Let's go back to last August and the seeds of this trip. Myself and Mick were chatting over a cuppa about our trip to the Pyrenées and the Alps and how it would be good to do something like that again but in the process raise some money for charity. We both felt strongly about cancer and believed that although neither of us had (at the time) any direct family or friends suffer from the disease it was a very worthy cause. We had a charity now all we needed was a route.
Another Mikado or two later (I happened to be out of Fig Rolls) and the Flight of the Earls was mentioned. The idea formed over the next few weeks and months, Hardy came on board and the rest you know.
Then in December we got word that Martin was in hospital with a stomach tumour. Over the next few months I can only imagine what the man went through. At all times however he continued to talk about coming on the trip. It was, I suppose, a goal for him; something to aim for. When we were on our Sunday morning training spins in February and March, Martin was having chemo. We all hoped of course that he'd be well enough to come but as the fine weather approached it (and he'll be the first one to acknowledge it) it seemed less and less likely.
However, in May Martin got back on the bike. His first day out he took part in a Tour de Turlough (a local team handicap race) with his son Mark and they settled for a respectable pace of 16m.p.h. The two of them won the race and posted a time over 20 mph...Martin was back.
In early June I got a text from Martin to say that his flights were booked. I replied in one word "Deadly" Ok in hindsight it wasn't the best choice of words after all he'd been through but he knew what I meant.
On the 4th of July he joined us in Belgium. Since then he has cycled over 1,400km in 13 days. He has climbed every hill, spun every crank and not once did we have to look over our shoulder to see where he was. To say he's an inspiration to us all falls way too short. Many people in his position would just be happy to stay at home, watch the match on telly and count themselves lucky. Not Martin. He's thriving, he's living and he's loving every minute of it.
One of the defining moments of the trip for him was reaching the top of the Ballon d'Alsace which was the first big climb of the trip. That was Martin's acid test and he passed with loads to spare. He insisted on buying us all a memento to mark the occasion and it's something we will all remember.
He's leaving tomorrow not because he's tired and he's had enough but because he going to his neice's wedding at the weekend (another goal of his during the dark days). We'll miss him for the jokes (that you Gunter?) the singing but not for the punctures. It's been a pleasure for us all having him and he has been the success story of this trip.