Blood Grit and Tears

It’s been a while, but there may well be a good few blogs heading your way, with some very exciting adventures for the team, some already done and plenty more in the pipeline. First up, is Phoebe’s brilliant look back at ‘er and Nat’s Peak District epic a few weeks ago. Get a cuppa, take a seat and read this inspiring, heartfelt and just wonderful piece of writing.

Blood, Grit and Tears.

Most of the time visiting an airport its been for fun and exciting activities. Sitting there struggling to face some porridge, desperately urging Sarah to eat as quite lonely tears rolled down her cheeks, I’m not sure I’ve ever felt worse on a journey. We arrived in Grenoble to a French intensive care unit. Despite confidently insisting I could speak a bit of French to reassure Sarah that we’d be ok, I don’t speak medical French and all the signs were
unsurprisingly in French. Using my best GCSE French and trying not to sound too much like a Daily Mail reading brexit voting pensioner we ascertained that ‘Reanimation’ seemed to be the department we wanted.

It wasn’t what my mind imagined reanimation to be. The cold stark realities of adult intensive care were very chilling. Both Sarah and I work in paediatrics. We are used to fun and glitter and posters even in the most dire of situations, this had no “joie de vivre”. The cool white tiles and

yellowing walls did nothing to reassure us. I won’t go into the fine medical info or gory details but I will say despite nearly 10 years of medical practice and having dealt with an infinite number of horrible situations nothing prepares you for seeing a friend, someone you love and care for, in that
situation. My heart broke but it was not my grief to share. My job was the medical practicalities, to be there as a source of support. After 36hours in France we flew back to England, silent, hands gripped together through the air. Loz was alive, he was breathing and we would get him back to the
UK.

Fast forward a few months, Loz returned to the UK after a couple of weeks in France. He was stabilised here and started his rehabilitation. Then covid hit. No visitors, no fun, no nothing, just weeks upon weeks in hospital alone following the same routines, focused solely on getting the best possible function and getting the hell out of there.

I have no doubt Loz’s strength of character dragged him through that with the tireless support of Sarah and the love they share for their two girls. As time passed and Loz eventually escaped and made it home. It became clear his journey is only just beginning. As a practical woman, a problem solver, I continuously racked my brain for ideas of how I could help. Others were bringing meals, many had helped adapt the house. I was lacking in those skills. The rehab, physio and equipment all cost money. Loz unable to work due to his injuries and Sarah unable to work in order to care for Loz. The answer is always money. Despite my best efforts at a Euromillions lottery win, an alternative idea needed to be found.

I’m not bad a bike rider. Perhaps we can do a sponsored ride. But who would sponsor a woman to ride her bike, when she already enjoys riding her bike. She already spends half her time sweating on a turbo or slogging up hills. If we were going to ask for money it was going to have to be tough, and we were short on time. Juggling a new job and childcare, I couldn’t bob off cycling round the world. 24 hours it would have to be, riding through the night, on road? Too easy, best make it off road. Hilly? Yeah chuck in as much as possible, make it soul destroying, make it a route to be feared. Then people might part with the odd £10.

I set about planning a route. I’m not a solo rider I needed a friend or two. Nat was keen as always but she misunderstood initially and thought it was 200km, then she thought we’d sleep half way. Once I’d eventually drilled into her its 200miles, as much off road as possible and a serious amount
of climbing, she agreed – “go on then, it’s just pedaling”. With only a couple of weeks to get organised I frantically planned a route. I had a 100mile gravel route from doing the DK2020 earlier this year but I needed to find another 100miles of off road and link it all up. My komoot was working overtime. Eventually I settled on a route, most of it I knew but there were a few sections where we’d be winging it and I prayed hard to the gods of gravel that it would be smooth pedaling (They weren’t entirely favourable).

The route ended up being a bit of a this is your life of Phoebe Sneddon. We headed out through Chatsworth where I had a summer job selling ice creams, we skirted past Sheffield where I went to 6th form, we passed through Edale where I once went on a school trip. We looped down to Buxton, a place I visited regularly for piano lessons, we came close the house I grew up in from 0-10yrs and we finished not far past Carsington reservoir where I spent many hours teaching water sports. Nat really enjoyed all these thrilling tales as the miles ticked down.

With a slight lack of preparation came some unexpected nerves. The week before I was wound up like a coiled spring ready to snap and maim anyone who came into close contact. I’m not entirely sure what it was that was driving this anxiety but I knew I was nervous. Triple carbs the night before and a relatively early night.

Nat and I were off. 7am a fairly unexciting wave from the house and the pedalling started. Out we ticked along the road, the early morning misty rolling in the valley. I started to feel a bit better my body was relaxing. It’s just pedaling and we had all day and all night to roll along and enjoy the best gravel tracks the Peak District has to offer. In order to alleviate some of my fears I had broken the route down into 10 x 20mile chunks. This allowed me to just focus on ticking them off. Each “sector” had some unique characteristics. The first sector a squirrel tried to kill me and it had some bone shaking rough descents. My back tense from work stress did not enjoy them and deep in the dark recesses of my mind I started to worry a little that my body might not be up to it. We rattled on and I tried to stretch it out at every opportunity. I ensured I engaged my core. I tried hard not to think about it. In rides like this I knew it wouldn’t be long before something else would hurt and hopefully it would take my mind off my back.

The weather was not kind to us, gusty winds and squawls of rain came through and we were forever jacket on, jacket off. One sector down the next involved lady bower reservoir and some rough stuff over to Edale. On we plodded. Grinding up the back of Mam Nick we spotted a little curly haired person with a loud voice, jumping up and down waving frantically. Team mate Becky had made it and she was just the person we wanted to see.

Armed with many packets of mini cheddars and magic physio hands she packed us off on our way. We were joined on the next sector of our ride by James Lyon who became our unofficial gate opener. This sector was seriously rough. As we rattled and bounced down a particularly steep bit of trail Nat exclaimed “this isn’t a bloody gravel ride Phoebe, this is a mountain bike ride!” yeah soz Nat.

Checking our teeth were still all present and correct we continued up and down rough rocky terrain until finally we landed onto some sooth tarmac just above Hayfield. In the distance I could see a mad woman with long wild hair and red coat frantically waving. As we got closer I realised it
was my friend Lawrence (certainly not a woman). We pulled over for hugs and high fives all round. The boot of his car was open with an assortment of refreshments, pain killers and muscle rubs. We couldn’t stop for too long as the official rendezvous point was down in Hayfield and I’d heard a
rumour we might get hot food. Pulling up the car park ‘camp bistro’ was set up, gnocchi was cooked. Becky massaged our legs and Nick and Sarah Craig provided entertainment. Honestly it was getting harder and harder to leave the pitstops as every one was having far too much fun.

Next stop little Hucklow, we just had a good 30miles to contend with before we got there. Weaving round the outskirts of Chapel en le frith, we climbed and we climbed again. As we drew closer to the edge of Buxton we saw a familiar man stood by the side of the road with a small curly haired girl
with a very loud voice shouting “come on mummy!!”. My daughter Sabine and her Dad Chris were waiting for us to deliver us a pizza. Chris informed us that Sarah and Loz would be along shortly so we paused and waited for them. What followed was a bit of an emotional scene by the side of the
road as we were able to catch up with Sarah, Loz and Sarah’s parents. We weren’t even half way round and already our legs were hurting and we were feeling tired. It was such a boost to see them and Sarah’s pastry pizza swirls were a welcome treat.

On we climbed yet another hill. As I pointed out landmarks in the distance to Nat “just up over to that mast”, “just over the top of that ridge”, she would always reply “I bloody love a mast, I bloody love a ridge, or a hill, or an edge”. The light was fading. As we rounded the next corner we could see
an orange jacket bouncing up and down in the distance. We knew Becky and Scot would be there but neither of them wear orange. As we pulled into the car park we realised Mr Magspeed himself Scotty Chalmers and his trusty side kick Stu had driven all the way from the Cotswolds to support us.

Yet again I could feel my eyes stinging with tears. Half way in and we’d spent 100miles surrounded by love and support, friendly faces and snacks. We pushed on to the official meeting point where we again ate as much as possible despite starting to feel horribly sick. We were parked up outside a
farm and a van pulled in. Expecting a disgruntled farmer asking us to move on we were pleasantly surprised when Bea Shorney and her family piled out armed with hot chocolate and the best home made banana bread I have ever eaten. Despite the full stomach and warm heart, leaving them all by the side of the road to pedal off into the night gave us serious FOMO. Who knew supporting could be so much fun.

Night closed in quick and there was no ambient light in the inky blackness as we pushed on to climb up over Abney. In my mind we were going to follow the road route but when I’d planned it I must have routed it off road. It was tough, up and up on rocky ground. Both of us struggling with knee pain we ground to a halt a walked a bit. The high spirits of the previous stop evaporated around us like wisps of smoke. There was nothing in the distance to focus on just the trail rising up in front of us like a never ending wall.

Eventually we reached a gate and dropped onto the road. This was the climb I had remembered; we were still going up but thankfully it was smoother. Cresting the top we spotted Stu in his high vis vest (Nat thought he was just a nice man helpfully pointing us in the right direction). Down Longstone edge and back into another layby for friend egg sandwiches. Here we were joined by my cousin’s husband Chris he accompanied us onto the Monsal trail. Through the dark tunnels we took advantage of the flat fast rolling gravel and pressed on a bit. It was a good job we had company because out of the darkness we spotted light in the distance. Who else would be out riding in the dark, perhaps someone would mug us for our fancy bikes and alleviate us from our duty to ride any further (we could but hope).

As we neared an almighty cheers ripped through the air. My parents and their friends were on the trail, extremely merry from a late night party they had stopped to cheer us on, on their way home. My mum was armed with a chocolate cake (how she expected us to carry it I’ll never know). Warmed from their alcohol fumes we kept moving. Despite feeling like we had broken the back of the ride, there still felt like there was a lot to conquer.

On and on we went, up and down, up and down and round and round. It felt like we were pedalling in circles in the dark. I felt quite disorientated. Many of the previous sections I had known but we were on the Staffordshire border now and I was out of familiar territory. We were starting the most gruelling climbing section of the route. We needed to get up to Flash the highest village in Britain. This involved a rough off road descent down to a river, crossing the river and hiking up the other side. The trail disappeared. Hidden by a fallen tree that must have come down decades before. We bushwacked onto a footpath, bikes on our shoulders, slipping in spds on rocks and mud, we scrambled up from the river bed. There was no talking now. Over a stile I slipped and landed hard on a place I wish I hadn’t landed, I let out a yelp. Well at least I was right about something hurting more than my back and legs.

We pushed up through a field and then in the distance we spotted again the fluro jacket of Stu. Just a short 20% climb and we’d be at the next stop. We swung into a village hall car pack for the late night camp bistro menu of Strong Kong energy drink and rice pudding. I cried into my rice pudding silently. I didn’t really want the team to know how rubbish I felt. The salty tears mixed with the warming rice as the guys rushed about lubing chains and filling bottles. Nat was struggling to stomach her rice pudding and we sat silently enjoying the camping chairs and the warm jackets around us. Getting the pedals turning was becoming increasingly difficult.

A further stop for more caffeine had us singing our way along the Manifold trail. First, we tried to sing as many hymns from our childhood. We managed about three before moving on to classic hits of the 90s. We even got the tunes going on my phone and this gave us a well needed boost along a particularly eerie bit of trail. We were rattling along to the penultimate pit stop. It seemed to take forever but the light was coming and we knew the roughest bits of the route were done now. My legs felts pretty good by this stage I just felt hideously sick. Chatting away we tried to take our minds off our nausea and Nat regaled me with facts about vampire bats.

A final pause to ditch the lights and eat some porridge we were on the home straight. Rounding Carsington reservoir, it was a beautiful morning. The final section followed the bike route round the water’s edge which is very undulating and felt like a real kick in the teeth given how far we’d come. As we hit high peak junction and my legs kicked back in and I was able to drag us along to the final road climb. We wobbled and weaved up it, slow as hell. Overtaken by a group of ‘mamils’. I wanted to scream after them “we’ve just ridden 200mile”s, but I’m British so obviously I just waved hello and wished them well.

Riding back into the village where I live I could see our friends, the support crew lining the road. I was hit in the guts again by the emotion of it all. The support we’d had, the donations, the kindness, the messages from cyclists to non cyclists to strangers to doctors at work everyone had been so wonderful. I ground to halt and Nat slumped on the pavement. I wanted to cry and sob but everyone was so cheerful and happy. I sat with my head in my hands savouring the moment, before demolishing a large bowl of crunchy nut cornflakes.

screenshot_20200918-132930_instagramI never believed I could ride for 24hours, certainly not a route that challenging. There were times when we did struggle but on the whole, we just pushed on and on. My legs performed all the way round even when the rest of me felt like death. My brain being what it is instantly dismissed our
achievement. If you, Phoebe can do it anyone can because you are useless. And yet I’d just proved I wasn’t. It took a stern talking to to override that. It just shows even in our happiest and most content moments that negative voice can creep in. We had ridden so well and we had raised a super
amount of money.

This week Loz received his new wheelchair. Nothing has made my heart sing more than seeing him whizzing up and down the road with his children on his knee. It reminded me that even in those darkest of moments it is a privilege to be fit and healthy enough to ride a bike and feel your legs burn.

The ‘Blood Grit and Tears‘ Go Fund me page is still open and ALL donations are so very much appreciated!

Amazing work girls, yet another amazing achievement under your belt…cannot wait to see what you think up next!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.