Monday, 26 July 2010
What would I change if I was to do it again? Well, first of all, I'd stay off that damn stupid A30 between Penzance and Exeter. That was definitely an accident waiting to happen. The same goes for the A9 in Scotland. No no no no no! or should that be Noo noo noo noo for the A9? Again, I took too much kit. Not as much excess as the Leeds & Liverpool Canal ride but still, I could have done without one of the jerseys, socks, boxers, hair gel. I binned some of it on day one! The hair gel, half of the toothpaste, sun cream (If only I'd known how much rain i'd get!) and the two bags of sweets all went before I started, meaning 1kg less to carry. Otherwise I think I got my kit more or less spot on.
My mileage averaged at 111 miles per day over eight days. That really did push me to my limits in the conditions I was enduring. To be riding in constant, often torrential rain for seven out of the eight days was demoralising to say the least. There were more than a few occasions when I would have gladly dumped the bike in a ditch and thumbed a lift to the nearest railway station! Whether the miles would have been easier in good weather I don't know. If I do an event like this again, I will definitely drop my daily limit to about 70 or 80 miles a day.
I am very happy with the way my bike performed. It was comfortable, relatively light (10kg) and I had no mechanical problems whatsoever during the entire ride. I had one puncture on the first day, but the staple that went in wouldn't have been prevented by anything. Even though the bike had a daily soaking it rode just as smooth after a spray of WD40 and some chain lube. Click Here to see the bike I used, including the additions and changes to make it LeJog-proof.
The one piece of equipment I could not have done without was my iPod Nano. This tiny miracle saved my sanity! Through days of torrential rain, knee pain, loneliness and sometimes fear! My Nano was there to keep me company. Sometimes it would play something that would make me burst into tears and other times I would be screaming my head off while coasting down a hill at 40 mph!
Overall I would say that it was an experience of a lifetime, but one that I won't repeat. Not because I didn't enjoy it, although I can't say I enjoyed it because it rained so hard all week that I struggled through most of it! I've done it now and once I've done something I like to move on to the next challenge. Had it not been for the rain I would have been able to take in the sights and beauty of the country I was cycling across. What I will say is that I don't regret doing it because I did get a lot from the experience. Would I recommend it to others? Definitely!
Sunday, 25 July 2010
South Lanarkshire is quite beautiful. The sweeping hills in the morning sun were a delight to cycle. Long country lanes, single track with wild fields of heather and the odd farm with livestock grazing in the fields. The first village I came across was Biggar. It looks like a typical North Yorkshire type village with stone cobbled streets and a small but well stocked centre with all the amenities you could need. I stopped at the convenience store for supplies of water, Ibupforen and biscuits before heading off back out into the country.
While taking the picture (on the right) a woman shouted me from further up the road. She was struggling to free a Sheep with it's head caught between the wire of the fence. I pedaled up and we both tried, unsuccessfully, to free the sheep who stubbornly would not move it's head to allow us to free it. Luckily, a nearby farmer had seen us and soon arrived gallantly on his quad bike. He managed to free the sheep within seconds, making me feel a bit useless! The farmer smiled and said something in such a strong Scottish accent that I didn't understand a word. He looked at me as if expecting an answer so I smiled and said goodbye! I got on the bike and daren't look back!
Like the A30 in the South West, the A9 is the main route through Scotland from Falkirk in the south all the way to Thurso on the north coast. Some of it is single lane traffic but a lot of it is very fast, busy dual carriageway with no bike lane, hard shoulder or path. The last place you would want to be on a cycle! As busy as it was, it wasn't that bad until I reached some roadworks near Gleneagles. The carriageway was down to one lane and there was definitely no room for bicycles. I was stuck, stranded in the middle of nowhere and my GPS was still not working from the rain the day before. I had to phone Shaun for help.
As if to make matters worse, the sunny day began to show signs of clouding over. Black clouds were building and the air was becoming humid. I could see showers falling a few miles to the west. Shaun called me back and suggested the only alternative route. The A882/887 scenic route. It took me into Pitlochry via a village called Crieff, but also over several large mountains, adding about 5 miles to my day and about 2000 ft to the daily ascent. I had no choice but to go for it.
Totals for the day:
Average Speed: 12.8 mph
Maximum Speed: 36.4 mph
Total Ascent: 4499 ft
Calories Used: 7335
I peddled out of the hotel at 7.30am only to stop within yards to find my computer wasn’t playing ball. It wouldn’t display the route for the day. After trying everything I could think of I called Shaun to see if he could find the error message on Google. After ten minutes of unsuccessful searching, the computer sparked back into life without any obvious reason. The route was showing and I was on my way. Riding out of Kendal I stopped at a busy looking petrol station / shop and bought some supplies for the day including a massive cheese bap, some home-made cakes, Red Bull and chocolate.
The rain was still falling as I left Kendal and my left knee and right Achilles tendon were really sore. Since day two I found that they usually wore in after about five or six miles and hoped today would be the same. After ten miles they were as sore as ever, giving me excruciating pain on every push of the pedal. Knowing I had Shap to climb I started panicking and called Shaun again. “I can’t do this” I told him, “I can’t even pedal on the flat, never mind the hill that’s coming”. There were a few tears, a few moments of silence and then a burst of enthusiasm and renewed energy. I was off again and this time the pain seemed less severe, easing off a bit more for every mile I peddled.
Shap hill is not very steep, although at about 1400ft it is high. The incline was masked by very low cloud and the continuing rain. With my head down, concentrating on a point about two metres in front of the bike, I dropped gears and worked my way up the hill, watching the ascent on my bike computer going up. 500ft… 600… 700… Road works near the summit seemed to appear from the murky cloud and just after I reached the summit, marked by a stone and plaque dedicated to the road users and builders. At the summit it actually stopped raining! I don’t know whether it was because I was above the cloud or whether the gods were taking pity on my previous five days of soakings, but the respite was appreciated as I sat behind the stone, sheltered from the bitterly cold blustery wind, eating Jaffa Cakes and downing my second tin of Red Bull.
For the first time in this journey I used the thermal fleece jersey I had brought with me. At the summit of Shap the computer registered an air temperature of just 8 degrees. It could have been the middle of January up there despite it being more like 20 degrees back in Kendal. Wrapped in three layers and satisfied with my morning’s work I set off on the descent towards Penrith and Carlisle. Within a few minutes I was emerging from the clouds, back into what seemed like normal civilisation. After a fast descent of about two miles, the road levelled off and the rain started once again. I stopped for lunch in a bus shelter on the outskirts of Carlisle where I sat quite happily watching the rain and eating my sandwiches for a few minutes.
Upon heading out of my shelter it was a fast descent into Carlisle centre, about a mile before something caught my attention. My right pocket felt different… my bike shades… SHIT! Where were they? I took them off in the bus shelter and must have left them there. I really needed them so I had to turn round and pedal back up the hill to get them. When I got back to the bus shelter they weren’t there, despite looking in the same place a dozen times! I scanned around the floor and outside but nothing. I resigned myself to the fact that I’d have to buy some new ones in Carlisle and got back on the bike for my second descent into town. After about a hundred yards I saw something in the road. Yey! My shades! Still in one piece and unmarked despite being almost crushed by what must have been forty or fifty cars that had driven clear of them. Panic over!
After Carlisle I crossed the Scottish Border and into Gretna, where the rain really started again! It continued as I rode through Lockerbie and over the A701 at Moffat. This is where it got scary. The A701 'scenic' Edinburgh road should be beautiful in the middle of July. It climbs over 100 ft into the hills of southern Scotland. Today was nowhere near beautiful. All of my clothes were soaked and I was now climbing into colder, windier air. I could feel my body getting cold and there was nothing I could do because I had no dry clothes. There was nowhere to shelter, no pubs, houses, bus stops, nothing! I remembered the first signs of Hypothermia from my SCUBA diving days and confusion began when I noticed a red warning light flashing on my handlebars. Confusion because I didn't have a red warning light on my handlebars! It was there though, telling me to stop. The only choice I had was to try and find shelter to warm up. Luckily, a camper van approached and I flagged it down and explained my situation. The kind couple invited me in, made me coffee and could dry off my windproof jacket enough to get me to Broughton.
Sunday, 18 July 2010
The miles continued to fly as I raced through a quiet Warrington and towards Wigan. With my iPod blasting my Pet Shop Boys songs I was singing, or screaming, depending on your opinion through the streets of Wigan, attracting stares and several comments that I couldn't hear over the music!
With 55 miles done and the rain, once again, starting to get heavier and more persistent, I stopped by a bus shelter and had lunch, several cheese sandwiches, very kindly prepared by the B&B owner from last night. A young lad walked past me smoking a joint. I would have swapped my Desert, a Wispa Duo, Caramel and a 500ml bottle of water for that joint! Refuelled, I was ready to polish off the last 50 miles, hopefully as well as the first 55.
You see, I did it again! I got confident and the big man in the sky thought "sod you matey" and turned the cold water taps on. I'm serious! I didn't know it but a weather warning had been issued for up to 75mm of torrential rain and I was heading straight into it. From Preston, through to Lancaster and onto Kendal, for over three hours it rained, and rained, and rained. Torrential is an understatement! Just as luck would have it the climbs started as well. Not too steep or long but enough to have me spitting and swearing at cars who were drowning me in their wake.
I arrived in Kendal at 5.15pm looking like a drowned rat on a bike. As a treat, I had booked a nice hotel to mark the halway point. The bad news was that the idylic riverside view had turned into a flood waiting to happen! I'm now halfway to John O' Groats but the real hills start tomorrow!
Average Speed: 14 mph
Maximum Speed: 29.7 mph
Total Ascent: 2202 ft
Calories Used: 6444
Saturday, 17 July 2010
One thing I've learned is that however hard the going, however weak or unmotivated I feel, the best thing to do is to keep the wheels turning. It's easy to stop for a break but then it's even harder to get going than it was before. Today was definitely one if these days and after what seemed like an eternity I still only had ten miles on the clock! After climbing out of Bristol I was soon in Gloucestershire, then Worcestershire and through into Staffordshire. That's when the real problem started!
I stopped for my 25 mile break. Got off the bike and had a wonder around, stretching my legs and shoulder, taking a drink and some biscuits. When I got back on the bike I clipped my left leg into the pedal, pushed down and SNAP! Imagine somebody pushing a knife into your knee and twisting it. That's what it felt like. Everytime I pressed down on the pedal that's what happened. I jumped off the bike and the pain disappeared as quick as it came on. Got back on and it did it again! I had to try and work it so off I went, making my right leg take most of the work. After a few minutes the pain eased off and I started peddling normally.
The day was really dragging now and the shock of what happened had me convinced that I would have to give up. With nothing but busy main roads and this pain, my mind was racing and I was getting more and more wound up. I stopped after an hour, got off the bike as before and got back on. It did it again! My heart sank. This was it. I'd failed and would have to give in. Even if I struggled through to a meeting point for Shaun to pick me up I would never live this down. All I could think was failure! I was gutted.
I tried carrying on but didn't get far before I had to stop. I rang Shaun to tell him what had happened. When he answered I began to explain and then burst into tears. All of the stress, frustration and pain came out in floods of tears. We talked about giving up, Shaun stressing that I couldn't risk permanently damaging my knee. In the end it came down to sheer determination. The tears had released some stress and I actually felt better, more relaxed and found some strength to carry on, despite having another fifty miles to do!
As mysteriously as the pain came on, it disappeared as quickly. My knee ached the rest of the day and felt really sensitive, but I was able to get moving, albeit slower and having to be careful climbing hills. The miles were still slow but I was getting there. I eventually arrived just south of Nantwich after six pm. A beautiful B&B, tucked away on the edge of a forest and run by a very friendly couple, Linda & Richard, who gave me a warm welcome from the rain and soon had me fed and watered before a relaxing evening in front of the TV.
Totals for the day:
Average Speed: 13.9 mph
Maximum Speed: 34.2 mph
Total Ascent: 3769 ft
Calories Used: 7649
Friday, 16 July 2010
Most of the day was relatively uneventful. After leaving Exeter I steadily increased my average speed and headed towards Somerset. I stopped for lunch in Bridgewater and then spent an enjoyable couple of hours with a tailwind and flat ground that brought me to the foot of the Mendip Hills. That's where the fun started!
The hills just seemed to keep climbing, and climbing, and climbing! To add to the fun, it started raining, then thundering, then really raining hard. The hills became fast flowing rivers and I was getting soaked to the skin. Should I stop? There wasn't any shelter! I had to keep moving and hope the worst of the storm passed. The hills kept coming, and despite not being able to see anything but sky around me the road just kept going up! At the top of the hill an EasyJet plane flew about 100 feet above me, landing at Bristol Airport. From there it was downhill into Bristol. The rain lasted an hour and a half, only easing as I entered Bristol centre. At least my bag cover and computer survived! The rest of me was completely sodden and my kit is now drying out in my room.
Totals for the day:
Average Speed: 13.8 mph
Maximum Speed: 34.7 mph
Total Ascent: 4425
Calories Used: 6693
So there I was, all alone at the Land's End sign, overlooking the cliffs and crashing sea. It was spitting with rain, made worse by the 50 or 60 mph gusty winds. I took the obligatory photo and sat on the saddle for a moment thinking 'oh well, this is it then, here we go!', before pedalling off. Despite the rain, the wind was from the South West and it gave me a helping hand the whole day. The first ten miles to Penzance flew by and I soon had my target average speed of 15 mph. It was very hilly though. Short, sharp ascents and descents, but not too much of a problem at this early stage.
After leaving Penzance the A30 suddenly becomes very busy, another lane appeared and the traffic gets faster! After talking to other people who have used this road, the advice was to use the mini-hard shoulder. At only a foot wide in places it really is 'mini'. I soon established that this safer alternative was covered in glass, stones, flints and other bits of road debris. Unfortunately, the alternative was heavy traffic moving at upwards of 90 mph. I decided to take my chances with the hard shoulder, after all, I had puncture resistant tyres fitted. These sort of tyres can only do so much and I soon found that out when I suddenly felt the bike wobble while coasting down a hill at 36 mph. The wobble turned into an uncontrollable shaking and the bike veered off into the first lane of the road. I heard a lorry brake sharply to avoid hitting me and within a second or two I had gotten the bike under control and slowed to a stop. The culprit was an industrial size staple lodged right through the tyre and tube.
So, my first brush with death and only 60 miles into the trip. I decided that I'd take my chances with the traffic instead. I put my very hi-vis jacket on and stayed on the main road. I stopped at Fraddon for some lunch at McDonalds before heading off the wrong way and having to do a 2 mile detour to get back en-route! The wind was picking up and the rainclouds starting to gather behind me. I was still 30 miles from Okehampton and the A30 was getting frustratingly busy. Not a good time to be getting blown into the path of traffic by strong gusts of wind! More than once I got beeped at and some obscenity shouted at me from behind the glass. I couldn't help it! The winds got hold of my bike and threw me up to a foot or two into the road. It was only luck that prevented me from being hit.
Finally, after a final big climb and wet descent, I arrived in Okehampton. To say it was raining is an understatement. Once I dropped my stuff in my room I walked the 500 yards to the local supermarket only to get soaked to the skin. I had to spend the rest of the evening naked in my room, drying my clothes with the hairdryer! My advice to anyone doing the LeJog is to definitely avoid the A30 between Penzance and Exeter. It's okay from Land's End to Penzance but it just not worth the risk from there on.
Totals for the day:
Average Speed: 15 mph
Maximum Speed: 40.1 mph
Total Ascent: 5732 ft
Calories Used: 6502
Wednesday, 14 July 2010
Anyway, I arrived in one piece at Paddington with 20 minutes to spare. Paddington is a strange station. It seemed to be more like an underground bunker when I saw the main entrance. Unfortunately, this train's cycle storage was at the opposite end of the train so I had what felt like a half mile walk to and fro to lock my bike up. My seat was in the 'quiet' coach in First Class. I sat down and relaxed into the plush leather seat ready for five hours of travelling in peace. This was rudely spoiled when two guys in suits came bumbling through the carriage guffawing and talking loudly, taking the seats right behind me. I quickly cottoned on that they were politicians by the way they were talking. Mainly bollocks, but mentions of committees, business department and something about forty thousand jobs?!?
For the most part, after the Tory boys disembarked at Exeter, it was a really nice journey, despite being over five hours long! Beautiful rolling hills, aged forests and many marshes and tidal plains. The section between Exeter and Newton Abbott is especially beautiful. The railway runs right on the edge of the sea for miles, through towns like Exmouth and Dawlish. Spectacular in my opinion. The railway then moves slightly inland before passing through Plymouth, Bodmin and then winds it's way into Penzance. At Plymouth I was cheered along by Carole & Sam. (see picture).
Upon arrival at Penzance the sun was shining. Most of the way down there had been heavy showers. It was really blustery though, from the South West, a headwind for my cycle to the B&B in Sennen, eight miles away. All I can say is that if the whole LeJog was like the 8 miles from Penzance to Sennen, I wouldn't dare attempt it! Talk about rollercoaster hills. I got a cramp after 5 miles, mainly due I think to been sat on the train all day (I hope!). I know that the first two days are going to be the worst but I hope my knees survive!
So I arrived at the B&B at 7.30pm. Wet and flustered after an hours riding into a 30mph headwind and a heavy shower for the last mile. I'm staying at Mayon Farmhouse, where a warm welcome and cream teas with scones were waiting for me. The room is gorgeous and overlooks the hills and sea. I'm having breakfast at 7.30am with a view of setting out at 8am. The weather forecast is for very heavy rain along with gales. Pile this on top of the 4200 feet I have to climb and I am sure that if I survive I will be able to claim myself as a hardcore LeJog'er!