Janine’s Epic Journey. The Hero Ride 2015 – Edinburgh to Windsor

Back in early January, whilst bored and waiting to return to work after the Christmas holidays, it dawned upon me that this was the year that I would be turning 40. I thought to myself ‘How can I mark this occasion?’I need to do something mad & outrageous.

Back in early January, whilst bored and waiting to return to work after the Christmas holidays, it dawned upon me that this was the year that I would be turning 40. I thought to myself ‘How can I mark this occasion?’I need to do something mad & outrageous.

Little did I realise, after perusing the Help for Heroes website & stumbling upon the Challenges page, that I would be signing up for one of the most amazing experiences of my life……The Hero Ride North 450, which is in actual fact a contradiction, because it is actually 488 miles to be precise; and traveling south!

Nonetheless, I had clicked the “Register” button and paid my registration fee. There was no backing out now.

After registering, I started to regret my decision, because I didn’t even own a bike. Just a small detail in this major moment of madness. So the bike was ordered, 5 months of training and raising £1700 sponsorship money were to follow. Before long the 14th June was upon me.

It was time to load the bike into a hire car and get myself up to Edinburgh.

 

Day one – Arrival in Edinburgh

After a long but smooth journey, I arrived in Edinburgh with mixed feelings of excitement & anxiety. People were arriving from all over the Country, including Ireland & Jersey.

In the months leading up to the ride, a lot of us had already connected via Facebook, so I already felt I knew everyone, but it was great to finally meet them all in person. These people were to be my family for the next 7 days.

In the evening, once everyone had arrived, it was time for the Welcome Meeting. We played a few games to get everyone interacting with each other and just generally having a bit of fun. We also had the important safety briefing.

After all the games, the meeting was brought to an end and it was time for bed.

 

Day two – Edinburgh to Kelso (50 miles)

Day two was the first day of cycling. 30 of us set off from our hotel and took an initial short cycle up to Stewarts Melville College, which was the starting point for our epic 7 day ride down the length of the Country, and where we would officially commence the ride with a memorial ceremony.

A wreath was laid at the school’s memorial in honour of all the Service men & women who gave the ultimate sacrifice during the many conflicts over the years.

After a 2 minute silence and a moment to reflect, we took upon our 2 wheeled steeds and made our way out of the big school gates, as the pupils cheered in support.

We slowly negotiated our way out of the city and up 3300 ft into the hilly villages of Mid-Lothian, and on to our first overnight stop in Kelso and a well-deserved glass of wine.

 

Day Three – Kelso to Washington (75 miles)

Day three started with a tough morning. The many hill climbs of the previous day (only 50 miles!) had left people with sore legs. After all, we were in Scotland.

Nonetheless, it was onwards & upwards again, as we set out across the cobbles of Kelso and headed for the Scottish - English border.

The climbs up to the border tested me to the limits. For a brief moment, I had a little devil sitting on my shoulder telling me I couldn’t carry on.  But the Support Staff were excellent. I was ordered to stuff myself with jelly babies & flap jack to get my sugar levels up and, after half an hour, the sugar started to kick in and I was right as rain again. It was at this moment when I was reminded that it wasn’t just about the physical challenge, but also the mental one.

When we reached the border, many of us were physically tired. It was almost 19 miles of climbing and this was only the first part of the ride. We were all very pleased to reach the water stop, where we took a 30 minute rest to grab a cup of tea and take on some more sugar fuel. Then it was time to set off again and head into the beautiful countryside of Northumberland, before finally reaching our overnight stop in Washington. Just another 5700ft of climbing had been achieved. Needless to say, another large glass of wine (or 3) was enjoyed, as well as a nice dip in the pool at the hotel.

 

Day Four – Washington to Harrogate (78 miles)

Day four was still epically hard as there was just as much climbing as the previous day, but after having my wobble the day before, and mentally coming through the “dark” bits, it bizarrely boosts your confidence and drives you on.  Everyone just came together and spurred each other on.

We pushed on through Yorkshire to Catterick, where our lunch stop for the day was at Phoenix House Recovery Centre. The Centre was built by funding from Help for Heroes and is specifically for the men and women injured during service. It also has family rooms where loved ones can come and stay while the injured are in recovery.

It truly is an amazing place and I am so glad I took a tour of the building whilst I was there. It was important for me to see with my own eyes where the donation money goes.

After lunch, we joined up with the riders of the North 260 ride and set off from Catterick Barracks to the sound of nostalgic bag pipes, with children from the local primary school and members of the local fire brigade cheering us on.

We pushed on through Yorkshire to our overnight stop in Harrogate and, by now, I was forgetting all about the challenging climbs we had endured and was really enjoying the ride.

 

Day Five – Harrogate to Newark (103 miles)

Day five was our longest day of the ride with 103 miles to do but, because it was over the County of Lincolnshire, it was almost flat with only 2480 ft of climbing. This was a day to kick back, relax, enjoy the scenery and really get a chance to talk to our fellow riders and learn about why they were on the ride.

Some were fundraisers, others where Band of Brothers (the name Help for Heroes give the injured service men and women). By now I was just so proud to be on the ride with some of the most amazing people I have ever met. I was having so much fun that Lincolnshire past me by in the blink of an eye and, before I knew it, we were at our overnight stop in Newark. Never did I think 103 miles would go so quickly.

 

Day Six – Newark to Northampton (77 miles)

By day six we were making our way to our overnight stop in Northampton and I had really settled in well. Our team were keeping a steady pace and really enjoying the time we spent on our bikes and with our newly found cycling family.

The more I talked to the people I was cycling with, the more pride of being involved in this epic journey just grew and grew. Again, the hours just flew by and we arrived at our hotel. Routine wine was called upon needless to say.

 

Day Seven – Northampton to High Wycombe (55 miles)

Day seven was a short day with only 55 miles on the bike. By this point in the ride, I was starting to appreciate the shorter mileage. My knee was starting to have an opinion about the abuse it had undergone, so we enjoyed some extra time in bed and a wonderful breakfast the hotel had laid on. Then it was time to saddle up for our penultimate ride out to High Wycombe. Despite the entire body being pretty exhausted, everyone was still wearing smiles. The sun was out and somehow we just kept eating up the miles.

Before we knew it, we had arrived in High Wycombe and were sitting down to our final dinner.

A moment to reflect. I had made many new friends and had the most amazing time on this ride. It was hard to accept that it was almost over. I think everyone probably went to bed feeling exactly the same that night.

 

 Day Eight – High Wycombe to Windsor (40 miles)

Day eight crept around. The last day of the ride. To say I was glad it was over would be a lie.  I just didn't want it to end.

We made our way to Runnymead Air Force Memorial, just outside of Windsor, where all of the routes of the Hero Ride (North, East, South, West & Paris) finally join together for a mass memorial service to the fallen men and women, before getting back on our bikes and cycling the last 7 miles through Windsor, led by the injured service men and women.

People lined the street and cheered as we past them to our final stop at Windsor Race Course. Here we were greeted by all our own loved ones, who had waited patiently to meet us at the finish line. It goes without saying, there were some emotional moments.

If you are considering following in my foot steps and taking part in the Hero Ride 2016, but you are a little undecided, I would say “don’t hesitate!” JUST DO IT !!

It will be one of the best experiences you will ever have and you won’t regret it.

Help for Heroes is one of the most amazing charities I have ever had the privilege of being involved with. And whether you agree or disagree with the politics of the world wide conflicts we often find ourselves involved with, you have to be thankful for the sacrifice our Service Men & Woman make in the line of duty. They gave their yesterday for our tomorrow.

 I would like to say a BIG thank you to everyone who sponsored me and helped me reach my target of £1700, including Bollfilter UK who sponsored me £400!!