This, the fifth Truants Charity Bike Ride, will go down in the annals as The Grand National. No, we weren’t riding horses, though that would have been a damned sight easier. We were on bikes. Girls’ bikes, indeed, for some. Some of them decorated with flowers and statues of the Madonna. But the number of fallers in Mexico 2015 far outstripped anything previously experienced by our gallant band of masochistic money-raisers.
At one point during our three-day 210-kilometre ride, one tenth of our 54-strong group was in casualty at the back of the battle bus. Well, not one tenth, because that would be 5.4 people, and that’s just silly. But you get my drift. And six is a lot of folk in trouble…
This, it was unanimously agreed, was the toughest ride yet. After the fearsome potholes of Cuba and the godawful gradients of Morocco, we all thought Mexico would be a doddle. Why we should think that, I have no idea. But think it we did. How wrong we were!
There were no potholes. There were no godawful gradients. But what there was, instead, was heat. Cloying, breath-stealing, sneak-up-on-you-when-you-least-expect-it heat. Mexico didn’t look tricky. But by jingo it was. Just ask Big Frank, a man who goes on holiday to war zones. Just ask Carol, who single-handedly ran the RAF, or something. Just ask Michael Hole, who is Michael Hole, for heaven’s sake! Just ask me, because I’m… well actually, don’t ask me, because I’m a bit of a wuss. But you get the picture. Normally stout yeomen were forced to go crying to the doc just to get through this one. Lance Armstrong may have been done for all the cycling drugs he wolfed down. But if we hadn’t had aspirin, paracetamol, codeine and whatever that stuff they use for rehydrating you is called, then it’s frankly not certain we all would have made it.
Three days in the Yucatan might sound like a Michael Palin travelogue, but I don’t remember him coming off his bike at 25mph and tearing an inch off the top layer of his skin! As we all get older, fatter, and stupider, brushes with death in far-flung corners of the earth appear to be getting more commonplace on these Truants rides. And under those circumstances you might well wonder what on earth drives us to keep doing it. Well, there are two reasons.
- We’re all scared of Truants founder and shepherd Rod Smallwood. So we can’t back out.
- Raising money for our three chosen charities matters to us. Really
Let’s face it; we’re the lucky ones. We get to suffer heat exhaustion in far-flung corners of the word. We get to stay in one-star hotels where the toilets back up at the first flush. We get to cycle for hours and hours with the torrents of sweat making us look even uglier than we already are.
But we’re all healthy, we’re all happy and we’re all, y’know, doing OK out of life. There are many, many people who really, really aren’t. That’s why we’re truly the lucky ones. And that’s why we’re prepared to put our hands in our pockets to pay all our costs to go and suffer in Mexico (which, I now know, is a long, long, long way away) for three days of hard, pitiless, gear-grinding bike riding. Yes just 3 days, and everyone is forced to fly out at the back of the plane, unknown territory for a large number of this team but a massively fine-able offence for any upgrades! The bumpy 3 hour bus transfer after the eternity in immigration also did not go down too well, at least not until the cold beers arrived.
Now I don’t want you to be playing the world’s smallest violin for us. There are laughs by the suitcaseful. There are friendships that are founded in adversity that will last a lifetime. There are amazing sights to be seen every step of the way. And yes, I admit it, there’s a free T-shirt – even if it is bleedin’ orange this time! But as I dug deep one more time and pedalled just as hard as I could down one more seemingly never-ending Mexican road in the Yucatan, I still knew exactly why I was doing it. Because the money we raise thanks to the extraordinary generosity of every single person who sponsors us makes such a difference. So if we ever fall down, over or off, so what? There’s always a Truant to pick you up again, isn’t there? And not everybody can say that.
Howard “The Scribe” Johnson