How did I get involved in Above & Beyond 2019
It was a friend of mine Simon Laws who said “Paul come along to a wine and drinks party , its for a cycle challenge from Bristol to Paris”
“Cycle Challenge?” I replied “Yea I did it last year, it was brilliant” “OK I’ll meet you there”
My son Andrew was a very keen cyclist, mostly downhill stuff, though he’d completed a personal challenge the year before by cycling from Perth to Sidney Australia 4,500 km the year before, so I thought 470 km could be possible for me!
While I am fit, I would turn 70 this year, so I may not have the opportunity again!!
I turned up at the BRI, got a bit lost but eventually found the Above and Beyond launch in the top floor canteen. There didn’t seem to be any wine, just some cakes and biscuits which I don’t eat. They had a guy from the year before doing a presentation, he’d done it because his daughter had been treated at the BRI children’s Hospital. I decided I would do it.
Preparation and training
That week I decided to start training on my 10 year 21 gear hybrid bicycle and completed my first 20 km ride! I was knackered, my legs ached and my bum was sore! I persevered even cycling on a Sunday morning in the rain, bought some better cycle shorts, a pair of cycle shoes. Made sure I had my camelback (water backpack) and a few protein bars. I thought if I could have build up stamina by planning a longer ride. Wedmore was about 29 km, then each week I would see my times improving so I’d venture a bit further eventually riding up Cheddar Gorge with distances regularly of 50 – 70 km. Above & Beyond also had some great training rides round Bristol with lots of hill to build stamina.
This I think was the hardest part the fundraising was a worry. By June, family and friends had kindly donated £600, I needed to find 3 times this amount to enter the ride and make the target of £1,700. I thought I could always fund the ride myself ( about £900 ), but that wasn’t the point, the fundraising was what this was really about! I decided to invest in leaflets and a banner, got loads of Above & Beyond Balloons, organised social media page on Facebook plus a couple of fundraising stints at Asda. I gave out leaflets to the Park runners, Network meetings etc. Finally by the end of August I’d raised £1,800, my first goal achieved!
September 10th I prepared all my kit. Above and Beyond, there was a specific list for your day bag, night bag and back pack, I was ready!!
7.00 am September 11th I got my dear friend Dave to pick Cecelia and I up in his van to take us to the start launch at Ashton Court Golf Club Bristol. The plan had been for Dave to drive my people carrier, however the evening before Dave rung me saying “I’m haven’t got third party insurance to drive your car, I’ll have to bring my van”
“OK” “where will Cecelia (my wife) sit?” “Only one passenger seat Paul”.
Disappointed that Cecilia couldn’t see me off, I know it was an exciting moment for her. So I sit in the rear with my bike on a cushion while Cecelia sat next to Dave in the front of the van.
9 months of training, £1,800 donations, a serviced bike, all my bags labelled, ready to standing in a cold windy wet field in my waterproof over jacket on next to. We had been the first to arrive, Karly, Ed and Fran along with other A&B staff were setting up the registration gazebo. The cycle organisers were Classic Challenge who had run every B2P cycle challenge since it all started 5 years before.
They consisted of a four vehicles, a box van, two smaller vans and a crew van.
The Classic Challenge Support Team
The crew consisted of two cycle mechanics, (one a paramedic) two cyclists for the lead and rear with Gideon Seligman as the tour leader and lead cyclist. They even had a volunteer cycle Doctor Fiona Struthers, I nick-named her the flying Doctor, she was a great cyclist and did an amazing job patching up the casualties, who’d either fallen off or just became poorly on the way. She rode the rear with the rear sweeper Joel.
Two took the rear with the Paramedic while the box van had all the supplies and water to keep us nourished at the breaks. The two mechanics were always busy usually either mending punchers or changing chains. The route was marked with the yellow arrows, accept in cities where we followed by Gideon who used the drop off system until Joel appeared when we could join the group.
My new training friend from Dolverton another Paul John Young arrived driven by his wife. We were to spend 4 nights sharing a room or cabin; luckily we got on well. Paul had had heart surgery at the BRI, now in full recovery raised almost £4,000 as his thank you for the wonderful work they’d. One of his Nurses Lisa was also on the ride. The atmosphere was electric despite the light rain and cutting wind.
By 9.00 am after a final departing group photo, we formed a lined up ready to follow Gideon down towards the Suspension Bridge and through the city towards the Bristol Royal Infirmary.
As we approached the BRI you could hear the roar and applause from the BRI Staff, Doctors and Nurses were outside with umbrellas in their uniforms up cheering and applauding us on despite constant rain. I felt so emotional; there were tears in my eyes, for the first time it brought home to me why I was doing this. All the months of training, even the toil of the ride ahead, were insignificant because the real purpose was completely clear, we were” raising money to save lives. Many of the riders had been treated for life threatening illnesses, and now they were helping others by raising funds for specialist equipment to save others. We all felt that this monumental moment and realisation to help save lives.
As we commenced through the City meandering through the centre making our way down to the cycle path running along the old railway track through Keynsham through to the first break at Bathford to top up water bottles and snacks.
The climb at Box Hill, just outside Bath is one of the longest I’d ever encountered, it seemed endless.
About halfway up Ed a fellow cyclist, pull in beside me, “take it easy on this one Paul, it’s a long climb” “how’d you know that?” I replied “its on my regular run, I do a 50 km circuit” “pace yourself”
I took his advice and relaxed my peddling a bit there was more to come. With that he seemed to accelerated away up the hill in a higher cog, his calves looked like they’d burst as he continued up the climb, his training had done him proud!
Ed is the same age as me, he told me he’d had treatment for mouth cancer at the BRI and this was his way of thanking them for his life back.
We had breaks every 20 km to top up water, bananas, choc bars, gels. I drank about a half litre at each break plus the contents of my camelback. lunch at a pub somewhere in Wiltshire when the rain stopped for a while.
As we reached Salisbury plain we had to take the Main road towards Salisbury. It was raining hard, like stair rodding but I was flying the Premier Inn and dinner was just another 15 Km away a twenty five minute cycle. First day Done!
I got a good night’s sleep sharing a room with Paul and up at 7.00 am clean shorts and a breakfast of porridge, fruit and eggs.
The sun was shining, great lift to our spirits and applying sun block for the day ahead.
As we made a predominately downhill towards Southsea through the county lanes of the Hampshire countryside, the scenery was wonderful. We had a few steep climbs with one just before our decent into Southsea. We were briefed by Gideon to be cautious riding through Southsea as it was rush hour. The Pub near the ferry was very cramped and we were unable to get a shower before our evening meal. The cycles were all packed into the Box van, there were four support vehicles in all.
Boarding the Brittainy Ferry was late, as foot passengers we were about the last to board. It was about midnight by the time I’d finished my shower and prepared my cycle kit for the next morning. Paul had showered first and was well asleep snoring by the time I got into my bunk!
Rising at 5.00 am we all assembled in the restaurant for a buffet fried breakfast with coffee or tea. Unfortunately I didn’t get my porridge fix as the staff were all French and in a terrible rush to get us all off as we docked in Le Have.
Third Day-Longest Day
Fiona gave out plastic bags with some Sudafed, so thoughtful. I rushed to a loo, it gave my sore bum an instant relief!
It was raining as we started out on what would be 145km cycle to Gorney en Bray. I found myself thinking this was the Longest Day, not quite the drama of the John Wayne epic but an awesome thought!
The route was predominately uphill today, as with most large towns Gideon lead us in convoy to the edge of Le Have.
We turned left at the roundabout where we were faced with our first of many climbs. I recon it must have been 5 km of spiralling bends, it took nearly an hour before we descended to the first break in an out of town shopping areawith an amazing patisserie.
I broke my 4 year sugar free diet and bought a double macchiato and a croissant au chocolate, Tre Bien!!
Sustained we continued, still raining as we climbed out of the valley. Whilst the climbs were long on meandering roads, the road surface was excellent smooth as silk. With French roads the inclines seem to be a regular angle, not like some of the irregular climbs in the UK where its like a step!
I found myself watching my bike computer clock up the Kilometres, so I could anticipate the next break. In the last 20k I was beginning to feel fatigued. I stopped a couple of times to drink some water and take a gel. It did the trick, after just a few minutes my legs were all powered up again.
I reached St Aubins Hotel at Gorney en Bray at almost 7.00 pm. I had just 30 minutes to change shower and get down to dinner!
There was euphoria among the riders, I could hardly believe it I’d made, there was just 70 km to go easy!!
It was a lovely sunny day, I just seemed flew that day, no feeling of exhaustion, it was almost like the past days hadn’t existed. I even started to sing again with my fellow cyclist joining in.
We all finally regrouped in the Suburbs and rode in convoy to a wood just outside the Centre of Paris to regroup letting the slower cyclist catch up. Snaking through the city we practiced a drop off system again and made our way round the streets and cobbled streets of the old city.
Finally there we were at a park overlooking the Eiffel Tower!
Four days, wind, rain, killer hills, we’d arrived in blazing sunshine! The excitement was electrifying. I’ve got to say we were a mixed bunch but regardless of gender, age or ability some on racing machines and others on hybrids some with heavy suspension. We’d all made it.
My roommate Paul was a tail end rider, Mother and daughter Jackie and Natalya, though at the back were consistent and never more than a few minutes behind.
At the park overlooking the Eiffel we were greeted by Karlie, Ed and relatives giving out glasses of Picasso to celebrate the achievement, followed by a lot of bike lifting and photographs of the euphoric moment.
The achievement was incredible, 53 riders, some like me had never cycled more than 20 km, cycled 470 km and raised £126,000 in total. We had inspired people to support the cause, set a goal to raise funds, trained for the task and completed it. Determination, will power, courage had set us to make new friends with a common goal and achievement.
The Media response is just phenomenal, it hasn’t stopped! So I decided there and then I’m doing it again in 2020 and this time I’ll get business sponsorship on board and double my target!
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Photographs: Karlie Evans
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This post was written by Paul Young