Every year one in four of us will experience a mental health problem. But hundreds of thousands of people are still struggling. Too many people still don’t have the support they need and deserve to stay well. And, that’s just not good enough.
Lap of My Mind (LOMM) is one of a number of Mind Over Mountain activities aiming to raise awareness of mental health issues as well as funds for Mind and The Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM). Mind provide advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health problem. They campaign to improve services, raise awareness and promote understanding. CALM is leading a movement against male suicide, the single biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK.
LOMM is an epic relay of 10 riders cycling a non-stop lap round the UK in just 20 days. With almost guaranteed bad weather, it is being done the hard way! Starting on the Clifton Suspension Bridge on 1st December 2018 and finishing on December 21st – the darkest day of the year. I was asked to take on Leg Two, a brutal 400-mile road bike leg spanning from Criccieth in North Wales to Lancaster, hugging the coast as closely as possible.
I’ve had a strong cycling year taking part in The Rough Ride in aid of Happy Days UK, cycle touring in the Netherlands, a couple of endurance mountain bike events and bike packing races in Ireland, Poland and Italy. However winter time is usually my period to sack off all the well-earned fitness and lapse back into cake and comforts.
Team JMC asked me to get involved with Budge and Sally providing vehicular support to cover food and drink, plus somewhere to sleep as the Welsh coast in winter didn’t offer much in the way of places to find services.
I’d planned to use my bespoke spec’d Scott Solace which I have built up specifically for these type of long road rides with dynamo lighting, aero-bars, relaxed gearing and luggage space. However on the morning I was due to travel to meet up with the team, my tubeless setup failed and with only a short amount of time to catch my train West, I quickly began swopping parts on to a backup bike, my trusty Felt Z6 I used for the Trans Am Bike Race in 2015 – running Altura frame bags to keep everything dry and clean.
Michael Donald travelled down with me and joined Sally and Budge for an all Team JMC contingent for Leg 2. Michael has previously ridden the Italy Divide and has extensive experience of touring. He was also part of a team achieving a podium finish at the original Kielder Chiller 24.
Those in the support vehicle were experienced at supporting 24-hour mountain bike events, and although they were sceptical of my middle-class feta cheese and olive nutritional plan, I had every faith in them to look after me.
Ian Walker, Leg 1 rider, rolled up to Criccieth Castle around noon on December 3rd and passed over a laser etched custom LOMM Exposure Lights Strada which was to be the beacon for this mammoth relay.
Rolling out of town and up the coast along fast moving roads, Michael and I took turns into the wind working together to get the miles in whilst the sun was still up. Dewi Williams, another Team JMC rider, met us at that the base of what looked like the largest climb of the route. Zig-zagging our way up as a three we took in a stunning coastal backdrop reflecting on the task ahead. We rode with Dewi for several hours before he peeled off for his return shortly before the sun began to fall.
As the ride progressed into the night we kept topped up on hot drinks and more coconut cake than you can shake a stick at. The weather stayed dry mostly but it was bitterly cold. Around 100 miles in there was time for a quick rest stop in a lay-by on Anglesey. Setting back off again into the cold, passing through small villages, past RAF Valley, down endless farm tracks which slowed progress and made navigation at night difficult on broken roads. One descent had livestock in the road and another a rope tied tight across the road which nearly led to a crash.
Of the three Garmin sat-nav devices that I had with me for navigation, only one was working which meant limiting battery use as much as possible and topping up when stopping for food. Not knowing the area, this was an added stress and made the re-routing around closed and unrideable roads interesting.
Mally Ryan, one of the organising team of the Pan Celtic Race arrived on a stunning cycleway alongside the A55 to keep spirits up and advise that he’d called in pals Stuart McCormick and Toby Willis as local guides to help us avoid some tricky sections they had spotted and get us to Southport.
With fatigue setting in after more than 26 hours riding, our backup rider Budge took over to allow Michael and I to get some desperately needed rest. With the support of Stuart and Toby, Budge did a fast-paced relay along the North Wales coast through Liverpool and up to Southport – our next scheduled stop.
After a couple of hours sleep, Michael and I set off again just shy of 3am with around 70 miles to go. As the forecasted torrential rain had arrived I switched to my rain set-up of GripGrab gaiters, Northwave winter MTB boots and jacket and gloves from Altura’s Thunderstorm range. I’ve been helping test these Altura products recently and wanted to stick with items I had faith in for weather like this.
Creeping past a closed-down Blackpool in the early hours was rather spooky and became the only time during the ride that I was unable to meet up with the support vehicle. Like an oasis a 24-hour petrol station appeared at the roadside on the way out of town and after topping up on sandwiches and hot coffee, the route moved back into the countryside on rolling farm lanes and minor roads as the rain intensity increased.
About 4 miles from Lancaster, the agreed handover point to leg 3, the last remaining Garmin’s battery died. I overshot the town centre but Michael and I were quickly re-routed by an off-duty psychiatric nurse from the local NHS Mental Health Trust.
Cutting through the back of a public park and one road crossing away, Sally and Budge were waiting for the final time as we rolled into the transition point – picking up the only puncture on the entire journey.
Leg 2 felt like a phenomenal team effort ably supported by a number of local cyclists who came out late at night in winter conditions for this excellent cause.
Wishing good luck to Nigel Smith as he set off on Leg 3, I was quietly relieved the 48-hours had come to an end as I scoffed my last remaining pocket food.
A big thank you to Michael, Budge, Sal, Dewi, Toby, Stuart, Mally and everyone at Altura, the Pan Celtic Race, Team JMC and Exposure Lights for all the help.
To donate visit: www.lapofmymind.co.uk
To track the challenge live visit: www.followmychallenge.com