LE TOUR DE RECOVERY
Scot Whitlock went riding along in the East Midlands.
On a chilly September morning, I arrived outside The Recovery Partnership (TRP) offices in Leamington Spa to begin a memorable, inspirational journey. On this occasion I was not here to utilise their life changing services but to pedal part of Le Tour de Recovery.
The ride had been devised by Steve Bliss to raise awareness of the importance of communities in the building of effective and visible responses to sustaining recovery from substance misuse – and the continued need to keep harm reduction at the top of the recovery agenda. It involved five days of pedalling from Leamington to Durham, arriving conveniently in time for the ‘Recovery Walk’. The walk was organised to celebrate the achievements of individuals in recovery, and acknowledge the work of prevention, treatment, and recovery service providers.
Steve had contacted me several weeks earlier to see if wanted to participate and with no hesitation I’d said yes, however I would only be able to commit to two days, so Sheffield would see me leave (reluctantly as it transpired).
The simple plan was to ride gradually north calling at substance misuse services and recovery communities along the way. Our lycra clad group were a refreshing mix of people in recover, and workers from all over the Midlands, we were all treated as equals, the commonality was the passion for cycling.
The gang were equipped with a selection of gleaming carbon fibre frames, Giant, Merykx, Trek and my retro Ribble. Even some had slick gleaming legs, Steve and Stuart.
As we stood for one final photo, our team jerseys vibrant in the now early morning sunshine, I felt a little apprehension. Before I had time to contemplate the route and challenges that lay ahead, we were off! Next stop Coventry.
Leamington Spa to Burton-on-Trent (70 miles)
The early pace was sedate, due to the constant stop/start, a pre-requisite of town centres with their annoying traffic signals and even annoying drivers. Once out into the countryside we started to stretch our legs, breezing through Stoneleigh and arriving in Coventry in good time and most importantly good shape, where a rapturous welcome greeted us.
After a short rest we got back on the bike and tentatively negotiated the trudging city roads, which once again bore frustration from the peloton. Eventually we encountered some pleasant greenery as we approached Bedworth (never thought I’d ever say that!) allowing us to increase the speed and focus on getting to know each other.
There is something special about pedalling in a group, the chance to offer support, encouragement and chat freely can be really underestimated.
We weaved our way through Bedworth with ease, the traffic a minor inconvenience and within in no time we had arrived in Nuneaton and at another welcoming TRP building. Once again the crowds were out in force, they had prepared a hearty spread with a mix of tasty carbs and liquid energy. Special mention has to go to the tasty lemon cake, which tantalised the tastebuds, bravo Wendy!
The next leg was going to test our stamina as we headed to our lunch stop in Leicester. Once out of the urbanised tedium, we were immersed in a delightful bucolic setting. Quaint villages, open countryside with patchworks of colours and wonderful isolation. Unfortunately we also encountered hills (the group would like me to refer to them as mountains) which we coped with resolutely, encouragement and alacrity verberated between riders, the wheels and pedal strokes in a rhythmic unison.
OK, the speed was not overly impressive but we were making headway, and importantly enjoying the solitude. Regrettably the deserted roads were replaced by bustling thoroughfares as we pedalled into the outskirts of Leicester. We breezed along the city streets, chugging vehicles motionless in the endless traffic, our bikes where the perfect foil to this constant blockade of pollution. As we neared the epicentre, the roads became increasingly hazardous so we reverted to the pavement. Finally we arrived, greeted by the melodic rhythms of a makeshift band, and our already buoyant confidence and positivity was increased by the unexpected exuberant welcome at Widening Horizons.
Lunch was a mass of carbs and overdue caffeine, the conversation was flowing, dominated by the afternoons itinerary. After another impromptu photo opportunity we were off, and this time our numbers had increased. A stuttered start was followed by some rapid pedalling, our cadence was impressive as we interacted with the A50. This mundane mass of tarmac would not make the list of the ‘Top 100 cycling roads’ – the experience was miserable, cars whizzing by, the senses treated to a ensemble of engine fumes and burning rubber, but thankfully the weather was behaving, actually it was unseasonably balmy.
We arrived in Burton-on-Trent, slightly later than the itinerary expected, after a toilet stop in Coalville. My legs were surprisingly fresh, the urge to continue onwards was at times overwhelming as we whizzed towards our accommodation, however I reluctantly accepted my day in the saddle was coming to an end.
The day had been inspiring, the weather most welcoming and we had starting to gel as a group (roll on tomorrow) however not before some overdue electrolytes and a good (early) nights sleep, oh, not forgetting some more sausage rolls!
Burton-on Trent to Sheffield (50 miles)
We were all up early, Dean (the team mechanic) had opened up shop before breakfast to deal with any issues, of which there were a few, mainly involving tyres but his skill allowed us to set of in good time.
The weather was grim, the temperature chilly and the sky dominated by a greyness which stubbornly looked set in for the day. However, considering the weather, the gang exuded a vibrant positivity, like the attire and a kaleidoscope of bright cyclists dominated. A brief mention needs to be made to a pair of knee high red socks, more at home on Nora Batty’s infamous ageing legs, yet, they would conveniently act as a makeshift beacon, if anybody got lost!
We departed in good spirits, our immediate focus was Derby. First problem was trying to negotiate the network of one way streets before we followed the local cycle paths through a collection of parks and hugged the contours of the canal, emerging in the charms of Little Eaton.
As we climbed slowly, I took the opportunity to answer my phone, unfortunately as we descended at speed I decided to stop, confident I would not lose the riders up ahead. I was wrong. In front the road was blocked so I followed the diversion (I later established the peloton didn’t). I was now on my own and I was torn – wait, or continue towards Chesterfield? There was no response via anyones mobiles, so I jumped into the saddle, glimpsed the sign for Chesterfield and started pedalling. My speed was quick, my legs reminiscent of pistons working overtime when I was buoyed by my first glimpse of the famous crooked spire. Chesterfield is a lovely market town, I found myself in the heart of the shops and after some local interactions I finally pedalled into the grounds of Hope Springs. The building is a stunning architectural delight, previously a hospital, and is now home to an innovative drug and alcohol recovery centre. Once again we were treated to an amazing welcome and a colourful spread (including another glut of sausage rolls) and plenty of hot beverages, before we reluctantly departed, Sheffield was only a mere 13 miles along the A61.
Only a short distance from our lunch stop we encountered our first problem in the guise of a puncture, and while we waited for Dean to apply his mechanical magic I was visually violated by an elderly local who took a shine to my lycra clad buttocks, uncomfortable for me, humorous for my fellow riders!
Impromptu breather over, we continued onwards with renewed vigour. Endeavour and resilience were bubbling in all of us, if one of us were struggling, others encouraged. Words are a magnificent tool, simple inner positivity is immensely effective. A great recovery ethos.
After a rather disjointed ride, we finally found ourselves in the hustle and bustle of Sheffield, it had been a hard mixed bag of a day, bumps and bruises were uncomfortably prevalent and the day was memorable for our proficiency at getting lost. It was in fact something that we excelled at, standing by the side of the road with quizzical looks had become a regular occurrence. I enjoy getting lost, life is all about experiences, good, bad and/or indifferent so that’s why I try to avoid a GPS, in favour of the wonderful tactile world of a map.
Once again the welcome and hospitality were amazing, even though we were late, we were plied with drinks and a dental cavity creating assortment of sweets.
Unfortunately although my ride was prematurely over, my new friends had many miles left to reach their goal of Durham. As I prepared for my train journey home, I experienced a mix of emotions, I wanted to stay and complete the whole ride, I was going to miss my new pals, the humour, the positivity and the simple camaraderie.