Sixth Former Charlie Whelan tells us all about his epic, courageous charity bike ride.

While my friends and peers were either enjoying holidays in exotic countries or in bed, I was getting up at the crack of dawn and forcing myself onto my torture device of choice; a bicycle, all in the name of charity. After extensive conversation with parents and fellow cyclists, I came to the conclusion that cycling the length of the UK in nine days would be a good idea… Fundraising for the Wiltshire Air Ambulance started in September via Facebook, Twitter and Just Giving. The Air Ambulance is a charity my family and I have always supported, especially since my nana was airlifted by them; it was the obvious choice for me.

The journey to John O’Groats took all of Thursday night and Friday, arriving at the famous signpost on the 18th of October. An early start on the Saturday in the cold and the wind was exactly what I had expected, so I couldn’t complain too much. By the end of those first 131 miles, I felt pretty good.

Day three came about in the form of icy roads and –20C. After two days of rain, I was hoping for the opposite, but that was not the case. Misery ensued until the day hit the high temperature of 30C. By the end, my left knee was completely shot. A visit to A&E revealed I had patellar tendonitis in my knee. When I asked if I should stop, they responded, “It depends. How much do you want it?” Needless to say, I set off again. In agony, but the thought of letting people down was far worse in my mind. Day four was the day my other knee decided it too wanted to cause me grief, putting me further behind schedule. Day five was actually really enjoyable due to nice roads and interesting bike paths.

With mum now in the team, morale was lifted, but the rain got worse. Riding away from the motorhome in that weather was difficult to say the least. Day six was torrential the whole time. As was day seven, but with the added bonus of flood water deeper than my pedals. These five ‘puddles’ were normally about 100m long and were actually extremely fun to ride through if very cold and difficult. Onlookers cheered in support when I did eventually get out of the puddles.

By this point the light at the end of the tunnel was visible. The remaining miles should’ve taken me three days to complete but I decided to push on into Dartmoor in the pitch black in -20C. Thankfully, at least the rain had subsided. However, this was short lived. An overnight stop at the highest point in Dartmoor left me with just over 100 miles left to do and 3000m of elevation. It was miserable the entire time, much like days three and four, but I had come so far that I had to finish. I was falling asleep when I stopped off for food, but I kept my eyes open long enough to reach the end, once again, in the rain and pitch black. Finally, it had come to an end. The overwhelming emotion was not joy, but relief. The grumpiest week of my life was over and I knew I wouldn’t have to get back on the bike until I wanted to. So far the inclination as not taken me. So far, I have raised just shy of £3,300 for the Air Ambulance who are now operational again. Thank you to all who have donated so generously and to those who have sent along words of encouragement; if it wasn’t for everyone cheering me on, I honestly don’t think I would’ve kept going. Finally, thank you to Mum and Dad for putting up with my grumpiness and supporting me without question throughout the whole process.

If you would like to donate to Charlie's JustGiving page Donate here

Charlie Whelan, Sixth Former