Cycling Dan raises over £1700 for Essex Air Ambulance

Charity / Mon 12th Jun 2023 at 10:13am

TO Your Harlow and everyone who offered support to the Great Air Ambulance Escapade, first can I say a humble thank you. 

Now, if you like to watch rather than read (I know sometimes I do) then here is a collection of the pictures and videos I gathered from my part in the event which gives you an idea of what is it was like. But do read on if you want to.

The Great British Escpades 2023

Whether it was through donations to the Essex and Herts Air Ambulance, a message of encouragement on social media or a chat at the Potter Street Fete (mainly words of “you’re mad but good luck!”) raising money for the Air Ambulance has been such an uplifting experience. Community is what brings us through the hardest of times and makes a place more than the buildings and streets. People make a place special and Harlow really is a special place.

And so to the Great British Escapades 2023.

On a warm June evening, over 100 riders gathered in the village of Bekesbourne in Kent to set off on this journey. Some were returning veterans of the event, others were experienced “ultra athletes” and many like me were attempting something like this for the first time. Think Ride London only 3 times further, on heavier bikes, over fields, farm tracks and up and down steep bridleways. Remember that there were no “feed stops”, no rest areas, no support vehicles. Any help had to be sought from publicly available sources. If a friend had helped me, they would have to be willing to help everyone else in the same way.

All smiles at the start line… …because there was cake!

The range of equipment went from those who were prepared to travel ultra light and fast with almost nothing on their bikes to those who looked to be off on a long trip to everything in between. One thing I knew for certain was that my bike was easily the cheapest in the field (£450 when new) compared to some of the very high quality steeds that were present. Sitting and admiring all those bikes I thought to myself “there must be over £150,000 worth of bikes and equipment sitting here!”

Whilst some opted to push as far as they could and rarely stop, I had made a plan to break the route into 4 stages. We rolled off from the start line at 5pm in groups of 20 into the Kent countryside. The first evening went better than could be expected and was completed on schedule just before midnight. Friendly chats with fellow riders who I’d never met before and offers of help to some who had stopped were always well received. The views were spectacular and reminded me just how flat Essex is. Luckily I avoided any mechanical or navigational issues and most of all no dreaded punctures. Others were not so lucky and had to walk 3 miles at 2am. After a refuel at the local Maccy D’s and a sleep, I faced an almighty 100 miles to reach the next planned stop.

Day 2 was tough; huge uphills along the wooded slopes of the North Downs that required me to get off and push far more than I would have liked, increasingly hot weather and Surrey’s deep sand lead to a broken chain (quickly fixed but still time lost). It left me short of my goal and without a good meal for the night. Nevertheless I soldiered on, knowing that I was now almost over halfway round.

Day 2’s “Bother” moment but actually easier to fix than a puncture but it did make me very late.

From here on Day 3 it only got more difficult as I was now facing nearly 90 miles including 50 miles along the mighty South Downs Way. The endless up and down of the chalk and flint hills, coupled with a 30mph headwind blowing made this day a painful one. At one point on a descent where I should probably have been doing 15-20mph, the wind slowed the bike to a crawling 6mph, and caused challenges in balancing as I tried to climb or push up the endless hills. Some worry at home ensued as my phone battery ran out and my “tracker” appeared to not be moving for over an hour at the top of the final hill before checkpoint 2 in the town of Alfriston.

Here I experienced the joy of the “bikepacking” community. Marcia Roberts, a previous Escapades rider and event organiser in her own right was waiting to check people in and take a photo. She encouraged me to push on and complete the “bonus climb” but by this point I was broken and said I would be heading straight on to my overnight stop in a town up the road. What followed was another 2 hours of slow riding in darkness with fading lights as batteries ran down further and another late arrival that prevented the much hoped for chinese takeaway refuel! 

On waking on day 4 I felt like the race was over; my legs were creaking, my feet appeared to be a funny shade of light blue and I knew that having cut a corner I was technically disqualified. After kitting up and raiding a local shop for some breakfast I tried to continue for an hour but the first climbs had me walking and my legs screaming at me to stop. And so I did. I gave it my best shot but I was defeated at 229 miles, just 60 or so miles from the finish line. 

Taking part in “ultra distance” cycling events has been described as an eating challenge on wheels. You need to either be eating, thinking about what to eat or getting to the place where you will eat. In the end, I just couldn’t get fuel into the tank at the right times and ultimately this undid me. This aspect of the adventure only just went wrong and if this had been done right I might be writing about how I crossed the line on Sunday afternoon. As it is, this can perhaps be labelled a “successful failure”. I learnt a huge amount about how to do this mad activity better next time – which there could be in 2025 when the dates should allow it.

As a friend said, admitting you tried and failed takes as much courage as doing something so here I am to say “I tried, I failed, but I am proud of how far I got”. I am so proud of the town of Harlow and those beyond who came together to offer their support not just to me but to the priceless service of the Essex and Herts Air Ambulance, without whom my friends would most certainly not be alive today. With Gift Aid, over £1700 pounds has been raised. Thank you for giving so much, especially in the current climate.

There are some very special people who I must say thank you to; Stuart Coombe who drove himself and my family from Harlow to the finish on the Sunday to come and collect me (I couldn’t have safely driven home), my daughter Rachel who is always ready to encourage me and most of all my amazing wife Jess who puts up with my cycling obsession and has been my fundraiser in chief. I’ve regularly disturbed Jess in the early morning to go out for training rides and Jess would regularly wake up almost as early as me during the event to see if my “dot” had started moving, posting updates and encouragement. Jess was on this journey as much as I was. I love you more than words can say. 

Thank you.

Dan Ricketts aka “Cycling Referee”


If you like to watch rather than read then here is a collection of the pictures and videos I gathered from my part in the event.

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1 Comment for Cycling Dan raises over £1700 for Essex Air Ambulance:

2023-06-13 18:03:48

Well done Dan. If only there were more like you.

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