’m feeling surprisingly good, my body is hanging in there. I’m absolutely blown away by what people are achieving here and the mix of people. It’s always been billed as a ride, never as a race, and you’ve got lots of young, fit people on carbon bikes racing ahead, together with those plodding along. I do not know how, but they always go past you at some point, and then you think you’re ahead but you get back to camp and they’re showered and changed already. It’s definitely the tortoise and hare scenario.
Day five on Deloitte Ride Across Britain started off pretty urban and we were in amongst all the traffic coming out of Carlisle, but then suddenly we hit Cumbria and it opened up to an abyss of countryside and big rolling hills, including the legendary Shap which is a big, big hill climb. In keeping with our other iconic hill climb, Glenn Coe, it was pretty wet and the weather came in on us, so again we didn’t get to see the famous views from the top. But one thing about Deloitte RAB is the spirit out on the Ride, and even though it gets wet sometimes (it’s British summertime, what can you expect?) I don’t think I’ve seen anybody complain about the weather like they would on other events. Everyone has invested a lot of time, money and effort to prepare for this challenge, and probably the last thing anyone wanted was bad weather. But actually it almost makes it; everybody driving up the long, steep incline of Shap, pushing their bodies to the limits, with the rain pouring down around you – it just brings out the best in everyone and that’s how I’ve got through this so far, by laughing my way up the hills. The bigger and tougher they are, the more you laugh on the way up. And there’s nothing more funny than when your riding buddy’s tyre explodes half way up a huge hill, although it does stop you in your tracks too because you can’t get any further for laughing so much.
Day five took us down through Kendal and on to our camp for the evening at Haydock Park Racecourse – another fantastic venue with the tents camped out in the middle of the race track and brilliant food.
Next up was Haydock to Ludlow. During the first third I did a quick school visit, which was fantastic – I love going in to schools and visiting the kids to teach them about the Paralympics – but we’d just come through the biggest rain storm before we went in so we were stood in the hall dripping wet and looking very sorry for ourselves.
I always said that on Deloitte RAB my ambition was never to be a front runner and just sit back, enjoy the scenery and the people around me. But after the school visit I found myself right at the very back and it was a really lonely place to be. Chris, my riding buddy who had waited for me, and I made a decision not to try and catch anyone up but just to make the most of it, which seemed like a good idea but then we just had event after event – Chris had two punctures, a chain came off, and then we just stopped regularly from then on because we just couldn’t be bothered to pedal anymore! But the downside to a more leisurely approach is that nine or ten hours in to the day you start to get really sore on the backside and you realise why people try to get in a little bit quicker.
At the bottom of the very big climb coming in to Ludlow we caught up with Alan – the only hand cyclist on the Ride – and we made the decision to stick with him up the climb and be a bit of support for him up the long, steep inclines. We stuck together for about 45 minutes, grinding out up the hill, and then he did what any decent person would do at the top and sped off ahead of us in his handcycle at about 40mph! We didn’t see him for about another five miles. Then we caught him up again, up the next big hill, then off he went again. He has to make up his time going downhill though, and it was worthwhile when I heard him saying to someone back in camp that we helped him through.
Today was supposed to be the easy day, Ludlow to Bath in only 89 miles, but it was the hilliest, toughest day many people have found. I enjoy the hills, I love the challenge of them, so for me it was one of my best riding days and I had an awesome time. We touched in to Wales and went back across the Severn Bridge, which was really exciting, and then we got very wet at the end as we approached the huge hill up to the racecourse at Bath. Same as every day, everyone’s just been chugging along and having a laugh as they go. We took a new approach to motivation today and tried to demoralise people as they’re going up the big hills by telling them to give up, quit, get the bus home. WE found it amusing, and it seems to help them too!
I managed to finish further up the pack, back where I want to be in the middle of it somewhere, and the plan tomorrow is to go out and enjoy it again because we’ve only got two days left. Everyone’s in fear at the moment because the next two days have been billed as the biggest, toughest days, and if today was the easy one who knows what’s to come.
Looking forward to giving the bum a rest after Sunday, I need to get off the saddle for a few days. There’s not many conversations here on Deloitte RAB that don’t involve sudo cream or sore bums. I’ll need a week or so off the bike after this, but because of doing Deloitte RAB I’ve come to absolutely love road cycling so I’ll definitely be getting back on again.