What were you doing on May 8th 2015?
I know exactly what I was doing.
Like the previous 2 decades I had managed to buy my better half a reasonable birthday present on time and arranged cake. Cards from the kids were organised and we were in France for the third consecutive year.
It is a big day in our household, Mummy’s birthday, and we all get very excited.
May 8th 2015 was significantly different, though all the elements above applied there was one very big difference. Birthday Mummy flew to France on an aeroplane and I had ridden my bicycle. Not just me, but 11 other cyclists of varying abilities had put the icing on a cake baked up some 12 months earlier in a local pub.
Picture the scene, Richard (a veteran of Belgian pave and dedicated cycle nut) and Duncan (a relative newcomer, but with mountains under his belt and an insatiable hunger for cycling) are sitting in a pub chewing the fat. At some point and undoubtedly fuelled by Guinness and session bitter a plan was hatched. The plan was to ride a bicycle the 650km between Guildford and Bordeaux for a glass of wine, having passed through some of the most famous vineyards in the world. During the following months the plan gained traction and took on a life of its own. Not only was this going to happen, it was going to be a charity ride too. Why not fulfil a lifetimes ambition with the opportunity to raise a significant sum for a local charity?
The Chairman, formally known as a Master of Logistics, set to with a map and painstakingly plotted a 650km route. Many a happy hour passed as he rerouted and tweaked in the company of a trusty bottle of vino posho.
On 10th October 2014 an email was sent inviting friends and acquaintances to join an unsupported Guildford - Bordeaux Bike Ride, the charity having been identified as The Fountain Centre – more about this below.
Within a matter of weeks, bikes were purchased and saddles broken in. A weekly ride was organised to start the winding road to fitness. Longer routes were penned in, with local sportives providing both good training and an introduction to nutrition. A JustGiving site was set up and the fundraising started.
6 months passes quickly and we were fast approaching the departure date, Sunday, 3rd May 2015. By this point we had ridden [most of the way] around the Isle of Wight and tested the first leg of the actual ride by cycling to Portsmouth, Harting Down providing a timely reminder that panniers on a bike are heavy and 650km was a long, long way. We also did a century ride [now the Fiasco 100] in the glorious Hampshire sunshine, which again helped set or lower our own personal ambitions.
The Fountain Centre is a charity for cancer patients, their families and carers located in the St Luke’s cancer unit at the Royal Surrey County Hospital, Guildford. They do an immense job in the support our local community and further afield. They offer advice, counselling and a huge range of complementary therapies, in a calming and relaxed atmosphere. It was from here we embarked on our adventure waved off by family and friends, no doubt impressed at the sight of 12 slightly overweight men wobbling off up the road resplendent in lycra and the fantastic jerseys courtesy of Hiscox.
We negotiated the busy roads around the Royal Surrey and immediately had our first technical issue. Having taken receipt of a GoPro I was proudly filming the opening miles of our departure. That was until it fell off my handlebars at the second roundabout. Undeterred I continued to ride one-handed for a while but sadly failed to record the second technical, an explosive tyre blowout. Within a half a mile of our start we faced the first major problem, ahem does anybody have a spare tyre? Luckily someone did.. We had a further 3 punctures, which is not bad over almost 8,000 kilometres combined.
What followed was quite simply the most amazing journey I have had on a bike – until Ventoux, but that is for another time. By day 3 having broken out of the North Downs and scaled their Southern neighbours, crossed the Channel and firmly ridden into France something amazing happened. As if by magic we all started to work as a team. Drafting and the signals of the Peleton marked us out as a tight professional outfit. It could only get better.
Such was the standard of planning by our Chairman we floated from hotel to lunch to café with such ease, albeit he could do nothing about the torrential rain on day 2 or the wind which would not subside until towards the end of the ride.
I could recall conversations or sights as we ploughed our way through the truly stunning countryside. I could regale you with stories of fine meals and the most amazing hamburger on the planet, but I won’t. For me two things stood head and shoulders above this dream ride. Firstly, you take a bunch of 12 men who came together as one, who set aside differing personalities, who worked for each other, what’s more we had all put in a huge effort to get fit and it paid off. It is well-known that camaraderie amongst middle-aged men released from the shackles of family and work is a thing to behold, and it was. Firm lifelong friendships were forged – in some cases these already existed – and such fun unfolded. We left Guildford with a Christian name and turned up in Bordeaux with a new moniker, it having been teased out over the kilometres and generally referencing an incident or misfortune, as is the way. To a man we did our duty in getting to Bordeaux but also to raise money for The Fountain Centre. Members of the group had experienced their work first hand and all had been touched by cancer in some way, shape or form. The final total of £15,470.09 raised was to say the least, epic.
The second was a magical transformation which occurred halfway across the Gironde. Following a large lunch we boarded a ferry to take us from Rayon to Pointe de Grave in Medoc. We had finally made it to the wine centre of the world. As the boat slipped effortlessly though the grey waters of the river mouth the sun came out. With this the water transformed into a sparkling blue carpet before us. Soon the far bank came into view and the pure white sands of The Pointe revealed themselves. We were approaching paradise. By sheer determination, blood sweat and tears we had made it. Not to Bordeaux yet, but we had crossed into a different clime, and one which felt all the sweeter because our own legs had carried us there. Disembarking to dazzling sunshine we all stripped off a layer and headed for our target, reinvigorated.
We arrived in Bordeaux the next day and were greeted by our loved ones; emotions seesawing as hugs and sweet kisses replaced sweaty and farting men. Into the night we celebrated for as long as our weary bodies would allow.
GLD – BDX may not have been the farthest ride attempted or raised the most money, but it was a monumental experience. We all dug deep and learned something new about ourselves and of friendship. We will forever remember the beauty of the French countryside and the glass smooth roads which criss-cross it. We will never tire of seeing grand rivers traversed by equally grand bridges. We will still feel a flush of pride as we uncork a bottle of wine grown and nurtured at the very vineyards we have ridden past; but above all we will continue to ride and to explore the wonderful countryside and mountains which dot our beautiful continent.
A word of warning. If you attempt a trip like this it will change your life. During the monotony of commuting your mind will flit back and forth reminiscing those fine and beautiful days. You will forget the rain sloshing in your shoes or the state of your undercarriage. You will look at previously unaffordable equipment and think “what the heck”. You will forever be a cyclist.