It was a cold February afternoon and the prospect of riding out on another cold and wet Tuesday evening training ride with the hard core element of the Huddersfield Star Wheelers’ “Winter Warriors” was all but an hour away when I received the call.
“Terry you know you mentioned about doing the Coast to Coast for charity last year?”
“Well I’m ready, let’s do this!”
“How about The Way of the Roses?” I asked
I then proceed to explain about the Sustran Way of the Roses, a dedicated cycle route from Morecambe to Bridlington. Within 15 minutes my brother-in-law John and I had committed ourselves to doing over 170 miles across the breadth of England in aid of a charity which save his son’s, my nephew’s, life just under a year previously.
It was on the 5th April 2014 when William took a tumble, as kids do, with both hands in his pockets and hit his head against the pavement. The events that followed were horrific and not knowing if they would ever see their son alive again, my sister Justine and brother-in-law John said goodbye to William as the ambulance took him to Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust. He was taken immediately into surgery upon arrival and they received emergency brain surgery from some of the world’s best surgeons. The first sigh of relief… He was alive. The days that followed were harrowing! Would he every wake up from the coma? Could he talk? Could he walk? Could he even recognise anyone? Will this even be William at all, the one we all know and love?
As the days ticked by William’s progress exceeded everyone’s expectations and after one of the most painful waiting periods of our lives William was finally released from Sheffield and allowed to return home.
To this day his treatment continues, his academic life and ability to learn has been significantly disrupted but he is much further down the road towards recovery than we ever dreamed possible just 16 months ago.
A short while after William’s return John and I discussed the idea of doing a ride for the charity which supports Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust “The Children’s Hospital Charity” but at the time the emotions were too raw and we put the idea on hold, until that February phone call
That evening there was a huge headwind and a risk of snow, which aided my head clearing and offered the chance to put the plan into action. A map was ordered! A book was ordered! And a good friend of mine Keith found a GPS tracked map of the route.
I tentatively put out a call to arms on my Facebook page and that of the Huddersfield Star Wheelers. The response was astounding and within a few hours I’d already got a peloton of 10. I quickly realised that accommodation and transport were going to be my main concerns. By the end of the following week I was having to put people on a short list and with a group of 18 riders and 1 support guy I started to look for and book accommodation. That evening a Justgiving page was set up and within 48 hours we’d raised over £350…This all became very real, very quickly.
Over the weeks and months that followed, and after what seemed like a million emails and phone calls, the event planning was complete. 18 riders, 1 support guy with van and accommodation for everyone! Then came the final week.
“Can I have a room on my own? What did you say was for dinner? Where are we staying? How am I getting there?” It would almost have been worthwhile setting up an FAQ. Midnight was the earliest I reached my bed all week that week but generally it was gone 1am before I got to close my eyes and even then sleep was limited to the times when I didn’t wake up thinking…”Who’ve I forgotten? How are we doing this? Where are we staying? How are we getting there?”
Friday afternoon arrived very quickly and I was still working my day job right up until, and after, the first knock on my door. The transport arrived at just turned 1730 and we were all on our way by 1830.
Morecambe lived up to expectations (I’ll admit they weren’t very high) but the fish and chips on Friday evening tasted fantastic. Barely a wink of sleep for me that night but I knew that adrenaline would see me through day one no matter what it threw at me.
Our planned departure time was 0900 so actually getting on the road by 1015 wasn’t too bad all things considered. The obligatory visit to Eric Morecambe and dipping the wheels in the water took their time to be completed with so many cats to herd but once away we soon got into the swing of things.
The Way of the Roses route has got to be one of the most visually pleasing routes in the world, never mind this country. The stunning vistas of both the counties of Yorkshire and Lancashire displayed all that they had to offer and as the British weather decided to honour us with its more pleasurable side the sunshine and light westerly tailwind made for the most enjoyable 100+ miles of cycling I have completed to date. (I wasn’t going to finish the day on 98 so had to put in a few more turns of the pedals to clock up the 100)
A lovely treat for us when we arrived at our lunchtime stop (mid-afternoon) was the welcoming party of 3 of our fellow star wheelers, 2 of whom joined us for the first half of day two. Again staying a little longer than planned we did have to make haste upon our final leg but it was thoroughly enjoyed by all in the peloton.
As a group of cyclists we did look almost professional at times with onlookers in awe of our speed and formation discipline (echoed on day 2 by my favourite onlooker’s shout of the weekend “Sweeeet”). Credit for this has to go to all the ride leaders and experienced riders, who expertly advised and shared tips with some of the lesser experienced riders throughout the course of the day. The 2 highlights of day one for me were riding through Fountains Abbey and the final 20 miles in perfect riding formation at over 20mph average after having climbed in excess of 7,000ft of ascent through the Yorkshire Dales earlier in the day.
Our overnight choice of B&B pulled out all the stops for us on Saturday evening. I will never be able to recommend The Manor Guest House at Linton on Ouse enough for their hospitality and they just rounded off a perfect day’s cycling with a perfect evening of food and drink.
After a slow start on Day 2 we departed, once again, an hour later than scheduled putting a little pressure on the group to keep up the pace, but this time with some fairly tired legs. Fortunately there wasn’t too much in the way of ascent on day 2 but we did encounter some off-road sections which would be more suited to mountain biking or cyclocross than anything else. Coupled with some much warmer weather, a stiffening breeze taunting us as a headwind at times and some fatigued bodies these ascents took their toll on one or two and keeping up the pace became more challenging. At this point I have to say is where my hat becomes very prominently doffed. The comradery, sheer grit and determination of everyone ensured that, despite it all, we arrived in Bridlington with enough time to pick up both William and his brother Harry to join us on the final 2.5 miles into town and along the seafront to the finish line. The obligatory dipping of the wheels ensued and it was over.
From my side the emotions were overwhelming and I did have to shed a number of tears upon arrival but the joy and satisfaction of completing this challenge with such a fantastic bunch of people, friends both old and new, and my lovely family, has made this the best event I’ve ever done to date and I’ve done quite a few over the years.
After consuming another portion of seaside fish and chips I took off my helmet and cycling shoes and walked into the North Sea for the finale, a fully immersed dip in the ocean. Feeling both refreshed and accomplished I slowly packed my gear together and by 1730 we left. We may well have left the weekend behind at that point but the memory will be with me forever and at the time of writing the total sum of money raised for this fantastic charity who gave our family something which we can never repay them for enough is £3,456.35
Thank you to everyone involved and thank you to all who have sponsored us along the way.