(98) F is for Family and Friends xx
Sat in Laz Paz waiting to fly home was so hard with so many offers from friends and family to come out and be with me and the British embassy being very professional I knew I just had to wait and just go where I was told. I got a call from Jo and Lizzie who were now in Ollague on the Bolivian border and had received the news of what had happened. They were devastated by the news and wanted to do anything to help and be with me in La Paz. I told them that I had to leave our bikes in Uyuni and could they help pack the bikes for collection so Rafeal could organise getting them to Santiago. The bikes felt so unimportant at the time but I knew the minute I left the sight of the accident I had to return and so having the bikes sent to Santiago was my best chance of doing so.
We had been so looking forward to meeting up with Jo and lizzie and ride with them again but not like this. This was never in the plan and our dreams were now evaporating in to an empty void and the thought of Jo and Lizzie having to pack the bikes knowing what had happened to Sharon was heart breaking. They are the most amazing couple and to do that for me was far more then I could have ever asked.
I wondered around La Paz photo copying documents, collecting cardboard to pack our things and slowly put each item into the box. They had so much meaning on the road and had seen so much themselves and yet they were now just almost useless items.
If anyone took a look at our things they would throw half of it away but each item had a place and a purpose and we could both name any item in our panniers and know exactly where it was.
Carla Mendez at the British embassy was amazing, very professional and I couldn’t have wished for anyone else to help me at such a bad time, she guided me in the right direction arranged everything. With sharon’s sister Cath at the other end doing what she could it wasn’t long before I was sat in the airport holding a ticket for the UK.
I sat with my airline ticket in my hands, an item that I wasn’t normally allowed to hold due to the fact I would normally play with them, folding them so many times they wouldn’t work and causing chaos at the checking desk and yet here I was holding all this paperwork for me and Sharon and she wasn’t here.
It had become so normal for us to be in a different place every day, seeing different things,meeting different people and even here felt normal because it was different but something was wrong and I couldn’t get my head around it and thought and at any moment Sharon would arrive and tell me to leave the tickets alone.
The plane took off for Lima in Peru before then turning around for Beous Aires in Argentina. Peru looked very mountainous and a hard country to cycle through but I knew we had trained for it, we were so fit, so strong and yet here i was on a plane why was I on a plane again?
The plane soon took off again I crossed the continent and arrived in Beous Aires.
With a few hours wait and with some incredible help from an amazing friend I was sat in the VIP lounge drinking Baileys and getting lost in time. If it wasn’t for Sharon’s sister texting me I probably would have missed it and so had to run to the gate where I was shown on the plane and introduced to the head stewardess. She was incredible and treated me like a prince which was so strange as it felt like I had won a prize not lost the most precious person in the world.
Once I had landed and checked a few things I was whisked off to collect our things and get in a taxi.
Being back home felt so surreal, so familiar, so green and yet it was like I was in some strange movie, only hours before I was high on the Altiplano a few days before I was on an incredible adventure and now my world was like it was in a massive washing machine.
As we approached Devon the hills become more rolling, The fields seemed greener, the woodlands bigger with big Oak trees surrounding the large house’s, with the odd horse at a gate and cows in the fields. This was a place we loved and held close to our hearts and in this place were people we loved and hadn’t seen for over 2 years, it was a place of happiness but now it wasn’t.
The Taxi arrived at end of the farm lane and after a few screams from the driver that the stones were touching the bottom of his car I told him it was ok and that I would walk.
He helped me remove the boxes from the car and watched as he drove off, I started to walk down the lane and looked back when I heard a noise to see a rubbish cart pull up next to the boxes. I thought this is all I need know and sprinted back to recover them hoping they wouldn’t think the boxes were rubbish.
With the boxes safe and the driver gone I sat at the end of the lane looking out over the lush green country side and cried. The air was so thick and the smell so intense, I was in a place we both loved so dearly and yet I was alone, I just couldn’t get it.
I walked slowly down the lane and was met by Sharon’s father who ran to me.
I felt so lost and yet I was here with Sharon’s father holding me and even though I had failed to keep their daughter safe. how can I be shown so much love when I have lost the most precious thing to all of us. Sharon’s mum had made me a coffee cake something that no one in the world can better and her sisters were just so supportive and amazing like they always have been yet it almost felt like I was being rewarded.
I felt like I should have been punished for not preventing this from happening and I couldn’t work out what it was I should have done differently.
I have never met or had the pleasure of knowing and being part of such a loving family, that have supported every dream we ever had and to lose Sharon broke me.
I was finding it so hard to suddenly find myself back in Devon when only a few days before we were enjoying being high up on the altiplano surrounded by salt lakes, Volcanos and thermal pools and 2 years of the most incredible memories with the most incredible person.
The following weeks and months were the most surreal moments I have ever gone through. Seeing so many amazing family and friends I hadn’t seen for so long and to see how they’ve changed and their little ones more grown up, I was so happy to see them and so sad at the same time putting me in some weird emotion that seemed to be stuck like a ball on a string swinging between the two but never really anywhere.
A good friend Justin had flown in from South Africa to be with me and give me support which was incredible and yet I felt so helpless to know what I had to do, what I needed to do and how to do it. What do you do? I went to visit Sharon’s sister Natalie and meet her youngest for the first time which was incredible and yet in a weird way I felt I had won. I don’t know why but we were often having mini competitions and here I was meeting Brody for the first time and Sharon wasn’t here to meet him.I would have given anything to change that and yet I knew there was nothing I could do.
I felt so numb, lost and alone. People would ask if I was ok and to be honest I didn’t know, I was unable to know. Everything around me looked so normal, so safe, so familiar and yet it had all changed.
I would go from feeling ok and then knocked to the ground by a wave of pain like being hit by a train. I would have the sudden shock of what has happened and would hit me like a massive locomotive and then came large heavy carriages of flashing memories of all the things we did together and what I had lost pass over me one after another until my mind couldn’t cope anymore and would leave me as if on the tracks beaten, numb and disoriented to pick myself up and try pull myself together, start to refocus on where I was and slowly slot back into life. I continued to spend a lot of time with Sharon’s family which helped me so much and felt good to be around them.
On the 19th of May was Sharon’s funeral, 12 days before our 6th wedding anniversary at the place where we got married. It was a beautiful day and yet the saddest for everyone one there. The rain fell on the church while the service went on and I sat with many in disbelief in what was happening. So many people were touched and by Sharon’s incredible nature and spirit and I don’t think anyone in the church could believe she was gone.
People commented on how well I coped but yet I don’t think I could even come close to believing she was gone, I felt like I had left her behind in Bolivia not stood at her funeral with so many family and friends watching her being lowered into the ground. It was all so wrong and so unreal how could it be real it couldn’t be.
To be honest I don’t think anyone could really believe she had gone after being away for 2 years the physical loss was hard for most as they hadn’t seen Sharon for that long.
I felt so lucky to have such amazing family and friends that wanted to be there for me but I also wanted to be there for them. I knew that it wasn’t just me that had lost someone incredible but Sharon’s parents and sisters who she was so close to and also her friends who had lost one of the most selfless, uncomplicated and compassionate person I knew it would also really hard.
Sharon Death was like throwing a massive rock into the pond of life and watching the waves rock and devastate so many people. Sharon touched more lives then any of us could ever imagine many of which had never met and made so many realise how precious the time that we have in this world really is.
I found the weeks following my return to the UK hard enough but the the other thing I found hard was to sleep, unable to settle my mind waking up as if I had sever jet lag and yet no matter how hard I tried and how tired I got I just couldn’t sleep.
In the end and with no choice I went to the doctors who were amazing and gave me sleeping tablets. I have never been one to take pills to get over things but I had to do something. It worked well and after around an hour I would drop into a deep sleep but the tablets left me drowsy and uncomfortable.
I would try to come off them by missing out one now and then but my mind wasn’t fooled.
Our 6th year wedding anniversary was approaching and I felt lost, We should have been in La Paz or even Peru and yet here I was alone in the Uk feeling totally disoriented. On our wedding anniversary we used to go out for dinner at a pub on the moor and then afterwards we would walk up to a cross on one of the many Tors and bivy over night. we would sleep under the stars and fall asleep waking to walkers and sheep and sit and enjoy the sunrise with a cup of tea.
I decided If I was to return to Bolivia I needed to face my fears and challenge myself and mind.
I took myself to the pub where we would have dinner and sat alone feeling pretty sorry for myself, I then headed out into the fog and the cool spring breeze that was coming from the west. I followed the valley up between 2 Tors by memory and apart from wet feet I sort of knew where I was once at the top. Unable to see more then 4 metres I used the gradient of the ground to judge where I was and with a bit of wondering around a large tower of rocks appeared through the mist and mounted on top a large stone cross.
I climbed to the base of the cross and lay some flowers and cried. I pulled myself together and looked for a sheltered spot out of the cold wind and lowered my sleeping bag in to my bivy. I turned on my iPod and looked at pictures of Sharon and the thought of losing her was heart wrenching. It was one of the worst nights I’d had and the thought of her gone was unbearable.
I fell a sleep in a state of exhaustion and woke with the sun on my face and a slight breeze. I felt numb and unable to think, I sat looking at the view but didn’t really take notice of anything. It was so quiet and just strange being there with no one.
I lit the stove and made a cupper and just sat in silence. time just seemed to stand still and so calm.
I packed everything away and descended the steep slope to the stream crossing paths with a lady walking her dog. We made general conversation before we separated near the bottom of the hill where she headed off down stream and I looked for a place to cross.
This is when I would normally try and take a picture of Sharon in case she fell in but not this time. I stepped over the stream and looked back at the stone cross on top of the Tor. There stood at the base of the cross was a single figure which sent goose bumps down my neck and I started to cry. the Figure stood for a few seconds disappeared out of sight and so I turned wondered slowly back to the car. I never went back there in the 10 months I was in Devon but from that night on I never needed sleeping tablets.
As the following month passed I received news that one of the main contributors of our cycle club Tony Johnston had cancer, Tony was a massive influence on us, the club and made hyperventilating fun whilst helping out on club time trails. Tony would always be the first person to put his hand up and muck in and always did it with a big smile on his face and a lot of enegy. He like everyone else took a shine to Sharon knowing what a battle she had to recover from back problems and get back on a bike but never dwelled on the negative.
I went to visit Tony who even though he was in a bad way shone. I knew he didn’t have long left and so did he and I suppose I wanted to say goodbye but I couldn’t. Cancer is such a horrible illness and to watch someone fade away is heart breaking. I wanted to say don’t worry Sharon will keep you smiling but it wasn’t the right time and I don’t think it ever would be. Tony enjoyed his war memorabilia and the rare pieces he had collected. That was what was important not saying goodbye. He told me how sorry he was about Sharon and knew it had hurt him but I also knew loosing Tony would hurt me. He will always always have a place in my heart for helping us live our dreams and make them fun. One thing I did learn from Tony is even though he knew he was dying I knew he loved everyone around him.
One of the reasons for booking our flights home and us both getting excited was to see our good friends Andrew and Emma get married, it was going to be an amazing wedding and to have so many friends all chip in and help, other then Andrew squashing my finger having to drive to hospital with it up in the air and other drivers thinking i was waving at them making me pleased it wasn’t the middle finger I had squashed, then having the radiator exploding on the car I was borrowing off my brother everything went to plan and the wedding was incredible. To be 1 of a 3 best men team and to see the 2 most amazing people get married was brilliant even if I had a sore head afterwards. It was such a relaxed few days with so many helping camping and having fun it made the day even more special and a nice distraction for me.
The following months I started to work a few days a week at first, then increasing them to try and afford to live. It was so kind of my old boss to give me my job back and good to keep my hand in but I felt so lost, the guys were brilliant and understanding but not the best place to greave. I went on a few bike with rides, some to work others with friends and spent a lot of time visiting family and friends but never was able to settle.
I don’t even know how much time I stayed at my parents but knew however amazing they were I needed to keep my independence if I was going to go back. Our friend Yang who we cycled with in northern Kenya arrived while I was home after cycling from Turkey and so we spent a few days looking around Devon and riding a 100 mile night ride from Bath to Exmouth. It was so lovely to see him but so hard without Sharon. He met Brody Sharon’s little sisters youngest who had been born while we were cycling together. It was so hard to think Sharon never got to see him and knowing how excited she was at the thought of coming home to meet her new nephew and I could see it hit a cord with Yang. he to knew how much it meant to Sharon and I could see him well up. He asked me if he could visit Sharon’s grave which was so hard knowing how much fun we’d had together and what it would mean for us both to visit Sharon.
It wasn’t long after Yang had left that Hanna the Japanese girl who was riding with Yang and us also came to visit after she had ridden from China on a $200 lady’s bike.
She told me she never would have done the ride from China if it wasn’t for the positive attitude Sharon had while we were cycling together and how much Sharon had helped her while we were together.
I just couldn’t believe I was taking some of the most amazing people that we’d had such great adventures with to visit Sharon’s grave. I showed Hanna around parts of Devon and introduced her to the many local ales that she was getting the taste for.
She came on a ride in the evening with our friend Andrew and she enjoyed very minute. After she had left I wondered how many other people were scattered around the world all doing things they never thought they would do if it wasn’t for Sharon.
With Time passing so fast and knowing that I needed to return I knew I had to stay fit and keep a good level of fitness. Luckily I not only have amazing friends but amazing friends that like sport.
With the 100 mile night ride in the bag I was asked if I would like to enter a race across Scotland by our good friend who was keen to have someone to train with. It was perfect and apart from a few twinges from an old calf injury. We managed several training runs on the moor with cake stops, A couple bike rides with cake stops and joined by more friends and cake, a paddle in a lake where i luckily managed to capsize 50 metres from the shore with a little swimming practise and even a sail on Charlies cattermeran. I was ready and so we headed to Inverness and started the race which consisted of a 7 mile run, 50mile mtb ride and a paddle in a canoe then no sleep after being bitten on the elbow and having an allergic reaction from a mozzie. Then a 35 mile mtb ride, 14 mile run and a mile canoe.
I have never had stomach cramps and cramp in my neck at the same time. I was the closest I think I’ve been to being broken but I needed it and enjoyed every second. To have an event like this to focus on was what I needed and I needed more and with friends that like getting out was just what I needed.
With a 200 km Audax to come a 11 mile christmas run and a 12.5 mile spring off road run I just hoped it would keep me in shape.
With so many people feeling like they needed to do something Sharon’s sister and husband organised a music night in honour of Sharon raising money for Shelter Box and the Samaritans, two charities that are both close to our hearts. At first i didn’t think I could go but with the amount of work and effort they had put in and with many of my friends playing along with so many family and friends being there i just had to man up.
It was incredible to see how many went but so hard when It hits you why they were there. The guys from Sheltor Box had been incredible, spending time explaining what they do, what they provide and how they get this life saving equipment to where its needed most. This alone was testament to the reason why we support them and how they manage to help so many people.
As time swiftly passed It was coming up to our birthdays and normally if we were home Sharon would organise a trip to the Brecon Beacons with as many friends that could make it.
With some amazing combined help from so many people we managed to get a large group together to remember Sharon. It was an incredible weekend of cycling running, walking, eating, drinking jumping in puddles and playing games but felt so strange without Sharon there who was always had such a vibrant presence and being so close to her birthday it was hard knowing just how young she was.
With Christmas in just a few weeks I thought back to the last 2 we’d had away from home and how we had longed to spend it with our family’s. We were lucky with the last one being with such amazing people but we did miss our family so much and the walks we would go on in-between christmas and new year. I et heart broken I was was here to see everyone and Sharon wasn’t but there wasn’t a thing I could do about it.
Both Sharon’s family and my own were amazing support and even though it was so hard trying to keep a brave face and knowing that deep down we were all missing the one person that we really wanted there we got through.
I spent new year at Andrew and Emma’s house with Ryan and Amanda and enjoyed a few pints in the pub and helping Andy build his pergola. It was great to be surrounded by friends and help out before I returned to Chile.
I couldn’t believe where the time was going and having booked my return tickets to Santiago Chile what felt like ages ago was now looming. The last few days around new year was always a good time to meet up with friends and a time of year we would head to the Quantox for a walk/ride or run and with some great organising by Sara we had a really lovely group. It so good to have great friends around that would stick by each other.
With so many things to do before I headed back I needed what felt like another month but I knew it was at lest keeping me focused and with our friend Charlie organising a ski trip to France it was a good distraction to just stop and rest before I returned.
The weeks passed and so with little time after our ski trip I moved out of my friends place and back to my parents, It had been so good to stay with Andy R and enjoy the rides out to the pub with him and a few others and gave me the time I needed to sort to my things before I returned. With little time between moving out and in to my parents a small group of big kids and little kids headed for the Alps. It was so good to be in the mountains and gave me chance to get a little used to the altitude. I decided to give skiing ago and apart from snapping my skis in half on the first day I got on ok enjoying the clean air, great friends and of course a few beers.
The last few weeks flew by and so I met up with Sharon’s oldest sister Cath and her family. It was so great to see them all and spend time with them but saying goodbye felt strange as I wasn’t leaving for a couple weeks. They had been so amazing and I just couldn’t get it into my head that I wouldn’t see them for 2 years, I had been so busy over the last few months I don’t think any of what I was about to do was sinking it. I tied to catch up with as many people as I could. With a few meals out and a couple rides to the pub it was time to head to London for the last few days. Katie had organised a few friends to come up and go out for a meal while Amanda and Stuart had organised places to stay. It was such a lovely weekend and they were incredible hosts but It was hard knowing I wouldn’t see many of them for so long. I loved them all including anyone who couldn’t go but it felt so strange saying good bye. I just hoped and prayed that I would see every single one of them again.
Amanda had kindly offered to take my parents and me to the airport and give us time to say good bye. The last 10 months had been the hardest months I have ever gone through and if it wasn’t for my family and friends it would have been 10 tens harder and 10 times lonelier. I was now about to set off on my own having to responsible for my own airline tickets, my own kit, my own cooking and my own mind. I didn’t know how I got here but i had toughen up my body and mind and there was only one way. I just hope it doesn’t break me .
I never really felt like taking photos when i got home as I couldn’t bring myself to. here are a selection of pictures by others to show you how amazing my friends are.
Thanks for reading xxxxx
My ride to work
I feel lucky to have such an amazing family
This is a small portion of the many people who helped to make the music night special
Andy preparing for his big day
Andy and Emma having just tied the not
my bit to help (there were more )
Jules helping me train we like pasty’s
Spending time with Yang and my nieces
Hanna checking out Rachel’s house boat with Jules and Hanna
Sharon’s sister Natalie and her beautiful family
Enjoying the ride in Brecon
There was enough puddles even for me
meeting up with Jo and Lizzie
Out on a training ride with Andy
They are not only great friends but amazing cyclists
Tony always joining in on the fun
Charlie showing what I can do on Day one
After a hard day breaking skis its time for a beer
Great day out
My last Tea with my family
Such an amazing bunch of friends
Thanks for reading xxx