500 miles and beyond

I’ve just cycled 500 miles to raise money for Good Hope hospital in Birmingham. I did it over a few weeks, interspersed with all the other things I usually do, which made it a lot more feasible than trying to do it over a weekend (which I also think would have killed me). 500 miles might not seem like a lot, but I had only been cycling for just over a month when I started (after 10+ years without a bike), and I knew that I would likely have to do most of that distance as part of commutes, hospital visits, shopping trips, and other scenarios that would require me to carry a lot of luggage.

The first few days were very hard. I did a lot of road cycling and quickly remembered why I had stopped cycling in the first place. I then talked to other people who cycled in Birmingham and found a couple of canal routes I wasn’t aware of. I also explored the bit of north Birmingham between Good Hope hospital and my house and found a few miles of parks that meant I could avoid the nightmare that is Sutton town centre during rush hour. This made things easier, and I did the first bit of my challenge in and around Sutton and other parts of north Birmingham, with the occasional canal adventure in the south.

I also started cycling home from work some days. It’s a 9 mile ride (8 miles of which is canal towpaths), and I initially thought it might be too far to do every day. Towards the end I did do it every day, and also cycled to work the same way a couple of days a week. Most of my last 200 miles was done this way, and I’ve found it a much more pleasant experience than cycling on the roads.

I did manage a few trips where I got to cycle for pleasure, rather than to move between two places I had to be. I’ve been to Sandwell Valley Country Park, done some of the Rea Valley route, and done a 25 mile exploration of the Grand Union Canal in blistering sunshine. I certainly plan on doing more of that sort of cycling in the near future.

When I started cycling I was carrying everything in a rucksack (largely because the first bike I used didn’t have any other storage). I’ve since switched to panniers for most trips, which reduces the strain on my back significantly, although does add width that can be a problem in some tunnels. It means I can carry a lot now though, and a weekly shop is now very much a possibility (including wine, jars of curry sauce, and other heavy/bulky things). I’m also still refining what I carry with me on a daily basis, although I have found a use for most of the tools in my bag (especially puncture repair tools), and there is probably not much I would want to discard at this point.

I’ve completed 500 miles, but I’m not stopping there. The challenge continues until September, so I’m going to keep on cycling and see how far I get (I’m hoping for at least 700 miles). I’ll be tracking my progress on the website, and am still very much interested in further sponsorship.

Why I’m cycling 500 miles

The NHS have helped us a lot over the last few weeks. Without the NHS we would probably have remortgaged our house by now (or tried to), and we have met lots of skilled, dedicated, and above all nice people.

They are struggling though. From old computers, to inefficient processes, to an IT system that doesn’t seem to be fully joined up, there is so much that is crying out for more funding, more fixing, and a little love.

That’s why I’m cycling 500 miles and asking for £500 in sponsorship I generally hate asking for things, but it turns out when it’s not for me then I don’t mind. I in no way believe that doing this will change lives (apart from perhaps mine), but it’s one of those small things that might at least contribute to something bigger, and should at least give something back.

Six months of the Rough Trade Club

This afternoon I cycled to the post office in Erdington town centre to collect my Rough Trade Club record of the month, which was the eponymous debut by LUMP (Laura Marling and Mike Lindsay). I don’t really have a bag that is ideal for both cycling and carrying vinyl (recommendations welcome), but despite a slightly unbalanced cycle home (I did a food shop too, so added weight and bulk to the already oddly shaped bag that seemed to want to end up on my hip rather than my back) it did remind me very much of the many times I cycled to record shops when I was younger, and how much more of an occasion it makes getting hold of new music that the straightforward but soulless downloading or streaming that is largely how most of us consume music in the iTunes and Spotify age.

It’s a good record too. Short, but well worth a listen. In fact, everything Rough Trade have sent me over the last six months has really hit the spot, and has represented well over 50% of music I’ve bought this year so far. Yes, that’s 6 records – not 60 as would be the case in previous years. I’ve made a playlist (on Spotify, of course), just in case there is anyone reading this who might want to dive into some new music.

Cycling in Birmingham

At the moment I’m juggling hospital visits, work, being a responsible pet owner, and all the other things I do. This has lead to a few logistical challenges, but since I was kindly loaned a bike a couple of weeks ago I have found new ways to do everything I need to do and still manage to see new parts of my local environment.

I’m not a fan of cycling on busy roads, and although I’ve done it a few times recently, it’s very much a means to and end, and not an enjoyable journey. The ones I’ve enjoyed are where I can use parks, cycle paths and canals to get around – and Birmingham is surprisingly good for those kind of routes if you know where to look.

The journeys I’ve particularly enjoyed (with links to routes) are:

The park near my house to Good Hope Hospital via Sutton Park – I’ve done this one 3 times now, and it doesn’t go anywhere near a main road until Sutton Town centre. One day I will explore the top part of Sutton Park too, but that’s a trip for another day.

An alternate morning commute – This takes me to my local train station, but via two parks rather than a busy main road. It’s quite short (I walk most of this with the dog a couple of times a week), but it’s a really pleasant cycle when the weather is nice.

Good Hope Hospital to the park near my house via lots of parks and cycle paths – After cycling back from hospital twice on the roads, I vowed never to do it again (especially during rush hour). This route got my home more quickly, despite being longer, and is at least 2/3 off road. It’s also a really lovely ride through leafy cycle paths and past meandering streams.

Witton Lakes to the City Centre, via the canals – I’ve dubbed this one the canal graffiti tour, but it’s not quite as bad as it sounds, and it ends up at the Mailbox with only one tiny bit of road cycling on the way. I like graffiti quite a lot, so I suspect I’ll be coming back to this one with a proper camera at some point.

All of this has been really enjoyable, so I guess I’ll be buying a bike (or two?) soon.