Arriving in to John O’Groats was probably more inspiring than I ever thought it would be, and I think it was the same for every rider. Even though I knew it was going to be 500 riders you can never imagine the size of the camp and what a huge undertaking it is to put on an event of this size and scale and realise what a mammoth operation Deloitte Ride Across Britain is. Everyone was in the same boat, and the weather was glorious: to get weather like that in John O’Groats is pretty unheard of so that just made the perfect start and then, of course, everyone only had one thing on their mind – to ride.
I think everyone was apprehensive at the start, and it was a really weird environment the night before because nobody knew what to do with themselves because they really just wanted the next day to start. Thankfully that evening we had the food to keep us busy and we found out that all the rumours from Deloitte RAB 2010 were true and the food was awesome.
Finally the next day came – the start of the bike ride. I was a bit late getting to the start, in usual style faffing around, as I have done every day here, as they called everyone to get in to the queue and I ended up at the back still getting my bike out the rack. But I was meant to be leading it off with fellow Paralympian Sarah Storey, so I had to run up the line to the front trying to put my gloves on at the same time. Heather Hancock from Deloitte shouted “three, two, one, GO” and everyone started to take off, so I had to jump on my bike and start pedalling, nearly hit Sarah and in front of the huge queue of 500 people fell off. Ironically at the time I fell off I was just thinking how I wouldn’t want to be the idiot who fell off crossing the start line. I definitely started Deloitte RAB in style…on the floor.
I don’t think anyone could have imagined the scenery on day one, riding up the coast and then dropping down inland. The weather was stunning and we had a great day’s riding. Everyone went far too fast, despite all the advice we’d been given, but everyone really enjoyed it. I had a few knee problems on day one which I wasn’t expecting and which really worried me because there was still so far to go and the last thing I wanted was not to be able to finish, but Sue the physio sorted me out and I started day two feeling much better. We went from the base camp in the Kyle of Sutherland down to Fort William, another amazing day of riding and stunning scenery as we went down past Loch Ness and many iconic sights that many of us riders had never been to, and it was incredible to ride along side them.
It’s a fantastic atmosphere on the ride. Everyone is blown away by the support network that’s here for us. It’s above and beyond what any of us expected and I can’t find a thing to complain about…not even the camping. From the Halfords guys looking after the bikes, the team at Threshold running the event and the Deloitte folk supporting us along the way and clapping us in at pit stops, it doesn’t matter what you ask for, they’ll always go out of their way to help you out.
The camps have been great fun too, with amazing food and a nice place to chill out. A bit of rain has tried to put a dampener on things. We all knew it would rain in Scotland, so no surprise that we finished day two in the rain in Fort William where it chucked it down, and then started day three in the pouring rain to go up Glenn Coe on the biggest and toughest day yet, 120 miles. But it didn’t matter, and it was actually my easiest day of the ride so far because my knee felt better and I hooked up with Steve and Chris from Adecco and, with my next door neighbour and training buddy Chris, we formed a group of four to trundle along, whinging our way through the hills but actually really enjoying ourselves, and that’s what this ride is all about. I’d always said that was exactly how I wanted to ride it, and coming from me, probably one of the most competitive people in the world, to be quite happy just sitting at the back enjoying it shows what a relaxed event it is. Chris of course is outside my tent at four am waiting to start, like a puppy dog waiting to be taken for a walk, but then by the time I’ve faffed we don’t get going until about half an hour after the start so we enjoy the atmosphere among the riders rather than trying to race off.
Today was supposed to be an easy day, only 104 miles and fairly flat (we’ve worked out that actually means lots and lots of hills), but it’s been my toughest day because of the conditions and the roads were rough to ride on, plus a lot of people were suffering from the big day yesterday and not realising how much that took out of them. Today was just a case of getting 100 miles under the belt to get to the next camp and recover. We’ve arrived at our first English camp at the racecourse in Carlisle in nicer weather; a fantastic camp and everyone’s excited to get started tomorrow and reach the halfway point. It’s amazing to think we’re almost halfway through already, even though we’ve ridden for four solid days and done over 400 miles, but it’s made do-able by the other riders around you and the staff supporting you, bringing you pork pies and looking after you at pit stops.
I’ve thought about the end on Sunday in Land’s End lots.
I think it’ll be a massive relief to finish, but also kind of sad. It’s one of those experiences that you do in your life and if you’re the kind of person to take on these challenges then you don’t know what to do with yourself after because you’ve lived and breathed this for the last year or so in preparation and training for the event, you’ve got all the kit and put in so many hours, and suddenly we’re nearly half way already and it’s over before you know it.
I’ve got to say a massive thanks to anyone who’s supported ParalympicsGB, I can’t express enough how important this is to us. There’s huge expectation on the ParalympicsGB team to do well in London 2012, but that doesn’t come free the athletes need the support to help them prepare as best they can. Importantly, look at www.rideacrossbritain.com to sign up for this year!