Fundraiser extraordinaire and experienced cyclist, Steve Craddock MBE, has completed another bike ride for the Charity, in Sri Lanka – and he claims it was both the toughest and best challenge he’s undertaken.
Though the distance of a ‘mere’ 400km is a lot less than the 64-year-old has undertaken previously, circumstances combined to make it seem a lot longer. Craddock and his fellow cyclists endured temperatures in the mid-40s Celsius, unmade undulating roads and many long steep climbs, as they took in some of the Indian Ocean island’s most beautiful vistas.
What’s more, the former Royal Engineers Sergeant – from Chatham – was recovering from illness, but he was determined to see it through. And he’s glad he did.
He explained: “I really struggled on this one. I wasn’t fit enough. I’d been quite ill – I’d had a benign cancerous growth. I hadn’t really been able to train so that made it tough. But I managed to get through it in the end, although I did have a bit of a mental wobble on one day. I could still turn the pedals, so I wasn’t going to give in.
“I’d been under a lot of stress in the past year, and it probably made it feel worse than it was. It was the toughest of my challenges owing to the circumstances. But Sri Lanka was an unbelievable experience. It’s one of my favourite accomplishments because it was so tough.
“We lost a day, because our flight was delayed, and it’s not as long as I’ve done previously, but you’re on poor roads, on big, heavy mountain bikes, with wide tyres packing in the resistance, and then add in the heat and 90 per cent humidity and everything else, it was a real challenge.”
There were many memorable moments on the 10-day trip, but one, in particular, will stand out long in his memory.
He added: “I desperately wanted to visit the Commonwealth War Graves in Kandy. It was the most beautiful cemetery I’ve ever been in – and I’ve seen 100s – for about 100 to 120 guys. I laid a wreath, gave a dedication and we had a minute’s silence.
“As there are only occasional visitors the guys tend to lie there forgotten so I asked everybody to take a picture of a gravestone and, on Remembrance Day, look at the picture and just remember that guy. And they all agreed to do it. It was a massive thing for me.
“I also arranged with our guide, a lad from Kandy, that I will send a wreath out every year and he will visit the cemetery and lay it on my behalf. That was so important to me. I got very emotional in the cemetery. That was the highlight of the week.”
There were also many more memories made across the trip, as the ride took in some stunning scenery and landscapes, as they travelled from Negombo to Tangalle, via Kandy, the hillside tea plantations of Nuwara Eliya, and Bandarawela. And the normally dispassionate Craddock admitted he was quite taken with the warmth of the people, especially given the current turmoil in the country.
“We came across two quite big anti-Government demonstrations on the day we climbed into ‘tea country’ and Little England,” he recalled. “We had to ride past these people who were clearly angry at the way things are in the country now, and yet, all they wanted to do was take selfies with us, high-five us and smile at us.
“The Sri Lankan people are the most kind-hearted, generous spirited, wonderful people. They deserve so much better.
“As we dropped back onto the coastal plains, we had two of the most spectacular descents I’ve ever had. I might have been at the back when we were climbing up the hills, but I was at the front going down. Riding down the steep mountains was absolutely glorious, at more than 40 mph. Jamming on the brakes for the switchbacks ...
“Plus, the views were amazing: the verdant mountainsides and the waterfalls took my breath away. It’s the most beautiful country. I’ve ridden through quite a few but this was the best.
“I even managed to capture a picture of a rarely seen Sri Lankan Jungle Cat, when we went on a safari on the final day.”
Craddock, who has raised more than £500,000 for the Armed Forces charity in the last 13 years, is resting up, briefly, before joining 154 other riders for Help for Heroes’ biggest annual fundraiser, the Big Battlefield Bike Ride, which takes in 350 miles of the Great War’s Western Front on the Somme, next month.
To donate to Steve Craddock’s fundraising efforts, please visit his Just Giving page.