Our Epic #500infive Challenge
Warm summer sun on the skin, lazy evenings with colleagues.... that was my expectation of the 500 mile bike ride for Versus Arthritis. Reality was a little different…
It had rained for days and at 7am, the start of our journey, it was still raining. Our team - Alan, Liam, Kevin, Mark B, Mark H, Lee and myself, plus Nick our driver – were at Commercial Head Office. The van was loaded with bags, tools, spare parts, water, sport and recovery drinks, cake, and more jelly snakes than grown men should ever consume....
Day 1 was 93 miles (150km) from Cheltenham to East Midlands Airport. It should have been fun, but rain and relentless spray made it anything but. Banter turned to silence. We had the first mechanical hitch: Lee had a problem with his brakes and had to go for repairs. As the rain cleared, we rolled into Jury’s Inn, longing for a warm shower and hot food.
In theory Day 2 was the hardest, climbing through the Peak District. But it was dry. We enjoyed alfresco coffee in Matlock Bath, and even ice cream at Ladybower. But it wasn’t all plain sailing. Our different strengths, characteristics and riding traits were becoming more obvious, and physical niggles started to affect some of the team.
The longest day, at 116miles (186km), started out dry, but had navigational challenges. First was a road that became a track, which didn’t suit all the bikes. We doubled back and, attempting to push on before the rain, missed a turning and ended up hacking through a field with shoe cleats clogged with soil.
Relentless rain again. We started asking, why? Why are we putting up with these conditions? Why did we think this was a good idea? We knew the reason why. It was because we were raising money to help people who live with pain and discomfort. At least the cold and the wet we were enduring were only temporary, we chose this and, it would come to an end.
I awoke on Day 4 feeling it was going to be hard: 300 miles taking its toll and there were 200 miles still to go, alongside the intensity of having spent 72 hours with colleagues. We had about five punctures; road closures; diversions for replacement parts, and Liam had an escalating knee pain. This led to a split: Liam needed a break, while others – conscious of Versus Arthritis supporters waiting to cheer us into London – wanted to push on.
The last of the team eventually rolled into Perivale, greeted by supporters including Aaron George, whose battle with Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis was the inspiration for our endeavour. Seeing Aaron there gave us all a lift.
Then the final 100 mile push, but with a sting in the tail – the relatively short, but often incredibly steep, Cotswolds. At 7:30am, we were into London rush hour. The next milestone, crossing the M25, gifted us a new stretch of road, closed to the public. It was smooth, fast and traffic free and it soon became clear why – there was no way out. The road was blocked by 8 foot fencing. We could find another route, or find a way to overcome. So that’s what we did. Bikes on shoulders, we got over the fence.
The Chilterns – steep hills with sharp shards of flint littering the roads – was the next challenge, and Alan had a tyre torn right through. As we crossed into Gloucestershire I felt an immediate lift of spirits knowing home was not far away. But not without one last twist. Mark B slipped off a peddle that tore open his leg. After a quick inspection and a wash, we made the final nine mile descent. And what a reception! Everyone from Commercial, with Aaron, was outside waving and cheering.
We’d done it. What had started out as an off-the-cuff suggestion had morphed into an epic five day, 500 mile challenge. The team was pushed mentally and physically, but we’d each triumphed over our personal demons. Commercial had generously facilitated the effort, and generous sponsors and donors helped raise over £16,000 for Versus Arthritis – the largest single charity fundraising effort by the Commercial team since 1991.
There is still time to donate to this great cause at commercial.co.uk/donate
#500infive is the largest single charity fundraising effort by the Commercial team since 1991
Head of CSR, Commercial