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  1. Wantage Stands Up to Cancer

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    On the back of a wet April and following a bizarre rib injury involving a skip, I turned out for the first charity sportive of my season, this time accompanied by my 9 year old daughter, Harriet. She was determined to ride the 10km without issue and in the hope that she would see some of her friends too. I had attempted to explain that we needed to prepare for the ride during the previous day but this had fallen on deaf ears. The task of prepping two bikes fell to me; and then I had a last minute change of heart and decided to take my mountain bike given the bridal paths we were due to ride.

    Sunday, 27th April was ‘Stand up to Cancer’ day in Wantage. An event organised by the redoubtable Ray Collins and staffed by many willing volunteers. The ride formed a part of this action packed day, in addition to cyclists, there were 5k runners and a group of Konga-thoners (a bit like Zumba but Konga). The square was packed and it was a good chance to catch up with people I don’t usually see locally.

    My fellow challenge riders from the Isle of Wight ride (2013) were there too.  I sported my ‘Big Isle Be Back’ (BIBB) challenge jersey for our ride; a jersey that I am proud to wear and I know that Phil and Mark feel the same, we definitely earned the right over 24 hours and 243 miles. If you are in anyways curious as to what a ride of this length does to mere humans, please have a look at my 3 part blog here:

    We also caught up with the foreign BIBB team member, Brian (German blood, lives on the Isle of Wight). He had made the trip with two of his colleagues from the Anthony Nolan Trust and had set up their stall next to the information tent. You can read more about Brian’s amazing story here:

    We arrived in the square around 9am, Harriet disappeared to find mum who happened to be manning the information tent with Sarah, Phil’s partner. I was left with two bikes and a ruck sack trying to make my way through the crowd to the start point. Harriet appeared in time for the line-up, we chose a spot half way down the field and waited for the off. A couple of her school friends joined us along with their parents and we all set off together.

    SUTC 27.4.14

    Two things immediately occurred to me as we crossed the line: Harriet has never ridden in a group before (or peloton as us amateur athletes like to call it in conversations at the pub ;o)) and I had a ridiculous amount of kit for a 10km ride. It became clear that riding in a group wasn’t going to be an issue for any of the kids, they simple talked amongst themselves remaining oblivious to the outside world. In fairness, they didn’t stuff their brakes on at inappropriate times that often so all went smoothly for the first couple of miles out of the town.

    The weather was kind with some sun; things were progressing nicely until Harriet asked what ‘that hissing sound’ was. Being a little hearing impaired in my left ear, I couldn’t discern anything but hoped that some poor sod wasn’t going to have a puncture. Approximately 300 metres later my front tyre was looking quite poorly.

    Harriet and her friends sailed on with the other beleaguered parents as I turned my bike upside down and struggled to get the inner tube out.  Since getting my posh road bike, I have paid little attention to my mountain bike, it needs a good clean and de-grease plus the front brake bleeding. My road bike, of course, shines and you could eat your dinner off the drivetrain. To add insult to injury I forgot to use the foam sleeve on the CO2 cartridge and burned my fingers; cycling is about enjoyment apparently.

    With the tyre done, though a little under inflated, I now had a good opportunity to flex my lungs and catch up. There was a nice incline followed by some downhill stuff, I managed to catch up with the group in Ardington. After a few bridle path sections to Wantage, there was a short stretch along Ormond Road to negotiate along with a few other cyclists and motorist intent of getting somewhere quickly. Once we had turned into Church Street things were slightly more relaxed. A warm welcome awaited us in the town square, the kids had done really well as the route was by no means flat.

    The rest of the day was spent supporting the event and finally, lending a hand to clear the square once things were finished. The community really comes together on occasions like this, it’s great to see.  Once again, a cracking effort by Ray and his team, roll on the carnival in June!

    Stand Up to Cancer Sportive 4

    Further reading…..

    If you liked this blog please take a moment to check out my book describing the solo Land’s End to John O’Groats ride in 2012, all profit from sales to

    Please click the cover image for the Kindle version or click here to order a paperback copy. Thank you!








  2. Brian Baggott – a bloody good bloke…

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    Brian isn’t always honest, he has been known to give false information about hills to tired cyclists, but that is another blog altogether. As far as I am aware, this is his only vice and he is otherwise completely trustworthy.

    Brian is a committed fundraiser and recruiter of stem cell donors for the charity Delete Blood Cancer. Their aim is to connect possible donors with people who are suffering with blood cancer by maintaining a register. Registers need people and this is where Brian comes in, he gets people talking about the need for donors and most importantly, he gets people signed up to the register. A recent push on the Isle of Wight resulted in 2k+ sign-ups to try and find a match for a little boy desperately in need of a transplant. This comes naturally to Brian; he has survived Acute Myeloid Leukaemia and values everyday as a cancer-free person, he is keen to ‘give back’ what he can to the charity that helped him beat his illness.

    Through a twist of fate, I was fortunate enough to meet Brian as a result of a challenge ride invite supporting Delete Blood Cancer. A small team was assembled for the ride and the planning began, our aim was to raise cash and awareness for the charity. We decided that a couple of organised events before the ride would help to get people talking about the charity, one of which being a leg wax. Brian made the trip from the Isle of Wight to Wantage to support the event.

    Brian 1

    Our team leader, Phil, is a reasonable hirsute man and the remaining hair that carpeted his thighs led me to comment that he looked ‘like a German by a swimming pool’. Brian instantly pointed out (with a grin) that there was nothing wrong with Germans, his stem cell donor hailed from Germany! This is typical of his sense of humour; quick witted and economical in delivery.

    There was an important point in this exchange, that of re-birth. The stem cell transplant effectively provides the transplantee with a brand new immune system so they refer to this date as the ‘re-birth date’. Given the much anticipated donor match and transplant, the birthday and gift analogy continues!

    The leg wax was a great success raising over £800, more importantly the good people of Wantage were now more aware of Delete Blood Cancer; perhaps we even persuaded some to sign up to the register. Above all, the cyclists now had proper buff legs and were the toast and envy of all their male cycling friends.

    Brian’s commitment to supporting our Isle of Wight ride was total and down-right anoraky…he essentially plotted our route on the island and then drove around it 5 times to make sure everything was right. Upon meeting him at the ferry terminal, regaled in a Delete Blood Cancer t-shirt, we were introduced to the large, black arrow which would guide us around the route. The plan called for Brian to drive ahead and park up at junctions, deploy the large arrow indicating the correct way and take any requests for the next stop. Requests were usually about drinks and food, both of which were taken very seriously by energy deprived riders.

    So, a good bloke all round but, when it comes to boosting the moral of ruined riders his sense of distance (and gradient) becomes a little distorted. The hill from Shanklin to Ventnor was only a ‘small hike’ and the top was ‘just around the corner’…apparently. When we did arrive at the top, Brian sought to boost morale further by reminding us how sore his foot had become from pressing down on the accelerator for so long…a panacea for our ills, maybe not but it made us laugh and that’s proper medicine when your body hurts and you want to stop.

    And finally, I learnt at the end of last year that Brian is hoping to work for Wessex Cancer Trust as a Befriender doing what he does best, talking to people and helping them to get through their challenges using his own experiences. How many of us can truly say that our job really matters and makes a difference?

    Further reading…..

    If you liked this blog please take a moment to check out my book describing the solo Land’s End to John O’Groats ride in 2012, all profit from sales to

    Please click the cover image for the Kindle version or click here to order a paperback copy. Thank you!


  3. The Big Isle Be Back Challenge – Lymington to Wantage

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    Click the ‘read more’ link at the bottom of the post to reveal the photographs!

    The brief respite afforded by the ferry had made little difference to our physical condition. The coffee had perked things up but I knew that the next 80 miles would be tough, bodies would start to ache more and more and the lack of sleep had the potential to cause an accident. I couldn’t imagine how difficult this would be without the support crew; thank goodness they were still alert and willing to help with the mundane tasks that mental fatigue make difficult.

    We rolled off the ferry to be greeted by Phil’s cousin, Fiona, she lived nearby and had made the effort to meet us with flapjack and biscuits. It was nice to see a friendly face and also provided an opportunity to grab a picture of us with a ferry in the background.  This was posted to Face Book quickly.

    Fiona at Lymington

    We rolled quietly out of the terminal; it was 11pm with few people about. A couple made mention of how bright our lights seemed, this was comforting given the worry of cycling overnight. Jamie and Simon had remained on the mainland with the van waiting for us to return for the homeward leg. They had become increasingly worried about navigating at night via very minor roads and had spent the afternoon Googling a better, simpler route. The plan led us through New Milton to pick up the A338 at Ringwood; the new route ensured we followed A type roads that presumably had some decent lighting. It was the simple option to avoid getting lost. I hoped that the traffic would be minimal given the time of night but still couldn’t help thinking that a tired driver might just take a corner a little too fast…..

    We made good time for the first 50 miles, stopping occasionally to top up on food or drink.  The temperature was reasonable but stopping in shady lay-bys soon led to discernible heat loss; some of these places had an ethereal feel to them in the full moon light. I had to remind myself to speak quietly in residential areas. Phil had been troubled by a painful left knee for the first 5 miles or so, he pushed through the uncomfortable period and eventually things settled down. I knew he was worried about a ride-threatening injury occurring; it was little comfort to know that an injured rider could see the trip out in the van, ultimately that was failure.

    Jamie and Simon were also starting to feel the effects of being awake for so long as they concentrated on route finding. They would get out of the van at each stop to sort the riders out, swapping their warm cab for the chilly night air. They were stopping at every junction and indicating the route, ensuring we kept to the plan. Reaching the A338 at Ringwood was a relief, there was little chance now that we would lose our way and this was definitely the homeward leg.

    Knackered Simon

    We pulled up around 35 miles from home to take 10 minutes rest. The pace had dropped, each of us feeling the 215 miles already in the bag. Despite pork pies and ginger cake, my mood was low and my body was complaining, the next 35 miles would be difficult but there was no question of giving up. Phil had worked hard to put this challenge together for a very personal cause; I knew we would get the job done regardless of the discomfort. My neck was the single biggest issue for me, turning to look behind was painful and restricted, I just had to keep stretching it at every opportunity.

    ‘I don’t want to cycle with you two ***** anymore,’ I said, smiling.

    ‘But it’s not 2am yet, it’s only 1.45am,’ said Phil and we all laughed. The remembered prophecy of 20 odd hours ago raised our mood a little.

    ‘I don’t care; I’ll still feel the same in 15 minutes.’ This trip demanded a good sense of humour.

    We left the A338 briefly and found ourselves on a single track road presumably used by farmers. The full moon revealed the surrounding fields and made silhouettes of the trees; I felt as if we were disturbing things by being here at this time of night. We met two lads walking in the opposite direction, saying hello as we rode past. Nothing too out of the ordinary other than it was 3am.

    The van waited for us where the track re-joined the A338, Hungerford wasn’t that far away but turning the pedals was becoming more and more difficult. Mark had almost fallen asleep as he was riding; this was a reminder to us that there were many things that could ruin our chances of completing the ride. I made a decision to stop eating on the move because the risk of falling off was becoming more real.

    Personally, I felt there was one last big obstacle, the climb out of Hungerford. This had been playing on my mind since Lymington and was becoming more of a concern as we coasted down the hill through Hungerford town centre; the place was completely silent. We indicated left towards Wantage, what for I have no idea because there was no traffic about to show our manoeuvring intentions to. The hill began.

    I had blown the climb out of all proportion, whether this was due to fatigue or fear of failing I do not know but we got to the top without incident. The pace was very slow now as we rolled into the lay-by just before the M4 junction with the A338 for a 5 minute break before starting the last, lumpy 12 miles.

    Phil’s head rested on his handle bars, he was drawing on deeply buried energy reserves that would need a whole crèche of Jelly Babies to replace; a cycling staple of Phil’s. It was getting more and more difficult to force food down; I’d had enough of sweet stuff but knew that it would be cycling suicide if I didn’t continue to put energy into a failing system. I was stood clutching my empty drinks bottle but doing nothing.

    What’s up mate? Here, let me have it,’ said Simon. He took the top off and refilled it. That simple task was beyond me, the thought of stepping up into the van was just impossible; once again, the support crew took care of us.

    Mark was quiet; I knew he was probably hurting like the rest of us but he was dealing with it in his own way. Despite our physical states, I didn’t hear one word of complaint, the finish was within sniffing distance now and no one was giving up.

    Let’s get this done then,’ said Phil.

    It was a struggle to get back on to the saddle. I wobbled off up the road and under the M4, not really caring if a 38 ton truck was coming off the North bound carriage way at speed or not, I didn’t have the energy to look up so it was academic anyway.

    We had a short climb before enjoying the long downhill stretch into Great Shefford. The pace had improved a bit, possibly a combination of the food stop and the finish being within grasping distance. A few inclines came and went but I didn’t really have any clue as to where we were, I just kept ticking down the miles in my head, trying to be conservative in my estimates. The moonlight and rapidly approaching dawn gave a strange quality to the landscape; all I could see were my handle bars and front wheel.

    The last shallow climb loomed and brought us to the top of Manor Road above Wantage, I couldn’t remember passing the monument at Fawley but it was somewhere behind us. We pulled in to the lay-by next to the van to cover a few check list items. This was the last bit, only downhill now to the finish. We reminded each other to keep the speed in check to avoid a crash; Mark set up his Go-Pro to film the arrival in the town square. It was time to complete what we had started.

    The descent was without issue, we regrouped again at the bottom with Simon and Jamie. They made sure all was well and then headed off to the square to let people know we were close. The silence was absolute once the van had gone; we set off for the last time but a little less conscious of the aches and pains. The last 11 miles had been sketchy but I could not recall anything of cycling past the familiar sites of Manor Road, I suddenly became alert as we passed Church Street. We avoided the post truck coming out of the square and then formed a row of 3 riders to take the finish tape together.

    A surprising number of people had gathered to welcome us home. There was a Champaign finish provided by Jason, friends and family were cheering (including Adam and Harriet); we even had a ‘well done’ from the market traders who were setting up for the day. I have never been so happy to get off a bike before. I knew that Brian was up to speed on our progress and finish via Face Book, although he wasn’t at the finish line in person I know he was there in spirit as a part of our team.

    Fish foto

    We’d done what we had set out to achieve in 24 hours and 50 minutes, all 243 miles of it. It was a massive achievement of which we are all proud. It was just as good as completing Land’s End to John O’Groats but in a different way. Regardless of that, the tears were the same. Same time next year chaps?

    It is still not too late to make a donation, we would really appreciate it. Please visit our donations page at:

    Thank you to all those friends and family who have supported us to achieve this challenge, it would not have been possible without your help.!/TheBigIsleBeBackChallenge

    Further reading…..

    If you liked this blog please take a moment to check out my book describing the solo Land’s End to John O’Groats ride in 2012, all profit from sales to

    Please click the cover image for the Kindle version or click here to order a paperback copy. Thank you!




  4. The Big Isle Be Back Challenge – Isle of Wight Loop

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    Click the ‘read more’ link at the bottom of the post to reveal the photographs!

    We saw Brian before he saw us; sporting his white Isle Be Back Challenge t-shirt standing on the dockside with his hands in his pockets. The last time we had met was at the leg waxing in Wantage the week before. Phil thought it would be a good fund raising opportunity as well as a chance to drum up some publicity for our ride and the charity. Brian made the journey from the Isle of Wight to support the event and watch us get our leg hair removed by Faye from the Indigo Beauty Rooms. A proper job, mine are still silky smooth.

    It was good to meet up again although the time spent at the terminal was brief. The clock was most definitely running on this ride, if we had a chance of getting round the island in time to catch the planned ferry we needed to be moving and not talking.

    Brian was well prepared and knew the plan; we dumped our rucksacks into his boot and had a quick brief before heading off towards Cowes. The plan called for Brian to drive ahead to crucial junctions and indicate our route; he had taken the time to print a big black arrow to be held up for our benefit.

    It was nice to be riding again after the hiatus of the ferry crossing; I was surprised at the amount of recovery in a reasonably short amount of time. The ache in my neck and shoulders returned; on the mainland it had been insidious but now the discomfort came back quickly. At least it wasn’t getting any worse, it was just annoying.

    I made a point of yelling out to the Phil and Mark when we passed a pub that I had eaten at during my recent holiday. It would be fair to say that I have eaten at quite a few pubs on the Isle of Wight so it was nothing remarkable. I was slightly embarrassed to realise the garden was full of punters and they had all looked up from their conversations when I had disturbed the peace.

    IOW somewhere

    Brian met us near Cowes and directed us to a hidden cycle path that would run the length of the River Medina towards Newport. The smooth surface and deserted feel to the path spurred us on; the odd runner and dog walker greeted us along the way but in the main it was free riding. Regrettably, the 10mph speed limit had to be ignored but we did slow down when approaching other path-users.

    Newport suddenly appeared as did Brian. The Medina had narrowed down to a dead end dock and mud banks were visible on either side of the water. We took 5 minutes to eat and top up bottles; I had a small pork pie as a change from the sweet food I’d been eating. I have enjoyed pork pies at all sorts of events, mostly days out at cricket but I have been known to sneak the odd one on board for a ride. Phil asked if he could have one but, to my complete dismay, I realised I had only packed one. I was supposed to be good at food but I had failed miserably on this occasion.

    We headed up towards Ryde, back on busy streets with building traffic. I’d dropped behind on one of the longish, shallow hills, when I caught up I realised that not all was well. Phil was gathering bits of Go Pro mount from the road after it has sheared off from its handle bar position. He was clearly very miffed, the camera had been a present from his mum and dad specifically to record the ride and now he had no way of mounting it let alone using it for the rest of the ride. Now was not the time for a smart comment, we ground on up the hill. I spoke with Mark about setting his Go Pro to capture our return to Wantage Market Place, at least we could put that footage up on the Facebook page, this would be no consolation to Phil though.


    Ryde disappeared behind us to be replaced by Sandown, a fairly nondescript place that is always busy; we pushed on to leave it behind quickly. I was looking forward to Shanklin because it was an area of the Isle of Wight that I knew reasonably well, unfortunately, we approached it from an unfamiliar direction so my ‘local’ knowledge had less value than my pension fund. We pulled up at a T junction by the local church.

    ‘I can’t see Brian, better give him a call as I haven’t got a clue where I am,’ I mentioned in a low key way.

    The advice was to head downhill which required a left turn at the T junction, then look for a car park on the left. After 500 metres or so it didn’t feel right and we weren’t seeing the car park that Brian had mentioned.

    Just as we put the phone down for a second time, two local lads tripped over to us offering their assistance. They were definitely street geezers and off their melons on something more than the local ale. They couldn’t stop talking and the delivery was almost too fast to follow.  Given the amount of time we had been up I considered asking them to share some of their gear but soon realised that would be cheating.  Cycling could not cope with another scandal…too soon.

    ‘Good luck lads, you look like you like a challenge, that hill is a challenge go so good luck yeah man haha woooo.’ Etc., etc., etc. They were genial lads, nothing nasty about them at all and, to be fair, they did point us in the right direction.

    We topped the hill and freewheeled down to Brian in the part of Shanklin that I did know. All my favourite places were there: The Rock Shop, The Crab Inn and the Chine. No time to sight-see today though, we had a very brief stop to fill up our bottles and headed out towards Ventnor. Another ride milestone now beckoned; the climb out of Shanklin to Ventnor.

    I knew this would be a tough one having driven it a number of times earlier in the year. It’s always the case that climbs appear innocuous from the comfort of a car, and so it was for this hill.  We managed the first steep section out of the town; Brian had parked up in a layby, we pulled over and asked about the rest of the climb.

    ‘It’s not that far or steep now and then it’s downhill into Ventnor, no worries lads,’ said a deadpan Brian.

    As a result of this slightly inaccurate description we now refer to long, tough hills as a ‘Brian hill’. It was hateful and I wanted it to end but it wouldn’t. However, our falsely derived hope got us to the top…just.

    Things settled down a touch now as we freewheeled into Ventnor and headed out towards St Lawrence and the Military Road. Lights were required again as it was getting dark quickly. The road surface was a little uneven and we saw evidence of roadside subsidence. One particular stretch had a traffic light control around the slumped roadside. I warned the others about the odd camber in the road as we rode around the cones, I remembered that from our holiday after nearly burying the car in the cliff side.

    At this point I was starting to feel the miles we had put in during the day, the thought of getting to the ferry became all-consuming. I cast my mind back to the start of the ride and it seemed a long time ago. We had made a sterling effort to catch up some time but it hadn’t produced the results we were hoping for.  In fact, the penultimate ferry was now out of reach, we would really have to pull the stops out to get the last ferry. It had always been a contingency but I never expected to have to use it.

    We faced one last big hill as we climbed up to Freshwater, again it was a nasty one and I was glad to get it done. I was rapidly running out of fuel given the extra push but not yet at the stage where I would have to chance my delicate stomach with an energy gel. Instead of risking a ‘reverse liquid lunch’ I went for a whole ginger cake – down in one! It worked a treat hitting the spot very quickly. Suddenly, Yarmouth terminal appeared and not a moment too soon, we had approximately 20 minutes to spare before the last ferry left.

    Brian had been fantastic, his diligence with the route finding had paid off and we were back in one piece. His mum had joined us for the last section but regrettably, we didn’t get a lot of chance to chat. I think we were all starting to suffer given the mounting mileage, chatting seemed to be an extra, unnecessary effort.

    Leaving IOW

    Not much else to say about the Isle of Wight except that a nice man took our photo’s promising to post them on the ‘What’s on in Yarmouth’ website and Mark caught up with an old school friend who worked on the ferry.  A bizarre coincidence but then this trip was completely out of the ordinary. We could put our feet up for a bit and get a hot coffee on ferry; this left plenty of time to worry about how the last 80 miles would pan out.


    Read about the last 80 miles from Lymington to Wantage soon…!


    Further reading…..

    If you liked this blog please take a moment to check out my book describing the solo Land’s End to John O’Groats ride in 2012, all profit from sales to

    Please click the cover image for the Kindle version or click here to order a paperback copy. Thank you!