Dambuster Cycle Ride – what a triumph!

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What a fantastic day we had on Sunday 15th for the Dambuster Cycle Ride, organised and run by DBF Ambassador, Wyn Jenkins, with the able support of his wife, Marg and all involved with the wonderful CMC Cycling Club, Llandeilo. Many congratulations to Wyn for putting on such a fantastic, uplifting event and also to Team Bader for completing it in such style. A truly awesome  achievement!

Martin and I stayed overnight in the camper up at the beautiful Llyn Brianne reservoir and dam to be on site early for the erection and setting up of the Food Station. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? It wasn’t….. The first job was to erect the gazebo. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? It wasn’t….Remove all poles from their bags then assemble them according to the letters attached. Unfortunately somebody with a very small brain had had the bright idea of sticking the letters onto the ends of the poles where, of course, they were rubbed off partially or completely on first usage….Much swearing, shouting and clattering of metal poles shattered the peace of the lake and aroused our wild-camping neighbours, Olwen and Peter. What an absolute blessing that they turned out to be there as, accompanied by their cups of morning tea, they kindly came over and – I would say helped but it wouldn’t convey the complete picture! – soon got the gazebo looking as squarish as it was ever going to get. Olwen confessed to being one of the few people alive good at reading Ikea instructions and that ability certainly proved useful in this instance when “Insert Poles 1 at either end of Pole 1A” proves utterly meaningless! We were very grateful to them for their invaluable help as, without them, I suspect we would still have been wrestling with the gazebo as the first riders hove into view. They went even further in becoming heroes in our eyes when, on finally (and probably very gratefully) making their departure, they promised to try to find sufficient mobile signal (a rare commodity in the area) to ‘phone “headquarters” to remind them that the feeding station was lacking one vital thing. Water!

A BIG and heartfelt thank you, Olwen and Peter. We hope you finally got to enjoy your ride around the lake and really hope to see you again next year for the race… (When we’ll have a different gazebo!)

Anyway – to cut a long story short, the Food Station was finally set up overlooking the wonderful view across the reservoir. The food, carefully prepared by Marg and including treats like Peanut Butter Bombs and Jambusters(!) was in place, the water had arrived and Martin and I, finally installed into rather fetching RAF uniforms, David Bickers with his second-in-command, Charley Bickers and Wyn and Marg looking resplendent as twin Biggleses (although Marg’s moustache and flying scarf definitely knocked spots off Wyn’s!) waited for the first cyclists to appear. How anyone can complete 25-odd miles, many of them uphill, in such a short time I don’t know but they were with us frighteningly quickly and managing to look worryingly fresh as well. From that point on there was a steady stream of participants all gladly availing themselves of food and water. The boiled potatoes and salt (well-remembered from our last Food Station experience) and jelly babies went down particularly well but then the sun, while very welcome, wasn’t helping the texture of the sandwiches and cakes!

The dam welcoming party

The Dam welcoming party. L to R: Marg “Biggles” Jenkins, Martin “Call me Sergeant” McCleave, Wendy “More Senior than Martin” McCleave, Wyn “Biggles 2 with the less important moustache” Jenkins

A (very) high spot was when the Team Bader cyclists, including DBF Ambassador, Gemma Trotter, appeared to loud applause. This was an extraordinary achievement by Team Bader as Gemma – a total inspiration – was cycling one-legged as unfortunately she’s still having trouble with her osseo-intergration, and long-term supporter of the charity, Milan, also an amputee, who had expressed concern the night before had decided to go for it in true Bader spirit and unexpectedly taken the longer (55 mile) route to join us all at the Dam, bolstered by the support of his twin, Stefan. An amazing achievement by all the Team Bader cyclists. You are all such a collective inspiration and we couldn’t be more proud to have you representing the Douglas Bader Foundation.

Team Bader and Friends with DBF Support

Team Bader and Friends with DBF Support

Unfortunately, Wyn and Marg had to fly(?!) to oversee other parts of the race but the rest of us waited with bated breath for mid-day when we’d been promised a flypast by DBF Ambassador, Nathan Doidge, who has cerebral palsy and fellow pilot, Barry Hobkirk, who lost the use of is legs in The Falklands; heroes both. On the dot of 12.00 there was the drone of engines and the 2 ‘planes came into view to the right side of the reservoir and flew low over the lake. It was an extraordinary and very moving moment and, when, after the requisite wing waggles to celebrate the completion of the raid after their second pass, they left to continue their mission, there was many a tear being wiped from many an eye. For us it was a proud moment too as it represented a perfect synchronising of the DBF’s achievements. There we were at a ride organised by one of our amazing Ambassadors, surrounded by the incredibly brave and inspiring members of Team Bader, watching another of our Ambassadors flying past in the aeroplane bought by the DBF for Aerobility. An achievement that we had no doubt would have made Douglas both proud and delighted. We like to think that he was watching from his vantage point in the sky somewhere, puffing on his pipe, chuckling and saying “Jolly good show, chaps” in his inimitable way. Hopefully joined by my mother who would have undoubtedly been raising a glass or two in celebration! The only shame was that so few people managed to capture Nathan and Barry in photographs. A lot of the resulting images showed tiny dots at best which people insisted were the 2 ‘planes appearing over the reservoir. Hmm…… (Thankfully Sandra, by far the best photographer amongst us all, got some great footage and a link will follow where you can see the many wonderful pictures she captured of the day.)

Nathan appears over the reservoir

Nathan Doidge appears over the reservoir – an emotional moment

Once we’d seen Team Bader on their way, and the last rider had departed, we dismantled (always surprising how much easier it is to dismantle than “mantle” something) the Food Station realising quite how much string had been used to attach it to the fence, and then David and Charley Bickers headed off to the presentation taking down signs along the way. We were left to clear up any remaining debris and sort out the camper and our night’s stay at the unpronounceable but very beautiful Rhandirmwyn site. Sadly, as I’d misunderstood the timing, we didn’t make it to the after-ride presentation at Coleg SirGar when each cyclist was presented with a medal for their achievements. I gather it was a very jolly and uplifting affair and I was sorry not to be there. Next year….Medals were placed over the heads of the cyclists (with difficulty in some cases when the cycling helmets proved a bit of a challenge) by David Bickers and speeches ensued with a minute’s silence to commemorate those that lost their lives in the original raid called for by Wyn Jenkins. There were 3 cyclists who didn’t receive medals and that was the 3 gate-crashers. Shame – this was a charity ride, folks…..

Presentation at Coleg SirGar

Wyn Jenkins introducing The Presentation at Coleg SirGar

It had been a wonderful day from beginning to end helped by the unexpectedly gorgeous weather. Perfect cycling weather I gather until the cyclists reached the dam where there was a distinctly fresh breeze. (Rather like calling an elephant a bit big….) Everybody from helpers to cyclists agreed that it had been a huge success and we are all very much looking forward to next year when, with lessons learned from this, we feel sure that it will be even  better.

So many thanks are due to so many. To Wyn Jenkins (and his wife, Marg), of course, for having the initial idea and then seeing it through to completion in such fantastic style. It was a LOT of work and, as Wyn is still recuperating (or supposed to be!) from his recent hip replacement, a truly heroic effort. To all the legitimate cyclists who raised money for both the DBF and CMC by competing; to the Team Bader cyclists who displayed the Bader spirit in spades; to Nathan and Barry and their co-pilots for adding such an emotional element to the event – the icing on the cake; to Peter and Sandra Jones and all at CMC for their support and enthusiasm (and to Sandra for her fabulous pictures); to Team Bader member, Tim, and all at the Cawdor Hotel for providing such a great HQ for the Bickers boys and for laying on such a wonderful celebration buffet; to unexpected guardian angels, Olwen and Peter, who certainly saved our bacon and generally to all who, by their presence and support, created such an extraordinary and memorable day. I was  so proud and delighted to be a part of it and hope to see you all again next year.

CMC Cycling Club, DBF and Team Bader are all about inclusion with Douglas Bader’s “can do” philosophy. This race and others are completely supported by back-up drivers and teams so that nobody need worry about not completing the ride. There is usually more than one route to accommodate different standards of fitness, expertise and ability. It’s the taking part that counts. If you’ve been inspired by the idea of this ride and think you’d like to take part next year, then please contact the DBF or CMC for more information. We can promise you a great sense of achievement whatever your cycling ability and a day to remember!

Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that you can’t do this or that. That’s nonsense. Make up your mind, you’ll never use crutches or a stick, then have a go at everything. Go to school, join in all the games you can. Go anywhere you want to. But never, never let them persuade you that things are too difficult or impossible. Group Captain Sir Douglas Bader

Please click HERE to go to the Dambuster Facebook Page where you’ll find a selection of comments, a link to Nathan and Aerobility featured on the BBC One Show, and Sandra’s brilliant photographs of the event, which capture the day so perfectly. The smiling faces radiating, in most cases, thorough enjoyment should be enough to provide that last bit of incentive….!

Other links of interest:

CMC Cycling Club


Rhandirmwyn Campsite (you might need it for next year….?!)