When I first started riding my bike in Manchester, back in 1998, I remember once being utterly elated when I cycled from Hulme to East Didsbury, a journey of about 6 miles. It was the furthest I’d cycled in one go, and seemed like a huge achievement. I wasn’t hugely familiar with exercise, having pretty much avoided it for most of my life, and living in the inner city, never had to cycle very far.
At that point, I would never have imagined having either the stamina or fitness to cycle any more than that in one go. Cycling became a part of my life, but it was never something I did for recreation. It got me from A to B and back again, it was an enjoyable form of transport, and it kept me generally fit, but that was it. I had friends who went mountain biking or touring on their bikes, but I could never see myself doing anything like that. That was for really fit people. For ‘proper’ cyclists, not people who just used their bikes to pootle around Manchester.
I’d heard of the charity bike ride from Manchester to Liverpool and at least once or twice in the last decade mused that it would be great to be able to do something like that. But still, I didn’t think that I would be able to do it. But earlier this year when Lorenza, of Wheeler’s Brunch, commented that she was thinking of cycling to Liverpool, I recklessly decided to join her. I went home and asked my partner if he was up for it. “Definitely” came his reply. I went online, signed up, set up a Just Giving site to raise money for NSPCC and there we were, committed to cycling the 40 (ish) miles from Salford to Liverpool.
Up until last summer, I still hadn’t really cycled much more than 15 or so miles in one go – though I’m a great deal fitter than I was back in 1998. But 40 miles would take training surely? So, Justin and I planned a couple of big rides to try and push ourselves. Our first trip took us out to Dunham Massey on the transpennine, and a bit further onto Lymm. It was a beautiful ride and I thought how incredible it was to cycle right from our house in South Manchester to the countryside, more or less without having to go on the roads at all.
A few weeks later, we went to Glossop. It wasn’t as far as Liverpool, probably about 20 miles, but it was going to be hilly, and we knew that it would be challenging. It took us 4 ½ hours altogether, but it was another beautiful ride with some spectacular views and some extremely lovely trails. As we got the train back, I was elated and impressed that we’d made it. How amazing to be able cycle from home to the beautiful hills of Derbyshire, I marvelled.
A few weeks before the charity ride, I did a ride from a so-called eco spa in Linthwaite where I’d been for a hen weekend. For all the spa’s eco-intentions, it couldn’t be bothered to supply any bike racks, despite being only a short cycle ride away from the nearest train station. Anyway, I decided to cycle from there to Saddleworth, forgetting that there was a great big hill in between. Cycling uphill against the wind for 3 miles was probably the most challenging ride I’d done yet. It took well over an hour. After freewheeling it down to Saddleworth, I was elated again and totally exhilarated. I knew that if I could do that, I could do Liverpool.
Even so, the week before the charity ride was not my best week. I caught a cold, couldn’t do any exercise, and didn’t cycle for much of the week. The weather was crap and I was beginning to be nervous that I wouldn’t be up to it. The night before, I tossed and turned with the worse insomnia I’d had in months. After 4 hours sleep, I woke to my worst nightmare: a drizzly and very windy day. If I hadn’t got so many sponsors, I might well have chickened out. But their pledges and well wishes made sure that I ignored my nerves and went for it anyway.
It wasn’t the easiest of rides; the strong headwind made sure of that. It certainly wasn’t the prettiest of rides; the industrial landscape between Manchester and Liverpool isn’t the nicest scenery we could have cycled through. It wasn’t the most relaxed of rides either; more of the ride was on the road than I’d expected. Four of us rode together, and knowing that we were all finding it challenging definitely helped me. My morale always sinks when I think everyone else is fitter, more competent and finding it much easier than me. The last 13 miles seemed to go on forever, but I used the same tactic that had kept me going through challenging situations before: I sang. It focused my mind on something other than my aching legs, my sore bum and the headwind, released some much needed endorphins, and kept me entertained as I made up new words for Blowing In the Wind, and my dad’s song for a 4 year old Ruth: “All By Yourself”.
Just under six hours after leaving the starting line, as the sun finally broke through, we arrived at the finish. I made it. This ‘not proper’ cyclist cycled 40 miles all in one go.
Thanks to my lovely riding companions, Lorenza, Jacky and Justin, and to everyone who sponsored me. I couldn’t have done it without you all.