Lands End to John O’Groats for Action Medical Research – My Memories

5 06 2011

Last year a post went up on the local Triathlon club forum looking for cyclists capable of cycling long distances at a quick pace to be a support rider on charity rides. Interesting, I thought, so I sent an e-mail along with my long distance cycling CV. Roll the clock forward 10 months and I found myself in Lands End about to set of on a 950 mile adventure to John O’Groats.

The event was managed by Action Challenge to raise funds for Action Medical Research to help stop the suffering of babies and children caused by disease and disability. A good cause in anybody’s book. The format was straightforward: 150 riders cycle 950 miles over 9 days, camping along the way. My job was to help them get to the end.

I’d never done anything like this before so had no idea of what to expect. How fast would the other cyclists be? How experienced are they? What would I have to do? As well as myself, there were two other guys acting as support cyclists. This is them next to Loch Naver on the last day in Scotland Simon on the left, Mark to the right, great guys. We were all support cycling virgins.

I have to be honest and say that I’m finding it hard to know what to write. I could bang on about how beautiful the British countryside is, but most of the people reading this already know that. Or I could tell how the most punishing ride I’ve ever done was not dished out to me by race whippets trying to rip my legs off but by a slow smiley woman!  No, the memory that will stick with me is of the relationships formed, the reasons people were undertaking the challenge and the emotional outpourings during the later parts of those 9 days. Sure the landscape, weather and hardships probably made those relationships all the more acute but the back stories of why people were riding, what they had done to raise the money, what they had sacrificed in order to train, it blew me away! I’ve always ridden a bike and I now ride long distances for fun, but many of these guys and girls had barely ridden a bike before signing up, and here they were having a go and loving being on the bike. It’s music to the ears of a seasoned cyclists to hear non-cyclists ‘getting it’. I have to mention one chap in particular, Tom. That’s him on the right, next to Paul, at the award meal after we finished.

I first rode with Tom on the first day, he was going slow, worryingly slow, but he was very positive and upbeat, he had a plan.  He’d done plenty of training, knew his speed and he knew he could do it.  Tom was 64 on the longest day of the ride (145 miles) and had signed up 15 months before we set off and had only been cycling for 5 months before that. He had also never slept in a tent before. For the last 15 months he’d been focused on arriving at John O’Groats. 15 months! Training for 1 event for 15 months, what a journey in itself. We spent many miles riding together over the 9 days where he told wonderful stories of life as a Concorde Cabin Crew member and stopping to enjoy the view and take photos. One thing for going slow, you get to talk and look around. We crossed the line together in John O’Groats where he cried many tears of happiness through his beaming smile. Soon after I burst in to tears when saying thanks to one of the Medics for just being there and always being so mellow. Thanks Will 🙂

There were so many other stories. Men who had lost young children, or had close friends that had and saw this ride as an opportunity to find some closure. A father and son riding together for the fathers 60th Birthday. But so many riders achieved something so utterly outside their normal life that their achievements make my bike adventures seem easy in comparison. So many successes in one ride.

Thanks for letting me support you through them.

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9 responses

5 06 2011
Liz gillies

Sounds like such a great experience. Will you keep in contact with those you met? Will you do it again? Well done. Xxx

5 06 2011
jamesrach

I have the contact details of a few people and hope to kep in contact, if only by e-mail, don’t think ill do it again as a support rider, but then again who knows. But will do it again solo and fast. Think I can do it in 3 days with sleeping in my bivi bag.

6 06 2011
Mark Lansdown

It was a pleasure and an honour to have such experienced cyclists as Simon, Mark and yourself helping us and teaching us how to help each other. The unexpectedly bad weather made this a greater challenge than most of us had expected but the camaraderie that developed as we all kept sight of our mutual goal overcame even that. After all your hard work you deserve to ride it again, and fast!

9 06 2011
Christopher Pattison

James I am not sure how you managed some of those longer days – 6am to 10pm and then “sleeping” in a tent doesn’t allow your body much recovery time.

I also have a lasting memory of the last 25 miles when a few of us tried to stay with you on those glorious undulating final miles. Your legs doing 180 revolutions a second was like riding behind a sewing machine!

The other person that amazed me was the young lad on his Dad’s 1982 Raleigh complete with toe clips and chrome wheels – outstanding effort.

A great experience and a pleasure to do some miles with you.

9 06 2011
jamesrach

There were so many stories on that ride, and so many that we shall never hear about. The last 25 miles were indeed fun, not sure where I got the energy from?

10 06 2011
tom johnstone

I was gonna say i’ll come do it with you – but in 3 days! hmmm, some training may be needed!

10 06 2011
jamesrach

A little maybe, but its all in the mind over those distances.

9 07 2011
jackie

Hi James,
I am married to John Pattison who helped with support this trip with Cycle Transfer. John also cycled JOGLER in 9 days. I did it last year in 16 (and am a non-cyclist!). I am in awe of you guys and the achievement of everyone who took part. John spoke with particular fondness for you, James. Good luck with your future rides and with the impending arrival of the mini-cyclist!
Jackie Pattison

9 07 2011
jamesrach

Thank you for such a nice comment Jackie. John was one of the quite heroes of that ride, but always there with a smile or two.

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