After the drama of the past three days, day four of the Miffy and Friends Charity Cycle Challenge was relatively easy, with a glorious, sunny 70 mile cycle from the Dutch coast to Utrecht, passing stunning ‘picture postcard’ scenery. The highlight was this stretch of canal flanked by old windmills.
We were all on a real high after three gruelling days. Sadly one of our group, the lovely Becky Coles, was taken to hospital where it was confirmed her elbow was fractured from a nasty fall the previous day, stripping me completely of my wounded hero title. As for the rest of us, despite the various strains of four days of cycling such as heatstroke, sore bums, cramps, pulled muscles, etc the morning’s 50 mile ride was a treat.
Stopping for lunch by a windmill for a pancake lunch, the reality that there was just another 30 miles to go till the end was a strange feeling of relief, and sadness.
Mr Gould, Mr Wilkins and I decided that after lunch, the final stage deserved a farewell blow out and we upgraded to peloton one (a bit like going to GBK for the full works of burgers, fries and Oreo shakes, the day before the diet starts). The next 25 miles were just adrenalin-fuelled cycling with our speed averaging 17mph and going at 22mph for some sections. I was with the big boys now (and one awesome lady called Jayne Wadsworth, who as a competing cyclist, kept all the 'lads' in this group in their place).
Our final stop was a few miles out of the centre of Utrecht, where after a well-earned Solero ice lolly, courtesy of John Archibald, we waited for the second group to join and the group of 43 cycled side by side to the finish line.
Entering the Wilhemina Children's Hospital grounds to a cheering crowd was just awesome and seeing two cheques handed over by the mayor of Utrecht, one for €27,500 to the hospital raised by the Dutch contingency, and another for £53,000 to The Light Fund by the UK riders, was a memory that will stay with me forever. This is what the whole thing was about, and this money will be helping people that know real pain and hardship.
So with our bikes wrapped in bubble wrap ready for the return trip to the UK, our adventures were not quite done. After a quick shower at the hotel, we were whisked off to the Miffy and Friends 60th birthday and MFCCC party. Mercis put on a great evening with the most incredible live band - finally we could let our hair down (though the reality of my pre cycling number one all over hair cut was a fashion statement I felt should never be repeated again).
Months of seriously reduced alcohol intake meant it wasn't long before I headed straight to the dance floor and could not believe that I could produce more sweat in the next two hours than over four days of cycling. Never had I wanted to be wearing a base layer as much as I did then. People were looking at me and I'm not sure if their faces were of amazement at my moves on the dance floor, or disgust that I looked like I was entering a Club 18-30 wet t shirt competition.
Midnight saw us back in the bar at the hotel and for the next couple of hours, the celebrations continued. As I bid farewell to the last few standing, Stephen and I headed out and as we did our best Morecambe and Wise impression, I somehow managed to fall over with a force that tipped over two of the outdoor sofas. So, after all I had achieved in four days on a bike coming out the other side feeling awesome, I managed to awake Saturday morning with sore knees, bruised arm, aching legs from dancing, and somehow on my fall managed to slice the top of my big toe off.
Packing my bag the last morning was a revelation... four days of sweaty cycling gear was a new experience for my luggage and I hoped to god that I didn't get stopped at customs on the way back into Luton.
Our last few hours were probably the most exhausting of the week. Heading into Utrecht to glimpse a bit of this year’s Grand Depart of the Tour de France resulted in having to walk a few km in 35 degree heat with all our luggage and home was now on our minds. That said, the atmosphere in Utrecht was spectacular, and other members of the group were able to get up close to the action on both Saturday and Sunday.
Thank you to Anthony Temple (Rainbow Designs/DRi), Alicia Davenport (DRi), Stephen Gould (CPLG), Mark Teunissen (Mercis) and Alison Vellacott (Highlight PR) for all their work in organising this amazing trip.
I have had the privilege of meeting some extraordinary people this week and for the first time in my life have taken part in a physical challenge where the power and camaraderie of a team were the most important ingredient.
You can do all training and preparation you can find the time for, but nothing is stronger than the human spirit and the way that a group of people can collectively decide that despite the odds, whether a lack of time, getting lost, the hottest weather on record, dicky tummies, vomiting, hail the size of pear drops, wind, blisters, broken bones, etc will get each other through every minute of every day.