Since 2010, I’ve joined the Amos Road Club bike ride over the late May bank holiday weekend (apart from one year when some of us did the Dunwich Dynamo in June instead). We’ve cycled to Amsterdam, to Belgium, across the Way of the Roses, round the Isle of Wight, through Wales, and in Scotland. The first trip I did was London To Paris, and last weekend we cycled there again along a different route.
We gathered at Coffee Brew House on Ham Common at 9:30am last Saturday, nearly 40 cyclists. Some people have been on every ride, some were new to the group having been enticed by family or friends. Each year we’re accompanied by a van that carries our kit, picks up any stragglers, and sets up for lunch in pre-arranged places so we sweaty cyclists can arrive, eat and head off again. This year the van was driven by Jim; last year’s driver, Isobel, was on the back of a tandem this year with her husband Bryan on the front.
We set off in loosely formed groups to follow the routes on our Garmin arranged for us by Mike. It’s amazing how much debate about directions can arise from Garmins that all have the same route loaded, but nobody fell out over it. We cycled down through Surrey, and across the South Downs to Portsmouth where we caught the ferry after some very welcome fish and chips.
The ferry arrived in Ouistreham bright and early, and we set off along the coast to visit Juno Beach and paddle in the sea. Then back into Caen where we had lunch in the sunshine by the Cathedral before heading on to Lisieux. I struggled a bit on this day with a stomach ache and a lack of training, but I wasn’t the only one walking up a hill just outside Lisieux.
On the Monday we cycled on to Dreux along almost deserted roads through fields of barley, poppies, peas and cornflowers. These are roads that cyclists dream of, fast and flat, where we can spread out and pretend we own them, talking when the mood takes us, cycling with our own thoughts when we choose. The route took us along a few tracks which were designated cycle routes on the map, but not for my kind of bike. Still, it’s quite pleasing to dig mud out of your mudguards with a stick before you move on. The van found a covered market stall in Roiville to set up the food in the afternoon, because there was rain on the way. My group felt very smug as we arrived, bought a beer from the local cafe, and then watched the rain when the heavens opened a few minutes later.
We set off early on Tuesday to get to Paris, because some people needed to get the Eurostar that evening. Jonny and I were in a group of six which was an ideal number to navigate the traffic lights once we got into Paris. We stopped for a celebratory kir royale once we could see the top of the Eiffel Tower in the distance, and rolled up at the Tower shortly afterwards to greet our fellow cyclists. Champagne corks were popped, photos taken, hugs shared; what a fantastic sense of achievement. I took photos on my phone during the ride this year; you can see them here.
Amos has created something truly wonderful in these rides, a genuinely inclusive group of cyclists who welcome old friends and new. On the first ride to Paris there were only three women, and I was the only woman who cycled in Scotland the following year. But this year there were 11 intrepid women in the group, some novice cyclists, some very accomplished, but all of them relishing the challenge of discovering just what our bodies, minds and souls were capable of. We were raising money for Amos’ On Her Terms campaign, for girls who live on the streets and you can still sponsor me here if you would like to! These rides mark the years, and will always be an anniversary of sorts for me as three years ago I set off early from Amsterdam to cycle back and start chemotherapy. How long ago that seems. How fortunate to be out of its shadow and relishing life again.
I took my crutches and stored them in the van – where they stayed all weekend. We caught the Eurostar back to London on Wednesday, while our bikes travelled back in the van and were dropped off at St Clements where Amos has its offices. I couldn’t fit my crutches on my bike to cycle back home with my panniers so they are still there, and I am walking around with a big smile on my face. I found out on Friday that I have osteopenia, so I need to do some research into how to live with that but my physio has written me a plan to get back to running. He asked me what my goal is – another marathon? – but for now all I want to do is parkrun so that’s what I’m aiming for.