I hadn’t long got into cycling and had started to go out with the Lea Valley Cycling Club as they headed out of east London and into the Essex lanes every Sunday morning.
After a month of riding with LVCC, I have to admit I’d started to wonder whether there was anyone else in the club who was – how do I put it delicately? – less than 50 years old, and not a little caught up in the golden days of cycling when they used to race.
I was only 26. Plodding out the miles alongside blokes on big heavy steel bikes and all-over rain capes wasn’t quite what I’d hoped for when I joined the club.
So when Anna and Dave came spinning up a little hill on Bournebridge Road, just east of Chigwell, on one of those Sunday club rides I discovered two kindred spirits.
We hit it off immediately.
They’d recently returned from cycling Lands End to John O’Groats on touring bikes, carrying all their camping equipment with them. It had been a long haul, but had convinced both of them that sitting in the saddle was where their immediate future probably lay.
(I later also discovered LVCC wasn’t quite as full of cycling old timers as I’d originally thought. I enjoyed some amazing rides with the club once I’d given it a chance.)
Anna, Dave and I started to race. We would do 10 mile time trials around the old Eastway circuit (now buried deep under the Olympic Village). We’d cycle out from east London to do 10s, 25s and 30s against the clock along the Cambridge road near Stansted Airport.
We’d get up early on weekdays to meet at a bus shelter just outside of Walthamstow and do a quick and dirty 25 miler, out to Epping and back, before cycling into central London for work.
We’d support each other at events, tentatively dipping our toes into road racing, sticking on each other’s race numbers, dissecting our performances together as we’d ride or drive home afterwards.
Together we went to race training sessions, turbo training sessions, and even cycling training camps in the hot Majorcan sun. Sometimes we’d even meet up in civilian clothes, socially rather than sitting on our bikes in lycra and our cycling jerseys.
Ten years on and our lives (and cycling clubs) may have changed, but mine, Anna and Dave’s paths have continued to cross.
I moved to Belfast for two years, but we’d ride together whenever I was back in London. When I moved to Essex, our paths would literally cross as we cycled the lanes, this time from opposite ends of the county. A couple of times we simply bumped into each other at races or watching stages of the Tour de France.
Inevitably, Anna and Dave got better than me at cycling. They had more natural talent and far more determination. I was relatively happy to sit up at the back of the peloton, while they made the decisive break off the front to become highly rated cyclists in their own class.
Both now ride for teams, not just cycling clubs. Anna is one of the top women cyclists on the circuit, while Dave thrashes himself more than respectfully around every men’s race going in the south east, and far beyond.
Even a decade ago when we started cycling together, I think we knew there was something special going on between us. A close relationship growing and solidifying, based on a shared passion for two wheels.
In a sense, we grew up together.
I love Anna’s determination (on the bike and off it). But her sometimes steely manner comes with a sensitivity and thoughtfulness that can only endear. Dave has a dry no-nonsense sense of humour, carrying with him an immensely likeable and wry impatience for fools (on the bike and off it).
Together I’m grateful that they have been important friends, and fellow travellers.
When they heard about my brain tumour, Anna and Dave – like many friends – searched around for something they could do to help. And like many friends, they concluded the best reaction was to raise money for brain tumour research and support.
Followers of this blog will know that among friends and others there have been swims and runs, movie nights, beauty sales, coastal walks, and collection tins sent round at work. My brother is doing a run this weekend. All in aid of the Brain Tumour Charity, and all with me in mind.
The good will and generosity has been so widespread it has been hard to mention everything on these pages.
For Dave and Anna, there really was only one thing they were going to do.
Next week, around a decade from when we first met, they will embark again on a cycle ride from Lands End to John O’Groats. But this time, not as a plod along pack-a-tent cycling tourers, but as racing cyclists.
Together, they’ll tackle the 1,000 mile route in 10 days. Or fewer.
With the support of Anna’s dad following in a camper van, handing out energy bars and waving a collection tin at unsuspecting shoppers, they’re going to race the whole route.
I’m humbled by their efforts and not a little jealous of the miles they’ll be doing.
So, I’ve decided to join them.
I know I wouldn’t manage the whole trip, but I’m joining Anna and Dave to do at least some of the miles. It’ll be the least I can do to share some of the work against the wind, hopefully saving them energy for the many miles still to go once I’ve peeled off.
Next Wednesday, I’ll hook up with Anna and Dave on days three and four of their feat, as they go from Glastonbury to Worcester, then Worcester to Northwich (near Crewe).
More than 200 miles. The old gang, back in the saddle together again.
When I last cycled with Anna about a month ago, she was in a wistful mood. She looked down at her bike as we went up another little rise together.
“I dunno, maybe it is time we packed up all this,” she said. “It feels like we’ve been doing only this for so long. Maybe it’s time we packed it all in, and you know… grow up a bit?”
I, for one, hope Anna and Dave never ‘grow up’.
After all, if I do survive long enough to become one of cycling’s old-timers, I’m still going to need someone to pin on my number and to reminisce with about our own cycling golden days gone by.
Anna and Dave’s 1,000 mile end-to-end journey starts on Monday 15th July at Lands End.
I’ll be joining them on Wednesday and Thursday. We’re tweeting from the journey @BrainTumour1000, and you’ll be able to view updates on these pages.
They’ve already raised nearly £2,500 for the Brain Tumour Charity. Please help reach their target of £3,000 by making at donation at www.bit.ly/BT1000
(Anna and Dave are paying for all of their expenses, including overnight stays and fuel for the sweeper van, out of their own pockets.)