Me & Bikes | Jo @ Freckles

Me and bikes – kinda like the Gumtree add with the girl on her trike…

I hadn’t sat on a bicycle since I was about 10 years old, and that used to involve riding up and down the drive on chalk roads or cycling around the block to get to ‘the riding stables’, which were in fact directly opposite the back door… Needless the insanity I possess which meant I said yes a 109km cycle race, ranked in the top 3 cycle races in the world, runs deep inside me.

Route Map & Gradient. (I. Am. Crazy.)

On Wednesday 2nd March I set off on the adventure of a lifetime. I was off to South Africa and more accurately Cape Town to compete in the notorious Cape Town Cycle Tour on Sunday 6th March. A team of 9 riders and 1 supporter departed from a rather dreary and grey London and arrived in Cape Town to scalding sunshine, record high temperatures and a prolonged drought. Just the weather for a casual cycle!

The Team. (Awesome)

As with most of these crazy adventures that people get themselves into, normally for charity, this was exactly what we were doing it for. An awesome beyond awesome charity based on the Western Cape and launched and run by some very good friends. I give you Home from Home. The brilliant and innovative care model for orphaned and abandoned children.

Instead of building a large home on a hill for 200+ children, more commonly known as an orphanage, Home from Home build or buy little homes within the Township Communities across the Western Cape, they employ ‘Mums’ as long term foster carers and place a maximum of six children in her care. This method of care not only keeps blood siblings together but it creates new families. Children can arrive at a home from any age whether it’s 6 months or 6 years, they can then stay until they’re 18 or 22 years.

Home from Home place huge importance on emotional wellbeing and care, evident through their huge and incredibly dedicated team of Social Workers. But the thing I almost love most is that the children aren’t treated any differently to other children. They live within the community, they walk to school with their friends, play in their free time with their friends and go back to a home that is safe but that isn’t fancy. The charity set them up for a realistic future and does everything it can to support and enhance their education. They quite literally give a future to children who have nothing else.

We spent an incredible morning visiting 6 of the 35 homes that Home from Home currently funds, meeting the mums and the kids. Seeing where the money we are raising goes. We were lucky enough to go to the first home they ever opened, where they have the same mum and same children that have been there since day one. It was incredibly emotional to see how this family has been created and the difference it has made.

The Homes. (Heartbreaking, Heartwarming and Incredibly Emotional)

Family is one of the most important things in my life, both personally and in work. Through Freckles I get to meet some incredible families and we work with them to make a difference, enabling them to spend more quality time together as a family.

After an eye opening and emotional morning at the homes we decided that 5pm on Saturday evening (less than 15 hours before our race start time) would be a logical time to check that all of our bikes functioned… well better late than never is all I can say!

Two of us had flown our bikes out (I have to say this was the best idea!) and the other four had rented. Renting – a bit like pot luck. We had one nightmare bike, which was jumping gears, one where the pin holding the saddle at the right height broke but thankfully two, which worked brilliantly. A few stressed and tense conversations later we were loaded up and ready to go. I’m getting nervous just thinking back to it.

A big pasta and not a drop of wine in sight for supper before an early night, and hopefully some restful sleep…

5am, alarm went off and I literally jumped out of bed. Bloody hell was I nervous. By 6am everyone was up and dressed, porridge on (enough to quite literally feed the 5,000!) and helicopters flying overhead as the professionals geared up to start.

I tried but failed to get everyone out of the door by 6.30am, they thought I was over reacting about the time it would take to get to the start. I wasn’t. We needed to be in the chutes to start at 8.02am. We didn’t leave the house until 6.55am, it’s a 20 minute drive and we then had to park an 8 seater minibus and a van full of bikes. We didn’t manage to park until 7.50am, and this involved sweet talking a local into moving his car so we could park the monstrous van in its place. Thank heavens for that kind South African – he saved us.

Bikes unloaded and we were hauling ass the 1.5km to the start when I hear a little voice shouting Jo down the highway, turn around and Immie (on nightmare rented bike) had a puncture. Shit. Long story short we ditched her and four of us carried on breaking speed limits to get to the start and Immie and Phil walked to the start and would meet us at the finish.

But we still missed our start…

Pre-Race Excitement. (Excitement/Nerves - Same thing!)

Thankfully though they’re super flexible and accommodating of “us internationals” and so we joined the start category behind us and were ferried into a start chute for a 9am start. Phew. I was so nervous on the start line and we all agreed to cycle for ourselves. Bang, the gun went and off we pedalled and so began the best experience of my life.

It was AMAZING, INSANE, INCREDIBLE.

The Views.

Genuinely the best experience ever. 35,000 riders pedalling like mad up and down 4 massive hills over 109km in 25 degree + heat and smiling the whole way round. I loved it.

I was aiming for a sub 6 hour time and I absolutely smashed that crossing the finish line 4hrs and 16 minutes after I started. (If you saw me afterwards, you probably wouldn't have been able to tell the difference between me and a springer spaniel. Bouncy. Hyperactive and incredibly noisy!)

Post Race Joy! (Sheer Joy!!)

I will be back next year, cycling harder, raising more money and helping to give more children a chance. If you want a challenge, want an incredible experience want to make a difference – come with me?

Life does not get better than shooting down a hill with the crystal clear sea down to your left, a light breeze, bright blue skies and gorgeous sunshine at 60+km’s an hour. And who would have thought that would be possible coming from the girl on the trike?!

The Actual Dream. (I Dreamt It & Lived It)