This week has flown by. I’ve been tying up lots of loose ends, and the whole plot seems to be slowly coming together. I’ll spend the weekend working with Janet Hipkiss of www.janethipkiss.co.uk, in order to get the website finished. You may have noticed that the posts are now appearing as new pages. That is to make it easier to create an archive. I’m sat here thinking about what the week has brought with it, and what it all means for the next few weeks of mad preparation. These final weeks are ones in which to slowly unwind and prepare for what lies ahead. The outside world is shrinking as I focus on the day of leaving.
Last weekend was a bank holiday. I’d done a lot of miles during the week, and spent the weekend resting. I had previously agreed to meet Kate and Katie, two of the Sustrans gang, on the bank holiday Monday. They were travelling back down from Bristol in order to complete a risk assessment for the upcoming fundraising ride that will use Devon’s coast to coast route. The previous attempt to complete it had been halted by Kate contracting a nasty virus, and this was the last available opportunity. It would also help me know what was expected of me during the ride, which I had been invited to join as a speaker, guest and guide. The group will consist of around forty guests, who are paying to take part in the three-day ride. They are also raising funds for Sustrans. I will be speaking to them about my round Britain ride on the first night of their journey on 19th May, before we all set off for Plymouth over the next two days. It promises to be a gentle prelude to start my next adventure, and I’m excited to be part of it.
One of the things I love about Sustrans, is the fact that it attracts such interesting people. Kate and Katie are no exception, always full of enthusiasm for anything to do with their work. Perhaps that’s because working for Sustrans is actually a lifestyle, as well as a job. It was a wet morning as I set off on the fourteen mile trek to Orchard cafe to meet them. They were travelling down by train and hoped to be there by lunchtime. I was about two miles from the cafe, in torrential rain, when my phone went, informing me that they were on the way to Barnstaple, their starting point for the day.
Arriving at the cafe, soaking wet, I ordered the inevitable coffee and sat waiting for a chap called Phil to arrive. Phil is interested in Sustrans as well, and was looking to become a volunteer ranger, a role I know well. He’d contacted me through Facebook, and that had led to this meeting. He arrived shortly after me, and we spent a pleasant hour chatting about all things to do with cycle touring and Sustrans before he had to leave. He had just finished reading my book, and was full of praise, saying he could hardly put it down. Later in the week I heard that Phil had contacted Sustrans and offered his services as a volunteer ranger in North Devon. When I see the branches of my work reaching out and touching other people, it makes it all seem worthwhile.
Kate and Katie eventually arrived just 2:00 p.m. They’d battled the windy, wet weather down the exposed coastal section of the Tarka Trail, and had considerable appetites. It hadn’t dampened their enthusiasm at all, and we shared a big hug, before settling down and working our way through some serious, and much-needed calories. By the time we finished eating it was nearly 3pm. Time to get a wriggle on.It was so wet when we left the cafe, we falsely harboured the belief that it must get better sooner or later. Irene didn’t care, splashing through the puddles like a small child, bringing a big grin to my face. As we rode, we talked, full of enthusiasm about the up and coming event. We made our way slowly and surely back to Hatherleigh, and out to Okehampton, diligently following National Cycle Network route number 27, the Devon coast to coast.
From time to time we would stop and discuss a possible hazard, and how we might get through it with forty people in tow. It was different for me, I was used to cycling alone. It made for a pleasant change to have company and, even in the now appalling conditions, we laughed and joked as we went. Seeing them safely on their way in Okehampton, I told them of a shortcut to their destination and decided to head for home. The rain was still of monsoon proportions, and I was amazed that I was all but dry beneath the Endura waterproof jacket and trousers I was wearing. It takes a lot for me to use waterproof trousers, but boy was I glad I did. It isn’t quite late enough in the year yet to get wet legs and be happy. The air temperature was quite low, and with the soaking rain it would have been an uncomfortable journey without them.
On getting home, I parked Irene in the hallway. She wasn’t bothered at all by the rain. Everything worked exactly as it should, a testament to Santos Bikes. I sent a text to let he two Katie’s know I was safe, and as I sat in a deep bath mulling over the day, my phone let me know they too had arrived safely. Riding 50 miles in those conditions isnt everybody’s cup of tea, but for me, it will be remembered as a fun day out with great company. That is what cycling brings to my life, every time I ride. It isnt about times, or distances, it’s about fun, travelling and relaxation. I needed this ride as much as the longer ones of the last few weeks. It showed me just how much cycling gives me, even when the weather pins people in their houses. It also showed me how comfortable I could be in atrocious conditions, something that may be useful in a few weeks time, as I crawl out of a soggy tent to face the day’s riding.
As I lay in the bath, my thoughts returned to my book. People are full of praise for it, and it’s having a profound effect on me. Another friend, who is reading it, asked me if I felt proud of my achievement, saying that I should be. I was happy to say that I’m bursting with it. Not I hope, for egotistical reasons, but because I never knew I could achieve so much. Life has been, and sometimes still is, a real struggle sometimes, as I stated a few weeks back. Being able to look up from the gloom and see something that I have created, makes me smile. My book is something solid and tangible, unlike the actual travelling, which fades over time. I can touch it and hold it, knowing that I created it. The journey that I’m undertaking, never stops surprising me. It twists and turns like a snake at times, but always levels off again. Each time I surface from a bad day, or week, I find myself reinvigorated by more doors opening than I could have ever imagined.
Many things I set in motion are now coming to fruition. The large wall maps are underway. The logo’s and sponsor stickers for the trailer box are also being made up as I speak. On Tuesday, the aluminium box I will use arrived from Nick at www.carryfreedom.com, and I spent an afternoon attaching it to the trailer. It was another subsidised purchase, and one that should give me many years of use. Nick has overhauled the trailer for me, and I’m very confident about using it again. When you start these projects you have to trust in other people. Learning to do that has been a bumpy road for me, as it’s a major part of my recovery. Seeing the ride take shape is another source of pride, the reward after a huge effort to make it all happen. Piece by piece it is appearing before my eyes, just in time for leaving.
The new bike will be ready shortly, triggering another trip to East Sussex and www.msgbikes.com . Alasdair and Shelagh’s faith in me, fills me with joy. This is as much their bike as it will ever be mine, purely because without their generosity and hard work, which are all freely given, it wouldn’t be happening. It’s a very specialised, and high specced piece of kit. For me it represents my future. It’s the bike I will ride for years to co
Sadly, this week I’ve had to close one or two doors. I said last week that I was needing to say no more often, and concentrate on the ride itself. After much thought and consideration, I pulled the plug on a talk I was due to give in Cornwall in a couple of weeks time. I’d talked it through with my doctor. I’d felt overloaded since I had to take over all the organisation that I thought was out of my hands. With five weeks left, I just felt I had to focus everything on preparing for my ride. Of course I’ve apologised to those involved, but this one small thing has given me breathing space, something I’ve realised that I badly needed.me, and every time I ride it, Alasdair and Shelagh will be in my thoughts. How can I ever repay that? I will write a complete blog about the bike and other equipment I’m planning to use, once I know exactly what it will be. I even have a name for the bike, but that will have to wait until it arrives before I tell you.
Earlier today I went and changed, ready to ride. I don’t usually return to the computer once I’m all togged up. Today I flicked a button and found a message from www.buffwear.co.uk I’d asked them if they wanted to continue their sponsorship of my riding. I use Buffs all the time, and was delighted to hear that they did. If there’s one product I can’t get enough of, it’s these simple, but incredible versatile pieces of headwear. I’m hoping to receive some other items from them too. I’ll let you know as soon as the parcel arrives. I want to say a big thank you to them, and in particular, to Sarah Gowans who has believed in me from day one.
I should add here that the sponsors I have, were carefully chosen by me. It would be easy to think that I’m promoting a company because they sponsor me. That is not the case. I only attempted to gain sponsorship from companies who I believe in. There is no point in using equipment simply because you were given it gratis. Equipment has to work as it should, otherwise it becomes a pain in the derriere and a dead weight to carry. With so little space, and a weight limit of 20Kgs (including the trailer), I rely on everything doing what it should, day after day after day. In turn, that means a happy Graeme will get on his bike each morning, knowing there will be few surprises that demand attention and energy and additional expense.
I should mention that I’ve begun to write again. I just couldn’t help myself. It was there in my mind, the reflection of the early chapters of my first book. I sat one evening pondering why cycling had suddenly become such a big factor in my life, when I realised it hadn’t just happened. There’s a strong thread that runs all the way back to my childhood. That thread has never been broken, and doors began to open in my memory of the many exciting journeys I’ve made by bicycle, and how much it has helped me over the years.I hadn’t forgotten the places I’d been to, but I’d buried all the detail. It’s all returning, in glorious technicolour, to my mind, as if it happened yesterday. I know it’s the therapy that’s opened these doors, and suddenly, all the dark days seem worthwhile. I can’t explain this, but it’s as though I can now see the good, without the pain, leaving me to express it in writing. I’m being released slowly from those dark night of the soul that people talk about.
I’m only doing a little each day, but it will provide the first few chapters of the second book that I intend to write when I return from this trip. I’m learning all the time about managing my life and time. I want to be freer than I felt on my return last year, and by doing this, I hope to get a head start. Next year, it will be crucial that I have income to support what I’m planning and thinking about doing. I hope to develop my speaking as well as writing. There’s only so much more I can sell in order to ride, and I’ve got everything crossed that I can develop my position, and carry on riding and talking next year and beyond.
I hope this post conveys the increasing level of excitement that I’m beginning to feel. I’ve just got to the point where I know it’s going to happen, I’m going to journey again.Throughout the winter I struggled and battled with my mind, the weather, people, and organisation. It’s never really been in doubt, but for me, I haven’t had the time to sit and think about it. Now I have, I can hardly contain myself, I’m ready.