For the last few years I’ve spent the late May Bank Holiday weekend on a cycle ride with people from Amos Trust. Last year we did the Way of the Roses, the year before we cycled to Belgium, and this year’s destination was Amsterdam. Eighteen of us set off from St Clements in London on Saturday morning to cycle to Harwich, picking up people at Chelmsford and Colchester en route; others were cycling from Cambridge or driving for the first day, with around 50 people in total cycling over the weekend.
The route out of London was a bit tricky, not helped by a shower of rain. We seemed to go round the Olympic Park a couple of times before working out which way to leave it. But once we were on the NCN route, it was a great ride down country lanes with some sunshine. We stopped in Chelmsford where our van driver had made friends with some builders who made us a cup of tea and let us use their loo! Some confusion about the route near Maldon meant we did a few more miles than we needed to, and by the time we got to Colchester it was getting pretty late. A few people had gone on ahead, some more piled into the van with their bikes and that left five of us to ride hard to Ramsey where supper and all the other cyclists were waiting for us before the final push to the ferry. There’s nothing like that sense of slight desperation about whether you’re going to make it in time to help you find energy when you feel like you’ve got none left. We arrived at the pub to be greeted by the landlord at the door saying ‘are you Jenny? your stir fry is ready’ – fantastic service and very welcome food. My Garmin battery ran out after about 60 miles but I think we did at least 95 miles that day.
After a night on the ferry, we set off for Amsterdam. The Dutch have a brilliant system for marking cycle routes. Knooppunten are numbered nodes around the country, and to follow a route you just need to know which order of nodes to travel through. Signs on the route point you towards the next node you’re aiming for. It’s not infallible and we had to resort to iphones occasionally, but it’s a very flexible and easy system that largely takes you down dedicated cycle routes or quiet roads through beautiful countryside. We cycled through Leiden which seemed to be an idyllic town where everyone had a boat for Sunday afternoon cruising along the canals. We stayed the night in a hostel in Vondelpark in Amsterdam after a sunny 55 miles.
Since the diagnosis, I hadn’t known whether I’d be able to do this ride. I found out two weeks ago that it was going to be possible, but that we’d need to come back early for blood tests on the Tuesday. So on Monday morning, Jonny and I set off to cycle back to the Hook of Holland for the two o’clock ferry while everyone else enjoyed a day in the city. We left at seven in the morning, and went a different route down the coast which was easier to follow. You can see our ‘directions’ at the top – a list of seemingly random numbers that guided us all the way back to the ferry. We made it in time, arrived back in England around 8pm, got the train to Stratford, and then had to cycle to Aldgate East to get a tube home because of engineering works. It was a stark reminder of just how pitiful London’s approach to cycling is; instead of separated routes and respect for cyclists in Holland, we have a bit of blue paint on the road and aggression from drivers. Still, it was a wonderful weekend and I’m very grateful that I was able to do it.
And now it feels like I am shifting into a different kind of space where I don’t yet know the rules or how to find my way around. I ran to Charing Cross yesterday for my blood tests, along the river in beautiful sunshine, and sat outside for a bit before going in. It was a strange experience to feel so fit and healthy, having just had such an active weekend, and to know that this building is going to take that away over the next few months. Starting chemo is walking into the unknown. I’ve read Elizabeth Wurtzel’s Guardian article, I’ve talked to friends about their experience, I’ve heard about people who just kept going as normal, but I don’t know how it’s going to affect me until it does. I’m feeling apprehensive but I just want to get on with it now.