As the old saying goes, there are only two certainties in life; death, and taxes – thankfully, only taxes are a regular occurrence for most of us. When people do reach the end of their lives, however, we’re monumentally lucky in this country to have people who help others die in comfort and with dignity.
Regular readers of the blog will no doubt have seen the Winter Ball that Chessy Morgan organises in aid of the Heart of Kent Hospice each year. I have now also seen first-hand the care and dedication of the hospice and the people who work there – how they treat their patients, and those visiting them, in such a compassionate manner. I can’t really better Chessy’s description of them, and the hospice itself, which feels for a short, difficult while, like an extended family as I found out recently during the last few months of my grandad’s life.
I also felt compelled to do something worthwhile to raise a bit of cash for the hospice, cash which is indispensable bearing in mind less than 30% of its running costs are covered through statutory funding. I opted to do the Heart of Kent annual Cyclo Sportive – doing the 100km course through (perhaps unsurprisingly) the heart of Kent on Sunday 26th of April. To make it that little bit more special, I was riding the course on the ‘posh’ new machine my grandad afforded me to buy in the weeks before his passing.
Saturday the 25th was warm, balmy and with but a breath of wind. Sod’s law therefore dictated that Sunday was cold, very wet and with a stiff northerly breeze. Pulling myself out of bed in time to ride the seven miles to the start point in East Malling for an 8:30am kick-off (or should that be ride-off?) was not easy. Still, a couple of hundred hardy cyclists emerged from the warmth and comfort of their beds alongside me to put themselves through a few hours of ‘getting soaked and really quite cold’.
At the start I found myself at the rear of the 100km riders and spent the first 15 miles overtaking people, trying to find a fast group to latch onto. Eventually, I caught a team of ten or so fast riders and we established a pretty quick pace around the course (sorry drivers of Kent, we were on a mission so your patience when overtaking was hugely appreciated!). It was wet – really wet – and riding a lightweight bike on slick tyres made it feel like being on ice at times, especially on some road surfaces. We exercised caution, but still made the half-way point well within two hours.
Thankfully, though the breeze persisted the rain had gone by this point, making for a fast last half of the ride. Between 30 and 55 miles we averaged around 20mph (compared to the 18mph for the first half) as we took turns leading the pack and making the most of the slipstream effect. However, the 55 mile point also heralded the start of the ride’s longest climb. With 11 miles to go (the route was 106km rather than the 100 advertised!), it was a case of every man/woman for themselves. I had a lot left in the tank so managed to lose most of the group in the 400-odd foot ascent of Oxenhoath Road and Gover Hill – a familiar climb for me.
The final run through the picturesque villages of Crouch, Comp, Offham and West Malling was a solo affair during which I put in all the effort I could muster to achieve the best possible time. According to ‘Strava’ through which I tracked the ride, I did 66.1 miles (106.4km) in 3hr 38min and 52sec, breaking a few personal best distances on the way and the official timings put me 7th overall – a very pleasing result. Naturally, I went straight to the pub after finishing for a well-deserved pint!
More to the point, at the time of writing sponsorship for the ride has topped over £200 and counting – if you fancy donating to the hospice, their website has a specific page, or my ‘Just Giving’ page can be found here. A massive thanks must be extended to the volunteers who made the ride so well organised and enjoyable.
I gave some thought as to what the old man would say, were he still around to ask about the event. It’d probably be something along the lines of, “Well done – what a good effort! Which pub did you go to then?”