Here is an interview with Mr Barnard and Lewis:
Mr Cooley writes:
Late in March, as the School closed and everyone went home, it became quite clear that no-one was going to be going anywhere fast for quite some time. After a week or so dealing with this realisation and, in the case of the 5th form and Upper 6th, the news delivered in gradual stages that no exams would be happening, many Salopians started doing what they naturally do – looking to make good with the new situation. Thanks in no small measure to Mrs Drew’s tireless efforts, we have all become very aware of the charitable work that many of the community do and in this context it was unsurprising when Port Hill house in particular took the 2.6 challenge to heart and many fund-raising activities centred on April 26th. There were many challenges, a favourite being for juggling a football 26 times in the shortest possible time, housemaster Andy Barnard showing he’s still got a fair touch. Few, though, took on the challenge on the scale that Lewis Evans did. He decided that if he was going nowhere, it would be in circular fashion and over every single blue-remembered hill!
Lewis, one of our top athletes in football and cricket, had been doing quite a bit of cycling during the lockdown. In the normal course of school life he’d have been spending a good number of hours every week on his sport and he knew the benefits of staying healthy and active. I imagine on his rides he’d also found time to digest the news and deal with the very unexpected shape of the coming months. Lewis’ response, then, was the decision to attempt to cycle 26 miles, on 26 consecutive days, to raise money for Shropshire Mind, a charity whose work he pointed out now has an even greater importance and scope than before. He was taking on the challenge on his trusty hybrid bike: not the easiest way to cover the miles nor the most difficult but to my mind the decision exemplifies the challenge and its links with mental health charity: it was about doing all that is possible with what is available.
26 miles, for a reasonably strong and healthy individual, on roads and such a bicycle, will take something like 1¾ hours if not pushing too hard (and pushing too hard is not a great idea if the plan is to repeat ×26). It might be tempting for the reader to think that for someone accustomed to a couple of hours’ sport a day, this would be no great stretch of limits nor too tough a challenge. To those people, if they are not already cyclists, I would simply say “Try it!”. Without recovery or rest days, it is the gruelling inescapability and legs that never feel fully recovered that make it tough. 26 days is a lot. To save you all the trouble, I did try it myself: I made it to 5 days before the muscles demanded, in no uncertain terms, a break. It was just after that point, hoping it might help keep him press on through harder days and admittedly that it would give me a reason to get out too, I posted him a target relative to my own times (no, I was never so deluded as to think I’d be able to equal him). I mention it only because of his response, which may not have surprised me if I’d known him better. With nothing personally to gain, measured, but certain, he destroyed that target: a comprehensive triumph of youth over optimistic decrepitude.
Maintaining the cycling was one thing but Lewis also maintained a blog, updating daily (a discipline in itself) with naturalism, no little humour and without pretension or grandeur. While the physical challenge was often noted – and his battle with this or that hill or prominence with which Shropshire is bounteously blessed and which can loom with sudden violence from the flattest of flood plains – the real undercurrent was the time he spent with his thoughts, reflecting on adjustment to new norms and the value and necessity of the work that Shropshire Mind are doing. His solution was to be, as far as he personally could, a help to others whom he may never meet.
The blog, https://lewisevans26milechallenge.wordpress.com/, is well worth a read; I’d suggest that if you think 26 (well, 28 after the intro and sign-off) posts are a bit much to read, you take that as a small insight into what a slog it was to cycle.
Lewis’ target, however he had chosen this particular one, was Frankfurt. It seems a bizarre choice even to me, who has family there and has covered the route, albeit in motorised fashion, a great many times. I suppose it has the unique characteristic of being both large enough to have a football team and almost exactly 676 miles by road from Shrewsbury. His journey has had all the ingredients of an epic: sure, there were travails ‘gainst nature’s might and Bayston Hill’s road layout; but literally as well as allegorically it signposted his passage into adulthood (he turned 18 two days before completing the challenge). What better, more honourable, more Salopian way to make that journey than for the benefit of others, finishing as he did in mental health awareness week? He has earned the very highest praise and I would urge you all to express that praise in the only fitting way. The link is below.
Now put your feet up, Lewis, and enjoy one or two of Germany’s finest exports!