It was events from March 2016 the eventually led to me agreeing to cycling from Nottingham to Edinburgh in 24 hours.
My son George (who was 3 at the time) had collapsed at playgroup and was rushed to hospital, he was weak & very pale and within 30 minutes the doctors had diagnosed ALL (Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia) – his red blood count was so low and white count so high they were amazed he was even walking!
We were sent to Ward E39 which specialises in Children’s Cancer and we were to spend the next month living on the ward amongst some of the bravest little boys and girls you could ever imagine. They approached each day with a smile on their face and laughter in their hearts – all while being prodded and pumped full of drugs to help them feel better.
That was when I decided there’s no use dwelling on what’s happened – I wanted to do something to make a difference to all of the children who visit this ward and the attached Children’s Oncology daycare ward by raising as much money as possible for them. I wanted the money to be spent on thinks that would benefit the children directly, replace some tired toys / new TV’s for those who have to be in for a several hours infusion / new cars to play in up and down the ward etc etc. And that was where the idea was born.
It was back in December I managed to recruit Matt Wilkinson is joining me on the madcap adventure and initially we had pencilled in April 2017 to complete the ride. We soon discounted this though as the winds and daylight in April were not favourable so we decided on 13th July 2017 as being the date – (plus it meant it should be warmer and would give us more time to train). We were incredibly lucky and had a few people volunteer to follow us in a support role (driving from place to place to ensure we had enough food and water etc as we would be cycling for 24 hours solid) and eventually we decided one of my best buddies Wayne would take on this vital role.
December to July went by in a flash and we both managed to get some good miles under our belts. We headed to Yorkshire in March for a few days to train and tackled some of the best hills the dales had to throw at us, in June we headed out on a 205 mile training ride (yes a 205 mile training ride!!) on what was one of the hottest days of the year as a final test to ensure the bikes were functioning and the kit worked for us.
A final meet between the 3 of us in the pub the week before the ride saw us review the route one final time and set up where we would meet Wayne and the support van as we went along.
The plan for the ride was simple (ish) – ride for 25 miles, then stop for 15 minutes. Then ride for 25 miles and stop for 15 minutes. If we stuck to this formula then “Its only 13 twenty five mile bike rides – one after another after another……”
And then before you knew it, it was the eve of the ride. A slightly broken night’s sleep I awoke early in order to take George to Playgroup (on his bike – good lad!)
Matt and Wayne arrived and we loaded up the van with all of the water / food / spares we would need. We had a coffee and Wayne set off to Nottingham Castle in the Van in order to get ready for pictures and me and Matt set off to the castle.
We knew Wayne would be at the castle already to take pictures having driven there but were pleasantly surprised to have a bit of a fanfare waiting for us!
We all posed for the obligatory start pictures at the Robin Hood statue.
and then said our farewells before heading on our way!
The first stop was 25 miles in at Caunton (north of Newark in Nottinghamshire) and we managed to keep to schedule – we were only stopped for 15 minutes before setting back off. We got there only 30 seconds after Wayne in the van having made really good progress.
Second stop was due to be at a garden centre in Gainsborough at 48 miles but we got there and couldn’t see Wayne so arranged to meet him up the road.
When our route took us off the main road we held up and Waited for Wayne’s arrival.
We eventually met as we entered Lincolnshire 54 miles in after West Stockwith and we had lunch by the roadside.
We’d made great progress covering the 54 miles in around 3 hours total. This stop cost us 30 minutes so were already starting to fall behind schedule at this point.
From here the route headed west towards Doncaster and through Armthorpe – crossing the M18. We arranged to meet back up with Wayne at Askern – 75 miles in. Heading west (rather than north) on this stretch gave us a first taste of the headwind we were hoping to avoid!
It was here at Askern as we rounded the corner we saw the van pulled up at the roadside – outside of a corner shop. The great news – Wayne had already popped in and got a pack of Pork Pies and had the flasks out to make a coffee! I took the opportunity to take shelter from the sun and get some power into my phone. Matt took the opportunity to eat cold baked beans from a can.
By this point I think we were both fed up with eating! On a ride as long as this keeping yourself fuelled up is the single most important thing. Once you start feeling hungry you’re gone past it so it’s vital to remain disciplined and keep eating.
The other thing on a ride like this to keep disciplined at is the time off the bike. We took 25 minutes for this stop meaning we were falling further behind schedule.
The next meet point would be just before we hit York at 104 miles and would be the first big milestone of the trip – 100 miles in and the first big town.
The weather wasn’t the greatest for the next leg. We had a few spots of rain and the wind continued to turn into a headwind making progress hard going.
We met Wayne and the Van shortly after and recorded the video below….
It was my turn to eat cold beans!
By this point our schedule of only stopping for 15 minutes was well and truly out the window (we only managed it for the first stop). We arranged to meet up again at mile 128 up near a place called Bouroughbridge. The York stop allowed us to pop on our hi-viz gilets as it was about to get darker!
At 114 miles in the sun was beginning to set –
And very shortly after we had only 200 miles to ride..
And then rocked into Bouroughbridge with the last remnants of light.
Another coffee each and this time a full change of clothes for the night riding. (I managed to give the locals an eyeful as Wayne opened up the van doors to reveal my bare arse – cheers for that!)
Fortunately, we both brought a jersey, shorts and socks for the day, night and following day. A wise move as the temperatures were much lower than average so the long sleeved jerseys got an outing.
We were All tired and by now me and Matt were riding much slower than anticipated due to the efforts in the wind. Wayne was also tired so we sent him to 160 miles (halfway!) and told him to get some sleep until we arrived. 160 miles was just after Scotch Corner so we were to meet Wayne just after the A1 junction.
Riding through the dark
And eventually we reached the point where Wayne was parked up. To see the van at the side of the road in the pitch black was a relief to the pair of us! As you can see from the last few videos we were going a little stir crazy!
We had a good 50 minute rest here – had another coffee to try and perk up and ate and ate and ate! With the schedule out the window and Wayne still needing some sleep, we sent him up the road to the Angel of the North.
And on we rode. I think in total from around 10pm to when we got to the Angel we were only passed by 2 cars. Not surprising really but we were riding on the main artery roads to get to Newcastle so to ride on these dual carriageways almost carefree was fantastic.
We rode through the night and got to the Angel for around 4.30am. Despite not seeing any cars we were surprised to see a couple of people there already! When we got closer, it was apparent they’d likely not left there all night and were well – lets say – lubricated. When one of them offered to take a picture of us I was genuinely frightened they were going to fall down the bank they were swaying so much! The pictures turned out ok though so no drama!
Wayne was parked 100 yards from the Angel so we went in and woke him up. The prospect of another cold feed in the van wasn’t appetising so we checked the map on the phone and spotted a 24 hour McDonalds a further 5 miles away in Newcastle so Wayne drove down and we set off after to meet him there.
We locked the bikes in the Van and all went inside – ordered the food and struggled to get it down us (again we were so tired of eating but know we needed to get it down us!
Looking at the picture above of me and below of Matt, it comes as no surprise we were both exhausted.
Having stopped somewhere with toilet facilities it would have been foolish not to take advantage. I knew I was in trouble when after i’d been in the stall for 15 minutes Wayne came in looking for me asking if Matt was a diabetic! Firstly, he woke me up (not my finest hour falling to sleep on a McDonalds toilet) but he then told me Matt had glazed over and fallen asleep at the table.
The ride had take its toll and to carry on without listening to our bodies would have been foolish. My knee(s) needed the break so we said we’d all retire to the van and try and steal 30 minutes sleep. We got in the van around 6.30am and the 30 minutes ended up being 2 hours as we woke up at 8.30am! We were definitely behind schedule now…
We certainly needed the sleep and was amazed we got all 3 of us in – with the bikes. I would have taken a picture but that was the last thing on my mind.
So we set off again from Newcastle at 9am crossing the Tyne bridge and through the city centre using the network of cycle tracks to escape north towards Morpeth.
The wind picked up again (we were not having any luck at all) but we battled on.
Rothbury at 233 miles was the next target.
and finally we rolled in to Rothbury.
The sight of the Van parked up was such a welcome relief. We stopped for 30 minutes in a café and had a second needed breakfast.
We both used the facilities in the café to get changed and head north again.
We met up with Wayne again at Coldstream and this is we we hit the next milestone – we were in Scotland!
This part of the ride was the hardest as this is where the hills proper started. The cumulative effect of the ride was taking its toll on both of us – my knees were absolutely broken and I was struggling.
Another break taking on food and water and we carried on towards and through Duns – we arranged to meet Wayne on top of the hills after Duns (the Scottish Borders) at 290 miles in.
The stretch after Duns was incredibly hard & hilly. My knees were broken and we (I) struggled up the hills to the sanctuary of the van.
We stopped at the top for the final time and took on more food and water. The final 30 miles we all (mostly) downhill – and back into the wind…
The descent off was fantastic and made the effort getting up all the more worthwhile.
It was on the descent we hit the 300 mile mark. Just 20 to go… (just look how many calories my cycle compute has guesstimated we’ve burned so far!)
We got our first glimpse of “Arthurs Seat” in Edinburgh in the distance. The castle is on the other side.
We dropped down to the Firth of Forth (Musselburgh) and fortunately found some public conveniences. Being back in civilisation meant it was harder to pop into bushes without raising suspicion (it’s amazing what drinking c. 10l of water can do to your bladder!)
As you can see from the video, I hope it conveys how physically and mentally tired we both were! Here we were with only 5 miles to go and we were spent!
And after 320 miles we were climbing the cobbles in Edinburgh up to the castle!
322 miles in (riding time of) 19h 42 minutes. In total with breaks (and an impromptu sleep) it took us 30 hours. Not the 24 hours in total we wanted but we still cycled from Nottingham to Edinburgh in 30 hours. It was the hardest ride I’ve ever done and ever likely to do (I’m not in a hurry to sign up for anything like this anytime soon) but what an achievement for such a fantastic cause.
We really lucked out at the castle – it looked doomed like we weren’t able to get up to the castle as it was closed off (they’d just done Trooping the Colour and were setting up for a Wet Wet Wet gig) and were not allowing anyone up to the castle. However Wayne spoke to them and managed to get us an escort up – past the stands and stage to get the fantastic pictures below!
Who else can say they have photos like this with no other tourists in the background and the full castle in shot!
After photos we made our way to the Hostel in the centre of Edinburgh and made ourselves human again. My teeth felt disgusting from all the food i’d eaten and I’ve smelt fresher so shower / clean up / freshen up and out for a well earned beer and (another dinner!)
Well we only lasted for 2 pints before heading back for needed sleep – it was hard earned and we all thoroughly enjoyed that.
That night we probably kept the whole hostel up with our snoring – Matt was first to sleep – I reckon only 30 seconds from him getting into bed until the snores started. I was not much after that. It must have been like a couple of v8 engines in the room but fortunately we all had ear plugs so it didn’t bother us at all (not that it would have as we were so tired!).
The next day, we packed up – loaded up the van and drove home. It was significantly easier coming back being motor powered!
So what have we learned from this.
Trying to cycle to Edinburgh from Nottingham in 24 hours is very tough – both physically and as much mentally. We really struggled with lack of sleep more so than the physical excursion.
The ride wouldn’t have been possible without the support of a equally lunatic friend to cycle there with – nor a equally lunatic friend to drive the van – pick up supplies sweet talk Edinburgh castles finest etc so massive thanks Matt & Wayne for being equally as bonkers as I am!
All of this is very well and good but let’s not forget why we did this. It’s to raise money and say thanks to the Nottingham Hospital Charity and the Children’s Cancer wards to make the lives of all of the little kids who go there as enjoyable as it can be at incredibly stressful times. The pain and suffering we endured is nothing compared to what they deal with. All of them in there are 1 million times braver than all of us.
Thanks to all for the words of encouragement on the day – during – before and after and a massive thanks to those who have supported the cause and donated. One last reminder for the website to donate is here www.justgiving.com/GeorgeWhitehead – to date we have raised a staggering £11,356.50 to give to the charity and wards.
The irony of all of this is this, I’ve been struggling to find the time to put the pictures up and get the words down but on Friday George was admitted back into the hospital with a suspected infection so we’ve had nothing but time on the ward. We’ve played with the games / cars / puzzles / read books / watched DVD’s and now George is asleep I’ve managed to grab some time to finish writing this up.