#5000colo Day 51: Wild is the Wind…

Distance travelled: 34.05 miles
Cumulative distance: 966.70 miles
Distance remaining: 4033.30 miles
Percentage complete: 19.33
Villages visited: Beeston St Andrew, Wroxham, Hoveton, Horning, Ludham, Potter Heigham, Repps with Bastwick, Clippesby, Billockby, Acle, South Walsham, Panxworth, Little Plumstead, Thorpe End.

After yesterday’s ridiculously fast ride, today was always going to be a slower affair. I knew it was going to be windy, so I thought I’d just take my time and enjoy the ride.

By the time I got to Potter Heigham I was still comfortably above 15mph. The wind was blowing from the south, which meant that for most of the ride I’d been dealing with crosswinds (save for a nice couple of miles up into Wroxham with a tailwind).

However, I knew that from Potter Heigham to Acle I was going to be riding right into the face of the wind, and my goodness was I right! The stretch out of Potter Heigham up through Bastwick to Clippesby was as arduous as anything I’ve experienced so far. A long, looping uphill climb coupled with 20mph headwinds meant it was a challenge to keep the bike above 10mph.

By the time I reached Acle and started heading west, I was absolutely knackered! I managed to keep it going, though, and arrived at Bicycle Links having covered 34 miles at 14.5mph. Considering the conditions, I was delighted with that result!

#5000colo Day 50: Race Pace

Distance travelled: 28.86 miles
Cumulative distance: 932.65 miles
Distance remaining: 4067.35 miles
Percentage complete: 18.65
Villages visited: Bridgham, East Harling, Kenninghall, North Lopham, South Lopham, Garboldisham, Shadwell, Rushford, Thetford, Kilverstone, Brettenham.

So, 50 days in, and I’m really starting to hit my stride now. Today was my fastest ride yet… and that includes time trials! Yep, I was faster over 29 miles today than I’ve managed over half that distance on my time trials. I’m absolutely elated about that, it’s a definite high point of the journey so far.

Today’s route started in Bridgham, where I’d been for a business meeting. I’d planned to ride this route two weeks ago, but the previous meeting ran over so I didn’t have time to ride on that occasion.

I’d been looking forward to this ride, and that was accentuated by a look at the weather forecast; a balmy 17 degrees, light winds, no rain… perfect conditions. The first few miles contained quite a lot of climbs as I wove my way through East Harling and Kenninghall, then through North and South Lopham.

From that point onwards, though, it was just awesome. Another climb after Garboldisham, then about three miles of arrow-straight back road cutting a swathe through glorious deciduous forest, with the colours of autumn bewitching me. If I had a quid for every grey squirrel I saw, I could retire to the Caribbean tomorrow.

I then went back onto the main road, the A1066 (which should really be nearer to Hastings, I feel). It had just been resurfaced; the tarmac trucks were still in the vicinity, so the asphalt was as smooth and fresh as anything I’ve ever ridden on. Despite the headwind, I enjoyed pumping the legs and managed to keep the average speed just below 16mph.

I then took a short diversion into the pretty little village of Rushford, where I stopped on the green for a stretch. Despite breaking my golden rule of ‘never stop on an uphill’, I powered up the incline and back onto the A1066, before enjoying a long downhill cruise into Thetford where I hit 30mph, and sent the average speed above 16mph for the first time.

Then it was time to head east back towards Bridgham, and with the wind at my back I really made some tracks. I first went past the tiny hamlet of Kilverstone, which used to have a wildlife park which I remember visiting as a child.

I then used the undulations to my advantage as I flew towards Brettenham, building up as much speed as possible on the downhills before getting out the saddle and hammering up the other side. If there were any passers-by I didn’t see, they would have been treated to my exterior monologue as I commentated my way through it, pushing onwards and keeping above 20mph for the vast majority of the time.

I smashed my way back through Bridgham like a mad thing, determined to finish above 16.5mph… and I did! I doubt I’ll have a better ride than that for a while, and I doubt I’ll feel the warmth of the sun again until March or April. I’m ready for the winter… let’s smash it!

#5000colo Day 49: Textbook Troshin’!

Distance travelled: 29.58 miles
Cumulative distance: 903.79 miles
Distance remaining: 4096.21 miles
Percentage complete: 18.08
Villages visited: Felmingham, Banningham, Blickling, Oulton Street, Oulton, Itteringham, Little Barningham, Wolterton, Wickmere, Calthorpe, Erpingham, Colby, Suffield, North Walsham.

That was awesome. Thirty miles in the rain, in less than two hours! Again, I’ve been naughty and forgotten to take any pictures on my travels, so you’ll just have to visualise the state of my bike when I got back to the church at Felmingham, where I’d left the car.

Despite some rickety old roads, I managed to keep comfortably above 15mph today, which was really encouraging… was really concentrating on my breathing, and taking big, deep gulps of air after each climb or period of exertion.

I went past Blickling Hall today, so I guess I can reuse the photo I took when I went past in August… very different weather conditions on that day, though!

My sat nav also directed me through the grounds of Wolterton Hall; there were signs saying ‘private road’, but I’m pretty comfortable that my reason for riding on it would probably grant me some clemency if I were to be face to face with a disgruntled landowner.

On the subject of navigation, I really must recommend Komoot: it has revolutionised my riding experience. No more faffing around trying to read a static map, or trying my best to triangulate on the rather sparse Strava mapping system; Komoot does it all for me. The app is great, and the desktop version is super-intuitive for planning my routes.

It also tells me all my ride statistics, wind speed and direction, current and average speed… plus a very attentive AI navigator. I haven’t missed a single turn since I started using it! I can also put all my completed rides into a ‘collection’, and add highlights both to my own tours, and to the map that’s shared by all users. I really think it’s going to take off in a big way, and it’d be lovely to have some of my friends on there too!

There’s a one-off fee of £7.99 to unlock the whole of Norfolk if you want the navigation tool too, although the free version is still really handy.

The only down side of today’s ride was my new ‘waterproof’ Sealskinz socks, which I had to pour water out of at the end of the ride. I emailed their support team, and they replied within an hour to give me some advice on how best to wear them, so hopefully I’ll have more luck with them next time.

#5000colo Day 48: Undulations

Distance travelled: 28.97 miles
Cumulative distance: 874.21 miles
Distance remaining: 4125.79 miles
Percentage complete: 17.48
Villages visited: Thorpe Marriott, Upgate, Swannington, Brandiston, Cawston, Haveringland, Horsford, Horsham St Faith, Spixworth.

Firstly, I’m proud to say that I’m now a qualified Mental Health First Aider. I did the penultimate session yesterday, but it was really challenging and I really struggled with my anxiety for the rest of the day. I’m not sure what’s due to the new medication and what’s due to environmental factors, but yesterday afternoon was pretty horrendous.

Today I woke up feeling much brighter, and I completed the final session of the MHFA course and got my certificate. It’s an incredibly worthwhile thing to do, and coupled with my ongoing course in Awareness of Mental Health Problems I really feel like I’m getting some good academic grounding to go with my good intentions.

This afternoon I headed out with my good buddy Mike for a little jaunt up to Cawston.

We did some of Marriott’s Way (a bit claggy and stony in places, but largely manageable), before getting back on the road to enjoy Horsford Woods, then heading up through Swannington and Brandiston.

A friend recommended a stop at the church in Cawston; although it was closed, I was able to peer in through the windows and see the angels on the ceiling that he mentioned.

Although I am an atheist, I’ve been amazed by the beautiful architecture of our churches as I ride round the county. It’s incredible to think that every single village in this county has one of these huge, ornate buildings that’s hundreds of years old.

You don’t have to be religious to appreciate their beauty; keep your eyes open and take a moment to appreciate the colossal amount of work that must have gone into building them, and the communities that have thrived around them over the centuries.

On the way back I messed up the navigation near Horsford, and we wound up doing some more off-roading. ‘Mill Lane’ sounded like a proper road to me, but it was basically a muddy path with plentiful puddles. We had fun, despite the bumps, splashes and foliage… or maybe because of them!

Tomorrow I might go to the coast… I feel more like putting miles on the clock than doing my little time trial. Then, on Friday, I’m going back to do the Thetford route that I didn’t manage a couple of weeks ago.

#5000colo Day 46: Toughing it Out

Distance travelled: 25.26 miles
Cumulative distance: 845.24 miles
Distance remaining: 4154.76 miles
Percentage complete: 16.90
Villages visited: Trowse, Kirby Bedon, Bramerton, Surlingham, Hellington, Alpington, Yelverton, Framingham Earl, Arminghall.

A hastily arranged local jaunt today, to fill in some of the little gaps on the map. I’ve been through most of these villages before, but I’ve added Surlingham, Hellington, Yelverton and Arminghall to the list.

It was really hard going today for some reason; I felt like I was slower and more unfit, although I’m not sure if that was in my head or whether I just had an ‘off day’. I still managed 14.7mph, though, which is decent going, especially considering I rode through the city twice (lots of stopping and starting), and there were several hills on the route.

The first climb up through Trowse wasn’t too bad, and I had good pace up until Surlingham. The drift down into Surlingham was glorious, and the climb up Walnut Hill on the other side was short but sharp. A couple of miles later was the aptly named, and more challenging, Hellington Hill.

After that, it was really tough. I could see the average speed for the ride dipping ever lower, and the long, slow incline into Framingham Earl really sapped both my strength and my will. Then there was a sharp rain shower, which cheered me up a bit.

By the time I got back into Norwich I was feeling a bit brighter, and I powered up Long John Hill with a bit of encouragement from a couple of young lads who shouted nice things at me.

A good challenge, all in all, and a reminder that I’m not going to smash it every day; some days, just showing up is enough.

I’ve also switched my medication again; the Sertraline just wasn’t working out for me, so after consulting with my GP I’ve agreed to give Fluoxetine another go. I used it years ago and it worked okay, if memory serves; I just need something to stabilise that anxiety and I can deal with the rest.

Had a nice little drive around this afternoon to collect some bits I’d bought off Gumtree: I got a Gatorskin for £10 (will get this put on the front wheel), a decent helmet for £10 and some spare overshoes for a fiver. A good haul, all in all.

Tomorrow, I am going to take some bloody photos! I swear I will! My Instagram has been neglected a bit of late, and I’m desperately short of ideas on how to grow my reach/following. Watch this space…

#5000colo Day 45: Gentle Jaunt

Distance travelled: 19.58 miles
Cumulative distance: 819.98 miles
Distance remaining: 4180.02 miles
Percentage complete: 16.40
Villages visited: Wreningham, Ashwellthorpe, Tacolneston, Forncett End, Bunwell, Carleton Rode, Spooner Row.

I really must remember to actually take some photos on my rides! Another shonky self-portrait today, I’m afraid.

This morning started with some really intense anxiety. It’s just horrible; it’s a feeling of non-specific terror and fear, a massive, full-body physiological tremor that goes on and on. I feel it right inside my sternum, and behind my eyes. I feel on the verge of tears, but know that I won’t be able to cry. It’s like a huge invisible hand is dangling me over the edge of a precipice; I know it won’t drop me, but it’s impossible to keep calm when you’re so hypertense.

My anti-anxiety medication got me to the point where I felt like the anxiety was a little more manageable, so I hauled myself out of bed, got my gear together, and Katie and I headed over to my sister and brother-in-law’s house in Wymondham. Miles and I had had this date in our diary for several weeks, so I was determined to get there.

What I hadn’t realised is that Miles’s bike is a mountain bike that he’s had since he was 14 years old! Although he’s tall and slim, he doesn’t get a huge amount of exercise, and factor in the bike situation and it was always going to be a slow one. It was strange ‘pootling’ after the exertions of my past few rides, but it was great to have a chat and a catch-up.

A few miles in we switched bikes, so I could experience the immensity of the handicap that Miles was experiencing on the mountain bike, and he could have his first taste of riding a road bike. It took him a little while to get used to the road bike shifters and toe clips, but, once he got to grips with it, he noticed a profound difference!

I found it pretty difficult riding the mountain bike; I found the old-school trigger shifters a bit awkward, and it was so slow and heavy I felt like I was going backwards! Miles has definitely ‘seen the light’, though, and I think I’ve persuaded him to upgrade to a hybrid.

Four days in a row on the bike now, which is great. Hoping to have a full week’s riding ahead; I’ve set myself the target of getting to 2,020 miles by the end of 2020, so I’m really keen to crank up the miles!

#5000colo Day 44: Braving the Borderlands

Distance travelled: 32.00 miles
Cumulative distance: 800.40 miles
Distance remaining: 4199.60 miles
Percentage complete: 16.02
Villages visited: Hopton, Fritton, St Olaves, Haddiscoe, Burgh St Peter, Wheatacre, Aldeby, Toft Monks, Belton, Burgh Castle, Bradwell, Gorleston-on-Sea.

A rather meandering route today, polishing off all the remaining Norfolk villages around Yarmouth (I hope!). We came to see my parents-in-law, who live in Hopton but are moving to Norwich imminently, so it made sense to get these villages done while we could tie it in with a visit.

It was mostly headwinds on the outward journey, but strangely I didn’t seem to benefit too much from the tailwinds on the way back; probably just my perception, unless the wind changed somewhere en route.

I came very close to crossing the border into Suffolk a couple of times, but managed to stay on the northern side, I think.

There were some excellent undulating sections, and some great winding bits too; I certainly felt the benefit of the tailwinds heading back along the bends on the A143 from Haddiscoe towards St Olaves, but opted to get off the main road and take a more sheltered route at St Olaves.

After a little detour through Belton, Burgh Castle and Bradwell I was around the 15mph mark, so resolved to try to keep above that pace for the remainder. However, Gorleston was not kind to me; traffic lights, headwinds, bumpy cycle paths and accumulated fatigue put paid to that.

Still, it was a good challenge, and I’m getting fitter with every ride. The saddle sores are back, though, which is an unwelcome development. The awesome Tim at Bicycle Links mentioned that there’s yet another spare saddle I could try out if this one continues to cause problems; we’ll get there in the end.

Tomorrow I’m off to Wymondham for a gentle 20-miler with my brother-in-law.

#5000colo Day 43: Demons

Distance travelled: 22.40 miles
Cumulative distance: 768.40 miles
Distance remaining: 4231.60 miles
Percentage complete: 15.37
Villages visited: Smallburgh, Dilham, Lyngate, Bengate, Briggate, Honing, Crostwight, East Ruston, Brumstead, Lessingham, Ingham, Sutton, Stalham, Wayford Bridge.

Mental health trigger warning: I’m going to talk about some pretty heavy stuff later in this post, so if you’d rather not read on, I quite understand. The short version: great ride today, over 15mph again, fitness definitely improving.

Today I decided to revisit a stretch of road that has a profound meaning in the context of my life. Before they moved to their current home near Dereham, my parents lived in the tiny village of Briggate, between Stalham and North Walsham.

It was a very peaceful place; a little brook ran through the garden, and at the end of the garden was a derelict watermill with a fascinating history involving fire, fraud and the Kray Twins. Back in the late noughties, I ended up living with my parents for a while while I was suffering from extreme depression.

I don’t remember very much about that time, other than my parents doing their best to help me but not really being able to make any progress in supporting me. I remember spending hours upon hours under blankets in the conservatory, unable to do anything but eat, drink, sleep and nip out into the garden for the occasional cigarette.

I know that I was taking a benzodiazepine (possibly lorazepam), as well as an SSRI and possibly anti-anxiety medication too. I remember a chaotic appointment in Norwich with some kind of mental health professional, and being reduced to shouting and screaming at a doctor in a small, dark room with no windows.

I remember being told that I had to stop taking the benzodiazepine, and then the next two weeks being acute hell. Every minute of every day, I wanted to die. I had a surfeit of every imaginable emotion: fear, sadness, hopelessness followed by hope, self-loathing, strange spikes of manic positivity… the positive bits were probably the most scary.

I couldn’t understand where the emotions were coming from, or why; all I knew is that it was ‘everything all the time’, and the absence of benzodiazepine wasn’t taking the edge off my feelings.

One day, I decided I was going to take my own life. I got up, put my shoes on, and walked down the lane towards the main road. I remember sitting on the verge for a long time, trying to summon the strength to throw myself in front of each lorry that drove past.

I felt pathetic, useless, hopeless; like I’d let down anyone who had ever invested any emotion in me. I just needed it all to stop.

And then my phone rang; it was a work colleague, ringing to find out how I was. Why I took my phone out with me, I don’t know; perhaps I wanted to be saved. Either way, that phone call dragged me back from the very edge of suicide, and as far as I recall, that was the start of a long, long road back to some semblance of normality.

Today, for the first time in many years, I went back down that road. As I cycled along past the turning into Briggate, I visualised myself sitting there on the side of the road some eleven years hence, and I began to cry.

I kept pedalling, reflecting on my journey, the support and love I’ve been given by so many people, and the fact that I’m now happily married to a wonderful woman, living in a beautiful house. Sure, my job situation is precarious at best, the world is in turmoil, and I’m still experiencing some quite challenging mental health issues; but I’m not a quitter. I’ll never go there again.

From now on, I want to do everything I can to help people who are suffering from mental health problems; in what capacity, I’m not yet sure. But I want to help people to see hope through hopelessness. To see a future beyond their symptoms, to a place where they can manage their illness to live a fulfilling and positive life.

And, most importantly, I want to spread the message that it’s okay to talk about this stuff. It’s essential to share this stuff. If people ‘don’t get it’, or find it uncomfortable, that’s too bad. Let’s try to educate those people rather than vilifying them.

That was pretty exhausting; if you read this to the end, I hope it wasn’t too difficult. But if we can all face up to those difficult conversations, and encourage other people to do the same, we’re doing the right thing for ourselves, for those who are suffering, and for society as a whole.

Keep breathing, keep smiling.

#5000colo Day 42: Back on the Bike!

Distance travelled: 14.34 miles
Cumulative distance: 746.00 miles
Distance remaining: 4254.00 miles
Percentage complete: 14.92
Villages visited: Little Plumstead, Salhouse, Spixworth.

It felt so good to be back in the saddle after three days off! After Sunday’s exertions I took Monday as a rest day, and Tuesday was my wife Katie’s birthday, so I decided against trying to nip out for a ride… especially as I’d already spent two hours of the day doing my Mental Health First Aid training!

Katie went for a massage and a haircut, and then in the evening we had a couple of friends round to watch the Norwich v Birmingham match (socially distanced, of course!). I was honoured to have been selected to be the Community Hero for the match; obviously I wasn’t able to attend in person, but apparently there is a surprise still to come from one of the sponsors.

I did the second instalment of the MHFA training on Wednesday morning, and then took advantage of Katie going to visit a friend in Attleborough to plot a route from there. We stopped off at Bicycle Links for what I hoped would be a quick pit stop, but unfortunately the rear derailleur hanger snapped.

Tim said he hoped to be able to get a new one by the following day (ie. today, Thursday), but my chance of a rainy ride around Attleborough way was curtailed. I was gutted; not only did that mean three consecutive days without riding, but it was also really wet, and I’ve really come to enjoy riding in rainy conditions!

Anyway, I picked the bike up late this afternoon, and was like a kid at Christmas; I got home, got kitted up and went for a twilight time trial. I gave it absolutely everything, and knocked nearly two minutes off my time from last week!

I’ve got rides planned for the next three days, although tomorrow’s ride is variable depending on whether or not I’ll be able to drive. The car needs to have a part fitted, but it depends how long that will take as to whether I go for a ride while it’s being done, or wait for it to be fitted and then ride off somewhere.

#5000colo Day 38: Nifty Fifty

Distance travelled: 50.11 miles
Cumulative distance: 731.66 miles
Distance remaining: 4268.34 miles
Percentage complete: 14.63
Villages visited: Swanton Morley, Elsing, Lyng, Whitwell, Reepham, Salle, Wood Dalling, Thurning, Hindolveston, Foulsham, Pockthorpe, Bintree, Billingford, North Tuddenham, Mattishall, South Green, Welborne, Brandon Parva, Barnham Broom, Barford, Colton, East Tuddenham.
Donations: tiny.cc/5000colo

Today was the biggest ride yet of this campaign. I did 66 miles in a day at the end of my previous fundraising adventure, but this was by far my longest ride of #5000colo so far.

I asked Alexa if it was going to rain and she was adamant it wasn’t, so I didn’t bother packing my overshoes. Error. Halfway to the start point at Swanton Morley the rain started, and got gradually heavier. It had mostly stopped by the time we reached the event site, but the prospect of cold, wet toes for 50 miles had certainly dampened my spirits somewhat.

I registered, attached my number (178) to the front of my bike, and then went to set off. However, the lady at the start gate told me that I should do the second loop twice, as the first loop was very wet and muddy and one rider had fallen off.

When I explained to her what I was doing, and the conditions I’ve been riding in on my campaign so far, she told me I could do the first loop at my own risk but she advised against it. Undeterred, and determined not to miss out on the opportunity to grab some more villages, I set off.

There were a couple of sharpish climbs in the first few miles, but I soon settled into a rhythm and found the first loop relatively straightforward. Sure, there were some very wet and muddy sections, but nothing compared to what I’ve been through on the really stormy days.

I found myself overtaking quite a few people, and managing to keep within sight of a couple of riders in front of me who seemed to be riding at around my pace. I caught up to them a couple of times, but I’m generally slower on the climbs and need more recovery time once I’ve reached the summit, so they pulled away again.

As I passed 20 miles, I realised that I was still over 15mph average speed, which was way beyond my expectations; I decided I was going to push hard to complete the first loop above 15mph, and then take it steady on the second loop. The last couple of miles of the first loop were really tough, with a couple of proper hills (by Norfolk standards, anyway), and then a long incline back through Swanton Morley.

My new saddle was treating me beautifully, with no sign of chafing or saddle sore at all. However, my glutes and the tops of my hamstrings were really aching due to the exertion of riding faster than I was used to, so I was pretty exhausted by the time I got to the end of the loop.

I refilled my hydration backpack, grabbed a snack from the food stop, and cleaned the worst of the muck out of my brakes. After a few stretches I decided to crack on with the second loop.

To my surprise, I was easily keeping up my 15mph pace, and the terrain seemed a little easier than earlier in the ride. I started flagging a little bit around 35 miles, and my lower back was starting to get really quite painful, but I powered through and by 40 miles it was a bit more manageable.

I then rode with another fella for a few miles, who kept me entertained and motivated as I neared the end. I was then buoyed by the sight of Katie and my parents on the side of the road to cheer me as I rode by, which really spurred me on.

I made it back inside the target time of 3:20 hours, averaging 15.1mph, which I was absolutely blown away by. I had no idea I had that in me, and although I was pretty exhausted by the end, I did feel that if I’d have paced myself a bit more steadily I could probably have done 75. There’s always next year for that, though!

I collected my medal, had a lovely chat with the lady from Break (the charity that Norfolk Cycling Events raises money for), and then bought all the beers off their stall. Then had a natter with the fellas from Paul’s Cycles in Dereham, who were offering the mechanical support for the riders.

I absolutely loved the sportive experience; the presence of so many other riders spurred me on, even though I rode the vast majority of the route alone. It remains to be seen how I feel tomorrow, but right now I feel incredibly proud of myself.

My fundraising broke through the £1,000 barrier today, which is great. I’m super grateful to everyone who’s donated so far, but I still aim to raise £25,000 by the time I’m done, so please keep spreading the word! Telling people about what I’m doing is a good way to start conversations about mental health, which is more important than ever in these strange times.