It was one of those things that seemed like a good idea at the time. I had been on quite a few Vita Cycles group rides and was really enjoying my cycling and had started to look for something challenging apart from the handful of sportives I had done so far. Mooching around the internet, I found the Deloitte Ride Across Britain, a fully supported ride over the classic Lands End to John O'Groats route ( LEJOG )
The ride would entail cycling 970 mls in 9 days and although I had cycled LEJOG some 11 years earlier as a recreational cyclist with my brother and son, the idea of riding nine back to back days of 100+ mls sounded challenging. After all, I was 11 years older, but reasoned that I was now a better cyclist with a better bike and would be relieved of the additional chores of route finding and carrying kit in panniers.
Once I had pressed the button to commit there was no going back and the challenge was put to the back of my mind while I continued to enjoy rideouts with the Vita guys including a vey productive winter training visit to Lanzarote organised by Dave Zel.
As the appointed date of the ride got closer I began to question my commitment and wondered whether enough training had been done ! However, I was now morphing into a hardcore 'roadie' and taught myself to cover a distance of 100 mls without fear. I had only done a handful of 100 mls ride but figured I had logged a reasonable number of miles over the last year by consistently averaging about four ride outs per week.
In the weeks leading up to the event, Threshold, the event organisers, had sent out comprehensive advice regarding the kit to sustain the riders for 9 days of cycling and overnight camps.
Obviously I had to buy a bit of new extra kit, including more unusual items like mosquito net, head torch ( for camp) in addition to extra shorts , jerseys, new tyres and inner tubes. By this time I could feel the adrenaline starting, but the wife said I would enjoy it when I got started. I reminded her, as a non-cyclist, that it was not a holiday but a challenge !
My adrenaline levels rose further when, with two weeks to go, my trusty steed 'Titan' ( a mighty & brave hero ) threw a 'wobbler' when after a chain and cassette replacement strange noises emanated from one of the chainrings. A new one was required, but shock horror, I could not get the right part in time for the ride ! So into the breach stepped ' Rourkie Boy' my orange steel bike which some of you will know. He was able to step in as a substitute with more than enough credibility !
The main logistical problem doing LEJOG is transportation of one's bike down to Lands End and back from John O'Groats by trains, which generally have have limited room for bikes. Luckily this aspect was also taken care of by Threshold who organised bike transport from hubs all around the country. I took Rourkie to Burtonwood a week before the ride from where he was taken to Lands End for the start.
I caught the train to Lands End on Friday 6th Sept and thought how strange to be taking a 400 mls journey down South only to ride back North again !
I arrived at Lands End that evening having met a few apprehensive riders en route and when I first saw the campsite was immediately impressed by the whole set-up. Everything was well organised and seemed to be run with military precision with all staff extremely helpful and pleasant. First step was registration and tent allocation followed by un-packing the bike and I was relieved to find that Rourkie had travelled well. The adventure could now start the next morning !
The 9 Stages over 9 days were as follows :-
Day 1 Lands End to Okehampton 108 mls
Day 2 Okehampton to Bath 110 mls
Day 3 Bath to Ludlow 99 mls
Day 4 Ludlow to Haydock 106 mls
Day 5 Haydock to Penrith 104 mls
Day 6 Penrith to Glasgow 101 mls
Day 7 Glasgow to Fort William 135 mls
Day 8 Fort William to Bonar Bridge 111 mls
Day 9 Bonar Bridge to John O'Groats 104 mls
I must say that having been back home for over a week all these stages have blended together into one massive memory which can be summed up in three words ..... HILLS, DESCENTS and SCENERY ....... The hills have been VERY steep,and in fact I encountered the steepest I have ever climbed. If I fit into any sort of category as a cyclist I think I would be a climber and I really had to focus and knuckle down to some of these monsters every day. The route was devised by ex-Pro rider Andy Cooke and used roads off the beaten track mostly with great surfaces. Days 1 & 2 were probably the most testing regarding the climbs but it was a great feeling conquering these. Just as exhilarating were the descents especially in Scotland on wide twisting roads often lasting for miles. All of this cycling heaven against the backdrop of some of the finest scenery in the world, again especially in the wilds of Scotland.
Having read Chris's account of his ride with Ken in the Loch to Loch event I know he has expressed similar sentiments about riding in Scotland. Rather than giving accounts of each day I will just highlight a couple of memorable days.
I will never forget Day 6 which nearly turned into a disaster for me. Having been told the weather forecast, we set off at 7:30 towards Wigan and Preston on a cool day with a bit of rain in the air. I was expecting the day to become warmer but the temperature seemed to drop and the rain became a steady downpour and I soon realised I had seriously underestimated the number of layers to keep warm. The situation was exacerbated by not being able to ride quickly to keep warm as we encountered rush-hour in the urban areas between Liverpool and Manchester, the worst but un-avoidable part of the whole route. Anyway, my situation got steadily worse and I began to shiver almost uncontrollably ...... I kid you not, my arms were shaking on the bars and I knew I was almost hypothermic and could be swept up by the broom wagon. Luckily, out of town, a few cyclists stopped for shelter and one guy very generously lent me some leg warmers and we had a cup of COSTA coffee from a machine which helped. Also, I had to buy a warm pullover garment from a garden centre to get some extra layer on the upper body ....... I didn't care about cost, it saved my life. No joke it was very scary. Many cyclists were suffering the same fate, but a lesson was learnt, although some readers will remember the day I got cold and wet on way to Delamere !!!
Day 7 was described by everyone back at camp as BRUTAL because of the distance (originally 127 mls but extended to 135 mls because of rockfall ), constant headwind and squally rain. It seems that all standards of riders had to dig deep, although the scenery was awe-inspiring over Rannoch Moor and the eerie Glencoe. At times I had to switch my mind off to cope with the tiredness but it was good to get in with some groups riding at the same speed, when we were able to give each other mutual support. Whilst group riding was good at tough times it was also therapeutic to ride alone sometimes when you could be alone with your thoughts and could actually take a better look at the scenery instead of focussing carefully on a wheel in front.
As each day ended and we arrived at the camps we soon became accustomed to the routines. On top of the cycling ,the camping aspect provided another layer of challenge as there was a lot to do each evening and morning, and you had to be really organised in the tent in order to be ready for meals, showering,laundering,
toileting, bike maintenance,packing & un-packing large 15kg bag, sorting kit for riding each day etc. etc. I'll tell you what was a challenge ....... I was so well hydrated after the rides that on some nights I would wake up about 4am bursting for a pee and it was invariably peeing down outside the tent !!! Imagine the scene ..... headtorch on, get out of sleeping bag,put rain gear on, shoes on, get out of tent and walk 100yds in rain to loo .... wished I had one of those receptacles, but never mind I just had to MTFU !!!
Whilst in camp, the No 1 priority was hand hygiene to prevent any outbreak of D&V which could spread like wildfire and ruin the whole event. Accordingly, there were many alcohol gel sanitizer dispensers all over the camp and these obviously worked well.
I did not have any issues with Rourkie giving trouble but Halfords gave a very good service with 10 of their best mechanics always on hand in camp with full tools to sort problems. I know Halfords don't have a great reputation in general, but from what I observed and heard they gave a comprehensive and professional service.
No injuries apart from sore-ish backside and lost nearly 6 lbs in weight, despite eating mountains of food !!
Forgot to mention food, which was a real highlight ....... plenty of it, all top quality,homemade taste and cooked on the camps by Beau Nosh. The variety was amazing and no limit on amounts. Absolutely first class !!
Final thoughts on the whole adventure ........ it was tremendous, with great feeling of satisfaction after completing each stage and getting to finish. Been in bike heaven for nine days although it was hard at the same time. There was a great sense of camaraderie on the ride.
Sorry to bore you all , but whilst on ride I met a lot of people raising money for charity. I didn't originally intend to do this, but since arriving home have set up a giving page. If you can spare anything or collect any loose cake-change please go to :-
David-Lindesay ( any amount gratefully accepted however small )