karen wright

Karen Wright - cycling challenge

Fundraising for Macmillan Cancer Support
raised of £4,250 target
by 68 supporters
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Event: Macmillan Cancer Support - Trans Central America Cycling Challenge, on 21 November 2009
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Every single mile of a three month plus training programme was worthwhile in helping me to complete – successfully - the 680km (425 mile) cycling challenge climbing 6265 metres (21,000 feet) through Central America on behalf of Macmillan Cancer Support from 21 November to 3 December 2009.

It was a challenge for all 50 participants who ranged in age (22 to 72) and ability. And there was more to the challenge than just the cycling. Hot and humid conditions, torrential tropical downpours and potholes you could swim in!

The 50 to 70 mile cycle was just part of the daily routine. Once at camp the next task was to find a patch of flattish ground that was relatively dry (if possible), pitch the tent and retrieve the kit bag off the lorry. Once sorted, it was a dash for the shower which at worst was a bucket filled from a horse trough and at best a changing room on a village football ground.  

Camping mate Kate and I got this off to a ‘T’ and soon learned the ropes (sorry!) 

The first day – from La Fortuna Reserve in north west Panama to Almirante on Caribbean coast was tough, even for the cycling pros. The first 20km was uphill and then 15km downhill through rainforest before hitting undulating and winding roads through countryside inhabited by indigenous populations. About 67 miles and a total ascent of 1524m meant only half of us reached the campsite before nightfall (yes, I did make it so no refunds on sponsor monies!)

The next day took us to the Costa Rica border along the coastline and the terrain – thankfully – was a bit flatter. But the challenge now was soaring temperatures that reached 41°C causing several tyres to explode as we parked up and filled out our forms at the Panama Costa Rica border.

Slightly better camping facilities awaited us near Cahuita in a jungle lodge – not quite as smart as it may sound and lasting memories are the huge mosquitoes and howler monkeys waking us at 5am. But on the flip side, there was a fairly well stocked bar of cold beers.

Now we were heading up the Costa Rican coastline and day 3 on the bike. After a fairly flat 40km we managed a dip in the sea – a very welcome treat – before reaching the industrial port of Limon. After a 100km bus trip (air-conditioned...what luxury) along a busy section of the highway we headed north west through primary rainforest to campsite 4 near Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui.

Overnight was in a single span cattle shed – luckily clean and cattle free. Day 4 in the saddle saw us heading for the volcanic area in the centre of Costa Rica. Here banana and pineapple growing is big business. Soils are fertile and apparently very little fertiliser. Crops grow year round. We passed juice and canning factories (I think!) and some fairly primitive dairy operations although the milk processing plants looked smart.

This was a tough afternoon (always better to get the hills over in the morning). We had a steep, long climb to San Miguel then along the undulating foothills of the volcanic mountains with a view of the active volcano Arenal. Words of advice from a senior member of the group helped as I despaired of yet another hill I could see snaking through the trees: ‘climb your hills Karen, don’t look at them’...ie, just get on with it!

Just 10km short of our campsite we stopped for a drink at one of the all-too-tempting bars in the tourist town of La Fortuna. What a disaster – just one drink (beer, not Marguirita) made this the hardest 10km of the trip as it turned out to be mainly uphill and at the end of a tough day. Add to this the torrential storm as we arrived at camp and any magic that camping may have held for me was fast disappearing.

The next couple of days took us through cattle country, mainly on tarmac road but the potholes were something to contend with and were the cause of several casualties.  

Most people soon slotted into a group of cyclists of a similar speed and stamina. One of the real highlights of the trip was the group camaraderie and as long as you maintained a sense of humor you could get through most days. Ability to drink, stay up late and cycle hard was mainly confined to those under 30 - and even then they started slipping down the cycle order towards the end of the trip. Those older and wiser paced themselves better (me included).

 Having said that, the afternoon of day 6 took us uphill on a section of unmade road - about 35km in total - to Santa Cecilia in north west Costa Rica. This was a real backwater where it seemed that the only transport was school busses and lorries laden with pineapples. What a relief to reach our campsite in a church garden and take a shower behind the confession box (very unusual!) and introduce ourselves to the local bar.

 Day 7 saw us heading for the Nicaraguan border but along the Pan American Highway. A very scary prospect but not quite the M1. This road runs from Argentina to Alaska (apart from a section through bandit country where traffic has to take a boat round) but despite being a major route, locals graze cattle along the grass verges in parts and lorries are interspersed with carts and donkeys.

Heading into Nicaragua and the poverty of this country was obvious – a country that is relatively unstable compared with Costa Rica and has had more than its fair share of disasters.

Despite its problems the small part we saw in the south west and along Lake Nicaragua was beautiful and our final campsite was on the edge of the lake overlooking volcanoes Concepcion and Maderas. All great apart from the dense fly population – always a downside!

The final day’s cycling took us into Granada, reputably the most beautiful city in Central America with wonderful churches, colourful streets and town squares. By now everyone had the finishing line in sight.

Yes, it was an achievement to have completed all 680km ON MY BIKE and a huge relief to have done this without any saddle sores or injury and enjoyed it. Would I do it again? Well, not straight away but as time passes the tough bits fade from my memory and the fun and cycling achievement remains as highlights.

Above all, the whole challenge resulted in us, as a group, raising nearly £200,000 so far for Macmillan.

You can view some of my photos on http://www.flickr.com/photos/karenincostanov2009/


So far I have raised more than £6000 for Macmillan Cancer Support and double my target. This is fantastic and I'd like to thank all of you who have so kindly and generously supported me.

‘Lines are still open’ for those who preferred to wait until the task was completed and for those (just one) who offered to double his contribution if I crossed the finishing line - on a bike!

My web site remains open at http://www.justgiving.com/Karen-Wright 

or if you prefer to write a cheque please do so to Macmillan Cancer Support and send to me at Home Farm, Little Casterton Road, Ryhall, Stamford, Lincs. PE9 4HA

Wishing you all a happy, healthy and successful 2010


About the charity

Macmillan Cancer Support

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At Macmillan, we will move mountains to help people with cancer live life as fully as they can. We’re doing whatever it takes. But without your help we can’t support everyone who needs us. To donate, volunteer, raise money or campaign with us, call 0300 1000 200 or visit macmillan.org.uk

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