YMCA Tour de Y

Tour de Y cyclists in front of Buckingham Palace

I recently took part in the Tour de Y – one of the most exciting experiences of my life.

At the station
At the station

Preparing for Tour de Y

Whilst on the Isles of Scilly, I noticed a post on a Breeze Facebook group. They were looking for a ride leader with a first aid certificate to support a 4-day charity bike ride from Ulverston to London (about 360 miles/580km). ‘How convenient that I’ve just completed my first aid certificate’, I thought. It was only after I completed the Scilly Swim Challenge that I realised I had under 3 weeks to train for an event that would be tough. Oops.

Two weeks ago, I thought I should go out on a solo 90km bike ride as I don’t ride alone very often. I enjoyed it and was pleased that I had no mechanicals. Then I volunteered at the Wiggle New Forest 100 sportive, which gave me a free place. It was too late for me to do the 100-mile route, so I set off on my own on the 100km route, which was great fun.

These two rides made me feel slightly more prepared for the adventure, but as I journeyed up north, the doubts started to set in. I’d heard that the riders had all been busy training. Would I be able to keep up?

Tamsyn's bike and bag
Waiting for the train at Southampton Central

Travelling to the Lake District

It was quite a long train journey with a couple of changes to get up north, which gave me plenty of time to get nervous. Fortunately, I was met at Grange over Sands by the lovely Graham Oatridge, who is a brilliant ambassador for YMCA. We had a great chat on the drive to YMCA Lakeside and I started to feel a little calmer.

On arrival, I met Debs and Denise, the two ladies in the group. They were warm and friendly and instantly put me at ease, which was great. It was then time for the evening meal and a chance to get to know a few other people in the group. After eating, Graham briefed everyone on the ride and I said a few words about group riding and hand signals, which was met with some merriment from some of the lads. I think my ‘jazz hands’ indication of gravel may be something they remember for some time!

Day 1: 23rd September YMCA Lakeside to Warrington – 91 miles and 1207m ascent

Group photo by Lake Windermere before the start of the ride.
Group photo by Lake Windermere before the start of the ride.

After a filling breakfast (and some photos) we set off from YMCA Lakeside. The lads whizzed off whilst I was still faffing with my Garmin. I’d not used it on a route that I didn’t know before and was worried that it would fail on me. If that happened then I would have to rely on some detailed paper instructions, which might be a slow process.

We set off at a steady pace and had a few mishaps in the first leg with a dropped chain and an unplanned dismount on a hill, but eventually made it to the first rest stop at Warton (25 miles in). We stopped for some snacks and then Debs decided to accompany James in the van for a bit.

I’d felt a little cold during the first section, so I was relieved when Denise started to pick up the pace… however, this relief was short-lived as it wasn’t long before it started raining. We put on our waterproof jackets and continued on. A long part of this ride was along a busy main road, with some large lorries going past, which was a little intimidating. Eventually, we arrived at Guys Thatched Cottage at Bilsborrow, where Debs and James were waiting for us. We were glad to be able to climb into the van and shelter for the rain whilst we ate our sandwiches. A ploughman’s baguette has never tasted so delicious!

Leaving Bilsborrow felt a little bleak as we knew we still had quite a way to go.

Fixing a puncture in the rain

At around 55 miles, Denise called out to me to stop as she had a puncture. We were cycling through a town, so we pulled off the road and onto a pathway that led to a bank. It was still raining, but not as heavily as before, which was a relief. Denise checked her bag but realised that her bag containing her spare inner tube was in the minibus. We tried calling Debs, but we learnt that James and Debs were quite a way away. It would take an hour or so for them to get to us. I decided that the best course of action would be to try to tackle the situation ourselves.

I was a little concerned about using my road bike inner tube in Denise’s hybrid bike, but there wasn’t any other option. A mum and her young son passed on their way home from school and asked if we needed any help, but there wasn’t much they could do. An elderly chap told us that he had recently bought an inner tube, but that it was at home somewhere, so that wasn’t much help either. Although I’ve practised replacing an inner tube in controlled situations before (i.e. at home on the sofa), this was the first time that I’ve ever been completely responsible in a real situation – eek!

I’ve only had one puncture on my bike in over two years and I was out with Donna and Stu then so they helped me fix it. Fortunately, I was able to locate the hole in Denise’s punctured inner tube and then found the problem spot in the tyre. A sharp piece of stone had lodged in the tyre. I removed it, fixed everything up and we were on our way again 😀

Second puncture of the day

At one point, we passed a large Evans Cycle store and I considered stopping to buy an inner tube, but I decided to keep my fingers crossed that Denise wouldn’t have any further problems until we got to the rest stop.

Well, Denise was fine, but at some stage, I must have cycled over some glass as at about 65 miles, in the centre of Preston, I got a puncture. Aaarrgghh! I’ve never gone out without an inner tube and now, in my moment of need, I didn’t have one. There was no option but to shelter in a bus stop and wait for James.

Eventually, James and Debs arrived, we loaded our bikes into the minibus and headed off for Warrington. Denise did ask me whether I wanted to repair my bike and then cycle on, but I knew I would never catch up with the boys and cycling another 25 miles or so on my own in the rain just wasn’t appealing. It was a little disappointing to have to quit on the first day, but it was the right decision.

Dinner at the hotel

I was so grateful to get to the Villagio Hotel in Warrington. We unloaded the minibus, checked in and I went for a lovely shower, before draping wet cycling attire around my hotel room.

Debs and Denise
The lovely ladies: Debs and Denise
The whole team enjoying our hard-earned dinner
The whole team enjoying our hard-earned dinner

Day 2: 24th September Warrington to Bridgnorth – 86 miles and 931m ascent

We had breakfast early and Denise and I decided that we would leave at around 8am to give us a better chance of completing the ride in daylight. The forecast had suggested that it would rain until 9am, but we were lucky that there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.

Our first stop was 26 miles in at the Little Man Inn in Wettenhall. Denise and I had expected the lads to come cycling past us at any moment but were quite pleased to make it to the rest stop first. The route wasn’t quite what I had been expecting with long sections of it being off-road. It was definitely a cyclocross adventure.

A selfie with Denise by a canal in Cheshire
A selfie with Denise by a canal in Cheshire

We refuelled and as we were getting ready to leave, the lads arrived. There was a bit of banter and then Debs and I set off on the next leg towards the Raven Hotel at Prees. It was nice to see the lads when they eventually passed us.

Debs battling her way up yet another hill.
Debs battling her way up yet another hill.

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Enjoying the Shropshire countryside

We were really pleased that the weather was holding out… however, this caused me a bit of disorganisation. I had been wearing my sunglasses and when we stopped at the pub, I draped my sunglasses over the handlebars of Denise’s bike. However, I completely forgot about them until we had cycled a kilometre down the road – oops! Fortunately, they were exactly where I left them on Denise’s bike and she hadn’t even noticed!

We had another rest stop at the Haughmond Country Pub in Upton Magna. I was feeling good as the weather was lovely and Debs and Denise (who had been alternating) were doing well. We didn’t stop for too long and then Denise and I set off on the last leg towards Bridgnorth. There were some stunning views, so I couldn’t resist stopping to take some photos.

The views of the Shropshire countryside were stunning
The views of the Shropshire countryside were stunning

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The views of the Shropshire countryside were stunning.

Denise and I admiring the views
Denise and I admiring the views

Ironbridge to Bridgnorth

Our final pass through before Bridgnorth was Ironbridge. It looks like a beautiful town and I indicated at the sign for Denise. Unfortunately, Denise misinterpreted my excitement to mean that we had reached our destination. We had a tiny break before setting off again, little realising that this was to be the toughest section of the day. It seems that the road from Ironbridge to Bridgnorth is entirely uphill.
I was getting worried as it was getting dark, but I kept believing that every corner would be the top of the hill. Denise was doing brilliantly. Despite her bike being so heavy, she didn’t get off and kept chugging up the relentless hill.
When we eventually got to Bridgnorth, we couldn’t find the hotel and probably put in an extra mile or two just cycling around in the town. We agreed to have a very quick shower before heading out to a pub for some more well-earned food.

Day 3: 25th September Bridgnorth to Oxford 102 miles and 1594m ascent

Yet again, Denise and I set off as early as possible to try to get a head start on the boys. We took a couple of slightly wrong turns as we were heading out of the town, but weren’t caught up by the boys until we were by a canal path. We cycled along with them for a little while before they picked up the pace again.

The first rest stop was The Crown Inn at Hallow Heath. We had a short break before heading off towards Chipping Campden, the 57-mile point. When we got there, Kev had staked a claim to a parking space. He even backed it up by paying for a parking ticket for the space. Some of the team were starting to struggle, especially as they knew that had over 40 miles still to go.

Kev staking out the territory in Chipping Camden
Kev staking out the territory in Chipping Camden

Denise decided to hop into the minibus with Debs. James and I agreed that I would cycle the next leg with the boys, which was fun.

Charlbury and Oxford

We were aiming for Charlbury for our next rest stop. Unfortunately, our Garmins let us down and led us into a one-way street. We dismounted and then saw the relevant pub car park. We pedalled over, not realising that it was located on another one-way street. This led to a slight altercation with a member of the public, who refused to believe that it was an innocent mistake.

79 miles in, we stopped at Charlbury
79 miles in, we stopped at Charlbury
 Kev and Ian were a little further behind the group. Denise and I set off in the direction of Oxford. It was starting to get dark, so I switched on my lights and removed my sunglasses. Sadly, I lost them somewhere along the way, which is a little frustrating.
Oxford has a reputation as a city for cyclists. I have to say that I didn’t particularly enjoy cycling there and was grateful when the bright lights of the Premier Inn came into view. We made it just ahead of the lads and were glad to have time for a wash before heading off for another hearty meal. I clocked it as being 102 miles, which is the longest ride I’ve ever done. I really enjoyed it, but I couldn’t have run a marathon afterwards. I’m definitely not Ironman-ready yet!

Day 4: 26th September Oxford to London 60 miles and 768m ascent

Ready to set off from Oxford
Ready to set off from Oxford
Last day's instructions
Last day’s instructions

Spirits were high as we set off from the Premier Inn in Oxford. The day had started out chilly, but most of us decided to strip off some layers before the ride started. We knew we only had to do 20 miles before the first rest stop, which felt quite short.

There were some steep hills on this section of the course, and unluckily for me, there were some steep, gravelly, leafy descents. At one stage I managed to knock my bento box open with my knee and something fell out. I figured that I could live without a snack and then realised that it was my inhaler, so I had to stop and head back for it. To be honest, I was a little relieved to have a break as I HATE going downhill.

When we got to The Chequers Inn at Fingest we encountered a very angry pub landlord. He would not let us eat snacks in the car park. Whilst I have some sympathy with his point of view, his method of delivering it (when his pub was closed) was not the best. I felt really embarrassed. The northerners all pointed it out as another example of how people in the south are less welcoming.

A great selfie by Kev
A great selfie by Kev

Cycling into central London

We then cycled on for another 20 miles until we got to the Black Horse Inn at Slough Corner. Some of the others decided to order food from in the pub. I was happy just to eat a sandwich and a chocolate biscuit.

Debs and Denise had agreed that they would both do the final 25-mile section into central London. We arranged to meet up with the lads and do the very last bit together. There was a mixture of cycle paths and roads. In the end, we abandoned the cycle paths as they kept stopping abruptly and were more hassle than helpful.

Yet another Kev selfie... this time in central London
Yet another Kev selfie… this time in central London

Triumphant arrival

Eventually, we met up with minibus driver James (on a Boris bike) at Marble Arch. We cycled en masse to Buckingham Palace. There we posed for photos and were serenaded by tourists singing the Village People hit.

The team in front of Buckingham Palace
The team in front of Buckingham Palace
After a short while, we were joined by the south-west crew, which made for an impressive looking team.
Large group of cyclists wearing YMCA jerseys standing in front of Buckingham Palace.
We then cycled to the YMCA to meet up with the amazing Graham who organised the entire event.
Our final stop in front of the world's first YMCA
Our final stop in front of the world’s first YMCA

Overall, this was a totally amazing experience. I had so much fun and was really inspired by other people’s stories. Denise has overcome so many hardships and is a truly amazing lady. She really did herself proud and Debs also gave it her all. If the YMCA organise this challenge again next year, I would urge you to sign up and help raise money for a very worthy cause whilst having an amazing time.

Have you ever taken part in a multi-day cycling tour?





6 Responses

  1. Wow, what a long ride! I did 13 miles yesterday and thought I felt accomplished! Great Job… How do you stay so comfortable on your saddle for such a long ride? After the 13 miles it wasn’t that bad but your doing a ton more miles.

    • Thank you! It took me a while to build up to 50 miles and since then I’ve learnt that eating and drinking enough and going at a steady pace are vital. 13 miles is a great distance – loads of people have never cycled that far 🙂

      Originally, I thought that heavily padded shorts and a marshmallowy saddle would be the answer, but I’ve learnt that a narrow saddle can be more comfortable and, for me, the less padding in the shorts, the better. During the Tour de Y, the lads spent hours discussing chamois cream and reapplying it in the (relative) privacy of the van. Since moving to SOAS shorts, I’ve never wanted any ‘bottom butter’. The shorts aren’t cheap (especially if you have to pay to get them to the UK), but I think they’re worth every penny. (If you fancy ordering any, you can put in the discount code TAMSYNSMITH for 10% off). I’ve also managed to harden myself up a bit by cycling to and from work every single day. I had a couple of weeks off last December when I had laser eye surgery just before Christmas. My first day back in the saddle was a bit tough, but it soon got easier again.

      • So after our 13.5 Mile ride Saturday I also did 7 miles Sunday and my saddle didn’t really bother me. I do have to say I was a bit uncomfortable at times but it wasn’t to bad. I’ve heard of the “bottom butter” and things like that but haven’t put much thought into it. After my ride yesterday I am fine today. I will look into the SOAS shorts, ive never heard of them before and I know some people really like the padded shorts but I must say I don’t know if they would work for me, it seems like they would still be pretty uncomfortable considering its like a huge pad between your legs, but that is my opinion. Thanks for all the help & ill be looking into those shorts. My goal right now is to get up to a 30 mile ride on a weekend. 15 miles one way and then have breakfast turn around and come back! Thanks for all the advice.

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