Back on the roller coaster rails

Go to to the first blog post

Is it possible to ride two roller coasters at the same time? Well yes it is actually. It’s also possible to have an adventure within an adventure but more of that in a moment.

We left Penzance last week in a whirlwind of emotion. Gill was no longer riding her bike but driving our borrowed van (which we have christened Vera) and I was now riding alone for the final thousand miles or so of the journey. The emotions were a mix of fear, elation, sadness and excitement. Quite a cocktail to sip on as I rode out of Penzance and the drizzle added yet another layer to play with my mind.

Leaving Penzance. My mind was busier than the harbour.

Leaving Penzance. My mind was busier than the harbour.

First night with Vera

First night with Vera

We were both still coming to terms with the change to our plans and the fact that we would not now be finishing the ride side by side on our bikes. If the only point of this adventure had been to tour the coast of Britain, unsupported and on bicycles, then you could say we had failed. But it wasn’t the only point at all. The idea of cycling the coast came out of discussions we had around a much bigger challenge, that of changing our lives. Of jumping off the merry-go-round whilst it was still spinning, a scary and dangerous thing to do. We both wanted that change and the inevitable fallout that would come from it, whatever that may be, and cycling around Britain just happened to be the means that we chose. For that reason, the fact that we will be continuing with me on my bike and Gill driving Vera doesn’t matter one little bit. The life changing adventure continues.

The next few days involved some of the steepest ups and downs of the route so far. As I ground my way up the climbs and nervously rolled down the other sides of the roller coaster like terrain my mind was travelling it’s own big dipper with equally stomach churning results.

Turning points

Turning points

But it worked. As I came to terms with the periods on my own, Gill gained confidence driving the van and navigating to rendezvous points and slowly a whole new adventure began to emerge from the old one. It was like recycling an original adventure and making a new one from all the old bits plus a few new ingredients. We continued to talk about the bigger picture and that is when I realised that this bike ride around the coast of Britain was actually an adventure within a much bigger and more important adventure in our lives together.

We both began to see the stunning views once more as the curtain of worry and doubt was slowly drawn aside and Cornwall put on a truly spectacular show for us.

Minack

Minack

The riding was as hard as any I have done and it was bliss to find Gill waiting for me by the side of the road with a smile and a sandwich just as I was beginning to flag. We’d plan the next meeting point, reflect on the common sights we had seen along the way, describe the ones the other might have missed and genuinely share the whole experience together. To our delight it really was working and slowly, mile by mile, day by day, all sense of failure faded away and just the journey remained.

We left Cornwall behind in spectacular fashion tackling 30% gradients (on foot in my case) and gawping at vivid blue seas, white sandy beaches and the grandest of vertical cliffs framing both. Devon brought a brief escape from the ridiculous gradients and a very pleasant ride along the completely flat Tarka Trail to Barnstaple and Braunton and  a two day break with family and friends. We reconnected with some amazing people and met some new ones too.

Thanks for the bed Uncle Richard and Fiona

Thanks for the bed Uncle Richard and Fiona

Gill and Georgie on the beach

Gill and Georgie on the beach

The feeling of really sharing our odyssey with others was strong and brought us right back to where and why it all began. A splendid farewell dinner, late night and one too many glasses of wine weren’t the best way to prepare for the rest of the Devon hills but I have no regrets.

Happy times

Happy times

I left Braunton mildly hung over but very content despite the early morning hill climbs. The sun was shining, there was a cool hint of autumn in the air and everything felt right again. Gill would be meeting me at Lynmouth along with Georgie, Annabelle and Sabrina and I was really looking forward to the next twenty five miles. If only I knew what those roads had in store for me.

Beyond the brick wall

I asked Wikipedia for a definition of adventure and this is the opening sentence.

“An adventure is an exciting or unusual experience. It may also be a bold, usually risky undertaking, with an uncertain outcome.”

The uncertain outcome is the bit that really caught my attention and it’s the same thing that is on my mind as I start to write this blog post. I am just a little bit nervous about where it might take me.

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Dark clouds approaching

In the early hours of last Friday morning Gill rode slap bang into a brick wall. Luckily she wasn’t on her bike at the time. The wall, of course, was metaphorical but the impact wasn’t and since we are inseparable on this journey of ours I hit the same wall moments later. Ever since we have been trying to make sense of what happened, what is happening and where we go from here.

We had a bit of a wobble a few weeks ago as recorded here and although I seem to have bounced back from it, it has now become obvious that Gill has battled on for another four hundred miles without ever having fully recovered. She is mentally and physically exhausted and I can’t help but feel responsible for not recognising what was staring me in the face and failing to do anything about it. However, this isn’t about blame, Gill doesn’t hold me responsible at all. This is about understanding what happened, dealing with the consequences and finding a way of keeping our dream alive in a way that works for both of us.

Since making it known that we couldn’t carry on any longer without either a break or a complete change of plan we have been overwhelmed by the messages of support, encouragement and awe at what we have achieved. Reading some of them has had us both holding back the tears at times and they have made us feel very lucky indeed to have such great friends and family all around us. Thank you.

So why did we get into this situation? After all we haven’t been doing anything that we haven’t done before, just more of it for longer. We have talked with lots of people over the last few days and they have helped us to understand what may have gone wrong. We almost certainly haven’t recognised that on such a long trip regular breaks of more than just a day are probably essential. For us that is of course. We understand that everybody is different. It has also been pointed out that since I am probably a bit stronger physically than Gill she will have been pushing herself much closer to her limits than I have almost all the time. Unless you are very lucky indeed two people sharing a physical challenge will always have to compensate for different abilities and we probably haven’t managed that very well.

Slogging up yet another Dorset hill.

Slogging up yet another Dorset hill.

There are other more obvious factors such as the exceptionally hot weather and those never ending hills of Dorset, Devon and Cornwall but whatever the causes, subtle or obvious, the fact is that for now at least we have blown it and we need to regroup and recharge.

Most people that undertake long journeys such as this face a crisis of one form or another at some point and we knew that we would be no exception. We considered the possibility of illness, accidents or perhaps a family crisis that would bring our journey to a halt and might involve a major change of plan but I have to confess that I never saw this coming. An uncertain outcome indeed.

So let’s get happy and positive. We have learned masses from this experience both about ourselves and our relationship. We are absolutely determined that we will find a way to complete the adventure, uncertain outcomes and all. Gill might not ride the rest of the way this year, maybe we both might not. The favourite idea at the moment is to get hold of a vehicle and for Gill to shadow me while I ride the rest of the coast. It’s very much ‘our’ trip and we are determined to find a way of continuing the adventure together now or at some future date. We have had an incredibly rewarding four months so far, largely as a result of all the amazing people we have met and the outstanding hospitality they have shown us. We’ve seen spectacular scenery and marvelled at wildlife and nature as one season has progressed to the next. Sunsets  have moved us, mountains have humbled us and rain and cold at times have frightened us but it has all been good.

Dramatic Cornish cliffs. Lizard Point

Dramatic Cornish cliffs. Lizard Point

Glorious sunsets

Glorious sunsets

Dramatic mountains

Dramatic mountains

It has been an experience of a life time and it isn’t over yet. For now we are relaxing at my sister’s in Taunton and pondering the next stage of what has become not just a life changing experience but a life enhancing one too.

I’m looking forward to the next thousand miles, whenever and however we do it.

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