With Day 1 completed in April and Day 2 abandoned due to a broken bike, I returned to Poole on 13 May to complete the challenge and cycle the remaining 185 miles and restore some sense of ‘professional’ pride.
So, here we go again, another train ride, another late night arrival at a hotel and another 3am start…but this challenge was going to be completed I was utterly determined about that. Thanks to guys at British Bike Hire I had a Radial Carbon Road bike delivered to me on which to actually be able to take on the remaining miles after the fall on Day 1 bashed up my own Carerra.
Having looked at the weather on Friday night – which showed rain and a strong headwind coming across the coast on Sunday afternoon – I set off from Poole with the intention of riding a slightly higher average speed in order to get some miles under the belt while dry. The only other change I was planning to really make was to try and stick it out at 50 miles at a time, rather than keep getting on and off the bike and loosing time to wee or stop and eat. Oh how those decisions came back to haunt me later.
Poole – Bridport
The ride started off in damp fog as I left Poole just after 4am, I rounded the top of the Harbour taking the bypass out to Wareham and then on to Wool. The roads were pretty flat for the first 20 miles and I was spinning along nicely before the legs got their first warm up at Osmington. It was a short climb leading on to a nice descent down to Overcombe and on to the coast road that runs alongside Weymouth Bay.
The climb out of Weymouth at Abbotsbury was the highest point (altitude-wise) of the day, but I am not sure it was the worst or hardest of the days hills. While the climb leads you up past the Castle, you can’t actually see it from the road but you are rewarded by an amazing view – to the left the English Channel and right over the vast greenness of the Dorset AONB. As you start descending you can see West Bay in the near distance, although I avoided going down to the actual bay instead swinging north west up to Bothenhampton and on to Bridport.
Passing through Bridport I was feeling really positive. The first 50 miles had flown by and I was around half an hour ahead of schedule – I aim to get 50 miles done in no more than 4 hours. With the fog now burnt off the sun was out and the temperatures were rising – this was feeling good and actually quite fun. My only real concern at this point was the niggle in my right knee – I could tell my pedal stroke wasn’t right and as such the outside of the knee was feeling rather sore already.
Bridport – Dawlish
Due to the cliffs the ride from Bridport past Charmouth and Lyme Regis is set a way back from the actual coastline, which you don’t get alongside again until you reach Axmouth. I cut through Lyme Regis on some incredible narrow and steep footpaths and cycleways (I later discovered my grinding away up the difficult Clappentail Hill was rewarded with a 10th place Strava segment). From Housden there is a lovely descent to the River Axe, although I nearly came a cropper when I failed to spot a road junction near the bottom of the hill, the application of some serious rubber ensured I stopped in time thankfully. Following the Axe down and crossing the bridge you take the harbour road in to Seaton, a large seaside town with a long straight promenade running alongside the shingle beach. After a sharp climb out I spotted what I thought was a cheeky little short cut, but after a minute I found that it had long been closed off due to land slippage and the disappearance of the actual road.
Peak Hill coming out of Sidmouth is memorable for its harshness – you start to climb gently alongside the Esplanade and after rounding the bend your hit with a 19% gradient at its worst, ooff that was a climb and a half. From here it’s a drop in to Budliegh Salterton and an annoying dog leg up and over the River Exe, so while it felt like a huge double back it was at least pretty flat.
By 11 am I was starting to feel the hunger and the heat and was pleased to arrive in Dawlish half an hour ahead of schedule. I was too hungry to go searching for a decent stopping place or a garage so ended up stopping at a holiday park which had a shop next to the main road. I sat on the grass in the shade of a tree and ate, drank and reapplied sun cream to my pasty skin. The only downside to my choice of alfresco lunching was that I had to go without a coffee, the caffeine boost would have been welcomed despite still feeling pretty good for 100 miles in.
Dawlish – Plymouth
From here it was on to Teighnmouth, crossing the river on the Shaldon Bridge and skirting across the top of Torquay – I was cycling through thinking I don’t recognise this, having been here on a ‘lads’ holiday while I was in 6th Form. Anyway, after a few minutes pondering I realised we’d be to Newquay, not Torquay…doh! Anyho…
After Paington I left the coastline heading west, inland to Totnes – losing sight of the coast and not really knowing where I was relative to it and Plymouth, the next stopping point, became quite disorientating. 20 miles from Plymouth things started to hurt, but beyond the normal fatigue. My head was swimming, my eyes struggled to focus and a deep seated sense of exhaustion was washing over me. As the miles ticked on two competing emotions began to dominate every thought – desperately wanting to stop and shut my eyes or to just be sick. There’s a large proportion of this part of the day I simply can’t remember.
Shortly after entering the outskirts of Plymouth I stopped and sat down at a bus stop, I was on another planet and as soon as I sat down I could feel my eyes were closing and my brain zoning out. After a quick vomit I got back on the bike with the intention of heading straight to the train station and taking the easy way down to St Austell. However, after not much more than a mile I was about to cross a roundabout when I saw there was a McDonald’s – an ideal opportunity to sit down off the bike, get a coffee and regroup my thoughts.
I got a much needed coffee and chicken wrap and sunk in to a booth, I sent a message to a good friend of mine which said “I don’t think I’m going to make it all the way…exhausted and in so much pain…”
I sat and ate and drank my coffee and thought long and hard about what I was doing. I hurt and my body just felt empty in a way I have never experienced before, I kept thinking about what I was doing – I have no real reason to push myself this hard, to cause myself so much pain. This started me thinking about the journey I was on – If I couldn’t do this challenge then what would people think of me? would I be able to do the rest of the challenges? would I lose credibility and therefore why would anyone sponsor me in future? This lead me back to the why of this and all the challenges – it is all for Make-A-Wish, for the children and families who are living with the challenge of a critical illness. Those children have no choice but to face their conditions – their stories of determination, bravery and ultimately taking something so inherently negative and turning it in to something positive is both heart-breaking and inspiring.
I looked again at the route – Looe, Lostwithiel and finally St Austell – 40 miles left to go. The end was in touching distance – I could get the train from any one of those towns if I needed to, so I was beginning to feel that if I started again but really couldn’t make it I’d have some options.
So, 32 minutes after the first message, I text my friend back “Fuck it I’m going to do it”, and off I went, stomach fuller, head and eyes a bit less wobbly.
Plymouth to St Austell
Leaving Plymouth I crossed the Tamar Bridge and seeing the large ‘Welcome to Cornwall’ sign was a huge mental boost. The next 20 or so miles however we somewhat of a slog as I headed inland following the A38 through Landrake and Tideford and finally the aptly named No Mans Land. The descent in to Looe from St Martin was, frankly, spectacular. A fast downhill which brings the East Looe River in to view before crossing the stone bridge at the Harbour. I love these kind of small fishing communities that dot the South Coast, so stopped to take in the late afternoon, the calm water and the colourful fishing boats – heaven.
From Looe the route was north west to Lostwithiel, crossing some stunning Cornish countryside, but once again it was a series of energy sapping, short sharp climbs and descents. Crossing the narrow bridge in to Lostwithiel itself is a reminder to keep looking at where you are in the world, a calm river and a beautiful town spread out in front of you that is ringed by green hills and trees. Rather than following the main road I took the smaller Castle Hill Road and was rewarded with some stunning green lanes, open farmland, turbines and even a ‘river’ crossing.
With just a few short miles to go I attempted another short cut at Par, which ended up at the back gates of an aggregate works – I knew those ‘Private Road’ signs should have tipped me off to something. Back on track I joined the A390 leaving Par and started to see some familiar sights, having passed through St Austell on my JOGLE challenge last year. I climbed the final climb up in to the town centre and arrived at the Holy Trinity Church, which sits at the heart of St Austell, just before 9pm. The South Coast Sprint was complete, albeit note quite how I’d planned.
That was genuinely the hardest thing I’ve done, harder than the JOGLE challenge because the effort was just so intense and it’s for that reason I’m proud of what I’ve done. I endured and I overcame. I say it a lot but I do truly believe that we are only ever limited by our imagination and determination to succeed.
Believing in yourself, having the conviction to get up and chase your dream, whatever your reason for doing so, is powerful, it is inspiring and it is empowering. Whatever your challenge – give yourself a why and keep that close to your heart because without that why you simply cannot endure.
Make-A-Wish believe that every child’s wish is different and their reason for wishing it is unique to them. Whether they wish to be a princess or a policeman for a day, own the latest computer equipment, meet a favourite celebrity or just enjoy a special holiday with their family – Make-A-Wish strive to make those wishes a magical reality that enriches the child’s life at a time when they need it most. It can give them hope for the future in anticipation for their wish to come true, it can provide confidence, a sense of well-being and time with their family to create memories to treasure.
These wishes can quite literally transform the physical, emotional and psychological well-being of a seriously ill child.
A wish is magic, it is hope, it is a laugh and a smile on a child’s face, it is respite and it is memories and, damn it, that is powerful stuff.
If you’ve been inspired by this challenge or my journey please donate and help me support children with life threatening illnesses at;
Lastly a further thank you to my Sponsors – MYBIKEANDI, Active Root, Oracle Electrical Installations and Empower Psychology – without whom these challenges would not be possible.