A Challenge Almost Too Far
Saturday 20th August 2016 is a date etched into the minds of 3 Frodsham Wheelers, Ryan Jackson (it was his idea), Mark Hewitson and myself took on the challenge of Newcastle Upon Tyne to London in 24 hours for Macmillan Cancer Care. The Ride was organised by Ride 24 and after receiving a flood of emails and briefing reports all were nervous that we had bitten off more than we could chew.
The first challenge was to get to Newcastle on a Friday afternoon in order to arrive chilled and ready for the Epic day ahead but 6 hours later we arrived knackered and settled down over a pint to discuss strategy. We were agreed that a steady pace was an essential strategy to make the distance, but as we rolled up to the start line briefing the next day and we were offered a ride leader on 22 hour pace, 24 hour pace or 24 hours plus we decided that we were up to the 22 hour pace.
Ride 24 had split the challenge into 7 stages and arranged for rest stops with food provided at all, approximately every 45 miles. In order to keep our groups together each group was assigned a ride leader and a sweeper to try to ensure nobody got lost. A great plan in theory!!!
12 Noon and we rolled across the line into a very stiff breeze, part of the final group of 250 allotted this start time (similar sized groups had started at 9.00 and 10.30). After an initial relaxed twiddle for the first 4 miles over the Tyne Bridge we arrived at a busy roundabout and the first split in the bunch!! Our ride leader was clearly intent of keeping to our target time, the group stretched like a piece of elastic and by Angel of the North we were down to a group of about 30. It was shortly after this that the first of the predicted heavy rain arrived and the winds strengthened. A number of junctions led to a small split in the bunch and the 3 Wheelers found ourselves detached but in a strong group. We worked hard to reel in Hayden’s leading bunch (Hayden was our sadistic ride leader) but by rest stop 1 at Darlington we were still just off pace.
Rest Stop 1
So after a quick butty and hot drink we left as a reunited group and fairly smashed our way towards York. Already we were catching riders from the 10.30 group, many of these would be destined not to complete the challenge. Sadly by York we had witnessed two nasty accidents with one rider having to be airlifted to hospital for spinal surgery. All along the route we witnessed some very aggressive driving. I wonder, had they known we were raising more than half a million pounds for Macmillan would they be more patient?
Rest Stop 2
So we arrived at rest stop 2 at York for hot food at 97 miles into an intense shower. Stage 3 was our final stage to be ridden in daylight and so we sped off in our ‘Elite Bunch’ towards Scunthorpe. As daylight faded we passed many groups of bedraggled stragglers and our pace increased and as we crossed the flatlands from Goole to Scunthorpe, a surreal landscape with hundreds of wind turbines, no shelter, few cars but the pace was becoming uncomfortable and as we approached Scunny the pace was hitting 25/26 mph.
Rest Stop 3
We rolled into Scunthorpe for our ‘soup stop‘ and the application of night lights and glow sticks for the first of the night time stages. Before stage 4 we (and others) had implored Hayden for a slower pace but as we rolled out from our feed stop we realised the bunch had already sped up the road and we were on the rivet just to get back on.
At this point our ride leader decided that ‘Through and Off’ seemed a good idea to share the work at the front. He had not banked on the testosterone flowing through the peloton. As each rider moved up, so did the pace…. 22 mph, 23 mph, 24 mph, 25 mph, 26 mph… POP!!! 155 miles into our ride and the pace was never going to stick.
So as we approached Lincoln the Wheelers and a few new friends developed a new B group at a sedate 18 mph and as we rolled on we picked up more riders dropped from the Kamikaze A Group and rolled towards Sleaford.
It was at this time that the mind started to play tricks… how long had we been riding? How far to Sleaford? Does Sleaford exist? We rolled through deserted flatlands for mile after mile in pitch dark except for the twinkle of tail lights and glow sticks as the sound of insects filled the air… a surreal experience.
Rest Stop 4
As we rolled into Sleaford after 181 miles the speed had started to tell in the legs. A full hour feed stop and kit change later and we were ready to push on towards Peterborough, tired but feeling good, but the temperature had dropped and the rain had started again.
I would love to talk about stage 5 but I cannot remember, none of us can. It was the dead of night, theoretically a short flat stage but it seemed to last forever.
Rest Stop 5
Peterborough rest stop was surreal, music, bright lights, fajitas – but by this stage we were starting to crack after 22 miles. Ryan had been suffering from illness and Mark from an upset stomach. By this time food was not easy to stomach. I lost the ability to eat all but a few grapes, Ryan was grey and Mark was in a Portaloo.
Finally Mark gathered himself and we rolled out onto our penultimate stage after a delay of half an hour and I tapped out a steady 16 mph pace on the front determined to keep on target. As dawn broke our small bunch of 5 started to crack. One of the group punctured, the first of these irritations and as we rode through Papworth Everard Mark was struggling with bad guts and Ryan was starting to suffer, but it was a knee problem not his sickness that was the issue, unable to press down on the pedals without severe pain, the speed dropped to 11-12 mph.
An impromptu visit to a MacDonalds at 6am for milk shake proved fruitless (breakfasts only!!!) and as Ryan rolled in Mark and I knew it was serious. All credit to Ryan, he tried for a few miles to continue but the route was becoming very bumpy and despite me trying to assist on the climbs 30 miles into Stage 6 Ryan had to bail.
Rest Stop 6
After a 30 minute wait for a support vehicle TT’d back to Mark who had rolled on to stop #6 in Buntingford after 270 miles… wow Hertfordshire is hilly! It was here that we met Ryan, despondent but already determined to return next year!! It was a short break. Despite us dropping way behind schedule Mark was starting to ask questions about an ETA for London.
The 24 hour finish seemed out of reach but Mark suggested we give it a crack so despite us being destroyed and despite riding in snatches we fairly smashed it into greater London the glamorous route – Waltham Abbey, Walthamstow, Tottenham… Boom, all of a sudden we were ahead of schedule but there seemed to be traffic lights every 100 metres, RED, RED, RED, would we make it?
A final sprint down Clerkenwell Road and into Farringdon and Smithfield Market. All of a sudden we saw the crowds, heard the public address, smelt the bubbly! We crossed the line after 23 hours and 59 minutes.
I felt strangely numb as the tiredness hit and all the aches and pains started to rise to the surface – ankle, knees, stomach, wrists and most of all …erm ‘Undercarraige’. My breakfast voucher was discarded in favour of a pint of cider and a pint of coke and after a ‘baby wipe shower‘ in the shoddiest facilities in Western Europe Mark said his farewells and Ryan and I embarked on a 7 hour coach ride back to Tyneside.
What an adventure. Am I glad I did it? Yes…. Did I enjoy it? No…. Would I do it again? No Way, but one to talk about in the years to come. A proper EPIC.
Sincere thanks to Mark and Ryan and all who sponsored us – almost £3000 raised for Macmillan Cancer Care.
CHEERS – MARCO