Solent Coasts Cycle Challenge – Afterwards
(Backdated Article published 2 Jan 2013)
Well 30th June arrived and I was on my way to find out if I had what it takes to cycle 66 miles with six ferry crossings around Southampton, Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight. I had been out on the bike to make sure that my iPhone GPS tracking would work and that everything was in normal condition. I had not done any specific training but partook of the advice offered by my director at work and invested in some padded shorts. This was not a lack of preparation but rather me feeling that being of reasonable fitness and going as part of a group that I was more than capable of meeting the challenge!
So the morning started and our ‘team’ had arranged to meet at 06:45 ready to get started as soon as the first ferry left from Southampton for Hythe. Fortunately as the Cycle Challenge is well organised the ferry tickets were all included in a little booklet so there was to be no queuing to get tickets only to get on board the ferry. Full of enthusiasm we took pictures and tweeted from the Hythe Ferry as we set out on a beautiful morning.
We arrived in Hythe just before 08:00 and then proceeded on the first leg of our cycle. Heading down to Lymington through some scenic country roads. The first 16 miles seemed easy and we made reasonable time arriving just as the ferry was boarding. Lymington was the official start and there were a number of people at the checkpoint with water and sweets, providing support and encouragement that would be needed as we progressed through the day.
The ferry ride to Yarmouth was a nice break and we were able to enjoy some breakfast snacks to keep our reserves up as the hardest and longest part of the ride was coming up when we disembarked. It had been years since I had been to the Isle of Wight, although I had never realised how hilly the terrain was. Over the next three and a half hours we all became a great deal more familiar with the hills on the route from Yarmouth through Freshwater via Newport to Cowes before finally heading to Fishbourne for the next ferry to take us to Portsmouth. One of our team had hurt his ankle and so we stuck together to get him back to a position that he could safely get home. This turned out to be Cowes and from there the ladies and I continued on.
We had a brief cycle through Portsmouth to reach the Gosport ferry by 17:30 we were on our way to Warsash and knew we were not making the pace to reach the last sailing of the Pink Ferry across to Hamble. This would add a further six miles to our journey. As we cycled along Meon Shore the hunger arising from us skipping our planned lunch break in Cowes (as we were running a lot later than we thought we would) truly set in. I threw myself onto the grass verge and was not going any further until I had something in my stomach. I thankfully had my third and final Trek Bar which had been a good source of nutrition through the day and had kept me going this far. Fortunately this and some water helped to bring me back into the headspace to continue. It is quite concerning how heavily that level of hunger can affect you, I had never felt that before and certainly that is not the even greater hunger of starvation! Nevertheless as with my other team mates we each had our ‘moment of crisis’ where we had to dig inside and find that extra push to get ourselves back on the road and keep going. It would have been all to easy to throw in the towel and give up but that was not what any of us wanted to do. One of the team had family members in the area and were able to offload their bag and have their family drive to the checkpoint at Warsash to let the volunteers there know that we were still on our way. We arrived to the two lovely ladies manning the checkpoint packing down ready to depart. They were incredible, providing yet more water to refill our bottles and kindly giving us the medal for completing the challenge (although we had yet to get home).
There were a few other challengers at Warsash who were also facing the additional six mile cycle as the ferry to Hamble had finished. These were some clever ladies as they had found that the Water Taxi service was running and would cost about ten pounds each, for those of us that had been going for 12 hours it was a no brainer. We were even more fortunate that the wonderfully kind water taxi man took our ferry tickets as payment, a kindness for which we were amazingly grateful. We crossed the river to Hamble as the sun was starting to set. Relief filled us as we knew on the other side of the river was the final leg to get us all home!
We reached Hamble and it was my time to show my familiarity with the area and the route that we would be taking to get us back home. When I cycle it has been in this area, even to the extent that I performed a reconnaissance run a few weeks earlier to check where the route went. This worked well and as we cycled we were motivating ourselves with the idea of a tasty binge on Fish and Chips when we met our respective targets. As the sun continued to go down on what had been an amazing day allowing us to see the beauty of the countryside as we cycled through the Royal Victoria Country Park. We reached the Weston Shore and stopped for a brief water break and were then found by some of the organisers that were collecting in the signage for the ride. They too were extremely helpful and offered more sweets and I just could not resist the Jaffa Cakes (even knowing that I was only ten minutes from my dinner). We completed our journey and bid each other farewell having been a good team we each confirmed getting home safely. Naturally I did this after visiting the Fish and Chip shop as I did not foresee leaving the flat once I had arrived home.
It was a gruelling day taking over fourteen hours to complete the challenge, we nevertheless made it. It has to be said that the organisation of the event was superb, the enthusiasm of the volunteers manning the checkpoints was infectious. Without those that volunteered the ride would almost certainly not be feasible. Like the riders these people give their time freely so that the charity benefits from the sponsorship raised. This was a redefining experience and has made me determined to do better in 2013.