John Thorpe's 2018 Sponsored Bike Ride Report in full

July 15, 2018




Well, amazingly it's once again time to put pen to paper and report on my hair-raising adventures on the open road while risking life and limb for Three Owls. Those of you familiar with my annual foray into sensational journalism will no doubt be panting with breathless expectation at the prospect, and I'll try not to disappoint my readership. This was, as some of you will know (because I made such a big deal of it in the pre-ride write-up!), my 29th time in the saddle from Manchester to Blackpool, and as the days went by with glorious weather; I wondered whether we would be lucky on the day. Thankfully the sun didn't let us down, and I was really looking forward to riding in the heat. This may seem strange to most people, including just about everyone I know, since the assumption is that one can't do this sort of energy sapping activity in heat without risking dehydration and death!

Perhaps because I'm a contrary sort or perhaps because my natural body chemistry allows me to do it, I absolutely thrive in heat and really feel alive - I was definitely born in the wrong country! After a day or so of preparation of my trusty bike, which included changing a front tyre, cleaning and lubricating the chain, and generally checking all its nuts and bolts, I was happy that I'd done all I reasonably could to get it ready – of course I was another matter altogether!

As I've said many times in the past, I don't prepare for the event by riding gruelling miles and going to the gym, and while this certainly isn't the prescribed way to prepare, it seems to work for me, although I wouldn't recommend it to anyone else as the correct method. I usually prepare by a lot of walking and trying to eat as well as I can for a week or so beforehand, and I'm very conscious of how much an event like this can take out of the body, even when you feel pretty fit. This was brought home to me a couple of years ago, when, by chance, my Blood Donors appointment was very close to the day of the ride, something which didn't normally occur.

For the first time I can ever remember, my sample failed the iron test and I couldn't make a donation. It was pointed out that I obviously hadn't had time to make up the lost iron from the ride, and this called for desperate measures, including medically prescribed doses of Guinness! Purely for the iron content you understand!

Thankfully the chest infection which had been a damned nuisance shortly before the ride had left me, and much to my rabbits' disgust I had a ridiculously early night on Saturday. Of course going to bed early is all well and good in theory, but when it's still light and sunny outside the drawn curtains, you can't get to sleep and end up listening to Classic FM in the hope of dropping off! The alarm was set for 3.30 am and I sprang out of bed like an Olympic sprinter when it went off. Actually I rolled over, and reluctantly crawled out after reminding myself that I still had the animals to feed and last minute things to sort out before leaving for Manchester. The rabbits looked a bit bemused at being woken up at this ungodly hour, and I apologised to them for the fact that they wouldn't be able to come out until I came home. Oh the cruelty!

I grabbed breakfast, checked the bike in case a tyre had gone down(thankfully not), and just as it was getting light, set off, only to come back a minute later, having realised that I'd left my water bottle in the fridge!

Not a good start but then again I am old and senile!

As always, there was very little traffic on the roads at this time, and most of the traffic lights were on green on the run into Manchester.

It's a nice time of day, before there are too many people out and about, but of course there's always the thought at the back of your mind that a puncture could spoil things, as indeed it did last year. Thankfully I didn't have any problems, either on the run to the start or during the ride, something I was very thankful for I can tell you. No one actually likes changing a

Tube by the roadside unless they have a warped sense of humour that is, and I'm no exception.

My previous reconoitre of the Media City area paid off, and I was able to reach the start in The Piazza area in almost exactly an hour. Preparations were under way for the start, an hour away, and I always find it relaxing to be somewhere well ahead of time, just in case something does go wrong. I found my yellow suited mate The Voice of The Ride, and had a

Couple of photos taken by an obliging coffee stall assistant with my home made '29th Consecutive Bike Ride' poster. I also gave him a copy of the Three Owls magazine to read, and he was very interested, surprisingly, since he was a keen RSPB member himself. We may get another supporter in due course-who knows?

The smell of rubbing alcohol, muscle rubs and Kendal Mint cake filled the air as riders honed themselves to perfection around the Piazza. I had girded my loins sometime previously so didn't see the need to distress anyone further on the day! It's always funny to see the mixture of riders who take part in the event, and I'm sure it must be the same for the other events around the country. There are of the course the athletically challenged like myself, the somewhat corpulent, and the super fit club riders who use the sixty miles as a mild training run! It's easy to poke fun at the less athletically built entrants, but at the end of the day they are taking part, and the majority finish in one piece, having earned some money for their chosen charity. If everyone made the same effort, both for the sake of their health and for charity, the world would be a lot better place.

The time for the off drew nigh, and we lined up behind the tape, snorting with eager anticipation like thoroughbreds at the start of the Derby. Listen if I want exaggerate I will do-it's my story! One large and apparently insurmountable problem stood in our way however, a large road block which needed to sink into its cavern in the ground before we could pass. A couple of minutes of hectic activity resulted in the sinking of the obstruction and the dropping of the tape, over which we surged, only to be slowed down by a man clothed in luminous yellow who slowed us down and told us to keep to the left!

The sun was coming up and the temperature rising, and I set off full of enthusiasm and energy bars, determined to keep up a good, steady pace without overdoing it. I have learned over the years, that pacing is vital, or one is inclined to burn out well before the finish. The sun was warm and we wound our way towards Leigh, through Salford and Astley Green, with a welcome breeze cooling our straining muscles (I was trying to find my straining muscles personally!). Through Atherton and on towards Coppull and Charnock Richard the string of riders pressed on and I had time to notice some of the other riders and their garb. One, shall we say, a wee bit on the corpulent side, chap I rode behind for a while, had a shirt on which had the log 'This guy needs beer!'  I couldn't help thinking a low calorie soft drink might do him more good, but it probably wouldn't have made such a catchy logo!

There's a wonderful downward slope on the road to Haigh Hall, where a rider can either coast down the steep gradient and rest the legs, or as I like to do, pedal like the clappers and see how fast I can go!

I managed 29.5 miles an hour this time, and was impressed by the way the brakes actually stopped me at the bottom - very fortunate I felt, especially since I'd tightened them up the day before! The steep hill leading up to the entrance to Haigh Hall (pronounced Hay) loomed up and I did what any true Englishman with red blood in his veins would do in the face of such a challenge.....I got off and pushed! Save your energy for the important bits is my motto nowadays. I also pushed over the infamous Haigh Hall cobbles, which have claimed many a victim over the years and rendered many a cyclist with a high pitched voice for the rest of the ride!

We reached the country park at 8.35, and stopped at 8.40 for a well earned break until 9.15. They say, food tastes better outside in the open air, and I felt much better after a rest. I asked a passing Paramedic if he'd had any customers yet, and he told me a tale from last year's event which highlighted how dangerous cycling can be if things go wrong. A lady cyclist swerved to avoid a water bottle which had fallen from the cycle in front of her, lost control and ended up in a deep ditch with several fractures in one forearm. She needed morphine and anti clotting treatment, and was airlifted to Blackpool for urgent care. It all happened in seconds, and obviously spoiled her day. Sobering thoughts when one has a long way to go.

The road led north through Standish, Coppull and Charnock Richard, Chorley and Leyland, and even built up areas looked beautiful in the Summer sun. Periodically, we passed people who'd come out to cheer us on, and it's really nice to see them. There were even one or two houses where the owners had left water out for cyclists and chairs to have a rest-very tempting but not a good idea because if you get off you don't want to get back on again!  Soon we faced the long road into Preston and although it was gloriously sunny and the trees and grass were brilliant green, I put my head down and pedalled steadily, trying to keep up a rhythm. A couple of riders wearing pink ballet tutus flashed past (well everyone was flashing past!), and I couldn't help but admire their nerve- well not everyone suits pink do they?!

At one of the roundabouts, we passed a full sized military tank stationed by the roadside with a sign saying 'Made in Leyland' Perhaps I'm a little cynical but I wondered how on earth it had avoided being spirited away and weighed in for scrap! I’m sure it's well secured to terra firma and was certainly still there the other day when I passed it in a friend's car.

Eventually the long, long road came to an end, and we swept downhill and wound our way to Preston docks at 11.00 am. I pulled over and propped the faithful bike up by the railings, ready for a break and a stretch of the legs. In case that sounds a little strange in view of the fact that my legs had been stretched for quite a few miles already, it's worth bearing in mind that the riding position on a bike can lead to a touch of cramp occasionally and it's nice to pose and extend the limbs as if you've been watching a Jane Fonda workout video!

A group of middle aged riders (hark who's using the phrase 'middle aged'!) Asked me if I'd oblige them by taking a picture on a phone to commemorate the event, and I did the best I could in view of the fact that the strong sunlight made it difficult to see the image on the screen. One of the group, a well built rider with a generous stomach allowance was wearing a riding shirt with the logo 'Not Bad for a Fat Lad!' I do like people with a sense of humour!

The water was sparkling in the sunshine, and gulls and cormorants were sitting on the pontoons in the docks, keeping an eye open for the chance of a meal. A nearby notice informs passers-by that there is a tern colony in the docks, quite something for an inland town. Just goes to show that Nature will find a way, given a bit of encouragement, and it made me think about the work that Three Owls has done at the reserves to encourage wildlife. I visited Three Owls Wood with Nigel the other day to photograph the release of a young curlew and pheasant, and was amazed at how it has matured since I last saw it. The trees have grown and the undergrowth shelters so much life, that the transformation is astonishing.

Mrs. Watkinson would have been so proud of what we have all achieved, and the list of species seen on the reserve grows every year.

With so much pressure on the natural world every bit of help we who care, can give, is precious. It keeps me going when the legs get tired and the hills seem steeper than last year - and several did I can tell you!

Like any red blooded Englishman faced with a steep hill, I remember my proud heritage, grit my teeth and ....get off and walk up! There's no point in wasting precious energy at my time of life!

Twenty five minutes seemed to fly by, but with some food and drink in the tank I felt much better and set off again at 11.30 for the final section into Blackpool through the villages and countryside of the Fylde. The route goes past a park, and the sharp left turn reveals a steep rise, not what you need immediately after a break! Still a short walk never did anyone any harm! The sun was wonderfully warm, and I actually did pass a field of grain waving in the breeze this year. Village pubs beckoned, but I pressed on with steely determination - to tell the truth the temptation to stop for a drink was very real, but the legs start to seize up if you don't keep up a steady pace, and I wanted to see if I could get in a little earlier than last year - well we all have our delusions.

The riders pressed on through the pretty village of Treales and on to Kirkham, Freckleton and Warton. At some point on this road, I noticed a farm on the left which had a kiosk advertising Raw Farm Milk. Call me a sucker for temptation but I couldn't resist the lure of ice cold milk on a hot day. It's a long time since I tasted raw milk, but I polished off the whole lot before carrying on, and it tasted amazing.

The simple pleasures are the best!

We soon found ourselves on the coastal road which winds into Lytham, and the road surface immediately lets the rider know that they're nearly in Blackpool. It's a sort of open pored, reddish tarmac which manages to transmit every bump and ridge through the tyre and up the frame to the rider's tender regions-- which after sixty miles can get pretty tender I can assure you! I can only guess that some point in the past, the local Council must have been offered a job lot of red tarmac and thought it would look nice! The other problem is that it gives the impression that the tyre is gradually deflating, and that can be disconcerting to say the least.

This section of the ride, as readers may recall from previous reports, can, on a bad day, be very taxing, since the onshore wind blowing over the extensive green section can almost stop a rider in their tracks. Thankfully this year the day was wonderful and the wind was a gentle breeze which gave some welcome relief from the heat. I was actually feeling quite good at this point, and kept up a steady speed, hoping that it would eat up the last few miles, which always seem to take the longest.

We passed the famous windmill and I noticed the quite extensive area of burned grass which a friend had told me about previously. Apparently someone had been careless with a barbecue kit and caused an extensive burn which the fire brigade had to deal with. The stupidity of some people is astonishing, given the publicity regarding fire danger at the time.

The way people perceive cyclists is obviously influenced by their experience of them, and on the way in to Blackpool I witnessed one of the most arrogant and stupid pieces of riding I have seen in a long time. As we got closer to Blackpool, the number of people increased, as did the traffic, and noticed, up ahead, a family crossing the road. They crossed onto the central island and set off for the other side. There were several riders ahead of me, including a young man of about eighteen, who was riding very erratically and quickly, and while everyone else slowed down when they saw the family crossing, he deliberately speeded up and headed straight for them. At the last second he swerved and missed them by inches. If I could have seen his number I would have reported him for dangerous riding, but unfortunately I couldn't. In the very unlikely event that he reads this, or someone does who knows him, I'd like him to know that he represents everything I detest, both in cyclists and  human beings in general.

We reached the point where the road joins the promenade, and turned onto the closed section which leads to the finish line, and I gathered all the energy I could muster to look heroic as I crossed the line. There was a good crowd gathered to welcome us home, and I raised an arm in celebration as I finished. I did consider raising both arms but since the front end of the bike is lightly balanced, I could imagine the wheel twitching and sending me nose first across the line! I chose dignity and safety over spectacle on this occasion!

I crossed the line to rapturous applause at 1.37pm, an improvement on last year's time, and unfortunately couldn't catch the eye of my mate 'The Voice of the Ride', since he wasn't in the commentary box. A personal greeting would have been nice! I grabbed my completion certificate, water and Soreen bar and headed for the Pleasure Beach, where my friend Les was waiting for me. Some relaxation, a drink and something to eat, followed by a leisurely stroll in the sun, was a great way to wind down, and he kindly gave myself and the trusty bike a lift home.

The final mileage, was 77.8 (including the ride from Bury to the start in Manchester, the average speed of 10.5 mph and the maximum speed of 29.5 mph (well it was wind assisted, down a very steep hill with someone pushing me!)

I checked with Bike Events office during the following week, and found that there were approximately 3,700 riders in the event his year, and that, as far as they knew, this was the 32nd event. Next year will be my 30th consecutive ride, and with luck I will once again be representing Three Owls and asking for your support (unless I can save up for one of my own that is!)

The ride is, I suppose my chance every year to do something worthwhile and prove that I can still physically accomplish it, but more importantly, it proves that together we can make a real difference and leave something for future generations to appreciate. Remarkably, there are photos of me on the ride, which can be seen by going to the Bike Events website, finding the Manchester to Blackpool Ride and tapping the box to look at rider photos. Type in my rider number 3355 and you will be treated to exciting action shots showing every straining sinew and bead of perspiration in glorious colour! If anyone would be interested in the idea of signed photos through the Three Owls website, we would appreciate feedback to gauge whether it would be feasible.

I hope you've enjoyed this report on my exploits, and thank you so much for your continued support for the work of Three Owls. Nigel tells me that donations so far have exceeded those from last year at the same time, and let’s hope that this bodes well for this year's total. I may be the one who makes the physical effort but the supporters make the real difference.

John Thorpe


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