LANDS END TO JOHN O GROATS

September 2011

After climbing Mt Everest in 2011 I came home to a lot of people asking me, “what’s next Squash”?  The answer was, The Big Bike Ride!  Cycling from Lands end to John O Groats raising money for charity .  I joined three other friends, Woodey, Leigh, Matt and Woodey’s Uncle, Ade, who drove our support vehicle, a camper van.  We were aiming to do the cycle in 10days and so having a camper van to eat and rest in made a huge difference.

It was wonderful to do another challenge a few months after coming back from climbing Everest.  Sometimes people experience post expedition blues and feel lost after a big trip.  It was great mentally to have another goal. Coming back a few kilos lighter, not in the best condition, it was also good to get back into shape.

This is a short account of my daily diary during the trip.

Saturday 17th September 2011 – Lands End

Day 1

I’m tired!  We did 108miles today.  There was a fair few hills, a few wrong turns and the weather pretty much went in continuous cycles of sun, wind, rain, sun, wind, rain, sun, wind, rain.  It was perfect really, every time we got wet we always had a blow dry afterwards.

I managed to get the first and only puncture of the day.  Luckily Woodey was nearby and I wasn’t alone to fix it.

We had a breakfast treat today, Luke who has joined us for the first two days, organised for his parents, who have a holiday home near to Lands End, to make us tea, bacon, eggs and toast! Thank you Stewart and Sue.

We are in a camp site tonight, we’ve had hot showers, our cycling kit in a washing machine as I type and we’ve had a big dinner, luxury.

Day 2

The wind and rain didn’t let up all night and when we got up at 6.15am this morning it sounded like we were in the centre of a hurricane!  The met office had also released a weather warning!

By 7.30am it had improved a little.  Riding the first 35miles through driving rain and wind up and down the unbelievably steep hills of Devon was only made bearable by the fact that we had a breakfast date.  My very good friends Hilary and Richard had arranged for Stumbles Restaurant & hotel, in South Molten, to open up especially for us at 10am.  We devoured a delicious breakfast and drank lots of tea.  Hilary gave us gifts of chocolates, fine cheese and other lovely treats. In no time we were ready to ride again, in the rain.

Massive thanks to Hilary and Richard.  It was so wonderful to see you this morning.

The weather did finally clear up this afternoon and we left the hills of Devon behind us as we rode into Somerset, where there was so much beautiful countryside.

After 100miles riding we reached Cheddar Gorge.  We were tired and the gorge is steep.  There was an incredible turn out of friends though who were cheering us on, with banners and everything!  It definitely helped.  I certainly raised my game and sped up disguising any signs of being tired.

Sadly, the rain returned once more and with just a few miles left to ride we got drenched.  Then Luke got the second puncture of the day, Matt had one at lunchtime.  We were very happy to reach the pub where lots of our friends were waiting to join us for dinner.  Thank you to everyone who made the effort to come and see us, especially Ben who drove along way to bring us some tools.

113miles today.  This bike riding business is tough. I like it though, especially when the day is finished.

Day 3

No rain and no punctures.  It was a very good day.  We left Somerset nice and early and then took ages navigating through Bristol.  The cycle paths are great, they just take a bit of figuring out.  It was cool to reach the severn bridge and feel the movement on it.  It’s unreal.

Two countries and five counties in our 99.6miles today!  England and Wales.  Somerset, Avon, Monmouthshire, Heredfordshire and Shropshire.

Luke left us last night, he only joined us to ride for Day 1&2 and we missed him today.

I really do want to write more, but I’m tired and my brain isn’t working.

Day 4

As you can tell from the little I wrote about yesterday we were rather tired.  We all woke up this morning, still tired!  Waking to hear the rain pouring down outside didn’t help motivate us to get going either.  However, we managed to get on the road just before 8am and the peddles were turning once more.

All day yeaterday I had a slight nagging pain in my left ankle.  This morning my ankle was swollen and very sore.  As luck would have it, we have a physio on the team, Matt.  He looked at it and decided I needed to do two things; adjust my cleet (I prefer to call it my clicky foot) so that there was less movement in my ankle as I peddled and strap my ankle up.

It really helped, thank god.  I’m not sure that I could have done many more miles with it as it was.  A sore ankle might not sound that serious, but in the same way blisters can end an Everest expedition, such an injury can finish a trip.  Obviously the best treatment is rest, I knew I had 700miles to go and I got really worried.

This morning as we peddled through the rain, we were all beginning to feel the pain of the first few hundred miles.  It was a little bit miserable if I’m honest.  Shropshire has stunning countryside but we didn’t get to enjoy it.  We were cold, wet, tired and I was in pain.  At 11am, we had a scheduled breakfast stop at Matt’s parents house. Amazing what a hearty breakfast and some tlc from parents can do.  An hour later we set off from there in much higher spirts and as the rain stopped, our smiles returned.  Thank you very much Michael and Gillian!

The rest of the day just got better and better.  The rain didn’t return and the country lanes as we rode into Cheshire have been lovely to ride along.  We did 100miles again which takes us well over 1/3 of the journey.

This evening it seems we have hit gold.  I have family up this way and I gave them little more than 48hrs notice that we would be dropping by for a pitstop tonight.  We have had hot, powerful showers, just sat down to the most incredible meal and now the boys are watching football, beers in hand while I sit here writing this.  Thank you Trish and Ian.

My ankle is still sore, it’s not worse though.  I’ve got a bag of frozen peas around it.

Day 5 – Half way

After such a great meal, excellent company and fantastic lodgings last night we were all feeling pretty hot to trot this morning.  The first 40miles went well, the weather was good and riding up around Blackburn and into Lancashire were right gorgeous I tell thee!  Then we messed around eating and sorting kit for probably longer than we should and we got a bit behind schedlue.  That was fine though. We met up with Andy, a great friend of mine who lives near Whalley.  He brought us gifts of jelly babies, bananas and cleets and pedals!  Thanks Andy, hugely appreciated.  Andy then put on a team cycle top and joined us for the next leg.  It’s always good to have other people cycle with us, he came on a mountain bike with fat tyres and no ‘clicky feet’ and still kept up!

After Andy left us we were riding into the dales and it was looking spectacular and very similar to how the countryside looked on Postman Pat.  There were lots of long rolling hills, but that was ok, we could handle that.

Then came the wind, the clouds and the rain.  Lots of heavy rain, unbelievable amounts of rain.  The ground we covered today, although beautiful, when we could see it beyond the clouds and rain, was very hilly.  It meant our average speed was fairly low and by 5pm we still had 35miles to go.

Still hurting, collectively we have sore everything, wet, tired and cold we pushed on.  It’s times like this in a trip you have to dig a little bit deeper and get on with it.  It’s not always easy.  We finally made it to Ade and the camper van by 8.30pm.  It has been a long day.  All that aside, we are now over half way (537miles done) & I can’t quite believe we’ll be in Scotland tomorrow.   Where apparently the only avaliable food is deep fried mars bars and haggis – I can’t wait!

Day 6

I’ve found my achilles heel.  Literally!  It seems that my ankles have really taken offence at turning my bike pedals non stop for the last 6 days.  First my left ankle, now my right.  However, with Matt’s fantastic strapping it all seems manageable at the moment.

Anway, we’re in Scotland!  We have cycled the length of England and just after lunch time today swapped our lycra for kilts, our water for iron bru and our energy bars for haggis!

The ride today (with no rain & no punctures) was through the stunning Scottish boarders.  We covered 112miles in pretty good time.  I am very tired.

Day 7

Amazingly my ankles are feeling much better and today we cycled the Kingdom.  We left Peebles slightly later than scheduled and made our way towards the city of Edinburgh.  The weather was fine, no rain and a trailing wind behind us. We made our way through the traffic and dodgy road conditions to find our first stop of the day and to refuel with haggis and a cup of tea.

Progress was slow out of the city, but we finally found the stunning Fourth Bridge.  We got our groove on and started eating up the miles, however a few aches and pains started to show along the long bumpy roads towards the Crook of Devon.  This did cost us some time.  After a pep talk, pit stop and some ‘man up’ tablets in Dunning; home of the famous Dupplin Cross at St Serfs Church we started the final leg of the day towards the Bridge of Cally.  The roads were good, wind was in our favour and everyone was feeling better.

As we got within sniffing distance of the final destination of Corriefodley Holiday Park we thought it was only right to reward ourselves for our sterling effort this afternoon.  We called in at a charming hotel for a couple ales, a ‘wee dram’ and a cup of tea (or six) for me.  All in all, a top effort by everyone today as there were a few injuries starting to show but the team held together to pull on through to the end.

Day 8

We were up earlier than normal this morning and on the road by 7.15am.  I knew today would be hard, we had to ride up and over the Scottish ski fields, Glen Shee and Leich.  We rode across the Cain Gorms and into the high lands.  It has been an utterly stunning day.  As luck would have it there was no rain, only sunshine.

I kept myself 100% hydrated with Irn Bru!

101miles today.  I can’t quite believe that my ankles are doing ok.  My body seems to be getting the hang of; waking up, cycling for 12hrs, eating huge amounts all day and then passing out at night.  It’s simple.

As a team we’re getting into sync, we’re all a similar pace and on the flats we’re drafting well, at about 25mph!

Steve Ukalele has joined the team today.  I was excited because I thought he would bring his ukalele and play us a few tunes, but apparently he doesn’t play!  He has just cooked us the most delicious dinner though.

Day 9

There’s nothing like a good nights sleep and waking up to clear skies to make happy cyclists.  We left Nairn campsite early and were soon crossing the Keswick bridge.  Smaller than all the other bridges but still, as bridges go, it was ok.  We cycled along the waters edge for a while which was pleasant.

The Scottish highlands are really picturesque!  The sun was shining, my ankles were functioning and the roads were flat(ish).  We had planned on doing a hundred miles today, so as we were making such good time we decided to make a couple of extra stops, while the boys enjoyed whiskey and beer, I had 7 cups of tea.

Only 55 miles to the end!!

Our plan was to stop and camp at Bettyhill, but it was pretty pants.  So despite the rain that had now found us, we decided to do just another 12miles to a site where we could get hot food and hot showers.  That extra few miles made our total mileage for the day 126.  It also meant we arrived soaking wet and cold, but happy.  We are now only 43miles from John O Groats.  Today was also a record, I’ve never cycled 126miles in one day before.

Day 10

Just a couple of hours cycling today.

We’ve finished!  It’s done. What a brilliant journey.  Wonderful team, excellent bike and loads of support.  Thank you everyone.  More soon… just need to get some sleep now!

Lands End to John O Groats in 10 days. 1024 miles.

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