If you’ve been following the website recently you’ll know that at the end of last week a team of six of us – myself, Tim Mackrill, Michelle Househam, Lizzie Lemon, Lloyd Park and Chris Ditchburn – replicated the first leg of the Ospreys’ amazing migration by cycling from Rutland to Dover, to raise money for the Osprey Flyways Project. It wasn’t easy, but at lunchtime on Saturday we peddled into Dover. Here’s the full story of how we got there.
We began our challenge at the Lyndon Visitor Centre on the south shore of the reservoir and, as we arrived just after 8 ‘o’ clock on Thursday morning, the nerves and excitement were obvious all round. We organised our gear and prepared our bikes before Tim took us through the all-important warm up routine and I explained the intricacies of the route to our support driver for the day, Lloyd’s brother Philip.
After a few laps of the car park to loosen up, we set off up the hill to Manton Rd. Having never ridden together as a team, we took it easy and tried to find a suitable pace and learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses. I found that I lacked the confidence of the others on the downhill slopes and as I hung on for dear life, Lloyd would fly past with his tongue out and tail wagging while ex-RAF man Chris would zoom by in an attempt to create a sonic boom. Other peoples’ weaknesses resulted in frequent toilet stops.
With fresh legs and a trial ride under our belts, we had been looking forward to day one as the easiest day. Unfortunately, the usual prevailing winds from the west were replaced with a fairly strong southerly wind which, as the day progressed, brought with it light showers and then heavy rain. This made for fairly miserable cycling and by the time we reached the busy roads of Huntingdon we were soaked through and hunched over our bikes grimly counting down the miles until it was over.
Our scheduled lunch stop in St Ives was short-lived as we didn’t want to get cold and we quickly set off on the 12 mile guided bus way to Cambridge, which on training rides I found to be uphill in both directions. The weather didn’t improve as we negotiated the shopping streets of Cambridge, passed Addenbrookes hospital and made our final climb of the day close to the Wandlebury ring. Finally we rolled into the Abington service area and, with much relief, completed the first day’s ride. We were stopped from diving into the showers by the return of Corporal Mackrill and his warm down drill. Then it was time to get clean, change our clothes and head for a nice cuppa at the apparently world famous Comfort Café. The strict cycling diet was momentarily ditched as we devoured cheese and ham toasties. Well, we’d had a rough day!
We said farewell and thank you to Phil who was quickly replaced by our evening escort, In Focus’ Mike Willis, who earlier that day had ordered a pub chef in Sawston to cook us Lasagne. I hope Mike wasn’t looking for a lively night out as the day’s weather had taken its toll and we were back at the hotel by nine, most of us snoozing soon after.
Day two arrived with unknown territory for most of the team, consecutive days of long distance cycling – with wet shoes! Liam Tate was the driver of the day and Mike was back to wave us off. We were pleased with the weather forecast, cloudy and warm with no rain, and after a few miles to stretch the aches out of our legs there was a silent confidence in the team. We knew we had to get on with it with 75 miles to cover and that’s exactly what we did. South Cambridgeshire soon turned into Essex and we progressed steadily together in a single line, wheel to wheel through Chelmsford, Billericay and into Tilbury. After we had stocked up on provisions, Liam headed towards the Dartford crossing and we boarded the ferry for a well-earned but disappointingly short ferry ride across the Thames and into Kent.
On the other side of the river we hit a problem. Our route to this point had been checked for suitability prior to setting off, but not from here on to Dover. And so, inevitably, tarmac turned to gravel and we were forced to retrace our steps a quarter of a mile and take to the A2. The SatNav desperately wanted us to continue on the gravel and took our rejection badly, refusing to provide us with a new route quickly enough. The final few miles through Rochester, Chatham and onto our destination were difficult and punctuated with frequent stops to study the map.
We eventually rolled into Medway services after 8 hours and six minutes of almost continuous cycling and the re-routing had added an unwanted 5 miles to the day’s total of 80, an amazing effort from the whole team. Liam had been there for some time and had been joined by Tim’s girlfriend, Louise, our day three support driver. We were now very tired and some of us were nursing muscle pains and other injuries. Chris, however, was miraculously healed by the sight of a Costa Coffee and ran off muttering that this round was on him.
Our trustworthy receptionist recommended a small, quiet pub nearby for our evening meal. We arrived at the large, noisy and bustling Bell Pub and fought our way to the bar. There was some confusion as to the whereabouts of the table we had booked but we were soon shuffled into a dimly lit section of the pub where our presence amused the locals. By the time our food arrived later that evening we were about to start gnawing at the table but it was worth the wait. Only Michelle stuck to the pasta diet while the rest of us tucked into pies, curries and chilli, something we were to regret the next day.
As we set off on our final day we had only 45 miles to go but the hilly countryside and the previous day’s exertions combined to make it a really tough slog. We had to stop briefly for our only maintenance issue of the trip when one of my brake levers became loose (a result of too tight a grip on the slopes?) but we were soon on our way again. A little while later Lizzie was stranded by a level crossing. In Faversham we found the townspeople to be extremely protective of their pedestrian area and we were forced to proceed on foot for a short while.
After Canterbury there was little flat road to be had and we made slow progress but an hour or two later we realised that Dover was in sight and the pace picked up for the final two miles. We peddled into the town and onto the seafront where we were met by Louise, who had gone ahead, and Chris’ wife Leah. The sun was shining as we made our way on to the beach and dipped our wheels into the sea. We had completed our challenge and ridden a total of 192.6 miles.
A huge thank you to all our sponsors who made our journey worth it by raising just under £2500 (including Gift Aid) for the Osprey Flyways Project. This money will help us to provide wildlife education in West Africa and to link schools and communities along the migration flyway. Here is a video showing the latest Osprey Flyways Project field trip run by Junkung Jadama in The Gambia. Thanks to your kind donations, we’ll be able to continue this vitally important work and help more young people in West Africa to learn about the importance of protecting Ospreys and other wildlife.
Now for quite a long list of thank yous to people without whom the challenge would not have happened. A massive thank you to Kerry Rough and Graham Adkins of Rutland Cycling who generously provided four of the bikes (and excellent bikes they were too), spare parts and some of the clothing for our challenge. Our support drivers Philip, Liam and Louise were instrumental in providing refreshment and encouragement throughout our journey and for transporting all our gear for us. A huge thank you to them and also Leah who helped ferry us all home again. We are also indebted to Mike Willis for organising our first day’s evening meal after a particularly trying first day. Thanks too to Rob Persani at Rutland Radio for giving us some airtime each day to report on the ride.
Personally, I would like to thank the team and all our support for a truly memorable and enjoyable three days. I am extremely proud of the way that our team of novice cyclists dug deep and pulled together all the way to the end.
And now, for those of you who during Birdfair or at the Lyndon Visitor Centre entered our competition to guess how long the challenge would take, the moment has come. We are extremely proud and a little surprised with our overall time of 19 hours and 1 minute which includes the ferry journey, food breaks (these were never more than a few minutes) and messing about with the route. Incidentally, our overall pedalling time was a mere 16 hours and fifty minutes giving us an average speed of 11.5 mph.
Well done to Dennis Trevor whose guess was one minute over our time and who will receive two Osprey cruise tickets and a signed copy of the Rutland Osprey Project’s book.