To commemorate the 10th anniversary of the sudden death, from a brain haemorrhage, of their close friends’ 15-year old son, Richard Bowler, and to raise funds for the Smile4Wessex Appeal, set up in his memory, Phil and Carole Perrott were determined to take on a personal challenge. So, as the couple set out to ride a 100-mile route from their Locks Heath home to Weston-super-Mare, they knew it was going to be a long, hard day in the saddles of their tandem. But as friends and family gathered to wave them off at just after 6am, and despite covering over 1100 miles in training for the challenge, even they didn’t realise just how tough it would be.
Things began well enough, the early start enabling them to avoid the worst of the rush hour traffic through Southampton, and in little more than an hour they were enjoying the New Forest scenery. However, the penalty for the beauty of the rural landscape was the increasing frequency and gradient of the hills. Fortunately, at least for the first half of the route, the terrain tends to by rolling in nature, with short inclines followed be a chance to freewheel down the other side. However, the first ‘major’ climb came in the form of the 3-mile ascent from Tollard Royal to Shaftesbury, a gruelling stretch where the gradient peaks at 11% and both Carole and Phil had to summon all their effort to keep the wheels turning in the right direction.
Much to their relief, their support team, comprising friends Rob and Jacquie, and daughter Nadia, were there to offer words of encouragement, and to provide well-earned refreshments and energy bars at the top. Following a short break during which pain relieving spray was applied to their aching knees, and with Nadia transferring to the second support car, driven by Rich’s father, Nick Bowler, which would accompany them for the remainder of the journey, they set off again. But from there on the route is anything but flat, and even the regular and liberal application of the pain reliever would not, alone, have got them through.
“Words cannot describe the emotions we went through, particularly towards the end when it would have been so easy to give up” recalls Carole, a Teaching Assistant at Park Gate Primary School. “We were continuously checking on each other, exchanging words of encouragement and reminding each other why we were doing it”.
Finally, after nearly eight and a half hours in the saddle, and with Nick and Nadia having joined them to cycle the last few miles, they approached their destination. And as they turned the final corner, Rich’s mum, Janice, was there to greet them. “We punched the air with elation” said Phil. “It was such a relief to see Janice’s smiling face, and finally to get out of the saddle!”
And the couple can certainly be proud of their achievement, not least because their efforts look like raising around £2,000 for the Smile4Wessex Children’s Neurosciences Centre Appeal, which aims to part fund the development of a new facility for the treatment of children with a wide-range of neurological conditions. Commenting on the ride, family friend and Smile4Wessex Appeal Coordinator, Neil Westbrook said, “All credit to Phil and Carole. Riding 100 miles in a day is tough enough on a regular cycle, but to do so on a tandem is doubly difficult.”