What a brilliant few days!!
The 2013 Oblivion Tour London to Brussels ride started with a 6am gathering to frantically load the van with all the bags, food, water, pumps, spares, kitchen sinks, cuddly toys, conveyor belt … you get the picture!
Then at 7:05 we hurtled off down the road to Dover 82 miles and a stack of hills away. Then at 7:15 we stopped to repair a puncture. Off again at 7:22. Then stopped again to repair another puncture, then another about 15 minutes later. The protective tape on the inside of a tyre had moved and the spokes were therefore punching through the tyre on almost every bounce of the road. Four punctures later, that was sorted and we were away properly.
Unfortunately, the group had got slightly split up.
Imagine our surprise as the two groups passed each other on one road, both heading in opposite directions!
There was a furiously intense review of the numerous little Garmin devices, a route was agreed and we headed off together once again. 1 hour gone and about 6 miles travelled – hmmm, what schedule!!
If anyone tells you that Kent is the garden of England, don’t believe them, it is a fabrication!
Don’t get me wrong, Kent is stunning, but there is not much that’s flat – we called it strongly undulating and very challenging – and the fact that the temperature reached 32 degrees didn’t help either!!
There were other incidents on that first day, like …
… the esteemed tour leader deciding that cutlery wasn’t needed to eat coleslaw …
… and nearly losing our Viking …
… but we had our photo taken beside the biggest penny farthing in the country..
.. but after 8 hours in the saddle, we got to the ferry on time and made it to the Calais hotel in one piece, tired and happy.
Day two started with an extensive warm-up routine in the fog, which cleared quickly as we moved out into the Northern french countryside along deserted country lanes.
These flat expanses allowed us to get up a good head of steam, which unfortunately meant, on occasions, that the rampantly enthusiastic elements of the tour party got ahead of themselves and, more importantly, got ahead of the navigators.
When one individual declared, “Right I know where we are going – follow me” the opportunity was just too good to miss. The entire group minus the enthusiast hurtled off down a right turn behind a corn field and waited. Sure enough a few minutes later, a somewhat sheepish explorer returned to the group to a chorus of laughter from almost all!!
The laughter turned to reflection when we visited the Trench of Death at Diksmuide.
Interestingly, this brief visit over lunch in the sunshine did not dampen the mood, but added an air of thoughtfulness to replace the boisterous banter for a while.
What did dampen the mood, however, was the torrential rain storm that seemed to come from nowhere and hit us hard as we were cycling away from Diksmuide and so, like drowned rats, we cowered under a tree until the support vehicle brought our wet weather gear.
We then headed off in the pouring rain towards the German Cemetary at Langemark for our second brief ‘educational’ stop.
Unfortunately the torrent claimed a casualty as one rider who for some inexplicable reason had chosen some very expensive ‘slick’ tyres came crashing to earth on one tight corner.
Although he suffered a damaged shoulder, a sore thigh and a badly grazed hip, thankfully, his bike suffered very little damage. So, after a quick visit to the bike hospital to sort out a handlebar issue and ask for stabilisers, our not-very-bouncy country bumpkin was back on the road!
After the heat and hills of day one, the 92 mile dash to Bruges was a major challenge, especially when a few of the team had never cycled more than 50 miles in one ride before – but Bruges was welcoming with a hot shower and a wonderful Ribs ‘n’ Beer dinner which was consumed with much gusto!
The last day heralded another early start (the third in a row) but this time a slow trundle through the lovely city of Bruges and a few photo stops later and we were out into the countryside again.
We then enjoyed mile after mile of dedicated cycle path winding along the riverside as we circled Gent, only to find that our carefully planned route had been removed in favour of a brand new football stadium!
More Garmin-consultation and a death-defying run down a dual carriageway the wrong way and we then turned south east on our final leg of the days 70 mile trek towards Brussels.
What you realise very quickly about Belgium is that it is a brilliant place to cycle. There is almost always a bike lane separating cyclists from cars, eliminating the stress for both types of road-users plus bikes have priority over cars at junctions – so everyone seems to cycle. I suppose being flat helps, but a great cycling experience nonetheless.
You could tell that there was a heightened sense of excitement, especially when a planned drink stop turned out to be a closed cafe and nearly caused a rebellion – but thankfully there was a Cap’n on hand to quell the mutinous hoard and find a different cafe.
So, it was with a caffeine-induced sense of euphoria, that we reached the outskirts of Brussels with the hybrid rider really picking up the pace, only to be hunted down by the chasing peleton whenever an ‘undulation’ was encountered.
When at last the Atomium came into sight, we couldn’t get to it!
The road was cordoned off for, would you believe, a bike road race. So, as the last of the competition riders went passed, we snuck through a gap in the railings and cycled down one of the busiest routes into Brussels with absolutely nobody on the road except 12 British nutcases yelling and hollering like cowboys – frankly, it was an embarrassment – but bl@@dy brilliant!!
To be standing in front of the magnificent Atomium with bike held high was a truly fabulous feeling and one to treasure. We had made it and have raised nearly £5,000 for Breast Cancer Care, BOSS Benevolent Fund and Cystic Fibrosis in the process.
That first beer in the Grand Place in Brussels on Saturday evening went down very well, followed quickly by many more and our celebratory dinner was a wonderous spectacle with stories and exploits being recounted, and Tour Court punishments being dished out with relish.
For hours afterwards and much of Sunday, Oblivion Tourists could be seen wandering the streets of Belgium’s capital city wearing pirates hats, cowboy hats, fez’s, flat caps, love hats, corky hats, chinaman hats, Bob the Builder helmets and even a beret or two!!
And actually that really was the point.
With all little things that happened, the punctures and cutlery-free picnics, the Garmin-debates and the gripless tyres, the tumbles, the raising of hats and the raising of some money for charity – all of it was actually about a group of friends doing something different and having a huge amount of fun doing it.
There are two other things that must be said;
Firstly, thank you to our fantastic sponsors (especially Spicers who provided us with the support van free-of-charge) and all those that donated to the Just Giving sites to support the fantastic work done by Breast Cancer Care, the BOSS Benevolent Fund and by Cystic Fibrosis.
Plus a word for our fantastic support crew, Richard and Peter who once again did a brilliant job to keep us going (with copious amounts of Carrot cake among other things!)
… and, most importantly, thanks to our wonderful wives and families who gave us all so much support along the way – we couldn’t have done it with you.
Secondly, we are now planning the 2014 trip.
I can guarantee that this will be a challenge that has never ever before been attempted by this particular group of riders – to cycle a circle of Northern Ireland’s 6 magnificent counties including what I’m sure must be one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Giant’s Causeway (and if it isn’t, it should be), plus possibly a visit to Bushmills, the oldest distillery in the world, and maybe to taste a sample or two.
If you would like to join this historic ride, or would like to sponsor this phenomenal effort or you would like to support the trip in some other way, please contact us by filling out the form below with your details and comments, or leave a comment at the bottom of this blogpost.
And always remember the Oblivion Tour motto; Quid Facitis Illud Genus
which means “Whatever you do, do it with style!!!”