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Taking a breather. Me and Irene out and about.

Sometimes in life you have to let go of the reigns, trust to luck, or instinct, whatever it is. I’ve reached that point right now and consequently had to go down a path that I felt uncomfortable with. In the last three years I’ve had to face many things I’m not comfortable with. It certainly doesn’t get any easier with the passage of time. Each new challenge feels as big as all the others put together as I endeavour to rebuild my life.

For three years I have had the luxury of being able to finance the journeys I’ve undertaken, removing the stresses that can come with trying to fundraise in a difficult world. I could not have ever guessed these rides, and the associated writing, would have had such a big impact on so many people. A simple idea, whereby I could challenge myself and take some control back in my life, has touched many people in a large variety of ways that I never envisioned for a moment.

These chance connections and meetings, along with the obviously positive effect on my health, have been enough to keep me motivated to do more. In August 2012 I returned from my second journey knowing that a third journey was not possible without reaching out to the world in order to finance it.

This weekend saw me sat at the laptop, still pondering whether or not to launch a page on a crowdfunding website. These sites allow people to raise money for all manner of ventures, from paying school fees, to personal pilgrimages, and social events. Having reviewed all the major players I plumped for Gofundme.com. It’s easy to set up, maintain,  and use. A couple of hours work on a pitch (thank you Michele) and it was there before my eyes.

The problem had never been creating the page though. The problem was more one of conscience and fear of rejection. What right do I have to ask people to fund my riding?  Perhaps it was a matter of pride? Once that was swallowed the whole process became a little more palatable. To be able to ask for others to fund your venture, whatever it is, requires a little courage. What if you fail miserably? How would that feel? Trust takes time to build and an instant can see it crash to the floor, shattering into a million shards.

Michele on the Tarka Trail
Michele on the Tarka Trail

“If you don’t ask you don’t get,” echoed in my ears from some distant place in the past as I pushed that button to bring the page to life. There was something else though, something that made me want to launch the page. That something had sparked my interest in a way I haven’t felt since Round Britain was conceived in 2010.

Two days earlier, a letter fell onto the mat by the front door. It was wrapped in an extra plastic wallet with writing on that tried to explain that the mail company delivering it were very sorry for the damage to the original packaging. The dirty letter beneath this sat looking sorry for itself through the transparent envelope in which it was now placed. I knew what the letter was, and wondered why this letter, the most important I had received in a year, was the one that got soaked in water, and not one of the endless bundles of rubbish that usually fall on the floor after my postie calls.

This package contained all the route information for the 100 Cols tour that has been tickling my imagination for a few weeks. I pulled gently at the remains of the envelope, hoping upon hope that the contents would be intact and legible. My sigh of relief was probably heard some miles away as the covering letter proved to be perfectly intact, along with the thirty-one pages of directions that I could now transfer from the paper on which it was written, to my Michelin mapbook.

It took almost two days to map the route out, such is its intricacy. As I worked, the written instructions turned to an adventure before my eyes. I knew the route would be complex, but I wasn’t ready for the convolutions that my eyes were now seeing. It’s a masterpiece of map plotting. Whoever dreamt the route up must have had extensive and intimate knowledge of all the areas it traverses.

My mental cinema went into overdrive. I began to try to imagine the views from the peaks and ridges it traverses, the smells of the mountain flowers, and the people I might meet on such an undertaking. The route profiles look like a heart rate trace from somebody who lives on Redbull. An ever-increasing crescendo of mountains and passes that every cyclist has etched upon their memory from watching the Tour de France. Mont Ventoux, Tourmalet, Galibier, Puy Saint Mary, Grand ballon, to mention just a few of the 100 cols that this route crosses. The route is much more than a contrived line that takes in mountain passes though. It goes out of its way to see many of the most beautiful areas in France, intimately.

Tour of Britain reaches Hatherleigh, 2012
Tour of Britain reaches Hatherleigh, 2012

I spoke to a friend last week who looked at the map and said that he thought the route looked hideous. He also added that I should do it now as I won’t be able to in ten years time. Its a case of horses for courses and we all like different things in our cycling tours. I like hills. Not because I can climb them with any great panache, but because they elevate me to a level where the world looks and feels so completely different.

According to the blurb that accompanied the directions there are sixty-six kilometres of vertical height gain over the 4000km  route. An average Tour de France has twenty-four or something close to that. I have no idea whether my legs will let me do that, but I want to go and find out for myself. The psychology starts straight away. Most of the hills have a reasonable gradient. They are very long in places, and the altitude will play a part as well, but for the most part they are not overly steep, thankfully.

I know France quite well after many years of touring there on motorcycles. My french is all but non-existent, but I know enough to get by.  I’m sure I will meet many other people with whom I can converse in the honey pot areas I will spend most of my time in. If not, Ireland could prove its worth.

In addition to the crowd funding site, I’m planning a series of talks in Devon that I hope will boost my coffers. The first is agreed, and will take place at Orchard Cafe on 20th April. This will be an afternoon and evening event with myself and other speakers talking about cycling, and  music into the evening. The detail isn’t planned yet. Once I know when the rest will be I’ll let you know. Four other talks will soon be agreed, including one in my home town of Hatherleigh. I also have a stack of equipment and other things that I want to sell via the inevitable eBay, but I don’t envisage getting to that until the end of March.

Sunset over Barnstaple, N.Devon.
Sunset over Barnstaple, N.Devon.

The most important event for me in the next month is the publication of my second book. I’m now sure it will be finished in March. Michele and me have been working on the edit, Michele doing the hard work, and me doing corrections. My friend Mark has finished the cover and I’m really happy with it. All I did was to choose the photograph that it was based upon. I have now completed a series of sketch maps to include in the book which have taken me a while to draw. They should hopefully be easy to scan and  they will add a little extra information and humour to the book. That leaves me with the postscript, acknowledgments, and Sponsors page to finish before formatting the end result and producing the two formats of paper and eBook.

I’ve been writing this blog for some time now and think it’s time that some fresh voices were heard through its pages as well as mine. If anybody would like to write an article about mental health, cycling, life in your shoes, or things you do that adds to your life quality, I’d be happy to post it here. You can let me know through the comments section and I’ll get back to you with an email address.

Finally, after all the talking, here is the link to my page at Gofundme.com. Please share it with all your friends and family and feel free to donate at any time.

http://www.gofundme.com/21d2eo