SANE

MONEY RASIED SO FAR: £0,000

sane_sketchbooks

Mental Health Sketchbook – Volume II

After the success of our project for MacMillan Cancer Support A Family Affair is back and looking for your help.

5 years ago, Pete and Omar sent out A6 sketchbooks to artists, designers, illustrators and writers across the world. It arrived with a simple instruction; document your thoughts about mental illness and send it on to someone you admire. When the sketchbooks arrived back in the UK, Pete and Omar bound the results into a single 300-page book. It gave them the faith in the talent and generosity of others which, now magnified and evolved, has become the foundation of A Family Affair.

SANE is a mental health charity. They work to improve quality of life for anyone affected by mental illness, to raise public awareness, conduct mental health research and to provide compassionate care to everyone affected by mental illness. Their work is tireless and invaluable.

When Pete and Omar produced the first Mental Health Sketchbook, their intention had been to print the book as a limited edition and its sales would generate much-needed funds for SANE. In 2007, circumstances prevented them from being able to complete this print run. Now, with the energy and goodwill generated by A Family Affair’s tireless campaigning throughout 2012, with greater resources and a larger family, our next project has begun.

The brief; Where’s your head at?

We want you to use your talents as an image maker, writer or extraordinary page-filler to answer that seemingly simple, infinitely complex question. You might want to measure your own mental health, or think about those closest to you. You might have a story, or a piece of research that you want to share, or you might simply draw all the people it takes to help you through a single day.

Image Submissions:
Page size: A5 – 210mm (w) x 148.5mm (h) as a 300 dpi jpg.
Feel free to submit as many pages as you think necessary.

Deadline for Submissions:
Monday, May 20th 2013.

If you have any ideas of how we can improve the project or if you would like to help in any way please get in touch: help@afamilyaffair.co.uk

MACMILLAN CANCER SUPPORT

MONEY RAISED: £9,576

In September 2011, Pete read Sir Ranulph Fiennes’ biography Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know. Around the same time, he discovered that his cousin Richard had been diagnosed with cancer. From these two seemingly unrelated threads, A Family Affair was born.

Pete decided he must act.

Having cycled to and from his office in Central London for 2 years, he settled on extending his commute somewhat. This would be the first fundraising activity of A Family Affair. What began as an off-hand invite to cycle from Land’s End to John O’ Groats to his friends Omar Karim and Paul Jackson quickly became a six-month fundraising event.

They decided to call upon their friends and family for favours rather than for money. Their hope was that with their help, a larger sum of of money could be made in the long term. Their one simple rule was all money went to the chosen charity; no administration costs, no funding of design or publicity. Everything would be done for free, in people’s own time, a donation of kindness.

A Family Affair asked 30 talented members of their extended creative family to donate their skills and produce an artwork on the theme of ‘Bikes & Family’. Each piece was reproduced as a limited-edition A2 print. These were sold for £75 each at an exhibition held at Fallon, London.

To help raise awareness for the project, Fallon Films gave up a lot of evenings to make the beautiful promotional film ‘Light in the Dark’, a story about 50 people and their bicycles gliding at night along the rooftops and towpaths of East London.

With sponsorship from Skoda, Mosquito Bikes, Bounce Balls and Fitzrovia Bikes, they completed their 900-mile odyssey in thirteen glorious (and sometimes wet) days. Along their way, they met people whose lives had been affected by cancer. Their stories and their spontaneous acts of kindness helped inspire the trio to complete each challenging leg of their journey. In Scotland, on the windy, wet harbour that signals the end of the UK mainland, they toasted themselves and every single person that had helped them reach this barren, wonderful place. It was the end of the beginning.

Thanks to everyone that helped make this project possible and to those who contributed to us raising such a significant sum of money to such a worthy cause. Pete’s cousin was very proud.

FAMILY HISTORY

In September 2011, Pete Lewis read Sir Ranulph Fiennes biography Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know. Around the same time, he discovered that his cousin Richard had been diagnosed with cancer. From these two seemingly unrelated threads, A Family Affair was born.

A family is defined as many things;
Two or more people who share goals and values, have long-term commitments to one another. A group of like things. A class. Derived from a common stock or lineage. And not just through blood. In chemistry it is a group of elements with similar properties. In biology it is a group of organisms that share a common genus.

To Pete Lewis a family is about generosity, connectivity and common purpose. It is about shared sets of principles and ideas, a coming-together of like-minds

with honest and intelligent thoughts and ideas. It is the ever-moving, ever-evolving interaction of those that you love, directing one another and finding new paths and horizons.

Pete conceived of A Family Affair to raise money and awareness for different causes and charities. He began to gather his vast resources, a network of creative practitioners and thinkers, of friends and family and their friends and family, each individual gathering to further the idea he’d once had, and that was now invested in the hearts and minds of countless people; a burgeoning family, ever-growing, with shared goals and values. If you’re here, reading this, then you are a part of our family too.

FAMILY TREE

meet the founding fathers

the_family

Omar Karim

Is a London-born madman. He spent his formative years chasing trains around cold dark railway yards and covering them in multi-coloured representations of his alter-ego. There doesn’t exist a fashion or fad that he cannot carry to perfection. He is insanely creative, and sees inspiration in each and every atom of everything. He smokes an electric cigarette, he is an encyclopaedia of the zeitgeist, a devotee of the old-skool and a sage of tomorrow’s unknown wisdom. He worked for Fallon alongside Pete and recently left to open a dream factory.

Pete Lewis

Is a Humberside-born, Berlin-based Graphic Designer. He has a specialism in Getting Things Done. His work has taken him from Leeds College of Art and Design to the gold-plated pavements of Fitzrovia, to Cape Town and back again, and now to Kreuzberg. He has worked for clients such as Orange, Cadburys, Budweiser and Skoda, but is happiest with a simple problem to solve and infinite answers in his head. His sketchbooks consist of numbers, single sentences of absolute wisdom, dates, ideas and occasional squares. Pete himself is anything but square.

Paul Jackson

Is a Lancashire-born illustrator and expert photocopier. He lives squarely in the past and is rarely convinced of the values of new things, and yet, when introduced to new things is often an immediate convert. He loves to draw, write and cycle. He possesses extraordinary knowledge of Spaghetti Westerns, he believes that post-modernism is the best thing that never happened and loves pancakes. He lives in a two-person creative garrett in the depths of South London and spends more time than is necessary lacing wheels and brasso-ing bicycle components.

FAMILY SPONSORS

Thank you for your support

skoda

SKODA

As well as giving us three beautiful cycle jerseys and water bottles, Skoda lent us a Superb, their top flight family estate. You might recognise this car from countless Tour De France stages – it is the official car of the Tour and is almost perfect in ferrying the wheels, tools, cakes and spare underwear of all cyclists, from the upper echelons of top pros down to the scruffy, the over-nourished and the under-fit (like us!). This car became our roadside headquarters, its beautiful silver curves would hover by our side, accelerate ahead to prepare banana and water stops in lay-bys. By John O’ Groats it had become the fifth member of our crew, alongside us cyclists and its unofficial driver, Baz. Skoda, we cannot thank you enough. We’d buy one tomorrow.

skoda.co.uk

bounce_balls

BOUNCE BALLS

Pete tries things. In preparation for the big ride, he tried different combinations of energy foods and drinks, in pursuit of the perfect nourishment. His favourite by some distance was the Bounce Ball. He contacted them and they offered us three vats of the stuff. We ate a great amount of food throughout our ride, but some of the most desperate moments in our journey were remedied by these amazing balls of peanut, fruit and cashew. On cold, wet afternoons, at the tops of moors and in the valleys below great sprawling suburbs, we each kept one or two in our jersey pockets, fished them out and made ourselves right again. They truly were our fuel.

bouncefoods.com

mosquito_bikes

MOSQUITO BIKES

In the final week of May, some two weeks before our departure, Pete discovered a terrifying, gigantic crack in his Raleigh touring bike. It was immediately apparent that he needed a new machine. Islington’s finest independent bike shop were contacted a fortnight before the ride and they rose admirably to the challenge. They gave Pete a gigantic discount on a brand new Soma Cross Check, which was christened ‘Betty Rose’ after both of his grandmothers. Onto this, they refitted all of Pete’s previous bike’s gleaming Japanese componentry, et voila; it was as good as new. But for some worn brake pads, no maintenance was necessary throughout the ride. Mosquito Bikes, you saved the day. You’re part of our crew. We salute you!

mosquito-bikes.co.uk

BLOG

What the family has been upto

ROAD TO SOMEWHERE

A little epilogue of sorts.

It was absurdly clear to us that our bike ride was more than three guys simply traversing the country for money. It transformed us, and its effects have reverberated in ways we are still feeling, almost seven months later. We spoke together on Skype yesterday and talked of the future. Pete, in Berlin, relocated and finding new ways to change the world. Omar, his hair folded in a strange topknot, gleefully navigating an esoteric route through popular culture and life. And me, about to leave my teaching job and focus on making pictures for a living, in my longjohns, lost in a South London fantasy world. Like all great events, the ride was something simple, but in its simplicity it magnified our foibles, our ideas and dreams, and etched them large on a blank canvas; that canvas was the landscape of the United Kingdom. When I wrote those blog posts in June, I was overwhelmed, addicted to fresh air and lactic acid burns, filled with spaghetti and muesli and always engaged with my friends and the path we were on.

Our paths, inevitably, diverged; we knew then that this was a one-off journey. What I hadn’t realised, but what Pete knew from the start, was that the journey was of a thousand miles, quite literally, but that thousand miles was also the single step. We had only just got going.

‘The Journey’ is a testament to that time in our lives and is a certificate of achievement. It shows us going through a magical time, a transformative journey, and how we actually perceived it. I cannot watch it once and not want to see it again. It contains so many flashes of brilliance; I can see an echo of a joke or a story, a smirk on Omar’s face, Pete pointing at some out-of-shot mountain or field, and me, inelegantly hunched over the handlebars of my beautiful red bicycle. Alex Hinx took thousands and thousands of images that alone meant nothing to anybody except the three of us, and he made them accessible to all. His hypnotic edit (combined with the track supplied by Old Man Diode) shows at once the confusion and hysteria of something so vast, and he manages to make it readable as a single straight road to somewhere. It is achingly beautiful and brings to a close the beginning of A Family Affair, it’s first attempt to bring together everyone and everything and show them what could happen, what could be made. Ten thousand pounds for Macmillan, boundless optimism for many people’s futures, and a stream of creativity and activity. And that was just the beginning.

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ROAD TO NOWHERE – DAY 13

As tourist destinations go, there isn’t an awful lot to do along the north-easterly corner of Scotland. Really, very little. We perhaps found the most interesting thing to do up there, which is to arrive. Second best thing to do up there? Depart.

It had rained overnight, putting an end to three balmy days of clear skies and dry roads. It continued to rain as we stood in the car park, loading up for one last stage. Although at times it seemed we might need to stop and sleep again, so slow did our progress feel. The final psychological battle was to be 53 miles of desolate coastline, solid bricks of mist, wind and cold cold rain, our creaking, tired bodies, our not-quite-100%-waterproof-waterproofs. We passed cows, sheep, speeding lorries and camper-vans, and they in turn passed us. At ridiculous speeds, with little room between us and them. The 53 miles in question were not to John o’ Groats – that would be a further seventeen miles beyond our dream destination: Wick. Wick is the last town on the mainland. It has a Tesco, a bank, and airport and, we suspect, a sheriff. Britain is wild, we are wild men, unshaven and dirty from grease and rain. Wick never seems close, always around a jut of rock, beyond a wall of mist or through ten more miles of driving rain.

Nothing is warm. Graveyards seem to be everywhere, glorious, ancient blocks of granite and marble. Churches abound, the dark, deathly sea is off to the right for the entire morning. We hit a pass that leads to the top of Berriedale Brow, the last real climb of our adventure. It is 13% of wet, slimy pain. It hurts, God, it does. We chant and recite pagan rituals. We loudly question that parentage of several deities, we lament the lack of sun and threaten the great globe of burning gas with actual bodily harm when it once again dares show its bright yellow face. The world is painful and cold and dull, and we are still barely anywhere.

I was hallucinating. The only forseeable solution was a hot chocolate. A brown tourist sign gloomily indicates a museum to the right, so in we swing and our brakes barely prevent our overshooting the wall and heading headfirst into the graveyard outside the museum. Of course there’s a graveyard. It isn’t even a graveyard museum. We went in and asked for a cafe. They haven’t got a cafe. Our hands don’t work so we sit on them for a while in their lecture room, our beards covered in cold wet rain, that really wet rain. I’ll be honest, we may have felt disgusting but I looked from Pete to Omar and thought, silently, that we all looked pretty beautiful. On we went.

Obviously, Baz had parked up on the edge of Wick. We didn’t have the courage to stop again, having long given up on solace or hot chocolate; he shouted directions to the big eco-Tesco. We put the last of our morning grind into the pedals and our 52 miles were up – Tesco Wick hosted us, our wetness, our coldness. I stood for five clear minutes under a hand-dryer. I even opened my soggy shorts up to that soothing gust of heat. I have scorch marks on my scalp and lower back. Omar sat in the disabled toilets crying. Pete changed every item of clothing he was wearing and had to request Baz’s help in undoing the zipper of his jacket. I waited patently for similar help in undoing my helmet strap. We grinned. It was filthy outside and we were about to demolish everything edible. We did this; we were, by now, the most qualified people in the entire country to go to the counter of a supermarket cafe, order everything in sight, and reduce it to biofuel within the space of half-an-hour.

This we did.

The following seventeen miles were almost a facsimile of the first seventeen of our trip. It saw us leaving what little civilisation there is at either end of the UK and just break into nothingness. Peaty marshlands, derelict hotels and houses, the occasional lighthouse. Ahead, no more land, just an oblivious spit of land and beyond, the northern isles. We are here – sort of. Rictus grins covered our faces, our eyes squinting from the sudden burst of white light from the heavens, and from effort and pure adrenal knackeredness. We are here. The road burns down toward the harbour, a long, sloping downhill on which we can no longer think about pedalling. We let the tired grease inside our bearings take us to a car park where Baz stands, applauding. There’s a small cabin, in which a girl stands and points at a white post atop a grassy knoll. The sign that usual sits on top of the post is missing; it is only brought by a local photographer. The rest of the time, the post stands unadorned, until we drape ourselves around it. We are here. Our coarse language shocks two tourists. I apologise but it is no use. They hate us. We are uncouth, we are covered in dirt, mist, grease and pure love. And they still hate us. But we are here.

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REUNIFICATION – DAY 12

Cyclists have pride issues. In fact, in all the time I have spent cycling, the one thing that unites everyone is pride. You pass someone, they change up a gear and dig in, get on the back wheel. Or worse, they overtake you and slow down, or you do the same to them, until you play some bizarre game of leapfrog across the countryside. It becomes easy to think of everything in terms of the self, to say “I am here, alone, pushing, moving. I will reach my destination on my own strengths.”

Yesterday, I invoked Armstrong’s philosophy of riding alone, powering on, alone. About experience, about seeing the world in one’s eyes and not passing underwhelming commentary from one person to another. That was yesterday. Today was the day we reunified. See, no champion ever achieved anything without their faithful. Wind-stoppers, pace-setters, climbing partners, co-conspirators; call them what you wish, but there are days when to look ahead and see one wheel, and to look over your shoulder and see another. To be in a cyclists’ sandwich, one might say.

We initially continued the spirit of yesterday’s ride – we bolted out of Augustus and hammered it along Loch Ness for a while, until we did our customary “bang-a-left” and headed toward the Beauly road. We’d ummed and ahhed for a while last night as we profiled the final two days’ rides; to go through Inverness or to bypass. Bypassing meant we would avoid the Black Isle and the evil A9, a murder road for sure. It was an inevitability that we would eventually require the A9; it was the only road to The Top. But let’s avoid it for as long as possible. Let’s bang a left, and see where it takes us.

Straight into a 15% gradient. We knew it was coming, but hellfire, it reminded us of our knees, of our quads, of our tiredness, of our sore lives. It was a test. We passed. And immediately came a reward: the Beauly road took us through a landscape so unlike all others – it was at once Provence, the foothills of Bavaria, Yorkshire Dales, a glen, a vale, a geographic oddity, a Milka wrapper. Flowers were obscenely large, they smelled like air fresheners, they grew through the concrete and over gates. The cattle looked at us with bored expressions. A bull stood, momentarily annoyed with us for being there, feeling so connected to everything. We were transcendent, we were calm; when all you can do is see your people either side of you, and out of every corner of our six eyes we could see the days behind, the days to come, and the world hatching out of a beautiful egg. I am still there; I am sure all of us are.

We had come upon the Moray Firth. We ate our favourite, unglamorous lunch; toasties in a Tesco cafe. The black and green waters of the firth lapped at Dingwall, at Tain. We pressed on, and realised, with utter dread, the monument ahead: wind. Wind that would press us just as hard as we ourselves would press north. For two hours, we pushed, unified, our team of us. The wind was an affair that nobody would have to face alone. We echeloned into it, tacked into it, held on to the drops of our handlebars and attempted to find something that felt efficient. It soon began to hurt. Hurt upon hurt. But we protected one another all the way like the small steel and aluminium rubber family we’d become. Sometimes you want to blame the bikes for not being better at cutting through these roads that last forever. Sometimes you want to throw them down. And then you say we aren’t just three. We are three young men, three beautiful bicycles. We are a Skoda Superb, we are Baz and we are cow fields, mountains, rivers and the concrete. We are even the wind. And every day, no matter how bad things felt an hour or two ago, we reach a point of arrival, we eat, stretch and laugh. This is the most northerly sleep I have ever had; it is light until after 23.00 and within 20 metres of where I snooze are the people and things that have made all this eminently possible. And so I sleep soundly.

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HAPPY VALLEY – DAY 11

Throughout this experience, we have been happy. We have been universally pleasant, the views have ranged from lovely to nice, from half-decent to tolerable (I mean Wigan). We have always sought out amusement from humorous place-names, from double-entendres, from imitations and accents. We have met kind folks, we have met interesting characters. In one way or another, we have mapped this country in a slightly sociological way, and despite it being nothing like our true intention, we have come face to face with a country we know so well, and yet never really knew at all. The hills have come and gone, and recently, come back again. Valleys have rolled, grass has gone through all ranges of green, roads have been straight and windy, long and short. We like everything. Everything is there to like. Easy.

Brae means brow, in Scotland, or at least I think it does. Like all things in Scotland, they aren’t simply synonyms. A Brae is slightly better than a brow. A loch better than a lake, and a Ben more than any mountain. Climbing out of Crianlarich this morning, everything we knew about this part of the world could not prepare us for the moment. It is inexplicable. Like the great day of Shap, we all have such personal reactions to the moment. And we all decided, in our own ways, to experience them individually. At many points today, we were each of us alone. Alone but not lonely. We all knew that we shared the same road, the same places, but not with the same syncronicity as previous days. I think Lance Armstrong once described the Mont Ventoux as a mountain on which a person had to ride alone, to face it on one’s own terms. It was the same today, as we moved into the great valley and saw, before us, the most incredible of views.

At all points, and for the duration of approximately thirty miles, we were in the company of giants. And in the company of blue water, of soaring birds, of speeding lonely cars and one solitary train, trundling along the base of some anonymous mountain. Omar later said that a forest he’d passed had ‘smelled like a Magic Tree.’ Pete saw rhododendrons that seemed outsized compared to those we’d find in London. We passed a buffalo ranch, derelict ski resorts, and at one point I saw a tiny dead bird by the side of the road. The forestry commission are cutting down endless supplies of trees and they seem to be carted backwards and forwards. Roads cling to the shores of the vast lochs, and small boats bob happily in the afternoon sun. It is a glorious day. Each and every part of the country is dry, blue skies overhead scorch the retinas, so clear and unpolluted are they. Our hands are tanned through the hole on the rear, so that we each have small brown marks on the backs of them. We look cool.

We sleep a stone’s throw from the western end of Loch Ness. The height of the water, the northernness of the topography, and the distance behind us all conspire to guide us just another 160 miles or so. It is phenomenal. The sky looks uncluttered by danger, the road a winding cord of flowers, crashing waterfalls and simplicity. There are only two or three more junctions which will see us change direction. You cannot get lost, in a landscape so big. There are some tough days ahead, but there are tougher ones behind. One thought gathers in the mind: have we enough bananas for tomorrow? A second thought emerges, mistily, just behind..are we nearly there yet?

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END-TO-END STUFF – DAY 10

Midges in the face. Midges on the food. Midges eating the degreaser, sat in bowl on a bench. Midges in huge swarms over stagnant water. Midges outside the Londis, outside the tea shop near the West Highlands railway, outside my eyelids. Midges on the ceiling, waiting, watching, for bedtime. Midges in the throat, in the leg hair, midges in the aorta, in the oesophagus, in the heart and in the soul.

We’ve just passed into the part of Scotland where insects outnumber sheep, which in turn outnumber mountains, and they, in turn, outnumber people. So we’ve a few bite marks to show for it, and, uncharacteristically for those holidaying this far north, a bit more suntan. For the past three days, it has been rain and monotony. Today we took a road to Loch Lomond and beyond.

We had pushed too hard last night. Recovery is getting tougher, and the tiredness doesn’t ever really go away, and yet, sleep is often slow coming and a little disturbed when it does. Not so last night. We slept like angels. And woke like stink-ridden pigs. But it didn’t matter so much because it was my birthday, and as well as sticking a celebratory candle in the muesli, Pete made a fine set of chocolate and strawberry pancakes. That, coffee, and a candle that seemingly could not be blown out made everything better. The hurt went away, and we relished some extra time together in a non-cycling capacity. We had a period of grace and felt good. We departed at 11am, our latest yet, but it felt right nice on the legs, and improved our mental approach. Psychologically, yesterday hammered us all in one way or another. This was a way to get back to our best.

The road around the Loch was busy but fast; a murder road, maybe, but it saw us progress at a lick. When we reached the northern shores, we stopped for coffee and scones, and then, with Baz, a little while later. It was only a 50 mile ride, which in the current state of affairs, is pretty much a trundle to the shops. But, even still, it felt a little tougher than it should have.

As we climbed the final four or five miles of today into Crianlarich, we sang, we acted stupidly, we imitated every generic Yorkshireman, Irishman and Cockney we could, and it took the sting out of the tail. Rather than being a soul-sapping drag, it was a joy. Every beautiful view we saw was reduced to a joke, and often, a foul-mouthed rant about just how beautiful the place was anyway. This is God’s own country, it has only spectacular things to show us. The camera will record for posterity that which we somehow can no longer accept as reality. Watching the weather forecast before the football this evening (a gripping game in who England were, deservedly, trounced), we truly put into perspective our current geographical position. The top bit. The last leg. A reality that we have yet to consider is that we are almost there. Hard days sit between us and our target, but we will bag it. We smell the sea again, we see the sun casting our shadows in front of us. We are so definitely engaged upon that single place. All is well.

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GLASGOW-LOW – DAY 09

“I feel myself driven towards an end that I do not know. As soon as I have reached it, as soon as I shall become unecessary, an atom will suffice to shatter me. Until then, all the forces of mankind can do nothing to stop me.” So said Napoleon Bonaparte. I think he must have been cycling into Glasgow when he said that.

I broke. Omar broke. I was watching Pete as I crumpled, but he was distant, singular of purpose. Every last inch of today’s ride offered despair, pain, the very real temptation to simply put a stop to what we were engaged upon. But then, something happened.

Last night, local cyclists’ club (favourite energy drink: John Smiths, pint-of) Walton Wheelers occupied the hotel’s bar, and upon hearing of our exploits from Pete’s mum and dad, had a whip round the local clientele and came up with an extraordinary £70. We exchanged stories and jokes for a while, and Omar was disturbed to hear of one’s broken jaw and subsequent rewiring, sustained last year on the very roads we were about to take.

He also pointed out that the foothills north of Moffat were pretty hefty, and we’d have a challenge on them. Hubristically, perhaps, we’d all thought we could handle another big day, so we knuckled down and as ever, got on with it. We set ourselves up at Gretna Green and followed what seemed, ostensibly, to be a perfect road. It soon became onerous. The road surfaces in Scotland seem to be universally awful, and much time is either spent in the gutter or in the centre of the road, looking for smoothness and dryness, both of which were in short supply. Pete and I gladly discussed education, class and social welfare as we made out way to Moffat, our first stop of the day.

The coffee machine in the pub at Moffat broke down as Pete’s mum and Baz were handed their cappuccinos. I was distraught. Pete later said that I seemed to cloud over with a loss of hope. I would put this down to a worsening addiction. I was blessed when he somehow managed to fix it and bring the tiny cup of steaming espresso to my side. I downed it and it burned and I loved the undissolved sugar at the bottom. We all ate tuna toasties while it rained outside (for only the first time today, no less) and then climbed out of Moffat and found a glorious hill. The road peeled off to Edinburgh through a scenic hills, or followed the motorway north to Glasgow. We followed the motorway.

As it rained, our wheels jiggled their way over the roughness, higher, higher, toward wind farms, mountain rivers and birds of prey. The weather became, effectively, a sand-blasting as our faces came to terms with the sheer force of gales and awfulness. The tuna toasties and coffee had worked. We broke through to the stop, and saw the beginnings of the River Clyde. Glasgow’s river. We knew we could not go far wrong. It was gushing, filled with mountain mud and dead sheep. The wind worsened. The road worsened. We tried to remain positive.

As the road turned to meet the wind head-on, a truck stop appeared on the left. I had been having a wee every five minutes for the past hour, and realised I was almost out of water, bottle and bladder. Somehow, I was dehydrating, and felt very worried because I was shaking quite badly and feeling faint. I could go over any minute. We were around fifty miles in, but it felt like a hundred.

Omar came alongside. We went into the truck stop car park and discovered it doesn’t open on Saturdays. We were both feeling pretty low. A wee and a fresh bottle of water from the tap for us both, and a walk, perhaps for thirty or forty precious metres, just to remind our legs they were good for other things. It seemed to work. The black dog went away. We remounted and set off as the road, both literally and metaphorically, turned a corner. We came out of the wind, if only just, rejoined Pete (who’d come back, thinking we might have been reduced to red smears by the angry trucks passing by every now and then) and cycled down to a service station ten miles on. There, we ate everything in the back of the car. And as this happened, and this precious fuel went in, ‘The Prince’ by Madness came on the radio and the wonderful Skoda’s speakers were hammered to oblivion by the volume. I did a victory dance. It was a special moment. Restorative.

But we were still feeling exhausted. However, the mixture of food and happiness ad chemically bonded and I was positive, so absolutely positive. I chanted songs as we peeled down a duel carriageway, solidly a trio, and burned our last on the road to Glasgow. ere is our advice: do not cycle into Glasgow. It does not work. The signs do not work. The roads do not work. The kids throw sweets at you. The people throw looks at you. It was a murky Saturday evening as we passed Larkhill, having been on our bikes for six hours. We trembled, we shook, our whole bodies fatigued and beyond temporary respite or repair. The desire to reach a place we could call home for the night was the purest it has ever been.

In the centre of Glasgow, HC called me. She used to live in Glasgow, two streets from the Youth Hostel. I asked her to find us a way, and she answered the call. I have called her several times in situations like this, most memorably from a Turkish cafe in the centre of Bordeaux, a city whose sprawl could almost match that of the Glasgae. But never quite. I can speak to her with the specific sonorous wobble of a man about to collapse, and she understands. She found a way. We found a way.

We ate a pizza each. I think we ate about four and a half thousand calories today. I feel as if I burned ten thousand. It was remarkable, self-destructive, and almost entirely forgot by the time the pizzas arrived. We found a way.

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SHAP – DAY 08

We went a little bit further yesterday to give ourselves a head start today. And it was probably the best thing to do!

Baz’s scrambled eggs we spot on and as we finished breakfast the sight from the window sent a moment of dread racing through my head.

It was bleak, the weather, the challenge and most importantly, the Shap. One of the UK’s most intense and challenging climbs, it was made even more nerve racking and exciting by the reverence in Pauls voice when he talked about it and how Baz described it.

Shap is a village north of Kendal in the very north of England and is essentially at the top of a 16 mile climb out of Kendal. The road is not really steep, but is constant in it’s intense uphill climb and the main event comes out of nowhere. It’s super exposed on all sides, basically there’s no hiding from the elements, the Shap or the task at hand.

We’d given ourselves a head start in Preston by going a bit (17 miles) further the day before. Loading up the car, the bleakness of the situation set in, with heavy rain and a storm forecast for the day.

The car was quiet, we were all making our peace with the challenge we were about to face, a ride through tropical rain to Kendal followed by a 16 mile climb to then be faced with an almost vertical climb. I’m the hippy of the team so I meditated, about the Shap, I came to the most hippy realization about what was in front of me. Ask me when you see me.

We started exactly where we’d stopped the day before and the team photo of the day was rushed as the rain cold was setting in immediately, it was cats, dogs and the whole damn pet shops pouring down.

The ride was smooth, we were in good spirits, the jokes were following‚ We were making great time and the signs for Kendal, miles were dropping away. EASY!

Something peculiar bagan to happen as we reached the small town of Carnforth. Twenty seven pople by the side of the road, waiting for a bus in the rain. We saw a jubliee scarecrow, adorned in Union Jacks. Then we saw some flashing lights. Crash barriers. Security guards. It dawned, after some time, that this was not a confluence of independent events. It was something special. It was all of that taxpayers’ money being invested in a jubilant cause. It was the TORCH. As we pushed a little further down the road, two whole crowds of people on either side of the road saw us coming and erupted into the mos spiriting cheer I have ever heard. And it was all for us. It raised us up.

The best bit about the torch coming into town were the freebies. Baz excitedly pointed at the Tesco car park – “there’s free coke in there.” Poured by pretty coke girls. Omar sidled over and downed the red nectar, and I did too. Police sirens blipped, their blue lights pierced our wet eyeballs. Suddenly, a bus rocked up, and out jumped a man in a white tracksuit carrying a gold cornetto. Surely not? This couldn’t be it? The flame of eternity? It was, you know. And even the torrent of rain being thrown down on that soggy northern thoroughfare could not diminish it. Nor would it ever diminish us.

Paul got his Kendal mint cake. The reason he got it was definitely one of the highlights of the trip! Pete’s emergency stop. Due in part to the magnificent curry we’d had the night before. Touch cloth is putting it lightly, i heard pete shout over the gabba in my headphone screaming at paul to pull over. Paul screamed over the sound of traffic and rain “what, why?” pete replied “i need a poo, now” I nearly came off my bike laughing

We pulled over, paul suggested we ask at the nearest house, Pete’s reply was magic, “I’ll go in a field, it’s alright, I’ve done it loads of times.

Thank zeus as we pulled out again, we saw a petrol station, with clean facilities! and Kendal mint cake!

We finally made it through Kendal, a nice sleep town, drenched in Cumbria’s worst rainfall on record! Grim doesn’t do it justice.

As soon as you get through Kendal the climb to the Shap starts, my gears went low, and the pain started, its a slow, grinding trudge uphill. I have to say, the night before, we went on bike and saw the elevation map, I only mention this because, as you can see the spike is showing the Shap is insane and the forums we went on said the south to north climb was the worst and that there’s a false top, where you think you’ve done it only to be greeted with the real climb.

The boys were way ahead and i thought I’d already lost pace and energy, head down and low gears was definitely the order of the day, winds were lashing and the heavens poured like they were mad about something.

The climb literally disappears into the sky, with no point in speeding down hill for momentum, the head wind took care of making sure we faced the Shap head on.

The struggle, the pain and mother nature combine to make this the most thrilling climb. Paul waited for me just past the top of what i thought was the false top. We sped down the other side, past incredible landscape, paul whizzed up ahead and i struggled against freezing tempraturtes to a small street. They’d stop at a chippy. I was convinced that this was only part one, when Pete and Paul told me that we’d just done the Shap and it was over, I didn’t believe them, but it turns out I’d done the Shap expecting the worst was yet to come. Life lessons, epiphanies and thoughts flashed through my head and i was nearly at tears at what we’d just done. Beaten the Shap in the worst weather on record!

After a short stop we continued to the city of Carlisle, on arrival, the boys told me that we were going to go an extra few miles to give us a head start the following day. We got out of the city and headed down some beautiful roads, the landscape cut into the sky which was full of rain clouds flecked with feather white clouds and tears of sunlight shredding through. Mother natures beauty was on show for us to experience.

Pete turned to me and said “you know why we’re going further? because in 4 miles we’ll be in scotland” My first thought was that we’d just ridden our bikes all the way here‚ Wow.

We made it across the border, to the town of Gretna, to be met by Baz, some scotch eggs and a lift back to Weatherall where we were staying.

Back at the hotel, Pete’s Mum and Dad joined us. It was great to see smiling faces that had come bearing gifts of chocolate, water and happy vibes.

We celebrated with a swim, a jaquzzi and a sauna before heading out to eat.

A home cooked lasagna and Germany v Greece later and we were ready for bed, PS. A big thanks to Roger and Grace for sponsoring our tea that night, we ate like kings!

I’d just got into bed when Roger knocked on our door.

The lovely Caroline had heard about what we were doing, here she is! And had got the locals in the bar to donate some money to A Family Affair, a few of the locals wanted to have a quick chat with us, so me and paul headed down while.

We met the Walton Wheelers, a lovely bunch of local cyclists that were keen on hearing about our adventure, they then went around the pub and raised even more money. They were awesome and we had spoken to many people all day so bent their ears, hopefully not boring them to death.

Caroline gets a massive shout out for being such good fun, i wanted a picture with her little gloves for this blog post, she came back after a while and donated her gloves, seen here! Omar 1 Baz 0! A great sport talking to crazy cyclists!

My final note is that the people we encountered in Weatherall were the nicest, most generous bunch we’d met. A million thanks to you all for your hospitality and generosity. You guys are great!

The day will live with me forever. Magic. The last stop before scotland!

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THE ROAD TO WIGAN PIER – DAY 07

Actually, it’s the road to Wigan Pier and a bit beyond. Well, more than a bit. This is a link-up stage, a stage of our journey that was forever destined to feel workmanlike. When we woke this morning, it came after a gloriously restful night’s sleep above the Crown Inn. We wandered downstairs to the smell of rain and brewery, the ground completely saturated and only the briefest of spells allowed us to load the car. The A49 had carried us well, and would again today, to Euxton, a small town just outside Chorley.

The road leads north, and that should have come with a whole glut of attractive, poetic ideas. But really, no, it did not. What it did was introduce us to the vast sprawl of Lancashire. This cotton-loving, down-at-heel county is a grey hinterland, and offers nothing in the way of view or wonder. We have moved across this country, and moved efficiently, comfortably, warmly even. But today sapped us of our patriotism and reminded us of what Britain can be; we moved from the soggy fields of Cheshire and approached Warrington, and it was pure grimness.

I am from Lancashire and I do hold it dear to my heart. But there are swathes of it that I do not know very well, and those parts are in the southern end. They might even be described as Greater Manchester. They are filled with supermarkets, retail parks, actual parks (still laid out in a very late-nineteenth century fashion), canals, and in the case of Wigan, a pier. Wigan Pier is a joke, which comes from an apocryphal conversation had on a train when a passenger supposedly remarked of a wharf-house “is that Wigan Pier?” or something like that. A daft in-joke for Wigan folk that is now honoured by English Heritage.

From innumerable train journeys over the past ten years, I have marked my return to Lancashire by the sight of Winter Hill. As we crested some awful soggy hill, it was there, almost occluded by grey swirls of mist and rain. And that was when we hit the home strait.

I’d called my mother to ask her to ensure we had beans, toast and coffee for our lunch. Our timings have been much addled by the endless succession of traffic lights and faffish one way systems. As well as fat people shouting abuse from their cars, a relatively new thing that started happening around Wigan and hasn’t really let up since. My mum duly provided some ace lunch, which we duly demolished, and then we didn’t dwell too long upon how happy we were to be indoors, in the warmth. It really was a stinky day outside. We pushed past Preston, and took a new road – the A6. This would take us all the way to Carlisle, but tonight we took it just short of Lancaster and called it a day. That would do. We had covered quite a hefty chunk of the North West, in fairly unpleasant drizzle and chill. The forecast for tomorrow looks ominous.

Baz took us for a giant curry in Preston, and it rained endlessly. This is probably our last truly English night. Tomorrow, the Scottish burr will sing in our ears and haggis will be served at breakfast time. Tomorrow, we’ll crest the fells of Shap, and the fears have been well planted in our minds. It is what we watch for.

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A(49) TO B – DAY 06

Today was purely about getting our heads down in the sunshine and following the A49 from Leominster to Tarpoley. There’s not a lot to say as this was about getting an 80 mile job done. The road itself was bumpy asphalt, cat eyes and white lines. Either side, rolling hills, yellow fields, England England England. Union Jacks and George crosses flapping from red brick cottages. Train lines adjacent, blue skies and clouds above. The whole day.

01: We said goodbye to the Leominster YHA and Bryony – 08:37

02: Signature portrait pose – 08:42

03: Discovered shadows – 09:28

04: Was delayed by a train – 09:55

05: Discovered that the benches in Church Stretton aren’t bolted down (Omar 1 – Baz 0) – 11:01

06: Outside the town of Wem a glorious meadow filled with poppies – 13:45

07: Lay-by pouts – 14:32

08: Paul did a lovely little squat in a field – 15:01

09: We arrived in Tarpoley and stored our bikes in a cellar – 15:10

10: Cellars make Omar and Baz very happy. – 15:11

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WE ARE REACHING OUR GREAT PLAINS – DAY 05

The slog (for no other word does it justice) from Chepstow to Tintern began at 9am. Dennis was there to see us off, the landlord of the George Hotel, who provided us with the best deal of all time. (A thousand thank you’s one again for being such perfect hosts) The breakfast wasn’t half bad, either. From his car park we departed. All of our departures have been from odd appendices to buildings, like the strange car park where old ladies were blown over at Land’s End to this, an incredibly mundane bit of concrete at the back of a town. I like these places, the way they juxtapose so readily with the wondrous scope of land to imminently appear in our sightlines. And they do, almost before we’ve had chance to prepare. Such are the landscapes, now; they come thick and fast, like a comedian’s one-liners, offering no respite until some other beauty comes into view. From Chepstow until Tintern, a climb, yes; but under the cover of a canopy of pure green, with all kinds of wild roses within reach of our senses, the slight damp of morning and the occasional dapple of sun just keeping us on the right side of chilly.

A continental feeling pervades. From Tintern until Monmouth comes a succession of small towns hugging the wide River Wye, our true companion for the day. Snaking its way through these hills and into The Marches, it swirls and glimmers, reminding us of its presence with occasional delight and a very real undercurrent of danger. We crossed over it several times, and each time made me feel slightly superstitious. Omar later revealed his lucky accompaniments on the trip, a small collection of pendants and jewels he keeps around his neck. I have my plastic Ibex and a small rosette made from cotton, both of which were given to me for safekeeping by HC.

I am beginning to think I will jinx my travels if I change anything in the routine, which means that yoga moves, sun salutes in particular, are joining an already-packed daily routine. Fortunately, we all wake at 6 or 7 on a daily basis and go about our immediate actions, which allows for early starts and good progress. We actually went fairly easy today, only covering around fifty miles, so that the next couple of days can be a little tougher. We are feeling the strain in our calves, our quads and glutes, and even in the strange little places; I have occasional cramp in my thumbs. But, 300 miles away from Land’s End, what becomes most apparent is our fraction-forming. We proudly state that we are, roughly, a third of our way there.

We tell this to Martin and Annie. They run a lovely toy shop in Leominster, where we laid up for the evening. We went in because it looked remarkable, and discovered immediately that it was better than we’d thought. They had everything you could ever wish for in the world of material goods, but more than that, they had spirit, pub recommendations and nice smiles. Omar could talk the hind off a donkey, but Martin and Annie gave as good as they got. We chewed the fat for about half an hour, before concluding that we should be chewing a good deal more carbohydrates and proteins for tomorrow’s descent into the Shrewsbury plains.

In our travels today, we dropped into Hereford, the great cathedral city in the middle of the Wye valley. It’s a sweet town, but made infinitely more wonderful by the residence of my beautiful friends Alan and Xaviere and their brilliant children, Frankie Boy and Mary Dahlia. Luckily (for me) FB was pulling a sickie from school so we squeezed in some vital lego discussions and a quick look around his redesigned lego shelf. He gave up some of his recovery liquorice before we set out again, this time “through the pouring rain”. But it didn’t last, and very soon, it did suit our clothes. The sun streamed along the A49 as we gunned it past the delicious wafts of the Cadbury’s factory (until now, I thought it had simply dropped from the clouds of Olympus) and into Leominster.

We also saw England qualify for the European Cup quarter-finals. Slightly more interesting than that was the pub’s map of Wales, which showed that we had covered half its length today. The other half tomorrow. And for a few days, it seems, the big hills will stay out of sight.

Shap still sits heavily in the distance and in my mind. It’s what we need to beat.