Monday, 26 July 2010


It's a strange feeling now that it's all over. Apart from the physical aspects (like a very sore arse and achy knees) there isn't really anything that shouts out "I Cycled from Land's End to John o' Groats!" My bike is back in the shed, awaiting a thorough clean and service and my bags are in the corner of the bedroom waiting to be sorted, clothes washed and bits tidied away. I feel different, although it's hard to explain exactly how. I've experienced things I hadn't done before and pushed myself, both physically and mentally to extremes that I hadn't known existed. I feel calmer, relieved and a bit humbled.

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

Day Eight - Kiltearn to John o' Groats

The last day! I'm surprised to be here when I think about everything that's happened over the last week. Injury, constant rain, floods, more injury, water damaged equipment and even my bike is showing signs of rust and it's less than three months old! Kiltearn House is a gorgeous guest house located on the shore of Cromarty Firth, just north of Inverness. I arrived yesterday evening to a particularly warm welcome and spent a relaxing evening chatting with a guest about my experiences so far. Things feel really different this morning. The sun is shining, winds are light and I have a sense of excitement mixed with relief that this is almost over. The surroundings of the guest house contribute towards a more relaxed start to the day. I enjoy breakfast before hugs and handshakes from other guests and the owners upon my departure.

The A9 from here is single lane all the way Latheron (about 70 miles) before turning into the A99 that goes through Wick and onto John o' Groats, 105 miles away. I snap a quick photo of me on the shore of the firth before heading off. Shaun travelled from our house to Edinburgh yesterday and set off from Edinburgh early this morning to meet me at John o' Groats. The morning sun was really nice, although despite a forecast of dry weather all day I still felt a sense that rain would eventually fall after the experience of the week before. Knowing that today would be my last day made it easier to push that bit harder, despite the pain in my knees now being really hard to stand. It took a good twenty miles before they loosened up.

The first thirty miles were really nice. Predominantly flat with a slight headwind but nothing that made me have to work harder. I stopped at Golspie for a snack and five minutes in the sun outside the local shop before continuing. I felt very spiritual today, if that's the right word? A sense of calm, deep thought, as if my mind was coming to terms with everything that had happened over the last week. More than the week though, the last year, with all the planning as well as the actual ride itself. I kept thinking of the finish and what would happen? Would I cry? I wanted to cry when I thought about it! Such an emotional day today but it was brilliant to experience.

I haven't passed a single cyclist going in the same direction as me during the whole journey. I've passed about twenty or thirty going the other way but none going to John o' Groats. Today I saw two walkers, both heading to John o' Groats. One, an old looking guy (but it might just have been his unshaven appearance that made him look old) and a young backpacker. I stopped and chatted with the backpacker for a few minutes before carrying on.

As I reached the village of Lothmore, the hills began to creep up. The A9 follows the coast and the road begins to come a bit further inland at this point. At Helmsdale it really starts to climb. This is where Shaun passed me in the van. He would be in John o' Groats in an hour. I would be another three or four yet! Upon reaching the summit above Helmsdale the road stays pretty high before descending once again. Unfortunately, the wind also began strengthening and I was cycling directly into a moderate north easterly headwind which was to stay with me for the next fifty miles to the end. Adrenalin, impatience and a desire to finish pushed me through those final miles, past the town of Wick and to the turn off for John o' Groats.

About a mile before the finish line there's a B&B by a field. It stands alone, overlooking the main part of John o' Groats. Despite me being desperate to finish, I stopped the bike and stood, leaning against the gate of the field and looked over John o' Groats. This was my little moment of reflection. A bit emotional but a few moments before the official end to let my mind compute what was about to happen. It sounds daft but I needed it, and enjoyed it. I texted Shaun to let him know I would be there in a few minutes and after removing my helmet and shades, jumped back on the bike and belted into John o' Groats heading straight for the famous sign where Shaun was waiting for me.
Totals for the day:
Miles: 104.8
Average Speed: 13.1 mph
Maximum Speed: 39.1 mph
Total Ascent: 3966 ft
Calories Used: 6173

Bike route 629092 - powered by Bikemap

Day Seven - Pitlochry to Kiltearn

'Welcome To Pitlochry In Bloom' said the sign. More like welcome to Pitlochry in FLOOD! Today is Day 7 of my journey and it has rained every day so far. The rain started yesterday afternoon despite a forecast of dry, sunny weather. It continued all of last night and the area around Pitlochry (Perth & Kinross) had the worst floods for over 17 years! As you can see by Clicking Here many roads were closed in the area. By Wednesday morning, most of Pitlochry was cut off by the flood waters. All road and rail routes were flooded and I had no idea how I could escape the village. I went down to breakfast at 8am and was on the brink of tears again. I felt so depressed. The rain had been more or less constant since I set off last Thursday. Every day I had gotten soaked to the skin and for what? To finally get stopped in my tracks by flooding. The breakfast itself was gorgeous! Cooked to perfection, and the staff, who could see my obvious distress waited on me with a little extra attention, reassuring me that this would be okay, that the roads would be open very soon and that I would be on my way in no time. It was an excuse for second helpings and another round
of toast!
I called Shaun from my room and more or less said that it was over. He started crying, which started me crying and it was like Worcestershire last Saturday all over again. The tears released frustration and built up stress. As if by magic, the rain eased a little and I got news that the A9 had re-opened. It wasn't perfect, and it would be dangerous in the rain, but it was my only way out of Pitlochry and the only way I was going to get closer to John o' Groats.

Once again the computer wasn't working due to the heavy rain yesterday. It wouldn't matter too much as long as I stayed on the A9 as it would take me directly to Inverness, 97 miles away. I thanked the hotel manager for his help and pedaled off towards the flooded road at the bottom of the hill. Even then, I had to wade through water a foot deep to get on the only road open, the dreaded A9! The road itself had been closed to to damage caused by the flood waters racing off the hills. (see pic). The rain was still falling and I had nothing but dread for the day ahead!

Today's route took me across the Cairngorms. What should have been the most beautiful section of the ride , but once again spoiled. Masked by rain, low cloud and the spray from cars and lorries thundering past me at stupid speeds. For almost a hundred miles I was concentrated on a spot, two metres in front of me as I pedaled for my life. No wonder I got such a decent average speed today. Fear and desperation are a good motivator! Inverness could not have come too soon. I was cold, wet, depressed and had given up all hope of finding a quiet B road to make the day somewhat less stress full. From Inverness I knew it was only 17 miles. If I tried really hard I could be in the warm, cosy B&B in just over an hour. It took two hours but never mind!

Totals for the day:
Miles: 110.7
Average Speed: 14.1 mph
Maximum Speed: 34.1 mph
Total Ascent: 3583 ft
Calories Used: 6823

Bike route 583238 - powered by Bikemap

Day Six - Broughton to Pitlochry.

For the first time in the last six days, the sun was shining when I set off from Glenholm in Broughton. The forecast for the day was sunny spells and warmer temperatures of 20c. In addition, the route for today was, for the majority of the day, a gradual descent from the hills above Edinburgh down towards to foothills of the Cairngorms. On paper, it looked like a good day. As ever, I shouldn't have let my confidence show itself! After the torrential rain of yesterday, my bike computer and GPS were having problems again, the same as they did this time yesterday in Kendal. The route map would not display yet the computer seemed okay. I decided to give the computer some sun and followed the same road I left the evening before.

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!

The next 40 miles or so were pretty fast going. With a nice southerly breeze behind me and the first bit of dry weather for six days, it felt pretty good. I flew through Falkirk and Grangemouth heading up towards Stirling. As much as I dislike cycling through towns and cities, Stirling was actually quite a nice place to see. It also saw the first railway crossing of the whole journey! I stopped by the river and had lunch before setting off thinking how good today was turning out to be. Heading out of Stirling the steep ascent led me onto the A9. This was another road that I had been warned about, yet took too little notice of in hindsight. The A9 starts off pretty harmless, It was fine as I cycled through Dunblane but then the problems started.

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.

No sooner had I set off, it started raining. The shower had grown and merged with other showers and the sunny day had turned into the wettest day so far! The sky was so heavy that it looked angry, almost black, much darker than I had ever seen before. I scrambled to get the bike bag covers on and unpack my waterproof jacket and lights before pedaling off in rain so hard it was hurting my face! For the second day in a row, weather warnings had been issued for torrential rain and I had no idea that I was heading straight into the centre of it.
I finally arrived in Pitlochry at just after 8pm. Almost three hours over my expected time but more than relieved to be out of the storms that had already caused floods around the village I had just reached. Within hours, the village had been cut off by flooding as the rains continued to hammer down.

Totals for the day:
Miles: 122.2
Average Speed: 12.8 mph
Maximum Speed: 36.4 mph
Total Ascent: 4499 ft
Calories Used: 7335

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Day Five - Kendal to Broughton.

When I woke up my instinct was to look out of the window at the river, which the evening before had been rising to within a few feet of my hotel window. This morning it was a foot away and it was still raining. I really wanted to stay in bed with the thought of the two highest climbs of the entire trip coming today but at 6.40am I knew I had to get up if I was to have time to get my bag repacked, grab breakfast and make a start on those hills. My clothes had dried out from the night before thanks to the towel rail in the bathroom. I relined the bags with bin liners to try and stop rain penetrating through the covers as had happened the previous few days.

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.

After a warm up and chat with the camper van couple I sprinted the last twenty miles and arrived to a warm house with a roaring fire and a hot meal of chicken and haggis.

Totals for the day:
Miles: 109.5
Avergage Speed: 13.2 mph
Maximum Speed: 35.5 mph
Total Ascent: 4583 ft
Calories Used: 6833

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Sunday, 18 July 2010

Day Four - Nantwich to Kendal.

After the shock of my knee injury yesterday I was wary about what today would bring. Deep down, I knew in my mind that today would decide whether I was able to seriously consider the rest of the journey. My confidence was low, the rain was already falling, again, and I wasn't expecting a good day. It's a good job people don't pay me to make predictions! The rain was on and off during the morning but my knee felt tons better! Unlike yesterday, the miles were flying by and before I knew it I was making my first 25 mile break. I'd come from the Shropshire / Cheshire border, through Nantwich, Middlewich and Northwich all in the space of under two hours. Fab!

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!
Totals for the day:
Miles: 104.8
Average Speed: 14 mph
Maximum Speed: 29.7 mph
Total Ascent: 2202 ft
Calories Used: 6444

Bike route 629029 - powered by Bikemap

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Day Three - Bristol to Nantwich.

After a surprisingly peaceful night in my prison cell room in Bristol, I was keen to get on my way after a less than pleasant stay in B Wing. I left at 7.30am feeling quite buoyant about my 126 mile trek to Nantwich. The first two days had gone pretty well, and apart from my usual achy left knee I felt fine. I think that this early confidence was a bit premature for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the climb out of Bristol was a killer. Secondly, I just couldn't get into the 'zone'. Some people talk about this 'zone' and I completely agree with it's existence. On days one and two I hardly looked at my bike computer and the early miles passed quickly. Today was different, something wasn't right and the miles were really dragging during the morning. I stopped after about two miles to take a photo of the Severn Bridge before starting off again.

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:
Miles: 126.4
Average Speed: 13.9 mph
Maximum Speed: 34.2 mph
Total Ascent: 3769 ft
Calories Used: 7649

Bike route 629023 - powered by Bikemap

Friday, 16 July 2010

Day Two - Okehampton to Bristol.

Unlike last night, I slept like a log in Okehampton. When I woke up my clothes were still hung in front if the open window to dry off properly and my bike computer and phone were charged up. The forecast was for showers this morning and heavier thunderstorms later in the afternoon. Joy! Luckily, the wind was still a strong South / South Westerly which meant I was in for some help from mother nature, even if I was going to get drenched! After a shower and breakfast I headed off. It's been a funny day as you'll soon read, and it started off with a mile and a half climb out of Okehampton. Not enjoyable when your legs haven't warmed up yet. I also decided today to stay off the A30 today, finding an very scenic alternative route (A382). I have to say that was the right decision. Despite some nasty hills, it was a more enjoyable morning as I headed towards Exeter through Dartmoor.

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:
Miles: 106.6
Average Speed: 13.8 mph
Maximum Speed: 34.7 mph
Total Ascent: 4425
Calories Used: 6693

Bike route 629006 - powered by Bikemap

Day One - Land's End to Okehampton.

I didn't' sleep very well last night and I was wide awake by 6am. A combination of nerves, excitement and anticipation. The heavy rain was continuing when I drew the curtains, disappointed that my first day would be a wet one. After showering I had to re-pack the bike bags due to one side been heavier than the other. It caused a few wobbles on my cycle from Penzance yesterday. After breakfast I double checked everything and was waved off by the owners of the B&B. It was only a 5 minute cycle ride to Land's End and I was surprised how commercial it is, full of shops and minor attractions. A bit like Blackpool but only one building! It was however, empty. Everything was closed and the only people I saw were a group of French cyclists who were just setting off as I arrived. I waved to the first few but after getting a dirty look I ignored the rest. They were on high spec race bikes with bright, sponsored jerseys and a support (nanny) vehicle following them.

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:
Miles: 102.7
Average Speed: 15 mph
Maximum Speed: 40.1 mph
Total Ascent: 5732 ft
Calories Used: 6502

Bike route 628998 - powered by Bikemap 

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Day Zero - Sennen

Well here I am. Sat in a beautiful B&B in Sennen, about a mile from Land's End. I set off at 10.30am this morning from Doncaster, travelling First Class all the way to Penzance. I booked the tickets in advance and only cost me about a hundred quid. It's been a long, but nice journey. The bike was stored in the front coach of the train from Doncaster and luckily First Class was the next coach so I only had about ten yards to walk. I had half of the coach to myself all the way to London with regular coffee and biscuits from the over-friendly trolly dolly. I think his name was Dierdre. It was a relatively quick journey to London at just under two hours. On arrival at Kings Cross I had to find Paddington station for my connection to Penzance. Jeeze! What a stress biking across London! It only took me 15 minutes but it felt like an hour! Busses and Taxis really don't give a toss about cyclists and just cut you off without warning. I've never cycled so defensively in my life.

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).

For the last half hour of the journey I had the whole coach to myself. Not a soul in sight. I decided to change into my bike gear where I was sat. There was nobody about so why not? I stood up and took my trackie bottoms off, folded them and tucked them in my bag. I unfolded my cycle shorts and then I heard the carriage door open. One of the train cleaners walked in. I was stood in the carriage in my Armani pants and nothing else!!! I went bright red and tried explaining that I was just changing. The woman grinned and just said "Oooooooh, alright!" and stood watching while I hurriedly fumbled my cycle shorts on.

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!

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

No Route, No Brainer!

Mad! Crazy! Idiot! Amateur!

Just some of the names being thrown at me this morning and it's funny as... well, let's say fudge. Yesterday I tweeted that unlike 99.9% of other people who cycle from Land's End to John O' Groats, I wouldn't be taking a pre-planned route or GPS maps to guide me. I've decided to set off and make my own way the 1000 miles to John O' Groats.

For the doubters and other critical beasts who think I should be castrated and locked up (why castrated I don't know!), here's why I'm doing it this way.

First of all, I am different. I've always been the strangest boy in the class for some reason and I want to do this differently to everyone else. Of course I understand the benefits (or need) to having a pre-determined route, but for me that takes away a large element of fun, the unpredictability. My idea of making this an enjoyable, memorable and interesting challenge is to make it as unpredictable as possible. I want to have to make choices and decisions on the spot. I want to be able to cycle as much or as little as I want in a day, not be constrained by a daily target.
So it's decided. No route, no pre-booked accommodation, no maps, no GPS. Maybe the straitjacket is a good idea after all... woop woop woop, jibber jibber.....

Thursday, 1 July 2010

My LEJOG Bike 2010

Here she is! After loads of research, reading reviews and asking people their thoughts and experiences, I've kitted the bike out with what I hope is going to be the most efficient equipment for the job.

The bike now weighs just under 20kg including all the extra kit. Almost double the bike's original weight. I'm really happy with this because my last event (The Leeds & Liverpool Canal) had me carrying over 28kg, and that was for a two day trip! The difference this time is that all of the carriage weight is in the bag and panniers rather than on my back like last year. That mistake cost me chronic saddle sores that took weeks to heal.
The biggest challenge I faced this time, even before I set off next week, was exactly what I would need, the best kit for the bike and how much space I would need for my stuff. It's difficult to find answers when people have different opinions based on their own personal experiences. Then when I have an idea of what I need there's the question of which I choose. For example, which of the 30 odd puncture resistant tyres do I buy? Which of the dozens of racks and bags is the best for me?
I'm sure many people who decide to do these long cycle expeditions for the first time must have similar problems. Therefore I've dedicated a couple pages to what I bought and why. Just click my Bikes and Equipment pages. My final choices came down to practicalities, value for money and the highest amount of positive reviews from other buyers.