Academy cyclists go extra mile for charity
At Garstang Community Academy we have a long history of Year 10 summer charity challenges. We have had heads with sufficient confidence in their staff to allow us to take students on LEJOG’s, biking the 3 Peaks, cycling to and climbing Ben Nevis, mountain biking the South Downs Way, and this year, we hope we became the first school to ride the C2C route of the Trans Pennine Trail for The North West Air Ambulance and Help for Heroes, 2 charities chosen by the students who rode.
After what seemed many miles of training [they all qualified on BikeAbility courses] that had started in mid-Febuary, and on one of the hottest days of this summer, our group of 10 student cyclists and 3 staff set off to cover what they thought would be the 222 miles of the Trans Pennine Trail, a cross country cycling route from Southport to Hornsea on the Yorkshire coast.
The trip was a great success, with the riders performing like a well-oiled machine along the narrow cycle paths, peddling along like determined shoal of salmon heading up stream to their destination. With hot blue skies above they were delighted that their first stop before the start at Southport was Tootsies, an excellent ice cream shop, though nobody dared to try the ‘rocky road’ least it be tempting fate. The first two days of weather were incredibly hot, with most of the riders sporting white upper thighs protected by cycling shorts and dirty black legs and faces that had been exposed to the enormous amount of dust found on the trail. At one point, the whole group disappeared into a dust storm worthy of 1930’s America. Never has Bart Simpson’s famous cry of ‘Eat my dirt!’ been so appropriate.
After crossing the Cheshire Lines and coping with the first mechanical problem [a warped wheel fixed by a bike shop near Maghull who drove out to us and became our first cycle shop hero], we hit the Leeds Liverpool canal, and enjoyed the flat ride into the city centre. This type of route was to mark the rest of the trip, where we only had serious climbs to do in the 20 mile section east of Stockport to cross the Pennines and a few hundred feet on the last day of the route.
Day 2 proved to be the hardest and most testing, partly because of the extremely hot weather, but also because the planned 64 miles turned into 72, the last 15 of which brought the group within 5 miles of the top of the Pennines and the Woodhead Pass. At Crowden Youth Hostel, we were assaulted on all sides by midges, not helpful when you are tired after an epic day in the saddle, but sleep eventually came, and Day 3 dawned much cooler, with a welcome fresh wind in the riders’ faces.
A disused railway line led the group to the last few miles of climbing, and a short walk to the top of the Woodhead pass brought us to the summit and a good childish giggle at the local road signs. After this it was almost all downhill, following the river valleys of the Don, the Dearne, the Dove and eventually the Humber. We spent our most luxurious night of the trip in the Premier Inn at Goole before the shortest day of 50 miles to the end of the Trail. A couple of tyres blew, we fixed surprisingly few punctures, laughed at the notice by the Pennine Trail sign that said ‘No cycling’, gave way to horses, dogs and pedestrians, and flowed through gates and fences like an irresistible flood. Some people got their faces stamped at Blacktoft , and the generous members of a church in Swanland opened up for us as a ‘convenience’ stop for lunch. The last 13 miles from Hull up a disused railway line once again gave us the chance to fly to the end of the route. We had planned to be there for 5 pm, and were 15 minutes early.
After a trip of 246 miles, the team were still singing songs from the recent ‘We Will Rock You’ show at school, a fact that is credit to their effort and enthusiasm. They are now hoping to raise over £3,000 for charity, and if they are as successful money raisers as they were C2C riders, then it should be remarkably easy job.
Things I will miss:
- The general good humour, enthusiasm, and team work that was built up during the practice rides and the C2C was quite amazing. The students were a joy to be with, as were the parents who entrusted us with their most precious possessions.
- The ability to eat what I like without any worry for the consequences. As a diabetic, cafes and cakes are always a firm feature of any rides I plan.
- The scenery as we crossed the Pennines, and seeing different parts of Liverpool and Manchester that allowed us to ride into and through a major city without meeting a lot of traffic.
Things I won’t miss:
- The dust, the heat and the occasional but thankfully rare teenage tantrum that was the result of an imagined slight while riding.
- Punctures and mechanical breakdowns were rare but a nuisance.
- A head wind and being in the front of the peloton breaking the wind [a phrase that always has to be carefully expressed!].
And the effect on the students? I have kept in touch with some of our past riders: one, with a languages degree from Durham, is leading tourists on skiing, climbing and ‘via ferrata’ trips in the Italian Dolomites, one is starting as a plastic surgeon in a hospital in Chester, and another has just got a doctorate from Leeds in Alternative Technology. Last summer, I was very happy to join a group of ‘20 somethings’ on part of a LEJOG in memory of one of our riders who had tragically died of a heart attack. He had told them so much about his trip with school that it seemed a fitting way of remembering him, and they raised over £12,000 for their chosen charity, Cardiac Risk in the Young. Have we made a difference in their lives? I think so, and the ride certainly deserves its place on all of their cv’s.
Pat and Bryan’s story has helped our Partners right across the Trans Pennine Trail network to see how changes can make the route more accessible. Take a look at what they've helped to accomplish.