Life is about challenge and adventure! and on Sunday 22nd August 2021 whilst many were still in bed a team of 3 Military Veterans and 1 Still Serving Military were on parade at Whitlingham Lakes ready to embark on the epic cycling sportive which is the ‘Tour De Broads’
So let’s introduce the team;
Ryan Minshall, a good friend of mine, who was once my next-door neighbour and is now my wingman when it comes to cycling, normally the off road variety I must add. Ryan is still serving RAF Regiment and I think I bullied him somewhat into joining me on this particular cycling adventure. Incidentally we both served in Afghanistan together too at the same time.
Stephen Neal, another good friend of mine Stephen is an Ex RAF Armourer like myself and was my boss for several years at RAF Marham. Stephens mistake was mentioning to me that he had signed up for the 75’miles to which I replied fancy doing it we me and a few others to raise some much needed charity funds? To which he thankfully replied ‘Go on then’
John Twist. Now John is Ex-Army (Royal Artillery) and is a stalwart member of our Norwich based Veterans Drop-In Centre. He is a keen cyclist albeit just for fun, and had never entered any organised cycling events before so this was really pushing him out of his comfort zone.
And then there’s myself, Ex RAF Armourer of 30 years, who decided at the end of 2020 that one of my goals was to push myself further with regards to fitness and cycling, despite clocking up 1600+ miles since Jan 1st 2021 this 75’miler would really be a test as the longest ride I’ve ever undertaken.
What I must add is that whilst John and Stephen would be doing the ride on Drop Bar road bikes, Ryan and myself decided in a total moment of madness to undertake it on retro 1990’s Mountain Bikes!! Realising that knobbly tyres are not the best on Tarmac we did swap them out for slightly smoother hybrid tyres. However as you will find out there are downfalls from riding a bike from the 90’s!!
With Stephen, Ryan and myself our departure time for the 75’miles was 08:30, John would be setting off a little later at 09:00 to undertake his 25’mile course. *At this point I must add that John did cycle 40’miles in total as he cycled to and from the event.
The weather was overcast, a slight breeze but not too bad as we left Norwich, the ride out of the city was uneventful until we had our first mishap. When following a group of cyclist do not assume they know where they are going! Yes we did exactly that and went flying past one of the route markers. Thankfully shouts from behind alerted us before we ended up going in the wrong direction and we were able to turn around and pick up the course again.
As we left Blofield Heath the heavens opened, it bucketed down, a hasty stop under some trees enabled us to retrieve our jackets and layer up for some protection. For the next 15 or so miles we were soggy, the roads had so much water on them you just couldn’t avoid getting wet in every place possible. If it wasn’t from your own tyres it came from other rider’s tyres and of course from the sky too!! Despite the weather our enthusiasm and competitiveness didn’t dwindle as we did overtake some Royal Navy cyclists along the route,
Thankfully the weather eased as we entered Wroxham and when we reached Ludham we could remove our jackets again and start to dry off a bit. Onwards to Potter Heigham and then Fleggburgh before our lunch stop at Filby Village Hall. Tour De Broads has always been renowned for being a well organised event, and the lunch stop further cemented that. Tables of Sandwiches, Flapjacks, Crisps and Drinks all free greeted the riders. The banter between riders was in abundance and both Ryan and my own retro steeds were attracting a bit of attention amongst the many carbon fibre aerodynamic race bikes which littered the carpark in their hundreds!
After leaving Filby all suitably fed and watered it was onwards to Ormesby St Margret and then Caister-on-Sea. We were reaching the 40 miles point and all was going well the bikes had behaved impeccably until we rolled into Yarmouth and a loud bang came from my front wheel. I shouted to Ryan to stop as I suddenly came to a standstill wondering what had happened. Initially I thought I had picked up a flat and that it would be a nice easy fix, but upon closer inspection my rim had exploded and a big shard of metal was sticking up. In true military fashion we broke out the tools and ponder over how we could fix it. Removal of the metal shard was easy but the brakes were fouling on the deformed rim and tyre. The only option was to disconnect the front brake so it didn’t further foul on the damaged rim. I did not want to retire from the event this far into it. We set of tentatively to see how it would hold up. We departed Yarmouth and headed to Lound which would be our next drinks stop. All was going well, the rim or what’s left of it was holding and we were clocking up the miles.
The sun was coming out and we had finally dried off and all was well, we continued onto St Olaves then Haddiscoe, Thurlton and onto Lodden. We didn’t stop at Loddon which was another drinks replenishment station as we had got into a good pace so we sailed on through, not knowing the hills ahead!! Yes do not believe anyone who says Norfolk is flat!! It is not, The climbs to Claxton and Bramerton really took it out of us, the sun was out in full by now and each mile just seemed to take longer and longer. We reached Bixley and then the rewards of some downhill sections as we came into Trowse and finally onto the home stretch back to where we started some 6 and a half hours previous.
As we rolled across the finishing line, and collected our medals we were both grinning like Cheshire cats, we had done it, ridden further and faster than we had ever done before, 76 miles in total averaging 13.5mph throughout, and not forgetting we were riding mountain bikes from the 90’s and mine with a split rim!!
Stephen rolled in approximately 30 mins after us, and we received an update from John who had also completed his challenge with no mishaps, it was a resounding success! We all made it back for Tea and Medals.
This was a big challenge for us, it was a big distance in grim weather with a few problems along the way, but the team can be suitably proud for what they have achieved. But whilst our challenge was for today it is nothing compared to the daily challenges that some of the Veterans and Serving Military Personnel suffer with especially those with PTSD and CPTSD. The recent events in Afghanistan has opened old wounds for many including both Ryan and myself having served there and lost colleagues and friends in the conflict, not to mention those still living with the psychological wounds upon their return.
Thank you to those who pledged, donated and sponsored us. In total we raised a phenomenal £1575 which will help OTW to continue providing support to those in need.
Justin Smith (Lead Worker Outside The Wire)