GBBR Day Three – Yeovil to Winchester

I woke up at about 3.30 this morning freezing. I couldn’t quite work out why I was so cold, apart from the fact that I was sleeping with my head close to the door, and I tossed and turned for the next couple of hours. When I finally got alerted to the Reveille at 5 I discovered that my sleeping bag was unzipped from the bottom up, and hence my feet were like blocks of ice.

The Reveille had a different tone this morning. The obligatory trumpet call was followed by the dulcet tones of Take That (Never Forget), and then a couple of other tracks, played at about 250 decibels through a couple of mega PA bins by the army. Oh what cheery chappies they are!

In breakfast we were greeted by none other than Martin Johnson (England international rugby union manager and ex England world cup captain for those of you who don’t know him). To say he is absolutely huge is an understatement. In fact he made Richard Hill, England’s 6ft 4 back row, look small. To give you an idea, here he is next to me:

I may have been standing on tiptoes here, I don't recall!

We set out from Ivel Barbarians at about 7.30 in the end, to clear skies if very cold. There were quite a few day riders today, about 50 in total I think, including quite a few guys from the club itself. This was the view at the starting line, with Martin Johnson at the head of the starting pack (he didn’t finish there I should add). Mr England again started us all off, with his now customary cries of “oyez, oyez” etc.

Ready to leave Yeovil....

The route took us out of Somerset, and through Dorset and then Hampshire. It was stunningly beautiful, particularly the New Forest, which I love. And this was simply the best day’s cycling I have ever had, maybe ever will have.

The morning session was punctuated by a few testing pulls, but nothing close to what has been seen the previous two days. The middle section had one very long and steep climb, but was otherwise a quite nice run. The afternoon session (through the New Forest) was spectacular. We went through Ringwood and a few other places that I can’t remember. I wanted to stop every 100 metres and take photographs, but of course just couldn’t really do that. The last third or so of the ride was the best terrain of the ride so far, mainly undulating and forested land, and just beautiful – made you glad to be alive.

I ended up arriving into Winchester at about 2.30pm or so, and I booked in straight away for my now obligatory sports massage. I think these helped my legs so much overall, the benefits could definitely be felt the next day.

Finishing earlier today was nice as it gave the opportunity to chill for a while in the sunshine at Winchester rugby club, which was a great venue. The locals turned up to come and see Martin Johnson and Richard Hill who both signed a few rugby balls etc., and it was a glorious warm sunny afternoon. I met and chatted to one of the best riders of the event, Anna Baird, who it turns out had done Kilimanjaro like me. She had sadly succumbed to fairly serious altitude sickness at 4,600m and had not been able to summit, and I realised how lucky I was to have been able to do so. We also chatted about what other adventures were in contemplation, and for me the seeds of doing Everest base camp were definitely sown. I have no aspirations to climb Everest itself, and indeed am not a climber and never will be, but to trek to base camp and to say that you have seen the highest mountain on the planet, well, that has to be done, doesn’t it?

There was a nice touch in Winchester too, as with our afternoon ‘tea’, someone had made a bunch of GBBR (complete with our logo etc) cup cakes, which were delicious!

I felt like I could eat the lot....

After dinner, which was sensational, and massive, Barry Clayton gave a rather splendid speech. He was obviously very emotional, and so he deserved to be – he has put a monstrous amount of effort into this event. He thanked the huge amount of people who have helped support the event, and including the army guys there are literally hundreds. Most importantly he also told us that we riders had raised £89,000 between us so far for Help For Heroes – a fantastic effort. He also gave a very emotional tribute to Pete’s Dragons, which if you have already read my previous post you will know all about by now. I didn’t at the time, and Barry didn’t want to share their story with everyone for reasons which I now know. I don’t think I could have given that speech and not cried my eyes out. In fact I wouldn’t have been able to speak at all. I am going get Ditsey’s poem printed and framed in my house, and keep it for ever. I cannot think of a better or more wonderful lasting memory of this event than that. What amazing people they are.

So the only downside to the evening was being told that Reveille was going to be at 4am (!). We have to leave by 6am, before sunrise, to get as many as possible of us the 82 miles to London by noon. It was going to be a tall order for sure. And the power cut that was to blight us didn’t help in the least. Bed was therefore by 9.15. Tomorrow would be Twickenham, our own summit. This is what most of us came for, “to arrive at Twickenham to the applause of 70,000 fans”. It was going to be fantastic, and I was going to finish this bike ride. I now, only now for the first time, knew that I could do it.

Statistics for the day were 77 miles and 1,390 metres of ascent. Calories eaten, about 10 billion. Oh and Two pints of Guinness.