After more than 6,000km and 90,000m of climbing, Thighs of Steel is done and dusted for another year.
Over the past 9 weeks, more than 90 cyclists have covered every single inch of asphalt between here and London. As part of the core team for 4 weeks this year, I have cycled 1,670 of those kilometres (8.9 laps of the M25) and climbed 18,600m (2.1 ascents of Everest).
I also shared 7 van days, supporting the incredible sweat-work of the fundraising cyclists, finding wild camp spots, fixing broken bikes, cooking hearty dinners and generally trying to make everything run as smoothly as a transcontinental bike ride can be.
After the glorious hospitality of Albania last week, the final ride from Igoumenitsa to Athens was littered with unforeseen crises.
- Two bikes arrived destroyed by airlines. On day one, another bike fell apart on the road. On day three, a fourth bike succumbed.
- On the first night, the police broke up our beachside camp with hard stares and unveiled threats.
- The starter motor on Calypso (the van) broke, leaving the van team stranded on a beach with hungry, tired cyclists rushing ahead expecting food and shelter.
- At the tunnel under the Ambracian Gulf, the whole team were told that the shuttle service for cyclists had been terminated, they couldn’t cross, and should instead make a 100km detour.
- We had our first serious accident: a gravel slip on a fast descent that left a bruising dent in an elbow.
- After fixing precisely zero punctures in the past 3 weeks, this week I personally replaced three exploded inner tubes – other teams copped yet more.
- On the final morning of the ride, a thunderstorm broke. Sheet lightning, thunder claps and hard rain laying waste to the camp we’d pitched among the stones of an ancient archaeological site.
But of all the weeks I have taken part in, this was the one I enjoyed the most.
Albania was the country I most loved cycling through, but this week gave me the sense – nay, the strong belief that no challenge was insurmountable for this motley collection of strangers that had come together to ride and raise money for refugees.
This disaster-filled ride most encapsulated the Thighs of Steel ethos: whatever troubles we face, we face together and we solve together.
It is testament to the resilience and generosity of the human spirit that, when we come together in common cause, anything is possible. I feel like the past few weeks, in the company of so many committed people, have filled me up with good faith in our shared humanity.
On Thighs of Steel we usually ride in two or three groups so that we’re staggered across the roads. It’s easier to manage smaller teams and groups of four or five dodge much of the ire of other road users.
But it was fitting that, after weathering the morning’s tempestuous thunderstorm, Thighs of Steel 2019 ended with the 16 cyclists gathering in a restaurant just outside Athens and riding into the city to meet the van team at the summit of Lycabettus, so that we could celebrate our ride all together.
£10,000 of your generous donations will help fund Pedal Power, a cycle training programme for female refugees in Birmingham. I’ve written a bit about Pedal Power and Thighs of Steel on The Bike Project blog if you’d like to read more.