Saturday 15th August

Saturday 15th August 2009

Location; Inverness-John O’Groats

Distance Travelled; 157 kms (as the crow flies)

Weather; Wonderful! Glorious at last. Tailwinds, sunny but cool

When CDR Ryan began planning this world record attempt, he discovered the fastest traversal in a wheelchair of LEJOG was 17 days. For several reasons, including the amount of days leave he had and the start of Ramadan, he planned on doing it in 10 days. This would have smashed the current record, to such an extent that hopefully it would put off anyone else attempting to break it

John o’ Groats is popular with tourists because it is usually regarded as the most northerly settlement of mainland Great Britain, although the actual most northerly point is nearby Dunnet Head. The town takes its name from Jan de Groot, a Dutchman who obtained a grant for the ferry from the Scottish mainland to Orkney, recently acquired from Norway, from King James IV in 1496.

The morning started like so many recently, at an indecent hour, to a chilly dawn, and grunts substituting for conversation. However, this morning, there was a slight difference as we knew that if we could arrive before 1800, we would have done it in 8 and a half days, less than half the current record.

After 8 days of driving on British roads and being overtaken by speeding motorists, we finally had our first road traffic accident when Mike was knocked over. Luckily an ambulance was the first responder to the incident. I say luckily, but luck had little to do with it as the ambulance was the vehicle that hit Mike’s rear wheel! Mike wasn’t badly hurt, but he was visibly shaken. However, he was exceptionally brave, and insisted on minimal treatment to ensure that his brother wasn’t held up by his predicament, and despite a bleeding knee, was cycling again within minutes. As he said, people get far worse injuries in war and they still carry on…

Today we clocked our fastest speed. The terrain from Inverness is generally undulating, but about 30 miles from the end, there were a couple of very steep hills, including a 13% gradient, the steepest so far. This of course meant that there was a steep slope on the other side. Without realising it CDR Ryan was soon speeding along at 84 kph, and only noticed his speed when he reached for the brakes! Not long after he was experiencing zero gravity and getting “air” as he crested small rises.

The famous “Journey’s End” signpost at John o’ Groats is privately owned and operated by the same Penzance-based photography company which operates its counterpart at Land’s End, with a fee payable for having pictures taken next to the signpost. Because of the 0600 start at Lands End, we weren’t able to get official departing photos, but we got lots at our finish. Some of the support team had driven ahead and had whipped up a crowd of tourists and as Rick and Mike crossed the official finish line there was cheering, clapping and champagne. His time was 8 days, 10 hours, 9 minutes. He turned the crank on his wheelchair 1.3 million times, burnt 78,000 calories, rode 902 miles, ate 82 bananas and broke one world record. Actually, break doesn’t really do it justice. He smashed the world record, more than halving it!!!

CDR Ryan has broken a world record, and the whole team has been a part of it. But the truth is, as modest as CDR Ryan is, the only person who did this was himself. “Think where man’s glory most begins and ends, and say my glory was I had such friends.”

We have had tears, laughter and disaster. We came together as a bunch of well meaning individuals with the same goal, and left as a tight knit efficient team of friends…never a truer friend made, than through hardship or adventure shared…but my final thought is this…we can now go home back to normality after 9 days of agony, but for some people every day is a struggle…not to break records but just to survive. And as much as we rejoice now, our thoughts are with those less fortunate than ourselves.

Friday 14th August

Friday 14th August 2009

Location; Fort William-Inverness

Distance Travelled; 100 kms (as the crow flies)

Weather; Wet, rainy, humid, cold

Inverness is promoted as the capital of the Highlands of Scotland. The city lies near the site of the eighteenth century Battle of Culloden and at the beginning of the Great Glen, where the River Ness enters the Moray Firth. It lies at the end of Loch Ness, which is world famous for “sightings” of a large sea monster. Scottish Gaelic appears on the majority of road signs around Inverness, with a significant number of people speaking the language in the city.

Rob the paramedic was the first one up this morning, before five, and roused us to scramble as the forecasted deluge had not arrived. We hustled out to our start point and indeed enjoyed two dry hours over twenty miles. Completing a moderately difficult climb to Rannock Moor was probably more difficult because of the 700 miles already completed this week.

We were rewarded at the top by the Commando Monument overlooking the moor where UK forces did commando training during World War II. Our route for the remainder of the day would take us through the Great Glen, a series of Lochs and canals creating a valley through the waist of the Scottish Highlands which would take us the 65 miles to Inverness.

The road, however, was not as flat as the water through this Glen and, frankly, it didn’t feel like a Great Glen, maybe just a mediocre glen. Plugging away up hills on the road which meandered across either side of the glen was only rewarded with brief descents. After two hours, the forecasted rain began to arrive.

We were parked at a lay by waiting for the cyclists to catch up and to alleviate the boredom and have some fun, the paramedic was mooing into the PA system on the ambulance. On the other side of the road was a whole field of cows, who perked their heads up and then came running towards us. Faced with a sudden cow stampede, we were just about to abandon ship when they stopped and stood staring at us. We didn’t see the fence hidden in a dip in the ground, but thank god it was there!

With the onset of rain, CDR Ryan was so cold that he told us he wasn’t going to stop for the last 36 miles, which would have taken 4 hours on that terrain. Every time he stopped cranking, his upper body muscles would seize and he would begin shivering, so it was less painful to just keep going and do all his eating and drinking on the run.

CDR Ryan’s brother wasn’t initially able to come on this trip, and so I volunteered to cycle the whole distance to keep Rick company, but now that he is here, no one is more glad of his presence than me, as it has meant that I haven’t had to cycle the whole distance.

When the rain started, I was in the support vehicle nicely warm and dry, and decided that, even though it wouldn’t help in any way, I was going to cycle with CDR Ryan through the worst weather and give him moral support, if nothing else. And it was pretty bad. Rain was coming at me from all directions, even below. Cycling behind Rick and his brother, the spray from their tires was shooting up and hitting me, but I was so wet, it didn’t really matter.

Gradually, Rick started to lose his gears, first two, but thankfully the high speed ones, as we were doing mostly climbing anyway. Gradually two lost gears increased to 21 and we realized the strands on the gear shift cable were parting. Rick felt like he was back in the navy trying to nurse a helicopter into a crash landing.

Eventually, as we arrived in Spean Bridge, 15 miles short of our destination, Rick couldn’t shift his gears any more. We pulled over in the pouring rain and the team was quickly on the problem. Rob had him in layers of dry clothes, Mike was loading the bikes, Ronnie and Ed were off to find a cycle mechanic  for repairs and buy more foul weather gear, Ivor and Jill were sorting rooms and I was running around coordinating and assisting everyone.

Three hours, a hot shower and a nap later, and the bike was partially mission capable. We drove back to the site of our emergency landing, the rain gradually slackened and our pace gradually quickened. Not long before we had feared that “Ride For Remembrance” was dead in the water, agonisingly close to our goal, but we had turned it around, and another 35 miles took us 19 miles past our goal by 7 pm. The riders were on a real high and would have gone farther but a major vehicle accident shut down the road ahead and the diversion was just a jam of traffic, and so we elected to get the team some food and rest.

We face 101 miles tomorrow but I know anything is possible now. As always, when the road gets rough, I think about the inspiration and example that CDR Rick Ryan has provided. I think about people worse off than myself facing much worse challenges, I think about what we can do to remember their families and help them with small charitable contributions, and then my own small challenge feels even smaller. I thank you for your wonderfully touching support in getting this message out. I’m off to sleep…there’s a “world record” to set tomorrow, and although I won’t be setting it, I feel just as proud to be involved in this super human feat as getting to the North Pole.

Thursday 13th August

Thursday 13th August 2009

Location; Glasgow-Fort William

Distance Travelled; 115 kms (as the crow flies)

Weather; clear, cloudy, sunny, cool

Fort William is the largest town in the highlands of Scotland. Fort William is a major tourist centre with Glen Coe just to the south, and Glenfinnan to the west, on the Road to the Isles. It is an important centre for hillwalking and climbing due to its proximity to Ben Nevis and many other Munro mountains, marketing itself as the “Outdoor Capital of the UK“.

The town is not of local origin. It grew up as a settlement next to a fort constructed to control the population after Oliver Cromwell‘s invasion during the English Civil War, and then to suppress the Jacobite uprisings of the 18th century. The fort was named “Fort William”‘ after William Of Orange, and the settlement that grew around it was called “Maryburgh”, after his wife.

The opening sequence for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was shot in Fort William and other movies filmed in or near Fort William include Harry Potter, Highlander, Braveheart and Rob Roy.

A rough start this morning after the previous day’s 120+ mile ride was made easier by four of the Holiday Inn Glasgow staff (Sandrine at the front desk, Michelle and Pat in the restaurant, and Brian the previous night’s manager) who patiently and efficiently applied themselves to helping us quickly out the door with food, coffee and bills sorted in no time at all. 

Despite our morning misery, this made our departure from Glasgow much more special.  Ten or so miles through the city streets and we were crossing the River Clyde on the Erskine Bridge.  For one, gently undulated terrain brought us more than 40 miles in less than 4 hours.  This included a breathtaking ride around the bonny, bonny banks of Loch Lomond on some fairly severe road surfaces.  We were surprised not to lose any more tires and even more surprised by the roadwork’s crew members who stopped work to cheer us through their area. 

We did cause many “tail backs” but only one angry driver.  Arriving in Stirling, we were briefed that we faced a daunting 15 mile climb through the Rannock Moor up to the famous pass at Glen Coe.  Daunting it was but more so rewarding, because of the challenge we were confident we could face this with the fuel from our dedication and having already been through a hellish six days. 

Again, support was tremendous on a climb which took us continuously up for more than two hours, eventually logging our highest climb on the altimeter at nearly 1,200 feet.  At one lay-by, a crowd of tourists cheered and snapped pictures…and also donated generously.  Throughout the ride, our van crew was hailed for donations as well and it was a good day for R4R fundraising efforts. 

As for the scenery, for once, it was too beautiful even for me to miss, even through the pain of the climb.  There aren’t words to describe the beauty and colours or the mountain ranges along the moor and up to Glen Coe and pictures won’t do it justice.  It was fuel in our tank.  Finally arriving at the pass after eight hours, we commenced a hair-raising 30+ mph descent on curving mountain roads.  I was in full-lean on most turns to keep the bike from flying away and we chewed up the final 15 miles in no time at all.

On the way into town, the BNP Paribas bike team, eight strong and drafting each other all the way, asked to ride with us into Fort William.  They told us they were all impressed with what we were attempting as they were only hoping to make the same trip in ten days, one more day than us, and on racing bikes with eight team members, no less.  A most wonderful crew.  Still high from the descent and the support and the fundraising success and our “peloton” escort when we arrived in Fort William, we decided to ride for one more hour and finished at the 106 mile mark, ten miles beyond our goal, hoping this would ease what is certain to be a very wet day tomorrow. 

The team work again was outstanding and without the support at our “Indy pit stops “ (total break time less than 45 min in 11 hours today), and we would never have been able to come this far.  We enjoyed the pipe and drum band playing in the center of Fort William on the way to a hard-earned dinner.  We are now at 720 miles in six days and eleven hours. 

The weather forecasters tell us to expect a deluge, but we will try to knock 100 miles out of the 180 remaining tomorrow and make our last day into John O’Groats a little more tolerable.  Spirits are high and there are no complaints whatsoever.  Thank you for your support and thank you for spreading the word so we can raise some money to support charity.

Wednesday 12th August

Wednesday 12th August 2009

Location; Carlisle-Glasgow

Distance Travelled; 148 kms (as the crow flies)

Weather; Cloudy, cold, sunny, windy, and wet. Typical Scottish weather

After a good night’s sleep we were all feeling a lot better, but most importantly Rick was back to his generous and humorous self. We left without a breakfast at 6 am intending to eat breakfast in Scotland. As we prepared our equipment to start a lady who worked in Boots the chemist walked past us on the way to work. As it was on our way, I offered her a lift in one of our vehicles and when she got to work, she donated several essential medical supplies as a contribution to our mission. Supplies that we had intended to buy later in the day! Allah works in mysterious ways.

The band Crowded House once sang about Four Seasons in One day, but we were getting them all in one hour! It was typical Scottish weather, and there was never enough time to dress appropriately before the weather conditions changed again. So I ended up cycling in arctic conditions with just a sleeveless t shirt.

However, the weather wasn’t really the problem. Yet again, hills were CDR Ryan’s biggest obstacles, and they were rapidly sapping his reserves as he strained every second of every minute to keep pushing his chair forward. When I am cycling uphill I have the advantage of standing up out of the saddle and shifting my body weight on to the pedals, so I don’t have to put much muscular effort into going uphill, and I let gravity and my body weight assist me. The chair CDR Ryan is using is designed for people with injuries to the spine or who have had amputations. It is very difficult to get any leverage on the hand bike, other than with your arms, and that can create a serious strain.

Watching his arms in action is awe inspiring. I really had the most miserable times of my life in the arctic and was close to tears at times, but if I had the choice of going back to the North Pole or doing what CDR Ryan is doing, I would go straight back to the pole. Admittedly I had very clear goals to motivate me in the North Pole to power me through the low points, and Rick also has very strong reasons to keep going. He has seen the misery and suffering others have endured while he was in hospital, and that memory fuels him never to give up.

It is also heart warming to see the devotion his older brother has shown. Even though he is a sedentary desk bound lawyer most of the time, he has come to support his brother, and has cycled every minute, and never complained or given up. His love for his brother keeps him going. Even through a 14 hour day. That is the power of motivation.

But even though we kept going, it was slow. Sometimes, it got so slow I couldn’t keep balance on my bike and had to walk. Conversely downhill was very fast. VERY fast. So fast, images of me losing my balance and skidding along the dual carriageway were in the back AND front of my mind. On our first day, we clocked several downhills touching 60 kph for extended periods, with the fastest at nearly 70 kph, where I had to hold on to the bike for dear life and was too scared to let go, even to grab the brakes!

And when we finally got some flat roads today, the wind picked up to such an extent, that it felt like we were struggling uphill… sometimes you eat the bear, sometimes the bear eats you, and today we were the  hors d’oeuvres, entrees and desserts!

I fully expected the hardest part of the trip to be either boredom, or the discomfort of sitting on a bike seat. Surprisingly, it isn’t even fatigue in knees or legs. The problem is actually in my arms! The position a cyclist adopts when riding puts the torso forward supported by the arms holding onto the handlebars and this puts a lot of strain on the hands, wrists, forearms and shoulders.

Whether you lock your arms or not, the aggregated effect over many miles is the equivalent of doing thousands of push ups. If you lock your elbows, effectively holding your body in the up position at the end of a push up, then your shoulders take the strain. If you bend your elbows, your biceps and triceps take the strain. And at all times you are holding onto the handle bars. Not long into the first day, my hands started to cramp up, and my forearms ached with deep muscle burn. However, with Rick suffering ten times more than myself, I was never going to mention my discomfort. After all, I am using my legs to cycle, and he is using his arms.

A misleading part of the narrative is the distance covered at the start of the article. This is the distance covered as the crow flies, whilst we are travelling along the read network. There is a difference, but generally it’s not too great. However, today we had to skirt around a mountain range and the detour added a significant distance to the actual total we rode…in fact it added 54 km extra. And all these factors combined to give CDR Ryan a 14 hour day in the wheelchair before we finally arrived at the hotel rooms in Glasgow, donated by the Crowne Plaza as their contribution to our mission.

Glasgow is the largest city in Scotland and third most populous in the United Kingdom. The city is situated on the River Clyde in the country’s west central lowlands. A person from Glasgow is known as a Glaswegian, which is also the name of the local dialect. A headbutt is known in many parts of the British Isles as a “Glasgow kiss”, although the Glaswegians themselves say “Malkie”.

With the Industrial Revolution, the city and surrounding region grew to become one of the world’s pre-eminent centres of engineering and shipbuilding. Glasgow was known as the “Second City of the British Empire” for much of the Victorian era. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries Glasgow grew to a population of over one million, and was the fourth-largest city in Europe, after London, Paris and Berlin.

Tuesday 11th August

Tuesday 11th August 2009

Location; Wigan-Carlisle

Distance Travelled; 153 kms (as the crow flies)

Weather; Cloudy, Cool, Dry, Wet, Windy, Hot, Sunny but not clear

The morning came far too soon, and I felt the familiar dread of another morning of hard work, before immediately putting that thought to bed with the even more harrowing thought that Rick must be feeling the same emotions tenfold.

CDR Ryan is near the point of exhaustion and the whole team is worried for him and his well being. We are confident that he will never give up, but he is irritable and more emotional than usual. We know this is completely understandable, as he is literally on the verge of exhaustion and he is already past burning all reserves of energy and is in ketosis…or worse!

Ketosis is a state occurring when the liver converts fat into fatty acids and ketone bodies, which can be used by all of the body for energy as an alternative to glucose. Some clinicians regard ketosis as a crisis reaction of the body due to a lack of carbohydrates in the diet and consider it a dangerous and potentially life-threatening state that stresses the liver and causes destruction of muscle tissues.

The problem isn’t exactly a poor diet, just that Rick is burning so many calories a day, he just can’t eat enough food to fuel his body. He has burnt 45,000 calories in 5 days just during exercise and the accumulative effect on his body is destructive… Something similar happened to me in the North Pole where I burnt nearly all the fat in my body and then probably began metabolising my muscle tissue to the extent I lost 10 kilos in 3 weeks.

Last night we were lucky to get a visit from Paul and Jo from First Line Digital. They had been kind enough to support our efforts by supplying the van, and putting all the decals as well as supplying the fuel card and car insurance.

The Ride for Remembrance (R4R) team grew by two this morning as Ivor and Gillian Prestwood joined us in Wigan. They are the parents of our main driver Ron, and Ivor is also the GM of the Crowne Plaza in Bahrain, and arranged half the hotel rooms for our trip.

After blasting an extra 26 miles last night, Rick was completely spent when he woke up, but he started the day with around 10 cups of coffee by the time we arrived at the start point.  Consequently, he busted out 30 miles in 150 minutes which is faster than his best marathon pace.  We were chased for a few miles by a retired gentleman who finally stopped us at a lay-by and told us his wife was the High Sheriff of Lancashire and a short time later she joined us and proved it.  It turns out he is a former Irish Guards serviceman and he made a donation to our cause.  Another older lady in the same lay-by emptied out her ashtray of all loose change and apologized for not having more.  Another man rode up to our ambulance and passed money to Rob the paramedic , and then asked, “Are you collecting for something?” which made us all think of a new, lucrative career…driving around the country with an ambulance and a bucket. 

We learned that the mountains on Google Maps are a lot bigger in person as we ran up the east side of the Lake District, home of England’s four tallest peaks.  As I was told by our trip paramedic, a climbing instructor in real life, that stretch of the A6 roadway which we battled up is the second highest climbing major road in England.  Very demoralising and the hardest part of the trip so far for Rick, which was made worse by two punctures in his tyres. 

The road was so steep for the handbike that Rick was in the lowest gear at 100 percent exertion and if he’d stopped to contemplate the slowly leaking tires and how they were slowing him down, he’d have been worse off.  There was only one choice and that was up.  It seemed to go on forever, with more climbs around each turn, and other cyclists stopped to watch and cheer him on.  They told Rick we’d now gone past the halfway point to John O’Groats. 

A predominantly rural county, Cumbria is home to the Lake District National Park, considered one of the most beautiful areas of the United Kingdom. The area has provided inspiration for generations of British and foreign artists, writers and musicians. Much of the county is mountainous, with the highest point of England being Scafell Pike at 978 m. All the mountains in England that are over 900 metres above sea level are in Cumbria. However, I was so preoccupied, I was only peripherally aware that there was beautiful scenery. 

After a short break to contemplate what had just happened and fix the wheels, we set off for the last 30 miles in a freezing downpour and Rick was soaked and hypothermic when he got to the hotel.  A whisky and a long hot shower later and he was in good spirits and ready for another interview with the local Carlisle paper. 

The City of Carlisle has a population of 100,000, but an area of 1,000 square km, making it the largest city in England by area, although the majority of its territory is rural. Although a 20th century creation, the city traces its origins to a 1st-century Roman outpost associated with Hadrian’s Wall. A border city, and the most northerly in England, it is nicknamed the Border City,

During the Middle Ages, because of its proximity to the Kingdom of Scotland, Carlisle became an important military stronghold. Carlisle Castle, once served as a prison for Mary, Queen of Scots and now houses the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment.

So that’s 490 miles in 105 hours with 10 miles to go until we enter Scotland, eager to cross the border and come that much closer to setting a new record and meeting our fundraising goal of $100,000 for the four charities.

Monday 10th August

Monday 10th August 2009

Location; Wolverhampton-Wigan

Distance Travelled; 136 kms (as the crow flies)

Weather; Cloudy, Wet, Humid, Hot and Cold but not sunny

We started the day a lot later than normal as today was a “rest” day and we were “only” about 100 kms from our next destination.

CDR Ryan is definitely suffering, but he is generally in good spirits, and although the early mornings are horrible for everyone, we are all running around to make sure his life is easier, bearing in mind, he has done the equivalent of running 4 marathons a day, for 3 days so far.

The morning was wet and drizzling for the first time since we arrived in the UK, but as they say, every cloud has a silver lining, and these particular clouds, dispensing the English liquid sunshine were a blessing in disguise, as we actually made great mileage. The rain keeps the body temperature lower, and this in turn helps prevent over heating, which helps us cycle harder and faster.

Today was the first day that I personally didn’t cycle. It wasn’t really because I was needed elsewhere as the convoy has almost become so efficient that it does not need any supervision. In fact it is almost heart warming to watch how we all run around at a pit stop like a well oiled Formula 1 team, getting Rick ready to go again.

However, on the single lane A roads, it is very difficult to have one cyclist, let along 3. The problem is that when the roads are narrow, vehicles back up behind the ambulance, and when they do overtake, they cut in sharply, to avoid on-coming traffic and then they narrowly miss the cyclists.

The ambulance has to try and shield the cyclists as much as possible by driving as close as possible, but with some inconsiderate drivers even that isn’t enough! So having three riders abreast is too dangerous, and if one rider drops back, it forces the ambulance to drop back and then it can’t shield CDR Ryan effectively. So Rick continued with only his brother as shotgun.

Along the way we had several well wishers and media meet us, including a photographer from the Royal Marine Association, who ambushed us just outside the barracks being used by the Royal Irish Regiment. Later on we met the British Legion chapter in Warrington who also arranged an interview with the Warrington Guardian and with Lancashire Radio.

Our van, supplied by First Line Digital has been a god send, in more ways than one. It is not only free and big enough to carry all our equipment, it also highlights our mission to all the vehicles following behind. So much so that one lorry driver followed us for several miles before being able to overtake us and throw a crumpled 20 pound note into the ambulance window!

By 3pm we had made such good progress that we were already at our hotel for the night. Wigan is a town in Greater Manchester on the River Douglas, 27 km west-northwest of Manchester, and 28 km east-northeast of Liverpool. In WWII, as a child, Rick’s father was evacuated from Liverpool to Wigan to avoid the bombing Liverpool received when the Germans tried to destroy the port, and so the choice of location tonight was symbolic.

Wigan is historically a part of Lancashire, the symbol of which is the Red Rose of Lancaster, immortalized in the verse “In the battle for England’s head, York was white, Lancaster red” referring to the 15th century War of the Roses.

Greater Manchester is a metropolitan county with a population of 2.56 million. It encompasses one of the largest metropolitan areas in the UK and comprises ten boroughs: Bolton, Bury, Oldham, Rochdale, Stockport, Tameside, Trafford, Wigan, and the cities of Salford and Manchester.

As we had arrived with time to spare, CDR Ryan elected to get a quick nap, whilst the rest of the crew prepared equipment and other essential tasks. But rather than rest on his laurels, Rick decided to do some extra miles and so after a 2 hour rest we pushed on and did another 40 kms.

Driving through the length of the UK, you see some weird things. For example today we met a guy with a broken leg in a cast, riding a bicycle with his shopping. Sometimes you wouldn’t look twice until someone pointed out how bizarre it was…and today we found it. A Christian mosque!

Sunday 9th August

Sunday 9th August 2009

Location; Bristol-Telford near Wolverhampton

Distance Travelled; 137 kms (as the crow flies)

Weather; Clear, Cloudy, Sunny, Hot and Cold but not rainy!

We had another hard day but put good miles underneath us.  We rolled through Bristol city centre at 0630.  The first two hours of hills were a very hard way to start the day especially after the previous day’s climbs.  Bristol wasn’t really interested in us being there but the road to Gloucester and Worcester was rolling and beautiful, making the morning more rewarding and the muscles started to loosen up.  

We were met near Gloucester by Alex, Cass, Graham and Bubbles Cooper, who rode along with us for about an hour and a half.  Alex expressed some interest in doing the less-famous Gloucester to John O’Groats ride with us!

We hope to see him again as we’ve learned that riding with people along the way reduces the misery by distracting your mind from the task at hand. We also managed to keep a faster pace and spirits were as high as they’ve ever been. Sean and Mandy Ellis also came out and cheered us on for two hours. Sean had met Rick on the flight from Saudi to England and had donated his business class seat to Rick and sat in economy himself!

Riding through the beautiful town of Worcester, many people cheered us on which was energizing and touching. Incidentally, we managed to find another John O’Groats in England, less than 100 kms from Lands End, and although we were very tempted, we decided that we should stick to our original destination.

We met more big rollers toward Wolverhampton when we stopped to meet Annette Mann, the mother of the famous jazz singer, Andrea Mann.  Steve Harrison, the previous Deputy Head of Mission from the UK to Bahrain, also showed up with his family offering friendship and generosity. 

At one gas station after “we” took a wrong turn, a kid came running out of the shop and told us in a thick Black Country accent, which is what this area of the Midlands is called, that he’d just seen us on TV and wondered why we would be stopping at his petrol station. We got a picture with him and he said, “I can’t believe I’m getting my picture with the boy from the telly.”  We didn’t have the heart to tell him that we didn’t think we’d been on the telly…yet!

Our final destination was near Telford, which was named after Thomas Telford, the famous civil engineer. The town was built in the 1960s and 1970s as a new town on previously industrial and agricultural land. Similarly to other planned towns of the era, Telford was created from the merger of other, smaller settlements near to Wolverhampton.

Wolverhampton is a city in the West Midlands with a population of 250,000 which makes it the 13th most populous city in England. Historically a part of Staffordshire, the city is commonly recognised as being named after Lady Wulfruna, who founded the town in 985. The city’s name is often abbreviated to “Wolves” and people from Wolverhampton are known as Wulfrunians.

The last 15 kilometres up towards Telford and over the ugly hill at Tettenhall was very slow. Travelling behind Rick, you could see the muscles in his arms pulsing, and his sinews straining. Just watching Rick power through the gradients was painful. We had passed cyclists doing road time trials and one of the umpires had told us that human arms only have about a third of the power and stamina that legs do, and so they had a deep appreciation of the task ahead of Rick.

At times, I was willing Rick to stop and take a break, while at the same time willing him never to give up. We are all in awe of the physical exertion he is doing. Each hour of exertion is probably more than anyone would ever do in a gym in a week, and he burns over 12,000 calories a day while pushing his wheelchair!

I secretly think he is part man, part machine whose body should be donated to science so we can all benefit. When he did stop, his efforts had brought us 409 kilometres in three days. Next stop, Wigan.