On 31st December, I would usually be sitting cosily on the sofa by the fire, surrounded by family friends and lots of food, discussing the events of the year and playing games, then watching the fireworks on TV.
This year, however, was different.
This year, I spent 31st December in Bristol, 100% absorbed in preparations for the start of the most exciting journey in my life. A journey which I am not physically undertaking myself, but instead am part of the team making it happen. As you all know by now, Luke Grenfell-Shaw, a 25-year-old CanLiver, and my cousin, is cycling from Bristol to Beijing on a tandem. But you probably don’t know me – my name’s Kira, and I’m in charge of social media for this incredible adventure.
It has been around half a year since planning for this started in earnest, around 4 months since I joined the team, and nearly 3 months ago the project went live. In that time, the team of around 10 people volunteering their time to make this adventure happen have worked tirelessly on all sorts of different and unexpected tasks required for this journey, from finances to kit lists, to liaising with charities, making videos, and writing up the all-important minutes from our weekly Skype meetings (an impressive feat in themselves, given that the team included people in around 5 different countries and therefore different time zones!)
Everything had been building up to this moment for months, but I still couldn’t quite believe that 1st January 2020 was just a day away! I was staying at my aunt and uncle’s (Luke’s parents’) house for a few days over New Year, to be on hand to help prepare for the launch, and the house was a hive of activity! I barely looked up from Bristol2Beijing-related tasks that day, whether that be scheduling social media posts, accompanying Luke to test out the tandem with its loaded trailer, reaching out to important people on Twitter in case they’d like to share our project, checking we had all the food for the multiple events of the next couple of days, and so much more! The tasks were almost never-ending, and we came to the realisation that we would never be fully ready, but that more-or-less ready would be good enough (luckily!)
And if that weren’t enough, we also had a pre-launch event at the hospital where Luke was treated in Bristol. Representatives of two of the charities Bristol2Beijing is supporting (TCT and CLIC Sargent) came, along with health workers and many people involved with Luke’s treatment, a few Bristol2Beijing team members, some other CanLivers, the Lord Mayor, and of course Chris, the tandem! The whole thing was a lovely affair, with tea, cakes, speeches, photos and a really nice atmosphere. Cycling back, however, a small problem appeared – the pedal fell off my bike as I was riding it! I walked it up the next hill, and then managed to awkwardly ride with just one pedal along the flat and down the hill back to Luke’s house! My own mini adventure for the day!
That evening, Luke had organised a NYE party with lots of his friends, which he was happily certain would “all just work out” with minimal effort, although his mum was rather put out at this idea after all the work she had put in to ensure it went smoothly! As the first guests began to arrive, I was still hurrying to finish my Bristol2Beijing to-do list, so I resumed my position on the sofa, ate all of the delicious Moroccan hummus and carrot sticks that were put in front of me, and rattled off tweets to the royal family, Lance Armstrong, and Jimmy Kimmel (no-one has replied yet, but you’ve got to aim high, right?!) After ticking off the last box on my to-do list, relieved, I put away my laptop, and went to join the rest of Luke’s lovely friends for games of Balderdash, delicious food, T-shirt swapping, and many interesting conversations. Soon it struck midnight, and we headed outside to watch a stunning set of fireworks from Luke’s garden, but also many of his neighbours’ gardens, and Luke regaled us with a great rendition of Auld Lang Syne on the bagpipes, which we all sang along to, albeit repeating the chorus again and again, because none of us knew any other words! After fun Bristol2Beijing-themed long exposure sparkler photos, at least Luke and I went to bed, in anticipation of the busy day ahead, although the party still carried on into the early hours!
After a morning wake-up call from Luke and his bagpipes, some of the team set off to BGS to set up for the launch, while others arrived from 10:30am. There was a beautiful atmosphere in the room for the launch. People had come from near and far, both personal friends of Luke, and those who had recently found out about his project. There were crisps and cake and tea and coffee, and people milled around sharing Luke- or cycling-themed stories! At 11am the tandem arrived and the cake was ceremoniously cut, and at 11:30 there were inspiring speeches from Luke, his parents, his godmother, and his friend Jamie (also providing the first night’s accommodation). At 11:27 I hurried around, desperately trying to find someone else’s phone to record the promised live video, as the trial with my phone a minute earlier hadn’t worked! A friend of a friend graciously lent me their phone, and I successfully recorded my first Facebook live video, enjoying following the number of people watching in real time!
After the speeches were completed, we all headed out for more photos, and the moment everyone had been waiting for – the grand departure of the Bristol2Beijing ride! Just after noon, Luke, with CanLiver Elena joining him on the tandem, cycled off from BGS to the sounds of “My Shot”, one of his favourite Hamilton songs, the ringing of bells, and big cheers from the crowd of nearly 100 who had joined us to see him off (around 30 of whom on their bikes to cycle the first day with the tandem! At only 12km, the ride was accessible to many people who are not frequent cyclists, and Luke was well-accompanied).
After a brief visit to BHOC where we’d had the pre-launch the day before, we cycled out of Bristol across Clifton Suspension Bridge, but not until the BBC had chased us around the streets for 15 minutes to catch Luke for a TV interview! We’re yet to find where the footage ended up, but will post a link when we do! The day was chilly and damp – typical British weather to see Luke off – but the company was warm, and the hills made us even warmer! We enjoyed chatting to new people, seeing the surprise on the faces of passers by when they saw the brightly coloured tandem and its accompanying convoy of cyclists, and I even managed to take a video for our Instagram story while crossing the suspension bridge…maybe not the most sensible idea, but it’s all part of keeping a good online presence! I couldn’t do all that I wanted for my social media role after that though, as my phone decided it didn’t like the cold and switched itself off!
Thankfully my pedal stayed on this time, after Mark fixed it, and the only hitch was when a small group accidentally took a “slight detour” and went on a bit of a longer ride than the rest of us. On arrival at the farm in Pill where Luke was to stay the night, a wonderful team of people who had helped clear up the launch venue after we left, had also driven across to the farm and set up a much-appreciated buffet lunch in the barn! It was our last chance for more photos, congratulating Elena who had worked hard since her trial ride with Luke not long ago (well done!), and more chatting (although this time under blankets, as when you’re not cycling, the winter weather is pretty cold!), before most people headed off home, either getting a lift, or cycling back.
It was not yet the end of the day for the team though! Oh no! We adjourned to the farmhouse, which was much warmer, as there was still more to do: namely, a complicated discussion about fundraising and finances (excitingly, we’ve raised nearly 100% of our original fundraising goal already, but on the other hand that lends much more urgency to discussions on what to do next!) By that point, the adrenaline was starting to wear off, and the reality of the (large) amount of work and (little) amount of sleep over the past few days began to make itself felt, and by the end of the discussions I was very ready to curl up on the sofa and sleep! However, between me and the sofa there still lay an 8km cycle back! I forced myself back out into the cold (and by now, dark), switched on my lights, and followed Mark and Jeremy back to Bristol, lagging behind on the hills as my earlier energy had now left me! Back at the ranch, as Jenny and Mark say, I had a well-deserved shower and some lovely hugs, I contentedly put on my fluffy socks and curled up on the sofa, before a meal of leftovers, and a nice early night!
It has been a very different New Year to usual, but I am honoured to have been a part of the launch of such an exciting project, and to support Luke being the wonderful human he is, inspiring people every day, living his life, and still being so considerate to those around him. And the work doesn’t stop here. In reality, it’s only just started! Luke expects the journey to last around a year, and the social media updates will have to do their best to keep up! Happy 2020, and may it be a year where you choose your adventure, appreciate those around you, and do what you can to make the most of your todays.