Updated: Jun 15, 2020
Author: Lee Adams
I hadn't been on a bike since school, but wanted to continue raising awareness for men's mental health, and an idea struck me to cycle to Fulham's first away game of the season. The fixture list was released and Lady Luck wasn't on my side as Preston was listed...242 miles away!
I woke at 3.30am on Thursday excited, and jumped on Lilly (my bike's name), arriving at Craven Cottage for the mammoth journey ahead. Sunrise came and the statue of the great man himself, Mr Haynes, looked down upon me as I set off at 5am for the long trip up north.
45 mins into the trip I crashed, cutting my elbow and shin...not a good start. I patched myself up and followed the route from the lovely Google Maps lady (more of her later), who led me to the stunning Grand Union Canal, wow what a sight. The challenging ground was difficult to master; bumpy, uneven and downright nasty. As the morning broke the sun started to heat the very limited Tarmac... I was sticking to the floor, making it hard.
7 hrs in and I was still on the Grand Union Canal, the picturesque sight was now becoming a long and winding lane and one of deja vu. I finally came off at Leighton Buzzard, lights on and off I went...on tarmac, I have never been happier and my arse was very thankful.
A few hours later I stopped for the night, having a well earned drink and takeaway pizza. I was exhausted and saddle sore doesn't even come close. An early start the next morning and I was ready to go - the show must go on!
I found everything difficult as soon as I set off, and phoned my good mate Steve, for a motivational boost...
Steve: Hello mate, how are you?
Me: Sing to me fella, sing!
Steve: Sing what?
Me: A Fulham song!
Steve: Ohhhh, I see... "You're just too good to be true"
Both: "I CAN'T TAKE MY EYES OFF OF YOU, YOU'RE LIKE HEAVEN TO TOUCH, I WANNA HOLD YOU SO MUCH. AS LONG AS LOVE HAS ARRIVED, AND I THANK GOD I'M ALIVE, YOU'RE JUST TO BE TO BE TRUE..."
At this point I was cycling up a hill, well the wonderful google lady said it was. In my eyes, legs, arse, back and shoulders, it was a mountain! I saw three elderly women at the bus stop looking at me strangely, whilst singing at the top of my voice with Steve. I smiled, singing loudly 'I LOVE YOU FULHAM, AND IF IT'S QUITE ALL RIGHT, I LOVE YOU FULHAM', and got the boost I needed to finally made it up the 'hill'. We all know what goes up must come down; so brakes off, head down and away I went. Think Eddie the Eagle in cycling lycra!
I made it to Crewe for an overnight rest, with another early start, I was off again for a tough cycle through the north west, battling the roads and dodging cars and lorries. The wonderful google lady (yeah her again) led me down the wrong road, and not for the first time on the trip. 6 hours cycling later I see a sign ahead of me - LANCASHIRE (welcomes careful drivers). So does Lee, I thought while laughing to myself.
I stop to take a picture of Lilly next to the sign and take 10 mins to myself, thinking I can't be far now. 2 hours cycle later, another sign; 'no'....'it can't be'....'really'.....WELCOME TO THE CITY OF PRESTON. Well I never. I stopped, and jumped (using that term lightly) off the bike, and sat on the grass of the A road. A fellow cyclist thought I was in trouble and stopped to see if I was ok. I was fine and told him I'd cycled from Fulham, and that I was doing it to raise awareness of mental health, preventing male suicide, and the amazing work of CALM. This led to a wonderful open and honest chat with the good Samaritan and stranger about his own battles, that he had never spoken about before. It's moments like this that have motivated me to do more, and how putting myself out of my own comfort zone and perceived limits can lead to life changing moments for myself and for the people that I am lucky to meet. This has spurred on my belief that if what I do can help just one person, encourage them to be open, and maybe get the help they need, then it makes everything worthwhile.
That chat alone gave me so much strength to finish the never ending bike ride. I started to see Preston North End football shirts; father's and sons, and families going to football. Then there they were, the unique floodlights, I was like a moth! I turned the corner onto a cobbled road, after 3 days on the saddle and the friction burns I didn't need that! The smell of fried onions and cries of "programmes" filled the air, I'd made it! I can't remember much of the last 5 minutes of the cycle, I thought about the man I had chatted to, the people who had supported this and opened up and sought help. I was in pain, like never before but so happy and relieved it was over, I one point I didn't think the grand union canal would end. My team Fulham made it all the sweeter with a 2-1 win, and for those wondering, no I didn't get out of my seat when we scored!
Another challenge was complete and more importantly, more people were sharing their own experiences. I was starting to see something unique here, every time I spoke about what I was doing, men would open up and talk about their own battles, most for the first time ever.