So I’ve finally had chance to sit down and write the first blog update of EPIC7 #3- the Chester2Chamonix cycle. Sadly it’s on day 6 and not as soon as planned but things haven’t gone to plan to say the least. I need an early night and both of my phones have been throwing an extra challenge my way with a simple task like uploading a photo.
So, day 1! The first day I was certainly anxious but somewhat relieved that the organisation was done with. There was nothing more I could do- I hadn’t done what I wanted to, but I with the huge workload I was glad to be at the start line. I looked around at the comfort of home and knew I’d miss it. Was like Everest all over again. Got to Chester Town Hall feeling exhausted and frail- not the ideal start. Friends, colleagues and family followed by my sponsors Westgrove Group started to arrive too along with the Lord Mayor of Chester, Cheshire West council leader Mike Jones, the Chester FC mascot BiG Lupus… and a Roman soldier dressed in full attire! A real honour to have so many people to see me off- for which I’m very grateful. With so much going on around me I was away with the fairies a tad.
Ater photos, a live Dee 106.3 radio interview and an impromptu/poorly planned speech by myself it was almost time to go. The crowd wasn’t bad for an 8:30am start with local councillors joining too which was great. The Chinese tourists made their usual appearance and usefully at just the right time to take Chester2Cham global! Then I was on the start line as people crowded around, Steve gave me a pep talk and the Lord Mayor kindly gave a few final words. The rest was a blur as a countdown ensued, the Roman chap blew his horn and I set off…. stopping to check my map and passport was safely packed just round the corner. Thanks again to all who came. The first miles of my ride cruised by. I was in a slight hurry to get to Coventry so probably moved faster than I should have done. Bit hilly near Cannock Chase and peanut butter sandwiches were certainly useful, but perhaps not the pack of cigarettes that some local youths opted to throw at me from their souped up Corsa’s window. The key is to stay hydrated, so I was taking on about 500ml an hour. Learning to drink on the bike without squirting myself in the eye. The first day was quite suburban and busy as I reached Coventry to Arena Park to be greeted by the Westgrove team, and with a coffee of course. Due to various delays I was late sadly but you can’t make much lost time up with 10kg strapped to the back of an 8kg bike. We got some photos with myself, the proud young ambassador in lycra and the proud staff in Westgrove gear, whilst the staff at Decathlon kindly serviced the bike for me. He found my chain was on the verge of snapping and replaced it. What an ideal place to stop! Otherwise, the bike was great.
After being offered a stolen bike by local youths, I set off again. 100 miles in the bag yet 22 to go and I didn’t want to be late for dinner! Not want to be rushing at this early stage but picked the pace up as I opted for the main road and the miles flew by. Couldn’t believe I was really doing it! Got to YHA Stratford-upon-Avon which was stunning at sunset. Just in time for a proper cafe Mocha and a 3 course meal with the generous portions I needed after 122 miles and the Sticky Toffee Pudding went down well! I felt fine thankfully, as I frantically tried to update my blogs and social media hampered by an archaic broken iPhone. The facilities inside were very traditional, cosy and warming, full of character and I had a full 3-bed room to myself with a proper hot shower and even a drying room for all my sodden gear. Could sleep easy knowing my bike was locked securely in a proper bike shed too. Stretching off my glutes, calves, quads and hamstrings- I then slept like an overgrown baby. I was very glad I’d ditched my original concept to wild camp the whole way to be sat in a tent now miserably chomping on soggy biscuits and finding I’d left my stove at home, not getting a good night’s sleep.
Day 2 was another big un. I was overtired despite sleep. Assaulted the breakfast buffet (spoilt for choice with 3 bowls of bran cereal and milk, 2 slices brown toast with sliced ham, one bowl of apricots, banana and a yoghurt) then had another technology battle before leaving frustrated at about 9:30. The blue skies around Stratford upon Avon, the Oxfordshire villages and tranquil countryside was quite spectacular and made really pleasant cycling for anyone planning a trip down here. Next up was Newbury but to get there was taking a while with undulating roads up and down all the time, and I met my friend Mr Physics again. Before getting to Newbury in Berkshire I’d been tempted to follow the A34 to catch lost time but was compelled to trust my Garmin. Soon, I found myself pushing the bike up a Farmers track, with grass up to my stung knees and muddy- no place for a racing bike which shouldn’t even have 10kg of panniers on. Worried about time and realising it was probably quicker to carry on I blew into a big hissy tantrum as the bike got caught in the undergrowth again… at this point a young girl comes racing down on the bike as I awkwardly pretended I hadn’t just sworn about 10 times in 10 seconds. She advised to carry on. I found myself heaving the bike over a gate and onto the main dual carriageway A road. The Garmin wanted to continue my epic pilgrimage across the nettles over a field opposite but I thought ‘sod it!’ and raced down the A34, far too quickly, my heart racing this time. Arrived at the Westgrove Group site in Newbury, Kennet Shopping Centre to balloons and good luck banners, a nice touch. Great to meet the team and feel their pride in the job, and equally great to meet the biggest buffet of cakes and sandwiches I have ever set hungry eyes upon. Can’t forget my new sandals which had been kindly provided too (as the ones I’d grabbed from my step dads minibus were indeed women’s and 6 sizes too small). After telling my story it was time to go, on the next rush towards Portsmouth.
Was pleasant to get out of the city centres and cruising along the country lanes where my mind settled and legs fell into some sort of circadian rhythm. The pace was comfortable but as a result being in the saddle for 9-10 hours a day was tedious but I had to be disciplined and keep it that way. Chucked it down for the next hour. I met Becky Bellworthy near Kings Worthy- was so glad she was able to join me as her story of summitting Everest aged 20 had always been a powerful driving force and key inspiration to myself. So to have her on my return journey through adversity was really special. Due to my delays we were soon benighted whilst racing up and down hills and forested roads in miserable weather. Very tranquil though I was glad not to be alone as I straggled a little. Arriving in Havant was a relief, at about 9:45pm. My original plan to wild camp with my friend Giles was scrapped so Becky headed home and I went to his house instead. Reminiscent of a movie scene, I narrowly escaped the wrath of a closing train gate that I’d sprinted under, trying to avoid a 10 minute wait (when I was already late and without mobile battery to call him). Arrived at Giles about 11pm to a hearty stew and much needed sugary tea. Elated and tired. My Garmin had switched off for half an hour or so but total miles were about 126 – my chicken legs were still robust. Had great company with Giles, a top photographer and his wife Ingrid. Then hit the sack quite sharpishly!
Day 3 – I woke pretty late- unintimidated by the shorter day ahead but for some reason, still unrefreshed. It was Porridge and coffee before a quick snap and I headed East. On the way, I stopped at the Hampshire Flag company HQ in Waterlooville- after they’d made my Everest summit banner it would have been rude not to! Met with the MD, Graham who kindly offered a £250 donation to my chosen EPIC7 charity as well as providing my EPIC7 banner for EPIC7 challenge #4.
I was struggling today. On reflection, I was inadequately fuelled. The route to Newhaven was far from straightforward and with my GPS on my phone not working I couldn’t find a shorter route. With a few hastened calls home to logistical support (i.e. to Tarvin Cars, my mum and stepdad’s taxi firm based in our local area) I was on my way but knew I’d be late for the sports massage appointment I had booked. I’d have banged my head on my handle bars for messing up my schedule again, but then I’d have likely fallen off…
Getting lost in Brighton, I asked a girl for directions who looked horrified and said ‘that’s a long way!’. I didn’t tell her that the seven miles or so I had to Lewes was just 10% of my total mileage that day… racing to my sports massage like a runaway train I arrived with only 15 minutes remaining to give my calves a battering. Surprisingly, with over 300 miles done, they felt fine.
Arrived at YHA South Downs about 7:30pm, just in time for an eagerly-anticipated dinner. The sunset was spectacular as I approached the converted farm buildings, beautifully isolated in the valley and a really remote, adventurous feel. A real delight tucked into the countryside with a warm welcome. Dived in the shower and another huge 3 course meal- Fish and Chips for a main and Bakewell Tart with Custard went down a winner. I wanted to stay longer but with my timekeeping challenges, it was probably wise to set off to Newhaven early… and it was an epic downhill most of the way!
On the boat it was loading up on food. A full Chicken Tikka dinner then a Croissant and Carrot cake at 2am is a culinary endeavour to say the least. I managed about an hours sleep, slumping my head into my coat. And I felt awful, as energised as a bucket of scrunched up paper.
But I hadn’t forgotten my passport. Surely all was off to a good start?!