Several thousand bananas, flapjacks and jelly babies.

Here is my 3rd and final blog about the Ride for Precious Lives. It’s a long one, as befits a long 3-day challenge!

If you were kind enough to read the first 2, and to offer your support, you will know how much trepidation I felt about this physically daunting event; in fact, how terrified I was, especially as I knew I had not trained enough. Although I sit here just over 48 hours later starting to recover from ceasing up completely, with aching legs, swollen ankles, various insect bites, bramble scratches from Cornish hedgerows etc. I cannot express just how it feels to have done something so physically demanding for the sort of charity I hope no-one I know and love ever has to use, and yet am so happy exists for those who do need this kind of support.

Pre day 1, we were driven down to St Austell from just south of Bristol by one of my husband, Ray’s colleagues. And here the volunteering began – our driver was not taking part but did his bit by borrowing a van to take the luggage and 2 passengers down. Someone else organised the minibus with the rest of the team, as their company, Edwards, is the main sponsor of the event.

At Little Harbour Hospice we registered, had mug shots taken (thanks for putting all of those on your Event Facebook page, CHSW) and got our bikes checked over. In our case – our tandem! It was immediately obvious that the staff and volunteers from Children’s Hospice South West were going to look after us really well, and have lots of fun too. A 3-day event over 205 miles also required a professional events management company, a medic, mechanics and several thousand bananas, flapjacks and jelly babies. We received a briefing from Johnny, events management, with instructions for our 7.00 a.m. start next day, then the evening was ours.

Friday, day 1, and a fine drizzle, but there we all were on time to hand over our luggage (which miraculously appeared in our hotel rooms that evening) receive another briefing and pose for a group photo. Then we were off in groups. Ray made sure we were in the first group – accurately advising me that this was going to be the only time we were ever in the lead! There were 125 riders in total this year. Before, there have been 100, but 25 were added to celebrate CHSW’s 25th anniversary. The range of participants was vast, from serious cyclists with high spec carbon bikes weighing only a few kilos, to poorly trained older people such as myself – and everyone had a story about why they were taking part.

The route was 75 miles to Bideford through tiny, narrow and very hilly lanes and over Bodmin Moor. My mantra soon became ‘what goes down, must come up!’ 

Riding a tandem requires great communication and a very high level of trust. Ray is an excellent and experienced cyclist, so I had to trust his judgement and relinquish control many times, down very scary and wet lanes – you know the sort where there is grass growing in the middle, the hedgerows are twice as tall as you, and you have absolutely no idea where you are. So we would come hurtling down a hill hoping to pick up momentum for the inevitable climb to follow, to be confronted with a sharp left or right turn at the bottom requiring us to slow down a lot, only to face an immediate, steep hill back up. You can’t do hill starts on a tandem, you can’t stand on the pedals (2 of you is just too wobbly) so some momentum and the correct gear at the start of a hill is essential. This just wasn’t happening in rural Cornwall (nor in much of Devon, nor in Somerset, until we got to the Levels.) 

I lost count of how many times we got off and walked… Luckily the route signage was excellent – I will be dreaming about black arrows on yellow backgrounds for months to come – and the team spirit amongst all 125 riders was second to none. There was always someone asking if you were OK, or waiting at dodgy junctions to warn oncoming riders of hazards etc.

During the day, we had 2 stops for drinks and snacks and a stop for lunch. At each one, event organisers would be there to cheer everyone in, make us hot drinks, make us eat, and generally create a really happy and motivating atmosphere. Yes, I heard ‘Happy’, ‘Can’t Stop the Feeling’ and ‘Uptown Funk’ on the speaker many times, but they were somehow appropriate and uplifting.

Towards the end of day 1, I was seriously flagging. The medic gave advice on when to take energy gels and when to snack on jelly babies. The other tandem pair from our team recommended I load up Ray’s back pocket of his cycling top with jelly babies – great advice! We eventually made it at nearly 6.00p.m. All I wanted to do was cry from exhaustion. I could not even face waiting for a massage from the physiotherapist – also doing this as a volunteer. 

I was overjoyed to find that our bathroom had a bath and also quite worried that I would never be able to get out. Somehow, I managed this and became semi human after several painkillers and lots of ibuprofen gel. Off we went to the dinner where we heard the story from a mum of what CHSW had done for her family – she was also riding. You would have to be made of stone not to find personal accounts from families who use CHSW incredibly moving. There was also fun. The guys leading the Edwards team, as the main sponsors, gave out prizes for notable achievements – and yes, I got one! You see, I have a bit of a comedy husband, who went AWOL on day 1 last year and caused the organisers, and therefore me, quite a lot of anxiety. His colleagues have joked ever since that I was doing this in order to make sure he behaved and followed the organisers’ instructions to the letter! So my prize was for being his minder.

Saturday, day 2, and Belinda, our daughter had turned up to share the day with me! Deep and serious joy. Off they went and I returned to the hotel room for a cheeky lie down again, then a relaxing coffee, then set off in the car to meet them just off Exmoor, for lunch. Belinda did really, really well, having youth on her side obviously, but then the next stint was back over to me. Ray was hugely encouraging towards both of us, and it was easy to forget that he was doing the whole journey on a heavy tandem, when he is used to a carbon Bianchi racing bike!

The afternoon was quite hair raising – some of the lanes had been gravelled recently and loose gravel, as any cyclist knows, is very dangerous on a bike, especially if you are turning or braking. At one point, daredevil Ray was actually asking me to brake down a steep hill covered in gravel (I probably had my eyes closed at the time.) I advised him that I was, and he finally took seriously my earlier suggestion that the brakes at the back were not working properly… So we stopped at the top of the next hill to inspect them and sure enough something technical had happened and they weren’t properly aligned. Within 2 minutes, as if by magic, the mechanics arrived and fixed this for us. Meanwhile, I walked down the next bit and warned several fellow riders coming gingerly down about the deep gravel at the bottom.

Day 2 ended quite well, in Taunton, where it was sunny and there was a real party atmosphere amongst the finishers. I felt quite exhilarated and actually human (very different to day 1). I was touched when the Press and Media Officer for Charlton Farm (the final hospice on the route the next day) said she had read my last blog about this. I saved a place with the wonderful sports physiotherapist as my left knee was hurting a bit, and went up to our room. On our pillows were bars of chocolate. ‘Hmmm’, I thought ‘I didn’t think this hotel was that posh.’ On closer inspection, attached to each bar was a crayon picture of cyclists going up very pointy hills, by Archie aged 4 ½, with a message of support. That is when I cried. I tweeted the picture and I am still welling up thinking about that now. That tiny gesture and personal touch made more difference to how appreciated I felt, than the organisers could possibly imagine.

After an amazing, and quite painful but effective massage, and a large white wine, it was time for dinner, and another very moving story from a father of twins, one of whom had been a patient. I couldn’t possibly do justice to his story, other than to say that I learned more about the added dimension of everything CHSW do for siblings in particular. To read more, see CHSW Home Page

More prizes followed again, including one to a couple who had asked their wedding guests for no presents, but to donate what they would have spent to CHSW. They had not volunteered this information themselves – another rider nominated them.

Sunday, day 3, and with rain clouds looming, Ray and I set off for the easiest part of the ride yet across the Somerset Levels. Oh, but yes, the route organisers made sure the only hill for miles around was included (thanks Johnny!) I suppose it just would not have been the same for us if we had not had to get off and walk again, again! At the morning drink break, I handed back over to Belinda, and that was me done, after 125 miles! 

No Cheddar Gorge pain for me! I drove home, showered and made my way to the finish at Charlton Farm, the CHSW hospice just south of Bristol. I was technically the first rider in!

The reception was amazing. A finishers’ marquee full of food, volunteers, drinks, goody bags and lots of relatives and friends to welcome riders back. (I was one of those last year.) Of course the uplifting party music was playing and the fundraising team and helpers were dancing, cheering, ringing bells and giving every finisher a fantastic welcome. They made a special effort to cheer in the last few finishers, who I know will have been in the most pain.

Waiting for Ray and Belinda, I chatted to helpers, volunteers, organisers etc. and was shown a collage children’s siblings had made for us that morning. I was also offered and accepted a tour round the facilities with one of the volunteers. I saw the communal areas, messy play, sensory room, massive communal kitchen etc. and was in awe of how beautifully done this is. It felt like a home, which it is for the weeks of respite care children with life limiting conditions and their families receive there. Emotionally wrenching and powerful stuff.

I also mentioned, back in the finishers’ tent, how touched I had been by the chocolate on our pillows the day before. The person I was talking too immediately looked for the volunteer who had spent a few hours tying Archie’s picture to our chocolate bars and asked me to feedback to her in person, which I was very happy to do and she was delighted to be thanked so directly.

Then, I heard that Ray and Belinda were on their way down the drive. I was so proud to see them come in smiling, as I knew that by day 3, Ray, the hard worker had become very tired. Last to climb Cheddar Gorge, they weren’t last in, so they had done really well to make up ground. 

What came next was lots of hugs, lots of photos, lots of herding cats to get various teams to do group photos, loads of thanks, some sombre moments and more moving speeches. There was not a dry eye on the field, especially when this lovely, inspiring lady made her speech...

I could go on for much longer, but I won’t. CHSW think the event has raised £125,000, but I’m sure there will be more to come in. They are grateful for every £1 donated and I know this is heartfelt and genuine from every single person associated with CHSW who I met over the 3 days. The fundraisers, the volunteers, staff helping out, the sports physio, the mechanics, the medic, the events management team, hotel staff, van drivers – everybody went the extra mile (205 in fact) to make this the most worthwhile charity event I have ever done.

If you are thinking about doing an event for a cause you care about, I say do it! Train more than I did!

If it’s a long event over more than a few hours, I say even more strongly, do it! The camaraderie, team spirit, sense of achievement and, above all, the enormity of the difference you will make to the cause, will make every ache and pain worth it. Train more than I did!

If your training is compromised, still do it, unless you are too ill on the day or in the few days leading up to it, or you have been advised not to for medical reasons. There will be plenty of people to encourage you and to help you through, and being one of the last to complete is completely irrelevant. Taking part in good spirit and making the effort is all that matters.

I am grateful to everyone who has sponsored the Hills on line, and here’s the link again for anyone else who is generous enough to do so Edwards Team Giving Page Thank you.

Some of these photos are mine. Others are taken from the CHSW Facebook page. I have taken their wishes for us to tag ourselves and to share widely literally, and thank them for providing us with so many great memories on film and they've said they have more to come!

I think that’s it. My next blog will be all about the importance of using chamois cream…

Don’t worry, only joking. I will just say yes, use it, in abundance.


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