Michael Coulston has very kindly agreed to do a number of guest blog posts about his 240 km cycle through the West Bank in 2018 to help raise money for M.A.P (Medical Aid for Palestine). Chapter 1
CHAPTER 1 PHYSICAL CHALLENGE
Why Take Part
In 2018, I signed up to take part in a fundraising cycle ride through the West Bank. It was organised by and raising money for Medical Aid for Palestinians www.map.org.uk. There were thirty places on the ride.
I have supported the Palestinian struggle against occupation for a long time, but I had never been there before 2018. I had some misgivings, because I had always said that I didn’t want to go as a tourist. A fundraising cycle ride seemed a little close to tourism in my mind, but I convinced myself to take part on two grounds.
Firstly, there was an element of physical challenge, which has a certain kind of appeal.
Secondly, in doing my fundraising, both before and after the event, it would be an opportunity to talk about Palestine as much as possible and meet people and groups that I might not normally have had the chance to talk to.
The Physical Challenge
There were two main challenges that we were warned about. One was the heat, but there wasn’t much preparation I could do for that in the English winter. The other was that the West Bank is very hilly. Not being as light as I once was, I knew that hills would definitely be a challenge.
But hills I could prepare for. In Lewisham, we’ve got Vicars Hill. If I could crack Vicars Hill, surely there could be nothing any tougher than that in the West Bank?
One day, being too bored or lazy to cycle any distance, I just cycled repeatedly over Vicars Hill for a couple of hours.
Also, it turned out that seven of the riders were from south east London, so we met up a few times and went for training rides that always seemed to end at Vicars Hill.
I should mention that there is cake at the top of that hill, which provides a lot of motivation for getting up there. It’s in the very good and supportive (of Palestine) café in Hilly Fields.
Hills Further Afield
I ventured into the borough of Bromley, where you can find a 1 : 4 hill in Cudham.
I really had cycled up that, although it could only be done by zigzagging from side to side to make it more of a shallow climb.
The day I went to Cudham, I was tought a lesson about supporting corporations like Sports Direct. I got a puncture, and this was what happened to the spare tube I had purchased from Sports Direct a few days earlier.
On another training ride, I had two punctures in one day. Someone kindly photographed me fixing one of them.
On a dry Saturday morning 11 set off from Surrey Quays for the start of the ride to Tilbury Fort, for half the group it was their first London Clarion Cycle Club ride, Alex led as normal and we made good progress sticking together nicely as a group. It soon became clear however that the weather forecast was not to be believed as it suddenly started to pour down with rain. not a shower but a torrential downpour. Sadly the rain persisted for an hour and half the group decided to head home at Dartford. The rest of us continued riding and as is typical with British weather it brightened up. After a coffee stop in Dartford at a very friendly cafe we headed back on our way towards Gravesend to catch the ferry.
At Gravesend we headed straight for the ferry, when someones tire exploded thankfully nobody was hurt and we were fortunate to find Tri the Bike Shop in Gravesend High Street who replaced the tire in record time. Back on our way a few minutes later, at the ferry it was obvious we weren't the only cyclists as the boat was already half full of bikes due to a 400km audax happening at the same time. No need to worry though as all the bikes were safetly stored away and we made the short crossing to Tilbury. At Tilbury we were met by two fellow London Clarion Cyclists one who had just joined a few days ago. We continued our cycle riding past Tilbury fort and then on to Colehouse Fort and park where we stopped at the Engine room cafe for a delicious and reasonably priced lunch. After Colehouse Fort we started our ride back to London with a short stop at the RSPB cafe at Rainha Marshes for coffee and cake. The ride back to Tower Bridge took in a long section of the Cycle superhighway and allowed a quick stop to admire the Cable Street Mural.