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Three Stewarton Ladies, Three Bikes & 300 Miles

By, Sergio Burns

The peleton – 75 souls in this case – moves like an organic, speeding ribbon of rainbow colours through the French countryside. Well, maybe not, though the push-pull effort on the pedals does keep the wheels spinning, as the sleek, bright, cheerful charity train snakes down the narrow, undulating roads of France and the Pas-de-Calais Department. This is not the Tour de France headed for the Alpe de Huez, of course, but a group of charity cyclists. In the bunch are three brave women from Stewarton, Mandy Bowie, Fiona Gordon and Susie Martin, aimed at Paris 300 miles from their starting point, Crystal Palace, London.

The epic trip was inspired by a fourth member of the team who, ironically, would be unable to take part in the event with her friends. For Mandy, Fiona and Susie, however, it was the trip of a lifetime. A journey they will all cherish as Ayrshire Magazine discovered when we met them all fresh from their adventure.

“It’s a bit of a long story, there was a fourth person doing it but ….she wasn’t able to do it.” Mandy explained. “She had a friend who worked for the Homeless World Cup… so Hilary (Scott) mentioned,’ right let’s do it’ for them. Because you know there are that many different charities. So, Hilary suggested it…we just thought let’s have a wee look into this.”

Soon, the four were busy planning, making arrangements, getting their training organised and signing up for the charity. As Hilary unavoidably dropped out, the three pressed on.

“I think that the last few months I just felt it was all about the fundraising and not about the training,” Fiona expressed early doubts about being able to sustain the effort for four days over 300 miles. “I was getting quite worried that we hadn’t cycled enough but we had, it turned out.”

In unison the ladies then repeat, “ 300 miles”, as if they were still trying to convince themselves that they had actually achieved this mammoth distance. Try to imagine cycling from Stewarton to Birmingham. They have a cotton t-shirt and a certificate as free mementos of the ride. They also have Skyline cycling tops, which they all reminded me they had to buy, to commemorate their remarkable achievement.

“We had lots of meetings, didn’t we?”, Susie reminded the others of the planning stage. “We talked about our training quite a lot and we talked about what we were going to do and we had lots of meetings about it all.”

The three agreed these meetings were driven by ‘quite a lot of coffee drinking’, and, ‘talking about training’. It was soon evident, however, that the girls were serious about taking on the challenge and knew they would have to work to raise their fitness levels.

“Because we did the Yorkshire Walls (cycle route of 146 miles) in the July we used that as a good tester didn’t we?” Mandy offered. “That was two consecutive days cycling (70 and 76) each day so after that we thought you know what, we think we’re all right here because we can do that.”

It wasn’t long until they were on the starting line at Crystal Palace, London, preparing to cycle to the ferry 90 miles away at Dover.

“We were thinking my God we’ve got another three days of this what have we done?” Fiona remembered and they all laugh. “It had been a long day, Thursday was a long day well I was feeling a bit negative but I was missing my family already (they all laugh again). It’s amazing how you keep going every day I am thinking how on earth am I going to get back on that bike every day with the niggles that you get each day. And it was just fine it was like you just get used to it.”

Susie chimed:
“We were sitting outside (on the ferry), and you could see the lights of Dover, and we are thinking… oh…my…God…we are actually doing this, we are going abroad and we all miss our families.”

There was some debate between the girls about the actual time they got to bed, but the general consensus was around midnight.

“So our first night ended up,” Mandy started. “Yeah so we did Crystal Palace to Dover, then we got the ferry over and then we stayed outside Calais for the first night everyone went straight to their beds for that one.”

In every great adventure there are always hiccups.

“We got lost…” Fiona confessed. “Well you’re following orange cards cut out, and there were other arrows that other people had put up…other tours I mean, it wasn’t the easiest. It was windy that day and dismal.”

Mandy agreed.

“The third day was tough because Susie cycled on, so did Fiona at one point and we were kind of separate for a while.”

It was a crucial time in the cycle event but endured by all the charity cyclists. “There was this really, really bad head wind,” Susie recalled. “Everyone was struggling it wasn’t just us.” Despite such trials, the three were finally in Paris and cycling as fast as they could toward the finish. “It was very emotional,” Mandy recalled finishing the cycle. “We went round…and we finished up at the Eiffel Tower three miles away,” Susie broke in. “It was amazing,” Fiona summed it up.

The girls agreed they had ‘discovered’ a lot about each other on the trip. Fiona, apparently can’t find anything, Susie was always last one ready in the morning and Mandy, let’s just say, can be a noisy sleeper.

They all laughed and all were unanimous it had been a fun time. Despite missing their families, despite the pain and the terror of getting lost in a foreign country they all enjoyed the experience. But would they do it again?

Susie pondered the London to Amsterdam cycle next, while Fiona, who has also competed in the tough mudder, expressed a strong desire to return to running, something she really loves doing. Mandy, who plays with Stewarton Ladies Netball Team, is already planning a cycle ride from Yosemite to San Francisco in aid of Scottish Disabilities Forum, Ayrshire Hospice and Scottish Autism.

Whatever these ladies plan for the future, you can be sure it will be achieved and many people, of course, will benefit from it.