Let’s face the music and dance.

In the words of the Nat King Cole song ‘Let’s face the music and dance’ appears the immortal line ‘there may be trouble ahead’. Never has there been a more appropriate lyric.

Following the challenge thrown down last Christmas I found myself at a dance studio in Wrexham for a dancing assessment evening.

I was late, I’m never late! But then I’ve never had to find a dance studio before. As I waked in I could hear the sound of excited voices and my heart sank. I was about to dance.

To set the record straight I have danced before mostly in the 80’s and mostly in nightclubs and always badly. I remember the sweaty end of evening ‘floor fillers’ being played and being dragged to the dance floor to avoid handbags and spilled Midori.

The studio was filled with some familiar faces who thankfully looked as nervous as I was. We chatted briefly before the sound of clapping brought the room to order. I’ve since discovered that clapping is an important tool in the armoury of the dance instructor.

We were introduced to our assessor and instructor for the evening TV’s Chloe Hewitt. “She’s AJ’s partner” someone whispered, I was confused I immediately assumed AJ was Dec’s cohost but apparently that’s not the case. My excitement was getting to me 🙄

Chloe looked very much the professional dancer, small, graceful and stern. I don’t know why she was stern I guess the prospect of bringing a room of ‘amateurs’ to order and assessing their ability was weighing on her mind. She reminded me of the dance instructor from the Kids from Fame, she just lacked the stick. She explained the purpose of the evening and introduced the professional dancers.

Over the next hour she taught us the cha cha cha and some waltz steps. I was terrible! On lookers smiled and nodded but in a funereal way.

Surprisingly Chloe seemed pleased, I can only assume we exceeded her expectations. She encouraged us into a more complicated waltz step, a turn no less. My confidence was shattered I couldn’t turn, try as I might I couldn’t get it. Thankfully at that point my rotation placed me with one of the more ‘experienced’ professionals. ‘Don’t worry she said “I’m going to place my knee between your legs, fear and momentum will make you turn” guess what? it worked.

We exchanged dancers regularly and I wondered which of these poor professionals would be putting their careers at risk by landing me as their partner.

The night was nearly over and my head was spinning I’d learnt some valuable lessons. Not least that Chloe can lipread and apparently that’s not going to get me many votes on the night.

I left feeling a little more confident, I just had to pray for an easy dance.

What could go wrong?

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‘You can dance if you want to……………’

As Men without Hats famously sang in 1982. I’m really not sure what made me think of this song but it’s the first one that came to mind.

Hang on let’s rewind. I’m doing strictly for Nightingale House Hospice in December this year. I know it was a shock to me too!

As I sit here I imagine the ‘agents’ informing their celebrity clients that they’ve got them on Strictly and it will be great for their careers.

For me it was a chance conversation in a pub.

As a student in the 80’s living on an overdraft I learnt to avoid the bank manager but at Christmas 2018 Some 35 years later I was off my guard!

Hi Richard, how are you? What are you doing next Christmas? 🤷‍♂️ “I’m not sure” I replied that’s a long way away. ‘We may need you for a fundraiser, would you be interested’ She asked……. Now this is where she was very clever. I belong to a social cycling group who over the years have completed a few cycling rides for charity and I naturally and foolishly thought it would be some sort of cycling event. “Oh I don’t see why not, where are we going?” “Nowhere” came her reply the hospice are doing strictly it’s going to be great. 😳

To cut a long story short that’s how I got to this point, 10 weeks to go and nerves starting to build 😳

I’ll fill you in on more detail as I go along. I’ve agreed to blog my experience and I’m told its cathartic.

In my livery with dodgy beard

Next time I’ll introduce you to the lovely Kirsty my professional dancer 💃

Please look at my sponsorship page, every little helps as they say.

Richard

PS – I can’t dance a step 😳

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Wrexham to Gibraltar – Epilogue

As I sit on the plane somewhere above France with Mike, Barry and Bob weaving their way to Santander for the overnight ferry it seems like an appropriate time to put down a few thoughts on the challenge.

All those weeks ago it seemed like another crazy idea to put 10 guys together to cycle from Wrexham to Gibraltar. Well it seemed crazy to other people but not to Mike, Barry or I. We have become defined by these challenges and in truth we love them.

We love the planning the organising the detail, yes we like to moan a lot about it but that’s half the fun, right?

There is a bond, a warmth that exists between a group of people on the same journey. That’s not to say that it’s all lovey-dovey, there are disagreements and at times you crave solitude more than anything else. As a group we have been fortunate, the spirt of the group is defined by its leaders and this has clearly shone through under the leadership of Barry J.

Barry’s ability to guide the team during difficult periods is legendary and none more so than on this trip, where under severe pressure he managed not only to find the right routes but also to keep the group together and functioning properly

New addition to the group Chris G did a brilliant job, an accomplished athlete he led from the front taking more of the work load than anyone else. We also discovered he doesn’t like anchovies!

His bike knowledge was also called for on more than occasion. I am particularly grateful for his roadside cable change and spoke repair.

The naughty section this year was led by Med Evans ably assisted by Lee Yandle and Stephen Richards. Their constant stream of ‘banter’, finger gestures and innuendo kept spirits high and definitely lightened the mood when things got tough.

On the basis of ‘what goes on tour stays on tour’ I am forbidden from repeating any of their antics but maybe when the film is released under assumed names it can be enjoyed by the many.

What I can tell you is that the new ‘fines’ system worked really well. Each night 2 members of the team would take charge and issue fines for incidents or comments made during the day. Without giving too much away Mike P ended up quite a bit lighter in the wallet!

Memorable moments? There are many, oh so many and I’m not just saying that, every day returned something that made us laugh, say wow or on occasion much worse.

For me meeting Bob at City Hall when we thought he was still lost over the border and would miss the photos ranks highly and of course the final ascent to the top of the rock will never be forgotten

At this point we must give Bob and BarryW a special mention for theirs is the really difficult job. Yes there were moment when things went awry that’s inevitable but without them this whole challenge would not be possible. I can’t begin to tell you how it feels to see the van waiting for you after a really hard section with water food and a smile, priceless!

Low points must include saying goodbye to BarryW in Madrid and of course the storms in central Spain.

The dinner on the last night is always special. This is when we all say a few words about the trip our reasons for going and what it means to us is always a highlight, not least as this year some people even made notes! I must confess to being emotional this time for a variety of reasons but being amongst friends helped greatly.

There have been many messages of support from all over the world which has been brilliant. Many of us shared our messages with the group and it was touching to hear such heart warming comments.

We have watched the fundraising site tick up consistently and each day we would have a roll call of donors each one met with a cheer.

We are grateful to everyone who has donated to the four charities Marie Curie, Crohns & Colitis, Leonard Cheshire and Hope House Children Hospice. Every penny donated will help these charities provide support to those who need it most.

We would also like to thanks our sponsors without whom it would not be possible to undertake this challenge. We remain eternally grateful.

The last thank you must go to the WAGS and families without whom events like this would not be possible. Knowing their support is unwavering gives us all confidence and strength to carry on. Simply having people to call at the difficult times means a great deal.

To our our families Thank you with all our hearts.

Till the next time

The reluctant cyclists

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Day 14 – On top of the world

The day began early with a drive to the start point. Packing the van has become something of an art form with each of the 20 something bags having its own place. Everyone has sat in the same seat throughout in what would make an interesting social experiment.

The drive was through the mountainous coastal region of Southern Spain and we Sat in silence absorbing the views and the atmosphere.

We played music as we travelled, some of our favourite songs.

Heather Small ‘Proud’ was the crowning moment and most looked out of the windows of the bus reflecting in the past 2 weeks.

We arrived at our start point and disembarked Today would be slightly different in that the next meeting will be with the bus before we ventured over the border and into Gibraltar.

A beautiful 20 mile ride ensued with 2 fabulous climbs. A great warm up for what was to come.

It wasn’t long before we met the van 5k from the border where passports were collected and final arrangements agreed.

We had been warned how difficult it was to enter Gibraltar from the Spanish side with Long delays at passport control. We have allowed two hours before our meeting with the mayor at 1 PM

As we cycled we crested a small rise in the road and there in front of us we could see our final destination.

We soon approached the line of traffic that was preparing to cross the border at this point we realised we may have a problem as the queue seem to be endless. The van passed and joined the back of the queue whilst we cycled weaving through traffic to get to the control point.

We crossed with ease and were soon crossing the famous runway before the main city. The atmosphere was electric a bustling community so very different to that that we experienced over the last few days. We found a cafe and ordered coffee whilst we waited for the bus to cross the border.

It was clear at this point that the bus was not going to make the meeting point with the mayor. Mike and Barry were dispatched to collect the mayoral gifts from the bus.

They returned with the gifts we knew that the bus was still someway short of border control and with heavy hearts we set about walking with our bikes along the main street towards City Hall.

The main street was not unlike any that you would see in a UK city with a familiar blend of shops and people and even Bobbies patrolling the streets. The main difference probably be the 30° heat.

We approached the end of the Main Street and Turned right into the city Hall Square. What immediately hit us was the roped off area with severalhundred seats and the large podium. A film crew waved at us as we approached.

I think it’s fair to say at this point that we were all slightly shocked and The group looked at each other in disbelief. Not only was their a reception committee of journalists and the mayors assistant but there parked right outside City Hall was the bus with Bob already inside the building having refreshments.

The next 30 minutes was something of a blur interviews and photographs presentations to the mayor and presentations to us. They had really pushed the boat out and made us feel so welcome.

It transpired that the podium and the large seating area was not for us but for the Queen’s birthday parade later that afternoon. This was huge relief as I didn’t have enough detail to pad out speech of more than five minutes!

Formalities over we sort permissions to cycle to the top of the rock. permission was granted with a smile and a shake of the head.

We headed to the top in small groups enjoying the views and taking photos along the way.

I

We were cheered by taxi drivers and members of the public alike. Tourists looked on in disbelief as we passed them on our way to the top. Many shouted encouragement as we went as some even shouted muppet!

We rounded the final climb to the highest point exhausted and exhilarated.

No one could take this moment away from us we were on top of the world.

Photos taken we left the rock and headed back to the border. We cycled in a sea of vehicles, mopeds and bikes towards the boarder. We soon realised that we would need our passport to leave Gibraltar unfortunately all our passports were on the bus which had already crossed!

As we approached at speed we noticed that the one lane with mopeds and cyclist were slowing and showing ID badges. We decided to go for it all waving as we reached the control point not stopping or even slowing. They just stood and watched as 8 muppets flew passed and over the border back into Spain!

We have all been touched by the messages of support over the last 2 weeks it has meant so much to us.

From all of us A heart felt thank you.

Day 13 – Hold on Toto Kansas is this way……..

Finally mother nature gave us a break! There had been thunder in the night but we awoke to a beautiful sunrise on the outskirts of Sevilla. I suspected thunder but it could have been the grown man sleeping in the children’s bunk above me.

Spirits were high as we left the hotel possibly because of the meal last night (2 main courses each and a magnum) or possible because this was our last full day of cycling.

We finally persuaded ‘G’ man to leave the Death Star (Team sky reference) and headed on our way.

We passed through the outskirts of Seville, beautiful avenues of lavender trees (confirmation required) All full of Parakeets making a most unusual chorus.

With a light tale wind we made our way into the stunning countryside outside Seville heading for the village of Lebrija it was something of a surprise when we realised we had been cruising effortlessly at over 20mph.

We’ve seen some beautiful scenery over the past 2 weeks and the views across the plaines rivalled any we have seen.

Coffee in town was a welcome break and we sat in the shade enjoying the sights and sounds.

Leaving Lebrija we headed into Sherry county and the town of Jerez. It’s hard to describe but this felt like real Spain with cobbled streets and Sherry barrels on every corner.

The town was a real treat and many made plans to return in the future.

We left Jerez and headed for a late

lunch.

The post lunch ride should have been a gentle 20 mile ride towards Medina but when the town was spotted high on the hill above us the van was ignored and the Hill climb began.

Richard and Barry in a break away led the charge for the Hill top finish with Barry easily the victor.

And so the last long ride of the challenge came to an end with a beer in the local hostel.

Tomorrow we head to Gibraltar and a meeting with the mayor. Showers for everyone tonight!

Till tomorrow

Day 12 – When the wind Blows

Another day another Euro…😁

After getting out of town we head south towards Seville – for another planned 105 mile day.

The weather was a little cooler this morning which made for a pleasant paced ride out of town…..that was until:

4 miles out, one of the team pulled up and was shall we a little sick (must have been the fast pace after breakfast)…😁,

Then the chain broke on one of the other bikes which finished off their ride for about half the distance….

We climbed passed a stunning castle on a hill top.

We passed a backwards runner on one long climb, slightly disconcerting!

Do you know,it shows the camaraderie of the people that ride in this group…no-one gets left behind…1 stayed which allowed the remainder of the group to ride on…one other returned with the van, pick up and then play chase to catch-up the group some 12 miles down the road….

Our experiences in France and Spain for bike repairs have been tremendous…drop in and pretty much same day repair – in the UK it’s more like manyana…or…. tomorrow.. superb service received all round…

Today has also been a day of pain in the form of blisters…in places where no blister should ever be found – buts that’s a story for another day…

The wind today has been challenging to say the least. The team worked tirelessly to keep a steady progress. The reward a chicken in a ……….. pot!

Tomorrow we leave Seville for our last big riding day – I think it will be emotional…😁