It all began with the realisation that there is indeed energy, vitality….spirit and soul in the universe. Perhaps I had lived with it but never understood its existence, but I suspect now that it was always there.
In 2011 the gym had arranged for Sean Conway to present a talk about his forthcoming participation in a Round the World cycle race. By chance he lived in Muswell Hill, and would pop in to my bike shop on the Broadway for advice and bits and bobs. Sean was not really a “cyclist”, but he threw himself into the (winter) training with such passion, zest and self-belief that it was easy to admire his aspiration and drive.
He completed the ride in July 2012, Olympic year in the UK having ridden 16000 miles in 150 days after spending 3 weeks in an Arkansas hospital, the victim of a road traffic accident. Bloody amazing.
We kept in touch via social media, and on his return to the UK on a cold and windy Monday, 16th July, a half dozen intrepid riders escorted Sean and his beard back to North London via Box Hill (intentional) and Epsom racecourse (unintentional). The riding group consisted of Vin Cox, who had held the record for cycling around the world in 2010 at 163 days. Vin was also the author of the ‘Hungry Bike Ride’, an account of his trip from Cornwall to Scotland living off edible plants and herbs and…. roadkill.
Another member of the team was burly James Ketchell. He was, at the time, the only UK man to have rowed the Atlantic solo, and to have climbed Mount Everest.
Ian Homer the photographer deserves a mention if only for the fact that he rode with his heavy photographic equipment, and was perhaps the fastest rider in the group.
Anyway, I felt privileged to be sharing the road with these gentlemen, and at the day’s end when we went our separate ways, the good energy had touched me, I was inspired by them.
In 2013, Sean announced that he would attempt to become the first person to swim from Lands End to John O’ Groats. He was told it couldn’t be done, so he went and did it, even though it took him two months longer than planned. By chance I was cycle touring in Scotland in November 2014 when he climbed out of the water at the finish of this epic undertaking. We were planted in the tiny bar at The Crask Inn and a couple of the locals were talking about Sean’s exploits and his pantagruelian beard.
Meanwhile, James Ketchell was completing the ultimate triathlon, having rowed the Atlantic and climbed Everest, he was now cycling around the world. This odyssey drew to a close on February 1st 2014 when James brought together 9 more cyclists including Ian, to accompany him from Brighton back to Greenwich observatory from where he had set off 7 months previously.
The promenade was lashed by a cold wind and squally rain as we set off via the Devil’s Dyke. Did I mention the rain? We had barely cycled 200 metres before diving for cover in the conservatory of the Hilton hotel. When it eased off, we climbed onto the South Downs and warmed up. For all James’s great achievements, he is a good people person and spent much of the ride chatting with us all in turn. The miles passed by, the weather improved, we never really lost the cold wind, but occasionally the sun’s warmth touched us with the promise of Spring.
Ian had devised the route and managed to pull off the marvellous trick of arriving in London without climbing the North Downs. We whizzed through Redhill, Purley, Croydon and Beckenham, names as foreign to a North Londoner as Aqbaytal, Dashtobod and Oqtosh.
Before long we spread out behind our leader as he led us over the welcome home line adjacent to Greenwich observatory. About 150 people had braved the cold to greet him. James has since been top of the bill on ITV News and will no doubt be in demand for public speaking, but for me, being part of his peloton for 60 miles was a great honour.