(actual date of post – 17 September)
Match five – vs Middlesbrough away
Total mileage 716.19 miles
I started to get very nervous and worried on Tuesday 6 September. I had been planning ‘Cycling the Season’ for some time and – after August’s gentle start – it was about to get real with the first big ride of the season. To Middlesbrough: the second furthest journey of the season. What if I had bitten off more than I could chew and was about to fail spectacularly?. Or, more likely, just embarrassingly.
I set off on Wednesday morning at 7.25am, waved away by Janet and the kids. I’d made sure I had taken plenty of fluids on board which meant – once I was passed the familiar roads of Worcester Park and Kingston – I soon needed a comfort break. I stopped in Southall, thinking the Lidl would have a toilet. It didn’t. But luckily there was a Palace supporting stall holder at Southall market who, seeing my Palace cycling top, let me use the stall holders’ toilet.
From then on, the morning went really well as I rode around London and into the English countryside. By the time I stopped for lunch in Stony Statford I had ridden more than 68 miles and was well on my way to my first night’s destination (Rothwell, near Kettering).
In many ways, that was the pattern for the journey North. I wouldn’t describe it as easy – or anything like it, particularly towards the end of each day – but I greatly enjoyed munching by way through the miles along lovely quiet roads, through beautiful English countryside. The Red Arrows flyby just added to the occasion!
On the third day, having spent the night near Doncaster, I stopped for a mid morning break in one of my favourite cities: York. Shortly after setting off again, I passed a sign welcoming me to North Yorkshire. I’m not sure why that in particular affected me – but I felt quite emotional realising I’d cycled all the way across England from South London to North Yorkshire.
And so I made in the Middlesbrough on schedule on Friday evening, ready for match day on Saturday.
What a day Saturday was. After wasting some time around Middlesbrough town centre in the morning, I headed for the ground for noon. There, I was presented with a signed shirt by Middlesbrough; and a Newcastle United Disabled Supporters pin badge by a young disabled man (who – being a Newcastle fan – then couldn’t wait to get away from the Riverside!) I have to say that Middlesbrough and their officials and stewards were brilliant to me all day. I was taken into the ground and my bike was found a secure home in a store cupboard in the away end.
Meanwhile, I headed by foot back into town to meet Steve Browett – one quarter of the four-man CPFC2010 consortium who saved the club from oblivion six years ago – for a drink. I shared a taxi with him back to the ground, before I met with Palace TV’s Chris Grierson and was interviewed live on Facebook pre-match on the edge of the pitch.
The match was no let down. Record signing Christian Benteke opened his Palace account; James McArthur ran the game from midfield, whilst Wilfried Zaha ran the Boro defence ragged. And then Palace rode their luck and hung on to take a deserved first win of the season, 2-1.
After the match, Steve Browett introduced me to Palace legend Mark Bright, Chairman Steve Parish and several of the Palace players. All in all a wonderful day.
Then there was just the small matter of the ride home. It started very well on Sunday morning, not least for the pleasant surprise in the first few miles of a car pulling alongside me to say hello: the driver was one of the stewards I’d met the previous day. But it got much harder.
When I’ve talked about the riding home bit of the challenge, almost everyone has made the same joke. It’s downhill when you’re coming South. Well, it really isn’t. The journey home was a combination of flat exposed plains battling cross or headwinds and difficult hilly terrain. I was particularly struggling mid afternoon on day two, when I decided to stop for tea and victoria sponge at Wymondham Windmill (where I also popped in for a chat at the very friendly Windmill Wheels bike shop). Anyway, I don’t know what they put in the cake, but whatever it was it should be on the banned substances list as it gave me the boost to complete the journey.
The final day saw an unseasonable September heatwave, as well as more hilly terrain. After making it up the hardest hill of the day (pushing much of the way) I was delighted to be greeted by the Greyhound pub in Wiggington, near Tring. One sausage baguette, one pint of diet coke and two pints of lime and soda later and I was ready for the final slog home.
And that all means the first big ride is done. I’m sure a combination of the weather, punctures and other mechanical issues will mean there are bigger challenges to come. But having completed the second longest ride of the challenge I feel more confident that I can complete the task I’ve set myself.
Some observations from the ride:
- Britain isn’t full. It’s empty. Spectacularly, beautifully and gloriously empty. And long that may continue
- Having said that, every small town or large village seemed to be having a new housing estate built at the edge of it
- There was something incredibly satisfying about turning into a road called Brown Cow Lane and seeing that there was indeed, in the adjacent field, a brown cow. Said cow marked the significance by doing a poo.
- There’s a lot of wildlife out there. I particularly enjoyed seeing pheasants and rabbits. But also a lot of it has been killed on the roads – my spots included a range of birds, rabbits, hedgehogs, foxes and one badger.
- Yorkshire rightly remains proud of having hosted the Tour de France in 2014. It was great to see so many yellow or yellow and blue bikes still affixed to walls, fences etc.
- There are few sight as wonderful as a field of fully ripe corn
Finally, some random pictures from an amazing week.
Ready for the off:
Lunch in Newark on day two
The bike’s sleeping quarters in Doncaster
A pitstop in York on day 3
Lunch on day 3 – and no, that’s not my spare bike on the wall
The bike was in with me for nights 3 and 4.
Presentation of the signed shirt
Meeting some of the players post-match
Some views from the way home