I turned 50 this year. A landmark? A watershed? A chance to reassess, or the top of a slippery slope?
I hadn't given it a lot of thought, actually, and when it came around, I didn't really know how to respond to friends and family asking: 'How does it feel?' and that fateful question: 'What will you be doing to mark the occasion?'
It was this lack of preparation, I think, which led to my decision to ride a pushbike across Britain from John O' Groats in Scotland to Land's End in Cornwall, this summer.
The decision was not a life-long ambition, it was not driven by a need to mark the occasion, it was not (as far as I am aware) a need to sate the 'midlife crisis'. It was the first thing that came into my head.
One of the challenges GPs face is being embedded in the community. This has advantages and disadvantages. One major disadvantage, I found out pretty quickly, is that once you have made something public, you cannot change your mind.
I was overwhelmed with the support from patients, so much so, I decided it would be remiss not to try to raise money for charity. If I was going to do this thing, something good may as well come from it.
There were so many likely candidates, but in the end, largely due to the fantastic work I have witnessed first-hand over 20 years as a GP, I chose to support Marie Curie Cancer Care. The response was instant and overwhelming, and money began to pour in. Definitely no backing out now.
I am reasonably fit and I cycle recreationally, regularly taking part in challenges ranging from 60 to 100 miles, so my extra preparation was minimal. I used my usual bike, which I bought several years ago, and didn't make any special purchases.
So I found myself, on 15 July, in a camper van on a campsite at John O'Groats, the most northerly place in mainland Britain, with my wife and two teenaged sons, preparing to set off on a 1,000-mile journey to another campsite at Britain's most southerly point.
I woke the next day raring to go (sort of). The weather was fine, if a little breezy, but I was high on the moment, energised and keen.
As I cycled out of the car park, after obligatory photos next to various signs, and turned on to the road, I hit my first problem. The wind. Two hundred yards into the ride and I was heading into a 25mph headwind. It remained like this for the next 70 miles.
Towards the half-way stage, I nearly cried. Towards the end of the day, I did cry.
I arrived at a campsite in a place called Altnaharra in the Highlands (don't go, there's nothing there), completely exhausted and seriously wondering what I'd let myself in for. My wife and sons cheered me up that night, words of encouragement that helped a lot, but I remained sceptical.
Then a strange thing happened. The next day, I awoke feeling fine. The following night, I arrived exhausted, but the next morning, felt good to go. This remained the theme throughout the next two weeks - hard days, a good night's sleep and energetic mornings.
Sunshine and scenery
In total, there were about 14 days of cycling at an average of 75 miles a day. I travelled to Inverness, then down the Caledonian Canal to Fort William and on to Loch Lomond, through Glasgow and south across the border to the Lake District.
Not all in one day, I must add, but all of it through absolutely stunning scenery, lots of sunshine and only occasional high winds.
From the Lake District, it was down the western side of the UK, through Lancashire, Cheshire, down the Welsh border, then across the Bristol Channel through Somerset, Devon and finally Cornwall.
I had some of the best weather the UK has experienced in the past 10 years, I saw incredible scenery and I met some fantastic people along the way.
I'll admit, there were many occasions when it would have been easier to stop than to carry on. I've wondered since coming back what kept me going. The main reason, if I'm honest, was belligerence and pride, but a huge influence on the whole excursion was the attitude of my wife and sons.
You probably don't need much imagination to understand how they must have felt. 'Your dad's cycling the length of Britain; oh, and by the way, that will mean your summer holiday is spent in the back of a motor home which is about a quarter the size of your bedroom.' But they were amazing.
My wife was honest enough to mention (on numerous occasions) the sacrifice they were all making. The boys just stayed quiet, but as the trip unfolded, they were unflinchingly positive, encouraging me, supporting me, admiring the feat.
It wasn't until it was all over and a couple of days had passed that my 14-year-old said: 'Dad, it's time to go home now, I'm getting a bit sick of you'. He had a point.
Patients at my practice were also amazingly supportive. On my return, I found more than £2,000 had been donated online and there was another £1,000 behind the reception desk in cash donations.
In the end, we raised well over £5,000, which represents more than 250 hours of nursing care to the terminally ill. Fantastic support for a fantastic charity.
So, would I do it again? Not on your nelly. Was it worth it? An unqualified yes.
- Dr Wild is a GP in North Yorkshire. To read more about his challenge, read his blog (www.stephenwild.blogspot.co.uk/). Donate to his fund at www.justgiving.com/wildjogle