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Val Bassindale’s, Carlisle Branch & Cumbria AO, momentous bike ride challenge

In 2020 both Paul (my husband) and I turned 60 and we wanted to celebrate the year with a challenge! After considering a number of ideas over a glass of wine or two, we decided to cycle from Land’s End to John O’ Groats for Samaritans Carlisle, but due to COVID we decided to postpone the ride to 2021.
We selected Samaritans as our charity, because Paul’s son Steven (my stepson) took his own life several years ago. Mental Health illness touches a lot of people’s lives. It is very complex. Despite all the efforts and campaigns by various health care providers and charities to raise awareness, and remove the stigma associated with Mental Health illness, too many people still feel stigmatised and unable to talk about how they are really feeling and struggle to cope.

Earlier this year, not knowing when lockdown would finally be lifted, we agreed to complete half of the route ie Land’s End to Carlisle, virtually on our smart bike! According to Strava we cycled 532 miles and climbed 33,260 feet.

I decided to complete the second half of the route from Carlisle to John O’Groats in person. Paul is a strong cyclist and rather than him keep waiting for me to catch him up, he decided to be my support team (in Felix our motorhome). Which actually made it a lot easier for me, because I didn’t have to carry the minimal amount of clothing etc in panniers and try and find accommodation along the route. Having fresh clothes to wear each day, a good bed to sleep in and a shower was a luxury I had not initially expected!

Well, the day arrived and at 10.00 am on Thursday 2nd September 2021, I started my solo bike ride from outside the Samaritans Branch, Carlisle. Phil Gray the Branch Director, cycled with me for the first mile and several friends (including my NWR friends) came along to wave me off.  

On the first day I was cycling into Lockerbie town centre to meet Paul for lunch, when I discovered I had a puncture, thank fully the only one. Paul quickly repaired it while I had a quick bite to eat. Some days I met up with Paul for lunch and other days I discovered lovely places to stop and have lunch: Community Café in Stonehouse and Skoosh in Drymen. I always had food with me just in case I didn’t find anywhere to eat, but I liked stopping and speaking to people.  

I cycled through some beautiful countryside, and met some extraordinary people along the way. One cyclist kept me company for about 10 miles near Balloch, advising me to pick my bike up as we went under a bridge to avoid the glass; on a very hot day a family in a car stopped and checked I had enough water (which I did) and took details to donate, drivers beeped their support; cyclists shouted words of encouragement and I saw several red deer and red squirrels.  

At 11.25 am on Saturday 11th September 2021, I reached John O’Groats and had the obligatory photos at the landmark sign. It was a very emotional moment for Paul and I. It had taken me 10 days to ride 495 miles and climb 24,490 feet, mainly following the Sustrans Cycle Routes, which took me through Gretna, Lockerbie, Glasgow, Pitlochry, Aviemore, Inverness, Lairg, Tongue, Thurso to John O’Groats. Never again!  

During the first seven days I had good weather, at times possibly too hot, but the last three days were awful, with wind, rain and mist!  

I couldn’t have completed the ride without Paul, my padded cycling shorts, thick socks, comfortable trainers, cycling gloves, waterproof clothes, fluorescent jacket promoting my ride, Avon Skin so Soft, sun protector (with insect repellent), anti chafe cream, smart watch, puncture repair kit and my trusted Sustrans book.  

We stopped at authorised campsites, which meant some days I had a 20 mile ride in the motorhome at the end of the day from where I finished my ride to the campsite, and the same journey the next day to return to the point I had stopped at, to ensure continuity. Which made the days very long, but was worth it.  

You might be wondering what Paul did!  Well in addition to providing excellent support and keeping me motivated, he did manage to get out for a few runs and the odd bike ride.  

In addition to it being a personal challenge, the purpose was to raise awareness of Samaritans and raise funds for the Carlisle Branch, which I am heavily involved with. To date (20th September 2021) I have raised nearly £3,000.

Samaritans can be contacted 24/7 on free phone number 116 123.  

Val Bassindale
September 2021