Gill Sherry

Am I adventurous? I’d like to think so. I’ve done some weird and wonderful things in my time (some definitely more weird than wonderful), not least signing up to a 270-mile cycle challenge from London to Reims. ‘What’s strange about that?’ you may ask. Well, I didn’t even own a bicycle. In fact, I hadn’t so much as sat on a bike for over ten years, so agreeing to become intimately involved with a saddle for four gruelling days was, it has to be said, a tad ambitious. Nevertheless, I filled in the application, began my search for a bike and heedlessly purchased a helmet and a pair of padded shorts.

Looking back, it’s not the months of training that feature most prominently in my collage of memories. Nor is it wringing the rain water out of my socks after one seemingly endless torrential downpour, or the monster hills that pushed me to my absolute limit (I can still feel the burn in my thighs today). It’s not even the memory of riding towards Reims Cathedral, tears of relief blurring my vision as determination and euphoria combined to push me over the finishing line. No, the most amazing part of the entire experience and the first thing I think of when I see anything two-wheeled, is the people.

In total, thirty-four of us took part in the challenge. As well as our shared resolve to complete the 270-mile route, we were also united in our quest to raise money for the MNDA (Motor Neurone Disease Association). Most had been touched in some way by the disease, many having lost a loved one to the debilitating condition, their emotions adding further power to their pedals.

The camaraderie was like nothing I had ever experienced before. Forget the end of season party with your softball teammates, and the team building exercise with your colleagues, this took team spirit and morale to another level. From helping to fix a puncture, to sharing the last banana, the support and encouragement was unending. Never more so than on the very last day when even the fastest, most competitive riders waited for the back-markers to catch up before completing the final stage of the challenge and riding, as one, to the steps of Reims Cathedral.

I’m not ashamed to admit I was one of those back-markers, my hastily purchased bicycle no match for the expensive, sleek road bikes that would whiz past me in a blur of shiny aluminium and brightly coloured Lycra. But it mattered not. We crossed the line together, cried together and celebrated together.

The comradeship was hard to comprehend. It united a group of strangers, bound by a common goal, mutual understanding and respect. When the time came to say goodbye, the sense of loss felt like a physical blow. Our time together may have been temporary but it was extraordinarily intense.

The desire to recapture that bond led to my next major adventure. Along with thirty-nine other intrepid fundraisers, I set out to climb – and conquer – Kilimanjaro. Friendships were formed, memories were made and an impressive amount of money was raised. It was an unforgettable experience enhanced, once again, by the people who shared each magical moment. From the breath-stealing altitude to the beautiful summit sunrise, the sense of kinship was never far away.

People of all ages, shapes and sizes took part in those challenges. One of them, a wonderful lady named Alyson, became my closest friend. We talk about the cycle ride often, usually when we’re planning our next, weird or wonderful adventure. She’s currently muttering something about a zip wire. Not just any zip wire. Apparently, it’s the longest zip wire in Europe and the fastest in the world. From my point of view, zooming down a zip line at 100mph whilst suspended over a lake doesn’t have quite the same appeal as cycling through France or even climbing a dormant volcano.

It’s not so much the height that bothers me – although, the thought of dangling over a quarry while secured to a bit of wire doesn’t exactly fill me with joy – but the speed. Gone are the days when I’d queue for hours to experience the latest (fastest) rollercoaster ride. In fact, I can barely tolerate a high-speed train so a 100mph adrenalin rush is definitely not on my list of things to do. Alyson tells me it has unbeatable views of Snowdonia – only if you open your eyes!

The last time we got together (she lives over 200 miles away) I arranged for us to enjoy a leisurely horse ride in the countryside. Prior to that, I asked her to join me on a hot air balloon flight over Dubai desert. In return, she invited me to sign up for a sky dive (I’m still thinking about it) then followed it up with her crazy zip wire suggestion. Her idea of adventurous is obviously a little different to mine – mine being more pleasure seeking than thrill seeking.

That said, it was our sense of adventure that brought us together in the first place. And let’s be honest, life itself is an adventure. It doesn’t matter if you want to jump from a plane or just jump on the next bus. It’s up to you whether you raise money for charity or simply raise a few laughs. It’s all about enjoying what you do and, perhaps more importantly, who you do it with.

I’m still not convinced about the zip wire, though!

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