It was with a healthy degree of trepidation that a crew of Lycia clad, access aficionados rolled out of KHL’s headquarters in East Sussex, UK. En route to Amsterdam in time for the start of Apex 2017, the 10 riders, fuelled by bacon sandwiches and blind panic, set off on a gruelling 300-mile trek through four countries. Ahead lay fierce winds and excessive helpings of ham and cheese.
Ranging from the ages of 29 to 63, the riders included SkyJack’s Charlie Patterson, Mastclimbers LLC’s Mike Pitt, Ian James from Bronto Skylift, Niftylift’s Tom James, Barry and Kat Donaghy from Training 4 Safety, Linamar’s Ken McDougall, Andy Pearson from Prolift Access, Mike Southway, and myself.
The aim of the ride, apart from the personal challenge, of course, was to raise money and awareness for the Lighthouse Construction Industry Charity. Thankfully, we weren’t expected to carry all the weeks’ provisions on our backs, or even navigate our way to the finish line, both of these responsibilities lay in the capable hands of Rich and Guy from Adventure Café Cycle Tours, the company tasked with leading the group.
All accountability suitably shifted, the group made its way to the port of Dover. At under 60 miles, we all foolishly suspected this first leg to be a gentle introduction to the tour – despite ample warnings from the Adventure Café team. How wrong we were. The northeast coast of France is famously flat, but sadly the same can’t be said about the High Weald and Kent Downs in the UK. Day one was arduous, to say the least, topped off in the afternoon by a relentless climb from the outskirts of Folkestone to the pinnacle of Dover’s famous White Cliffs. With aching calves, but high spirits, the team boarded the ferry for the short crossing to Calais, France.
Needless to say, the first night of the trip was celebrated with some fantastic French seafood and one or two bottles of red wine, with a few eye-watering local beers thrown in for good measure.
Rising early, and each decked out in a fresh pair of cycle shorts, the team left Calais behind, following the canals to the Belgian border. What started as a series of well-marked cycle tracks, with the odd inexplicably placed bollard, soon turned into a particularly bumpy gravel track. After half an hour or so, we all had sore derrières, of varying degrees – a trend that would continue during the trip.
With no hills, riding through Flanders was a lot less taxing than the previous day and we arrived in Oostkamp, Belgium at a comfortable pace. Unbeknown to us, and our guides, the hotel we had booked just a few weeks earlier had gone into administration, so the group was split in two and housed in separate guest houses overnight before being reunited in the morning.
The next day, we woke to a 26 mph headwind that showed no signs of slowing down. Any misconceptions we’d entertained about flat routes being easier than hilly ones were quickly shattered. Valiantly, the group, some of which had only cycled a few miles in years, pushed ahead. Through poplar groves, along tow paths and over dykes, we toiled on. At times it felt like riding through treacle, at others like cycling through a sand blaster, no matter how hard we pushed the wind fought back. But we made it. Before nightfall, the team rolled triumphantly into the Dutch town of Brielle.
Well-rested, the intrepid team jumped back on the saddles for the final leg of the trip. Thankfully, the wind died down as the route veered away from the North Sea and pushed deeper into the countryside. Passing windmills, countless seabirds and endless canals, we wound our way north to Amsterdam. After a short lunch, we pedalled to a café on the River Amstel for a final caffeine boost before attempting the last 20-mile dash into the city centre. Whether it was adrenaline, espresso or a decent tailwind, we’ll never know but that last leg was completed at record speed, the riders at the front of the pack averaging 24 mph.
With jubilant spirits and a huge sense of achievement, the four-day trip culminated at the entrance of Apex 2017 where the team was met by a welcome party. And the total raised? At the last count, the Road to Apex team had collected over UK£6000 in donations, but that figure is still rising.
I wonder, is it a little too confident to start planning a trip to this year’s Apex Asia?