When Ben Peachey told me that two racing bikes, a toolkit, a large kitbag, various changes of clothes, lots of water bottles, some helmets, a cardboard box full of food – oh, and three men – would fit in my short wheelbase Land Rover, I wasn’t convinced. However, at six thirty on a windy and damp Saturday morning, he put his calculation to the test. And he was right. Just.
This was the start of a long day, and a longer journey, as Ben (a crew member of Tewkesbury Station) and his friend, Dan Edwards, prepared to start the sponsored cycle ride from SARA’s most northerly rescue station – Wyre Forest – right down to the most southerly – Beachley. The eighty-mile journey would take the intrepid cyclists past the other two stations, Tewkesbury and Sharpness, and would prove be a test of both fitness and determination.
We set off on our way up the M5, and just over an hour later we arrived at Wyre Forest, just north-east of Kidderminster – where we were welcomed by the station manager and promptly offered a cup of tea. Whilst I was sat in the warmth, sipping my tea, the madmen donned their Lycra and hopped on their trusty steeds – raring to set off. As the clock struck eight, they went on their way and this was when the journey had really begun.
I waited around twenty minutes, then set off in my car, thinking I’d catch them up a couple of miles down the road. As the miles went on, corner after corner, I had not seen a glimpse of them and started to wonder whether they had been blown off course (or maybe had stopped for a stealthy bacon roll at a roadside cafe, which I must have driven right past). Slightly bewildered, I pressed on, and after about eighteen miles I spotted two white and blue specks in the distance, just on the outskirts of Worcester on the A38 – under an hour after setting off.
After a quick glucose fix, they were back on the saddles and off again. Following the road through the centre of Worcester, and then out the other side, the weather took a turn for the worse, with the drizzle and squalls setting in. They cyclists were heading straight into a strong headwind and, judging by how the car was blowing around, I realised how challenging the conditions had become. Pushing on, the village of Kempsey had came and quickly went, and as the hedgerows become shorter and the wind got stronger, but onwards they battled.
I drove ahead and then stopped in a lay-by not far from Severn Stoke, and before long they appeared in the distance again, on good form, and waved as they cycled past – clearly comfortable and enjoying the ride. The M50 bridge soon was above us, and on we went towards Tewkesbury. Just after the town centre, Ben and Dan stopped at a car park for a short break and were warmly greeted by the Tewkesbury Station Chairman (Chris Crowley) and Ben’s family. As usual, they didn’t hang around and set off towards Gloucester, still on the A38.
They went through several villages, exposed to the elements, and approached the outskirts of Gloucester. The blustery weather made an already challenging cycle ride into a gruelling slog, and I started to wonder how they would cope from the comfort of my car. It didn’t take long for Ben and Dan to get through Gloucester, and out the other side. Then disaster struck – Ben called to say he had a flat tyre and the replacement inner tube’s valve was not a standard size.
We met up in a car park, and it soon became apparent that no matter how much Dan tried, the valve was not going to fit in the wheel and we had a problem on our hands. After some head scratching, the deflated inner tube was pumped up and we listened for a puncture. Strangely, none of us could hear the leak and we decided to try again – putting it down to a disturbed valve. Suddenly things picked up, the tyre seemed to hold its pressure, and off they set towards Hardwicke.
We met up again back on the A38, near Frampton upon Severn, and I really started to feel guilty being sheltered from the relentless headwind in a car. As the cyclists stopped for a drink, I could see fatigue had set in, and this – compounded with news that the tyre had deflated again – wasn’t good news, with nearly thirty miles to go.
The next ten miles looked like a real grind, but on they went – making steady progress and taking the tarmac in their stride nonetheless. We stopped at Stone, and pumped up the tyre again, and I could see the change in morale as exhaustion had now unmistakably set in. Back on the saddles they went, and they pushed on to Thornbury, where we turned off the seemingly endless A38 and took a smaller road towards Elberton. After a short while on some winding roads, the Severn Bridge appeared over the top of the trees. This was a massive psychological boost and the new lease of life gave a prolonged burst of speed as they flew down the lanes towards the estuary.
The next problem was the power of the wind over the two-mile bridge – forcing them to temporarily have to hop off and push. Once well over the Severn and above the Wye, Ben and Dan clambered back on and fought the wind, making their way to solid ground where they could almost taste the tea that was brewing at Beachley station. The final leg of the journey was punishing, and the last five miles, running on fumes, just seemed endless.
They cycled through Chepstow, with a half flat tyre on Ben’s bike, back over the Wye again, and into Sedbury they trekked. The finish eventually came into site and the two exhausted cyclists met a warm welcome from cheering crew members from Beachley and Wyre Forest.
A fantastic effort all round, and a huge thanks to Ben and Dan for such a feat of determination – all for SARA.
Want to sponsor Ben? Click here to give online via Just Giving!
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