THE Chronicle’s Ashley Ball recently cycled coast-to-coast for charity. In the first instalment of his four-piece diary he talks through his reasons for undertaking the challenge.
My dad died from cancer nearly three years ago.
Losing my dad at a relatively young age (I had just turned 32) was something I wasn’t prepared for and it took an incredible toll on me.
It was the height of the pandemic and while everyone else was seemingly caught up with the traumas of Covid my dad’s deteriorating health ensured it was just a mere side issue for my brother and I.
My dad had oesophageal cancer - one of the cruellest types - and it stopped him from eating anything substantial. He was quickly becoming a shadow of the strong man I had always known.
His death, before his cancer got any worse due to a scheduled suspension of treatment, was a blessing in many regards but sadly the restrictions meant only 30 people could attend his funeral.
I know there would have been five times more people there had they been allowed. Many others went through similar ordeals.
With the rest of the world focused on Covid the only support we received, outside of from the fantastic staff at Weston Park in Sheffield, was from Macmillan Cancer Support.
When my friend Matt, who works for Macmillan, proposed a coast-to-coast cycling fundraiser for the charity, I had to get involved.
My dad had always been a biker but I am much more comfortable on a slower set of two wheels.
I cycle recreationally but knew this was going to be a proper challenge. As a group we are probably more Team Pie than Team Sky.
A route was planned, hotels were booked, people signed up and training stepped up a gear. All five of us completed the challenge and were very proud and pleased to do so.
I carried a picture of my dad on my bar bag for when I knew it was going to get really hard. On two occasions I had to look down to get the inspiration I needed to keep going. I was never going to let him down.
The route was mostly done on the Trans Pennine Trail (TPT), headquarted in Barnsley. It’s an incredible thing to have on our doorstep. It’s not perfect yet - but we are very fortunate to have it.
I hope you enjoy going over the four days of cycling a lot more than we did in the saddle...
Southport-Stockport; September 7
CONSIDERING William the Conqueror allegedly fell over on the beach before becoming the King of England following the Battle of Hastings... it was reassuring that we took a wrong turn within about ten minutes of setting off from the seafront at Southport.
We soon got on the right track and were heading south towards Liverpool and leaving the sea behind.
Within the first few hours we saw two of the city’s leading sporting venues in Aintree Racecourse, the home of the Grand National, and Anfield. Goodison Park is slightly out of view from the Trans Pennine Trail (TPT), our chosen artery through the country as our group of five bidded to cycle from the Irish Sea to the North Sea in four days.
We have a mixture of bicycles between us but I wanted to use my hybrid as a large portion of the trail is tarmacked... unfortunately not on today’s ride and my left wrist was bearing the brunt of the rocky surface.
None of us needed much encouragement to start the day with a good breakfast.
I went for Alpen and some yoghurt with fruit before some toast.
Our plan was to cycle towards Widnes for lunch, about 50km into what we knew was going to be the longest day.
Scheduled stops along the four days were always going to be roughly two hours in and we were fortunate to have Stephanie, the wife of chief navigator Mark, driving a support vehicle should we need her.
We had been given prior warning that a recent Liverpudlian pastime among the youngsters is to bend Trans Pennine Trail signs into other directions.
Fortunately Mark had plotted a route using the Komoot app and we avoided any going around in circles - this day was going to be long enough as it was.
The next sight we saw after heading out of the city was the bridges close to Widnes’s Spike Island, first the Silver Jubilee Bridge and then the Mersey Gateway.
I enjoyed a cheese and onion panini to refuel and also topped up the water bottles.
It was a routine start to cycling after lunch as we followed St Helens’ canal down into Warrington for quite some time. The complications were about to start as we got to Lymm with that section of the trail closed.
There was a decent enough diversion in place but one ‘shortcut’ proved exactly that... unfortunately I was the sole victim of the thorn bushes.
We now found ourselves in posh Cheshire. Think footballers’ wives... no, not the television series.
The village of Hale is among this kind of leafy heartland but does have a distinctive war memorial, complete with a small cannon.
As the temperature rose, the day seemed to keep dragging on and signs promising Stockport was ‘four miles away’ proved to be incredibly optimistic.
The next sign we saw, ten minutes later, said it was four-and-a-half away!
We had to weave around the streets of Stockport to find the hotel, which happened to be atop of the town’s only hill and all of us were glad to get settled down with a cold drink.
I had a quick shower and enjoyed jerk chicken and rice ahead of what is going to be another gruelling ride tomorrow.
This was only the third time I had gone past 100km but aside from wrist pain and a stinging leg, I was feeling okay. It had been a long day but we were pleased to have put a decent chunk into the mission in one sitting. I find that cycling long distance is a battle between the mind and the legs.
Matt, who I mentioned in the first piece, was my housemate at university and we had been joined at the start and end of the day by two former course mates, Ben and Daniel, who cheered us on.
Organising to see people along the way proved to be a welcome boost, as did seeing donations come in at regular intervals during the day for Macmillan Cancer Support.
Komoot difficulty rating: Expert.