Cycling has always been a passion for me, and coming from a background where there were no drivers in our household ’til the dawn of the ’80s, the bicycle was always king in our manor.
I might not know my head gasket from my silicone elbow, but I at least like to think I can look after a push-bike. And even by the time I was driving my knackered Ford Escort Mark I around town, my trusty hand-built Dawes racer still got a regular airing.
Occasionally there would be a major ride rather than my five-mile round-trip commute to work, and those long hauls included a couple of excursions to the South Coast from my former base just outside Guildford. And in keeping with the times – this was long before the popular era of warming up and warming down exercises – there was little in the way of training involved.
Let’s face it, lycra looks bad on nearly everyone, and with good reason I was always a tee-shirt and cut-off jeans rider. I probably had a backpack carrying a raincoat, a bottle of water, a bar of chocolate and a tiny puncture repair kit, but little else. Certainly not an OS map. Fool.
The first big coastal ride saw a small group of us lads – then aged around 12 – make off for Worthing. We did cheat slightly, piling our bikes into the back of Craigy’s dad’s estate to get a lift as far as the Alfold Crossways turn-off (‘The Gateway To The South Coast’ for us Surrey boys), on his way to work. But from there it was just us and the South Downs before we hit our destination.
I can still feel the tendons stretching on that final approach to the comically-named ‘Downs’ at lung-busting Findon. Yet the one great advantage of that steep climb at the end of a major pedal-hike, was the free-wheeling down the other side. In fact, by the time we had sat on the beach for an hour or so and got over our exertions, we decided we might as well carry on to Brighton. We’d already managed 30 miles, and that was only a further 15. How hard could that be? Easy.
Needless to say, that worked out to be a bad move. For one thing, it was a grim journey in those days via the old dock road at Shoreham, and one of the main reasons for going was a morbid curiosity at passing a newly-designated nudist beach on the approach. The ignorance of youth, eh – that was never going to be pretty.
At the planning stage – which was clearly rubbish – we had hoped to cross the South Downs on the way back via the wonderfully-titled Devil’s Dyke and Fulking Hill. Schoolboy curiosity again, I’m afraid. Funnily enough, that latter location came up again in a school geography lesson a year or so later, dear old Miss Willis setting us a grid reference challenge and my mate Wez uncharacteristically raising his hand in seconds flat before shouting out at the top of his lungs, ‘Fulking Hill, Miss!’ I seem to remember she calmly took this on board with a sigh and a deadpan, ‘That’s right, well done, Fulking Hill.’ while we all fell about the classroom.
In the end though, we got the train back, glad to see the back of our bikes for a few miles, leaving them in the guard’s van until we reached Billingshurst. But we rode back home from there, those last 20 miles proving hell on our rickety old two-wheelers. That made 65 miles in all.
Twenty years or so later I did it all again, but this time via a far better route. I was down from Lancashire for a weekend to join my mate Al on a trip to Worthing, using the old railway line cycle path that ran from just outside Guildford to Bramber before picking up the coast road. It was a beautifully-scenic trip, and one I’d like to do again at some stage, but I was using Al’s old mountain bike and struggled to keep up. Needless to say, my training regime was pretty poor again, and as I’d not long become a dad for a second time I was something of a wreck after a few weeks of sleepless nights.
The goal, so to speak, was my beloved Woking FC’s pre-season friendly at Worthing – around 45 miles in all – and we did pretty well to make it in time for a couple of pre-match ales. Yet by the time we left the old railway to follow the course of the Adur to Shoreham and then head along the coast, I was nearly done for. And the smell of dirty chip fat along the front was enough to make me feel desperately ill. I got over it though, and we enjoyed a few pints after the match too before letting the train take the strain for part of the way home.
I’ve had a few more trips over the years on my bike, but mostly it’s a case of coasting in a different sense these days, free-wheeling alongside my daughters. So my WFC baseball cap truly comes off for my nephew David Kemp, who’s currently in training for a 70-mile road cycle race organised by Wiggle, taking in the Bournemouth area and involving three counties.
There’s particular poignancy here as he’s doing it all to raise funds for Alzheimer’s Research UK, theUK’s leading dementia research charity, which specialises in finding preventions, causes, treatments and a cure for dementia – believing science and innovation hold the key to defeating this debilitating condition.
To complete his task, Dave will have to ride further than he’s ever ridden before – in a quest involving at least four major climbs. It’s his way of giving something back to all those superb carers who look after dementia sufferers, not least those at the care home where my Dad – his Grandad – is being cared for.
I know there’s a lot of charity events going on out there and money is tough for a lot of us these days, but if you can spare anything, David and the rest of our family would be extremely grateful. And just taking the time to read his fund-raising page and bringing the illness to your attention will help too.
As Dave himself says, “In 2010 my Grandad was diagnosed with dementia. As a family we have seen him decline and go from hospital to care home and he is now living full time at Surrey Hills Care Centre, near Godalming, away from his family.
“We have all seen how horrible the illness is and the pain it causes all involved. Since the diagnosis we have all learnt a lot about the illness and just wish there was something more we could do to help. The carers that look after my Grandad show amazing patience and dedication to their work and I cannot thank them enough for making him smile. It reminds us all that ‘Bob’, ‘Dad’ and ‘Grandad’ is still in there, remembering the good old days.”
Very true, Dave, and we’re all very proud of your efforts. And as long as I don’t put him off with my own tales of woe, he should do just fine.
To find out more about Dave’s quest, go to: