Day 1: Thursday August 25th, Royal Marsden to Harwich, Essex (approximately 95 miles)
We set off as usual from the Marsden. The first leg of our route took us east through London and on into Essex and our ultimate destination of the ferry port of Harwich.
The weather was truly horrible with persistent rain for much of the way. We had a stop mid morning near Tower Bridge for a cup of tea and a bit of a drying out (plus a quick call to the office!).
Once weâ€™d crossed the river we were into â€œrealâ€ East London, and traffic became more and more of a hazard. As we reached Whitechapel Road and the London Hospital district I took my first tumble of the trip when a seemingly blind and totally incompetent driver turned out of a side road and struck me a glancing blow, pitching me sideways over the bonnet of his car and into the road.
Ian was behind me and managed to pull me to safety before any further damage was done. Luckily Iâ€™d suffered nothing worse than bruised ribs, legs and hands and eventually recovered sufficient composure to plough on.
Eventually we managed to break free of East Londonâ€™s urban sprawl and got into the Essex countryside, which was generally a much more pleasant cycling experience, albeit one punctured with a couple of punctures along the way.
We were happy to get to Harwich as we were tired, wet and hungry, and also as the last hour and an half or so from Colchester and the A120 had been defined by long, flat, featureless and windy straights. We grabbed a much needed meal at the local Brewers Fayre place before joining our ferry and flopping into bed in the extremely comfortable cabins for the overnight crossing to the Hook of Holland.
Day 2: Friday August 26th, Hook of Holland to Amsterdam (approximately 54 miles)
We grabbed a quick breakfast in a local cafÃ© in Hook of Holland village before hitting the road. Once again the weather was against us as we picked up the coastal cycle route that meandered toward Amsterdam.
The cycling itself was generally good and we made excellent time. Eventually we found ourselves cycling through the crazy streets of Amsterdam, full of other cyclists and trams. The trams were particularly â€œinterestingâ€ as they had the slightly disconcerting habit of seeming to come at you from different directions at the same time!
By the time weâ€™d found the rough location of our St Christopherâ€™s Hostel in Central Amsterdam we also hooked up with Paul whoâ€™d unfortunately had a puncture of his own in the back up car.Â Once the faulty wheel had been changed, Paul drove off across town to find an overnight parking place as there wasnâ€™t anywhere to park near the hostel.
Happily Paul was able to put his â€œinternal sat navâ€ to good use and managed his way back to us at the hostel. After a shower we went and had a fantastic Argentinean steak in a nearby Gaucho style restaurant. We got back to the hostel full and ready for a nightâ€™s sleep.
Day 3: Saturday August 27th, Amsterdam to Hook of Holland (approximately 54 miles)
Yet more persistent rain blasted us as we left Amsterdam on our return to Hook of Holland, and the mood was low as we slogged our way out to the outskirts of the city.
The mood got worse as Adam had to stop cycling due to a nasty knee problem which had been getting progressively worse throughout the trip. Ian and I soldiered on and immediately got lost in one of the towns bordering the outer limits of Amsterdam.
We stopped to ask a local directions back to the Hook of Holland cycle route, and imagine the surprise on his face when Ian â€“ forgetting he was still part clipped into his pedals â€“ toppled over to one side and hit the ground in front of him!
Eventually we found our way back onto the right cycle route, and were cycling through a small town when both of us (independently) skidded whilst crossing some tram lines and came off our bikes with a serious thump. Amazingly, neither of us sustained any more damage to ourselves than bruises and cuts to legs, knees and elbows, and both bikes also came through the ordeal relatively unscathed. In fact, the more serious damage was probably done to our egos as we managed to come off next to a local tram station stop, and a number of people raced over to help, concerned about our wellbeing!
Once we got to Hook and met up with Paul and Adam we had some time to kill before ferry departure, and so we decided to get a beer at a â€œrealâ€ Dutch pub. The place was packed with middle aged locals who all went silent as we entered, still damp, sweaty and togged in our cycling lycras (niceâ€¦!).
The mood quickly changed as the locals welcomed us warmly. In fact, one or two of the ladies wolf whistled at us (!!??) and appeared to take a particular shine to Ian as he went up to the bar to get a round in! We even managed to get a â€œdiscountâ€ on our second round, which was delivered by one of â€œIanâ€™s ladiesâ€ with a winkâ€¦.
Needless to say, we got out of there reasonably quickly (!!) before downing a reasonable Chinese meal and then boarding the ferry for our overnight return trip to Blighty and some welcome shut eye.
Day 4 Sunday August 28th, Harwich to Royal Marsden Sutton (approximately 95 miles)
We stopped at the Brewers Fayre for breakfast, which was a lifesaver as we were all starving.
Sadly Adamâ€™s knee was still bad so Ian and I set off without him into the gloom. The A120 part of the journey through to Colchester was hard as it was windy and it was proving hard to get started. However, we got through it and started to pick up the pace, stopping for a hearty ham, egg and chips lunch in an Essex village pub en route.
As we left quiet roads for an intersection with a main road my rear wheel hit a cats eye, causing it to rear up nastily. I wobbled, perilously out of control for a split second as Ian looked on in horror from behind, with cars speeding by us. Luckily I regained control and we picked our way carefully out of this particularly busy intersection.
After that we really started making good progress, crunching the miles through Essex and on into East London. Ridiculously we managed to â€œloseâ€ Tower Bridge (!!) and so crossed the Thames at London Bridge before following our route westwards through South London.
As we approached Rose Hill and Sutton and the end of our journey, two things happened. Firstly, two youths barracked Ian as he cycled past (although weâ€™d had the odd problem with UK motorists, this was a â€œpedestrian firstâ€ for the trip), and secondly I had the misfortune of hearing things get worse and worse for my beloved Arsenal at Manchester United via my DAB radio (Iâ€™m sure you all know what happened there so I wonâ€™t repeat it!).
Somehow we got to our final destination at the Marsden without a. Ian lamping the two youths who abused him (Iâ€™m not sure that theyâ€™d have been quite as lucky if it had happened at the beginning of our trek) and b. me trashing my DAB radio in a fit of pique!
Annoyingly when we did the formal tot up we realised weâ€™d cycled 298 miles for the total trip. If weâ€™d have realised this on the way in Iâ€™m sure that weâ€™d both have spun the last bit out for an additional 2 miles, but overall we were happy with our achievement. We decamped to the Derby Arms in Epsom for a final â€œdebriefâ€ (actually a couple of pints of delicious Aspalls cider, but thatâ€™s another storyâ€¦) before going home, tired but satisfied with our efforts, and looking forward to our Bank Holiday Monday the following day.
Special thanks to everyone who sponsored the three of us as you make all of the effort, bumps and bruises worthwhile, and also to Ian and Adam who were â€“ as ever â€“ fantastic companions on the road, and who made the miles slip by (relatively) painlessly.
Last, but by no means least a special word for Paul. Without his tireless support and relentless positivity we really wouldnâ€™t be able to do this stuff, and to have a bit of fun along the way.
Please watch this space for information about Ride for Emma 2012, coming soonâ€¦