MW Competition Entry Image
Castle to Castle Bike Ride
Raising money for Odyssey

Odyssey Castle to Castle Bike Ride- 31 Aug - 6 Sept 2013

I am writing this on behalf of the ten cyclists who completed the Challenge, and our back-up team of two – without whom the ride could not have taken place. Hugo Iffla, Project Director of Odyssey, and Jan Wade – a former participant in an Odyssey course, carried our luggage, camping equipment and food. In short, they allowed us to put all our efforts into cycling – removing the need to worry about meal preparation and accommodation.

The other person who deserves a special ‘thank you’ is Aly Purssell who works for Odyssey – almost in any capacity that is required. She is an organiser par excellence – liaising with Nurse specialists and also assisting with outdoor pursuits on the Odyssey courses. Aly dreamed up the idea of the bike ride and since the ride’s inception, she has attended to all the minutiae of detail that ensured the ride went smoothly. We were fortunate to have Aly and her husband Tony riding with us. Thank you both.

There were four cyclists with cancer, and to my knowledge none of us had ever attempted anything like this before. I think we ranged in age from 37 to 56 years: all mums and desperate to live as long as possible for our families.  We shared case histories early on, and all, without exception, lead healthy life styles. We just became unlucky and are proof that cancer does not discriminate between young or old, smokers or non smokers.

For most of us the training started as soon as we signed up for the ride. For me, that was in April. I started cycling to work more frequently – a round trip of eight miles on the relatively flat roads of East Anglia. Conscious of the need to get some hill training in for Wales, I began to seek out all the hills I could find! I also read a book on cycling for women by Selene Yeager – which gave all sorts of tips on technique, exercise, clothing, nutrition etc. I joined a Sky Ride one weekend, thinking I’d be cycling 20 miles when in fact it turned out to be 40 miles! I’ll admit it was too much for me too soon. I went back to shorter rides and gradually worked up to 45 miles, and did three long rides in succession. I felt no ill effects from those three days in the saddle, and just hoped it would be enough to get me through the Challenge. I needn’t have worried as I think we all felt like this! I’ll admit to doing some gym work and experimenting with my food and hydration too.

I’m on a three-weekly course of chemotherapy tablets, and these played havoc with my digestive system for the first two days of the ride. For me, it was a routine few days of discomfort along with the continually sore hands and feet which are another side effect. I knew it would pass and kept my mind off the gastric symptoms by thinking how lucky I was to be cycling through such stunning scenery.

We followed the Sustrans Route 8,(Lon Las Cymru) from Cardiff to Caernarfon. Our goal was to complete the ride, preferably without the need for a lift in the back-up vehicle. We all managed this, and furthermore we all managed to cycle up to the highest point of the ride, at 509m, from where we were rewarded with the best view in Wales, according to  the Welsh journalist and broadcaster Wynford Vaughan-Thomas. Through sheer determination, Di, working on one lung, managed this ascent – what an incredible lady! We decided this was a good place to stop for lunch, and sat in a circle taking in the vista from the slate memorial to Vaughan-Thomas.

This was definitely a highlight of the Ride although for me it was just one epic view after another. I must also mention the people we spoke to along the way, who were interested in what we were doing. They responded by giving us spontaneous donations, especially in Dolgellau the day after our appearance on ITV Wales! Di and Ali spoke very movingly about their cancer and the challenges they faced in order to get through the Ride. Then there were two phone interviews on Radio Suffolk -who were following our challenge after Jane Myatt was interviewed by Lesley Dolphin prior to the Ride.

On more mundane matters, our kit and equipment was self-funded, so the money we raised in sponsorship (just under £12,000) will all go to Odyssey minus our food and accommodation costs, which were kept to a minimum by self-catering and camping.

We all wore padded shorts, and in addition I had a gel seat cover to ease any potential aches and pains. I was worried that the secondary bone cancer in my pelvis would be particularly uncomfortable. Fortunately my preparation had been sufficient enough to avoid any such niggles. I tried out three brands of shorts and can honestly say that the most comfortable, effective, and cheapest ones came from Mountain Warehouse. I also had a warm, wicking cycling top from the same shop, discounted by 20% for taking part in the Charity Challenge competition.

I also wore leg warmers and arm warmers, which kept my muscles warm first thing in the morning, and were easy to take off once I’d warmed up. They were a vital piece of kit as far as I was concerned. They were also easy to slip on as protection against the wind on our long eight mile descent into Machynlleth, and kept my joints warm whilst camping.

I used a Dawes Ladies’ Touring Bike, which made the ride easier for me. It had robust tyres to withstand the rough tracks but didn’t slow me down on tarmac. It was essential that I had a Ladies’ bike with a curved bar, so that I could get on and off more easily with my stiff legs. It also had ‘butterfly’ handlebars so that I could change my riding position from time to time to avoid fatigue, and also had rigid front forks, and 27 gears which helped me to get up the hills.

My local cycle shop called Moon’s, gave me a good discount, and Dawes themselves sold me a rack bag at half price, which was sufficient to carry snacks and additional clothing for the day. Most of the other cyclists also managed to acquire equipment and clothing at cost price, with many companies offering discounts once they realised what the Ride was in aid of.

We all had special moments on the ride, and a rather touching moment for me was when we passed through Aberfan on the Taf Trail on the first day. I was eight at the time when, in 1966, a colliery spoil slipped down the hillside and smothered the village school. 116 children and 28 adults lost their lives: a whole generation wiped out. I remember accompanying my mother around our village, to collect money for the affected families. If I had lost a child that day it would have been far worse for me than the cancer I've endured in middle age

It was the least she could do although she knew it wouldn’t bring the children back. She grew up in another South Wales mining community: Maesteg. Her father was a Collier and she must have felt acutely what this disaster meant for everyone in Aberfan. Our cycle ride took us past the cemetery – a permanent reminder of this tragic event.

So would I do the ride again? Probably. It was certainly a challenge but I felt privileged to have cycled with a group of inspiring people, through some of the most outstanding scenery in the UK, whilst raising money for such a brilliant charity as Odyssey. In a way, the Ride was like an advanced Odyssey course: we were outside for most of the time and, although I was tired after the Ride, I felt a massive sense of achievement and the will to make every living minute count.

Sadly it seems that more and more people are affected by cancer: either as a patient or as a loved one watching those dearest to them go through treatment. In some cases the prognosis is not good but in others the outcome is a lot brighter.  When clinical treatment finishes, patients are often left feeling unsure of life in the future. Do they book that holiday of a lifetime for six months in advance, do they buy  a new car, new clothes etc, or will it be a waste of money if they're going to die shortly? We understand this, having been there ourselves.

Odyssey courses bridge the gap between clinical treatment and picking up your life again. With more cancer being diagnosed this is why there is an increasing need for this unique charity.  Odyssey helps patients get over their diagnosis and to move on from their treatment; it helps them to feel normal again and able to do the ordinary and extrordinary things in life. Odyssey makes patients realise that however long they have to live, each moment can really be lived and savoured...and yes, go ahead and plan that holiday!

Publicity for Odyssey needs to be more widespread so that more people appreciate the work they do. This costs money though, and at the moment any money raised goes towards running more courses - which of course is the goal. Winning the Mountain Warehouse Challenge would mean so much to Odyssey and to cancer patients everywhere. The £5,000 would go towards funding another course, and the publicity generated from this would help to firmly establish Odyssey as an important charity in cancer rehabilitation.

The Challenge
We are cancer patients (one terminally ill) cycling 220 miles from Cardiff to Caernarfon over 7 days. We will support each other to complete this challenge. The weather and hills will not defeat us!
The Charity
Odyssey is a small cancer charity which has had a life changing impact not just on us but on 100’s of others.A cancer diagnosis can leave you feeling as if there's nothing to live for but Odyssey outdoor courses turn you around emotionally, so that you start living with enthusiasm. The importance of their work needs national recognition and funding
The Training
My challenge has been to work up to four hours a day on a bike, as I have secondary bone cancer in my pelvis. A ladies' gym, Ènergie, gave me a free month's membership to help me prepare. In terms of sponsorship, it has been an intensive few months but I have now raised over £2,000, including money raised by selling cakes. I was interviewed by Lesley Dolphin on Radio Suffolk about Odyssey and the bike ride. Support from everyone has been overwhelming. I can't wait to set off and earn the money!