A Trail of Two Cities

This article was published in 2020, in Magazine 146.

Image as described adjacent

Steve Fagg and Alan Ackroyd cycled out the other side of cancer treatment and set off to achieve new goals and raise money for Maggie’s Centres, a cancer charity.

Cambridge is the destination of the annual London to Cambridge Bike Ride organised by Bike Events, one of several that use a similar route. It has been bigger but continues to draw a healthy number of riders confronting personal challenges or just enjoying a day out riding 62 miles (or 124 for the round trip). Steve and Lisa Fagg and Alan Ackroyd did the ride in 2019.

Steve’s Story:

Although Lisa and I had prepared as much as possible the evening before, we set our alarms for 4.30am on the morning of the ride to ensure we could get to Midsummer Common in time for the organised transport at 5.45am. This was a sight to see: hundreds of bikes being packed into removal vans and as many cyclists into coaches for the journey down to Pickett’s Lock. On arrival at an industrial estate near the start, we disembarked. When the vans arrived, we queued up behind the one our bikes had disappeared into and were glad that ours were two of the first to emerge. We clipped on our bags and clipped in ourselves and slowly cycled to the official start point at the leisure centre. After getting a starting photo taken we approached the start line with a mixture of trepidation and eagerness to be on our way with more than 60 miles ahead of us.

We set off at a reasonable pace, through the already heavy London traffic, and started to feel settled into the ride. So far everything was familiar from our previous time doing the ride three years before although the volume of riders around us seemed smaller, possibly due to our later start time. But then the hills appeared!

We’d seen a preview of the route profile so we knew what to expect, but the reality turned out to be more challenging than we’d anticipated. Still feeling fatigued from a week’s cycling holiday in Holland (we got back the day before the ride) we struggled over the climbs and the effort took a lot out of us. By the time we reached the first feed stop at Roydon, eighteen miles in, we were feeling tired. Knowing that the worst of the hills were now behind us helped lift us but we still had a long way to go.

Fed and watered, we continued in good spirits. Just as we approached the half-way point, we got a message from Alan to say he was already at Duxford (the final feed stop), barely twelve miles from Cambridge! Envious of his rapid progress, we pressed on until, with twenty-four miles to go, we reached the penultimate food stop. As that started to close up around us, we headed for the last burst of hills, to the west of Saffron Walden. These seemed to go on for ever and it was only sheer determination that got us to the top of the last one. The long downhill towards Duxford was a huge relief as we knew by now we’d surely finish the ride.

Raising almost £700 for the charity Maggie’s Centres whose Cambridge branch had been such a help to us made the aching limbs worthwhile!

The final twelve miles, now on familiar roads, passed in something of a daze and we wobbled our way onto Jesus Green nine hours after setting out from Pickett’s Lock. We were glad the finish hadn’t closed even though we overshot the 5pm ‘finishing time’ of the ride. We were presented with our finishing medals, posed for a finish line photo and collapsed on the grass. Many, perhaps most, of the riders on the ride were raising money for charity by their efforts and we raised almost £700 for the charity Maggie’s Centres whose Cambridge branch had been such a help to us when I had cancer a few years ago. Certainly that made the aching limbs worthwhile!

Image as described adjacent

Alan’s Story:

When cancer struck I knew there were going to be big changes in my life. After treatment I was determined to put it as far behind me as possible and do all I could not to revisit the experience of serious illness by getting as fit and healthy as I could.

Part of the new lifestyle was getting back on a bike, so the old machines came out of storage and I got down to some serious restoration. Owl Bikes was a great resource and one day when I was there I commented on a rather racy recumbent parked by the door. ‘Someone has given it to us and we don’t know what to do with it – none of us can even ride it!’ There’s something about comments like that which affects me and I was soon wobbling round the car park!

I had set a target of the London-Cambridge ride as a step in my recovery plans and with my weakness for ‘funny bikes’ I was off. I acquired the beast, did a few minor repairs and set out to learn how to ride it for more than 10 feet at a time. I have got to know the Busway to St Ives quite well and seem to have dusted quite a lot of it with the seat of my pants! I wanted to give something back to Addenbrooke’s and now I had a challenge to go for – master the beast and raise some money.

I didn’t fancy the chances of something as unusual/vulnerable as the beast in a van full of bikes so Sarah took us down to Pickett’s Lock. I was very nervous about riding in traffic , but being able to ride with other cyclists would give me a feeling of safety. I wobbled through the starting gate and out onto the road – into traffic! But Sunday morning at 8.30am was relatively quiet and after a few miles (and some thankfully deserted roundabouts) we were out in country lanes. I quickly remembered reading that the only way to tackle hills on a recumbent is to drop down the gears and be patient, but I still thought my lungs would burst before the top! I didn’t check the route beforehand, just relied on the signs at the junctions and took it as it came. What came was a beautiful day with a helpful breeze as we meandered through some really attractive landscape. It brought back the feelings of my previous cycling over 20 years ago – the freedom of the countryside with an ever-changing panorama of this green and pleasant land opening up around me. There was the added bonus of being surrounded by lots of people enjoying different aspects of the same thing. There were around 1,500 riders of all shapes and sizes and I picked up snatches of some fascinating conversations (and joined in a few) as different groups came up behind me, assessed the situation and passed me by!

I had set a target of the London to Cambridge ride as a step in my recovery plans and with my weakness for ‘funny bikes’ I was of

I paused by the roadside several times to keep the liquid intake going and once for a minor mechanical repair for which my old but trusty tool-kit was more than adequate. I’m afraid the rest stops just didn’t look attractive so I didn’t sample the tea and what I’m sure were wonderful cakes.

Image as described adjacent

As we approached Cambridge it was clearly getting to the end of the ride – they seemed occasionally to be running short of signs – but we circled round from Whittlesford through Harston to come into Cambridge along the Barton Road. Traffic or what! I don’t think I could have planned a more cycle-unfriendly route to Jesus Green but thankfully I was feeling a lot more confident now and the last miles at exhaust-pipe level passed without incident. I was soon rolling onto Jesus Green where my wonderful wife was waiting to greet me with a very welcome picnic and an ice cream!

I had a great day out, some pleasant chats on the road, achieved my goals and was able to raise – thanks to some very generous friends – a pleasing wad of cash for a worthy cause. And twelve months earlier I could barely walk 500 yards, and that very slowly with a stick. Thank you Addenbrooke’s!

Image as described adjacent

There are many opinions of organised cycle rides. One-way events like the London to Cambridge raise the question of what to do with the non-cycled leg – although not a few riders did the round trip by bike. And there’s always the issue of people inviting sponsorship for doing something they enjoy or would do irrespective of the financials. And, of course, it isn’t actually London where it starts (and I wouldn’t have done it if it was!). But for many people this ride puts in place a series of challenges which may be addressed from a variety of perspectives and an opportunity to encourage support for worthy causes. Or it’s just a great day out in the company of like-minded people enjoying their bikes together. In a world where nothing is perfect, that must rate pretty well – and I, for one, am thinking seriously about doing it again. Come and join me!

The 2020 London to Cambridge ride takes place on Sunday 26 July. Find out more at bike-events.co.uk