And so the epic bike ride begins…

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18th August 2021

Days One, Two and Three as the cycling challenge gets underway

– Follow Alison’s stories of what it’s like to be the back-up and support here, as she reports back with a daily MAMILgram (that’s Middle-Aged-Men-In-Lycra):

Day Three – Moretonhampstead to Glastonbury (60 miles)

In addition to cycling to raise money for Reading Force, I’ve noticed the emergence of a sub-plot. Having had so many Forces moves, we now have former military friends all over the place. This journey has enabled us to reconnect – particularly for picnic lunches in mutually convenient National Trust properties.

We have been in touch; they have loyally turned up. It’s left me reflecting on the tremendous bonds that are forged when you are posted to the same place and living through similar challenges. Wives in an advanced state of pregnancy would immediately be supported through an experience that in civilian life would draw on a much longer-established network.

I remember moving to Germany, six months pregnant with our first child. At my first antenatal clinic I met Fiona Maxwell, who introduced me to her network – and now works for RF as our Scottish Ambassador (we are staying with her and Bill at the end of the trip).

The same happened with those facing bereavement, separation or just the challenge of arriving somewhere new and knowing no one. A Reading Force book club in Northern Ireland (see this link) recently enabled a wife about to move there to link, through shared-reading, with her new community before arrival.

One of our children was once interviewed by BFBS. He was asked what made a military childhood different.

Moving homes and school much more regularly than the rest of the population were obvious, although he admitted it took him a while to understand that this was not everyone’s experience. He also commented on the not infrequent two hour-plus drive at weekends, to see friends for lunch, and how strange it was to turn up and see all their familiar things, just in a different setting.

I think in the process military children observe flexibility in action – and hopefully learn how to manage change.

Day Two: Fowey to Moretonhampstead (60 miles)

We are settling into a rhythm. After breakfast, during which the cyclists carbo-load and I try to eat much less, I get materials for lunch. Reaching a prearranged point, to reconnect with friends not seen for ages, the cyclists arrive, refuel and move on. I then do the National Trust tour, which Covid-restrictions require to be pre-booked. Buckland Abbey yesterday, Castle Drogo today.

The distances between cycling points are not straightforward. The sat nav is joyously off the leash, today recommending short-cuts that took me down narrow Cornish lanes and over even narrower bridges. While I must work out if there is a ‘main roads only’ button, there is a thrill in tackling such uncharted territory.

Dartmoor seems to have a micro-climate. We rose from and descended to sunshine, but on the moor there was heavy rain, mist and – most unexpectedly – two highland cattle in the middle of the road. A surreal experience.

Over dinner we connect with others and find we have a story – two prospective fathers-in-law riding along together. Who is testing whom? The story of Reading Force is well received and we have garnered further interest and donations.

To support Neil and Derek and donate to their causes please visit their fundraising page:

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Day One – Land’s End to Fowey (64 miles)

‘Land’s End to John o’Groats’ is well established on the bucket list of many, whether by walking (like Ian Botham) or cycling (as my husband Neil and his pal Derek are doing for the next two weeks). It even has its own acronym – LEJOG (JOGLE being in the opposite direction).

I knew Everest now offers tourists managed-climbing, with space travel heading the same way. I had not realised cycling is involved, but there were vans at Land’s End disgorging those on escorted trips, with handy bicycle-repair and luggage-transportation throughout. Tempting.

Our intrepid two have just me, in a VW Sharan equipped with snacks, first aid and basic spares. They are cycling in aid of Reading Force (Neil) and Reading Force and Type-1 Diabetes charity JDRFUK (Derek).

Next year they become joint fathers-in-law, when our son marries Derek and Linda’s daughter, so in addition to the expected books that might hover over any future crib, a tricycle will presumably feature early.

One might wish such a significant journey began somewhere else. Land’s End is bleak and battered. But the twisty route, and the surprising number of hills (route-planning is always flat), were soon engrossing. I provided a picnic lunch at Trelissick Gardens (National Trust), which has stunning estuary-views. Having crossed King Harry’s Ferry, I realised how close I was to St Mawes, where the main memory of my father’s cousin’s home is the head of marlin on their sitting room wall – caught by his tiny wife Cherry off NZ (with accompanying photo to prove it). Sadly they are long gone, but the narrow and high-hedged lanes reminded me of childhood fears that we’d meet another car midway.

The cyclists got to Fowey by 4pm, cheerful and seemingly untired by their first 64 miles.

Find out more about Neil and Derek’s cycling challenge from Land’s End to John o’Groats on our dedicated web page HERE.