After the bike ride from Lands End to John O'Groats - We reflect on a marvellous achievement
03 Sep 2020
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After the bike ride from Lands End to John O'Groats - Alistair reflects on the highs and the lows.
We were in full lockdown... the majority of our staff were furloughed and as a business and a country we were at the total mercy of COVID19. We wanted something positive to do; something to plan; do some good and get something out of what was quite frankly a really dire situation. So we came up with the idea to cycle the length of the country (!). It had been done before, but rather than make it just a Far & Wild ride, our idea was to try and make it an industry wide ride... uniting all the Africa Travel Community both in the UK and in Africa. With so few people travelling, our industry was, and still is - on its knees - but aside from our livelyhoods we realised that African conservation areas were experiencing an even greater crisis as their income, largely dependent on tourism, dried up. Ben and I hoped that by getting as many travel companies and their clients involved in the challenge – we could spearhead industry wide support for what is most precious to us all – African Conservation..
Ride 4 Rangers was born in early July 2020 when we pitched the idea to The TUSK Trust – a leading UK charity focused on conservation in Africa. They loved the idea, and said it would dovetail nicely with their ‘Ranger Challenge’ starting in October. Just like that, we were off. Between Ben and I we managed to form a committee of about 20 people from different different companies and with different skills – and our collective began to take shape. During the course of a remarkable 5 and a half weeks we managed to conceive, plan and give birth to a fully formed initiative. We did it all on Zoom, and by pooling our collective strengths we pulled of some notable wins;
Jaguar Landrover agreed to provide their brand new Defender as a support vehicle
Incredibly... through TUSK the Scheinberg Relief Fund agreed to match fund all monies we raised
Our goal was to raise £100k (match funded that meant £200k) which would then be dispersed by TUSK to over 60 different initiatives across Africa helping support the rangers. Websites got built, the word was spread, and before we knew it people were signing up to join or support the ride. Not only that, but all over world people started supporting Ride4Rangers with fundraising activities where they were – highlights were a sponsored bike ride in Zimbabwe, a fundraising horse ride in Kenya, travel industry friends ‘Running for rangers’ in London, Cape Town and the South of France.... in short... Ride4Rangers had gone viral. Now it was time for Far & Wild to lead the charge from Lands End to John O’Groats!
A core group were riding the whole thing and Ben and myself would do most of it, with Ben picking up the baton at Lands End and me joining in Bath and taking it onto the finish at John O Groats (after Ben stopped at Lockerbie!!). Throughout, the core group were supported by everyone in the office. Marc, Eliza and Alex all rode a leg; Rich did a cycle in Kent and Pete cheered and beered in Cheltenham – it really was a Far & Wild team effort and between us we have raised well over £5,000 so far. We were also joined by Landrover Ambassador Kenton Cool (14 time Everest summitter) and the awesome Sean Conway, the first person to run, swim and cycle the length of Britain, and an all round dude! And lots of other famous faces cheered us on on social media; Tristan Phipps of Made in Chelsea, Charley Boorman, David Flatman, Mark Beaumont world record breaking cyclist to name but a few.
On the busiest day there were over 60 people (all socially distanced); over 100 different travel companies joined or supported the ride; we cycled through Storm Francis; we rode over the Cairngorms – passing 2 ski stations en route; Skye Davidson, Zimbabwe Women’s road and time trial champion joined us; and we enjoyed some incredible feasts in parts of the country we had never visited – who could forget The Hungry Horse?
Through it all we were bowled over by people’s warmth and generosity – and willingness to donate money to help keep rangers in the field doing their vital work to protect conservation areas in Africa. And I’m thrilled to say that as I write this article our total fundraising including match funding is £270,000.
Favourite Day - Ali Walls – Shap to Lockerbie. Loads of people joined, the sun was shining and we had a tailwind. We were in Lockerbie by mid afternoon in time for a cold Scottish pint. All those only doing this leg must have thought this was a doddle!
Ben Morison - Day 1 rocked. Amazing energy at the start... and all the key ingredients were there... Tusk Team, the riders, core partners in form of Landrover vehicle and Paul Gardiner of Mantis / Accor + of course the sunshine.
Hardest Day - Ali – Easily Blairgowrie to Carrbridge - a huge day full of huge climbs. This is up all the way from Blaigowrie to Glenshee (a ski resort), then a short descent to Braemar before another 3 climbs – the last of which is a 20% gradient (... an enormous wave of tarmac rising before you). It finished with one last horrendously steep climb just after Bridge of Brown (another 20%er) before getting back down into the glens. A gorgeous day with incredible views and fortunately there was no Highland wind or I am not sure I would have made it!
Best Descent – Ben - No question... Shap down to Bampton Grange where I live... 5kms downhill at the end of 110kms of generally uphill.
Ali - After all the climbing up to Glenshee and The Lecht, the euphoria coming down the other side is something else. Another great descent was watching Marcus Clarke dressed head to toe in a Gorilla suit (including full face mask) descending into Cheltenham at full speed.
Favourite Meal – Ali - For the sheer ‘Fawlty Towers-esque’ service it would have to be The Brasserie in Kidderminster (‘Kiddie’ to those in the know) and the Hungry Horse has to get a mention for its uncompromisingly enormous meals.
Best Moment – Ali - Seeing the first signposts for John O’Groats were a very welcoming sign indeed
Ben - Day 10... it was the biggest day of the ride in terms of supporters. Approximately 20 children & families joined for the first 10kms, then another 30 or so riders did the full day with the group made up of travel industry supporters, friends and family. A BBC film crew even turned up to film us for the evening news and to top it off the sun was shining.
Funniest Moment – Ali - Keith’s penultimate night celebration, he serenaded the bar with a South African rendition of Mull of Kintyre’. He went 24 hours too early and found the last day (100 miles) really tough.
Ben - Many.... Observing Dan Brown’s general discomfort with what Kiddy (Kidderminster) had to offer to the world and to us – was one. Finding out that 700 metres into 600 miles of cycling – Ali managed to fall off his bike at walking pace into the curb was another.
Darkest Moment – Ben - Giving a team talk pre-departure in Bath, and realising we were all soaked to skin before we even got on the bike. Compounded by the fact that I forgot to apply chamois cream – it was a long cold & uncomfortably day.
Best Accommodation – Ali - All the ACCOR Hotels were incredible. The staff were always super eager to help and the rooms were always sorted for check in as soon as we arrived. No faff when we were cold and wet. Bikes were always stored safely. A special mention has to go to ANGELA in Blairgowrie who none of us had met but she happily put us all up for the night in her guest wing.
Ben - Queens Hotel Cheltenham... not for the standard (which was great) but the incredibly warm welcome and positive energy.
What hurt the most? - Ali – First my elbow (from falling off after the first 700 meters). Then my rear end before the discovery of Chamois Cream. Then my achilles (which still hurts). then my general leg pain. Finally my ribs after a slow speed incident in Inverness with Dan Brown where I hit the pavement…again.
Would you do it again? (Both) Yeah, in a heartbeat
What tips would you suggest? - Ali - Get a bike fit before you go, a Brooks Saddle, Chamois Cream, a good support team and some level of bike fitness.
Hero(es) of the Cycle
Gorilla Man aka Marcus Clarke who cycled the wettest and hottest days in a full gorilla suit.
Everyone who did Lockerbie and north, through storms and the Cairngorms! Huge.
Joel and Jean for consistently documenting for social – easily overlooked how much time & effort that takes.
Catherine for taking on the hard bit of the ride from a cold start, such great mental strength.
Keith for being Keith and for consistently acting as a ride captain – massaging peoples legs, fixing peoples punctures.
Harry, Bjorn and Sarah for driving the Landy... yes, fun at times – but a thankless task at others. A great back up crew
Last but not least Mary-Jane, from Tusk Trust – consistent support from the beginning, 2 or 3 times in the middle, and then at the end. Incredible.
From the entire Ride4Rangers team - Thank you to absolutely everyone who offered encouragement, support and of course donated to such a wonderful cause.