This is the story of how my 47 year old brother-in-law Alec, who has Fragile X syndrome, completed a gruelling 400 mile cycle ride from Lowestoft (the most easterly point in England) to St.David’s Head (the most westerly point in Wales).
Anyone familiar with the symptoms of Fragile X will know that balance and coordination can be a real challenge, and riding a bike is no mean feat. As a child, Alec had a three wheel trike, but once his mother and sister became keen cycle tourists, with steely determination he learnt to ride a normal bike, despite suffering many scrapes and falls along the way.
Fast forward 25 years and Alec now lives semi-independently; he has his own house and a carer (Malcolm) who is a keen cyclist. This is a match made in heaven, as Alec has a cycling buddy (and bike mechanic) and Malcolm no longer needs an excuse to go cycling!
At a family get together last Christmas, talk turned to doing a big ride in 2019. For many cyclists, the Lands End to John o’ Groats ride is the ultimate cycling challenge. However, this generally takes at least 2 weeks to complete, and none of us had that much annual leave. The lesser known Lowestoft to St.David’s ride, on the other hand, can be completed in 6 days and still represents a formidable challenge. Better still, the route conveniently passes through the places where Alec, Malcom and myself live meaning that we can travel light, and only need to find accommodation for 2 of the 5 nights whilst en route. So, the plan was hatched!
So, after much route planning and not nearly enough training, we found ourselves at Ness Point, Lowestoft on 1st May, in the knowledge that we had 400 miles and a total accumulated climb of 13,000 feet ahead of us! If we were to complete the ride in 6 days, we’d have to average 67 miles a day, which doesn’t sound too difficult. However, the morning of the first day was needed to transport our bikes and luggage to the start, and the afternoon of the last day to return home meaning we only had 5 days in which to cover distance.
Cycling across Suffolk on our first day was blissful. Beautiful villages, hardly any traffic and no hills! We completed the first 59 miles with ease, and enjoyed a pleasant evening stopover in Bury St.Edmunds.
The second day wasn’t so great. It started badly when we were informed that the hotel chef had overslept and there was no one to cook breakfast! (This was a disaster, as the first rule of long distance cycling is fuel in the tank). So we set off late and feeling hungry. We then started to encounter navigational problems due to problems with the data Malcolm had loaded into his GPS. This resulted in quite a few extra miles as we took the scenic route between Cambridge and Bedford! 70 miles into the ride, the heavens opened and we had to endure thunder and lightning. Fortunately, Malcolm knew a good café where we were able to dry out and stoke-up on cake. We eventually rolled into Buckingham at 9 pm after almost 100 miles. I think Alec really suffered that day, but he didn’t complain.
The third day was a lot easier by comparison, with a more civilised 68 miles across the Cotswolds to my house near Tewkesbury. We spent a very pleasant evening in a local restaurant with Alec’s mother, sister, nephew and niece all there to make the most of the occasion.
Day 4 saw the first big hills as we crossed into Herefordshire, and then into Wales. The legs and backside were definitely starting to ache now, and we still had the biggest climbs to come! Whilst Alec had to walk some of the steeper hills, he never once complained and just kept going. After 62 miles we reached Talgarth
where we spent the evening in a Nepalese restaurant run by ex-Ghurkhas. Needless to say, the food and hospitality was first rate.
Day 5 was the big one with us having to cross the Brecon Beacons and Cambrian Mountains (a punishing 78 miles). However, the spectacular scenery and sunny weather kept our spirits up, and we deliberately took our time and paced ourselves as we didn’t want any injuries or retirements this far into the ride. As we approached Cardigan we got a glimpse of the sea again, reminding us that we had travelled under our own steam from coast-to-coast.
The final day saw us covering 35 miles out to St.David’s Head. This was surprisingly hilly, and a determined headwind impeded progress. For the first time since setting off we started to see other cyclists aiming for the same destination which gave us a buzz, and helped spur us on to the finish line.
To our great relief, we finally made it to St.David’s Head where my wife (and Alec’s sister) Coryn was waiting with the car to transport us back home. It had been a fantastic adventure, and an incredible achievement for Alec. We are all so very proud of him.
We decided to use this challenge to raise some money for the Fragile X Society. If you would like to contribute please visit our Virgin Money Just Giving page: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/AdrianClough2