My Sunday Photo: My second family – the story behind the picture

Kathi Hall, Chris Carlson, Anthony Beal, Tim Liew, Jack Sargeant

I met my second family for the first time on Friday night.

Every picture tells a story, some more than others.

Look at the image above. From left to right we have: two Americans, one an adoptive Brit, the other (literally) a cycling giant in London for the first time. A Mark Cavendish lookalike (sorry, Ant, but it’s true). Me. A soon-to-be history graduate.

(There’s a joke in here somewhere about Anne Bancroft and Dustin Hoffman, but I’m going to let that slide.)

What does this motley crew have in common? Not much, right? Wrong. This is my second family and yet until Friday I had only ever met one face-to-face.

Here’s the story behind the picture.

In late 2011, I came up with the idea of creating a collaborative cycling blog, run by fans and aimed at fans of the sport. I pitched the idea to three fellow fans who I had met via Twitter and blogs. They all signed on and in January 2012 VeloVoices was born, with none of the four of us having met face-to-face.

Along with the absent Sheree, Kathi (far left) and Jack (far right) – one with a wealth of experience in the magazine industry, the other still an A-level student at the time – were the other members of the original gang of four. Chris and Ant followed soon after, to be joined later by Midge, who sadly couldn’t make it on Friday. A virtual team of seven, united by a love of cycling but flung far and wide: London, the south of France, Utah, Jersey and, er, Thatcham.

We write as a team. We podcast as a team. We are a team. More than that, we have become a family.

Even now, 4½ years later, Kathi remains the only member of the team who has met all the others face-to-face. But when Chris announced he was flying to London for a conference, as many of us who could make it headed to the capital for a proper meet-up.

I’ve been talking to Chris on our podcasts for three years but had never even spoken to Ant (or his wife) or Jack before. But there were no awkward introductions or silences, just an evening of easy chat and much laughter including Chris’s wife and his brother and his wife. A table of nine, none of whom I would ever have met if not for social media and a shared love of cycling.

Saying hi to my second family.

And saying goodbye too.

I’m approaching the end of a six-month hiatus from VeloVoices and have taken the difficult decision to step back from the project permanently. I never thought we would last this long or be so popular – 7,000 highly engaged followers on Twitter, several of whom have become real-life friends of the team – but equally I know I’m leaving things in safe and capable hands.

This is the sixth time I’ve either closed or walked away from a blog. In the other five instances, I’ve moved on without once looking back. But I’m feeling quite emotional about this one.

After all, it’s difficult to say to goodbye to family, especially when you’ve only just met them. Guys, it’s been a blast – and I’ll still be there in the background, reading and listening to every word. Family never really goes away, does it?

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