It was at the point I lost all feeling in my fingers and feet that I questioned my own sanity for agreeing to take part in a five-day, 360-mile charity ride across the hilliest bits of Portugal.
Fortunately, organiser Simon Ekless had anticipated such low points amongst his team of 30 riders and had suggested we all carry a picture of one of the children we were raising money for. I thrust my numb digits into my rear pocket looking to be inspired, but all I found was a damp clump of photographic paper rendered into gristle by the rain that had been bucketing down upon us since leaving Lisbon three days earlier.
We’d arrived in the town of Manteigas in wet, shivering dribs and drabs after a hyperthermic descent through the rain from the highest road in Portugal. It was early September, and few of us had thought to pack our thermals. One of our number had improvised with EIGHT layers of jerseys and jackets, but the rest of us had largely made do with just the bare minimum of waterproof plus kneewarmers and overshoes. We arrived at the café trembling, pale and probably wondering what on earth we were doing at the bottom of a remote valley in the middle of Portugal miles away from our loved ones and central heating.
Fortunately, support vehicle driver Andy Boffin was on hand to encourage us, not just with the offer of cups of coffee from the café we had taken refuge in, but with a story that warmed our hearts as much as the coffee was warming other bodily parts. His son, Charlie, who suffers from muscular dystrophy, had been a student at the PACE Centre in Ayelsbury, which was the charity we were doing this ride for.
By the time we’d heard Andy’s story, about how wheelchair-bound Charlie had humbled a carriageful of commuters on the Tube by repeating his favourite word “Hello” louder and louder until he finally received a greeting in return, or how his mum described herself as Charlie’s “personal assistant” rather than full-time carer, we were all set to climb back on our bikes and rip up the next 50 miles as if it was a baking hot sun rather than a relentless deluge pounding the cobbled square outside.
Sometimes you find inspiration in the unlikeliest places.
For more information about the PACE Centre and its 2015 Charity Rides to Andalucia and Transylvania, visit: www.thepacecentre.org
Words by Trevor Ward (@willwrite4cake) and photography by Matthew Stone (www.stoneshoots.com)