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Deloitte Ride Across Britain GUEST REVIEW

by Richard Storor

Ride Across Britain took place on the 8th-16th September 2012, we had a rider write up a guest blog of their experience of the trip. We think Richard Storor captured the essence of what the Ride Across Britain was all about. Keep reading to find out the journey he went through.

I'm sitting at my desk in Birmingham looking out enviously as two cyclists cross the square. This time last week I was on day five of DeloitteRAB2012, somewhere between Haydock and Penrith. Looking at the time probably on Shap Fell; a little wet, very windswept but having the time of my life. Precisely 369 days ago I received an email confirming my place on Deloitte Ride Across Britain - henceforth RAB (I should include the D for Deloitte- after all that's where I work - but the resulting acronym isn't great). That's when my journey begins.Back then, if not at my desk, there was a high probability I would be in a local bar. Picture the slightly overweight guy with a beer and a bowl of chips. Occasionally I would fit in an hour in the gym - fortunately an establishment only a minute or two from the pub - in turn only two minutes staggering distance to my flat.

I'm not sure what possessed me to complete the RAB application (Deloitte make it easy - maybe it was just a voting button on an email) but having had my place confirmed the OCD part of me swung into action. Intuitively I recognised that what I had signed up for was not an undertaking to be taken too lightly. This was no parachute jump, abseil down a building or sponsored walk.  Having consulted colleague victims from previous years my intuition was confirmed: 9 marathons in nine days and the modern equivalent of torture with a red hot poker were two of the descriptions offered up. However, having cycled 22 miles, along the canal, from my home to Stratford-on-Avon on my mountain bike - and felt just fine on the train journey back - I had a degree of self belief.

Riding The Length Of Britain Is No Easy Task

Being analytical I soon recognised that there was a relationship between the combined bike and rider weight and the effort required per mile (at this stage climbing did not feature - canals being nice and flat).  First job then was to lose weight.  The local bike shop was very accommodating and sold me a shiny new road bike which felt light as a feather.  I also came out with a Garmin 800 (how I like toys) and some XXL lycra shorts and jersey.  MAMIL Storor was born:  15 ½ stone of alcohol pickled white flesh prized into bib shorts and jersey.  My kids disowned me.

Initially my progress was painful but I was determined.  I plotted courses on my Garmin and set off on them.  I recall the pride of completing my first 30 mile ride.  Sensibly it included a break half way and a Snickers bar and induced a deep and long recovery sleep on my return.  As the weeks went by it became easier to get in and out of my kit, my average heart rate fell, the distances I could cycle increased and breaks were no longer needed.  I discovered Wiggle and swiftly earned platinum discount status.  XXL became XL.  Occasionally I proudly passed another rider (at this stage even pensioner ladies in tweed skirts with baskets full of shopping counted).Winter tried to interfere with my progress but I refused to let her icy fingers prize me from my steed. I discovered undershirts, arm warmers, buffs and impossibly difficult overshoes.

I have signed up for a 60 mile event on March 18.  This will be the longest ride I have completed by far. I take a day's holiday in the week to ride the route to ensure I won't embarrass myself. I complete the route but realise a) hills are hard; b) my rides to date have not been hilly; c) RAB will involve bigger, longer hills. I read up about hill training.Time marches on. The signs are that I am improving. I am increasing power and losing weight. In April I cycle 85 miles to a friend's place in Wales. I regularly exceed 100 miles a week and I realise I love cycling. I visit Bicicielo in Birmingham to buy shorts and come out with a Pinarello Rokh, the bike I will complete RAB on. She is feather light, responsive and beautiful in red.   I complete my training with a week in the Algarve on a hired bike. I confirm the hill work has worked by easily completing a 16km, 1000m climb. The following day I do it again, quicker, riding up with two skinny, young, fit Portuguese guys.

Morning Light

My final task/humiliation/charitable act prior to departure is to have my legs waxed.  Serious cyclists have been telling me this is important. Not because of any aerodynamic effect but a) because it makes massages more pleasant (later confirmed); b) it means the rain slides off (also confirmed); and c) when you fall off and strip most of the skin off your legs it makes the hospital/healing process less unpleasant (yet to be tested). My PA (thanks Jayne) kindly arranges for this to be done at the Club & Spa at the Cube in Birmingham.

Whilst other waxing joints, no doubt, exist this one is the best I have ever been to and is all the more brilliant because they did the job for free. The process was also slightly less painful than I had been led to believe it would be by my knowledgeable and wax experienced lady friends and colleagues. I have now revised my opinion of how bad childbirth might be.  Should I want to re-wax I will definitely attend the Club & Spa at the Cube.  However, for now, I have been keeping the fuzz (cyclist speak for leg hair, not the constabulary) away with a Bic razor.

The train to Penzance is packed with excited, apprehensive RABbers.  We compare notes about training, our expectations and how overweight our luggage is against the allowed 15kg. Bags range from simply enormous to the guy with what looks like a child's rucksack and two Tesco bags. At Land's End we take the compulsory photos with the sign post, get our first look at our tents and experience the wonderful Beau Nosh food for the first time.

Impressive Scenery The Whole Way

We awake to Queen's I want to ride by bicycle at 5.30 on Saturday morning and prepare for stage 1 to Oakhampton.  My check in on Facebook at the end of the day - "one day, 110 miles and lots of hills behind me.  100% fun!" - is full of uncharacteristic positivity, already dwindling by day 2 "Another 110 miles.  More long climbs, including the "beautiful" Cheddar Gorge.  Wasn't anything beautiful about it today from where I was sitting".

But we all quickly set into our routine, of long days on the road punctuated by lots of food.  As a confirmed pig RAB is Fab.  I'm assured it is OK to eat whatever I like because I will burn at least 7,000 calories a day (must tell Garmin they need to recalibrate their devices) and need to replace them. To do this the menu is as follows:

Breakfast - Porridge, Full English, Croissant, Banana
15 miles in - Energy gel (day 1 only - thereafter flapjack or Eccles cake squirreled on previous day)
Pit stop 1 - Sandwiches, sausage roll, crisps, jelly babies, dairy milk, flapjack 45 miles in - Whatever comes to hand first out of the jersey pocket
Pit stop 2 - Ginster's pork pie, mini cheddars, cheese, dairy milk, rice pudding85 miles in - Something nicely warmed and soft from the jersey pocket.
At Base Camp - Muffins
Dinner - Pasta dish, meat dish, vegetarian option dish, cheesecake, other cake, fruit

Note, for me at least, no beer (until day 8) and no coffee (someone managed to create a whole 1,000 mile route that passed no Starbucks, Costa or other national coffee chains).Other base camp features of note.
1. Pleased my luggage and I have our "2 man" tent to ourselves.  I was able to use all the spare room to unpack my bag (multiple times) to find the thing I needed which was always at the bottom;
2. The smell in the drying room - Percil it wasn't
3. 500 Garmins, 498 iPhones and a couple of Samsungs don't fit into 50 power sockets.  My smugness at having brought with me a mobile power supply lasted one night only.
4. Laundry service is brilliant - how do they do that in a field?
5. Organisation, service and logistics are awesome.  Why can't the rest of Britain be like that.
6. Massages!
7. Don't even think of having a lie in.  Tent pegs are removed at 6 am.

Riding As A Team

To sum up on everything other than the cycling - you don't need to worry about it.  Everything is done for you.  By the way, unless you are really hard core, do not attempt to do this the hard way (carrying your gear with you).  Or the soft way - staying in hotels with your "significant other" in support.  Do Deloitte RAB!Whilst the organisation is tremendous I'm positive that Threshold Sports do not want riders to remember the event because of it. 99 per cent of my memories are about what I signed up for. The 960 mile ride. Before the start I was looking forward to seeing Britain as I have never seen it before. To doing battle with the elements (it never crossed my mind that it would be sunny all the way or that the "prevailing" South Westerly wind would blow).  To the challenge of steep hills and long hills and steep, long hills (helpfully Mr Andy Cook always signposted the steepest ones by placing them directly after right turns - just to ensure no momentum at all could be carried into them).What I had not really anticipated fully, and what made RAB for me, was the group riding experience.

I rode the vast majority of the journey with a core group of ten, including two chaperones, Paul and Darren (their individual groups quickly coming together). From time to time we assimilated other riders, or lost them (one of our number generously and frequently slowing to ride with any unattended ladies). Our group quickly became a team, riding effectively together, sharing the work (at the front), the shelter (behind Steve) and some laughs (yes, Ben, you do need to take the wheel off to change an inner tube).  Were I a student of psychology (or maybe zoology) I would be able to comment on some aspects of group dynamics I noted.  Key characteristics - suspicion of new joiners; some sort of hierarchy (best not described); amazing ability to gather and store food; territorial tendencies (exhibited by disliking other riders within sight - such riders must be overtaken); and preference to all be within half a wheel of each other. Occasionally this latter rule was broken - some of us were faster up hills and others faster at descents - but we soon regrouped - as if we were on a long piece of elastic. What kind of animal am I?

We formed rivalries with other groups (notably the lay by crew who liked to cycle fast, in short spells, between lay bys then stop and repeat, and the Cisco team which just seemed to like to cycle fast - but also seemed to have their own VIP support wagon).  We also encountered some alien riders who preferred their own company but liked to race the group.  Generally a lost cause - no lone rider could match our little peloton.I should describe each stage individually and in poetic Wordsworthian detail, illustrated by photographs.  However, I am no poet, the days are a little blurred and I took no photographs - jealously preserving the charge in my iPhone lest I should have to seek out a plug socket.  I'm hoping that my editor from Threshold Sports will be able to add some nice pics??!Some geographic/topographical memories are, however, sufficiently abiding to merit mention.  Since I am finding writing this more of an endurance event than RAB itself I will just copy in the bits from my Blog.

All Smiles

Day 3. Bath to Ludlow
The BBC's weather was predictably wrong.  Chance of a brief shower?  Felt like driving rain to me and that wasn't because my speed into it was high.

Highlight? To be honest it was finding a (plastic wrapped) Eccles cake in my jersey pocket at the finish (stored there in case of emergencies at a pit stop). Made more pleasant because it was warm!
Severn Bridge was impressive. We passed alongside a beautiful river for a time (not sure which) and the 17% decline along a single track road with gravel and sand traps was ... interesting. Perfect on a Mountain Bike I'm sure. 

Day 4. Ludlow to Haydock
It struck me as I saw a sign for Manchester just how far I have come. Literally, from Land's End (a distance I couldn't be bothered to drive) and metaphorically from the overweight, unhealthy guy I was last year. The train of thought ended when the freezing North Westerly wind hit me as we turned up a hill. 
We now seem to have a tradition of a little sprint at the end of a stage. Once again I would have won if I hadn't missed the last turn ... that's my story anyway and I'm sticking to it!

Day 5. Haydock to Penrith  
A rainy day. A chilly, wet, windy ride through some stunning scenery that wouldn't have been the same in the sunshine.  A long climb over Shap Fell. A promised rest on the descent foiled by a wind capable of blowing us back up (note the Tour of Britain took the same road today- in the easy direction!). Camp site wet and muddy. But that's part of completing RAB. Taking the easy days with the hard and comfort with adversity. I love it!Day 6. Haydock to Glasgow

Our now established group is working well.  Eating up the miles in a chain gang formation (think cross between barn dancing and speed dating) as well as increasing amounts of food at the pit stops. 
My turn for a massage today (every second day). Very welcome. Surprised when the supervisor (we only get 15 minutes and demand is high) announced "start finishing them off" so soon! 
Tomorrow is more challenging.  136 miles.  Up from 127 because of a landslide.  Three big climbs. Rain and gales forecast. But have got to the stage where a new challenge may be welcome. 

Day 7. Glasgow to Fort William
Picture this. Glen Coe bathed in early auto sunshine. A line of cyclists climb the smooth tarmac up to the summit, a warm tail wind gently easing their way. They reach the summit and fly down the descent.
This was what I visualised as I fought the cold headwind, rain and pitted Scottish road. Over the top the head wind strengthened. I reached 14 mph on the descent - pedalling hard.
136 miles of hard slog. Massive achievement.  Respect to everyone who finished that one.

Day 8. Fort William to Kyle of Sutherland
A "mere" 110 miles today. And one of the most beautiful, dramatic stages of the whole event.  Loch Ness is beautiful - no sign of Nessy though.
The climbs are "grippy" ( the ride director's term for steep and hard). With a couple of exceptions I have felt safe on the ride until today (exceptions being due to approaching sharp downhill corners too fast). But riding along an exposed road with a strong cross wind blowing me onto the wrong side of the road was troubling. 
It's now 8 days since I had a decent latte. Not a coffee shop in sight all the way.

Final day. To John O'Groats
Not quite the Tour de France parade into Paris. Much better!  An end of term atmosphere characterised by our group bowling along, faster than on any other day.  Bucketfuls of good humour, camaraderie and riding exuberance.  As we get closer we do "village sign sprints". Simple rules, as soon as you see the village name sign kick for it. Am impressed we can do this after over 900 miles.
We ride through the finish line as a group. Happy and fulfilled.  I would like to carry on for a few more days. It's like the end of the summer holidays when you've been playing out for a few weeks and have to go back to school.

I'll finish with my Day 1 Blog entry because it says it all.

A Few More Days Please

Deloitte RAB 2012 Day 1
110 miles and 2600m of climb and an enormous amount of fun and camaraderie. The whole endeavour is oiled by the incredible organisation of the event. Fabulous (and plentiful food), luggage where it should be when you need it, clear briefings, and nothing is too much trouble for the staff who smile and ask how your day was with genuine interest. It's a case study!

The ride itself? Hillier than expected but the views made up for it. Tired, but fulfilled.
And I just bought a RAB hoody which is not only really great but is a Medium. I was once an XL. How great is that?

This is an event you should be inspired to do - and for a great cause! 

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