If his 73-year-old father can ride his bike from London to Paris, Nick Underwood figures he can certainly push himself to cycle across five countries. And with that as his motivation, the commercial director for UK-based Open Mind Productions is gearing up for, quite literally, the longest ride of his life.
Underwood’s joining 24 other cyclists on the road for three days in the National Autistic Society (NAS) Five Countries Bike Ride, which kicks off on June 5. It all started when he found himself meeting with NAS’s chairman after receiving a bunch of positive feedback about Open Mind’s preschool series Numberjacks from parents with autistic children. As for the long haul ahead, Underwood says, ‘I’m looking forward to it in a perverse kind of way.’
Underwood readily admits that his cycling experience is pretty much non-existent. ‘I’m 47 and weigh 280 pounds, so I’m a big chap,’ he notes. That doesn’t mean he’s a stranger to the entire sporting world. He’s got years of rugby playing under his belt, but since injuring his knee a few years ago, sports that involve running were ruled out and he turned to his bike to stay active.
Even with an athletic background and having completed 10- to 15-mile walks for charity, Underwood’s never pushed himself to this extent physically. ‘It’s way beyond my comfort zone,’ he admits. ‘But why start small? I wanted to give myself a goal in cycling and this was it.’
The journey begins on the morning of June 5 at Gatwick Airport in London, where he’ll cycle for 96 miles until nightfall, then hop on a ferry to Dunkirk, France, just at the edge of the Belgian border. From there, he’ll rise with the sun, climb back on his bike at 6 a.m. and ride the longest stretch of the journey, clocking about 136 miles through Belgium and the Netherlands. ‘I’m hoping the Dutch section of the ride is going to be extremely flat,’ he jokes. The third and final day will add another 100 miles to the count as the group makes its way to the trek’s end point, Arken, Germany. All told, the cyclists should rack up an impressive 320 miles on their odometers.
Underwood has been on a strict training schedule since November, cycling between 80 and 120 miles per week, hitting the gym, swimming and ‘eating lots of food’ to make up for all the calories he’s burning up.
At press time, Underwood had raised approximately US$3,000 for NAS through the generous support of the UK licensing community in which he’s been immersed for the last 16 years. He’s still accepting donations (at www.justgiving.com/nickunderwood1) and is also thankful for his family’s support, noting his wife and kids have taken to driving alongside him while yelling words of encouragement from the car.
When all is said and done, will he do it again? He’s definitely eager to participate in charity events on an annual basis, but perhaps not quite the same journey. ‘At least we don’t have to cycle back,’ he says. ‘We come back on the train. That’s the good thing.’ ECA