Ancient re-cycling

The story of one man's quest for immortality. Or so it seemed with a heart that pounded so much going up the hills that I could see my rib-cage moving. The occasion? The 1997 sponsored bike ride to raise money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, a charity that grants wishes for children with life-threatening illnesses. It's called 'The Wish Pedlars Bike Ride' and ran from Camberley to Southsea, up and over the hills of the South Downs.
Alex G

Sequel Sunday 13th September 1998

As a result of my round robin email I received a number of extra sponsorships. For these I thank all concerned on behalf of the sick children who will benefit. You will be pleased to know that my email and other activities look like bringing in over £500.

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Sunday, Crack of dawn

Sunday, the so-called day of rest, and there was the phone going at 7.20 a.m.! It was Linda, my sister-in-law telling me that my brother, Martin, and John, her son, were on the way to my place with a van to pick up me plus bike for transporting to the start line of the 54 mile ride from Camberley to Southsea. “How did I get into this” I groaned.

The short answer is that I was conned into it. My brother persuaded me to enter but it was always my intent just to send in my entrance fee plus a donation, and then chicken out at the last moment. Seemed a good compromise. After all, he’s just a youngster of 52.

All that changed when one of my clients put a not inconsiderable price on my head if I completed the ride. All I had to do was to wear a T-shirt with their logo, get some photographs, and, of course, complete the 54 miles. I was doomed from then on. Other sponsors came in and before I knew it I could raise over £300 if I made it. How could I refuse?

So around 8 a.m. saw us checking in at the start. It was a beautiful sunny day, albeit a bit cold. There were literally hundreds of riders at the check-in, from professionals, to teams, to hugely fit cycling fanatics, to fairly fit but total amateurs, to the utterly unfit but very determined. With all the team apparel and the individual outfits, it was a very colourful affair. At 8.15 a.m. a klaxon sounded and we were on our way. For once, by dint of sheer numbers, the cyclists had their day. It was the motorists who were intimidated and that felt pretty good.

The route started off with a hill — somewhat unfair I thought. But despite that our group managed to hold our own, and all went well until around 14 miles. Then I got a puncture! “Hold that”, I said as I handed the valve insert to my brother. And what did he do? Dropped the bloody thing in the roadside grass, that’s what he did! Brother Murdered on the Wish Pedlars Bike Ride would have made a great headline, and nearly did, until we found we had a spare insert. The puncture was fixed but it had cost us half hour.

We made the halfway point at Selbourne without further incident. It was there, in the general melee, that we lost contact with John. We found out later that he’d set off in pursuit of Martin and I not realising that we were still in the crowd. He then managed to lose his way on the torturous route over the South Downs and met up with a group in a similar predicament. Somehow they all found their way to Southsea and even arrived earlier than us. Took the motorway perhaps??!!

‘Torturous’ was quite literal. The route was obviously the work of someone with a sadistic sense of humour. It ignored the main roads through the hills and instead consisted of a never-ending series of minor roads, some no wider than cart tracks, which went up and over the most colossal hills with absolutely no regard for cyclists. A couple of veterans of the London to Brighton ride assured me that this Southsea ride was much, much harder. The ride we were on was called ‘The Wish Pedlars Bike Ride’ but as we pushed (walking) our bikes up a particularly horrendous hill one rider wryly observed that ‘The Wish Pushers Bike Ride’ would be a better name. I was encouraged to see that even club riders were reduced to temporary pedestrians on some of those hills.

The fastest I ever went was about 35 mph. That came about as a result of leaving my sunglasses behind at a stop we made just below the brow of a hill. Martin reached the brow just before I did and then I heard it — a growling and barking of a ferocity that could only mean ‘very, very big dog’. My brother watch this thing pursue a rider down the hill and warned me of the impending danger. Luckily the dog had retired behind the hedge by the time it was our turn to go past. But it was shortly after that I remembered my sunglasses.

Riding back up the hill to retrieve the sunglasses proved uneventful. But as I reached the crest of the hill on the return trip I saw it — a big, no, enormous, black dog of the rottweiler-cross variety eyeing me malevolently from about 10 yards away. We pondered each other’s strengths and weaknesses for a few seconds and then I made my move, getting up as much speed as I could before coming level with the thing.

Now I really expected just a few yards of hot pursuit before I was clear and the dog retired to lie in wait for the next unsuspecting rider to come along. Oh no! It wasn’t like that at all. As I went past, the mutt came at me like a rocket. I heard growling of a ferocity you wouldn’t believe, just off my left ankle. I pedalled harder. The sound kept pace. Harder still. Still in hot pursuit. I’ll swear that I could feel its hot breath on my leg and saliva on my foot. It wanted a bone and my leg was as good as any. The chase continued down the hill for a least 100 yards, accelerating all the time. My cycle trip meter registered over 35 mph before that hound from hell gave up. The bastard!!

So while I can’t claim any records time-wise for the ride, I think that I have a very fair chance of the record for sheer speed attained at any point in the ride. I’ll tell you, if that dog could have kept going I reckon I would have completed the fastest ride overall. Being hotly pursued by the Hound of the Baskervilles puts strength back in tired muscles like you wouldn’t believe.

Nearing Southsea saw another minor disaster. I got held up in traffic emerging from a car boot sale. I saw my brother receding into the distance and set off to catch up. Head down, pedalling hard, I heard a woman yelling something or other as I careered along the road. I was too exhausted to take much notice. After about half mile or so I looked up and could see no other riders ahead or behind. The penny dropped. The yelling I’d heard had been directed at me. “Turn left”, she’d been bellowing but I had taken not a jot of notice and pedalled straight on, totally oblivious. I was headed for Brighton – everyone else was headed for Southsea. I turned back. Now a mile or so detour might not appear much in the normal course of events, but after 50 miles of effort it seemed the ultimate injustice.

One more massive hill and there, hundreds of feet below lay Portsmouth harbour. A fast descent back to sea level, a winding route through the traffic to Southsea, and there it was – the finishing line. Over five hours of gruelling hills, fifty-four miles of road, hounded by the dog from hell, getting lost, but despite everything, we’d all made it. The applause as I rode in got the adrenaline going, and the pint a short while later set me well on the road to recovery. I’ll swear that was the finest pint I’ve ever tasted!

Would I attempt the ride again? Definitely not!
Well, maybe definitely not!


Sunday 13th September, 1998

Well, I did do it again. The amount I could raise saw to that. This time the route was only 45 miles compared with the 54 miles of 1997. Also, as it didn't go over the hills of the South Downs it would be easier, or so we thought. How wrong we were!

It was tough. There were four of us in our bunch - me, my brother Martin, Martin's son Steven, and Paul, Martin's son in law. Whilst the hills were not as spectacular or numerous as on the South Downs route, there were some real killer hills. The sort where the road goes up and over those long sweeping undulations typical of my part of southern England.

The climbs are fairly steep but the bit that really tells are the lengths of the climb - sometimes two or three miles of grinding uphill effort. We all did fairly well until we made the mistake of stopping for some minutes ten miles out from the finish. That seemed to give tired muscles time to start locking up. Those last ten miles were murder. On the last hill about one mile from home I got cramp in my right leg - the sort that has you hopping around in agony - and it looked like 44 miles was to be my limit. Fortunately I managed to ease it and went on to ride in as we'd started, crossing the finish line four abreast.

I thought that it was just me that had the problem. After all, I'm another year older. But I found out that a number of bikers had similar problems. Theories: it was much colder so muscles and circulation are less efficient or a very strong headwind for half the course zapped your energy, and that's the one I favour.

Anyway, a few hours later saw me largely recovered and I even summoned up enough strength to watch the Farnborough Air Show.

Click on any picture to enlarge

Alex bloodied but unbowed
Totally kn****ered (40K)
The certificate (38K)
Three boots
The three Boots (36K)

Farnborough Air Show, 13th September, 1998
RAF Red Arrows shot from supermarket car park shortly after completing the ride
Red Arrows
Red Arrows
Red Arrows