580 miles over 6 days with a total climb equivalent to just higher than Everest was a phenomenal undertaking but I completed it, along with an amazing group of people! It is your tribe that you miss most following an adventure of this type. You exist in a bubble, far removed from the real world, and though you may suffer, it’s liberating. Our particular Stockholm syndrome was multifaceted.
Breakfast is the first ordeal of the day. Not that it's horrible, though porridge loses its appeal very quickly, it’s just that it’s so damn early to be forcing the right amount of food down to fuel the tanks. We spent a good portion of each day shoving food down our throats. Failure to do so results in a most miserable ride.
The second seminal moment of the day is the depth of discomfort conveyed in the chorus of groans and the outbreak of Tourette’s that erupts as everyone mounts their bikes ready for the off. Padded lycra can only do so much. It takes a good hour for your undercarriage to become one with the saddle once more.
Our group of cyclists found a natural split between two packs on day 2; the elite team, and the slow team (or the fun team as we prefer to call ourselves). Whilst the elite team zoomed off each morning in a haze of testosterone and brightly coordinated outfits, the fun team - blighted by age, dodgy hearts, asthma, injured knees and Rusty fucking Bob - usually took 30 minutes to really get going, once we’d stopped for nervous wees, loose chains and miscellaneous adjustments. Days were punctuated by a morning drink stop (the vans are laden with water, flapjacks and malt loaf), lunch stop (prepared from the van by the kitchen crew under a portable gazebo), and afternoon drink stop; each one a physical and psychological milestone.
There is an etiquette to group cycling, some of which is still a mystery to me:
- Hand signals – to indicate an obstacle that needs circumnavigating (parked cars, bollards, dead things, the sudden disappearance of a cycle path), to draw attention to death traps in the road (pot holes, drain covers, dead things, glass, assorted debris), to signal you are stopping or slowing down. And others which are just plain rude!
- Shout outs – “stopping” (i.e. don’t crash into the back of me or I will beat you with your own sweaty lycra), “slowing”, “rolling” (speeding up again, you can keep going without fear of being beaten with your own sweaty lycra), “on your wheel” (I’m as close as I dare get to your back wheel to ride your slipstream, do not slow down, break suddenly, wobble or fart), “clear” (when approaching a junction, a good idea to actually check and not just say clear because the person in front did).
- Bodily emissions – evidently there are no restrictions regarding excessive wind and snot, or any requirement to shout out a warning before executing the wee through … one just has to hope one is far enough back not to taste / smell / inhale / absorb (delete as appropriate) whichever bodily substance is secreted by those in front.
Slipstreaming is an art that requires a certain amount of courage and trust. You need to be right on the wheel of the cyclist in front of you for there to be a benefit, and you all need to maintain a steady pace to avoid collision. Riding at the front is hard work, and you need to set the right pace or you risk bombing off too fast leaving your pack behind with the second rider cursing you for leaving them to lead the pack.
That I have now managed to cycle most of the breadth of England and the entire length of France on a 25-year-old road bike that is mostly held together with rust and duct tape is a bloody marvel. A custom hand built Bob Griffin, he was a shining example of modern bike technology when my Dad commissioned him. Not so much now. But despite the rust, the broken toe clips, the dodgy breaks, heavy frame, small wheels and tiny cogs, Rusty Bob has been a most loyal steed. While very expensive bikes have spontaneously broken, Rusty Bob suffered just one puncture on each of the BBB rides. A few bits came loose but duct tape is a wonderful thing … never travel without it!
A miscellany of uses for duct tape:
- Fixing toe clips back together
- DIY leg wax to streamline the body, incomprehensibly this offer was not taken up but I know it would work
- Fixing a water bottle cage back on after it came loose when the bike was launched through the air in frustration at the top of a viscous hill
- Attaching your bike to an outrider when you can no longer summon the energy to rotate the pedals
- Nipple tape - again this was offered as a solution when the problem of sore nipples was raised but this undoubtedly effective solution was not embraced
- Glove enhancers for when the padding wears thin
- Fixing derailleurs - am sure it would have worked but the owner of the broken derailleur was unwilling to try
- Taping stinky boys’ bottoms shut
- Strapping Rusty Bob to the outside of the van to be transported up the dangerous hill, secretly hoping this wouldn’t work and he’d fall off
- Fadi 😉
Ultimately, our suffering was for a reason; the ride was all about raising money for two amazing causes. Together - the riders, crew and our supporters - we raised over £30,000 for Bliss, the special care baby charity who provide medical and emotional support to families with babies born too small, too sick, too soon; and The Ashley Scrivens Foundation, set up in memory of Ash who rode with us on the first ride, to support youth sport initiatives.
It is one of my proudest achievements that I have been part of something that, over 2 rides, has raised in excess of £65,000 for charity! There is already talk of BBB: La Terza Fase - Nice to Naples. So, would I do it again? Hell yes. Would I do it on Rusty Bob? My sense of loyalty to him is considerably diminished and I would be foolish to attempt another long distance mountainous ride on such an unsuitable heap of rust. But then where’s the fun in making sensible decisions? And there’s always duct tape!