So here is goes…the journey! I left my house and got dropped off with enough kit to last me a month and a bike that I’d never ridden. Everybody was in high spirits but nervous at the same time. After cramming everything into the last few inches left in the vehicles we bundled into the minibus for the journey up north. 6 hours plus the obvious stop for a Maccy D’s and a few coffees kept us going until we arrived in Kirkby Stephen. We were lucky enough to have free accommodation on all of the nights we were away which was a massive bonus and I’m sure we were all grateful even though we were somewhat cramped. After a few much needed pints at the local we settled for an early night before the first day. However, events occurred which I’m sure most of you are aware of which were emotional for all of us. It was a horrible feeling being stood around twiddling my thumbs not being able to help. I will take this time to say how strong Penny, Amy and Joe were whilst Steve was having a turn. And then to come back after these events and start the challenge…wow!!! It really had an effect on everybody there but it was important to use this as added motivation of why we were there and the challenge that awaited us.
We all woke up on Monday morning very tired after a few hours sleep. The sunshine filled the room from 4am and left us tossing and turning for the next few hours. The legendary support crew were up and preparing breakfast for us (the first serving of peanut butter from a million during the week). Before we knew it, we were setting off over the Penine Bridleway at the start of our 205 mile journey. I’m sure I don’t need to tell everyone that I love running. This was my bread and butter and I was in my element loving every second. We were greeted with huge hills from the off which were more suitable for rock climbing than running, but we all dug in and got through the first few miles. The next few legs of the day saw us viewing some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen including waterfalls which Seb and Geoff sampled as a shower. Throughout the day, we were all still worried about The Hero (Steve) but after finding out he was resting in a travel lodge, it put our minds at ease. It was a shame that him and Penny had to travel back to Salisbury but it made us more determined to get the miles done and make him proud back home. Throughout the day the support crew were amazing…Water and food at every stop (more peanut butter) and lots of malt loaf kindly donated by Soreen. Turns out everybody in the world loves Banana malt loaf. The team really dug deep and everybody made it to the end of the day without too many niggles or injuries, John’s horn guiding everybody to the finishing line. Accommodation and an amazing shower was kindly supplied by a local rugby club and whilst we set up our camp beds Mandy cooked up some army rations. Personally my Paella and apple turnover for desert was just what I needed to fill my belly for the next day. I applied some lotion to my legs to recover and had the delight of watching Geoff apply copious amounts of Vaseline to his anus before hit the sack.
Day 2…We arose at a stupidly early half 5 and tried to shake off the dead legs and achy muscles from Monday. Rather than just watch Geoff, all of us applied the Vaseline, put on our very tight jerseys and nappies/cycling shorts and set off for the start point. Personally, I was very worried about today! I had not done any training on the bike and knew that I was not the greatest cyclist. I knew the real challenge for me was going to be the cycling and the Penine’s did not go easy on me or the rest of the team. After 100 yards Jade’s bike decided to fall apart but she battled on. The weather was perfect and the scenery was again, spectacular! The first few miles were easy going on flat grass but this didn’t last. We were thrown down a huge hill and extremely rocky terrain. It was at this time, we realised how tough the cycling was going to be and how dangerous it was. Literally, if you hit a rock at the wrong angle, you would more than likely go tumbling and be in a lot of trouble. Aswell as the rocky terrain, we were treated to knee high grass, sand and roads including riding directly through a field 10 metres away from the biggest bull I’ve ever seen! We knew the cycling was going to take longer, but we didn’t factor in how often we would get lost. The Penine Bridleway was beautiful but at times the signs were slightly limited and confusing, causing us to cycle 2-3 miles off route and phoning the support crew for help. The route was so confusing, the landlady of a pub didn’t know the bridleway ran 50 metres away from her premises and she wanted to send us 6 miles down a huge hill to the next village. Well done Pete for suggesting we hop the fence and ignore her. 12 hours ticked by way too quick and we had to stop the day short due to a lack of light. Still 60 miles of horrific terrain had destroyed nearly everybody and we were all looking forward to some sleep! Half way through and the best nights sleep yet, even with the mystery snorer conducting his own choir of noises in the corner.
Day 3…ouch!! Ass and legs in pieces but back to my preferred sport of running…not today! We woke up bright and early again and ate more peanut butter. I think morale was at a low at this stage but Joe Chalk gave some motivational words and everybody felt slightly more ready for the days challenge. Within the first mile we got lost and climbed a huge hill! We were lucky once more with the weather and even spent a few miles travelling along ‘the yellow brick road’. The team were split up pretty quickly today but I will take this time to say how amazing Mr Bonner was today! What a legend…our pacemaker. Who needs speed kings when you can run at 7 minute mile pace…Certainly dragged me, Joe, Tozz and Seb around the first half of the day. We stupidly missed a stop and were left with no water. A resident on a trail kindly donated some much needed water until the next stop. By the time we got to around 15 miles we were starving. The support crew being the stars that they were all week, bombarded us with all sorts of food from leftover pizza to flapjacks. Due to Geoff’s pace we were over half way by lunchtime so we decided to chill out and walk the last few legs. Why doesn’t the Penine Bridleway have portaloos?…I mean when a man has to go, we have to go. Still, there were lots of cows and sheep to point the finger at and blame. I think we all enjoyed the last few miles. Geoff’s behind was so bad, Vaseline stung, Tozz got exited with the contents of the ration packs and eyed up things that he wanted to ‘take home’, Seb was completely ignored by a cyclist and we finished today at a pub with a pint. Day 3 flew by and the whole team was still battling the bridleway. The evening involved a few of us rooting through the rations trying to find the best meals. Chicken Curry and rice mixed with an all day breakfast was a delight!
Day 4…the last day! Pains in places none of us knew existed but it was important we got today done. 70 more miles and we had done it. However, the sun had disappeared and the wind and rain was among us. Within 50 metres I knew I was in trouble, the legs were burning and just did not want to work. Today was without a doubt going to be the hardest day yet. Me and Geoffrey cycled in a pair and at one stage whilst on a flat road, looked at each other at exactly the same time and said ‘Why is this so hard?’ Our bodies were giving up on us but it was evident after the week that 90% of this challenge was psychological. We forced ourselves to keep on keeping on, with Geoff singing Steven Chalk’s barmy army!!! The next 3 hours were not fun. We managed to cycle along a main road to Sheffield, turn around and cycle along the wrong bridleway and in the end surrendered outside of a fruit and veg shop in a nearby town. We got a free Satsuma but were physically and mentally drained aswell as being 3 hours behind schedule. I sat out the next 20 miles but as we got to the next stop and saw the 3 lads (Toz, Joe and Seb) limbering up to take on the next 30 miles before we met for the last stop I knew I had to get out and give it another go. However, with my ‘tank’ of a bike I was going to hold the lads up. The legendary Joe Chalk leant me his bike for the next 30 miles and we set off. The hills were unreal and it doesn’t help going wrong twice, cycling down 2 huge hills and realising we had to cycle all the way back up. Oh…I’ve nearly forgot about the gates. I think we must have opened a good 200 gates! So many, that I’m thinking of ripping my own garden gate off so I never have to open another one. The lads pushed me to my limits and by the time I got to the last stop with everybody waiting I was a wreck. Chocolate, malt loaf, coffee, peanut butter, bread…nothing could get me going but the team were amazing and we all dug in enough to cross the magic finishing line through a stupid amount of puddles. We were all sodding wet and covered in mud but the Chalk siblings guided us over the finishing line and to success!
This was without a doubt the hardest I’ve ever pushed my body. So much so, that I said I would rather run the London marathon to the finish and back than do it again. The support crew really did look after us and I’m sure everybody will join me in saying you are amazing and without you we wouldn’t have a challenge. Without the tech guru Scott Dawes I think we would still be somewhere on the Penine’s now. Toz, Joe and Seb… all legends, all way too fit and true athletes! Charlie, such a nice bloke and completed it with ease. Jade, such a little warrior. I didn’t think you could surprise me any more than you did last year but you definitely did! Geoff, what a legend! Without this chap the days would have seemed longer and a lot less enjoyable! At the pace you were running you need to buy a decent pair of running trainers and get out on the roads. Pete and Tara…wow! You made the Penine’s look like a piece of cake, so strong in the cycling and such nice people. Craig, never gave up, battled to the end and even lost a tooth for his efforts. Sarah, I know you were gutted to miss out on completing all of the challenge but it was great that you were able to be there and a strong link in the team. And also Richard and the others involved, great job and it was a pleasure to contribute to this challenge with you.
This leaves 2 truly amazing people (Amy and Joe Chalk). I can’t imagine how you are both getting from day to day and can only guess how you feel about the situation you face. With the added event before the first day I really didn’t think you would be back to conquer the mountains. You are both so strong and you truly are some of the most courageous and resilient people I have ever met. I felt so privileged to be led across the line by you both. And of course I’ve got to mention the hero himself Mr. Steve Chalk, I know you were gutted that you had to go home but I really hope we all made you proud. It is an honor to be doing this for you and your family and you won’t have to ask me twice about completing any challenges in the future. Team SSIJ loves you very much and KEEP ON KEEPING ON!