Photo: 04:55, Whittington Park, London. The start of a long day.
[18th June 2020] Update at the end of this article re riding the final two Stages of the Giro di Muscoli over the weekend of 20th and 21st June (world MND Day).
It was a tough day. I didn’t realise just how hard it would be, both physically and emotionally.
Saturday 6th June 2020. It was to be the start of the Giro di Muscoli. The result of 3 years of planning to ride 2,300km over two weeks to raise money for Motor Neurone Disease / ALS / SLA patients. All in the name of my friend Gerben Gravendeel:
The C word that has changed the world meant we have had to postpone the GdM to September. As the 6th June approached I realised I just couldn’t stay at home and do nothing. I could ride Stage 1, London – Harwich (139km). Stage 2 the following day was supposed to be Hook of Holland to Arnhem (160km), where Gerben lives. In lockdown I had little choice but to ride to Harwich and then back to London. If I could ride 299km then that would be Stage 1 and ‘2’ in one go.
I planned to do the whole thing solo, but as lockdown rules were being relaxed I was touched when two ICC club mates and good friends, Jyde and Gino volunteered to meet me at 5am to ride some of the way with me.
A few kms in I messaged another ICC rider, Scott, that we were approaching him. His reply:
Excellent, freezing my knackers off
In another unselfish act, Scott had also agreed to ride some of the way with us. We were expecting him by the side of the road, but we weren’t expecting this:
The four of us, socially distanced, enjoyed a delightful early morning ride. In Essex we saw a number of Union Flags in people’s gardens. I observed that many were upside down. At least two of the riders didn’t know that the Union Flag is not symmetrical and that flying upside down is a distress signal. “Every day is a school day” quipped the other one.
Soon after Scott peeled of back to London, but not before a quick photo in the sunshine.
In Maldon we were able to enjoy an SD coffee and croissant, thanks to the Maldon Coffee Company operating a take away service.
Our thanks to the owner who served us before opening time as we’d come so far. Another act of kindness.
The ride to Maldon was a real pleasure with Gino, Jyde and Scott for company. I’m so grateful for their support. The Corona virus has brought out the best and worst in people. They are an example of the best.
Now on my own for the next 220km or so I decide to put the hammer down and take advantage of the tail wind. Along some sections I was cruising at 35 km/h without trying too hard, such was the power of the wind. In the back of my mind I knew that it would be very different on the way back. I didn’t look behind me at the impending clouds, preferring the ever decreasing blue sky ahead of me.
Harwich was the turning point. The physical turning point as it marked the completion of Stage 1 and the end of the tailwind. It was a mental turning point as I knew the relatively easy bit was over and that I’d be tested on the way back.
As soon as I turned round to leave Harwich the wind and rain was in my face. Not too bad at first but in the open countryside it was hard work fighting against the forces of nature.
This Scottish word described it perfectly:
Dreich – Wet, dull, gloomy, dismal, dreary or any combination of these.
As I was now on ‘Stage 2’ Hook of Holland – Arnhem (160km) I headed for the closest I could get to The Netherlands:
The rain lightened and stopped altogether by the time I reached Maldon for the second time. I reported “At least the rain has stopped”, that was a mistake. Unfortunately the coffee shop was shut so no warming drink for me.
I was now on the last leg, only 75km to go. I could see the storm that friends in London were warning me about. I rode straight towards it. I had no choice. The wind was taking it’s toll. Having ridden against the wind for the 90km between Harwich and Maldon I was beginning to struggle. More fuel and water was all I could do to mitigate the relentless grind. It was no fun. Then it got worse.
The rainstorm started. Thunder, lightning and so much rain I couldn’t see where I was going. Not good. I was forced to find shelter under some trees in Margaretting. I wasn’t feeling too good.
As expected I got colder and colder whilst waiting for a break in the weather. I called home to explain to Jan that I was taking shelter. She offered to come and pick me up. That was a nice, and very tempting offer, but people had donated to sponsor this ride, so I just couldn’t accept. I had to complete a minimum of 299km to equate to Stage 1 and Stage 2.
I don’t really know how long I was under that tree shivering but I reckon at least half an hour (I checked on Strava, it was 45 minutes). During my stay Scott messaged me to say he’d ride out to meet me to help me back in. I told him to stay at home as there was no point both of us getting soaked. The rain eased a little and the thunder stopped so I headed back into the rain. I felt like shit.
There were only 50km to go but they were really tough. Cold and weak I just kept going thinking of Gerben and all MND patients. I cycle because I enjoy it, but I wasn’t enjoying this. If it wasn’t for the C word and the sponsorship I would have got a train home. In fact I would have gladly paid for a taxi. The kms seemed to go so slowly. In all the time I’ve been riding, not once have I ‘bonked’ (completely run out of energy and just can’t turn the pedals). I got close this time. I felt so weak, but the mind is a powerful thing.
Approaching Chigwell the rain stopped and I could see blue sky in the distance. This lifted my spirits and the wind started to dry me out. This was my reward for keeping going.
I got home fifteen and a half hours and 305kms after I left.
I could barely walk. My muscles were depleted but I knew I would recover, unlike Motor Neurone Disease patients.
I later learnt that Scott had done a Dominic Cummings and ignored the stay at home message. He rode out to meet me with a hot flask but somehow we missed each other. Another act of kindness. Thank you.
My grateful thanks to Jyde, Gino and Scott for their support.
A big thank you to those who sponsored me. My JustGiving page was boosted by a fantastic £1,116 of late.
That made it all worthwhile.
[18th June 2020]
Having driven for 22 hours from London to Italy yesterday I can now complete the mini Giro di Muscoli by riding the final two Stages this weekend on their original dates.
Stage 14 Saturday 20th June Cattolica – Il Cippo – Cattolica (110km, 1,842m climbing)
The good news is that the forecast is dry and warm. The bad news is that we live about 50km from the start so it will be 200km+ day. I also have to climb Il Cippo. Famous for being Marco Pantani’s training hill, starting in Carpegna it’s a 6km climb rising 600m so a constant 10% with no respite.
Stage 15 Sunday 21st June Gabicce Monte – Fano 36km 647m climbing
This was to be the climax of the Giro. A celebratory ride to Fano to meet Gerben and the Mayor of Fano in the Piazza XX Settembre. Hopefully we’ll still do it in September. At least it’s only 45km to the start and we’ll be able to toast Gerben with a prosecco, or two on World MND / ALS / SLA Day.
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