It's 9pm on Thursday 30th August.
I'm sat in a guest house bedroom near Lancaster pondering the notion that bad things usually occur in 3's . I say this because I wasn't intending to start my bike ride from Marine fc to Blyth Spartans until tomorrow but after two mishaps the first was falling out of a tree on Friday and the second a knee jarring hard landing whilst out paragliding on sunday left me with a very sore and swollen knee. I decide that common sense should rule over my Desire to complete the 126 miler from Crosby to Carlisle in one day by doing a steady ride after work on Thursday evening up to Lancaster therefore reducing Fridays grueling ride by some 40 miles.
All this solitary thinking brings to mind my previous two solo rides to marine away games. First was when we got got a good kicking by Kendal 6 0 I think and second we were the wrong side of a 3 0 mauling at Matlock the combined mileage of those two trips was 154 miles this by contrast is 195 miles and its playing on my mind that this could be event number 3 on two counts. Am I really tempting a bike fall and a 9 0 thrashing at Blyth ? Certainly not, Marine (its like watching Brazil) are in fine form. We've never won at Blyth in our history , and I've not seen us score a goal there since 1979. All the omens are against us but our time is now we have the skills we have the belief. I will conquer Kendal over the mighty fells of the lake district to Penrith and on to Carlisle by sunset on Friday in readiness for the final leg to Blyth on Saturday morning. Onwards and upwards!
It's 7am just south of Lancaster. A restless night spent wrestling the big decisions I'm likely to face on the long and lonely trek up north across fell and dale. The first decision being that as a finely tuned near Olympian I need to ensure I pack in the right balance of essential amino acids high carbs protein with extremely low fat count. I go for 2 sausage 2 bacon black pudding 2 eggs beans mushrooms hashbrown and of course fried bread. I convince myself Wiggo would have done the same.
Received dozens of texts this morning wishing me well and good luck. I've raised £675 for Marine fc ground appeal so far so hoping to nudge that up throughout the day.
It's a fabulous looking day brilliant early morning sunshine no wind but biting cold Autumn has arrived my Breakfast will keep me warm next stop Kendal !
1st milestone of the day I am now in Cumbria and its not even 10am yet. Ahead of schedule ! The big breakfast was the right choice LOL!
1400 feet in 14 miles a long long steady relentless climb with near horizontal rain driving into my ageing crumbling body, steam vapour rising from legs burning with pain as I push hard to the summit. This is the maddest thing since mad jack mcmad won the being mad competition 3 yrs running ! Who's bleep bleep idiotic stupid bleep bleep insane bleep idea was this ? Wait till I get hold of Marine chairman Paul bleep bleep Leary what in gods name was I thinking of allowing him to persuade me to attempt this ridiculous challenge. If you're reading this and haven't sponsored me yet then do so immediately or I'm never coming back ya can stick ya ground appeal up ya bleep bleep bleep bleep I'd better be on free burgers for life from this new refreshments kiosk. That pint you promised me Mr Chairman better make it a barrel. My knees are no longer mine no pain no gain ! Pah ! Where's the gain bleep bleep ground appeal bleep bleep Marine fc bleep bleep............10 minutes later ...... I'm sat in a cafe in shap village its amazing what a large coffee and chocolate cake can do for a man's soul. So that's the biggest hill behind me what doesn't kill you makes you stronger and its all down hill to Carlisle (i hope ) the Col de Shap wasn't so bad then again I've not tried standing up yet ! Onwards and upwards (or is that downwards) see you in Carlisle :)
As I roll into wind swept rain drenched Shap village like a dead man on a horse in some long forgotten western movie. I realise this seemingly deserted place has a cafe. I pull in and as I enter to my astonishment the place is packed to the gunnels, there's the village WI meeting going on and a female cacophony of noise greets me like an impenetrable stone wall I notice through an archway a snug with a lone man sat at a table and immediately make a bee line for male company and a bit of peace. We strike up a conversation and within no time football is the topic of choice and to my utter incredulity he's a Blyth Spartans fan ! I am flabbergasted ! I'm in a deserted village on top of a fell in the midst of a women's institute meeting and meet a Blyth fan beyond belief doesn't do it justice ! This delays my departure by 45 minutes as we talk non league not for the first time on this adventure football proves itself yet again as the catalyst for bringing people together in friendship. I leave the gaggling meeting and head off down into Penrith in pouring rain the only note worthy incident being a not yet registered blind man driving a van tries his best to kill me on a roundabout. Catastrophe avoided I press on to Carlisle where my guest house awaits. I'm in for a treat crossroads house in the village of brisco is run by Warren and Sue he's an ex referee and staunch Rochdale fan. We both reminisce about 1974 Rochdale at home to Marine fa cup 1st round. We were both at that game and both at the replay and both at the 1989 fa cup game played at anfield ( strange we hadn't met before today really) Warren is delighted to talk football and I'm treated like royalty for my short stay , again football bringing friendships and people together.
A very early night beckons as I rub ibuprofen gel into my knees and take co codamol tablets for a long list of other aches and strains. It's been a great days cycling apart from a very cold early morning long painful hills headwinds and lashing rain not forgetting the dice with death in Penrith and now the sad realization that I'm feeling the wrong side of fifty due to cramp and the desperate need for my pillow and its only 9.30pm.
My Olympian breakfast of Cumberland sausage bacon eggs beans etc etc has been ordered for 7am the weather is forecast as considerably better and drier than today so its a quick 75 miles cross country along the very busy A69 to the outskirts of Newcastle before heading north east to Blyth. Piece of cake to a mamil (middle aged man in lycra) like me. Had some good news tonight my fund total is nearing £800 so if you have a spare £200 to give it will make a nice round figure to head home with. I've enjoyed the unique experience of the solo adventure that is long distance cycling, one gets to meet interesting people that one wouldn't normally come across when traveling in a group. I do miss the team spirit of the group who encourage, inspire and push each other along they keep you going and its not nearly as tough when there's a number of you taking turns to buffer the wind. It's truly a team effort that inter dependence that binds you all together for a single purpose and goal.
The solo non supported ride has its plus side but there is no hiding place its a mental challenge every much as the physical. If you have enjoyed my blogs so far please consider joining us next June for our Wembley to anfield / goodison trip 200 miles in one day or the more leisurely 3 day event London to blackpool. Your reward will come from within yourself its an achievable yet impressive event to challenge yourself to do and make a real difference to real peoples lives.
Off to do a bit of stretching now don't want to get too stiff in bed and awake with cramp at 3am!
Well I made it ! A great experience and what a welcome from our friends at Blyth, fans, stewards, committee even the caterers wishing me well and congratulations. I had hoped my ride would inspire our players to the first victory at Blyth in our entire 118 year history but it was not to be. We drew 3 all in a great entertaining game.
Highlights of my trip would be the stunning wilderness, wonderful views and the people I met along the way. The sense of achievement will live long in my memory my aches and strains will soon pass and fade away. Football is a ubiquitous and ever changing catalyst for conversations friendships and when mixed with hopes and dreams provides us all with the basic tools to be the gregarious creatures we are.
I will have raised £1000.00 by the time I get home but perhaps more importantly the Marine family will once more have joined together in a common cause and thrived.
Would I do it again ? Absolutely yes ! I'd do it every week if I could take the time away from work and family. Its really down to others to take on the baton laid down, and do something from within themselves that will ignite passion and inspire others onto greater things.
I'm sat on the team bus heading home after an extraordinary two days. An adventure yes but measurably achievable by most fans of all clubs and I would encourage anyone and everyone to get involved in next summers two big evostik fund raisers.
Big thanks must go to my friend Roger Mawer who was always at the end of the phone in case of emergency. Dave Watters for providing media coverage, Paul Leary for his unending support and belief in me and most important of all the kind and thoughtful friends who sponsored me.