Late in 2018 the Microsoft UK STU (Success Team Unit) led by Sue Preston, decided to do a charity bike ride for Bowel Cancer UK. I looked at my diary and signed right up without hesitation. I have not done many charity events in the past few years and I felt it was time. We chose Amsterdam and while most people opt to do this in 3 days, we did it in 2!
There was a lot of planning required for this ride, more than me and a few others expected. Of course, you expect to train, but it’s all the other things that you don’t think about…logistics, planning, timings, etc. Prior to us taking off, there was a lot of time going into fundraising, planning and generally just getting everything ready. With everything organised, we took off on the morning of June 5th.
Everyone met at our London Paddington offices, my husband even got up at 4am, cooked breakfast for myself and 2 guests. He ventured into London with us to see us off:
We had our support van, Broomwagon Cycle Tours, led by Mark…and the rest of the team ready to go!!
We started at 6:30am sharp and cycled through London. Cycling through London requires you to be very aware of your surroundings and watching out for buses. We passed some great landmarks along the way!
It was such a breath of fresh air once we were out of the city as we were onto nice bike paths. Well, the paths were nice, the other cyclists were a bit rude, trying to push my colleague Paul out of the way.
Everyone was relieved to get out of the city traffic, as soon as you hit the M25 it means country lanes, which also meant hills. I love hills, my colleagues do not. We worked as a team to get everyone through the rolling terrain. There was a good amount of teamwork taking place to get everyone through the more physically taxing part of the ride. The good news is that when you get to the top of a hill, you can enjoy the free speed on the other side. We were several hours into our ride this first day but really hadn’t seen our support van, Mark. Honestly, he escaped the city as fast as he could as well, and it wasn’t conducive to have him following us.
Mark did eventually find us and gave us a much-needed break. He supplied crisps, salted nuts and coke…all required foods when cycling. We had at this point conquered about 32-34 miles and were heading towards our planned lunch stop. Mark was able to join us at this point and provide a bit of cover from passing vehicles.
After the break everyone was feeling energized and the sun was out, we couldn’t have asked for better cycling weather!! We found some nice long stretches of downhill and we accidentally formed a breakaway group. I took advantage of the slight downhill and just flew, behind me were Matt, Paul, and Andy. All amazingly holding on and enjoying the pace. We did get a bit carried away at this point. Also, eagerness for lunch played a part…but really, we were happy to be out of the hills and were loving the flat country roads.
As we were approaching our lunch stop, hangry cyclists were emerging, ever keen to stop and let the legs rest a bit. We had planned to stop in Tiptree, hoping to find something to eat quickly and get back on the road. We failed to find a quick stop, but we found a pub. Rounds of chips were served for some, I opted for my planned nutrition and splurged on a freshly made sandwich by Mark. We had made great time up to this point and were a bit ahead of schedule.
Since I had led the ‘breakaway group’ before lunch, I handed that off to my colleague Dave, while I carried on with our fearless leader, Sue.
I am going to digress here and explain Sue. Sue is my director and she is determined. She put this idea of a charity ride into action and has personal reasons to support Bowel Cancer UK. Sue has a demanding job, but she got to the start line and always had a smile on her face. When riding with Sue that afternoon I noticed she was riding in her small ring. For non-cyclists, that means putting in a lot of effort with very little return. On an 86-mile ride, the last thing you want to do is waste energy. Sue willingly changed her gears and then she immediately was taking off, she was like a rocket!! Our pace picked up and we continued to the east coast of England.
The weather got a lot less sunny, with wind and gentle bits of moisture dropping from the sky, but the end of the 86 miles was nigh. We pulled into Harwich and found Mark our van man, I was so happy to get off that bike and into a hot shower. We had stopped at The Pier Hotel for dinner and showers, where we were provided with a nice room to use for changing etc. After a quick shower it was off to the bar for a well-earned drink, just before our delicious steak dinner. I will fully admit that I finished off my steak dinner and two other people’s plates, no shame in admitting that.
Everyone was tired and ready for some rest on our upcoming overnight ferry. Most of the group took a taxi to the ferry port, I opted to join Paula, Lou and Mark in the van. Unbeknownst to us, we had to wait for 1 hour and 45 minutes to board the stupid ferry. This had severely cut into my nap time!!! Despite my impatience, when we did board, Lou and I went to our room and were pleasantly surprised to find them well setup and clean. I would say that is unexpected for a ferry boat.
Our overnight crossing to Holland was uneventful and you really didn’t feel like you were on a boat. I was looking forward to being rocked to sleep, unfortunately, I had to rely on good old exhaustion.
The group landed in Holland on the morning and were ready to go. With the bigger mileage behind us we absolutely planned on taking it easy and just taking in the Dutch scenery.
One thing that we failed to prepare people for was that they would need to be on the other side of the road (what I like to call the correct side of the road). The Dutch are super strict with bike path rules, you must follow them, or they yell at you. I personally, LOVED how much they respected the road rules for bikes on the paths. Bikes have right of way over cars (YAY!) and while on the path you must stay to the right. Else, you will end up in a nasty head on collision.
Holland was amazing, flat as a pancake and so much scenery . The bike paths are extremely well maintained and well-marked, other than lack of hills, it’s a perfect casual cycling holiday.
We did manage to indulge in a café stop. We were so focused the day before in getting to the ferry in time, there wasn’t much time allowed for casual café stop. I will say on day 2 it was awesome. The sun was out, the hot chocolate was delicious…I was in my happy place
Off we went to towards Amsterdam at a nice leisurely pace. We had certainly pushed the pace the day before, no time pressures were in place and the weather was ideal. We had originally been expecting rain, but that all held off the weather gods were on our side entirely. As mentioned on our ride, Sue’s mother was looking down on us and keeping up safe.
Before reaching Amsterdam city centre, we stopped at the Microsoft offices just outside of the city for a quick lunch and a break.
We carried on after lunch for the very final stretch into the city. We made it, we met Mark and the van at our hotel. As soon as we arrived Mark had opened a cold beer for us and greeted us with a smile. That made it all worth it…
The experience was amazing, watching many on the group take on a challenge and getting through it with smiles on their faces. There were some moments where people were tired, hangry and just flat out tired of sitting on a bike. After we’ve all had some time to stop, rest and reflect – we’d all do it again. As a group we raised almost £30,000, an incredible feat!
Thank you to everyone who supported us: Barracuda, Node4, ANS Group, Solidsoft Reply, Adatis and all of my friends, colleagues, etc that donated their hard earned money towards our efforts.