What an amazing twelve months it has been and all culminating with me being at Heathrow airport awaiting my flight to take on the biggest challenge of my life.
The Great Wall Cycle Challenge
It has taken months of training, hard graft, determination and it’s been tough on my family who have put up with so much, especially since Christmas.
The turbo trainer has been dragged along many times to set up and ride. Whilst my amazing friends and colleagues have given up their time to collect bucket donations from the general public, who on every occasion have been extremely generous.
I've gone out training on those lonely, freezing winter mornings (-2 oC) to get a ride in before going to work and I have plenty of war wounds from where I have fallen off in the desperate pursuit of looking like a pro!
But the whole experience was in one word...amazing.
It was a challenge full of firsts for me, from the initial training, to travelling on a Jumbo Jet, to flying to a country I didn't really know much about (bearing in mind the furthest I had been before was Greece and that was nearly 11 years ago!).
Arriving in Beijing was an eye opener, if you think the traffic here is bad, you want to go there. Wow, I've never seen so many cars (5 million approx) and toll roads. The city itself is just on the go constantly, a little like London in that respect.
The city is enormous, it took an hour to get to the restuarant where we had the most amazing banquet of food. Then we carried on again to the first Hotel, another hour and we were unbelievably still in Beijing. The population is at 20.6 million which is astounding!
The bikes we had did make me giggle. We were unable to take our own, so were allowed to take parts to fit to the ones we were presented with. Although they went to the lengths of asking our heights and weights, when all the bikes were lined up, they were all exactly the same frame size, which I thought was hilarious, as the shortest person in the group was 4'11" and the tallest was 6'4"! Talk about throwing in a challenge before we even started...
I was riding with a group of 11 plus our guides and challenge leader and they were all fantasic. Each had their own reasons for being there and were determined to finish and enjoy it. They were all really supportive and helped get everyone through the experience. I am absolutely honoured to have met them all.
The ride was tough, probably tougher than I have expected but thanks to the training, I got through it. Each day was much harder than the last and the terrain was amazingly hilly. So much so that on Day three I ended up blubbing like a baby after climbing 7,500ft, it was relentless and so long, we were basically cycling up hill for nearly 3 hours but I got to the top and was rewarded to the best downhill section ever, even the support vehicle had trouble keeping up!
Day five was my worst day, I think I reached rock bottom in the tank and a really low point on an emotional level. We woke up to snow which was completely unexpected and had to ride in it for over 2 hours. This was the longest day in mileage terms but after reaching 60 miles (including a section we shouldn't have done because we were sent in the wrong direction and had to turn around) we hit an off-road part, a really off-road part...it was awful and there was 12 miles of it! The hotel we were staying at that night was in the former Barracks of part of the wall and I didn't really appreciate it as I was so tired...I couldn't even eat, which was really saying something for me!
The last day was fantastic, everyone had recovered from the previous day and were all raring to get to the finish. The sun was shining and it was glorious.
After our emotional finish we headed back to Beijing City and were treated with the delights of the city for a day and a half. As I said in the beginning it was an amazing experience and one which I will treasure.
Ooo and before I forget the most important part...from all the events, donations and sponsorship, the final total was £5006.71. So a massive thank you to everyone who supported me.
Next Challenge? Oooo I think London to Paris...