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Annemarie's cycle

Thanks to Armand Gaillard for sending in the following photos etc. and well done Annemarie


Hi Catherine,
 
This is the blog about Annemarie cycling from London to Lands End in aid of The Brent Centre for Young People.
 
Hope you find it interesting for the website.
 
Armand


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It all began after walking the dogs on the beach in Whitstable back in early February 2012. My friend Wendy (elite runner and sports masseuse) had the bright idea that we should perhaps do a bike ride for charity. Happily I agreed ('oh sure, sounds great') and continued to sip on my red wine in the comfort of the hotel bar overlooking the winter sea. Cut to 5 months later: donning lycra shorts that don't do anything for the figure, climbing up heights of 1200ft, smelling of nappy-rash cream, yes, we were well and truly doing a bike ride for charity - London to Lands End; Four days; 320+ miles!

The ‘build up’:

Having followed the guidance of a friend of Wendy's family in Cornwall - ‘Drapolene Dave’ (we christened him this on his expert advice for us to buy Drapolene cream for chaffing - which turned out to be a crucial piece of equipment!) Dave insisted we purchase road bikes as soon as possible and start building up our mileage. These bikes aren't cheap and they're also very light and fast compared with the monstrous mountain bike I had been used to commuting around London on. So road bike bought we then were advised that the fancy clip-in shoes, that would ensure the muscles in our legs worked more efficiently, would also be essential. And so with all the gear, including spare inner tubes, waterproofs (ish!) puncture repair tools, energy bars, helmets, padded shorts.... (the list could go on) we started to build up our mileage and stamina. Getting out of the smog and grime of London every Sunday was a relief and began to be what I craved during the week. I began seeing parts of Kent that I didn't know existed yet had been on my doorstep all along. Yes this was going to be hard work but I also began to discover a hobby that truly captured my interest.

There were 3 of us in the team - Wendy, Omar and I. Omar had run the London Marathon for The Brent Centre for Young People back in April and needed to raise more money, so we settled on that as our chosen charity. I've never even been to Brent (north west London) and knew nothing about them but I soon discovered the incredible work that this charity does for young people. Like many charities, they have to survive off people like ourselves fundraising. Brent Charity in particular struck a very personal chord with me because they help young adults with eating disorders. I suffered badly from bulimia from my late teens to early twenties and wish I had have had the support of such a charity to guide me through my illness. Supporting this charity would make those tough hills down near Cornwall (we were warned!) a little easier to tackle.

Three weeks to go and tragedy struck. Omar had his brand new bike stolen from outside a gym in Kidbrooke where he worked as a personal trainer, forcing him to pull out of the team. Wendy and I were left with two options – to either go down there, just the two of us (‘girl power’ and all that!)  or to try and recruit a third member at such a late stage. After much thought we felt that we had to opt for option two (although I'm sure Wendy and I could've managed - sista's are doing it for themselves!) But, to the rescue - cue our friend, Craig Wood. With 10 days to go, little training and only a mountain bike at hand, Craig bravely stepped up and bravely agreed to come with us. It's safer cycling in a 3, more presence on the roads and good for morale and so was born ‘Team WAC’ (pronounced 'whack'!) – Wendy, Annemarie and Craig.

 

Day 1: Go WAC!!

Approximately 10.30am we set off from sunny Blackheath from outside Tziganos, my partner Peppe's restaurant. Pat and Dave, Wendy's mum and her husband, had kindly volunteered to accompany us down the country as our support van. They would carry all our equipment in a transit van to each Travelodge, prebooked at certain towns enroute, check us in and be on-hand in case of any unforeseen disasters. In the end, their support extended above and beyond the call of duty. They would wave us in at each pit-stop along the way as though it were the finish line, have already found us a place to have a hot meal ('it's quick, it's cheap and we'll look after the bikes' is a direct quote from Pat on day1!), pumped up tyres and filled water bottles, listened to us moan... The list is endless and I'd like to thank them for being the 'support van' because my goodness, mega support is what they were and we couldn't have done it without them.

So with van loaded, we set off to cheers from friends and two lovely ladies from the charity wishing us well. The excitement and adrenaline of what we were about to undertake made us giddy and after half a mile the three of us were still laughing into out headset/walkie-talkies (another genius piece of equipment)

Getting out of London was slow, traffic lights, physco bus drivers, black taxis etc; made it slightly frustrating as we were pumped with enthusiasm and just wanted to cycle on. After 40 miles and a quick lunch the countryside began to open up with traffic lights replaced by trees, cars by cows and offices by farms. The air was cleaner and it became easier to breathe on long hill climbs.

By the afternoon the weather, as always, changed dramatically to pouring rain and of course we all got soaked through to the skin! Finally we turned right onto the road for our first stop, Sutton Scotney, somewhere down the country past Basingstoke.  We were so excited that Craig had a call of nature under a bridge proclaiming ‘it just feels right’ (!) and Wendy fell off her bike!  Into the hotel and my goodness, showering and food never felt so good after the damp 73 miles we had just covered! It was at this point we also realised that we'd forgotten to take essential ‘everyday’ gear for when we weren't on the bikes, subsequently we had to walk to the local pub with no umbrella or torch! Oh well, part of the fun we told ourselves.

 Lesson learnt for the day: keep your phone in a plastic sandwich bag!!

Day 2: There’s no ‘I’ in WAC

Isn't it typical that when you have a big day ahead you can't sleep! - well, for me it certainly was the case. A mixture of nerves about day 2 (we would have to cover 115miles today to get to the next destination, Exeter) a boiling hot room and the threat of a cold coming on, managed to leave me with 3 hours sleep – great!! Squeezing into the nappy shorts, forcing an electrolyte drink and energy bar into me and climbing onto the bike at 8am, left me feeling rather grumpy - my personality seemed to have been left on the A30 somewhere the day before. But this is where the word ‘team’ comes in. Both Wendy and Craig managed to lift my grump in the first part of the morning (despite hunger and taking a wrong turn in Shaftesbury) and I soon felt much better and relaxed. Training as a singer and actress was often a lonely journey and focused a lot on the self, but this cycle was really teaching me to function as a team member – there really is no ‘I’ in team WAC!

By the afternoon we were making good progress and covering a lot of miles at good speed. The road kill was getting more exotic. Gone were the pigeons and town foxes of London. Now we were seeing ferrets, badgers and a rat, and I'm really not exaggerating, the size of a highland terrier dog! It looked like something from Harry Potter!

Suddenly we were faced with a new problem. Work was being carried out on the A30 so we had to make a choice, either follow a very wide diversion, going round for miles in a huge circle adding yet more mileage to an already long day, or to take a small B class road that would also be a mini short cut. Option 2 – the B road sounded like the correct choice, right? Uh oh – very much wrong! In true Somerset style, we got caught behind a traffic jam of cattle - about 100 cows being moved from one field to the other - we had no option but to wait and laugh. Finally when the last heifer was released we made our way down the lane behind them and eventually they all waddled into a neighbouring field. Wendy then realised she was dressed head-to-toe in red and there was a massive bull at the back of the pack! Oops! Surely a classic example of ‘what not to wear in the countryside’! Luckily she’s tiny and could hide behind Craig! Also, by now the shoes and bikes were covered in manure but there no time to think of that, we had to press on. At that, we turned a corner going down a hill to discover a 2ft flood at the bottom. Ok, no problem, we'll pedal through it slowly and not put our feet down. Well that was the plan, but the driver of a large Range Rover had other plans and insisted on pulling on through towards us meaning we had to unclip and put our legs down into the middle of the dirty water whilst his wife roared with laughter - very funny, I suppose, when you're in a warm, cosy, dry car! Moving on, we finally arrived in Yeovil but much later than planned. Pat and Dave waved us in (the routine by now) which lifted the spirits but the elation didn’t last long - I somehow managed to lose my bank card within a 30meter distance from the bike to the coffee shop –great!! - and we still had 30miles to cover before bed. Well, no point complaining and off we set. Arriving in Devon we were met by gorgeous country lanes and epic views with a lot of hills but worth it all for the scenery. Even falling off the bike at a viewpoint and getting stung by nettles couldn't dampen the spirits. Oh joy! - we were nearly finished the day from hell - or so we thought. The A30, the road we were sticking to the whole way to Lands End, suddenly seemed to turn into a motorway going in to Exeter. It was dark and although we were lit up like Christmas trees with high visibility jackets, lights etc, it was becoming clear that we weren't safe. Cars were zipping past us at 90mph and we couldn't see what or where we were cycling. If the wheels of our bikes were to hit a stone, the bike would wobble and you can fall, so with imminent danger pending, we made the decision that it was time to get off and push – what turned out to be 6, yes 6 whole miles!! Eventually however, near the M5, we managed to slip onto a quiet ‘B’ road that would take us to our Travel Lodge. It was such relieve to be off that road and to be near our beds - plus the image of Craig, with his high vis, head torch and big grin surrounded by mist, in a pitch black country lane was enough to make my day. I can only imagine a child looking out the window into the night and seeing that vision spin past!

And so after a stretch and a lovely warm bath we all managed to sleep like a baby - the hardest day was over. Four counties covered in one, long day. Friday 13th you challenged us in every way but we beat you.

Lesson learnt for the day: if you don't laugh, you'll cry!

Day 3: Please, no more Moors!

Woken out of dreams of beautiful smelling flowers and hedgerows and lorries whizzing past, by the sound of a dog barking.  It could only mean one thing - Wendy's phone alarm!!  This sound was beginning to fill us with dread each morning as it signalled the start of another long day. Day 3, and 80 odd miles to do but at least the end was finally within grasp. Surely today wouldn’t be as excruciating but like so many things on this trip, wrong yet again! Today brought the beginning of the Moors - Dartmoor and Bodmin moor - with hills rolling ahead of us as far as the eye could see. (We climbed as high as 1,200ft+ according to the app on Craig's phone!) We had to eat as many calories as possible as we were burning so much energy but it was beginning to get hard to face yet another one of those energy bars! We entertained ourselves by talking to farmyard animals on country lanes. I discovered a new talent of being able to talk to sheep! I would baa and every time I would get a response! (you can take the girl out of Co Down....!!). Craig stopped responding on the walkie-talkies as myself and Wendy’s singing was ‘becoming intolerable’! (I thought my version of Boyzone’s ‘Love me for a reason’ was not only old school but charming! Oh well.) By afternoon and after our one and only puncture of the trip (on my bike) we entered the county of Cornwall. We arrived in Launceston, a beautiful town on a hill (of course!) and our ever faithful support van led us to a place to eat and refuel. We set off again and after another 3 hours of climbing (at many points we felt like we were cycling up vertical walls!) we arrived at our final Travel Lodge. Only one more sleep until the finish line.

Lesson learnt for the day: a large jacket potato can see a girl a long way.

Day 4: WAC attack!

Glorious sunshine greeted us as we had our breakfast in the Travel Lodge in Roche. This was it - the final push! Back on the bikes and off we went to tackle the last 60 something miles to Lands End. It was hard to believe we'd come so far. Craig’s knees were in bits from cycling ‘the tractor’ and all it’s weight! But keep going, almost there! With 30 miles to go we picked up Drapolene Dave who would cycle us in to the finish line. Dave is 69 but with the body of a 30 year old athlete (if that's what cycling does I'm staying glued to my bike for life!) He made us push that little bit harder but took us on more scenic routes down through Cornwall and gave us so much encouragement. Finally, with 1 mile to go, we picked up the ‘support van’ that would drive behind us and blow their horn as we crossed the ‘Finish Line’. I suddenly became very emotional. It was a weird feeling. Having come all this way and now it was the end and tears started flowing down my face as we ascended to the finish line. Wendy's family, Peppe and even my dog, Lara, were there and they started to cheer when they saw us. They'd fixed an actual tape finish line for us to cross and honestly, the feeling of crossing it was surreal, euphoric. We had arrived!! All the planning and training had been more than worth it. Now all that was left to do was to celebrate.... and plan the next trip!!

Lesson learnt for the day: Cycling = hideous tan lines

Thank you to all the people who have kindly donated to The Brent Centre for Young People including local organisation Stage Aid who have kindly donated £500. It really did make it worthwhile and kept us going, knowing that people were pledging money to such a fantastic charity. You can still donate to the charity at:

www.brent-centre.org/supportus.html



 

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