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Tour of Britain

IMG_20131217_103407Back in January I read about a challenge that my friend Jo Burt posted on the website, the Tourist Trophy. The idea was simple – to go and ride in a different county each month in 2013. I read about this the day before I was due to ride to Surrey to visit friends so decided to give it a go…for the first month at least. A week later I was invited by to write about it for them. No turning back now, I was going to have to do it. This last weekend I completed the final ride.

Each month hours were spent poring over unfurled maps, visualising contours and symbols in my head, looking for the smallest lanes across the most varied landscapes. I read about the history and geography of places, learned about the geology of the land that would be beneath my wheels, the wildlife I might see. I’ve discovered more of this beautiful country than I have ever before. I found places to which I’ll return and explore further. There are so many places there just wasn’t time to get to.

Some rides were in places I vaguely knew or had seen from car windows. Others in places I’d never been. The last ride was around the place where I first rode a bicycle without stabilisers. There have been many circular rides, one around an island, another from one country to another and back again. There was a 2 day point to point ride which ended up longer than it should have been. I’ve ridden 1500 miles and climbed 110,000ft across 21 counties and 3 home countries, as far north as the snow tipped peaks of the Cairngorms, and to the east where the flat lands of East Anglia crumble into the sea. I didn’t make it as far west as Lands End but I did get to the birthplace of King Arthur. The most southern point was probably Fowey in Cornwall, but the wind on the south coast of the Isle of Wight actually felt like the ends of the world. And only two punctures. And both times in the rain.

I’ve stayed with friends and family, slept in Youth Hostel dorms, and camped in the shadow of mountains and next to lakes. I’ve met up with old mates and made new friends. Varying rolls of film were shot, and many a word scribbled in a Moleskine. I’ve had pies and pints in pubs, cake in tea rooms, and eaten scotch eggs whilst sheltering in bus stops. At least five big bags of Jelly Babies have been consumed. One ride was alongside 5000 other riders, but most rides have been in happy solitude, and occasionally in absolute sodden loneliness. I’ve ground my way up, and swooped down, hills, followed rivers, circumnavigated an island, got lost, found myself again, then got lost again. I’ve gazed at the horizon across the North Sea, the English Channel and the Atlantic Ocean. Ferries have carried me and my bike across rivers.

I almost gave up a couple of times. Actually these correlate precisely with the two times I had really cold, wet feet. Other times I would have happily ridden all day and all night. On one occasion I took a 25 mile detour just to ride in the sunshine for a bit longer. I screamed in joy and terror freewheeling down a mountain at over 50 miles per hour. I swore at the wind on a coastline and in a mountain valley, at the rain in the Mendips and the Peaks. Smiling in the sunshine far, far outnumbers those times. I’ve laughed and almost cried. Sometimes the landscape and the moment were so glorious I just had to stop in silent wonder.

Thank you Jo, it was a brilliant, beautiful idea. It’s a shame it’s all over now…

Or is it?

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