Lap of My Mind was an idea by Team JMCers Matt Jones and Alex Watts to raise funds for the mental health charities Mind and Calm, as well as funds to support their friends Alan Colville and Jon Fearne to undertake an even more audacious fundraiser in 2019. Matt Jones had the pleasure (ahem!) of riding the 10th and final leg, here are his thoughts on his adventure:
Lap of My Mind is a charity cycle ride around the UK coast that I along with a few fellow endurance MTB riders devised. The idea being that we’d doing something mega hard over the winter to raise awareness of mental health and at the same time raise some funds that would be split between charities Mind and Calm and in support of Mind Over Mountain World Record Attempt in 2019.
Since coming up with the idea in the summer the challenge had grown massively and it became a big piece of work getting everyone to the start line. Recruiting riders was just the tip of the iceberg. The challenge became a moving feast with riders changing up until the last minute. Although I’m sure I’ll look back on this amazing adventure with pride in the long run, it’s being quite an ordeal trying to hold the challenge together. I do solo endurance events for a reason and I’m not very good at relying on others so throwing 9 other riders and their support crews into the mix was always going to be something that put me out of my comfort zone. Not only that but I had the small matter of riding the anchor leg myself finishing on the darkest day of the year on the rather hilly Devon and Cornwall coastline.
I had recruited a great bunch to support me on my leg and decided that splitting the support crew in to two batches of people would cause the least burden for those people and hopefully keep everyone as fresh as possible. Oli from Pedal Progression volunteered to help on leg 1 with Lee and Rachel Eaton as backup as well, Lee planning to do a fair bit of riding on the first day. Taylored Cycles had loaned their van which turned out to be a godsend once the carnage commenced. Sarah and mate Chris took over for the second 24 hours so Oli could get back in time for his daughters Xmas school event!
Day 1 was over 170 miles from Falmouth to Wadebridge via Lizard Point and Lands End where a little bet would have to be delivered upon. We hooked up with Max as he finished his leg having had a mega set of weather to deal with. Max isn’t someone to drop his head in bad weather but knowing he had had to take a couple of shortcuts to keep on track had me worried as both our legs had similar terrain aka steep ups and downs on crappy singletrack roads. Setting off was in some way a massive relief for me as I could focus on just myself rather than worry about everyone else’s legs and helping their support crews. Lee set off with me and the miles started ticking down. Once we hit the first minor roads it was clear that there was going to be a major average speed challenge caused by the state of the lanes. A combination of recent hedge cutting work and general crap that had washed on the the roads made them a complete nightmare to ride both up and down at any speed. In particular the steep gradients on the downs and twists meant painfully slow progress and hard work pulling on the brakes when I should be resting and recovering.
Despite sharing some concerns about the conditions on the roads we cracked on and despite a headwind it wasn’t until we got towards Lizard’s point that the shit started to hit the fan weather wise. The other riders had really had some awful weather so I almost felt relieved in a completely masochist way when golf ball hail started hitting us. I could say I had had some crap weather now like the rest. That said we didn’t immediately need to don rain jackets a mile out of the set off but somehow that didn’t seem much of a major weather event compared to what came. The hailstorm was like getting hit repeatedly by a paintball gun and along with some driving rain really took it out of me and Lee. I took a wrong turn around Lizard point and we ended up going back on ourselves, it was then I noticed Lee had dropped right back and by the time we met up with the support van at Lizard he was shaking and had to get in the van to warm up for the next few hours. I quickly changed top, buff and gloves and carried on not wanting to let my core body temperature drop. This was to be a theme across the whole ride – keep warm, keep moving.
Lee rejoined in time for the Lands End pose in my pants spectacular. It was deserted and dark, a good thing seeing as I was in a pair of skimpy budgie smugglers. This all came about after a bet with Steve Day that if he rode his entire leg singlespeed I would deliver some laughs at Lands End.
After the Lands End faffing which turned out to be the longest van meet up stop on the whole leg, Lee carried on again +4 jackets. Once we got going up the coast we had a beautiful period of about 2 hours with a lovely tailwind. This really helpful us pick up some badly needed time lost earlier on the twisty lanes. Lee ended up parting ways a bit earlier than planned as I think the temptation of riding past near his house was too much and the fear of freezing to death again was a risk! I was joined later on by Gary who appeared at the side of the road and provided some welcome company for a couple of hours just before Newquay. The spirit of the event all the way round the UK has been amazing with people turning out randomly to support riders.
With the company went the tailwind and more swirling conditions on the ups and downs continued. I had planned to hold back on all the climbs on day 1 but the sheer gradient meant I was having to stand on the pedals just to get up them. It’s something I occasionally practice in training to hold back on the climbs so that came in handy (thanks E3coach!).
My eating and drinking was going well. I had originally planned to intersperse ‘real’ food with my usual Torq energy stuff but after feeling a little bit dodgy from a mini roll early on I decided to stick to what I knew worked drinking full strength energy powder mixed in with energy gels/bars and the occasional much of a protein bar. I only added in some soup and rice pudding occasionally to warm up a bit.
The clock ticked away and my planned 1am bedtime was way gone as I was climbing up the last hill of the day to the Wadebridge Travelodge. Oli had been mega all day and had gone ahead to get lights charging and the room sorted out before my arrival in the middle of the night. I munched a couple of chicken wraps before tired hands spilt a can of soup on the floor but I was just itching to get in to bed to grab a couple of hours before the 5.15 wakeup call to get on the road again. Some tossing and turning meant only a couple of hours sleep before jumping back on the bike again and although tired I wasn’t feeling as bad as I thought I would be. 220 miles on 2 hours sleep wasn’t the most enticing prospect.
I rode the morning solo until the point where Chris and Sarah were handing over from Oli somewhere at the top of yet another big ass climb. Chris eventually joined me for some company which was welcome as we faced some of the hardest sections on the whole challenge constantly dipping down to Cornwall coves and straight back up. I lost count of the number of 25% signs I saw. Things got even more interesting when rough roads turned to mountain biking for a section before Hartland. Unbelievably I cleaned a technical rocky climb, Hutchinson tubeless road tyres highly recommended!
Andy Deacon eventually met up with us around Barnstaple area after our first meet up miscommunication with the van meaning a bit more faffing and lost time. Once Andy joined we made good progress again. Night fell early and Chris jumped back in the van and helped Sarah whilst me and Andy took on some savage and relentless climbing all the way along the coast. We were getting blown about in the weather to boot and I was quickly getting through my entire stock of clothing. Andy pulled a mega shift with me and such was the length of the day that it was brilliant to have him along. His ride in itself was no mean feat and we both had some highs and lows. I nearly cracked up the 35 minutes it took to get up the climb out of Combe Martin, head was down and I was feeling like closing my eyes. My heart rate plummeted and I couldn’t make any progress. I was drained mentally and the hills just kept coming. I was really having to start managing the pain of the ride in my neck and shoulders as well as the obvious legs. I just couldn’t see how I would get through another 90 miles of this before the end of the day. Sarah and Chris were met with serious grumpiness at the top of the climb, so much so that next time we met up they were cringing expecting me to have had a serious meltdown. Fortunately despite the terrain my head had cleared a bit. I lost sense of location, time and mileage though, the only focus was to keep moving forward and keep pit stops short.
By Bridgewater a short stop at McDonalds 18 miles from the end I was completely spent and Andy had also taken the chance to jump in the van. Chris’s relentless enthusiasm and energy popped up though and dragged me to the end of day 2. I was literally hanging over the handlebars and the arrival time yet again later than scheduled meant another 2-3 hours kip was about the maximum I would get before the last 40 miles back to Bristol. I lay in bed trying to get to sleep, totally drained fearful about whether I could even get to the end the next day.
A brilliant effort by Chris in the morning and Sarah got us out of the door at 8am and it was judgement time in terms of whether or not my body would keep going. Amazingly, despite aching everywhere, within a couple of pedal strokes I knew I would make it. It wouldn’t be fast or pretty but given the last 40 miles were pretty flat I just needed to turn the pedals. This was a huge relief. It then turned into a fabulous morning ride with lots of riders turning out to see us through to the end at the Clifton Bridge via a quick mince pie stop at Alan’s house.
Just as we were coming on to the suspension bridge there was an unbelievable moment where the sun came out at last and shone on the riders as they came to the end. If I’m totally honest it wasn’t quite the jubilation I had expected as I think that came with that second pedal stroke earlier in the day. This whole thing had taken a massive emotional toil in the run up and a huge physical one during. I was just relieved to finish as I had felt a lot of pressure to ride my entire route on time. It was great to see the people who had turned out to the finish and then the riders as well with Oli also making a re-appearance which was great.
There are so many people to thank in pulling this whole thing together. On my own leg all the support crew and riders who joined. Ollie, Chris and Sarah in particular were awesome in the van whilst Andy and Lee did some serious support work on the bike.
To all the riders and their support crews around the UK, what an effort. We hadn’t completed it in the same way as planned but nonetheless we’d achieved something significant in terms of raising awareness of mental health and the sheer scale of the task in hand.
The days following this thing have hit me pretty hard. I’ve had to sit on the sofa for more time than at any point in the last few years as I came down with a serious hit of exhaustion. I didn’t ride a bike for four whole days. I can’t remember last time that happened?! Onwards to 2019 now and I really don’t know what but hopefully better times.
We’ve raised awareness and a few quid for our causes and Jon and Alan now take up the Exposure Lights Baton to take on to their next challenges that culminate in the world cycle altitude record in 2019. Check out Mind Over Mountain to hear more about that one.
Go and follow, support and donate at http://mindovermountain.bike