I lost my sister Alice to suicide in January 2022. Over the years we’d talked about her joining me on the back of a tandem bike to build up her confidence cycling around Edinburgh. We never made time for it. Now it’s too late, and that’s one of my biggest regrets.
Since Alice’s death, I’ve learned an enormous amount from others who have also lost someone to suicide. On this tandem ride – 88 days and about 3500 miles around the coast of Great Britain – I’m joined each day by a different person who has also been affected by suicide. On the first leg I rode with my mother Karen. I’m being cheered on throughout the trip (from a distance) by my Mum, my Dad Peter, my half-sister Maire, Alice’s twin brother Bruno, and other family and friends.
Learning in tandem
I listen to my co-riders, learn from them, and share their stories. People who’ve lost someone to suicide have important things to say, and we should all listen, because suicidal thoughts and feelings can happen to anyone. You never think this kind of thing will happen to you, until it does.
For most of the people I’m riding with, it’s their first time on a tandem. And it’s also usually the longest distance they’ve cycled. I can’t always ride at the pace I’m most comfortable with. One day it dawned on me that the person behind me was panting a bit, and we had to slow down. I had to ride in a way that was more manageable for both of us. Actually, I think that’s a nice metaphor for how we want to do things in communities. We don’t want to go at a pace that’s leaving people behind.
Together we’re raising money and awareness for two charities that do good and important work to stop suicide and support those affected by it. The first of these is Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide (SOBS).
I’ve attended the SOBS groups for around a year. I’ve learned a tremendous amount from everyone who attends, people from all walks of life who have lost someone to suicide. In my view, only people who’ve had this devastating experience can really understand what it feels like. SOBS gives us free, monthly, face-to-face support all over the UK. People travel great distances to attend our local group. Those who have lost someone to suicide are at greater risk of suicide themselves. So the SOBS groups are genuinely lifesavers. There is a need for more of them, and the volunteers need support and training.
The other charity is Papyrus UK, which campaigns, trains people, and does everything it can to prevent youth suicide. If more people accessed their training, we would surely have a public that’s better equipped to talk about and support those with suicidal thoughts.
Tandem Against Suicide in Wales
So far it’s gone really well. We’ve been quite lucky with the weather, sunny-ish on the east coast, with my first taste of rain around Lincolnshire. The wind has been on my side.
The best thing about it has undoubtedly been all the people I’ve met. Many of the people joining me on the back I had never met before, we just spoke on the phone after they stepped forward and said they’d like to be part of it. Then I get to spend six to eight hours on the bike with them, talking about suicide, about the people they’ve lost and their experience since. It’s been the best learning experience I could have had, and I’ve made friends – literally – for life.
The other great thing has been stopping in at pubs and cafes along the way. The tandem turns heads, which gets conversations going. Then we open up and end up talking about mental health and suicide awareness. This is with total strangers, though they aren’t to me now. We talk about why we’ve never talked about this before, why it’s so difficult. That, to me, is a conversation that makes a difference, which is what Tandem Against Suicide is all about.
I’ll be riding in Wales for half of July, setting off from Bristol to Cardiff on Saturday 8 July. From there my various companions and I will journey to Swansea, Red Roses, St Davids, Aberporth, Aberystwyth, Portmeirion, Aberdaron, Bangor, Benllech, and Kinmel Bay (perhaps Prestatyn). From there I’ll head for Liverpool on Thursday 20 July.
I can’t wait to get to beautiful Wales, I’m really excited about it. I’ve always wanted to go to Pembrokeshire; this’ll be my first time. I’m so looking forward to meeting and talking with Welsh people along the way. I know I’ll find at least the same friendliness and hospitality I’ve encountered elsewhere. I’m a little concerned about some of the hills in Wales, though the tandem is well-geared.
In tandem with you
Then again, I was a rickshaw driver in Edinburgh for five years so I’m used to pedalling people up steep hills. Also, a very long time ago now, a friend and I cycled from Edinburgh to Istanbul; before Google Maps, yet! When people found out how far we were going, they opened their doors and supported us. I’ve found the same generosity on this trip, before I’d even started cycling.
Mum and I set off on Monday 29 May from Portobello Promenade, a stone’s throw from where I grew up and where Alice was last seen on New Year’s Day 2022. I think that my caring, cheeky, funny, loyal, sarcastic sister Alice would be proud. I think she’d tease me, but be proud.
If you visit my webpage link below, it takes you to my fundraising page. There are two options to donate to: both links work. It’s the only way I can have two charities on one page. If you don’t know which cause to donate to, well, I’d really like them to come out close to equal at the end of the trip, if that helps.
This isn’t a ride with Alice, how I wish it was. But it is a ride for Alice, and for everyone who struggles with suicidal thoughts. With everyone’s help, with your help, I know that I, that we, can do this in tandem.
If you’re feeling like you want to die, it’s important to tell someone. Help and support is available right now if you need it. You do not have to struggle with difficult feelings alone. These free helplines are there to help when you’re feeling down or desperate and need someone to text or talk to.