#5000colo Day 20: The Croxton Cake

Distance travelled: 34.10 miles
Cumulative distance: 419.76 miles
Distance remaining: 4580.24 miles
Percentage complete: 8.40
Villages visited: Croxton, East Wretham, Great Hockham, Breckles, Thompson, Merton, Watton, Threxton, Little Cressingham, Ickburgh, Mundford, Lynford.

After yesterday’s miserable aborted ride, today was certainly an opportunity to stack up some miles. First stop was Bicycle Links, where Rob very gave my bike a once-over and got me ready to roll again.

Then it was off to Croxton near Thetford, to meet a lady called Melinda, who is the patron of a charity called YANA (You Are Not Alone). YANA offers mental health support to people in rural and agricultural settings via a dedicated phone line, email support and online resources.

Melinda had not only baked a delicious lemon drizzle cake for the occasion, but had even assembled a small army of people to come and meet me and see me off. I was also inundated with banknotes from generous villagers, which will be transferred into my online fund in due course.

The ride itself was largely good today; I managed to avoid most of the forecast rain, catching a couple of light showers along the way but nothing too serious. I covered 34.1 miles, which is the longest ride of my campaign so far, as I circumnavigated the Stanford Training Area (STANTA).

This large area spans a great deal of the land between Thetford and Watton, and contained several villages that were forcibly evicted during the Second World War to allow for armed forces training (including Stanford, from which the area gets its name).

At the conclusion of the conflict, the villagers were not allowed back to their homes, and the villages have since become derelict. There’s something quite sad about these once-proud Norfolk village communities that were extinguished overnight. I’d love to go in there and cycle through these ‘ghost villages’; if anyone happens to know a high-ranking MOD official with a charitable streak, don’t hesitate to put them in touch! 🙂

It was also great to have my first experience of cycling through parts of Thetford Forest. I really enjoy cycling through forested areas, and I’m looking forward to exploring more of this area in due course.

There was a bit too much ‘big road’ riding today, as most of the route was on ‘A’ or ‘B’ roads. It was generally okay, although the run from Mundford along the A147 back towards Thetford near the end was really hairy. One impatient lorry driver nearly gave me a heart attack as he squeezed past me despite a stream of oncoming traffic and me being a good two feet out from the roadside.

My final observation today is that I really need to try a different saddle. I’ve been saying this for a while, but the soreness is becoming a constant barrier to increasing my mileage.

#5000colo Day 19: Punctured Progress

Distance travelled: 18.26 miles
Cumulative distance: 385.66 miles
Distance remaining: 4614.34 miles
Percentage complete: 7.71
Villages visited: Guist, Foulsham, Guestwick, Wood Dalling, Heydon, Saxthorpe, Corpusty.

It had to happen at some point, I guess. With all the detritus on the roads after the weekend’s storm, I’m surprised I didn’t get a puncture sooner, to be honest. However, the circumstances couldn’t have been much worse.

I was 18 miles into my ride, and still seven miles away from the car when disaster struck; I applied my emergency puncture repair spray, which is supposed to fill the inner tube with foam and should inflate it enough to get home safely.

However, it was soon clear that the foam was just escaping from the other side of the tyre. And as I drove up to Guist alone today, I couldn’t call Katie and ask her to collect me. And it was raining, and it was cold, and I hadn’t brought anything waterproof with me… epic fail.

I had to resort to that last vestige of childhood and call my mum and beg her to rescue me. And she did, of course, because she’s wonderful and that’s what mums do.

I am going to need to rethink my strategy a bit, because if that had happened in January and my mum wasn’t available, I could’ve got hypothermia. I’ll definitely need to be a bit smarter with my gear choices, and ensure that I have something to keep me warm if that should happen again.

But anyway, there were a couple of lovely photo opportunities. Firstly, the village green at Heydon: this is a rare example of a ‘one road in, one road out’ village, and it’s beautifully quaint. I didn’t see a single soul, it was totally deserted. I’d love to go back when it’s open… 🙂

And secondly, Wood Dalling gave me the chance to capture the bike alongside a village sign, a village church AND a village pond! Quite the triumvirate, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Due to my puncture, I was unable to complete today’s route, so the villages of Thurning, Hindolveston and Wood Norton will have to wait for another day.

Tomorrow I’m taking the bike into Bicycle Links for some running repairs and a quick once-over, and then I’m heading down to Croxton near Thetford, to meet a lady called Melinda, who is the patron of YANA (You Are Not Alone), an organisation that campaigns for mental health support in agricultural settings. Farming is such a vital part of Norfolk’s heritage and economy, and I’m looking forward to finding out about the great work YANA is doing to support our rural communities.

#5000colo Day 18: Zimbo and Tetts

Distance travelled: 25.38 miles
Cumulative distance: 367.40 miles
Distance remaining: 4632.60 miles
Percentage complete: 7.35
Villages visited: Cringleford, Little Melton, Bawburgh, Costessey.

Today it was my pleasure and privilege to meet two NCFC heroes of mine: Alex Tettey and Christoph Zimmermann. Both have displayed great devotion to my beloved yellow and green shirt, leading by example both on and off the pitch.

They presented me with a certificate (from two metres away, of course!) for my fundraising cycle ride to raise money for Sir Norman Lamb’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Fund.

It was also brilliant to finally meet Sir Norman, who has campaigned tirelessly for many years for better mental health support, provision and awareness in the local area.

Alex and Christoph chatted with me for ages, discussing everything from mental health and family to NCFC’s promotion prospects and the miraculous longevity of Alex’s knees!

It was also brilliant to have a journalist and photographer from the EDP present to chat to us all – the continued support of the local press is both vital and appreciated as I seek to keep growing both awareness and funds for better mental health in Norfolk. Article here: https://www.eveningnews24.co.uk/…/fundraiser-matt…

I’ve got a busy week ahead, but I’m always happy to talk to any Norfolk folk who might want to meet and/or ride with me.

#5000colo Day 16: The Wetter The Better

Distance travelled: 23.41 miles
Cumulative distance: 342.02 miles
Distance remaining: 4657.98 miles
Percentage complete: 6.84
Villages visited: Holt, Hempstead, Baconsthorpe, Plumstead, Matlaske, Calthorpe, Ingworth, Aylsham, Buxton.

After yesterday was rained off, I was extremely keen to get back on the bike today despite the unpleasant conditions. I decided to plan a ride that would blow me home, so I headed north to Holt.

I decided that it made sense to grab a coffee and some sustenance before I headed off, so I found a cracking little coffee shop called The Wandering Whelk. They kindly agreed to put up one of my new posters and agreed to spread the word!

Full of coffee and sausage roll, I reluctantly got the bike out of the boot and set off in strong winds and rain. No sooner was I out of Holt and into the countryside, the scale of the storm damage became apparent; every lane was littered with leaves, twigs, acorns and all manner of other detritus.

The first village I visited, Hempstead, offered a scene so photogenic I just had to stop and capture it, as the village sign was almost engulfed by a giant snapped branch.

As I continued through Baconsthorpe, Plumstead and Matlaske, there were several puddles that covered the entire width of the road, forcing me to freewheel through them with my legs outstretched to avoid the worst of the drenching. Eventually I was so saturated I just flew through them regardless.

Between Calthorpe and Ingworth, though, I reached a ford that had a raging torrent running through it. Absolutely no was I was riding through that, so I had to dismount and roll the bike over the tiny pedestrian bridge. Another great photo opportunity!

I stopped at a petrol station in Aylsham and used the water gun to hose the bike down; little bits of mud, grit and god knows what else had clogged up the brakes. After Aylsham it was an easy ride home; a great tailwind and fewer obstacles allowed me to get some real momentum up.

There was one hurdle left to clear, though; around Buxton there was an absolutely massive flood/puddle (floodle?) that must have been 50 yards long. I got up some momentum and ploughed into it, but it got deeper… and deeper… and the bike was going slower… and slower… until the point that I had to get my feet down and continue cycling, with my feet totally submerged above the ankles on each downstroke!

This was an exciting, exhilarating and totally rewarding ride, which pretty much confirmed my prior belief that rain is just rain and can be conquered, but strong winds are a genuine danger that just can’t be toyed with.

#5000colo Day 14: Easy Does It

Distance travelled: 25.11 miles
Cumulative distance: 318.61 miles
Distance remaining: 4681.39 miles
Percentage complete: 6.37
Villages visited: Spixworth, Crostwick, Frettenham, Stratton Strawless, Hainford, Haveringland, Hevingham.

Cycling 25 miles never felt so easy. I cruised around today’s route without any fuss, although the omnipresent saddle sore accompanied me once again.

It was delightful to spend so much time cycling through woodland today; that area around Felthorpe and Horsford really is gorgeous.

I’m hopeful that I might be able to pick up my business cards and posters tomorrow, courtesy of the awesome guys at Wensum Print. Another way to spread the message!

Tomorrow’s weather forecast looks pretty appalling, so I’ll take a late decision on whether or not to ride. I don’t mind the rain, but the wind that’s forecast could tip the scales from ‘unpleasant’ to ‘unsafe’. Fingers crossed for merely the former…

#5000colo Day 13: Witness the Wetness

Distance travelled: 30.04 miles
Cumulative distance: 293.50 miles
Distance remaining: 4706.50 miles
Percentage complete: 4.87
Villages visited: Postwick, Brundall, Blofield, Lingwood, Strumpshaw, Buckenham, Hassingham, Moulton St Mary, Halvergate, Wickhampton, Freethorpe, Southwood, Cantley, Limpenhoe, Reedham.

So instead of doing this route in glorious sunshine yesterday, I ended up doing it in a biblical deluge today. It was fine until I got to Thorpe End, and then the heavens opened.

Within a couple of miles I was utterly saturated, so at least I didn’t have to worry about getting progressively wetter as the miles passed! Due to the constant rain and standing water, I had to ride a lot more slowly and cautiously than usual; sediment on the roads was another hazard I had to contend with.

I almost stopped at Lingwood; my foot slipped off the pedal, and the slip caused me to twist my neck and sent a huge shot of pain between my shoulder blades. I managed to ride it out, but then the rain intensified further as I rode up a hill in Strumpshaw and I had to stop for a couple of minutes to shelter.

It was a little easier through Buckenham, Hassingham and Moulton St Mary, but as I reached Halvergate another cloudburst forced me to take shelter in a phone box. My phone had got soaked even through the waterproof skin of my case, which had never happened before, so I sheltered for a few minutes to dry it out and have a quick chat with Katie in the support vehicle.

By the time I reached Freethorpe the rain had stopped, allowing me to cruise the last few miles in relative comfort (all things are relative; I was still saturated). After the emotional difficulties of the last couple of days, it was hugely liberating to get back out on the bike, and completing 30 miles in such arduous conditions felt like a real achievement.

#5000colo Day 12: Bumps in the Road

The last warm day of the year. It should have been a perfect riding day; instead, I’ve been laid indoors with crippling anxiety. It may well just be the new medication taking its time to take effect, but my brain has been unworkable.

Currently awaiting a callback from the doctor’s surgery, as I’m really struggling to keep myself afloat right now. I have to keep reminding myself that it will pass, as will all things, and I’ll soon be back in a space where I can function. The last hour has been a little easier than the rest of the day.

The forecast for tomorrow is horrendous, but I’ll do my best to get back out on the road and ride the route I’d planned for today.

#5000colo Day 11: Doggos!

Distance travelled: 26.82 miles
Cumulative distance: 263.46 miles
Distance remaining: 4736.64 miles
Percentage complete: 5.27
Villages visited: Mundesley, Gimingham, Southrepps, Thorpe Market, Antingham, Bradfield, Swafield, Trunch, Knapton, Edingthorpe, Witton, Walcott, Bacton, Paston.

Separately to my evening ride, this afternoon I went up to the UEA to meet some wellbeing dogs. My friend Sarah runs Tom & Toto Pet Care, which provides UEA students with access to dogs weekly to aid their mental health and wellbeing.

Having experienced these wonderful doggies first-hand, I can vouch for their effectiveness; I certainly left the campus in extremely high spirits!

This evening, Katie drove me up to Mundesley and I ticked off a number of villages in north-east Norfolk. My route planner sent me down a bloody cart track on private land, and my front light fell off without me noticing because it was so bumpy (and because I hadn’t fixed it on properly). I then went all the way back down the cart track to find it, and found it right near the start. Reattached it, then had to go down the cart track for a third time!

Then I went wrong and inadvertently went to Swafield, which wasn’t on my list. I definitely need a better navigation system; any recommendations?

Those mishaps aside, it was another really pleasant ride; not too hilly, sunny, not too windy and a perfect temperature for riding.

Before I go, should we have some more doggos? Of course we should.

#5000colo Day 10: Dancing in the Dark

Distance travelled: 26.29 miles
Cumulative distance: 236.64 miles
Distance remaining: 4763.36 miles
Percentage complete: 4.73
Villages visited: Great Yarmouth, Caister on Sea, Filby, Fleggburgh, Billockby, South Walsham, Panxworth, Woodbastwick, Salhouse.

After a day off the bike yesterday, it was brilliant to be back in the saddle for a very different kind of ride.

Three intrepid fundraisers have just ridden more than 400 miles in four days, from Barmouth in west Wales to Yarmouth, to raise money for The 12th Man (one of my chosen beneficiaries) and Young Minds, a national youth mental health charity.

Rob, Carl and Pat arrived in Yarmouth around 6.30pm this evening, and I went along to meet them and welcome them home. If you’d like to support their amazing efforts, you can do so here.

I then rode back to Norwich, with Tim from The 12th Man accompanying me as far as Acle. Only Yarmouth and Acle were ‘new’ places for me, but I was happy to sacrifice new villages for the chance to go and meet the ‘three amigos’.

This was my first experience of night riding, and it was absolutely awesome. The sun was setting as we left Yarmouth, and we had a stunning twilight ride up the coast towards Caister. I then realised I’d been so sucked in by the beautiful backdrop I’d forgotten to pay attention to the map, and we’d gone ‘off route’; it was easily rectified, though.

I then realised I’d forgotten to put on my hydration backpack, and thus had no water for the ride. Tim kindly nipped into the Co-op in Caister and got me a bottle of water and a protein bar, and we set off westwards towards Acle.

There was one absolutely gorgeous moment where we passed over Filby Broad, and the fading red and purple sky reflected off the surface of the water as we flew by. Shortly after this I realised my front light was out of battery; once again, Tim bailed me out by lending me his spare. Hero!

We parted ways at Acle, and I did the second half of the route alone. Darkness had totally descended by this point, and there was something really exciting and liberating about zipping through the countryside in pitch black, with just my powerful light cutting a swathe through the darkness.

I think I’ll plan some more night rides soon, to prepare myself for the shorter daylight hours when the clocks go back.

#5000colo Day 8: The Heart of the County

Distance travelled: 26.93 miles
Cumulative distance: 210.35 miles
Distance remaining: 4789.65 miles
Percentage complete: 4.21
Villages visited: Beetley, Gressenhall, East Bilney, Brisley, Horningtoft, Whissonsett, Tittleshall, Litcham, Mileham, Bittering, Longham, Dereham, Toftwood, Westfield.

Today was a bit of a family affair; I went to visit my aunt and uncle in Beetley, and then took a scenic route to my parents’ house in Westfield. I’m not sure if I rode past the very central point of Norfolk, but I must have been close to it.

After yesterday’s travails, today was relatively comfortable; no grumpy drivers, only one minor mapreading mishap, and less of an issue with saddle soreness.

I’m taking a rest day tomorrow to allow the soreness to heal a bit, and I was lucky enough to be one of the 1,000 fans drawn in the ballot to go and watch the Norwich match tomorrow!

I’ll be back on the bike on Sunday evening, doing my first-ever night ride. Time to break out the hi-vis jacket…