A wheely big adventure

By Kat Macknay

A lot has happened since I last put fingers to keyboard but have now been put to work again to fill you all in on the life of the support crew. We successfully made it through Europe with little problems to us and our vehicles, just a lot of losing and finding riders (it’s like herding cats, honestly) through keeping them hydrated and fed to finishing each day with washing out bike bottles. Much has been said about the technical issues that happened to several of the riders during the two and a half weeks that we traveled across France, Spain and Portugal but it seems that the technical issue fairy has decided to spend some time with me now that we have reached Brazil. After a rest day in Recife, we started to make the trip out of the city and I hit a pothole which could have been mistaken for the entrance to an underground car park, cut a long story short, two bust tyres.

As luck would have it, I had pulled in by a local mechanics and the two riders I had with me, John and Mick, went to try and sort things out. Another long story short, local mechanic gets the tyre guy across the street to come over and help. Little bit more detail – tyre guy was other side of a 6 lane motorway and had no shoes on – he shot over, took off the two tyres, took them back to his workshop, banged out the dented rims, fixed the tyres and refitted, cost of all this – just under a tenner – absolute quality. If only that was the end of it, next day, trying to avoid a raised manhole about 3 foot high, I curbed the car and did it again. This time the spare had to come out but found another lovely tyre man and he again worked his magic, point to note – overtipping will lead to a hug from your friendly Brazilian tyre fixer.

As you can imagine, the riders are finding all of this hilarious but personally, I am hoping that if things come in 3’s, I am now done. Will keep you updated with progress…


View from the road…

By Mike Tomlinson
Not to trivialise the achievement of cycling from London to Lisbon this challenge was always going to be Brazil. We arrived in Recife in the early hours of Friday morning. My first impression was not good, incredibly poor living conditions, rats the size of cats and lots of feral kids out on bikes (even at 3 in the morning).

By Friday lunch we ventured out into the City centre to explore. Trying to blend in was hopeless, we were the only tourists and may well have had a sign saying “mug us”. After an uncomfortable hour sweating in the heat and for our safety we got a taxi back to the hotel only for him to knock over a motorcyclist who could have given Ronaldo an acting lesson.

As for the cycling the first two hours was like Russian roulette, buzzed by trucks, avoiding potholes which should have their own postcodes and vehicles that ignore every law. At one point there was a road sign, a rarity in itself, warning of bulls. I thought my chances of surviving 19 days were pretty slim.

This though is a wonderful country and the majority of people we have met have been happy, polite and very helpful. There is extreme poverty, shacks without roofs and windows but there is a crazy vibe, music blasting from pimped out knackered car’s, ranchers, kids cycling the wrong way up 6 lane highways, it’s mental. Cycling down the Atlantic Coast the scenery is so beautiful and every sense is heightened.

Day one in Brazil

By Paul Highton

So that was a strange 1st day in Brazil and in particular Recife. After an uneventful lie in I decided to get up and make a dent into my mountain of washing that was slowly gathering mould as quickly as it was flies. After a quick game of hunt the travel wash I decided there was only one thing for it and that was to start at outfit 1 and get in the shower clothed and get the trusty complimentary hand soap on it (it felt quite nice if I’m honest). After change of gear no7 the water wasn’t running as fast but my pules were .

I then got the call to say some of the group were heading into Recife City for a mooch about and a bite to eat so swiftly joined them. This gave us a good opportunity to take a look at what the road conditions were like in Brazil and how the traffic treated us iron pushers and as it happens not too well.

We arrived in Recife and were dropped at a busy local market and for some reason we all gravitated towards the huge cathedral in the centre which as it happens had armed security on the front doors !!! this kind of set the standard for how the next few hours would go. We started to stroll around the markets and couldn’t have screamed out tourist any louder if we tried, from me stuffing my phone and wallet down the front of my strides to Shiv and Mike reading a map whilst trying to control it in the wind.

The streets we walked over the next hour or so threw up everything from children trying to sell us a bottle of water and a straw to some of the team trying to access a mini bank which was once again under armed control the city really was a rabbit warren full of people really fighting it out to make a living but amid all the poverty and hardship I really felt a sense of gratitude and purpose walking around the streets and bridges that I have dreamt about for so many years and I can only thank everyone involved in this journey for helping make this a reality on the back of doing so many good things for organisations like Janes appeal and RL Cares.

Now Let’s not get too carried away and nostalgic as we were very quickly reminded about the quirky and dangers of brazil as our cab driver ploughed into a guy on a motorbike waiting to pull out!! Personally I had no sympathy for the guy having come off my own bike 3 times and haven’t once made a song and dance like he did.

Anyways of for tea and to see what the fall of darkness brings in this wonderfully freaky part of the world !!!



Day 17 – It’s been emotional

By Darren Clark

We’ve arrived in Lisbon and for me the last day in the saddle is complete.
Since the 27th June we’ve covered 1,100+ miles across the UK, France, Spain and Portugal. There have been some ups and downs – emotionally, physically and most definitely in the road.

I’ve seen some outstanding views and some utterly dismal towns.

There are places I want to return to as a tourist to investigate more, there are others I want to forget completely.

Good luck for the rest of the challenge to my fellow European leg cyclists, those that join in Receife and the amazingly patient support team – remember the old management saying “team work, makes the dream work” or in this case makes the cycling much bloody easier…

Finally, special thanks to Vicky, Jenna and the rest of my family for their support and encouragement not only over the last 3 weeks but all the times I’ve woken up said “I’m off for a short ride” and returned 5 hours later over the last 6 months.

Until the next one … Au revoir, Adios, Adeus and si’thi

Day 15 & 16 – Location, Location, Location

By Darren Clark

The cycling has been pretty uneventful over the last two days, that is if you consider one puncture for Paul in the carpark before we managed to set off and a second 1.5 miles later the norm for day 15, over 4000 ft climbed on roller coaster type single track roads the norm for day 16 (when promised ‘it’s all down hill, from here’ by Mike the day before) and oh yeah the truly awful cobbled Portuguese town main streets – after the last one I felt like claiming for vibration white finger disease…

So I thought I’d share some thoughts on 3 distinctly different hotels we’ve stayed in / staying in since we crossed into Portugal…

Hotel 1 –  Alfraites.
Just over the border from Spain, a very quite family run hotel. I can’t really figure out who would normally stay here, maybe it’s used by drugs mules or arms dealers given its proximity to the border.

On Sunday night we had the entire restaurant to ourselves and our host and his wife kindly laid on a homemade four course banquet for us (they don’t normally do Sunday’s) and to make the night complete they moved the tables to allow us to watch the euro2016 final. Needless to say our host was suitably happy with the result.

Hotel 2 – Castello Branco
My 1st thoughts on cycling up, along with – who the hell picked a hotel at the top of a steep off route climb, was Bond villain hideout. The hotel was perfectly perched at the top of a hill with glorious views across the valley from 3 sides, and on entering my thoughts came to life as the reception resembles the room used in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service to brain wash a bunch of femme fatales.. The bedrooms were pleasent, although the the air con was only powerful enough to cool a space the size of a shoe box, so Mick and I resolved to open the balcony door. All went well until a bunch of what appeared to be school children upset the local dog community at about 11:30pm and all hell broke out for the remainder of the night with occasional stereo effect howling continuing on & off, normally with prefect timing to start just as you felt yourself drifting off…

Hotel 3 – Abrantes
Wow, what a place tonight’s accommodation is. It’s actually a retired show jumper / antiques dealers house and it is amazing. It’s as though the last 90 years have passed this place by, ornate bedrooms/bathrooms, stunning views and some truly remarkable antiques on display.

The standard is set high for my last night on the ride tomorrow….

Day 14 – Groundhog Day

By Darren Clark

After a well needed rest day we’re back on the good old N620 today for another 40 miles before we switch to its slightly older, narrower, less straight and less smooth cousin the SA62. At least it’s not busy, miles & hours pass by without us seeing any other traffic – cycling bliss.

To keep ourselves amused during the day we’ve had a bit of bike karaoke. We’ve had a crack at everything, the Stone Roses, the long forgotten 1986 classic Male Stripper (thanks Paul), Spirt in the Sky from Charlie – Dr and the Medics not the 60s original & thankfully not the Gareth Gates version, The Macarena from me, yes The Macarena, including full no hands cycling dance moves, The Fraggle Rock theme tune (again one from Paul) and Mikes standard cycling tune – Ini Kamozies 90s classic – Here Comes The Hotstepper. I kid you not.., this 1st appeared on one of our training rides to York and is frequently sang (in the loosest sense of the word) by Mike, so much so that we’ve all started to sing the bloody thing at different intervals…

Today saw us cross the border into Portugal, which was slightly more memorable than the France to Spain crossing as it was at least sign posted and even more memorable at the top of hill..!!

Tomorrow we head a further 60 miles into Portugal and a choice of The Birdie Song or The Time Warp including moves awaits…

Day 13 – Salamander

By Darren Clark

Time to recharge in the beautiful city of Salamanca, or Salamander if your Mike, who according to him is the villain from the bond movie. I’ve told him that’s Scaramanga, and I’m doing a good impression of him at the moment as I have a massive insect bite on my chest which looks like a 3rd nipple..

Salamanca is a stunning city full of squares, cobbled streets and churches. I witnessed the bride & groom emerging from their ceremony at one such church to be greeted with what seemed an infinite amount of confetti – not your average packet stuff, this had tinsel, glitter and tiny cut outs of the bride & groom amongst it. There also appeared to be no restrictions on where you could throw it, unlike so many UK venues these days..

I’ve sat in a small square just off Plaza Mayor writing this blog interspersed with people watching / watching the world go by for 20 minutes and I’m really impressed, there’s a really nice vibe about this place. I’m told there’s a big university here – maybe I’ll suggest it to my daughter as an option for next year !

Day 11 & 12 – Windy Miller

By Darren Clark

Day 10 in Burgos finished with an impressive lightening show and thunder storm which was great for us on Thursday morning as the air was fresh and clear. Having cleared the hills the day before we were back on long straight roads and working as a team again. We were in top form and smashed 35 miles in two hours and had 55 miles done by lunch time, giving us a new top avg speed of just under 16mph. Ok, so it’s not Wiggo, Froome, Cavendish et al speed, but it was a top effort by all..

One constant throughout all the cycling to date has been the sound made by Micks bike, yep that’s right, it sounds like the windmill from Camberwick Green, at least we know if he’s dropped off the back of the pack !

Talking of kids tv, for the last two days I’ve had the Bod & Farmer Barleymow theme tunes in my head, this has been generated by the endless fields of Barley we’ve passed which are only punctuated by the odd vineyard and deserted one horse towns..

Our only highlight on Day 12 as we struggled 87miles down the same road – the N620, (forever etched in my memory), was overtaking a combined harvester and its support vehicle as we headed towards lunch in our new favourite stopping location – a petrol station. Not the street side cafes we had in France or the squares we’ve had in some Spanish towns but these are great as there’s shade from the 30c + temperature, the all important toilet and a shop for additional refreshment if needed. At one such stop we met a couple of ageing rockers from back home who were traveling down to Faro for a bike festival – they were intrigued as to what were doing but we’re grateful they had the more comfortable transport a Honda Goldwing and a Goldwing trike..

10 days on the bike; 750 miles no rest days

By Mike Tomlinson

10 days on the bike; 750 miles no rest days. Sleep deprivation, a different bed every night, countless hours waiting around. Every day punctuated by moments of sheer bliss and amazing scenery.

In the hills you crave flat roads, on flat roads I spend my time swiping right on my garmin to check speed elevation and the route.

Each day i live in my own bubble, I am the least talkative of the team, happy to cycle on my own. Time to reflect on loved ones, family and home.

When things are at there best we are working well at the team but the challenge is an individual one. The aches, pains unique to the rider.

Today we were in st Domingo and I talked to pilgrims walking camino de Santiago a walk of 754 km. As a Catholic its probably something I should know more about. As we cycled in the aftenoon we passed many of them on the road to Burgos. We all have our journeys for many reasons mine is to raise money so people didn’t suffer like Jane which why now my arse is so sore i may never sit normally again

Day 8,9 & 10 – Hills, Thrills & Bellyaches

By Darren Clark

In the three days we’ve climbed almost 10,000 ft in total. Day 8 was the warm up for two big climbs at either end of day 9 & day 10 was completed by our highest ascent yet 4920 ft (1.5km).

I’ll be honest, I like cycling up hills, the challenge of getting to the top beats the boredom of long straight roads, and then there’s the thrill of the all two short, but quick (just short of 40mph on one section) downhill.

We past over the border into Spain on day 8, which we almost missed as there’s no real sign or demarcation. Bit of a disappointment, I expected at least a welcome to Spain sign for a photo opportunity .. !

Northern Spain is dismal and industrial we could’ve been cycling through any Northern UK town/city, and at one point I thought we’d passed Forge Masters on Brightside Lane..
The climbs on Day 9 were great, a steep incline with switchback bends on the early morning one and long sweeping curves on the second.

For Day 10 we started at the top of last nights climb, and descend over 1000ft in the 1st 5 miles. That means only one thing – no pedalling, which is good for me because my left knee is very tender at the moment. It’s been aching for a few days, but today it’s worse and after a few miles and a dodgy change of gear that resulted in the chain coming off and my leg jarring straight, the pain is much worse.. Lunch in the beautiful town of Santo Domingo is served with painkillers as desert and as we leave we’re pretty much straight into our ascent up the highest point on the ride to date, Puerto de La Pedraja @ 1150m. After the usual team photo at the summit I switch off and the final 20 miles into Burgos in temperatures of 37c drag, so it’s plenty of water / isotonic fluid refills to see us through to the end. Our hotel in Burgos is at the side of the absolutely stunning Catedral de Burgos, and the city itself is definitely worth another more relaxing visit.