I write this post over a week after we completed The Big Bad Ride, a 460-mile endurance cycle from Edinburgh to London in aid of Harrison's Fund, a small charity working hard to find a cure for Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a fatal disease which affects my two young sons, Theo and Oskar.
I am indebted to my fellow riders: Nick Rucker, Mike Barnard, Dan Croft, Luke Bordewich, Dave Morrison and Chin Nicholson. All of them kept me going in very different ways, from Nick's infectious energy and wonderful madcap silliness, to Mike's quiet strength and resilience, to Dan's steadfast determination and humour, to Luke's willingness to lead the charge from the front, to Dave's infinite wisdom and experience in all matters cycling, to Chin's ever-present and indispensable care and support.
Old friends and new, they trucked along with me as we followed the A1 all the way down: getting lost, windswept and drenched in Northumberland; battling delirium and unimaginable fatigue as we climbed yet another bloody Pennine; racing across the flat lands of Lincolnshire, high on Haribos and energy gels, sure that we were finally pro-cyclists; and pushing through, on the last day, from Cambridge to London, our final destination Dulwich College, where half of us had gone to school. It was there where we ultimately collapsed, after we had crossed the line, in one giant saddle-sore heap.
Beyond the training we'd all done, what really kept us going, however, was the love and affection we have for one another, and our shared purpose, which at times I could see etched very clearly on my friends' pained faces: Nick determined to keep on going in spite of his failing knees, Mike in spite of his sciatica, Dan in spite of the growing number of pustules accumulating on his arse, Dave in spite of his exhaustion after riding the first two days in one, Luke in spite of the demands of his new job and the fact that he has done one-too-many long charity rides already, and Chin in spite of not knowing any of us before this whole insane endeavour began. All of them did it in spite of the pain and discomfort they had to endure along the way, because of Theo and Oskar, and other boys with Duchenne, this cruel disease.
Humour, more than anything else, sustained us, and there was plenty of it, which Mike captured so well in a post-ride email. Moments of understatement included me announcing on the first day in Edinburgh, five minutes into the ride, "Don't worry, the Garmin (a favoured GPS navigation device for cyclists) will show us the way!" It transpired that I couldn't actually work the thing, this becoming all too clear when, just ten minutes later, we found ourselves on the motorway, definitely not on the designated route, dodging high speed juggernauts. Moments of genius included Chin making each of us a perfect espresso in Consett, from the support car, to accompany our Lidl lunch.
Lowlights included cyclocross care of Google Maps in Bishop Auckland, where we ended up on a road not even fit for livestock let alone MAMILs in lycra with their precious bikes petrified of getting punctures. Highlights included Nick's guide to the different dialects of Scotland and Northern England, normally at high volume and in local company to test authenticity of accent.
Moments of stupidity, as Mike rightly observed, included preparation for a long day's cycling with curry tapas and four pints of Kingfisher each the night before. It's no wonder Dan ended up standing in a public park in Holbeach with his hands down his shorts smothering Sudocrem all over his arse while two young girls looked on, considering whether or not to inform the nearest policeman and have him arrested.
As the days went on, Nick and I, the two Nicks, regressed, remembering every single slightly mad gesture, sound and phrase we'd cooked up at school, with the rest of the team forced to endure this dual insanity, which expressed itself even when we were halfway up a hill, and in considerable pain. It's lucky that the sanity of the majority prevailed, this spirit of reason captured best by Chin - in every respect a dead ringer for the wonderful Jim Broadbent but for the fact that he's a redhead and at least a quarter of a century younger.
We received a special welcome at the finish line, our loved ones there to greet us along with supporters from the College including the Master Joe Spence, and when I knelt down to hug Theo, while Klara and Oskar looked on, I could sense his gratitude and appreciation, as he looked at all of us exhausted and started to piece together quite why we'd done what we just did, cycle the length of the land, to help his "weak muscles", in Theo's words.
We got there, we made it - God knows how - and I am indebted to all of you: Nick, Mike, Dan, Luke, Dave and Chin. Thank you, Gentlemen. You are good men. And perhaps, we shall do it again next year.
There's still time to donate here: TheBigBadRide. Please do.