We had been warned that stages 8 and 9 would be the hardest days of the ride because of the number of hills we would have to climb, but I didn’t realise it would be as difficult as it turned out to be.
My morning in Bath did not start well. It took me a while to get myself sorted and by the time I got into the queue for the start line, the riders from Adecco, who I’d be riding with all week, had been waiting for me for about half an hour. Needless to say, they weren’t best pleased! Then, as we were waiting for our turn to start, Steve from Halfords noticed that my brakes were locking up. This was not good news: with so many descents scheduled for today I would need my brakes to be in top condition. Two minutes later and one of the Halfords mechanics was standing there with my Brakes in one hand, not good!!!!!, I would like to think that my fellow riders saw the funny side to this, but that would be optimistic, Luckily the guys from Halfords sorted me out quickly, but in the meantime every other rider had left the camp. Needless to say as we finally cycled out of camp I wasn’t very popular, and we was last, again!
Luckily for me Steve from Halfords, and Chris my neighbour waited, we agreed that we would catch up the Adecco riders.
The descent immediately out of Bath was truly hair-raising, a very steep hill with many junctions and I was pleased to see the back of it.
About 5 miles in, justice was done, one of the Adecco riders had a puncture and we managed to catch up.
Day 8 was enjoyable overall but I will remember it for the climbs, I never thought Devon had so many big climbs.
We got in at quarter to 8 in the evening, and then we faced a mad dash to get ourselves sorted for the following day. It was an early start and the alarm went off at half past four to give us time to get ourselves all packed up again. This time around I was ready to go on time and we set off on the final day at a bright-and-early 6am.
The last day of the ride was actually probably the darkest and most difficult one of the whole nine days for me. Coming out of pit-stop 1, I hit a really black spot in my mind and I could not concentrate at all. I remember really clearly that there were woods on either side of the road but I was so tired I was struggling to control my bike.
Next came one of my favourite and clearest memories, and one that I think will stay with me forever: just before Bodmin I was really struggling and had just about managed a big climb, then, just as I approached the top of the hill, I could see the Cadbury’s guys, who were standing by the road handing out chocolate bars. At that moment I knew all would be OK, I could have kissed them!
Between pit-stop 1 and 2 there were plenty of annoying cattle grids, but I was too tired to get off my bike as I had done in Scotland, so I just rode straight over them. Then, at pit-stop 2, we were told there were only 39 miles to go. On the ride you get so used to hearing big numbers about the mileage that 39 miles sounded like nothing at all to me, even though it was easily another three hours ride. For the last part I did what I’d done pretty much the whole way down: I rode with my neighbour Chris Spooner, and Chris Moore from Adecco, and we just plodded on, and tried to laugh our way up the hills, which is what I think most people will remember us for. I am not sure side-splitting laughter helps you up a hill, but it sure took our minds off of it.
With 17 miles to go, we had one final stop to prepare ourselves for the biggest climb of the entire journey, a 16% incline that seemed to go on for miles. I had promised myself that I would not get off my bike and finally, eventually it seemed, I got to the top. At that point I knew I was nearly at the end.
It was an absolutely magical moment to cross the finish line as a team, and it really felt like we had achieved something amazing. Many of the riders stayed around to welcome one particular rider across the finish line: a guy called Alan, who had cycled the entire 1,000 miles in a hand-cycle. To watch him cross the line was one of the most emotional moments of my life. He had put in such a gutsy performance and, although he is far too modest to admit it, he was an inspiration to many on the Ride.
His performance and my own experience shows that the ethos of the Ride is true: it may not be easy but it is achievable. I’d recommend the Ride to anyone, it was a genuinely a life-changing experience.