"What, we AREN'T going cycling today? Thank goodness for that!"
I know that it may sound a little strange, but with everything that the elements threw at me, and the fact that there is no getting away from the reality of how tough the Fred Whitton route is, from a personal point of view I had SUCH a good time. The guys who rode with me and those I met when I was in the thick of it probably saw that better than anyone.
I was asked yesterday if I felt euphoric about completing the Challenge that I'd set myself, and I said quite genuinely that I was still a little bit *close* to it for that. I'm starting to realise that I experienced that euphoria throughout the whole 10 days! And it is only now that my body and brain have started to tell me that they are in fact, VERY tired, and would like a rest please!
And what was not to like? I was privileged to be able to spend 10 days cycling around Lakeland - often in the company of really fantastic people - and I got to see pretty much ALL of the 'faces' of that beautiful area.
I loved testing myself time after time on those magnificent climbs.
I loved that no one section was the same each day - Yes, even the A66 ;o)
But you know what? This whole thing was about SO much more than Riding My Bike a Bit....
The focus was very much to do something that would challenge me with a real possibility that it would be too much - and to do it in a very simple way.
And very little fuss.
The simplicity of it was part of the attraction to me.
When I spoke to Macmillan Cancer Support about what I was planning to do as a fundraising effort for them, I was astonished at their response. They are a large charity, and with some large organisations when someone 'small' offers to do something small, the response can be dismissive.
I have lost count of the number of chats I had with them, asking how my training was going and how I was feeling, and forever having gratitude expressed for the effort I was making. Many organisations could learn a thing or two from their approach! Right from the start I was made to feel that I was almost a member of the 'family', not just some bloke raising a few quid!
And that kind of support costs nothing, but is priceless! This was to become something of a theme throughout the challenge!
A few of my running and cycling friends on the Fetcheveryone forum already knew that I was taking this on, and a few of them had said that they would ride some or all of the route with me on a few of the days, or just turn up at the roadside to wave and say hello :o)
I put out an open invitation on my Justgiving page as well, for anyone that wanted to come and join me at any time. And slowly the event started to take on a life of its own.
Now in part, that was thanks to people who quietly started to make more people aware of what I was doing. I only became aware of the work that Flip - who rode all of Day 1 with me on the strength of 200 miles training and a longest ride of under 60 miles...... NUTTER!! - was doing to raise awareness of the event as the days passed.
He contacted papers and Radio Stations and cycling clubs, and he went into Honister and Buttermere Youth Hostels to ask if they'd make me a cuppa if I needed it. There was more, but I never got to know about it!
And Sarah and Chris who between them were making sure that I was well fed, had what I needed to sort the bike out each day and, and was taking care of my body..... luxuriating in a deep warm bath was a critical part of that! :o)
In fact, although I was a guest, I was made to feel more like I was family.
Such generosity is priceless.
If memory serves, I only actually 'asked' for three things. The ability to use the Four Seasons SportIdent timing system for all 10 days so that I could record each day; Somewhere to live for the 10 days; and late on a call to ask if I could use the Cyclewise shop as a stop-off to make up more drinks.
What I GOT and what people offered to do was nothing short of incredible!
Paul made sure that the timing stuff was all sorted for me, Sarah and Chris went WAY beyond doing B&B for me, and Cyclewise not only gave me somewhere to sort out drinks, but made sure that my bike was OK, and kept it rolling for me - AND made me feel so welcome each time I arrived. I can't overemphasise just how important that was!
Friends went the extra mile either on the bike, or appearing on the course, or both; messages of support came to me from people I didn't know as well as those I did. Folk gave up their time to ride with me - sometimes just a short section, sometimes the whole route, but the support was always fantastic, and always made me smile :o)
The metaphor that it provided was really striking. I was taking on something that was tough, but the people who supported me made it not just bearable, but really made each day something unique and unrepeatable.
On the day when I punctured on Wrynose in THAT weather, I got colder and colder because I was exposed, and ALONE, and frightened.
In a past life I was on a Mountain Rescue Team and so I recognised how precarious my situation was at that time and although I KNEW what I needed to do, I couldn't because my bike was broken - it gave me what I feel was an brief insight into the the everyday lives of the people who NEED the support of Macmillan.
And once I had managed to extricate myself from there, and worried Sarah when I arrived back still mildly hypothermic, it made me all the more determined to complete the challenge and do what I could to raise as much as I could for the work they do!
Looking back now, I can see just how important seemingly 'little' things can be.
Andy's flapjack at Gosforth on one day and on Cold Fell another. It was brilliant to see a friendly face, and to also have something that tasted like the Food Gods had made it as well - it made the sun come out!! Really, it did!
Robb cycling with me over Whinlatter unexpectedly - a HUGE boost on a day where I was mostly on my own.
Alan, meeting me at Whinlatter on his handbike and riding with me to the valley in quite unpleasant conditions - It was a short ride, but one that was priceless in the context of the day.
A conversation with someone in the Cyclewise shop..
Two people each pressing £20 in my hand as a donation when I was out riding...
And the not so small things - Flip riding a whole circuit, that man has the heart of a lion; Hannah joining me for the 3 Passes and organising the PomPom moment :o)
Brian taking a whole day to ride with me, sleeping in his car and then heading home straight after we finished; Stuart coming up from Preston to do the same, on a day when my legs went into shutdown, and somehow managed to ride an 8:45!!!; Stuart and Glenn whose banter and company actually made the sun shine and the wind die down for the day, and who rode in such a way that made the day flash by; and meeting Simon on the same day, which was the start of something remarkable from the Honister 92 guys; Amy the SuperPhysio responding to a Call for help when my body needed her expertise; Barty and Graeme after Fangs Brow - again, brought the sun out; and the final day where Honister 92 were simply fantastic. Grant picking me up in Newlands Valley, meeting up with about 6 others at Whinlatter; the bagpipes, the group of 10, and company all the way to the top of Hardknott
And THAT video!
Nothing prepared me for that level of support and camaraderie. And I don't think anything I can say will ever be able to express just how amazing that was!
And finishing it all off with Pete with the sun shining, and my lovely wife Lorna, without whose total support this would never have happened, waiting for me at the finish.
An absolutely incredible and unique experience - I wouldn't have missed it for the world.
And my overriding sense of what it was all about?
I experienced the VERY best of the people that I had the privilege of meeting, riding with, messaging, and being supported by. The genuine warmth and generosity they showed me was humbling, as has been the generosity of people with their donations to Macmillan.
Many of you have left me speechless, and THAT can be pretty difficult to do ;o)
When I set out I wrote on my JustGiving blurb..
"I hope that a few like-minded people will come along and share some of this journey with me, because I know it will be tough, and support and encouragement make a massive difference.
Maybe together we can make just a small amount of difference to the lives of the people who really need what Macmillan can offer them!"
In a VERY real sense this has been a joint effort. I may have been the one that got on my bike every day to ride this amazing route, but it has been SO much more than that because of what the people around me and watching and supporting me have given to it.
So far - we have raised over £2,800 - which absolutely fantastic. Over £2.50 for every mile that I rode over the 10 days.
I am SO grateful for the opportunity to do this, and to have met so many fantastic people along the way.
And I hope that Macmillan are appreciative of what we've achieved :o)