Unless you've been trying REALLY hard to avoid our tweets, Facebook posts, newsletter and begging letters, you may not be aware that something amazing happened this past weekend.
Over the course of 2 days (24th and 25th June 2017), two incredible people cycled their way from Whitehaven in Cumbria in the west, to Saltburn in North Yorkshire on the east coast to raise some much needed funds for Men Tell Health. It was the first time anyone has done something on this scale for us, so we would be remiss not to capture the moment and to formally thank them for doing so.
I'm proud to say that one of the guys, Richard Bendelow, has been a friend of mine for about 20 years. I've known his son Liam less time, but they are both amazing people. Richard is a trustee of Men Tell Health and very kindly (and very generously) offered to match funding. Whatever money we raised, he'd double from his own funds. I told you he was generous. Hands off, he's ours! ;-)
I didn't take part in the ride, so I can't really speak to how it went. For that, I've asked Richard and Liam for their own accounts, so we can relive it through their eyes. First up, Richard's account.
After meeting at 4:45am, we set off to grab an ultra-healthy breakfast at Greggs at Scotch Corner Services. We were driven across to Whitehaven and dipped our back tyres into the Atlantic Ocean, a Coast-to-Coast tradition. With wet wheels, we set off towards our first major stop in Keswick. Being the Lake District, there were some quite steep hills getting there. At one point I ended up coming to a stop and forgot to take my feet out of my cleets and came a cropper! I was laid in the middle of the road laughing, mainly at myself. After lunch, we headed out for Penrith and avoided the majority of the A66 by riding on cycle paths parallel to it. Whilst the A66 is quite straight and relatively flat, the roads along side are very undulating and tough! We reached Penrith later than we had hoped, due to the extra effort required. Then the fun started!
Heading out of Penrith, we had the joy of Hartside Pass; this is 5 miles of gruelling twisty-turny constantly uphill climbing. It felt like it would never end! There is a cafe at the top, but it closes at 4pm - it was about 7:30pm when we arrived. Despite that, we had a real fun descent into the small town of Alston, where we were staying for the night. The steep downhills meant It seemed to take about 30 seconds to reach Alston. I had mentally arrived at my day 1 destination, only to be told our 'digs' were 3 miles up the other side of the hill. That was probably the hardest 3 miles of the whole trip!.
Day 2 started with a full English breakfast (we needed the calories!) and 9 more miles of uphill out of Alston. That was quickly followed by approximately 10 miles of glorious, most welcome downhill. I say welcomed, maybe not so for Liam, whose confidence on the downhills had grown throughout the first day, only to maybe get over confident and hit trouble at 35pmh. I didn't see what happened, but by all accounts it was spectacular! He ended up head first into a roadside bush, but miraculously not a scratch on him. It seemed like no time at all and we were in Barnard Castle and starting to see place names we recognised. We decided, seeing as we were flying along, not to eat in Barnard Castle, but to head to McDonalds in Morton Park Darlington. We arrived there at approximately 1:30pm. We then had a reasonably leisurely ride through Yarm (which nearly killed me as I was effectively home) but still had 20 odd miles to ride. Onto Acklam, Ormesby, Eston and on to Marske, where we stopped for a deserving beer (Coke for Liam) before our cycle into Saltburn to be welcomed by someone else's adoring fans - and of course ours. We immediately dipped our front tyres into the North Sea and had another beer.
We loved every minute (of downhills). Would I do it again? Not likely, but I think Liam most definitely would.
On the other hand, Liam had this to say!
After the cruel realisation of needing to be awake at 4 a.m, we headed for our pick-up location. The bus journey across dipped and weaved and the excitement of the whole event started to kick in, but the journey over there was nothing compared to the task we had ahead of us. A quick dip in the water and a turn around the corner and we reached our first hill and shortly after our first wrong turn! With a grin on my face, I thought, today is going to be a fun filled day full of laughs. Then we reached our first challenge.... Whinlatter. This was the first of our 2 mammoth climbs for the day and the work had really started.
After getting past the tough part of the hill, cramp started to set in. I thought the challenge ahead was going to be an almost impossible feat. A stop for lunch and a salt replenishment and I was back fighting and enjoying the ride again. The final challenge for day 1 was the climb into Alston and, although the thought of a 5 mile constant climb was quite daunting, it was actually one of the best parts of the day. It was a chance to take it easy, not rush and get the biggest sense of accomplishment from my time over there. It was certainly a high point for more than one reason! We descended into the hole that was Alston, only to find we had to climb back out of it before we could rest for the night. I've never slept so well in my life!
Day 2 I felt optimistic, the finish line was in sight and I had a wind in my sails setting off. After the 6 mile climb out of Alston, we started on the descent and my confidence started to flow. That was until I decided to somersault into a roadside bush travelling over 30 mph. Luckily, I escaped the encounter unscathed, sadly I can't say the same for the bush, and I continued on my descent to catch up to the nervous cyclists ahead wondering what state I would be in when I arrived. We flew through our local areas only for me to come off my bike again at my hometown roundabout. Despite my best attempts to go home injured, I carried on. Leven Bank sapped the remainder of my energy and by the Blue Bell in Acklam, I was spent. I feared I wouldn't make it over the line. That's when the support of others brought me back to life and I was determined to get through to the end at all costs. Ultimately I didn't want to let Men Tell Health down. For all the effort I'd already put in, only to fail at the last hurdle. We finally took our victory descent into Saltburn, thinking "WOW" this a turn up for the books....only to realise 20 minutes after finishing it was mainly for another group! The final dip of the wheels and we could collapse in the embrace of our families once again.
Would I do it again? In a heartbeat.....once I've recovered from this time! It was without doubt a tough challenge, but that was far outweighed by the immense sense of accomplishment and the fact that we did it for the best cause.
For any small charitable organisation like Men Tell Health, money is often a dirty word. Something people don't like to speak of, but the reality is that for all the work we do, it has to be paid for at some point. The website is free to look at, but it's not free to host. The services we offer are free to those who need it, but they aren't free to us.
Funding is a complicated minefield, not to mention somewhat of a lottery when it comes to finding the right pot of money for the right project, and that's even if you're successful in your bid. Anyone who runs any sort of charitable concern very quickly becomes incredibly good at stretching money. Even the smallest amount of money can be stretched further than anyone would think possible, which is why the money raised by this incredible effort will be felt for months, if not years, to come. Not by us, but by the men we're trying to help.
If you're reading this before Friday 30th June, then there's still time to donate. If you want to have your donation doubled at no extra cost to you, just click this link and donate whatever you can afford. Even £1 will help us help others.
Thank you to everyone who has donated already and, of course, a HUGE thank you to Richard and Liam for all their efforts. Bloody legends the lot of you!