MARHAM TO ARNHEM: 500 MILES – A BIKE TOO FAR?
ON THE 1ST SEPTEMBER 2015, A/SGT ANDY ATKIN-FINDLAY, SGT KEV WEBSTER AND I, SET OFF FROM RAF MARHAM ON A 500 MILE UNSUPPORTED BIKE RIDE TO RAISE MONEY FOR MACMILLAN CANCER SUPPORT.
Accompanying us were 5 other Gen Tech Workshop tradesmen from 4 different camps, raising money for Helen and Douglas House and the RAF Benevolent Fund. Our destination, the John Frost Bridge, named after Major- General John Dutton Frost (1912– 1993) who commanded the British forces that reached and defended the bridge during the Battle of Arnhem in September 1944, was depicted in the 1977 film A Bridge Too Far – a title which seemed highly appropriate for our intrepid cyclists!
The Grande Depart took place at 6 am from the main gate of RAF Marham, and after a brief pause for a photo opportunity, we were off. Each of us were packed with enough clean clothes for 5 days cycling and wet weather gear. We were also carrying spares for most eventualities, including emergency spokes, extra inner tubes, tyres, chains and lots of tools. All in all, each rider was laden with 12-15kg of weight in their panniers.
The plan was simple: cycle to Harwich, get the overnight ferry to the Hook of Holland and then ride to Lommel in Belgium for our overnight night stop. Get back on our bikes early for the ride to the Bridge at Arnhem and our final night stop on the continent, then back to the Hook of Holland. Finally, get the ferry back and ride the last 100 miles home. Compared with cycling in good old Blighty – where you are often relegated to the pothole-ridden roadside, dodging HGV’s and irate Audi (other cars are available) drivers who leave you zero room to manoeuvre – riding on the continent was straightforward and stress-free. We were all impressed by the dedicated, well maintained cycle lanes, and when bikes and traffic crossed paths, courteous drivers would politely give way (you won’t find many clips of irate, Dutch driver/cyclist confrontations on YouTube!). This made travelling the 100 miles per day just about bearable; the only problem with the busy cycle network was the occasional traffic jam with so many people riding bikes.
As mentioned, we were completely unsupported throughout the ride and along the way we dealt with multiple punctures, five broken spokes and a snapped chain. We also experienced weather ranging from clear sunny skies to torrential rain and hail, and battled the cyclist’s one true enemy, the all powerful headwind. 30mph for a particularly emotional 10 mile stretch near Rotterdam on the way back to the Ferry. The team was also suffering with injuries by the last day with most suffering from aching joints and stiff muscles, not to mention some wounded pride as tired legs and stubborn cycling shoes led to some hilarious topples. Suffice to say, progress towards the end was a real grind, with one of our team appearing to show signs of the dreaded ‘Bonk’ about 20 miles out. However, at around 1800hrs on the evening of Saturday 5th September, we arrived back at RAF Marham, exhausted, elated, and glad to be out of the saddle.
In conclusion it was a challenging experience but very rewarding. We raised over £1,000 for MacMillan, with another £4000 for Helen and Douglas house and the RAF Benevolent Fund. Special thanks go to FS Fraser Rutter (Abbey Wood) who organised the event and to Cpl Carl Jones (Brize Norton) for expertly navigating us all the way there and back.