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Smiles, Showers, and a Sumo Suit: The 2018 Charity Cycle Ride

On Saturday 12th May, a mix of 12 grads and undergrads accompanied by the Dean, James Gardom, set off from Pembroke set off for an epic cycle from Oxford to Cambridge, all for an incredible cause.

The day before the ride we packed our bikes into the college van, headed over to Oxford on the X5 and got together at the Dean’s brother’s house for a carb-loading feast of pizza, crisps and beer. Following a team talk, it became clear that we were pretty well divided into two groups – newbies to the ride, and old hands who’d done the cycle before. We went our separate ways to get a good nights rest ahead of the big day.


2The next morning, we wolfed down a hearty breakfast and after dropping off our bags with college nurse Jan in the support van, headed to Carfax Tower – the starting point of the ride. The novice group led by James had left at 8.30am, and the rest of us set off around 10.20am armed with a Garmin and lots of jelly snakes. Two of our group, Damien and Dan, were aiming to set a record time so quickly sped past us in the attempts to make their target. The headed off with smiles and a bit of sunshine, enjoying(!) the picturesque hills of Oxfordshire.

Aside from huffing and sweating through the undulating countryside, all went pretty smoothly for the first half of the ride. Needless to say we attracted quite a lot of attention along our way. Not only had we pledged to undertake the grueling 85 miles for charity, but one of our number, Jack, had gone one step further in the efforts to raise money by donning a huge inflatable sumo suit, complete with battery powered air pump and sumo-hair hat. The beeps and thumbs up we got along the way made the experience almost bearable for Jack, who was essentially cycling in a huge plastic bubble. Quite a sight to behold.


We reached our lunch stop just after Woburn, and tucked in to some much-needed carbs. We were in good spirits – we’d completed over half the ride, had buckets of chips in front of us, and were making good time. However, heading into the pub we felt a single drop of rain fall. By the time we’d eaten, the showers had truly begun. Rain had not really been forecast and a lot of our riders hadn’t prepared clothes-wise….but we had no choice but to get back on our bikes and grin and bear it. From then on the rain did not stop.


5Adding insult to injury, one of our group – Josh – began getting puncture after puncture, which we hastily tried to repair in soaking roadside scrambles. Determined, we pressed on, looking like a bizarre rendition of the Pied Piper with motley crew of drowned rats headed by a soggy sumo wrestler. By Gamlingay – our ‘marker’ that we were almost home with only 18 miles to go – we truly would not have been more wet if we’d got off our bikes and rolled into puddles. A few of us were developing mild cases of trench foot, but we had our charitable cause firmly in our minds and found the will to persevere!

Finally, like a beacon of light in the darkness, Cambridge appeared on the horizon. Around 9 hours after setting off, sodden but still smiling, we made it. We’ve never been so happy to see Great St Mary’s church, our official end point. All the Pembroke cyclists arrived between about 7 and 8pm, apart from Damien and Dan who’d completed the journey in an amazing 4 hours 51 minutes, just beating the record in spite of rain and punctures!


Once home and warming up in the shower, numb from the knees down, we had chance to reflect on why we undertook this mad journey. We’re raising money for CARA ( ), an incredibly important charity that provides support and refuge for vulnerable academics whose work and lives are threatened by persecution, conflict or violence in their home countries. Currently the majority of CARA’s efforts are focused on academics in Syria whose important work has been put in jeopardy by civil war. We currently have a CARA scholar at Pembroke, so if you would like to help others like him, and aid us in achieving our goal, all donations will be greatly appreciated!

Blog by Annie Thwaite (2015)

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