Mike Thompson - My big ride for Dave
Mike Thompson shares his experience of cycling from Land's End and John O'Groats and the reason why he decided to fundraise for The Foundation and The Brain Tumour Charity.
“If telling my story can help someone else who’s going through the same thing, then that’s fine.” These were Dave Syrett’s words as we sat in his garden, on a June afternoon, reminiscing about the students we had taught and the memories we had shared. Dave had joined me on the staff at Warminster School in the 80s following a successful career as a professional footballer.
Those thoughts typified the way Dave lived. How can I help others? How can I make things better? What’s the best I can do? An inspirational and remarkable man, he loved life and faced the news of his terminal illness from a brain tumour with courage, dignity and humility. My challenge had to be big enough to match his stature. And so, that afternoon, My Big Ride For Dave was born, a solo ride from Land's End to John O'Groats, to raise money for The Brain Tumour Charity and The Lewis Moody Foundation.
Just two months after Dave passed away, I was leaving home, a little nervous, for the start of this iconic challenge. I had ridden the distance from Land’s End to John O’ Groats three times in training but trying to complete it in 5 days might be a step too far.
I left Land’s End on a breezy, October, Monday morning and, when the light faded, I climbed off my bike in Bridgwater, having covered 165 miles, climbing over 10,000 ft. and burning 10,000 calories. Much of the stage, along the A30, was ridden on pure adrenaline and fear. The traffic roared past me at over 70mph and was a little intimidating so I was grateful for a 25 mile diversion and the remoteness of Bodmin Moor.
By Tuesday, my ride was generating interest on social media which was really inspiring. Unfortunately, I was having my worst day, being plagued with stomach problems, owing to too many energy gels on day one, and then a massive landslide, which closed the road at Tintern Abbey. However, after 124 miles I finished day two in Ludlow.
The following day I had recovered and, on a diet of chicken sandwiches, salted nuts, bananas, tea and fruit cake, I covered 142 miles, pedalling through Shrewsbury, Warrington, Wigan, and Preston before finishing day three in Lancaster. I was on high alert all day as cars and lorries loomed at me from every direction but I discovered that I still had some fast twitch muscles which came to my rescue at major intersections.
Day four meant 140 miles, into a cold north easterly, over Shap, through Penrith and Carlisle and the long, but beautiful, climbs to Hawick and Selkirk. A couple of miles into my ride, I met a young mother and teacher, cycling to school. She donated £20 and told me her young teenage son had been living with brain tumours since he’d been an infant. He faced regular scans but was doing well which got me pedalling faster. It was a wonderful way to start the day. However, finishing in Galashiels, in the dark, over 300 miles from my final destination, a sixth day became inevitable.
Setting out for Edinburgh and the Forth Road Bridge on a cold and misty Friday morning, I discovered the bridge bathed in spectacular sunshine. I pushed on to Perth and Pitlochry along the busy A9, covering 135 miles and finished the day just north of Dalwhinnie.
My final day began high in the Cairngorms, at 6am. It was minus 2 degrees, 182 miles from the finish and I was £1000 short of my £5000 target. Would I make it? Spurred on by messages of support and donations, I somehow managed to inch my way northwards, through Inverness and along the rugged coastline to Brora and Wick. Finally, at 8.30pm, I rolled into John O’ Groats in the darkness, my journey's end.
The following morning, I returned to the famous milepost to be greeted by sunshine, a shower and a rainbow. A thank you message from Dave? It had been something of a spiritual journey which had brought out the essential goodness and kindness in many people, qualities enshrined in Dave.