June 16-20: Missing People Cycle Challenge 2012 – Edinburgh to Richmond

As usual it’s an early morning start for me at the beginning of a Ride2Raise cycle challenge. Unusually, though, it’s 5:30am on Friday morning and the ride doesn’t start until tomorrow. This can only mean one thing… I’ve got to travel all the way to Edinburgh in the car with Ride2Raise MD Richard and his sometimes ‘challenging’ choice of music. Even though he and I will be spending almost every daylight hour of the next six days sitting side-by-side in the support car as we follow a tough bunch of extreme hardcore long-distance cyclists 500 miles from Scotland to the outskirts of London, this could be the toughest part of the whole event as far as I’m concerned.

More about the music later. We’ve left early as the weather has been quite appalling for the past two weeks and we want to make sure we are in Edinburgh in plenty of time to greet our hard-as-nails group of cyclists who will be tackling five tough days of 100+ miles per day of cycling to raise a substantial amount of money for Missing People, a charity which works extremely hard to offer a lifeline for the 250,000 people who run away and go missing each year. Over the course of the next five days I came to understand how important this charity is, and how important its work is.

The journey from Ride2Raise HQ in Dorking to The Point Hotel in Edinburgh – a former co-operative store and employer of Sean Connery as a milkman in the mid 1940s to 50s – is uneventful and we arrive at The Point early in the evening to check in. On the way one of our extreme hard-core cyclists has called to tell us that she is already there and is in the bar area of the hotel so we poke our heads into the bar to say hello. Obviously she has gone back to her room because the only person we can see in the bar is a petite, very feminine, attractive young lady cooing over a baby but before we can head to reception she stops us. “Richard?” she asks. It turns out that this petite, very feminine, attractive young lady – Jane – is one of the riders taking part in this tough cycle challenge. Knowing that there are five tough days of cycling an average of 100 miles per day, and a considerable amount of climbing, to come, I’m surprised and maybe a little concerned.

We check in and a little while later we head to the train station to greet a couple of the other riders and our Ride2Raise Ride Manager, Dave. I’ve not been on a ride with Dave before but if Richard has chosen him for this ride, the toughest of all our 2012 rides, he must be quite a rider.

As they arrive, and we load their luggage into the car and their bikes onto the bike rack, I compare them to my image of a hard-as-nails group of cyclists who will be tackling five tough days of 100+ miles per day of cycling. Karen is another petite, very feminine, attractive young lady but she looks very fit, in a sporting sense as much as anything else, and I get the feeling she is a very strong athlete. It turns out I’m correct as she is a personal trainer, triathlete and ironman participant. I assume all the other riders will be similarly experienced. Chrissy, hands me the heaviest bag I’ve ever had to load into the Ride2Raise support car. I can’t help but notice that she is another petite, very feminine, attractive young lady. This could go horribly wrong!

Then there’s Dave. In my good books already. Long hair, laid back and helping with the bags and bikes in the pouring rain. I like him. His nickname is Dave the Sheep. Check the pictures, you’ll see why.

Back at the hotel another of the riders, Roy, our latest hard-core cyclist has arrived. In his mid 50s with a heavy, steel touring bike equipped with a rack and pannier mounts once again I’m a little surprised. There are still two riders to arrive but I’ve given up predicting what to expect.

This may all sound a little dismissive and it’s not intended to, it’s just that this is likely to be the toughest challenge we’ve ever put on. We’ve done the Edinburgh to London route twice in the past, actually in the other direction, but each time we’ve done it in six days. It’s tough. The weather in Scotland and on the Yorkshire moors adds an additional challenge to an already gruelling ride. This time the ride is being done in just five days, at the request of Missing People. This means that each day will be around 100 miles of cycling. In fact the first day will be around 115 and that makes it the longest day of cycling we’ve ever had on a Ride2Raise challenge. Low temperatures, wind and heavy rain are forecast for the first two days. I’m not being dismissive but it’s going to take some incredible effort and determination to get through this ride and I think I was expecting a group of Olympic-standard athletes!

Just before we sit down for dinner in the hotel we are presented with a small Sunshine bear by Lyn Hair of Sunflower Garden, a charity who work with children from families in Edinburgh with drug problems. Lyn has been chosen by the management of The Point Hotel to receive our Edinburgh Charity Hero award. The bear becomes a new member of the team and Jane volunteers to carry it on her bike for day 1.

Another petite, attractive young rider joins us as we sit down for dinner. Yes, it’s Phil! He’s slim, young, good looking and fit. Everything I once thought I was. I hate him already… I’m joking, he and the rest of the Missing People Cycle Challenge riders are great fun and a really friendly group. It’s a pleasant change to have the chance to get to know the riders a little before the ride starts. We usually get a handshake and a pump-up of tyres. Two riders are missing: Scott will be joining the group much later tonight after we’ve all gone to bed, and Nigel will join the group at the end of day 1 as work commitments meant that he was unable to join at the start.

Elizabeth Templeton, a guest of Missing People, joins us at dinner. Elizabeth’s son Alan went missing over five years ago and, sadly, his body was discovered on Edinburgh’s Arthur’s Seat just three months ago. Elizabeth works as an ambassador for the charity to highlight the issues faced by families of missing people. Her story is sad and thought provoking. Also over dinner one of the riders, Chrissy Birtwistle, Supporter Care Officer for Missing People, tells us a bit about the charity and its work. Missing People is a genuine lifeline to the 250,000 people in the UK who go missing each year, and the support they provide for friends and family is vital.

Dinner is fun and leaves us all with lots to think about.

Day 1 – Edinburgh to Newcastle

Over breakfast we meet the last rider to join us in Edinburgh, Scott. A little less petite than the other riders he’s incredibly laid back. This may just be tiredness as it turns out that he and Richard got no sleep as their rooms were either side of some noisy and ‘very friendly’ guests.

Early bike checks prior to the start of the ride highlight some issues with Roy’s bike. He fitted a new cassette and chain the night before he left and oddly it won’t engage one of the sprockets on the cassette properly. I can’t get it to engage properly either but more worryingly, and possibly related, I notice that the bottom bracket is showing signs of severe wear and has a lot of play. Not ideal for the 115 miles and almost 7500ft of climbing of day 1. It should last but it will need replacing.

Tyres pressures are checked and photographs are taken with Elizabeth, who promised over dinner last night to come to wish the riders well at the start. There’s an amusing moment while taking the photographs when I ask the riders for a smile or a cheer. The reaction I get is rather more than expected and it turns out that just as I took the photograph a mouse scurried along the edge of the room and down a grille behind me, causing some surprise.

The weather is horrible and likely to get much worse. Riders are clearly nervous but anxious to start this incredible challenge and they gingerly cycle away from the warm, dry comfort of The Point Hotel and into the grey murkiness and cobbled roads of Edinburgh.

First destination for a quick photo opportunity is Holyrood Palace, which is closed, but Arthur’s Seat looms large and acts a real reminder to me, and I’m sure to the riders too, of what this is all about. For a moment the wind, rain, cold and the thought of 115 miles of cycling are forgotten and thoughts turn back to Elisabeth Templeton, a lovely, warm and friendly lady whose sadness is clear to see but whose determination to do all she can to help others in a similar position to her own is humbling.

Pace is gentle as the riders ease away from the busy streets of the town and into the countryside, and the hills. The weather is being relatively kind at this point. We’d anticipated heavy rain all day but so far it’s remained merely moderate. Maybe we’ll be lucky with the weather, the riders could use all the help they can get as we see the Lammermuir Hills in the distance. That’s where we’re headed.

Literally translated as ‘Moor of the Lambs’ – and it’s easy to see why – Lammermuir isn’t particularly high at any point but it has many steep gradients and is very exposed. The scenery is wonderful… or at least I assume that it is. As we’ve reached the hills the weather has deteriorated rapidly. Now, as well as the cold, the increasing rain, the wind, the brutal climbs, the large puddles and the holes in the road riders have almost zero visibility as dense fog hangs all around us. At times it is impossible for the group to see the rider ahead of them. This is tough. Above all else cycling should be fun but there is no way the riders will be enjoying this, and it’s early in the day too, maybe only 20-25 miles, so there’s a long, long way to go.

The appalling conditions are clearly going to be with us until we clear the hills and that’s around another 20 miles. At the easy pace the riders are being forced to ride at, and allowing for a couple of stops, it could easily take three hours. And there will still be another 60 to go until the end of day 1. It’s brutally hard and in the support car Richard and I really feel for this small group. I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if any one of them called it a day even at this early stage of the ride.

A few times we stop ahead of the riders at the side of the road and shout encouragement at them as they pass. We regularly ask if they need to stop for a while and at times the riders response seems to be one of slight anger. As if we are to blame for the discomfort they are experiencing. I guess they would have a point. Richard is responsible for planning the route and while the riders are in all kinds of discomfort he and I are in a comfortable support car with a choice of music to listen to. It’s hard not to feel a little guilty.

We do get the riders to stop for a while and we make a couple of minor saddle height adjustments. The role of a member of the support team is not all about fixing punctures in the rain. This morning we’ve spent a fair amount of time in the support car observing the girls’ backsides. Nothing pervy, we always pay attention to riding positions as a saddle that’s too high or too low can cause major problems for a rider. Karen’s position is fine but Chrissy’s pedalling action indicates to us that her saddle is probably a little low, while Jane seems to be stretching a little at the bottom of her pedal stroke and we drop her saddle a tiny amount. Obviously this means we will need to spend more time ‘observing pedalling techniques’ to check our adjustments have helped.

Something which becomes apparent during the stop, as we top up water bottles and provide riders with energy gels, cereal bars and whatever else they need, is that what we had seen as slight anger from the riders a short while ago was, in fact, nothing of the sort. This group of riders is developing a strong and genuine determination to grit their teeth and get through whatever today throws at them. And it’s throwing one hell of a lot at them make no mistake. What we’d seen as unhappiness was in fact a coping mechanism that saw some of the best teamwork we’ve ever seen from a group of riders. An almost telepathic understanding that they were all in this together despite their individual pains, doubts and discomfort. Already these riders knew that this was a team effort and the other members of the team would help them through everything that was to come for the rest of today. The rest of the five-day challenge in fact.

In the support car it’s not always possible to see and influence how well a group of riders is working together. That’s very much the role of the Ride Manager and in Dave ‘the Sheep’, Richard has chosen the perfect man for the job. Without us in the car really noticing he’s got this group of riders working amazingly well together in the toughest of conditions. Any doubts I had at the start are already gone and I’m seriously impressed by every single one of the riders already, and we’re only one tenth of the way through the challenge!

The riders set off again into the foggy, desolate wastelands. We ride ahead of them for a while with the windows of the support car wide open and some dramatic music from the soundtrack of the firm ‘The Hours’ playing at high volume. We feel it might give them a sense of the dramatic artistry of the scene as we see it from the car. However, I’m not convinced the riders see it the same way.

Finally, as we near the other side of Lammermuir, the weather starts to improve. Skies clear and the sun even makes an appearance. Now we can actually see the dramatic scenery and the short but oh-so-steep climbs which the riders will need to face. The rain and wind are massively diminished and it could almost be said that it’s a nice day for a bike ride. Almost.

Due to the weather induced slow pace it’s later than originally planned but we still decide to have lunch at the original venue of the Wheatsheaf in Swinton. Landlord Chris has set aside a comfortable room for us, there’s space outside for me to check over the bikes and it’s around mid-distance between the start in Edinburgh and the day’s finish in Newcastle. It’s also only a few miles from the border between Scotland and England. Scotland’s a wonderful place, and I know I’ve not spent enough time experiencing what the country has to offer, however it’s been anything but kind to our Missing People riders and right now I think they will be glad to see the back of Scotland. We’ll be back, for sure, but right now that invisible border is as close as we’ve got to a target and our sights are firmly locked on it.

The Wheatsheaf is almost too comfortable and it’s tough for the riders to head back out into the rain, which has once again started falling after lunch. I’ve had another look at Roy’s gears and tightened the poorly bottom bracket but it clearly needs replacing and Roy gives us his permission to track down a new one to fit later.

After the terrible visibility of this morning it’s something of a relief that at least riders can see past the end of their handlebars this afternoon. The rain is still falling, quite heavily too so it still can’t be much fun but it’s much, much better than earlier in the day.

As well as the rain the riders still have lots of hills to climb. The total climbing on the day will be 7,485 feet and that’s a lot. It’s a really tough day of riding and occasionally we can see the discomfort on riders’ faces. It’s an hour after lunch and we’ve covered as much distance as we would often cover in a whole day on a Ride2Raise challenge. The Missing People team still have another 40 miles to ride, plenty of tough hills to tackle, weather which refuses to improve and they’re about to find out if they are even capable of cycling well over 100 miles in a single day. Rather them than me!

We stop for a short while outside a pub that we notice sounds quite lively inside. Many of the riders need a comfort break so have the embarrassment of walking through a pub full of boisterous drinkers while soaking wet from the weather and wearing tight fitting cycling gear. Water bottles are topped up and riders stock up with Soreen bars and other snacks from the supplies box in the support car.

As we prepare to set off again a rather nervous horse, ridden by an elderly lady, walks gingerly down the slope which riders will have to climb immediately on starting. It’s quite steep and slippery and the horse doesn’t appear to be very keen on the conditions so we wait until horse and rider are well past before setting off.

Immediately Dave is struggling as he’s in the wrong gear to start on a hill. Pedalling takes a lot of effort as it’s not a good time to try and change to a more suitable gear and his bike doesn’t like it. Just a few yards up the hill his rear derailleur explodes, dropping tiny, important pieces all over the road. He shouts to the riders to carry on – they really wouldn’t want to stop just a short way up a steep climb like this, and they have a navigation system showing the route – and he, Richard and myself hunt for the bits of his derailleur.

Unfortunately we can’t find one of the metal bushes that holds a jockey wheel in place so we quickly decide to put Dave on the spare bike for the rest of the day. This should be easy enough, however it’s got the wrong type of pedals on it for Dave’s shoes so it’s out with the tool kit for a quick pedal switch from Dave’s bike to the spare. Saddle height is also adjusted to suit and then Dave is on his way, enjoying a chance to sprint impressively after the rest of the team. There’s a huge cheer from the other riders when he catches them up after a few miles. It’s another of the many small but significant things we’ve noticed which show how much this group is enjoying working together.

This tough day of riding refuses to get any easier. We’re near Rothbury now and the hills are as brutal as they have been all day. After every climb, when the road levels out, we think for a moment that we’ve reached the peak. Then we round a corner to see the road rising ahead of us once again. I genuinely feel sorry for the riders and wish, on their behalf, for things to get easier and for the finish of day 1 of the Missing People Cycle Challenge to come soon.

15 miles from the finish of the day the team’s facial expressions show that it can’t come soon enough. Chrissy looks to be in genuine pain but we’ve learned something about this incredible group of people. This is a group of people who I had some doubts about at the beginning. Right now I feel incredibly stupid for ever considering such a thought. This day has continually thrown up massive challenges and hugely unpleasant conditions. The riders have been forced to dig deeper than they have possibly ever had to do before, to cycle farther then they have ever done before and I’d be very surprised if they hadn’t all considered – albeit briefly – the possibility of not being able to finish the day. I know I would have done. I genuinely don’t think I’d have been able to do what this brilliant team of riders have done on this first day. I’m in genuine awe.

The final 15 miles are taken at slow pace, and there’s one more surprise. The amount of rain which has fallen has caused a stream to overflow and block the road ahead. Fortunately a quick detour is all that’s needed and the group are back on route, but it’s another thing which has been thrown into the mix to add to everything else the team have had to deal with today.

Riders are tired and can’t wait to finish but now’s not a time for a sprint finish, it’s a time for helping each other reach the end, motivating, joking, laughing. Team spirit has been fantastic all day and it’s needed more now than at any other time.

Richard and I leave it as late as we can before heading off to the hotel. We always like to get riders’ bags into their rooms before they arrive at the hotel and it’s more important today than ever before. We’re a bit pushed for time when we arrive at the hotel and as we rush to check in we are met by Nigel, the missing rider who couldn’t make the first day due to work commitments. Nigel sees we have work to do and keeps watch for the arrival of riders as Richard and I organise things so the team can head straight for their rooms, and a comforting and relaxing bath, as soon as they arrive.

And what a moment it is when they do arrive. It is without a doubt the most emotional finish I’ve experienced on any Ride2Raise challenge. There are tears of exhaustion or pain or relief or heartfelt emotion, or of all those and more. There are cheers, smiles, hugs, handshakes, back slaps… None of it is sufficient reward for what this group have been through but it’s all we’ve got. And this is just day 1 of 5.

Day 2 – Newcastle to York

Amazingly, after a bath and a recovery drink from Ride2Raise supporter For Goodness Shakes the Missing People riders were on great form at dinner last night. They all have good reason to feel good about their achievements on day 1 but I really didn’t expect them to recover as quickly as they all did. Dinner was fun, with all of the day’s events to discuss and to bring newly joined team member Nigel up to speed. Unsurprisingly everyone opted for a reasonably early night. This worked well for me as I had some bike repairs and adjustments to make before bed.

As always the hotel had supplied us with a secure room for the bikes. The room provided by the Hilton Doubletree in Newcastle is furnace-like for some reason but that’s actually quite handy as we had an assortment of wet clothing, gloves, shoes and socks which needed drying and the temperature was perfect for that. However, it’s quite an uncomfortable environment to work in!

The first and most important job was to replace Roy’s bottom bracket with a new one we’d picked up earlier in the day. An easy enough job thankfully, although annoyingly it hadn’t resolved the slight reluctance to engage all gears cleanly. Other jobs included flipping Chrissy’s handlebar stem over to raise her bars a little and give a more comfortable long-distance riding position, cleaning and oiling all the bike chains and fixing a broken pair of Chrissy’s cycling glasses. All simple enough jobs but enough to keep me up until 1:15am.

Riders and Support Crew all enjoy an excellent breakfast and we’re soon preparing to set off on day 2. Destination for today is Huby in York, 98 miles away, so it’s another long day on the road although thankfully the weather is bright and dry. There are a few aches and pains from yesterday’s ride – Scott’s shoulder, Phil’s knee and Chrissy’s shoulders – but nothing which appears to be causing too much concern. We present the hotel manager Seamus with our Charity Hero award as thanks for the help and support from the excellent Hilton Doubletree hotel and riders head off while Richard and I finish loading the support car and head off after them.

It’s a really good feeling to be back on the road with the Missing People team. In better conditions today they look a really impressive group. Dave is keeping them tight together on the road and new member Nigel is obviously a strong rider, it’s a shame he missed yesterday, and I’m sure he feels the same way. This ride means a lot to him, having recently lost his own brother after he had been missing for a while.

We’ve covered only 15 miles or so when we reach the first tough climb of the day near Craghead and Scott’s in trouble. He’s stopped at the side of the road holding his shoulder and he’s obviously in some discomfort. Apparently he shifted his riding position from in the drops to the top of the handlebars and he felt his shoulder ‘pop’ as he did so. It seems his broken collarbone from a few months ago is not fully recovered and he may have aggravated it. There’s no alternative, the ride is over for Scott. He was due to leave at the end of the day as he has work commitments overseas but it’s still devastating for him and the rest of the team. They have been working so well together and have really bonded as a team so it’s a shame he won’t be able to continue to the end of the day.

The other riders continue, slightly dejected, while we rearrange the already crowded interior of the support car and put Scott’s bike on the rack at the back. We’re carnying a lot of luggage, spares and refreshments on board so it’s not easy to make space for an extra person.

Scott’s pretty down about not being able to finish the day but as I knock up a makeshift sling to support his arm and take the weight off his shoulder it’s clear he’s made the right decision. It’s not all bad though, he gets to spend the rest of the day in the support car with Richard and me. He’ll get to hear our hilarious jokes and be an impartial judge for our musical differences!

With the riders feeling a bit down and the weather taking a turn for the worst we decide to find a coffee stop in Durham. This works well as it gives the team the chance to see that Scott’s OK and for him to wish them all well and to let them know he’ll be rooting for them from the car.

The rest of the morning’s ride is good with the team riding well as a group. Phil has mentioned his knee pain again but is riding through it with the aid of a support bandage from Richard, something of a knee pain expert as he’s suffered quite a bit with his own.

By the time we reach the lunch stop at The Eagle in Yarm the riders are very happy and have really enjoyed the last 20 miles or so. The packed lunch is very welcome as everyone is hungry and fortunately Scott hasn’t eaten everything while sitting in the back of the car!

As has been the case pretty much from the start of the ride there’s plenty of fun and joking between the group. We learn that the bear which we collected in Edinburgh has now been given the name Cuthbert. Riders have jokily named themselves after the firemen from Camberwick Green – Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble and Grubb – and Cuthbert had been Scott’s alias.

Chrissy mentions that she’s finding it difficult to shift onto the larger chainwheel on her bike so I have a quick look at it but can’t find anything wrong. Stupidly I give it a little tweak anyway which backfires within a couple of hundred yards of the restart after lunch as the chain drops off the first time she shifts to the larger chainwheel. Sheepishly I readjust the cable tension to where it had been before lunch.

Although the Support Crew try to stay close to the riders most of the time, sometimes we need to stop for supplies, to re-stock spares or to arrange things for later in the ride. Shortly after the lunch stop we have stopped to make some arrangements when the ‘phone rings. It’s Dave letting us know that Chrissy has fallen off her bike.

It’s never a good thing to hear that someone has fallen off. Fortunately it’s a very rare occurrence and Dave has reassured us that it’s not a bad fall. Chrissy had fallen on a narrow country lane and got a small splinter in her finger but that was the extent of the damage which is a relief. When we catch up with them Chrissy is smiling and keen to continue.

A short time in to the afternoon’s ride and we can see the daunting hills of the North Yorkshire Moors in the distance. The morning has been relatively easy for the riders, certainly compared with yesterday, but the rest of today will be tough at times. Even as we look at the hills in the distance the riders find themselves on a particularly tough climb to Claybank. The view from the top is spectacular and allows the riders a teasing view of what is to come.

Phil is still experiencing some discomfort from his knee and every time he mentions it we ask if he needs to stop, at least for a while. There’s not much chance of that though, he’s tough and determined. In fact he’s even considering taking off the support strapping that Richard had put on his knee. Not because he doesn’t find it helps, it does, but because the girls have been taking the mickey out of him and calling it a garter. It’s an amusing moment and everyone is still laughing as they head off into the Cleveland Hills.

The next few miles are quite tough. The Moors are exposed so there’s no escape from the conditions although today the weather has been mostly kind and the sun is shining. It’s undulating, so every fun descent is followed by an equally gruelling climb and the nature of the terrain means riders can see the ribbon of grey road snaking almost endlessly ahead of us and into the distance. This is the case for around an hour and a half and the group handle it well although one final climb, long and steep as we near the southern edge of the Moors, is particularly hard and riders stop at the top for a breather.

All except Karen that is. She knows we’re at the edge of the Moors and at the highest point for a while and that can only mean one thing, a fast, sweeping descent into the next village. She’s enjoying herself this afternoon and decides to keep going at the top and enjoy the next couple of high-speed miles at her own pace. Nobody minds. The others are happy for a chance to catch their breath and top up with water. After a short break at the top we’re off again and Richard and I speed off ahead to check on Karen who we find relaxing in the sun lying on a low wall in Helmsley waiting for the rest of us to catch up. She’s got a huge smile on her face and clearly enjoyed that last couple of miles.

After the wide open spaces of the North York Moors the final stretch of the day includes many gorgeous, scenic winding roads and rolling hills through Sproxton and beyond. Everyone is enjoying themselves. Even in the support car we’ve come to the realisation that there is actually some crossover between Richard’s musical tastes and my own and we do have some CDs we’re both happy to listen to in the car. Scott has been remaining diplomatically neutral any time we’ve asked for an opinion from the back. It’s been quite a pleasant change to have someone else in the support car. Obviously this morning’s incident was sad for Scott but we’ve had a lot of fun in the car and I hope we took his mind of the disappointment just a little.

With only a few miles left to cycle we head off for the hotel as we usually do at this point in a ride. We always aim to get checked in and the luggage into riders’ rooms so they can get off their bikes and head straight to their rooms to unwind while we check bikes over and lock them away.

We’re almost caught out by the route which includes an easy-to-miss right turn into a narrow road at the bottom of a high speed descent. Because we nearly missed it we figure there’s a good chance the riders will too so we decide to stop and wait at the entrance to the road so we can direct them.

As we wait we have a small wager about who will get to the bottom of the hill first. Given her earlier enjoyment of a similarly fast downhill section I choose Karen. Richard picks Dave and Scott chooses Phil. Excitement builds at the bottom of the hill as we expect the arrival of the riders any second. Then in the distance we can hear them approaching although not yet see them, and then finally the first rider comes in to view. As often seems to happen when we have a small wager Richard wins as Dave appears first at the bottom of the hill followed by the rest, completely bemused by why they are getting a reception not unlike the finish of a flat race at a horse track.

We direct them up the correct road and quickly make our way to Burn Hall Hotel in Huby, our overnight stop and the finish of day 2 of the Missing People Cycle Challenge. The finish is considerably less emotional than the previous day and everyone is happy, smiling and proud of themselves. It’s been another long and tough day but conditions have been good, confidence in riding ability is high and riders are enjoying each other’s company. Sadly we have to say goodbye to Scott who is off home to prepare for his overseas trip and to book an appointment with his doctor to check his shoulder.

We’re joined at dinner by Peter Lawrence, father of Claudia Lawrence who went missing three years ago. Again we’re reminded about what this ride is all about and how important the work of Missing People is. Peter tells us about the work he and the charity are doing in trying to change legislation regarding ‘presumption of death’ which would make it easier for families to resolve the affairs of missing people. It’s the kind of thing which most of us never need to think about, thankfully, but it’s something which Peter has had to deal with recently and his determination to help others in a similar situation to his own is very evident. It’s emotional and thought provoking and adds to the strong determination of the riders.

The rest of the evening is enjoyable with lots of stories to tell of the day’s ride and lots of joking between the whole group. Already it’s obvious that the team is really bonding well and Nigel has fitted in to the group perfectly. It’s been a good day!

Day 3 – York to Nottingham

Burn Hall Hotel provides us all with another great breakfast to start the day. It’s important fuel for the riders’ bodies and the support crew know that if there are problems to resolve there’s always the chance we might have to skip lunch to resolve them, so it’s good to get a decent morning feed.

It’s a beautiful morning so everyone is happy and keen to get going, but not before baring plenty of skin and applying loads of suncream. Waterproofs are kept close at hand but it’s nice for the riders to be able to enjoy the sunshine. We’ve been joined for this morning’s ride by Bob, a friend of Jane’s. He’ll only ride with us until lunch, still over 50 miles, but is keen to be a small part of this experience and it’s nice to have a new face and keen rider in the group.

After presenting the day’s Charity Hero award to Glenn Fletcher, Operations Manager of the hotel, and Chrissy deciding she prefers one of the Kask helmets we carry in the support car to her own helmet, we head off into the sun. We’re slightly concerned that having a new rider might affect the group dynamic but we needn’t have worried. Bob fits in well.

Days 1 and 2 have been incredibly varied, tough and challenging in many ways. Total climbing over those two days was 13,200 feet. An impressive figure. Today the team is still going to cover huge distance – 107 miles in fact, one of the longest distances we’ll have covered on a Ride2Raise challenge – but it should be noticeably less challenging as we’ll be climbing ‘just’ 2,300 feet. It should be a walk in the park!

We have a PR appointment early in the day. We’ll be passing through York and a police escort has been arranged to guide the team through the centre, with a photo opportunity outside York Minster and an escorted ride down The Shambles in York town centre. With a group of riders in highly visible Missing People jerseys it should be a nice opportunity to get noticed and raise the profile of the charity. There’s also a short radio interview planned with Radio York although there’s some debate over who should give the interview.

All of this takes some time and with so many miles to cover today we’re all itching to get on to the open roads. It’s a nice interlude but our impressive group of riders are used to eating up the miles so it’s nice to give the police riders a cheery wave and get on our way.

The morning ride is fairly uneventful. Beautiful scenery as always, reminding us a little at times of the poppy field flanked rural roads of the Tour de France.

It’s a good opportunity to consider the people who make up the Missing People Cycle Challenge riders:

Chrissy is a much stronger and more determined rider than we, or indeed she, realised. She’s very feminine but with a background in extreme frisbee, or ultimate frisbee – I’m not sure of the correct term – she’s tough too. As Supporter Care Officer for Missing People she’s the driving force behind putting this event on so it means a lot to her for a number of reasons. Chrissy is a very good rider with excellent technique and has impressed us with her ability to keep going when things get tough, and surprised herself too. Her ability to smile and joke when we might have expected her to find the going difficult is a very endearing trait.

Petite and sweet, Jane works for the National Policing Improvements Agency, often in conjunction with Missing People so, again, this is an important cause to her and one she’s proud to be part of. Jane’s an unassumingly good cyclist and is always smiling and cheerful. Every time I’ve pointed the camera at the group or we’ve driven past in the Support Car Jane’s the first to put on a big beaming smile and a cheery wave. She gives the impression that she’s loving every minute of this ride and has impressed throughout. We’ve had some concerns about her riding position, which looks a little strange, but it suits her and works extremely well. Jane is the leading participant whenever there’s a chance to take the mickey out of the support crew, something we like a lot.

As a Personal Trainer and triathlete Karen is clearly a strong rider. She’s at her happiest when the going gets tough and she’s very good at encouraging the other riders. Every time we stop for a breather or a refreshment break Karen is the one geeing the riders up with a “let’s get going” or a “come on everybody” but always with a big smile on her face. She’s used to getting the best performance from others and it shows. It’s good to have her on the team as her motivational skills have proved valuable when conditions have really challenged the other riders. The Missing People Cycle Challenge is the first event in a year-long series of endurance events she will undertake before turning 40, which she tells us is next year although that’s hard to believe.

Having recently lost his own brother after going missing for a while, this ride, and other fundraising events he’s doing, are extremely important to Nigel in a way which is very different from most of the other riders. The support of Missing People has been very important to him and he’s putting huge effort into giving something back. He joined the team late, missing the first day, so we’ve had limited opportunity to see how he rides but it is immediately obvious that he’s a very strong rider. He often rides at the back of the group, keeping an eye on everyone else, but once we hit a tough climb his tree-trunk legs usually power him to the top ahead of the others. Nigel’s an experienced runner and triathlete and will also be taking part in other fundraising challenges on behalf of Missing People.

Young, good looking and a strong rider Phil is everything you’d want to be. He’s been somewhat hampered by a knee problem throughout this ride but he’s ridden through it, only mentioning it every single time we stop, and has been the butt of a lot of the light-hearted jokes – and there have been a lot – on this ride, particularly because he likes to look his best – so he changes his clothing every two hours or so. Phil works at BDP, the architectural practice which has supported Missing People since the disappearance of their employee Joanna Yates in 2010 so it’s an important and emotional time for him. Phil’s a lot of fun and a great guy to have as part of the team. Oh, and I’m pretty sure the girls all fancy him too.

Something of a Father Figure, Roy is a reassuring and comforting member of the group. He also works for the Police, often in conjunction with Missing People, so this means a lot to him too. He’s a cycling machine, covering massive distance and gruelling hills with no signs of discomfort even though his bike is heavy and kitted out to carry plenty of spares and supplies. He regularly pulls supplies out of the bag he carries on the bike to help other riders when they need a snack. His bike and his well worn Brooks saddle are showing signs of their age, but Roy isn’t and his determination is inspirational to the other riders.

Unfortunately we didn’t get to spend as much time as we’d have liked with Scott thanks to his injury although the time we did was great. He’s very laid back and obviously a strong cyclist and universally liked by the rest of the group. He was also great fun in the support vehicle with Richard and myself and we hope we get the chance to meet Scott on another ride in the future. He previously worked at BDP so also has strong links with the charity and its work.

Back to the ride. It’s a relaxed and pleasant atmosphere on the ride today, an enjoyable ride in the sunshine. With little to challenge riders other than the distance to be covered there’s plenty of chatting and enjoying the scenery. Riders are swapping position well in the group, taking it in turns to lead and take the brunt of any exposure to the wind or move further back and benefit from the shielding from the other riders. It’s a well known system that Ride2Raise Ride Managers encourage as it works extremely well on our long distance rides.

We stop a couple of times to replenish drinks and one of the morning refreshment stops turns somewhat embarrassing. It’s best that I’m a little prudent with the details other than to explain that although we always try to find proper toilets for riders to use for their ‘comfort breaks’ there are times when it’s just not possible. This was one such stop. One of our female riders needed to answer the call of nature and chose what appeared to be a secluded and well hidden spot to discreetly do so. I’ll just say that this turned out to be a slightly inaccurate assumption and we received some verbal criticism in a… let’s say, ‘crude and unexpected’ way from a somewhat surprising source. It was an unfortunate event and any embarrassment caused was entirely unintentional but the response we got generated a lot of giggling for the rest of the day.

Lunch is at the Turnpike in Bawtry, a high street pub, which is unusual for us. We usually prefer a more rural lunch stop but we’d done some online smartphone research in the support car – while disagreeing, as usual, about which is better, the iPhone or the Samsung Galaxy S2. Richard has one and I have the other – and the Turnpike seemed a good place to stop. It was a good choice. The food was excellent and manageress Linda couldn’t do enough to help us. The hospitality was severely tested as Phil retold this morning’s embarrassing situation, including the ‘crude and unexpected’ response, in a loud voice as Linda arrived with the food. We think she saw the funny side…

Richard and I took turns to keep an eye on the bikes outside the pub, so once I’d finished lunch I took my turn outside. I had a couple of bike issues to see to. Chrissy had mentioned that her bike had been creaking and clicking all morning. Any of us who ride will know how annoying noises like this can be on a bike and they can also indicate a problem which needs to be addressed. After some investigation I noticed that the rear wheel bearings were loose and the movement in the rear hub was causing the creaking.

Fortunately the second spare bike we were carrying had the same gearing so I quickly swapped over the rear wheels. Also a couple of bikes needed the bar tape re-wrapped as it was coming loose. Phil’s was coming loose, according to him, because of his “bear-like grip”, which raised a smile and generated a few jokes at his expense.

Lunch over and immediately on setting off it’s apparent that Chrissy’s bike is silent again. It’s a relief to her and the other riders that the constant creaking and clicking are gone. A few muscles and knees were beginning to creak a little though after so many miles, but we had a little surprise for them on that score later in the day.

It was a little cooler after lunch, and rain looked a possibility, but it soon brightened up again and the ride continued in much the same way as the morning. Great scenery, a not too challenging route and a fantastic sense of friendship and camaraderie developing, and lots of laughter.

At the afternoon coffee stop riders pester us – in the way a small child does – for an ice cream stop in the next few miles. Richard and I have developed an almost telepathic Support Crew understanding so we stress how important it is that we finish on time today, but we say we’ll see how it goes. As we all set off again we both know that our task is to find ice creams, which we do after a bit of a hunt, but we hide them in the coolbox ready to play a little trick.

We stop with around 20 miles left and disappoint the riders with the information that we haven’t been able to source ice creams. Of course we then retrieve them from the cool box to the delight of the team. It’s a funny moment, although as the saying goes ‘I guess you had to be there’. There have been so many funny moments already on this ride. It’s hard to put those moments across in this diary, but I can’t stress enough how important these have been to such a fantastic atmosphere throughout the ride. We really are all having a great time.

The last 20 miles of the day are much the same as the rest of the day and riders arrive at the Rutland Square Hotel in Nottingham feeling tired but happy. Karen has enjoyed the day’s ride a little less than the previous days and that’s understandable. It’s been less challenging and she prefers the variety of a day with more undulations and more need to change riding position, but it’s still been another really good day in the saddle.

The surprise we have in store for the riders is that Richard has arranged a massage for everyone with Amanda from Re:Vive Nottingham in a room we’ve set aside at the hotel. It’s very welcome after three tough days. Those aching muscles get relieved and relaxed before the final two days. It’s a nice touch and everyone comes down to dinner feeling great. Well, as great as you can feel after 320 miles of tough cycling and challenging conditions.

We have a couple of jobs to do on the bikes. Earlier in the day we’d picked up a replacement jockey wheel for Dave’s bike from the very helpful Cyclescene in York, meaning I can repair his rear derailleur so he can ride on his own bike tomorrow. He’s been on the spare bike all day and it turns out he’s broken that one too! The rear wheel is looking decidedly second-hand. While I do this, Richard flips Karen’s stem – with a little help from me I must add – to give her a slightly less extreme riding position. Somehow this elevates him to the role of Karen’s personal mechanic for the rest of the ride. Even though he’s the chief raconteur and I’m the mechanic on this ride I’m fine with that. Really, I am…

Jane’s family and her boyfriend have come to meet us at the hotel to say hello and offer some encouragement. It’s nice to meet the people supporting the achievements of our riders and we enjoy re-living some of the tales of the ride so far in the bar after dinner. After they leave we all consider an early night but Nottingham is home to England’s oldest inn and Jane knows where it is so we all head off for a historical nightcap.

Actually, Jane’s knowledge of the location of Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem is questionable but eventually we find it in time for last orders. It’s an interesting place and our conversation is equally interesting, covering subjects such as fetish clubs and the goth music scene. Unusual subjects for discussion on a charity bike ride, surely?

Day 4 – Nottingham to Northampton

Another morning in a great hotel means another big breakfast to set us up for the day. I’m sometimes surprised that everyone makes it down to breakfast. Maybe it’s just me but the temptation to stay in bed, after 100 miles of cycling the previous day, must cross the mind of every rider on a multi-day long distance ride. I know that sometimes I feel like sleeping for two days after a gentle 30-mile ride!

That’s not the case for the Missing People team though. Everyone’s keen to get going so we load the overnight bags into the support car, fill water bottles and load everyone up with Soreen snacks, Qimmiq energy gels and make sure Roy’s got plenty of supplies in the bag on his bike rack. We’re ready to go.

Dave is back on his own bike, a lovely Comtat frame which he recently purchased, fitted with Campagnolo running gear and with newly repaired rear derailleur. Karen’s bike should be more comfortable with the raised handlebar position and Chrissy still has the rear wheel from the spare bike which we fitted yesterday.

There is some debate about which direction we need to go on leaving the hotel and, as usual, we initially choose the wrong way but we’re soon back on the meticulously planed route and day 4 is underway.

As is often the case it takes a while to escape from the cluttered rush hour traffic-filled roads of the built up city centre but we are soon out onto the quiet and scenic countryside just outside Nottingham. One of the key ingredients of a Ride2Raise cycle challenge is that we avoid busy roads as much as possible. It takes a lot of time and effort to plan a route in this way but it’s safer and much more enjoyable for the riders.

It also means we get to see some beautiful parts of the country which general visitors to the area may miss. This morning is no different and despite the fact that it’s a Tuesday morning, when most of us would normally be at a desk or stuck in traffic on the way to a meeting, we are actually in the middle of quiet rural countryside with fantastic views. For most of the morning the only sounds we notice are the ‘moos’, ‘baaas’, ‘tweets’ and ‘chirps’ of the wildlife around us. Hmmm… a day in the office or a day on a Ride2Raise cycle challenge Which would you choose?

Total distance for today will be the shortest of this challenge at ‘only’ 73 miles, and the first 50 miles are fairly flat. It’s a pleasant and almost relaxing morning. In the support car we notice a couple of things. The first is that Phil has taken to greeting the support car with a cheeky two-fingered salute, and the second is that every time we pass the group of riders, if I lean out of the window and ask Dave, the Ride Manager, if everything is OK, without fail, he always answer “OK” or “No problems”.

We like to keep ourselves amused in the car so we hatch a little plan. The next time we pass the group I lean out of the window and say to Dave “Look out, there’s a Wildebeest ahead crossing the road”. Unsurprisingly his response is “OK, no problem” as he carries on, unflustered.

We’re easily amused in the car so it gives us a moment of humour, but it’s also testament to Dave‘s quality as a Ride Manger. He’s been unflappable throughout this ride and has been instrumental in bringing this group of riders together, both physically and mentally, through tough days and huge distances, with hardly a single problem. It’s easy to forget that our Ride Mangers go through the same challenges as the other riders – and Dave’s suffered a few aches and pains on this ride – and we rely on them massively. I can’t praise Dave enough, and he’s got a bit of a fan club forming in the Missing People riders as well.

The morning coffee and cake stop is at the Carrington Arms in Ashby Foalville. Everyone has enjoyed the scenery of today’s ride so far and it’s a nice place to stop but everyone knows that most of today’s 3,400 feet of climbing is still to come.

But not yet. We head back on to the picturesque lanes and ride through lovely, quiet villages full of typical rural activity. Grass is being mowed, bushes neatly trimmed and home-grown vegetables are displayed for sale next to honesty boxes outside carefully tended gardens. It’s peaceful and pleasant and time seems unimportant. No supermarkets or industrial estates, no rushing around, no suits, no constant ringing of ‘phones. People smile as we ride past and the few cars we encounter give us plenty of room.

It’s a good time to mention the effort that Ride2Raise MD, Richard, has put in to planning the route for this ride. He spends a huge amount of time researching and mapping routes for every Ride2Raise challenge, often spending weekends away from his young family driving around the areas we’ll be passing through to find the best roads for cycling and some superb places to stop for lunch.

We take in the scenery and admire the beauty of the countryside. The cyclists are also enjoying this, it’s a chance to chat, to enjoy being out on a bike and to take in the enormity of their efforts. Riding from Edinburgh to London is a huge challenge and can include some incredibly tough moments, but today proves that there can also be some time for reflection and to fully enjoy the experience while clocking up the miles. And the sheep. Everywhere we look there are sheep!

Lunch is near Great Glen. We find a nice garden centre with comfortable outside seating and, as the weather has been kind, we take advantage of the opportunity to relax and sunbathe for a while.

There are still about 35 miles to go until the finish of day 4 and it’s important that we finish in good time – England are playing Ukraine tonight in an important Euro 2012 football match so we can’t hang around too long! We’re soon back on our way and the route is much the same as this morning, with nothing to challenge the riders too much.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s far from easy, but it’s actually been a good thing that riders haven’t had to push themselves too hard so far today. Tiredness is beginning to show, unsurprisingly, in the group. The miles will always take a toll and by the end of today riders will have covered around 400 of them. The team spirit is still incredibly strong and we’re all still having a lot of fun but the aches and pains are becoming more prominent.

The girls in the group have asked Richard and I to take some video footage of them cycling from behind them so they can look at their techniques on the bikes (no, really, they have…). We’re happy to oblige and find some suitable stretches of road to do just that. We’ll show them the video later this evening but we can see – as we have all through this ride – that they, and all the other riders in the group, look really good on the road. We’ve been impressed with every single one of them since day 1.

The more relaxed atmosphere of the day has led to a change in the music in the support car this afternoon. Instead of the electronic house sounds such as Booka Shade, which we both like, this afternoon we have opted for some culture with Stravinsky on the stereo. He’s one of the most innovative classical music composers and it’s a good fit with our often wildly differing musical tastes. I don’t think we’ll ever agree on what constitutes good music but in Booka Shade and Stravinsky we seem to have found some common ground to go along with our mutual love of 80s pop music.

We’ve hit a few road closures on the route today for some reason. Usually this is no problem for the cyclists although we may have to take a short detour in the car. We find another so Dave cycles ahead alone to check we can get through. He quickly returns with the news that it’s OK to go through to be confronted by Phil, hidden from view from everyone except Dave coming back the other way, taking a ‘comfort break’ in the bushes which comes as a bit of a surprise!

As the cyclists get closer to the day’s finish in Northampton the roads become more challenging. Some of the climbs are quite tough. This can be difficult after a relatively straightforward day of cycling but we’ve made sure throughout the day that everyone knows the final third of the day will be harder than the rest and they are all well prepared.

The last few miles pass without any issues so Richard and I are happy to head off to the hotel with around 10 miles to go to get all the bags into the rooms, so riders can quickly relax and unwind at the hotel. And be ready in good time for the football of course…

We’re met at the hotel by Karen Robinson, another member of staff from Missing People who will be joining the ride for the final day. She’s excited to be joining the group but a little nervous as she’s not a very experienced cyclist.

Soon the riders arrive, happy and actually pleased that the final few miles of the ride have been tough. It adds to the sense of achievement which has been prevalent all through this challenge.

The Hotel Ibis in Northampton, our overnight stop, is busy. It’s largely populated on a weekday evening such as today by business people preparing for tomorrow’s meetings, so the sight of Richard and I struggling to squeeze the bikes into a lift which is smaller than ideal, coupled with a lift operating system which seems to need a degree in engineering and a manual dexterity which we don’t seem to possess is amusing at best, embarrassing at worst.

We eventually get all of the bikes safely tucked away in their secure overnight home. There are a couple of little things which need to be done before tomorrow’s ride but for now dinner and the football are slightly more pressing.

After a quick shower we meet in the hotel bar before dinner. Jane and Chrissy are keen to see the video footage of them on their bikes so we show them some footage taken on my phone from earlier in the day…

Please note this video has sound.

Richard and I think this is the funniest thing ever – we’re easily amused – and the girls see the funny side of it too but we earn a slap and a punch for our troubles! The real footage looks good and proves that nobody needs to be concerned about riding technique. We think everyone’s riding as well as any group we’ve ever had on a Ride2Raise challenge.

Please note this video has sound.

Dinner is at Pizza Express in Northampton and as always it’s a lot of fun, talking about the day’s ride, what’s to come tomorrow and a more general observation from the riders that Richard and I are like the Mum and Dad to the group, although we’re not sure who is which. I also earn the nickname of Dobby. I hope it’s because I’m always running around doing the errands and the dirty jobs rather than because of any physical similarities to the Harry Potter character which inspired the nickname.

Despite resistance from some of the group we get to watch the second half of the England match and with Wayne Rooney scoring the winning goal, conversation – at least for those of us who are follically challenged (me) – turns to hair transplants and whether I’d have one. As someone who has sported spiky coloured hair, a Keeganesque bubble perm and a pony tail in the past my answer is ‘yes’, but I’m sure that’s more than anyone needs to know.

Back at the hotel after the game I leave everyone else in the bar and head upstairs to the bike storage room. I have Nigel’s creaking headset and the hub on the wheel which was removed from Chrissy’s bike to sort out. Nigel’s headset is stripped down, checked, greased and reassembled and Chrissy’s wheel gets similar treatment and is fitted back on her bike, with the other wheel returned to the spare bike. I also check over ‘new’ Karen’s bike. All seems to be fine so we’ll have 8 perfect bikes on the road for the final day tomorrow. It’s a late night but it’s worth it.

Day 5 – Northampton to Richmond

It’s hard to believe that it was only four days ago we set off from a cold and wet Edinburgh town centre with a massive challenge ahead of us. Within a few miles the Missing People team of riders were faced with some of the toughest conditions we’ve ever experienced on a Ride2Raise challenge. The whole day was brutal and we’d almost lost daylight on one of the longest days of the year by the finish.

How this incredible group of riders managed to get back on their bikes the following day amazed me then and still does now. And yet now, over 400 miles from the start, and with so many stories and tales to tell, I genuinely believe there is nothing we could have encountered which would have broken this group.

They’ve encouraged each other all the way. They’ve laughed and joked together, had fun together, felt pain together and bonded as a group in a way we’ve been massively impressed by. The Missing People 2012 Edinburgh to Richmond Cycle Challenge will never be forgotten by the riders or, indeed, by us at Ride2Raise.

However, all good things must come to an end and we’re on a tight deadline to finish today’s 83-mile ride – by no means a walk in the park – in Richmond Green. This means an early 7:30am start so it’s a good job the bikes were checked and serviced last night.

Feelings are mixed. There’s plenty of enthusiasm as always but ‘New’ Karen is understandably nervous. As a newcomer to the group and a relatively inexperienced rider she doesn’t know what to expect and we’re all a little concerned that she may not be able to keep pace with the others.

On top of that there’s a little sadness running through the group. We all know that this is the final day. It’s the last time this diverse group of riders will ride together for this extremely worthy cause. The heartbreaking stories we’ve heard from Elizabeth Templeton and Peter Lawrence along the way, and the presence of Nigel Emery in the group, have motivated us all and added extra poignancy to the efforts of everyone involved. It will be genuinely disappointing to wake up tomorrow knowing we won’t be sharing another day together.

With all those thoughts running through our minds there is some trepidation as riders make their way around the busy streets of Northampton in the morning rush aiming for some rural tranquility.

Fortunately riders don’t have to wait long. We’re soon off the main roads and away from the dual carriageways preferred by the cars and vans heading to offices and factories, and back onto the winding lanes and pretty villages which are so much nicer for the cyclists.

We’ve been keeping a close eye on New Karen on her hybrid bike, and checking to make sure she’s OK whenever we can but we needn’t have worried. She’s fitting in well and looks good on her bike. Pace is good and the group are back in full flow.

As we follow the riders we notice through Twitter that two of Karen 1’s Personal Training ‘celebrity’ clients have sponsored her efforts so we pass on our thanks to Jenni Falconer and Sophie Raworth for their support. It’s another indication of how important the Missing People cause is to so many people.

Around 20 miles into the day’s ride we stop at a picturesque picnic area for a quick ‘comfort break’. We know we have to make good time today so encourage the riders to head off again as quickly as possible and before we follow them I need to make a similar pit stop myself.

As I’ve said before, sometimes we can’t find the most appropriate places for this but we’re in a very quiet, wooded area so I find a secluded and hidden spot to relieve myself. However, before I can do so I’m greeted by relentless barking from what I can only assume is a killer Bassett Hound employed to prevent just this kind of loutish behaviour.

Any efforts I make to pacify and silence this vicious (actually quite docile) beast are pointless, even when the owner – who is just taking him for a peaceful walk in the countryside – appears and clips him back on a lead. In fact he’s called in reinforcements as another dog appears from nowhere and the relentless barking, now from both sides, continues.

I sheepishly head back, unrelieved, to the support car where Richard has been waiting. He’s heard the commotion. “That went well” is his sarcastic comment as I get back in the car. It’s a funny moment. It can be difficult to spend so much time together in the support car but Richard and I have spent every minute of every day of this epic event sitting next to each other and we’ve had a brilliant time. The banter and mickey taking between us has helped and we do a lot of it.

Back on the road with the riders and we notice that pace has dropped noticeably. Maybe the early start is taking its toll. There’s no doubt that tiredness is affecting the group but a bit of a gee-up from Dave and Karen’s usual motivational encouragement sees an improvement and as the pace picks up we move the planned lunch stop a little further along the route.

For most of the morning it’s a fairly uneventful ride. Geography and the need to finish within a fairly tight time window dictate that the route is a little less challenging today. The weather has been kind again, the sun is shining and the sky is blue. It’s the time of year when the green of the English countryside is at its most vivid. It’s another pleasant morning ride and everyone is smiling and happy. However, it’s not without its moments.

As we near lunchtime we hit the first decent climb of the day. ‘New’ Karen has worked well in the group but this will be her first really substantial climb. It won’t be easy for the others either so Richard and I go ahead in the support car and wait at the top for the riders to reach us and stop for a breather.

Looking back down the hill, after a while I catch a glimpse of the bright yellow of the Missing People jerseys the riders are wearing before they disappear out of view on a slight bend some 200 yards or so from the top. I ready myself near the top with camera in hand to catch the pain of the climb on the riders’ faces and wait for them to reappear.

…and wait for them to reappear. And wait… A little concerned I walk back down the slope and spot the riders at the side of the road. Obviously they hadn’t known we were waiting at the top, or indeed how far they had left to climb so they’d stopped to take a breather. I shout and give them a wave and they cycle to the top to meet us.

We ask how it was and opinions of the climb differ somewhat. Karen 1: “That was great!”. Karen 2: “That was absolutely terrible!” She’s almost in tears of exhaustion at the top. It’s been a bit of a surprise and an eye opener which gives her something of an insight into the challenges which have been faced daily by the rest of the group since day 1. She made it though and gains some respect from the others in return.

Fortunately lunch is only a short ride from here so Karen, and the others, soon get a chance to recover properly. We stop in Ley Hill and choose the nicest looking of the two neighbouring pubs for our lunch stop. It’s a good choice. The sandwiches in The Swan are excellent and the management very helpful.

As always it would be very easy to sit in the sun and relax with a long cool drink for hours, watching the cricket on the village green over the road. There’s no time for that today though as once again we’re aware of the need to keep moving and Richard and I encourage the riders to get back underway quickly, which they do, although Phil is a little behind the rest as he’s in the toilet changing into another outfit for the rest of the ride. We give him plenty of stick as he heads off after the others.

Despite the slightly slow pace at the start of the day, progress has been very good and our lunch stop was around 10 miles beyond our originally planned spot. This means there are only around 30 miles to the finish of the 2012 Missing People Cycle Challenge. That seems almost unbelievable. In the grand scheme of this huge challenge that’s like popping to the corner shop for a pint of milk!

Of course it’s very easy for me to say that. The biggest challenge for me, as I may have mentioned, has been Richard’s choice of music in the car.

Almost immediately after we’re back on the road after lunch there’s another tough climb. I’m sure riders didn’t need that on full stomachs, although at least the energy stocks are nicely replenished. Offered the choice of Richard’s music in the car or a tough climb straight after lunch I’m sure most of them would have chosen the aural rather than the physical assault as the least challenging. They’d have been wrong, but I’m sure that’s what they’d have chosen.

It’s a nice tight group on the road for the afternoon. I think there’s a realisation that despite the huge number of miles behind them, and the exhaustion that brings, this group want to look the part at the finish in Richmond Green. They want to be seen as an impressive, close-knit team when the police escort which has been planned to greet us in Richmond for the final few miles leads them to the welcoming party on the Green.

As the miles disappear behind them we sense a slight change in the riders. Mixed with the ever-present determination, and the newly discovered disappointment that such an enjoyable experience is almost over, there’s a happy and fun atmosphere in the group now the finish is finally within reach and Richard and I are getting lots of light-hearted badinage. There are approximately 15 miles to go so maybe our support role is over and the riders don’t need us any more. We don’t mind at all. Everyone in the group has been the target of some light-hearted banter at some point over the past five days and we’re responsible for dishing out quite a lot of it. We’re happy to take some back.

We start to edge out of the quiet greenery and scenery and into the weekday rush which is normal at 3 o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon near London. Traffic, high streets, parked cars clogging the roads, people, even, are all things we haven’t seen much of since Saturday and we haven’t particularly missed. There’s been a sense of solitary isolation as we’ve worked our way down the country seemingly, at times, massively far removed from anything else which is going on around us. The roads and routes have kept us away from all of those distractions and it’s a bit of a strange feeling as they start to reappear. It’s a realisation that we’re about to return to an almost forgotten normality of life. I’m not entirely sure it’s a nice realisation.

Just a mile or so from our rendezvous with the police Richard and I spot an ‘exotic dance’ club at the side of the road so we park in the car park and pretend we’re heading inside as the riders pass, shouting more light-hearted abuse at us. We’re quickly back in the car and pass the group so we can find the police cycle escort which is waiting for us. We’re very slightly later than had been planned but we spot them waiting as arranged and as we, and the riders all stop in a built-up street just over a mile from Richmond Green there’s a collective realisation that, effectively, this is it. It’s all over.

As we chat with the police riders to make sure we know what the ride to the Green will be like, riders text friends and family, or update Twitter and Facebook accounts with the news.

The final mile is cycled slowly as an impressive looking group. Two police riders at the front in high-vis vests, the seven Missing People riders in bright orangey yellow jerseys in the middle with Dave in his Ride2Raise kit, two more high-vis police riders at the back of the group and the heavily sign written support car a little way behind.

Traffic around the Green, and the fact that we need to find a parking space, mean that Richard and I almost miss the finish as the riders cycle onto Richmond Green to a heroes’ welcome from the large crowd awaiting their arrival. It’s an impressive finish with banners and balloons, cheers and hugs, champagne spraying and laughter.

Bikes are almost thrown to the ground and forgotten as friends, families and well-wishers congratulate the riders.

After speeches and words of thanks from Martin Houghton-Brown, Chief Executive of Missing People, and Councillor Rita Palmer, Mayor of Richmond, riders finally have the chance to take in what they have achieved. In general it’s a nice and extremely satisfying feeling and spirits are high as we enjoy the hospitality laid on for the group in a pub on the corner of the Green. However I notice that everyone takes time for a little silent reflection, and possibly to shed a tear, for what they have been through over the past five days and, most importantly, why.

Having spent so much time with the group it’s nice to be able to properly unwind together now it’s all over. I’m thrown the keys to the support car so I guess that means I won’t be ‘unwinding’ quite as much as some.

It’s hard to close off this diary at this point and still sound sincere but if it was possible to draw up a blueprint for the perfect Ride2Raise charity fundraising event then – with only the smallest of adjustments – this would be it.

Obviously we’d have liked Scott to have been part of the ride all the way to the finish and without aggravating his injury, and we’d have loved it if Nigel could have been with us for day 1, but that’s about it. Other than that everything has been so good, so enjoyable and such an amazing experience I wouldn’t change a thing.

And there’s a very obvious reason for that. Eight incredible people decided at some point that they wanted to make a difference. They decided that Missing People meant something to them and they decided that one of the things they would do to make that difference was to take on this daunting challenge to ride 500 miles from Edinburgh to Richmond to raise some money. I don’t know what they expected as they signed up for the ride, or if they really acknowledged how tough it was going to be.

I know I didn’t. I hadn’t given it much thought. Every Ride2Raise challenge is enjoyable but I hadn’t expected such a level of camaraderie and fun, or to be so inspired, or to have so many adventures, jokes and laughter, and to have, frankly, one of the most memorable and eye-opening experiences of my life – and I wasn’t even riding!

To the riders, you’ve been amazing. Thank you so much.

The Missing People Cycle Challenge riders

Roy Binden
Jane Birkett
Chrissy Birtwistle
Nigel Emery (Days 2-5)
Phil Gray
Scott Mcneeley (Days 1-2)
Karen Robinson (Day 5)
Karen Weir

The Ride2Raise support team

Richard King
Dave Townson (Ride Manager)
Tim Watling

Ride Diary and Photographs

Tim Watling