had gone up again it gave me a boost, it was the perfect reminder of why I was doing it. I was not expecting, and to be honest I didn’t believe it, when I heard that someone had made a £1000 donation. We spent the next 20 minutes debating whether they actually said £1000, and if so who it would have been from. Obviously I am very grateful for this huge donation, it was an anonymous donation so I won’t give away their name here but they know who they are, so thank you very much.
We now only had 20 miles to go to the finish – I could almost taste the beer! I knew once we got south of the river we’d be on the final stretch (particularly as we knew the route from there). We were a little behind the pace now, but no more than 30minutes which I thought we could make up on the way. It was about now that things started going wrong!
Cat’s bike had been struggling since day 4, but her brake pads were now almost totally worn down, not helped by the wet conditions. She coped extremely well but we did have to take things easy to make sure she didn’t crash (that would have been a terrible end!). Then we lost Chris at a set of traffic lights – he got through but we stopped to check the map and realised we needed to turn off. We had missed a turning somewhere so once Chris was back with us we walked our bikes across two dual carriageways and got back on route. This was promptly followed by a puncture.
The team whipped into action and changed the puncture in a record 12-15mins! You’d have thought between 8 of us we would have one pump that was vaguely effective. It only seems fair that we got a puncture though – I hadn’t had one since the London to Brighton Off Road cycle back in September!
We were now running about 60 mins late, and our final checkpoint was at my office in Wandsworth. We met the cars there and moved everything into one car so that my car could stay there and my brother could cycle the final 5 miles with us. Once again, this seemed to take longer than expected, 14 people and only two toilets might not have helped! We all put our PCUK cycle tops on the outside of our jackets but as we were leaving Chris realised he had a puncture. Fortunately we had a proper pump in the car so Chris set about changing his inner tube, only to find his spare was too big, and his other spare had a hole in too! Luckily we have bikes in our office which Chris borrowed and we set off, however were now running about 2 hours late!
The final 5 miles were amazing. I tried to take some time to appreciate what I had achieved. It was a huge personal achievement and there had been many times in both the build up and during the final challenge that I wasn’t sure I would ever finish it. I took time to reflect and take it all in. Riding along with my wife, my brother and my friends was something I won’t forget. I’d had so many great experiences on this challenge, and I had learnt a lot about myself, my wife, and my friends. We’re all a lot stronger than we think we are, if you can laugh you can pedal, and strong coffee is a lifesaver! It was also a good opportunity to reflect on the 30/30 Challenges as a whole, but that might have to be for another blog.
As we neared Vauxhall station everyone made me, Cat, and Jon ride ahead. We came off the roundabout and was trying to explain to Cat and Jon where the finish was. Then I heard a cheer and saw the crowd, it was surprising and amazing just how many people were there considering we were two hours late (I also remember the very confused jogger who happened to be going past the crowd as they cheered our arrival)! As we stopped and got off the bikes, I was at a bit of a loss as to what to do!! I’d spent months concentrating on reaching that point, but now I had done it I was at a bit of a loss as to how to react! There were so many people there, and I couldn’t quite believe I had finished the challenge, and the challenges!!! I gave Cat a big kiss, said hello to everyone and then realised my Dad wasn’t there. He arrived shortly afterwards though – the car had got stuck in traffic. He had a magnum of champagne for us which we opened up all over the spectators! We also presented Pancreatic Cancer UK with a cheque for the amount we had raised at that point.
I want to take this opportunity to say thank you to all the people who stood in the cold and the rain waiting for us for over two hours! It was an amazing end to an amazing week and year, so thank you to each and every one of you. Apologies also to those who I didn’t get to see and share a beer with too. In true 30/30 Challenge during our quick trip to take a shower we managed to get lost, separated, and missed the support car! This meant not only were we late to the finish, but we were then also really late to the pub too. Sorry if I missed you!
The day ended with a brilliant party in the Black Dog in Vauxhall, and if you weren’t there then you missed out!