In September 2001, my brother Chris mentioned that he was making a cycling pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in May/June of the following year, and would I like to ride with him. I realised his last week would coincide with my school’s summer half term (I am a teacher), so I could ride the last few hundred miles with him. It meant my wife and youngest son would have the pleasure of each other’s company for the week in the middle of his GCSE’s, but nevertheless, Teresa encouraged me to make the journey!
Chris’s wife, Jane, had breast cancer from 1997, and was making a good recovery; Chris wanted to do the pilgrimage in thanksgiving. In June 2001, our Mum died, and we both wanted to make the pilgrimage in her memory. Chris decided to raise money for research into childhood cancers at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London by being sponsored, and I wanted to help with this. I also wanted to raise funds for a Palestinian Human Rights organization, Al Haq, which I had heard about from a friend who knows about its work. Alongside these serious and worthy reasons, I was looking forward to a long ride with my brother– I haven’t been on a bike tour since 1977!
In January, I bought the BBC’s course, "Espana Viva", two tapes and a text book (ISBN 0-563-21493-7). Though I never got very far with the text book, the tapes were always with me in the car, and occasionally, I used them while cycling to and from work. In the middle of an English winter, learning the language was an affirmation that the trip really was going to happen! Even the rudimentary knowledge I acquired was worthwhile.
In September 2001 I was not particularly fit – a lazy boozy holiday in Ibiza had helped expand my waistline, and my swimming in the Mediterranean had been more flotation than exercise. My main forms of exercise are usually running and cycling, but I had been neglecting both! I worked as a teacher at a school 12 miles from home, so my plan was to increase my occasional commute to three or four times a week. I did this fairly gently over the months; before Christmas, I continued to use my recumbent tricycle, but in the new year, concentrated on using two wheels, and reminding my body what a saddle feels like! The more awkward thing for me was adjusting from the comfortable, head in line with back, position of the recumbent, to the low back, head upright position of my road bike. I eased the transition by having the handlebars quite high at first, on both road bike and mountain bike, and lowering them as the weeks passed. With June approached, I was achieving my target of 4 commutes weekly, and when the bike had been fitted with its new wheels, gears, etc, I made sure that I went on at least one 50+ mile ride with lots of hills. Though I could not ride as fast as my companion (and not just because he had a carbon fibre lightweight), I was comfortable climbing the hills – the lower gears were doing their job, allowing me to sit and pedal. As I write this, I’m wondering whether this really was the only longish ride I did; I recall taking the long, over the moors route home a couple of times (25 miles), but I don’t think I did anything else!! I had hoped to get my weight down to 80 kg, but from a post holiday high of 90 kg, it stuck at 84 kg for the months before the ride. By the start of the trip, I felt comfortable with my fitness – I knew I had strength and stamina, though my speed was comfortable rather than fast.
The journey was to be a pilgrimage, so as well as preparing the bike, and getting myself physically fit, I felt I needed some spiritual preparation. My parish, St Joseph’s, Pudsey, was running an Open Retreat in Lent, where instead of going away for a retreat for a day or a weekend, you go for a couple of hours, once a week, for six weeks. I found this period of prayer and reflection very helpful; over the weeks, the support of other members of group was most welcome.