So it all goes back to 2002. I had not really cycled much since my days hacking around London on my bike as a medical student back in the 80's, but now as a late 30 something, I decided it was time to get back on the bike. I bought myself a hybrid but quite honestly did not do much - I needed motivation!
I came across the Oxfordshire cycleway, and discovered it was approximately 180 miles long roughly following the Oxon border, and thought now there is a challenge! I certainly wasn't going to attempt this alone, so after a fine Christmas lunch as the port began to flow I proposed the idea of a weekend ride of 180 miles to my brothers-in-law Leo and Barney. After they stopped laughing we had some more port!
Boxing Day breakfast came around though, and clearly Barney had been musing on my proposal. He asked for more detail, but Leo just said, "I really thought you were joking. Oh my God, you are serious." And then there were three!
I saw Jon down the gym the week later and sussed him out as a potential. He said, "You must be f****ing joking!" put his earplugs back in, and continued on the exercise bike; however 20 minutes later he came over and said, "All right. I'm up for it." Rather a rapid change in opinion, but a welcome one.
Who else could I get? Under the cover of an alcoholic haze I put the idea to Peter and Tom late at night on New Year's Eve. Peter was all for it immediately, Tom's response of, "I would rather give birth! Personally!" is an opinion that has not changed since.
The final team member, Andy, somehow heard about my plan and approached me. We now had a team of 6 and we were game on.
To add a little extra motivation we decided to get ourselves sponsored. We would raise money for a children's cancer charity as Francesca, Barney's daughter and my niece, was undergoing treatment for a brain tumour.
Now, I can't overstate how much of a challenge this was going to be to us, really training from a standing start. We had a number of team training rides, but the first big one was a BikeEvents organised ride from Birmingham to Oxford in July 2003. A pretty event-free day and we all survived, even if I did manage to get crippling cramp two miles from the finish, which brought us to a halt. However after much debate about the biomechanics of my hamstrings, the bite point of the muscle and the fulcrum effect from the knee I moved the seat post down by an inch and was fine!
I returned home that day to a distressed call from my sister, who lives in Australia, giving me a mouthful about where had I been as our mother had been admitted to hospital. My mother had become quite rapidly unwell and within a few weeks had been diagnosed with Lymphoma.
Through the summer of 2003 then we all continued to train. I had several hospital visits - a round trip of 150 miles - to make, and a sister flying in and out from Oz three times.
September arrived, and my abiding memory as we got closer to the ride was that we still really didn't know whether we would make it.
Then, on the day we are due to set off the message came through that Francesca had collapsed at school and was en route to the John Radcliffe. See Barney's story for more details on this; the rest of us discussed the situation and decided the best thing to do was continue. We couldn't contribute anything helpful at the hospital, and we had amassed a great deal of sponsorship.
We did start the ride as planned, but within 5 miles got the message that Barney really was needed back at the hospital. He turned back, but rejoined us that evening at the overnight stop.
We cracked on through Saturday with Barney back with us, but then came the call on Sunday morning. Francesca had significantly deteriorated and Barney was needed back at the John Radcliffe. I maybe understood the seriousness of the situation more than the other riders, being the medic. I shared my thoughts with Leo as the other team members were not family. Leo's reaction was that failing to complete the ride was no longer an option.
Francesca was not far from our thoughts all day.
We completed the ride, and earned several thousands pounds for charity, but any elation we felt was countered by the message that Francesca had died.
The following day I heard that my mother's chemotherapy had failed to work and there were no other real treatment options for her; within 6 weeks she was also dead.
So, to 2013 and the core 4 of Leo (comms), Barney (nav), Jon (beer) and myself (skip) are still CircumCycling. At some point every year Leo will ask, "Why are we doing this county?" and Barney will invariably reply, "Because it is there!"
However in reality none of us want to relive the events of 2003, but equally none of us wishes to forget.