“So just to check,” I said to comedian Sarah Hendrickx on Skype yesterday. “You’ve gone mad. On Monday, you’re going to start cycling 800 miles to Barcelona and you’ve never done anything like this before. You could go by train but, no, you’re going to cycle.”
“That wouldn’t be quite such an adventure,” Sarah explained. “That’s not so much of a personal, physical and mental challenge.”
“So remind me why you’re going…?”
“It was about the terrible thing that you blogged about,” said Sarah, “when I got stuck up the Sagrada Família in Barcelona and ended up going a bit mental and getting agoraphobia. So this is me going back to sort it all out and become a brave person.”
“And you’ve never done anything like this cycling before?” I asked Sarah.
“Oh, absolutely not,” she said. “I’ve never even slept in a tent before. I put the tent up in my back garden to try it out a few weeks ago, but I was too frightened to sleep in it.”
“This was in your back garden in Worthing?” I checked.
“Yes,” confirmed Sarah. “Ten yards from my own back door. The trip to Barcelona is going to be quite a challenge.”
“Have you been testing your legs,” I asked, “so you’re sure you really can cycle for 800 miles?”
“Noooo!” said Sarah. “I’ve been extraordinarily lazy… The weather’s been crappy and… no… I… erm… I’ve been working away from home a lot and the weather’s been shit and I’ve been lazy and… No…Not in any way or shape or form have I prepared for this. I went out once for a bike ride… Oh! And I also cycled to the beach, about a mile away from my home and had a cup of coffee and a cake.”
“So what’s the furthest you’ve ever ridden?” I asked.
“38 miles,” replied Sarah. “Once. In Oxfordshire. It was very sunny. And flat.”
“How much do you intend to ride every day?” I asked.
“I’ll have to do at least 50 miles a day for at least 16 days,” explained Sarah, “so, by Day Three, there are going to be children in campsites going: Maman! What is zee matter with zat lady? She appears to be paralysed from head to toe and unable to put her tent away!”
“The main question,” I said to Sarah. “My main question is: Why? Just Why?”
“Last year,” explained Sarah, “I went to this thing called The Adventure Travel Film Festival and there were all these absolute nutcases who had canoed down the Congo and suchlike on their own.
“None of yer Bear Grylles support vehicles. Just individual people who had headed off alone to do this mental stuff. And I was inspired by this. But I’m not brave enough to go down the Congo in a boat.
“So my slightly more sedate adventure is to cycle across France back to this place in Barcelona where things all went a bit wrong for me 12 years ago.”
“So the furthest you’ve ever cycled,” I re-checked, “was 38 miles in…”
“In Oxfordshire,” Sarah interrupted. “It was very flat. I’m allergic to hills. I don’t think there are any in France, so I think it’s going to be fine. And it’s all downhill to the Mediterranean, surely?”
“Do the words Pyrenees Mountains mean anything to you?” I asked.
“I think I might go round the edge of them,” Sarah told me.
“Can you?” I asked. “You can out-flank them?”
“I don’t know!” laughed Sarah. “By the time I get that far, I’ll either be dead or I won’t care! “
“When are you back in the UK?” I asked.
“I’ve got a flight booked home from Barcelona on Sunday the 16th of June.”
“So how long are you going to be in hospital in Barcelona?” I asked.
“The food’s gotta be better than it will be on the trip,” laughed Sarah. “Though I have been thinking of just hiding in my house for three weeks and randomly sending Tweets as if from France and Spain.”
“You’ll be doing things on your Twitter @sarah_hendrickx?”
“Possibly. And I’ve been doing a few little blog posts in preparation for it.”
“What’s your blog called?”
“Fair enough,” I said. “Are you raising money on this? You should be doing a charity thing.”
“No,” said Sarah. “If people want to give money to charity, they can just do that anyway without the excuse of me having to go and half-kill myself.”
“But,” I asked, “ultimately all this is going to end up in your jaw-dropping and jolly jape-filled Edinburgh Fringe show Time Traveller in August?”
“It will,” said Sarah.
“Does your Edinburgh venue have wheelchair access in case anything goes wrong?” I asked.
“I don’t know.”
“What do your two children think about it?”
“They’re both grown up. They’re not worried about the physical challenge. It’s more my mental well-being: the fear that mother will go even more mad. I think the fact I can’t cycle that far is almost a done deal. They’re more worried by Do you think she’ll be OK out there on her own?
“I’ve never been anywhere for three weeks on my own. I think most people haven’t. Not without anybody. No structure. No plan apart from just to keep going. No-one to talk to. No-one there. That’s something I’ve never experienced for that length of time.”
“Can you speak French or Spanish?” I asked.
“I can speak a bit of French, though probably not the kind of French vocabulary I will need, which involves punctures and mental illness.”
“What happens if you really don’t make it? If you get stuck halfway?”
“I don’t mind. It’s the sense of adventure and what happens along the way that’s the point of it, really. If it becomes completely undo-able – physically or because it pisses with rain – I shall just dump the bike in a hedge and get a train and that will then be part of what the Edinburgh show’s about. It’s not about me finishing. It’s about me going for it and having a crack. People don’t push themselves out of their comfort zone. I want to. What could possibly go wrong?”
“Have the two words Cannibal Frenchmen ever crossed your mind?” I asked.
“A tough old bird like me?” said Sarah, “Anyway, I’ll be road kill by the time I meet any.”
“Are you going to be sending me regular updates?”
“Certainly,” said Sarah.
“You can Skype me,” I said.
“Then you’ll be able to see me crying in real time,” said Sarah. “I have a solar-powered phone charger. I’m hoping for some sunshine.”
“Normally,” I told Sarah, “I would say Break a leg, but that’s probably not a good thing to say. Lots of people do far more adventurous things than this, but they’re probably a bit more prepared. If Ranulph Fiennes were to do this, it would not be very impressive. But, if you do it, it’s bloody impressive because your adventure threshold starting point is lower.”
“I have prepared a little,” said Sarah. “I’ve been reading this morning about how long your pubic hair should be to avoid pulling, chaffing and all sorts of unpleasantness. There’s all sorts of medical things you need to know if your backside is going to be on a saddle for 800 miles over 16 days. There’s all sorts of things you really wouldn’t want to know about, John.”
“The pubic hair detail is already more than I wanted to know,” I told her.
“Well,’ said Sarah proudly, “that’s the sort of preparation I HAVE been doing instead of going cycling.”