Ride for SSAFA

John A Silkstone

Mi General
MI.Net Member
Jul 11, 2004
Ride of Britain: James Cracknell and Ben Fogle get active to support our armed forces
James Cracknell and Ben Fogle get into the saddle, ready to ride across Britain in support of the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association.

I would be lying if I didn't confess that an assumption flashed through my head when I picked up a voicemail message from the organisers of the Pride of Britain Awards. A second later, the conscious side of my brain took over to lambast the vanity of my subconscious. After all, these awards celebrate people who do remarkable things and care about other people more than themselves, which by definition pretty much rules out celebrities and sportsmen.

The message asked if Ben Fogle and I would take Major Phil Packer to the awards ceremony in a rickshaw. The answer was a resounding yes, it would be an honour.

So, of course Ben and I were happy to pedal him in style. The only problem was that we didn't really read the small print – nothing new there. Although Phil lives in London, our rickshaw journey to collect him was to start in Edinburgh.

We were not being asked to pick him up in a true rickshaw – one of those two-wheeled carts pulled by a running man which were once the transportation of choice for the social elite in Asia – but the sort of tricycle more commonly seen ferrying tourists back to their hotel after a night out in Covent Garden. But, it turned out, our pedicab, bikecab, trishaw – call it what you will – had one thing in common with the traditional rickshaw. It has no such thing as 'easy speed'. In fact, there is no speed at all.

And, as if it isn't bad enough having to cycle 450 miles on the only mode of transport more inefficient than a pedalo, we have got a fairly immovable deadline. We are leaving Edinburgh on Saturday morning and the awards are on Monday night in London. So Ben and I are facing a couple of sleepless nights (although nothing compared to the monumental efforts of Phil Packer).

As our only rickshaw training has involved wobbling around a few cones, and finding out that high speed cornering is not a good idea if you want your fare to stay in the back, we have decided to rely on the routine that served us well when we rowed across the Atlantic. One of us will cycle for two hours while the other gets a ride or grabs a meal in the support vehicle and then we'll swap. In order to make the awards ceremony in time we will have to keep that routine up day and night.

The similarities with our crossing of the Atlantic don't end there. Our boat was about as hydrodynamic as the rickshaw is aerodynamic and I have been looking at ways to save weight. In the end I've concluded that any changes would be as effective as switching seats on the Titantic, so I have settled on a comfy saddle, a new crank and some gears to help us pedal through the North Yorkshire Moors – ah the luxury.

The trip does have a serious side. We will be raising money for the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association (SSAFA), a charity that provides practical support for the Armed Forces, including a home near the defence rehabilitation centre at Headley Court (where Phil Packer underwent treatment) which allows families to stay nearby. So we will have a bucket with us for collections en route and, consequently, will be hoping that the rickshaw gets heavier on the road to London.

It will also give Ben and I the chance to decide where, when and, indeed, if we will do another long trip together. If we do decide to venture forth again, I'm pretty sure the chances of it being on a rickshaw will have seriously diminished by the time we get to London.

To make a donation, visit www.rideofbritain.org.uk