Why I am riding from Land’s End to John O’Groats in the Deloitte Ride Across Britain (a distance of 980 miles in 9 days) to raise money for Dementia UK? The simple answer is in memory of my father, John Evans, who had he been alive would have been 84 today (26 June). Unfortunately John suffered from vascular dementia for well over the last 10 years of his life and had we, as a family, known about Dementia UK at the time, the support and advice we could have accessed could have made what we, and my mother in particular, had to go through so much easier to deal with on a day to day basis.
Dementia is such a cruel disease as you never know how long you have to live with the disease and its rates of progression are so different between people with different forms of the disease. In the case of my father, there were a series declines followed by plateaus. John and the family began to think something was wrong when he couldn’t complete The Daily Telegraph crossword, something he’d been completing for over 30 years. We then saw a loss of short term memory with the repetition of conversations on a 10 minute loop – it was terribly difficult to continue the same conversation when John had no idea we’d discussed the particular topic three times already!
John and my mother retired to Dittisham, near Dartmouth in Devon, and I think one of John’s happiest day was walking my sister, Caroline, down the aisle at her wedding. Even then in 2002, the decline had set in and I had the pleasure of giving the “Brother of the Bride” speech at the reception after John had welcomed the guests before the meal.
The odd thing was that his long term memory was fine until he lost his mobility. When we eventually decided to move John into a care home, one day he escaped by climbing over a locked 5 barred gate. This was second nature to an ex-agricultural lecturer and Head of College who would regularly walk the College farm. Fortunately, the escape attempt took place in the summer and he was found several hours later over three miles away having travelled through a few fields!
It was also awful to see the loss of the ability to communicate, particularly for someone who had been so articulate. John must have found it frustrating as well, as one day in the care home he lifted a huge cathode ray TV off its table in the lounge and placed it carefully on the floor – I can only think he wasn’t enjoying the day time telly !
I have a huge amount to thank John for, notwithstanding the obvious! He was responsible for instilling my “values” – work hard, treat people with respect and how you would like to be treated, don’t say anything if you haven’t got anything nice to say and be loyal and generous to your family and friends. I think I also inherited his competitive instinct – anyone who heard his exhortations to himself on the golf course will know what I mean. I can still hear the “Oh John!” shouts following a duff shot!
I also picked up my love of sailing, crewing for John in “Gusty” while learning to sail. We had a series of holidays to Rock in north Cornwall in the 1970s, before it got terribly trendy, trailing the dinghy down the M4 and M5 from Kent.
A real bucket and spade holiday, sailing in the estuary and surfing at Polzeath. John would escape for a few rounds of golf at St Enodoc Golf Club leaving the rest of us having fun on the beach, digging pits, building sandcastles and tennis ball helter-skelters and flying kites.
What would John think about me undertaking this ride? He’d be terribly proud, pretty surprised (as I only took up cycling about four years ago), worried about the amount of training involved (and the lack of tennis I’ve played this year) and fully supportive of my efforts. I have to say I still miss him more than I care to admit.
If you would like to learn more about the great work carried out by Dementia UK you can reach their website by clicking here
If you would like to sponsor me so I can raise loads of money for Dementia UK you can donate via my Virgin Money Giving page here