Originally posted on Kit Smart’s Blog on May 6 2016
24 cyclists, 85 miles, 2 churches, 1 charitable goal.
On Saturday 30th April, 24 Pembroke students set off into the almost unknown, armed with only an information pack attached to their handlebars and Head Porter John and Jan the Nurse in college vans for assistance, they sought to make their way home to Cambridge from Oxford.
They left Oxford from St Martin’s Church, Carfax in shifts, those who expected to be slowest left first, followed by the intermediates, and the speedsters bringing up the rear in the hopes that everyone would catch up around lunch time.
The first challenge came in the form of hills not long after they had left the city centre. Hills of any kind are a shock to those that live in East Anglia but the 10% gradient they faced was enough to make the group realise that cycling was not their favourite pastime.
However once they “got out of Oxford, it was really beautiful” and even made one of the international students reconsider how he thought of England and its scenery. However, the day was just beginning.
By the time lunch rolled around one rider’s chain had already come off his bike twice, there had been a crash that left one spectator more traumatised than the victim, they had passed the perils of an antlered deer park, someone had nearly fainted, legs were sore and spirits low, especially for one pair who reached the pub everyone had gathered in for lunch only to find out that they had stopped serving food.
The food helped though and the group were once more optimistic, at least out loud, internally they were all despairing over how far they had come and the crushing realisation that they were still only half way.
Lunch had reengerised the group for the most part, refreshed with carbs and jelly babies, except from the one rider who was observing passover and had to forgo the carbs, they forged on. Welcoming the straighter, flatter roads for their simplicity but missing the hills for the variety and for the opportunity they provided when going down hill of standing up and stretching their legs, they carried on. “It’s for charity, it’s for charity, it’s for charity” became the mantra as the miles behind them piled up but the finishing line remained so far away.
Despite the split of the riders and their groups, facebook and phones kept everyone connected. Except from the tandem which everyone lost track of for a while there. Thankfully John and Jan’s vans were always around the corner, offering support and jacket transportation or heckling depending on which one you caught up to.
In one memorable moment, John came into sight, relaxing on his deck chair just as the hail began to pour down. While John was able to pack up and retreat under the cover of the van, the riders were at the mercy of the elements.
Eventually, like an oasis in a desert, Gamlingay came into view. Gamlingay, the destination of their practice ride, Gamlingay which they knew was close to home.
St Mary’s church, the finishing line, was within their grasp. 85 miles of blood, sweat, jelly babies, and curses were almost behind them. The road had one last test for one of them however.
80 miles in, armed with only a phone that could receive calls not make them, one rider found herself stranded with a punctured tire and the consolation that it had been a good time up until this point. Thankfully she was missed quickly and rescued.
24 set out and miraculously, and relatively unscathed, 24 made it to the end. Arriving in groups nine to ten hours after they set off, everyone, from those who had never cycled such a distance before to those who did so regularly, was back and accounted for.
But why did this band of students put themselves through such an ordeal? So that they could raise money for a Studentship for a refugee to attend Cambridge and earn an MPhil. The students, who have had such an incredible time as part of the Cambridge college community, want to know that someone else will be able to experience it as well, especially someone who has already been through so much.
What started out as Pembroke playing a small part in a university-wide scheme has grown beyond expectation. Just before the group set off from Oxford, they had achieved their sponsorship goal of £2000. While they were riding, the figure reached £4000, and now the target has once again increased to £6000. If they are able to hit that figure, with other donations they have received, it will mean that Pembroke’s GP have raised enough for one MPhil.