Blog: Cycling 230 miles in 3 days
Blog: Cycling 230 miles in 3 days

It’s amazing what you talk about with complete strangers while you’re cycling hundreds of miles around Kent – and it’s not all about the state of one’s nether regions although that topic did come up a few times!

People have been asking me how I’m feeling, just days after completing the Great Kent Cycle Ride and covering 223 miles in three days – the simple answer is shell shocked. Obviously there’s the physical effects of hauling my cake friendly frame up-and-down-and-up-again but it’s also fair to say there’s been a mental and emotional impact when you come across some inspirational characters in such a challenging and sociable setting.

I hadn’t done as much training as really was required so was rightly nervous and somewhat dreading Friday’s departure from Goatham’s farm in Hoo, these being the main sponsors for this inaugural event. As before any race or event, I spent considerable time sizing up the “opposition” and this largely middle aged group was certainly a range of ages, lumps and bumps but I’ve since learnt never to judge a cyclist by their lycra or expensive looking bike. We got underway shortly after 8am and the first battle was clearing the rush hour traffic of the Medway Towns but the banter was high and I think many in the 50 strong group were intrigued and apprehensive as to how this three day sportive would pan out.

Unfortunately Rob – who’d been approached by the organisers Kent Sports Trust Foundation in the first place to take part – had been forced to give up his spot because of a recurring knee injury. Not an easy decision for him at all and there’s no doubt he’d have loved to have taken part and thoroughly enjoyed the hours of talking bollocks but the common sense instinct in him was strong and probably proven right as this first day was quite hilly (more on that shortly). So having been nicely stitched up into taking part, I was relieved to have Special Brew step in to join me as we’re a similar pace on the bike and he’s always on hand to tell me stop moaning and ‘man up’ with the inclines.

If you are really interested then click on the link below for where exactly we covered on Day One but lowlights were battling the traffic and idiot lorry drivers in Tunbridge Wells (one driver seemed to forget how long his vehicle was as it bounced into the cycle lane we were using and caused considerable unease). Cycles lanes are largely a waste of time quite frankly and make me quite cross but not quite as cross as ignorant drivers who are so short sighted that their annoyance at having to wait behind a cyclist seems to outweigh their moral (and criminal) compass of “thou shalt not kill”. I know I look like I’ll bounce well and some of my fellow cyclists were certainly ‘hard as nails’ but we’re all soft and squishy deep down when we’ve been mown down by a motorist. But that’s a ranty blog for another time…

However, highlights were the amazing country lanes around much of west Kent including Hawleys Corner and Knockholt. The ‘DOH’ moment for me was missing the orange arrows at the top of Westerham Hill and heading solo to Sevenoaks High Street where I stood like a wally for a few minutes before retracing my steps. See if you can spot my idiot offshoot in the link – that gained me an extra 3 miles over everyone else!

But we rolled into Brands Hatch pretty much on time at 5pm-ish where Rob was ready to taxi us home. Most of the other riders had a night in the hotel ahead but while it would have been nice to have socialised with them, Brew was off to a family party and I was longing for a home cooked meal, a dip in the hot tub and my own bed – all of which were most welcome after 68.8miles on a muggy and sporadically sunny day.

We returned early the next morning (after an accidental trip via the M25 thanks to hubby showing equal aptitude for missing signs) and were joined at Brands Hatch for Day Two by bruv Mikey and Tris the ginger speed demon. Commence the entertainment!

Saturday was my favourite day of cycling, thanks in no small part to the first 10 miles being largely downhill and superfast – allowing the legs, back and ‘foof’ to settle into the shock and horror of being back on the bike so soon.

This west to east Kent route again incorporated magnificent parts of my county which I’ve never seen before and reminded me of why it is the Garden of England when it’s not being treated like a compost heap. Lunch on Friday had been courtesy of Dame Kelly Holmes – yes she of Gold Olympic fame – who’d joined us on the first leg and her café provided us with pasta at the halfway stop. On Saturday it was Canterbury Rugby Club who stuffed us full of chilli and rice and made us feel very supported and sustained.

The dream(ers) team – Mikey, Tris, me and Brew

This leg initially saw more descent than ascent but we did have to punch into quite a breeze between Canterbury and Hythe; fortunately myself, Brew and Mikey got into a nice little peloton routine to take it in turns to lead into the wind. There was a fair amount of singing – the ‘Grand Old Duke of York’ working particularly well when we missed out a few choice words – and occasionally Tris would hang back and join us, to amuse us with his one liners and own unique look at the world.

The end of the ride was taxing on mind, body and soul – comprising a long steep hill climb into Dover and a stop at Capel-Le-Ferne where some of the Help for Heroes crew (the charity we were fundraising for alongside Kent Sports Trust) led a short service at the Battle of Britain memorial and succinctly reminded us of why we were doing this challenge and how thankful we should be for the very fact that we have the opportunity to do such silly things. My thoughts also wandered to Charlie and the Kent Air Cadets who would be leaving for Nijmegen on the Sunday where they would be walking 100miles in four days – I’m very proud of them and I do appreciate the health and happiness that my family and I enjoy.

Pause for thought at the Battle of Britain memorial in Folkestone

And this is where some of those cycle chats became interesting – why some people get active or take up a sport, the incidents and illnesses which shape people’s lives and send them off in a new direction and a second or maybe third lease of life. Other than the fact we were all on two wheels, the main commonality was that we were doing this challenge because we could; it might not have been pretty or easy for many and others may have made it look effortless (thinking 67-year-old Harry who was constantly overtaking me at leisure with Hero the teddy bear strapped to the front of his bike while I huffed and puffed like Baloo the bear) but we shared a common drive to succeed and do this thing – for our own individual sense of achievement as well as supporting such worthwhile charities.

Can’t think of any lowlights but highlights included the cake at afternoon tea stop courtesy of Holiday Extras – I snaffled away a fair few as my motto is that I will cycle for cake. Tris and Mikey narrowly missed a detour onto the motorway after missing the orange arrows and even the final hill had us all smiling because it was conquered, even though for me it meant a minute or two of walking which I ‘fessed up to when I reached the peak to an unjustified applause.

After completing 78miles – my longest ever bike ride which I toasted with a pint of shandy – we were pleased to shower, change and relax. This time Brew and I had decided to stay the night and after bidding goodbye to Tris and Mikey, we wolfed down an evening meal with a noisy room of fellow riders and the conversations covered so many themes that evening, that by 10pm I was ready for a cup of tea and bed. Others were clearly exuberant after their endeavours and rumour has it there were a few pints of fizzy non-energy drinks downed before a handful of brave souls even went for a swim off Dover beach.

Hats off now to Steve Wolfe, founder of Kent Sports Trust, who was not only cycling all weekend, he was going for a 5k run each day as part of a one man mission to run 410 consecutive days…I believe Saturday was day 190-something?? This is a man who suffered a mild heart attack at 40 and decided life needed to change so he got fit, lost weight and is now pushing the ‘get active’ agenda for everyone. He’s doing a darn fine job.

Hands up who’s having fun?!

Up early the next morning – thanks to the seagulls and stifling hot hotel rooms – I was once again whimpering on the sports physio’s table who, after sorting out my back the day before, was trying to work out the knots in the neck and shoulders. I’m a bit strange but I do enjoy a bit of pain! The sports physio team worked their socks/fingers/elbows off over the three days – offering crucial support alongside the Cycle-Tec team who transported our bags, made sure every water stop was accompanied with vital sweets and biscuits, and even took my crucial bike bag containing flip flops which saved my life/feet each day. These chaps were welsh, beardy wonders and we thank them all.

And talking of wonders, thus Truffs arrived at the Dover hotel for Day Three! This game bird has only cycled once this year but after hubby Tris had completed Saturday, she was ready and willing to give the final day a go. I’m sorry to say I didn’t end up cycling with my fellow Doris as the very first mile out of Dover included a long hill and the whole group became stretched out. She made it too though and we all enjoyed picturesque views over the coastline as we wound our way up the coast initially before turning west and battling towards a lovely lunchtime stop at Shepherd Neame in Faversham.

This route was the flattest of all three but a slight headwind breeze made Seasalter and Graveney Marshes hard work on my own; there were also spells of chatting with other riders going past so some time for company and reflecting on their lovely calves before they disappeared off into the distance, leaving me to reflect on my own thoughts.

Truffs ‘One Day’s Notice, I’ll Give it a Go’ Doris

The cricketer Geraint Jones had joined us for Day Two and was gamely still with us for the morning of Day Three, and I found myself on the physio table alongside him as he also benefited from some healing hands – I think I moaned more but he was wimping out of the afternoon ride to hide on a cricket field so I’ll call that a draw.

By this point, I was flagging considerably and could have happily stuck the bike on the van in preference of a few more bier blondes. But this blonde *ahem* is made of sterner stuff and we got the pedals turning for a final push through Sittingbourne, Upchurch and Rainham (home turf for me) before a final pitstop in Chatham. Truffs called it a day in Upchurch after an impressive 50miles and despite a tender foof, she is another convert interesting in doing all three days next year.

Beautiful Kent

Keen to get finished now, the group headed up towards Hoo and gathered less than a mile from the finish so we could all go in together. This summed up the event – not a race, a sociable club ride in some ways, where we were all pushing ourselves but doing so together. It was a little emotional as we reached the finish line in one big huddle (being careful to un-cleat and to not fall off in front of family and friends).

And there we have it – 223 miles for me and a great challenging experience that has also brought me new friends and lots of memories. While my main priority next is getting training underway for the London Marathon (huge thanks to Harry who gave me £40 in sponsorship while we waiting for everyone in Chatham and nearly made me cry), I’m after a sedate summer and some more time with family and friends so I can kick back and enjoy the wealth of health and happiness I am so lucky to have.

Thanks again to all who supported me and helped to raise over £600. To anyone who feels like they need to take control of their lives or force a change in direction, you really don’t need the lycra or the flashy bike (although padded shorts are a must!); I can’t extol the benefits of being active enough and an event like this ensures you’ll get all the support and friendship you need.

Looking forward to #GGKCR18 already. Onwards and upwards!