How Mark Cramer's charity bike ride along the Loire raised more than €1500

Mark Cramer's charity bike ride in France raised more than €1500 to fight the inflammatory bowel diseases Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s - here's how he went about organising the ride

MArk's ride took him mostly along the Loire à vélo, one of France's best greenway cycle routes (or voies vertes in French). Photo: Sylvain Naudin

Mark's ride took him mostly along the Loire à vélo, one of France's best greenway cycle routes (or 'voies vertes' in French). We have more information on cycling the Loire here. Photo: Sylvain Naudin

A cyclist becomes energised with a good cause to pedal after. The planning stage of a charity ride is as important as the ride itself, requiring back-up plans for unexpected predicaments: a wrong turn, a mean-spirited weather front, a flat tyre with a failing repair kit; specialised maps help you choose your route according to bike-facility availability.

The human half of planning involves getting the message out to your networks, giving people ample time to consider backing you. Whichever charity you ride for, you can craft a tie-in to your avocation, enabling you to publicise your event in specialised media. Being uncomfortable using a hard sell with friends and family, I let them know that I wasn't depending on them exclusively. In this ride against inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs), I’ve relied on media connections as a horse racing journalist, linking the racing theme to the cause.

Here's how I did it – and why.

Finding a hook to hang it on 

Our son was taking a medication against severe ulcerative colitis. Under doctors’ guidance we had studied the performance records of three or four medications, weighing pros and cons. The first time “around the track”, he made a good choice. He “won” remission for a year and a half. But then, a medication-provoked allergy attack sent us back to the drawing board. Complex documents on several possible replacement medications spread out before us. As I studied these, my wife remarked: “this looks just like when you study the racing papers!”

So we planned the ride over two “stages” totalling 200 kilometres (125 miles), and cycling to a race course each time. The tie-in was seamless. Horse race handicapping is a soft metaphor for the hard dilemma of many who suffer from inflammatory bowel diseases (Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis). They must “handicap” from a “field” of medications, with only approximate probabilities for success. There’s no cure, as yet, for this painful and disabling disease, where the immune system turns around and attacks the very organs it’s supposed to defend.

All roads lead to Château d'Amboise. Photo: Joe Shlabotnik

All roads lead to Château d'Amboise. See cycling the chateaux of the Loire story for more on Amboise and other grand buildings of the Loire.
Joe Shlabotnik

Planning the route

Stage 1, September 8-9, 2012
Distance: 92km from south of Orléans to Amboise, and 57km from Amboise to the Tours races

We chose a season with 70 degree F average temperature, but a debilitating heat wave rolled in and it reached as high as 90F. We departed in the fresh morning from just south of Orleans, the moon starkly visible in the daylight sky. I, the pessimist, feared the imminent heat wave. Alan, the optimist, rejoiced that his No-Rain Dance had succeeded. We were the odd couple of seniors, and I was the cantankerous one.

Our ride followed the Loire, Europe’s last wild river: the moody Loire, sometimes Zen, sometimes raging. Occasionally both these personalities swirl in a simultaneous dance. Sandy beaches look seductive, but careful about the concealed quicksand. On chaste islands, heron eggs lie protected from the foxes ashore.

It’s called Loire à Vélo: 500 miles of protected sign-posted bike paths, along the river, or through nearby pungent forests. Facilities extend to packed dirt paths and country roads where bicycles own the right of way.

With our mileage mission, Alan and I had to let the beauty of our route flow by too quickly. We rolled through the grainy castle-fortress towns of Meung-sur-Loire and Beaugency. Halfway point was Blois, with stone bridge, castle and a lively street scene. Here the sun hammered down, but the bike paths remained cool until the high-cliff Chaumont castle.

Our goal was Amboise, with a medieval fortress castle forged into a limestone wall. The bed-and-breakfast owner required us to arrive before 6pm. Her excuse: her home-made breakfasts, including grainy breads; she wakes up with the roosters to prepare the feast.

After Chaumont, the sun got intrusive. We emerged into open farmland to confront the final 12km of energy-sapping heat. Normally we would stop under tree cover for a quick siesta, but the B&B schedule forced us to delete the catnap. I felt the onset of heatstroke, even as I drank water continuously. At 5:55pm we arrived at the B&B, just in time to cool down.

The river runs through Montlouis-sur-Loire. Photo: jmanteau

The river runs through Montlouis-sur-Loire. Photo: jmanteau

Day 2 seemed easier. Tours was a straight shot along the river. We passed the troglodyte town of Montlouis-sur-Loire, admiring cave dwellings. Wine cellars protruded from the cliffs. Tours sits between the Loire and Cher rivers. To get to the race course, we crossed the Cher. Where the bike path ended, I stopped, asking a pedestrian how to get to the hippodrome. “Straight ahead!” She took a long look and me, pity in her eyes: “But it’s brutally steep and you may not make it.”

We navigated through a dangerous cloverleaf, with no respite from the sun: a second chance for heatstroke. Eventually, we reached the top. It was Jack and the Beanstalk up there, but the ogres were big box stores, furniture, clothing, home improvement, sports equipment, office supplies, McDonald's, KFC. This place was a crime against humanity, “the shopping lot of Tours,” according to locals. After a sign for hippodrome, things got greener. We passed cookie-cutter housing clusters. Beyond: the race course oasis. 

Our charity wager turned out like the choice of a typical IBD medication. We needed three horses to finish in the top three among 11 contestants. We ended up with two in the top three for a lesser consolation payoff. In summary, we won some relief but no remission.

The famous Longchamps racecourse outside Paris was Mark's final destination. Photo: Drew Saunders

The famous Longchamps racecourse – or the Hippodrome de Longchamps – outside Paris was Mark's final destination. Photo: Drew Saunders

The home stretch

Stage 2, October 6-7, 2012

Stage 2 should have been easier. On both days of the big racing weekend at Longchamp in the Bois de Boulogne, we’d cycle the round-about scenic route, crisscrossing the forest in order to accumulate 15km each way for a total of 60, 9 more than the 51 remaining kilometres needed for an overall 200km.

On Saturday, I rolled through after-the-rain forest aromas, wearing a suit (journalist dress code). The setting of Longchamp race course includes the forest, luxuriant ponds, a Haussmann style waterfall and a charming windmill. The rains returned later, with a vengeance. Cycling back in the warm rain, the forest closed in on me, intimately, like a soothing caress. I wore protective covering, but once past forest, the rain lost its charm and I just wanted to get out of it.

Sunday should have been easy: 60F degrees and sunny. In the big race, our charity bet lost. A consolation wager (with a potentially huge return) finished first, second, third and fifth among 18 horses. For the big prize we only needed the fifth finisher to capture fourth place.   

My remaining consolation was supposed to be bicycling back on a splendid afternoon. I left the track before Alan, and discovered my big black Dutch bike crippled with a flat front tyre. Somewhere among the 50,000 people remaining in the track was Alan, with a tyre repair kit. I tried pumping air in the tyre, but it didn’t hold.

I had to walk the bike along the Seine, a shorter route home, but donors would surely honour my forced march because walking a bike 10km is tougher than riding it fifteen.

Now, days before the fundraising drive is over, we’ve raised over €1500, to be pooled with funds collected by other cyclists and rollerbladers around France. The charity ride has served to publicise the plight of those who suffer from chronic inflammatory bowel diseases, many of whom cannot enjoy a long-distance bike ride because of a potential flare-up along the way.

How to help cure inflammatory bowel diseases

Donations are still being accepted for Mark's ride – you can contribute at

To find out more about Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, see the Crohn's and Colitis UK website.    


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