Archive for May, 2010

Day Twelve: Tongue to John O’Groats

May 27, 2010

or, The One Where Now You’re Gonna Believe Him…

Another good night’s sleep and I was up early to get Day Eleven’s blog finished and up before setting off on the final leg of the journey. I sat in the lounge with a cup of tea and two slices of home made cake (banana and chocolate) for my breakfast…well, with no shops around let alone open what else was I to do?!

All blogged up, fully packed and prepared I set out for what would hopefully be the final time at nine o’clock (does that count as early?). A lovely pootle along the water’s edge,
I was in high spirits and whistling along…

…until I hit the first hill. Which was in turn the first hill of a series of hills. Three quick peaks of 150, 250 and then 350 feet with drops back down to more or less sea level each time. The cycling equivalent of weightlifting’s supersets as it were!

Not going to lie…it was a struggle. Despite the favourable tailwind (yes, yes, oh yay…it had turned Westerly!) my legs weren’t obliging at all and it was a real effort to get myself up to the top each time. Perhaps that headwind the day before had taken it out of me…

A quick feed stop in Bettyhill at the first shop I’d seen open for miles and miles and then it was on to the last big climb of the trip.

After labouring up the 500ft or so, I knew three were just five more climbs left of the journey, and not that many miles to go either!

With the wind finally offering a hand I made good time and stopped off for lunch at a Tesco in Thurso. With less than thirty miles to go and food inside me I knew as I set off that it was going to be my last stop of the trip.

The miles ticked over as the time passed and approaching Dunnet it wad tempting to give a trip to Dunnet’s Head a miss and just get to John O’Groats. I couldn’t do that having taken in Lizard on the way up though so I turned off into the wind and made my way up to the most northerly point.

Obligatory photo out of the way, I was back with the tail wind and after joining the main road once again the signs started appearing; ‘John O’Groats 12’, ‘John O’Groats 9’, ‘John O’Groats 8’…it didn’t matter by now, I knew I was going to finish!

Now, I’d heard that there’s not a lot at John O’Groats and ‘it’s a little run down’ but I didn’t quite expect it to be as bad as it is. What. A. Dive!

I made my way down to the (now derelict) hotel and, as the clock ticked over to 16.05, crossed the finish line. Job done!

The famous sign post is situated just a few yards up from the hotel and I wandered up to join the queue (!) of people wanting a picture taken. The pair in front of me were just embarking on their trip, picking up a momento to signal the start.

Photos at the post are now a commercial venture, with the sign coming down each night and unauthorised picture taking frowned upon…which is a bit sad really. Anyway, I paid my £9.95 to the surliest man I have ever met and got my picture taken. In the days of super fast broadband and instant communication it’s quaint I’m going to have to wait seven to ten days for them to post it to me…sigh.

A hot chocolate over the road to celebrate (nope, no pub at the finish…that would be too much fun!), I had a chat with a couple of groups there. A family of bikers that were taking in Scotland and the Isles and a couple who had just completed a LEJOG as a solo rider and support vehicle.

Earlier in the week I’d made the decision to change my plans of accommodation for the night and, rather than travel the twenty miles or so back to Scrabster to catch the ferry over to Stromness I booked into the John O’Groats youth hostel and onto a ferry from nearby Gills Bay the next day to take me over to the Orkneys. With the wind as it was I was certainly glad to not be having to tackle that sort of distance back into it!

John O’Groats youth hostel has borrowed a lead from London Luton Airport, and is actually situated two and a half miles back along the coast from which you’ve already travelled! Having now finished, my legs had decided they wanted a rest and it was hard work convincing them they had to make this journey.

When I say there is nothing in John O’Groats it’s no exaggeration. I went into the local shop to look for some food for the night but found nothing of interest at all and resigned myself to the fact I could just have the rest of the shortbread I had left with a cup of tea.

Whilst booking into the hostel I asked if there was anywhere to grab some food. After hearing that the closest place was two miles away I decided the shortbread would do!

I got to my room and was sorting through my stuff when there was a knock on the door. It was one of the bikers from the group I’d met earlier. They’d heard me ask about food and wanted to invite me to join them as they had plenty to go round. How nice!

A lovely pasta dish was the fare on offer with a glass of red wine on top, and chocolate and coffee to finish. It was nice to have a bit of a chat with the group and towards the end of the night another group checked in, ready for their John O’Groats to Lands End trip starting the next day. On a recumbent tandem that they built themselves! Chapeau!

They were in high spirits and with a big group together it really was a lovely end to what’s been a trip with highs and lows but an excellent experience overall. A trip where me actually getting to and crossing the finish line was never in doubt. Not at all… (cough, cough)

I have been making a note of every penny I’ve spent and everything I’ve bought (mainly strawberry milk, Snickers and doughnuts to be fair!), so I’ll update the ‘Pages’ section to the right with those once I’m back home.

I think I’ll also get one more update in once I’ve finished on the Orkney Islands; just a few quick thoughts on the trip as a whole after having a couple of days to let it all sink in…so that’s something for you to look forward too!

Finally, I’d just like to say thank you to everybody that has been in touch over the last twelve days. On the way back from the Essex Lambs Sportive I got chatting to two guys who said you go through some dark patches on a solo trip like this…they weren’t wrong, but your comments and encouragement did help me carry on.

As did the sponsorship that anybody who has donated put forward. It’s nice to know that me completing this challenge in a way and getting sponsored along the way is going to help The Stroke Association with their work.

If you were waiting to see if I actually finished before sponsoring me (I know there was a couple!) then, don’t worry, the link is still open; http://www.justgiving.com/onemanandlejog

Thank you.

Stats for the day

Distance for the day: 71 miles
Time in saddle for the day: 5hrs 8mins
Average speed for the day: 13.8mph
Maximum speed for the day: 38.9mph

Total distance: 1,056 miles
Total time in saddle: 80hrs 26mins
Average speed for trip: 13.1mph

Route for the day…

Day Twelve: Route

Route profile for the day…

Day Twelve: Route Profile

Day Eleven: Loch Ness to Tongue

May 26, 2010

or, The One Where Tony Done a Ton (sic.)

Like a boxer winning on points after twelve rounds, plucky underdogs clinging on to a one goal lead having had a man sent off or a runner hitting the final six miles of a marathon in thirty plus degrees heat…today was a slog.

I’d anticipated it was going to be like that, of course. It wasn’t particularly tough…I got through it without any niggles, it was just hard work. For a long time. A very long time.

Knowing I was in for a ‘fun’ day, if only for the distance, I was up and out of the hostel early having had a breakfast of currant buns and strawberry milk that I’d picked up the night before a few miles out from the hostel (‘cos it really is remote at the Loch Ness hostel, there’s nothing around it!).

It was nice to be on the road by half past seven and the first thirty miles or so flew by, with the tree-lined A82 offering excellent shelter from the wind.

About five miles down the road a deer jumped out of the trees and ran in front of me for about a like before darting back into the undergrowth. Having spotted it coming it was quite a sight to watch, but it was easy to see how they can cause a nuisance to cars.

Reaching Inverness and looking at the Cateye as I stopped to pick up some supplies (shortbread as a snack…well, I’ve got to get something Scottish!), I was amazed to see I’d averaged 14.9mph! I knew it wasn’t going to last, unfortunately…

…and, lo, once out of Inverness the weather gods were awoken. And they sent onto he the winds of wrath. Okay, maybe a big dramatic but it certainly felt like that once I turned to head north proper.

Anyone that’s read the blog in it’s entirety will have read about my trip back to Peterborough. For those that haven’t (and I don’t blame you!), I made a trip back to ‘boro on Easter Sunday which was a similar distance and into a headwind the whole trip. Today was like that. Only with a stronger headwind. And hillier. Peterborough and the surrounding area isn’t renound for its rolling countryside!

They big hill in the middle of the route (I forget it’s name, sorry) was a pain to get up but the descent offered one or two stunning viewpoints and was ample reward. Stopping at one I got chatting to an elderly Scottish couple for a bit. They kindly told me to stock up on bits in Lairg as there was nothing between there and Tongue! Thanking them for this advice, and after taking the opportunity to have a photo taken by then, I set off.

Quick feed stop in Bonar Bridge (steak slice and chocolate muffin, nutrition fans) and a chance to buy new batteries for the Garmin which was on the second pair of lithiums and finally running low. I couldn’t help but curse the two days I’d accidentally left it on overnight…it would have survived the trip otherwise!

Bonar Bridge is about sixty miles from Loch Ness. The last half of the journey looked entertaining enough by the route profile alone. Little did I know quite how much more fun it was going to be..,

Past Lairg and with just thirty five (‘just thirty five’?! ha, listen to me now!) miles to go and the A836 changes from a ‘normal’ road. It becomes bleak. It becomes exposed. It becomes singletrack.

Oh yes. Not only was I now battling into a headwind with no shelter for miles, I also got to stop at random points to allow cars to pass. Brilliant.

With my speed into the wind down to about nine miles an hour, it’s fair to say I was a little demoralised. There wasn’t any point cursing either, any sounds lost to to wind as soon as they were uttered. At least there were the odd, cold, showers coming along at random points to cheer me up a bit…well, a monster headwind on its own would be too easy isn’t it?!

It was a long thirty five miles and there really was nothing between Lairg and where I was heading. It’s so strange, having travelled up from ‘the bottom’ to see just how sparse shops and services are up here, especially when compared to somewhere like the Lake District which has it’s little village shops scattered upon the route.

I finally made it to Tongue (really pretty approach to it, a two mild of so decline, with a lovely view over the sea) and found my way to the hostel, rolling in at just about half past eight. Nope, really…thirteen hours after setting off this morning. Like I said…a slog!

I ordered in a pizza on the recommendation of the hostel manager (it was that or shortbread, as nowhere’s open in Tongue past half six!) and had a bit of a chat with the other residents before retiring for the night. I got a feelin’…that tonight’s gonna be a good night’s sleep!

The winds had started to turn to the west as I settled in for the night. That would give me a lovely tail wind for the final leg should they stay. What’s the betting tomorrow is as calm and still a day you can imagine…?! Sigh.

Stats for the day

Distance for the day: 113 miles
Time in saddle for the day: 9hrs 54mins
Average speed for the day: 11.4mph
Maximum speed for the day: 29.2mph

Total distance to date: 985 miles
Total time in saddle to date: 75hrs 18mins
Average speed for trip to date: 13.0mph

Route for the day…

Day Eleven: Route

Route profile for the day…

Day Eleven: Route Profile

Day Ten: Crianlarich to Loch Ness

May 25, 2010

or, The One With the Invisible Hindrance(s)

After a decent night’s sleep it was another relatively early start to the day, and I was out on the road (and the only road for the day!) by half past eight. Before nine o’clock two days running?! Woo!

Before leaving the hostel in Crianlarich I’d taken the opportunity to look at the mountaineering weather report. Disappointingly, it forecasted North or North Westerly winds; up to 15mph. Damn you weather gods!

A relatively flat first five miles got my legs ticking over quite nicely, and I started to think that perhaps it wouldn’t be such a bad day after all…I could be at Loch Ness by half five.

Then I turned a corner and hit the wind. And the first climb of the day. Just what you want at the same time…

After struggling my way up, the road rounded a corner; trees offering shelter from the wind. It was here I noticed the chill in the air and stopped to get my leg warmers out…no point being cold all day!

As the road dropped the views were spectacular. High peaks all around and valleys plunging down to pools of water. It was all very Jurassic Park like, and I really wouldn’t have been shocked if I’d seen a herd of Diplodocus grazing in the distance…

…I didn’t of course. That would be dilly. Although it’s so unpopulated up in the Highlands there could be that happening just over the next mountain and nobody would ever know!

Back up to a thousand feet and across a desolate moor offering no shelter whatsoever, the wind was picking up. I’ve got used to putting effort in on the inclines but pedalling downhill?! I didn’t sign up to that!

It was on the descent back down to sea level that I hit a crack in the road that I simply did not see at all. The jolt through the bike and the handlebars was shocking, and I’m pretty sure my yelp of pain was probably heard back in Edinburgh (similar to that of a dog if you tread on its tail, if you were wondering…).

The shock was bad enough but it was the ‘clank clank clank’ sound that I heard afterwards that worried me more. Stopping to have a look I saw that I’d managed to break a spoke…

…with a bodge to hold the spoke in place, but with the wheel already slightly out of true I realised I was going to get another opportunity to see inside a bike shop. Sigh.

I carried onwards, scanning the road surface ahead with eagle eyes – the last thing I needed was to hit another bump and have the wheel collapse on me…that would be a disaster!

Around fifteen miles later I reached Glencoe and, as if by chance, saw a sign at the side of the road advertising cycle hire and repairs. No answer on the phone, but there was an address so I went searching.

Found the place (not too hard, most of these places are pretty small up here!) just as the proprietor arrives back on his bike…explains why he didn’t answer he phone.

Unfortunately he didn’t have any road bike wheel spokes in stock, but recommended I try Nevis Bikes up in Fort William. After looking at the damage he cheerfully exclaimed; ‘aye, that’ll hold. It’s only sixteen miles or so’.

Stopping at the village store for some food, I gave Nevis Cycles a call and explained my predicament. They said they were busy but should be able to fit me in as I was heading in this trip.

I made good time reaching Fort William (still scanning the road surface ahead with eagle eyes!) and left my bike in the hands of Joe as I went off for a wander.

On my return, his opening sentence of ‘you have a small problem’ made my heart drop, before he followed up with ‘we only had silver spokes so you’ve now got an odd one’ and my heartbeat levelled out…! I thanked him for fitting me in at short notice and got on my way, the unplanned stop-offs having cost me around an hour on my day.

After setting off from Fort William I somehow made good time despite the head wind that was picking up once again. Whether it was because I’m getting fitter as the back to back days continue or simply because I was desperate to finish for the day I don’t know. But I got to the hostel at half past six…only an hour later than I’d thought I would as I set off for the day.

The place is lovely, but very basic. I somehow secured myself a solo room (with a Loch view!), which is a bonus in regards to getting some quality sleep. It’s also another opportunity to apply some Deep Heat overnight to try and keep my legs ticking over nicely.

Tea was a Soreen Malt Loaf with strawberry milk…what a mature diet, and, after a wander down to the ‘beach’ for a few photos, I spent a while in the common room overlooking the Loch chatting to other residents for the night.

Now I’m nearing the end of my journey (wow, first time I’ve got to say that!) and the route you can take is less variable than at the start I’m starting to see a few more cyclists. There’s been a couple heading southwards and there’s a four in this hostel (three older guys, one solo and a pair, who are doing it over three weeks unsupported; and a Scouse guy with his mate as support who’s doing it over seven days and is finishing tomorrow! To be fair, he does triathlons for fun and has finished the Ironman…!).

Tomorrow’s also the big one for me. Up to Tongue and with the twenty mile an hour Northerlies that have been predicted, I think it’s going to be hard work…

A liberal application of Deep Heat before bed and I was soon drifting off with a gentle song rolling round inside my head as it had been for a while as I approached Loch Ness…

You can knock it,
You can rock it,
You can go to Timbuktu,
But you’ll never find a Nessie in the zoo.

Stats for the day

Distance for the day: 94 miles
Time in saddle for the day: 7hrs 2mins
Average speed for the day: 13.3mph
Maximum speed for the day: 29.8mph

Total distance to date: 872 miles
Total time in saddle to date: 65hrs 24mins
Average speed for trip to date: 13.3mph

Route for the day…

Day Ten: Route

Route profile for the day…

Day Ten: Route Profile

Day Nine: Edinburgh to Crianlarich

May 24, 2010

or, The One Where Tony Gets Wind

Well…whilst I didn’t formally get introduced to my ‘roomies’, they made sure I was aware of their presence as they stumbled back into the hostel at half past one. Sigh.

Actually, that’s a bit harsh. There were five others in the room I left in the morning…it was just the three Australians that created the hullabaloo. No, really. Australians. Being loud. I’m shocked too…

Anyway…two of them came…sorry, stumbled in first. I think they were boyfriend and girlfriend, but only because they were in the same bed as I was leaving. They chatted for a bit before their mate Jason came in with what must have been twenty pounds worth of McDonalds which took him half an hour to eat.

The couple were amazed at their drunken state as they’d ‘only drunk half as much as last night’, although I’d be tempted to agree that it probably was ‘the five Jaeger-Bombs at the start’ that ruined them.

They got off to sleep, or more accurately passed out, as Jason moved onto his apple pie (who buys a McDonalds apple pie when under the influence?!)…the girl, in a style only Antipodeans can really pull off, slumped half out of the bed with her head in the bin as she thought she was ‘gonna hurl’. Well done buddy, she’s a keeper!

Enough about them, this is supposed to be about the journey! I was up at six o’clock to take advantage of the ‘simple breakfast’ they offer. Simple it was, but the self-service tea, toast and cornflakes were welcome.

There were a fair number of people in running kit up and about and, after enquiring, I found out it was the day of the Edinburgh marathon. Now, whilst this explains the difficulty I had in finding somewhere in the city to stay for the night and the odd road closures, I’ve not got a clue as to why on Earth you’d prepare yourself for a marathon with a night at Caledonian Backpackers?!

Anyway…I was up and out of the room and ready to get going by half past seven (so much for the earl…oh!). As if to mock my calling for cooler weather yesterday a cool rain was falling as I battled against Edinburgh’s seemingly random road network once again as I looked to join the Forth Road Bridge.

After ten miles of back roads (‘cos you’re not allowed on the A70 on your bike…which they don’t tell you ’til you get to it!) I reached the bridge and admired the view…

…or not. A real ‘pea souper’ had enveloped the structure with visibility no more than two hundred yards. Which was a shame.

As the day wore on and the sun came out (not used to this), it burnt the water off the road surface – eerie ‘smoke’ peeling up and off the tarmac as I clocked through the miles.

The journey was a good one, with reasonable road surfaces for the majority of the day (some dreadful ones too though, really jarring despite the carbon forks and seatpost which slowed me down somewhat).

I passed through some lovely little towns and got to see some amazing scenery. Circling Loch Lubnaig, with the mountains in the background and the sun glistening off the water’s surface was picture postcard perfect and I couldn’t help but think how lucky I was to be seeing it in the way I was…a way so few people are lucky enough to do so.

Then I got towards the end of the journey for the day and it all went s little squiffy. Remember that head wind I’ve mentioned before in this write-up? Well it returned…with a vengeance. The last twenty miles was going to be bad enough with a six hundred foot climb to take on. The headwind made it far, far worse…I was crawling along at 8mph for spells, literally being held up in the wind!

If anybody up there is looking down on me…can I please have some Southerlies for the rest of the week? Or none at all! Just not any more Northerlies, pur-lease!

Despite the struggle of the last twenty miles or so, with the early start I’d managed to get it was nice to take a look down at the GPS and see it displaying 3.50 miles to go as opposed to 35.0 come the time four o’clock rolled round! An early finish for the day (yay!) as I arrived into my stop for the night.

Crianlarich is a lovely little village in the shadow of a couple of huge mountains (I’m calling them mountains, the locals probably think of them as mere slopes). I grabbed dinner in the local pub…venison burger and chips followed by apple tart and custard. It was excellent.

The hostel is exactly what I was expecting, full of walkers and people here to enjoy the area rather than the bars and clubs within it. Should get a good night’s sleep in here, no worries. I love it!

Only problem though is that there’s no signal on the o2 network anywhere so I’ve had to update this blog via the hostel’s extortionate wi-fi network (one pound for twenty minutes?! That’s obscene!).i have a feeling this’ll be the case for much of the rest of my journey so I’m hoping there’s somewhere in Loch Ness, Tongue and finally John O’Groats that I’m able to do the same. So if you are trying to get hold of me and I don’t answer, that’ll probably be the reason why!

It’s a bit scary to think I’m now three quarters of the way through this trip and I’m down to (in theory!) less than three hundred miles until I cross that finish line. Or, more childishly…

…three more sleeps! On to Loch Ness tomorrow (just need to follow one road again!), and if I manage another early start and get the tricky first half of the journey done quickly enough I should have time for a bit of Nessie hunting!

Stats for the day

Distance for the day: 84 miles
Time in saddle for the day: 6hrs 31mins
Average speed for the day: 12.8mph
Maximum speed for the day: 34.3mph

Total distance to date: 778 miles
Total time in saddle to date: 58hrs 22mins
Average speed for trip to date: 13.3mph

Route for the day…

Day Nine: Route

Route profile for the day…

Day Nine: Route Profile

Day Eight: Carlisle to Edinburgh

May 23, 2010

or, The One On the A7

After a terrific breakfast at the Arkale Lodge (I really would recommend it to anyone heading up to Carlisle), I was on the road by 09.40…yay!

It took a while to get out of the city, thanks to a funny one way system and a liberal smattering of traffic lights that seemed intent on changing to red as I approached.

Finally out on the A7 out of Carlisle, I noticed a sign; ‘Edinburgh 95’. Now, my route was meant to take me a more direct ninety miles but…after yesterday’s ‘fun and games’ with local roads and a northerly headwind settling in (so much for seasonal prevailing south westerlies!), I made the decision to main road it all day.

And main road it I did. Practically all of the ninety five miles on the A7! It wasn’t easy, mind. There’s not that many settlements on the Scottish side of the border, and service stations are just as rare – certainly not as many as on English trunk road, so it was a case of taking advantage when I did see them.

And the sun. Oh, the sun. I hope those of you enjoyed your day in it, ‘cos it was unbearable at times on the bike…relentless from above and after midday you could feel it coming back up off the tarmac.

The first ten miles were hard work. Getting into a rythym wasn’t happening and it took a while to get going. After a while it clicked though and I got through to the halfway point just as I hit Hawick.

Apparently the home of cashmere, Hawick is also the proud owner of a big Morrison’s which I decided would do for lunch. I took a good break in the sun, phoning home for a chat and a progress update. I probably took too big a break actually…

…because that climb back out of Hawick would have been tough anyway, but my legs just didn’t want to turn. It took a good distance until I felt properly on my way again.

The A7 is quite pretty as far as main roads go, winding it’s way round the green, green hills and dales (I knew it was worth taking!) but the last twenty miles or so were into a pretty strong headwind as it picked up later on into the day…not something I really needed!

The last five miles will probably go down as the worst five on my trip. Although inside Edinburgh, a ridiculous traffic system sends you round the houses. Terrible road surfaces and cycling into a sun so low I may as well have had my eyes closed I cursed my way to the final point on my Garmin.

Which turned out to not be where I was staying – another mistaken input by me, d’oh. It couldn’t find the place I wanted by its search so it was a slow, painful drag to the right place using my iPhone and google maps for references at random junction stops.

My bed for tonight is courtesy of Caledonian Backpackers, which describes itself as a hostel but is (equipped with a bar, games room and ‘cinema area’) in fact more a cross between Byker Grove and a bunkhouse. I’m sure if you’re here as a group, or for a spell of nights ,it’s wonderful…I’m just hoping I manage to get a reasonable night’s sleep in.

A trip to Somerfield over the road and I picked up some malt loaf and milk for tea. As I re-joined the street littered with drunk revellers (perhaps planning on stopping in Edinburgh on a Saturday night wasn’t the best plan…) it hit me just quite how much I didn’t want to be in a busy city right now!

Wandering down Princes Street with my two pints of strawberry milk, I’ve never felt so out of place. I’m a city boy, give me hustle and bustle any day of the week and I’m usually fine with it…but having had eight days on the road all I want at the moment is a comfy bed for the night!

It was back into the hostel room for the night; still empty, so you’ll have to wait until tomorrow to see if my room mates are up to Westward Ho!’s standard, I’m afraid.

Into deeper Scotland and onto Crianlarich tomorrow and back to a ‘real’ SYHA run hostel which is hopefully a damn sight quieter…

Stats for the day

Distance for the day: 95 miles
Time in saddle for the day: 7hrs 14mins
Average speed for the day: 13.1mph
Maximum speed for the day: 37.9mph

Total distance to date: 694 miles
Total time in saddle to date: 51hrs 51mins
Average speed for trip to date: 13.4mph

Planned route for the day…

Day Eight: Route

Route profile for the planned day…

Day Eight: Route Profile

Day Seven: Morecambe to Carlisle

May 22, 2010

or, The One With the Pass

It’s a strange old place to be, in the saddle of the bicycle for days at a time. You have the freedom that no other road user can ever dream of having and are more or less in total control with how you want to travel; you can travel for miles and miles in a carefree state with your legs ticking over effortlessly and then, in the same hour in some cases, every pedal stroke is torture and that saddle feels like the loneliest place on the planet as you try and plough through.

No point beating round the bush…today was tough. Tougher than my first century back to Peterborough. Tougher than that day through Exmoor earlier on this tour. It was, by far, the toughest day I have EVER had on two wheels!

Finally finished writing and getting Day Six’s blog and got out of the B&B at around 10.45 (so much for the early starts!), and set off on the coastal road out of Morecambe – stopping for the obligatory photo with Eric, of course. The couple that kindly took my photo also gave me some sponsorship money too, after I explained what I was doing…thank you!

The first twenty five miles were great cycling miles with decent surfaces and lovely terrain. The first five miles or so along the coast were particularly nice, with the sea breeze offering a nice respite to the already warm sun.

I stopped for a feed stop in Ings (best flapjack in the world!) and had a chat with the guy in the shop. Showed him my route and we had a laugh about it; ‘so you’re going over the Pass?!’, ‘yep’, ‘good luck with that!’. Gulp!

After twenty five miles the hills started, gentle at first before it appeared…

…’Kirkstone Pass 5′. Looks pretty innocuous like that, doesn’t it? What that sign doesn’t tell you is that it’s a long, winding road up the side of the fells. Yes, it’s pretty…but there’s nothing up there. Nothing. Not even a McDonalds and they’re everywhere (actually, that’s a lie…haven’t seen many golden arches at all on this trip)!

Just me, my bike, this god awful road, the beating sun and sheep. Lots of sheep. Seems to be the ‘in thing’ up here, sheep. They’re nice and everything, but they don’t offer much encouragement when you stop at the side of the road. At least a cow would sound like it was telling you to ‘moo-ve’…

I digress. As I wound my way up the climb (slowly) I remembered my Garmin wasn’t the base model…mine had an altimeter built in! Now, it took just as long and I seemed to be stopping for far longer than I was actually cycling but the numbers slowly ticked over…

…500ft, 600ft, 700ft, 800ft, 900ft, 850ft (oh yes, there were slight dips too…just for giggles I guess), 900ft, 1,000ft, 1,100ft, 1,200ft, 1,300ft, 1,400ft, 1,450ft…

…then, as I rounded another bend, I saw it. A pub! That must be the summit, you wouldn’t build a pub called The Kirkstone Inn before the top would you?! I powered (ha!) up the final few yards to 1,500ft and as the road levelled out I knew. I’d done it. I’d f*cking done it!

Not sure what the guy in the blue top thought as a sweaty, hot but deleriously happy cyclist thrust a camera at him…but I wanted a photo! Thanking him, he told me to enjoy the descent…’it’s worth that climb’.

As I sat at the top and pondered what I’d just done, the support vehicle for that group I mentioned the other day rolled in. He kindly filled up my bidon with water (so much water…that’s where a support vehicle comes in handy!) and we had a bit of a chat on how things were going. We’ll probably see each other en route again but if not, and you’re reading this…good luck.

Setting off over the flat summit I indulged myself a little with a small arms aloft celebration, Le Tour style. Yes, I probably looked ridiculous but I’m never going to win a polka dot jersey…let me be Contador just for a minute!

You’d think the descent would be fun. It wasn’t to start with! Twenty per cent (that’s one in five, fraction fans!) descents round hairpin curves aren’t for the faint hearted. Use of the brakes had my rims red hot in minutes and I had to stop to let them cool for fear of bursting an inner tube!

After a while it slows down a bit and the meandering curves with the peaks and lakes in view are breathtaking. I stopped for a break at Pattersdale (best brownie ever!) and set off again.

Now, the Garmin has this lovely ‘feature’ that is the knack of turning itself off as the road gets too bumpy (fair enough). As I rounded the lake I realised it had done so and turned it back on. To find I’d missed a subtle turn off. Two and a half miles back.

I cheerfully (ha!) pedalled my way back to this point and got going in the right direction to hit the second climb of the day. This one was ‘only’ 600ft according to my route card but my legs were refusing to oblige.

I laboured my way up this tortuous climb with my legs burning every stroke and somehow made it to the top. No celebrations this time out, just a real desire to get the last thirty miles or so out of the way so I could get some rest.

The last spell of the journey flew by in comparison, along desolate local roads, and I arrived at the Arkale Lodge in Carlisle at around 20.15.

Pat welcomed me in and informed me he was entertaining his daughter-in-law Georgina and grandchildren (Niamh and Grace) for the weekend. I apologised for the late arrival and hoped I hadn’t ruined any evening plans for them – the food that was being cooked smelt delicious.

With the heat throwing up dust and grime from the roads I asked if it would be possible for me to use a tumble drier to dry off clothes if I rinsed them. I was amazed when Pat said he’d do better than that and would wash and dry them for me…thank you!

After showering it was time for food. Whilst there was a Burger King over the road, I felt like something a bit more substantial so asked if they could recommend anywhere nearby.

Pat said I could join them! Not only was he kind enough to offer to do my washing, he was going to feed me too! Feeling guilty I asked again (and again) if he was sure, but he insisted.

American ranch chilli chicken, rice and carrots. And peaches and ice cream for dessert. I could have cried, dear reader.

We shot the breeze over the meal, topics including travel, Las Vegas and British seaside towns. It was a really nice end to what had been a struggle of a day.

So it was off to bed with a hearty meal inside me for a change and thoughts of tomorrow’s trip into Scotland and up to Edinburgh already forcing the struggle of today out of my mind.

Reflecting on the day just gone I thought of the towns I’d been through (Kendal and Windemere in particular were lovely), the sights I’d seen (RAF fighter planes tearing round the peaks a particular highlight) and the stories that I’d have to tell once I get home. I started to think that it’s not all bad I guess, it’s almost enjoyable in a weird way. It’s a strange old place to be, in the saddle of the bicycle for days at a time..

Stats for the day

Distance for the day: 82 miles
Time in saddle for the day: 6hrs 20mins
Average speed for the day: 13.0mph
Maximum speed for the day: 34.8mph

Total distance to date: 599 miles (gah!)
Total time in saddle to date: 44hrs 37mins
Average speed for trip to date: 13.4mph

Route for the day…

Day Seven: Route

Route profile for the day…

Day Seven: Route Profile

Day Six: Chester to Morecambe

May 21, 2010

or, The One Where Tony Buys Daphne Some Rings…

Made the decision last night to wash all my cycling clothes and leave them to dry as I slept…

…of course they were still wet when I woke up with the intention of an early start – hmm, must remember not to do that again! Anyway, problem to solve…clothes to dry. I packed everything into a bag and set out looking for launderette nearby with a tumble drier.

Nipping into the nearby newsagents to ask if they knew of one, the two ladies in there told me ‘no’…before one of them said ‘what is it you need to dry?’. I explained it was just some cycling bits and was then surprised to hear her reply of, ‘bring it back to mine, I’m just round the corner. I’ll do it for you’!

So round to Dorothy’s house I went, with Max (her Yorkie), where she put my wet cycling clothes in the drier – before suggesting I get out for breakfast and come back when it would be dry. So off I went to Wetherspoons…

…a large breakfast later and I was on the way back. Walking past a cycle shop I nipped in to see if I could get some grease off them in a bit as the creaking was on it’s way back as I pedalled. No worries, brilliant.

Collecting my now dry clothes from Dorothy and thanking her for her kind offer (how kind of her!) I set off to the hostel to pack up and get my bike to the shop for that dab of grease…

…well, I told Ellis at The Edge Cycleworks the problem and after a quick look he informed me I was missing a crank bolt and the noise was in fact the crank wobbling. Bugger.

Unfortunately he didn’t have a part in place that would make do (and it would be a make do, not permanent) and whilst a bodge could be done, he couldn’t guarantee it would last long at all – certainly not another six hundred miles.

I was planning on upgrading the bike anyway at some point in the future, just not quite so soon…but with the threat of a crank snapping off at some point soon I thought it was as good a time as any.

One hour later and Daphne was fully upgraded with a new crankset, rear cassette and chain…having seen the old crank it was definitely something that needed doing, a gouge in the side signalled just where that noise was coming from every pedal turn.

Thank you to Ellis for fitting me in at short, short notice – and for giving the bike a quick tune up in the process. Good luck with your singlespeed LEJOG next year…you’re mental!

So, on the road at 12.00ish (so much for the early starts!) and my wallet was lighter, but the bike was certainly running smoothly – it was strange hearing nothing as I was pedalling! Yes, it was another odd start to the day but at least it makes for a more entertaining blog, hey…?!

A solid day of cycling, into a slight northerly headwind for much of the day. Nothing particularly exciting as I passed through villages on quieter roads than the last couple of days which made for a far more pleasant journey.

With twenty five miles to go I pulled into a garage for a feed stop. As I started to tuck into my strawberry yoghurt drink (I swear I picked up a milkshake!) a familiar face strolled up. Richard, a friend from football had been waiting with his daughter Sophie to appear on the A6!

It was good to have a bit if a chat, and thanks once again to him and her for taking the time out of their day to see me…much appreciated!

A bit further up the road there was a local cycling club hosting a ten mile time trial event. Of course, had I not been fully loaded and already completed seventy miles for the day I’d have blitzed the field…instead I simply admired their pace as the pairs zipped past at regular intervals. Chapeau!

About ten miles to up and I passed someone walking his laden bike with a flat rear tire. Stopping to ask if I could help he explained he was stopping at a campsite just up the road, but thanks for asking. After a bit of a chat (his tip; NEVER take camping kit, it’s a pain in the f*cking arse up hills!) he said he was heading up to John O’Groats and was due on Wednesday. I wished him well and suggested we maybe meet to have a laugh about it all over a beer then.

I sailed through Lancaster on a lovely sloping road. It looks really pretty and I couldn’t help but think it would have been a nice stop – shame there was no cheap accommodation availiable.

I arrived into Morecambe at 21.15 after completing the last four miles or so on a lovely cycle path. Have to say, Morecambe’s not nice…and if definitely needs investment. Imagine a cheap version of Blackpool and you’d not be far off!

Tea was courtesy of Tesco again – hot cross buns, a blueberry muffin and strawberry milk (for a change!).

I treated myself to a bottle of…Deep Heat (!) and drifted off to sleep in the glow of that, dreaming of tomorrow and the big climb up Shap…

Stats for the day

Distance for the day: 95 miles
Time in saddle for the day: 6hrs 51mins
Average speed for the day: 13.8mph
Maximum speed for the day: 28.3mph

Total distance to date: 517 miles
Total time in saddle to date: 38hrs 17mins
Average speed for trip to date: 13.5mph

Route for the day…

Day Six: Route

Route profile for the day…

Day Six: Route Profile

Day Five: Hereford to Chester

May 20, 2010

or, The One Where Tony Gets Lubed and Sticks It In The Little Ring For The Day*

Up reasonably early and got over to Coombes Cycles by 09.15 to try and sort out the incessant squeaking. The guy working there, Mark, was also a user of LOOK pedals and had a chuckle as he sorted out my problem with a bit of grease. He also kindly tightened up my bottom bracket (ooo-er!) and pedals which had worked themselves a little loose. What a guy!

Bit of a dull day scenery wise, but then what more can you expect when the route consists of a sixty five miles on the A49, a bit of the A5, back onto the A49 and then a few other smaller A-roads into Chester itself?

So yeah, boring in terms of views but seduce a mallard it was a quick one – helped no end by the fact there were no silly climbs and the road undulated perfectly for the majority of the trip. Here comes the science bit, concentrate…

undulating (un-joo-lay-ting); adj.
1.Moving up and down like waves; wavy
2.Forming a series of regular curves

Now…whilst I was doing my preparation for the marathon (ha…listen to me, the ‘athlete’!), hearing a route described as this was the last thing I wanted. Slight inclines are hard when you’re running, but ideal on a bike. Bear with me…

Steep hills are bad, obviously; and quick descents, although fun, are over far too quickly. A flat surface may sound ideal, but requires constant effort so is more tiring than it appears…which leaves undulating. This gives you a chance to work on the slight inclines and relax on the downward sloping bits. And if you could have taken the traffic off the roads today, it would gave been cycling nirvana…!

With my leg and knee giving me some gyp the day before I spent the day with my knee brace on and concentrated on ensuring I was ‘spinning’ the gears as opposed to ‘mashing’ them – spinning means keeping the gears in the lower chainring and therefore getting more revolutions in at a higher speed. If you ‘mash’ the gears you usually have the gears on the big chainring and really push through…putting much more pressure on your knees and legs.

So I stayed in the little chainring all day and my knee felt a lot better for it, which is a good thing!

With favourable conditions and a decent route for the day I arrived into Chester at 18.30…woo, early for once!

I booked myself into the hostel for the night (just me and one other this time, very quiet!) and nipped out to grab some tea. Once again there was a kitchen available to use so I decided to be a bit more adventurous this time and opted for chicken pizza (Poultry? On a pizza?! Crazy!), some jam doughnuts and banana milk for a change…it’s like being a child again this trip!

Quick update to finish off, as I’ve been asked a few questions to date…

‘How’s the arse?’ – I can happily report no chafing issues to date (Assos Chamois Cream. Mmm…tingly!), although my sit bones are starting to complain if the road surface deteriorates…who’d have thought that would happen, hey?!

‘Got a silly tan yet?’ – yep, it’s started. Nice lines where the cycling top sleeves end and nice white hands where the gloves are. Amusingly, it’s more noticeable on the right arm, but then I guess that’s where the sun is as I’m cycling. Not burnt though…hurrah!

‘Did you pay a toll at the Severn Bridge?’ – nope, bikes are free. Wouldn’t recommend it though. Especially if you don’t like heights…!

‘How are you securing your bike?’ – I actually think you’d be okay without one, as I’m rarely more than ten yards away, but I did pack a coil lock. Will update the kit list later.

‘Have you met any other cyclists?’ – going my way, until Bristol, no. Even then they were only out on a short run or commuting. Today though I saw my first group of LEJOG-ers, a small peleton of four first of all passed me as I was on my phone on the side of the climb out of Hereford. We obviously took different routes as, sixty five miles later as I was on the side of the road on my phone, they passed me again…who knows what they think of me! Anyway, I chatted to their support vehicle and found out they’re due in John O’Groats late next week (Their blog is at http://www.bmfend2end2010.com/ if you fancy seeing how a group does it). Good luck guys!

‘How are you feeling?’ – pretty positive actually. It’s a bit odd only having one thing to focus on for the day and as bizarre as it sounds, knowing you’ve ‘only’ got to cover ‘x’ miles before the sun sets is strangely relaxing. I’ve had a lot of time to think!

Thanks for reading so far. I know Ive said it before, but it really is nice to know that I’m not simply rambling for no reason (does a blog with no readers make a sound?!).

Off to Morecambe tomorrow. Seaside fish and chips and a photo with that statue methinks…!

* Snigger. Oh, come on…you must have at least smirked?!

Stats for the day

Distance for the day: 94 miles (again!)
Time in saddle for the day: 6hrs 28mins
Average speed for the day: 14.5mph
Maximum speed for the day: 36.4mph

Total distance to date: 422 miles
Total time in saddle to date: 31hrs 26mins
Average speed for trip to date: 13.4mph

Route for the day…

Day Five: Route

Route profile for the day…

Day Five: Route Profile

Day Four: Bridgwater to Hereford

May 19, 2010

or, The One Where It All Started Creaking

A less stressful start to the day, although I didn’t get out of the B&B until gone ten o’clock – I’ve settled into the habit of jotting down notes about the day for the blog in the evening and then writing it up properly in the morning. In theory this should stop you having to read a blog strewn with errors caused by drowsiness!

Anyway, once on the road I made good progress with a well-surfaced undulating thirty miles or so to start the day. I stopped half way into this stretch to pick up some supplies, and having noticed a slight niggle in my inner right thigh, got some stretches in.

As the road started climbing for the first time I passed a pub with a board outside offering a mid-week meal deal for a fiver…

…forty minutes and a cheeseburger, apple pie and custard and a Pepsi later and I was back on the road. Sixty miles to go and it was 14.00. In my head I gave myself a ‘deadline’ of eight o’clock to get to the B&B and gave them a call to let them know my planned arrival time (well, it’s only good manners isn’t it?!).

I noticed as I set on my way that my left pedal was creaking slightly – nothing to worry about really, anyone that uses LOOK pedals will know they have a tendency to do this. I made a note to get it sorted when I passed a bike shop…bit of grease will do it.

The miles were passing steadily and although the surfaces were no where near as good as I’d experienced to date, I made my way through Bristol; the cycleway following along the gorgeous Avon Gorge which looked incredible in the late-May sunshine.

Bristol came and went and I carried along the approach to the Severn Bridge. After what seemed like miles and miles I made it to the bridge and set about crossing it – cycles allowed down the side of the bridge on what’s also used as a maintenance roadway. Got to be honest…I didn’t like it. I’m not a huge fan of heights and, as I stopped to take a photo, the way in which it bounces as trucks rumble past is really unnerving!

Back on terra firma and a slight misreading of the map took me about a quarter of a mile off course, up a road and towards a Tesco Express. Whilst this gave me a chance to stock up, I also had the opportunity to treat myself to a spell of time in what’s easily the ‘scummiest’ area I’ve seen so far!

Leaving behind the kids in their Corsas and their groupies in the Tesco car park was a tough thing to do, but I had to crack on…sorry guys.

Remember that creaking pedal? Well it had got worse. It’s not a nice ‘eek eek’ mousy squeak either. Oh no, it’s a full on plastic-y ‘crrk crrk’ and I reckon I can be heard for a good half mile or so as I, literally, grind myself onwards – must find a bike shop…

The latter part of the day is where the hills start. There’s a few peaks which, although no where near as bad as that one yesterday, are still testing and that niggle in my leg was getting more noticeable and seemingly spreading around the leg.

Fifteen miles to go and I pulled out the knee brace that I’d packed last minute and put that on the troublesome leg – I’m not a huge fan of supports, and firmly believe they should be a last resort…but needs must. It did the trick and the pain eased enough to carry on at a reasonable pace.

The final four miles or so was a lovely downhill stretch and was needed after what had turned into a bit of a slog. I eventually found the B&B at nine o’clock, having first of all gone completely the wrong way (bloody GPS had been set incorrectly!).

A wander to nearby Sainsbury’s to pick up some tea (honey and mustard chicken pasta, orange juice and a For Goodness Shakes milkshake) and some frozen veg to use as an ice pack on my right leg (classy!).

A quick google has thrown up a bike shop nearby that looks good, a proper local one – so a trip there early doors tomorrow to sort out the creaking, then on my way to Chester. A hundred
miles, reckon that’s a good ten hours…

Finally, a big thank you to everyone that’s been in touch (be it by text, phone or online) – it’s nice to know that there’s someone out there reading my ramblings. Thanks also to everybody that’s sponsored me so far, it really is appreciated and is another factor that’s keeping me motivated.

Stats for the day

Distance for the day: 94 miles
Time in saddle for the day: 7hrs 9mins
Average speed for the day: 13.0mph
Maximum speed for the day: 46.0mph (eek!)

Total distance to date: 328 miles
Total time in saddle to date: 24hrs 58mins
Average speed for trip to date: 13.1mph

Route for the day…

Day Four: Route

Route profile for the day…

Day Four: Route Profile

Day Three: Westward Ho! to Bridgwater

May 18, 2010

or, The One Where Tony Hits the Heights (and the Shops)

Reasonable night’s sleep all things considered, but I was up at six o’clock with thoughts running through my head about how best to tackle the problem in hand – re-checking of websites and route cards didn’t do much to settle me!

After getting up and having a cup of tea the hostel owner advised me of a bike shop in Bideford (pronounced Biddy-ford, random English coastal town fans) that should be able to sort me out.

Rather than cycle over there then back, I thought I’d give them a call and see if she was right. A quick google and I was on the phone to Freebird. Speaking to the owner he let me know he couldn’t sort me out with a rack and panniers (‘we used to stock that sort’…) but they had ‘hundreds of backpacks including some specific cycling ones’. I asked what sort, but he suggested going to look. Hopeful, I set off…

…what a load of squit! His ‘cycling specidic’ bag (yes, bag…singular!) was a cloth musette with ‘US Postal Cycling Team’ printed on the side! As for the others, suitable for round town but not a hundred mile journey to Bristol!

Slightly peeved (to put it mildly) I headed out and onto the road for the four mile or so journey back out to Atlantic City – the lovely downhill into Westward Ho! the night before wasn’t quite as much fun in the opposite direction, and the headwind only added to the occasion…although it did mean I’d have a favourable tailwind for the day ahead!

Got to the outlet village, parked the bike up outside a massive ASDA and wandered into Mountain Warehouse. After perusing the massive range options (that’s hundreds of bags, Mr. Freebird!) I opted for a 10ltr pack, bought it and got ready to set off.

Realising it was now 11.00 and I hadn’t eaten I slipped into the ASDA and settled into the cafe with a Full Monty breakfast. Whilst eating, my situation hit me. Ten days to go and I’d encountered a problem that I’d never even considered would occur. It took a moment to convince myself that I’d manage fine but I got myself back on track, finished off my breakfast and set back out to return to the hostel.

After arriving I shifted all my stuff from the Carradice into the rucksack – hmm…maybe the bigger one would have been better, it was a tight fit!

Off came the broken rack and into the Carradice bag it went. ‘What did you do with that as you said your rucksack’s full?’ I hear you cry…well, I pootled into Westward Ho!, found the Post Office and got it packaged up and sent back home – where it will wait until I get back to return to its maker alongside an, erm, strongly worded letter!

Finally on the road at 12.15ish (so much for those early starts!) and after tackling the steep climb out of Ho! I joined the A39 heading towards Barnstaple.

It became apparent very quickly that the bag wasn’t working, and there was no way I’d cope with another ninety five miles or so. A new plan was needed, so I pulled over to the verge and got on the iPhone.

A google for ‘Barnstaple cycle shops’ threw back three promising results. Tried the first one (The Bike Shed), but their response to my request for a seatpost rack and panniers for a road bike without eyelets wasn’t inspiring; ‘er, I’m sure we could fashion something together’. Decided to try the next one, Planet Bike who simply said ‘yep, no worries’. Sold!

Put their postcode into my GPS and made my way through the ten miles or so into Barnstaple proper and arrived in an industrial estate where hopefully I’d get myself sorted…

…what can I say? Paul and Neil at Planet Bike were superb, my heroes for the day! Within minutes I had a new, secure, rack fitted and no more than twenty minutes later I had my stuff transferred over to a new bag.

It turns out that Paul did a LEJOG with his twin brother last year, so I had a bit of a chat. I knew the day would be tough, but his sucking of teeth and nervous laughter did nothing but confirm that. After looking at my route for the day he cheerfully told me I was in for a hell of a climb with a ‘terrific Cat. 1 effort’ for the first hill of the day. Oh joy…

The final ‘pep talk’ from Paul as I bid them farewell cheered me up no end; ‘I’m envious of you, a great two weeks ahead. Get through today and you’ll be fine, Scotland’s easy after this!’.

Pulling away from the estate with the weight back on the bike was amazing. Planet Bike I salute you and kiss you on both cheeks! Back on track, although it was 14.00 and I had sixty miles still to cover. And that climb…

A ride through town towards Snapper and the climb started. Dear God, what a climb! As I reached about three quarters of the way up I passed Bratton Fleming. Stopping for an ice cream at the village stores I had a chat with the owner. After telling him where I was off to, his reply of ‘another one?! You all come in here’ tickled me…imagining the state that some may be in at that point of the ascent. He assured me there wasn’t much further to go which, whilst a little bit of a lie, did cheer me up!

The road finally peaked and levelled onto Exmoor National Park. With the road to myself and the sun beating down on fields strewn with sheep and lambs I had a chance to reflect on the journey so far – passing a hawk (kestrel perhaps) literally yards away bathing in the sun only added to the experience.

A couple more ups and downs before reaching Wheddon Cross where the road plummets – winding through woodlands with a decent road surface. What a thrill, and a lovely reward for the struggle at the start of the day and I really enjoyed the few miles, despite the chill that the shadows of the trees cast onto the road.

Twenty miles ’til Bridgwater, but being back on the main road (A39) and with it having a reasonable profile gave me a chance to make some time up.

One spell in particular was magical, sweeping curves at a decent speed with the Atlantic in full view and the sun setting behind me…breathtaking.

I rolled into the B&B as the sun set around 21.00. A long old day…

Sure you’re desperate to know, but I’ve no idea what the state of Bridgwater’s fish and chips are like. With a lowly kitchen available in the B&B I took full advantage and used it to cook…an oven pizza!

So in conclusion. A long, long day both physically and mentally…bit so, so satisfying as I made it to Bridgwater.

Here’s hoping for a better day tomorrow, with ninety miles to cover and a trip over the Severn…

Toodles!

Stats for the day

Distance for the day: 86 miles
Time in saddle for the day: 6hrs 26mins
Average speed for the day: 13.3mph
Maximum speed for the day: 39.9mph (gah!)

Total distance to date: 234 miles
Total time in saddle to date: 17hrs 49mins
Average speed for trip to date: 13.1mph

Route for the day…

Day Three: Route

Route profile for the day…

Day Three: Route Profile