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On Saturday 18th June, a team of 20 people set off from San Diego in the Race Across America. They didn’t stop cycling for 3,167 miles. That’s like cycling non-stop from London to Lagos. No one had more than 2 hours’ sleep each day. They did it in 7 1/2 days.
Team Endeavour were, with one exception (a stand-in who became a star), all from the British Armed Forces. They were abled and disabled. One cyclist is paralysed; he cycles with his upper body. Two suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Race Across America is the world’s most gruelling cycle race. It attracts people from all over the world. One team of eight millionaires with a paid crew and every conceivable luxury from masseurs to a fully equipped battle bus raced alongside. So did the world’s first 8-cycle team of women, incongruously called Pedal for Pets. And there were solo riders. It is the ultimate in sleep deprivation endurance. Not everyone makes it to the Finish.
Team Endeavour called itself after the Charity which helps Armed Forces families in trouble. It was started two years ago by Staff Sergeant Ben Hughes. He led the Race team. Each member paid his own way, raised money from family and friends and, with the help of sponsors and donors, put money straight into the charity.
Preparation takes about a year. There are the obvious things like getting the team together; the flights to & from America; kitting out the RV in which the cyclists slept, ate & drank while the others raced; loading the navigation software in all four support vehicles with every side-road road & turn - they don’t use the motor-ways - along the route; ....
Then there’s the less obvious, like the pre-prepped music. Played from a speaker on the roof of each of the two support cars it kept the cyclists going. The drivers also used the speakers, verbally reinforcing burning muscles up the long inclines of the Rockies and the Appalachians & keeping riders awake along the endless straight roads of Kansas.
Other things were thought of on the move. In un-heard of temperatures (40 degrees plus) over some of the toughest terrain in the world, stockings filled with ice were wrapped around the necks of the cyclists. Water pistols squirted cold water on them from the support cars. They had a doctor with them and a physiotherapist.
More tired with every cycled mile, the extraordinary kept them alert. Tom, the paralysed cyclist, doing 60+ mph coming down the side of the Rockies, cycling inches from the ground & pursued by American news crews unable to keep up as their cameramen hung out of windows, was trying to go faster still. One cyclist rode into a grizzly bear. Others fended off feral dogs. And there was an alert from Race Command: “Beware of aggressive sheep”! Always true to security, when the Chief Race Judge couldn’t identify himself, he was ignored until he produced proof. On one section, aggressive truck and car drivers tried to force them off the road.
Everywhere else they found kindness, support and a determination to help. Americans love the British accent. They also love the Armed Forces and human enterprise. People handed them cheques on the road-side. A retired mechanic sorted a battery problem. A shopper found a lost mobile phone & had it couriered ahead for free.
When I joined Team Endeavour for the last stage, they hadn’t stopped for six days. They were exhausted. Yet you wouldn’t have known it. The camaraderie and team-spirit was unbreakable. They laughed and joked in the way of the armed services in the face of extreme conditions. And their discipline never faltered. Nor did their friendliness to everyone else in the race and along the route.
At four o’clock in the morning on Sunday 26th. June, with the sun just rising from the Atlantic and so tired that it hardly knew what it had done, Team Endeavour cycled across the bridge into Annapolis on the other side of America with a police escort. It finished on the dock-side under floodlights and to cheers from well-wishers. For every one of them it was the achievement of a lifetime. For many, it was proof that they had more in them than they ever knew. For me, I have never been prouder of my country, of the men and women who keep it safe, and of Team Endeavour and its valiant team of twenty of the finest people I know.
Team Endeavour raises money and awarness for children and families of the Armed Forces who are suffering through Illness, Hardship & Poverty. To donate visit their Just Giving Donation Page is www.everyclick.com/teamendeavour