We knew that one day we would look back and laugh heartily- everyone told us so, but right then, in the heart of the moment, it was pretty hideous.
We were ten miles into the London to Brighton Bike ride and just getting moving fast enough not to wobble and fall off when a sharp explosion sounded, followed by a quick scuffle and the cry ‘Man down! Man down!’ from one of our team members. As he tried to hold back the masses and limit damage to bike and body on the floor, the rest of the team got out of the crowd and edged our way back. I’d never heard a tyre pop before and it was pretty loud. The body in question had also taken a bit of a bashing, but I think she was more worried about the brand new bike… We patched things up best we could and struggled on to the next rest point to get some mechanical tlc, extremely glad that we had able repairmen in our team (who also happened to be possessors of numerous secret energy sweet stashes).
At the rest point, the injured party spent her entire £20 allowance on a new tyre and inner tube (the repair having completely herniated by this stage) and we began quaffing our first energy bars in trepidation for what was yet to come. Things hadn’t started well. We’d already cycled 2 miles lost in London before finding the start line and the ride would be 54 miles in total. We soldiered on.
And then we stopped. We had met the fist accident of many during the ride that would cause such major holdups that at about 2 hours in we would still be leaving the periphery of London. As we crawled along and stopped and crawled some more, the clip pedal brigade were taking it in turns to tip over, and we were beginning the think that our dinner reservation at 2 had been rather ambitious. By 2 o’clock, about half way between London and Brighton, we knew it had been. We crawled past a man making a mint with a tray of homemade flapjack and one of our delightful team treated the ladies to an edible morale boost, which was much needed after the revelation that we would miss dinner.
Then, just as things started to pick up again, my bike began spitting spokes. For no apparent reason, both wheels started to ping and then ride was from then on interspersed with stops to remove or bend inward offending spokes. Unfortunately, even with someone of my small stature it was only a matter of time before things started to bend…
Cycling up a hill, the team member who had popped her tyre managed to pop her chain off, and on that same hill, I got squeezed by slow moving cyclists into a hedge and had to be helped out of it by some kind chaps behind (although really they had little choice since I had blocked the road at that point).
With everyone back upright and chains where they needed to be, we headed full pelt towards the Ditchling Beacon. It is a hideous hill climb that is apparently roughly equivalent in height to the fourth highest building in Dubai (don’t quote me on that). By this point I was really struggling so I urged my team members to carry on up at their pace and I’s see them at the top. Unfortunately, I then discovered why I was finding it so tough. My wheels had lost so many spokes that they had warped, causing the brakes to be permanently in contact. Unable to find a space to pull over and sort it, I simply had to push it against all its resistance up the hill. That was when it broke me. By the time I was halfway up I was sobbing behind my sunglasses and shaking with fatigue. This had been an incredibly emotional ride. It was father’s day and we were riding in memory of one team member’s dad. Whilst getting ready to set off, another team member’s dad had sadly passed away in his hospice. My own dad was poorly. It was the worst Father’s day ever.
At the top of the hill, I was in a state. The other’s found me and fed me dextrose sweets whilst seeing what could be done about my bike. Without spares and an array of tools there was very little that could save it. The only option was to slacken off my brakes so that I could actually propel it forwards and to hope that there was still enough braking ability to make it down the hills. Because of course, where there is a steep uphill gradient, there will always be a downhill equivalent on the other side.
We set off, in a tight little cluster so that the team members flanking me on either side could grab my bike if it wasn’t braking sufficiently. Everyone offered to swap bikes with me but I decided now was not the time to try clip pedals for the first time or a frame size too big for me to touch pedals and seat simultaneously. When the incline became too great to be handled with just a front brake, we were forced to get off and walk. I urged the others to carry on down and enjoy the hill and I’d meet them at the bottom, but they’d heard that one before and didn’t have enough dextrose sweets to perk me up again should things get even worse. And so we started and finished as a team. I can’t tell you how relieved we all were to cross that line (and on our bikes too!)
Whilst it was a terrible Father’s day and we one that we will all remember forever, the team that we had was the best I could wish for. My friend and I were in very good hands when our bikes went wrong, when spirits were low, and when hunger hit. We were so well looked after that it was like travelling with a small troupe of dads (which I suppose they all were! Just not ours).
At the end of it all, our bikes were broken, our arms and legs were scuffed and our bellies were pretty much empty, but our hearts were full.
If this lengthy (sorry!) account has generated any sympathy, please do feel free to pop to our justgiving page which is still open for the rest of this month and give to the British Heart Foundation, whose work is indispensible.