Monday, 31 December 2007

Starting out

This is a record of my training and cycle ride form Lands End to John O'Groats in 2007. For this kind of journal, a blog is completely backwards as a means to follow the journey. To read from the start, begin here, and choose the "newer post" at the bottom of each post to move to each journal entry in sequence. Thanks for reading.

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Looking back at the journey

Thanks to everyone who has contacted me about my epic journey in 2007. I've been asked a few times recently whether I would recommend Bike Adventures, and I definitely would recommend the Bike Adventures trip - I would rate it 8/10 overall.

Particularly important was having someone else transporting bags while I was cycling. This saves so much weight that I would otherwise have to carry on the bike. And having an emergency crew to contact was useful for some people on the trip - after a broken chain or similar.

There are two choices for accommodation - camp or hotel. I would recommend taking the hotels option if you can - as it's pretty difficult to get dry in a tent if it's rained on you all day. There were pubs near the hotels most nights, so it was generally easy to find food. Except Sunday night in Clitheroe where not much open except the curry house, but I really didn't fancy that. And of course, the famous night in the only hotel in Ecclefechan - chaos - but we did get fed - eventually. I don't think Bike Adventures were planning to go back there ...

Storing bikes was pretty easy - bikes could be left at the campsite overnight, and Bike Adventures would take you to the hotel, and collect you in the morning. Or there was generally some place to lock bikes at the hotel - garage, shed or store-room. I only once had the bike in the room with me - at a Travelodge. I generally preferred taking the bike to the hotel - then I could get on the road as soon as I wanted to, rather than waiting for a lift.

As for the hills - there's no dodging the challenge - get fit before you start. Because I only decided to do the tour a few weeks before setting out, I didn't have the time to train fully. Another month or two would probably have been better preparation. But I did it !!! I avoided a couple of routes that Bike Adventures proposed, as I was focussed on getting to JoG, not doing it for the finest views and mountains. But some of the more regular cyclists enjoyed the challenge of Dent Station etc. One (70+year old) guy was even repeating the tour, just because he had pushed his bike up Dent Station the previous time, and he wanted to do the whole tour "properly" this time!!! And Bike Adventures choose routes deliberately that are off the main roads. This may make the journey slightly more challenging at times, but it's a lot more enjoyable than fighting with traffic - and safer.

Although they provide detailed directions, I found having a map handy occasionally - especially for finding short cuts. I bought a cheap road atlas, and cut out the pages for each day and marked up the route when they sent through the directions. I now have a phone with Copilot Live and a GPS device - that might have been useful as well - there was an occasional road closed where I needed to find an alternative way and then get back onto the planned route.

So ... choose to do this yourself and you need to carry your bags, create your own route, find places to stay and eat, deal with your own emergencies. Or choose to go with an organised tour who do all this for you ... having done the trip, I would choose Bike Adventures again rather than trying by myself.

Thursday, 5 July 2007

And finally

Just totted up the contributions collected in person and from the JustGiving website and I've reached my second goal for this trip. Over £2500 raised for the Royal Marsden Cancer Campaign. Thank you so much to everyone who contributed.

Adding Snap Shots

I added a nice little tool on this site called Snap Shots that enhances links with visual previews of the destination site, interactive excerpts of Wikipedia articles, Amazon products and lots of other stuff! Sometimes Snap Shots can bring you the information you need without leaving this blog, and other times it lets you "look ahead" before deciding if you want to follow a link or not. If you decide this is not for you, just click the Options icon in the upper right corner of the Snap Shot and opt-out.

In the end these got really irritating, so I've removed them!!!

Monday, 25 June 2007

Heading for home

The end

Taking the bus to Inverness and then a late flight to Heathrow, I have most of the day to spare at Inverness airport. It's time to contemplate on our achievements with the others at the airport. And then back home to normal life.

Thanks to Sarah, Kevin and Kim at Bike Adventures for all the organisation, and thanks to the two cyclist/mechanic/motivators from Bike Adventures - Ant and Adrian. It was great to meet and cycle with everyone on the trip - thanks for your help, motivation and just sharing a beer in the evenings. Please share your thoughts, photos and cycling plans for the future. Hope to meet up again one day ...

Sunday, 24 June 2007

Day 15 - Pushing the Wind - Bettyhill to John O'Groats

Another grey day to see us through to the end of the tour, but at least it's dried off. A few big hills out of Bettyhill to start the day, and we're off on the final leg ... heading straight into a head wind.

"Why are you going from Lands End", asked ALL my friends before this started, "surely it's down hill the other way?". I patiently answered them all "the prevailing wind in the UK is from the south-west, so most people go from LE to JOG to avoid a head wind for the last few days". That told them ... so how come I'm cycling into a head wind for the last day? And it's coming straight from Siberia, carrying ice and hail with it. Wrapped up in every layer I've got, I keep cycling. Only 50 miles to go ...

In the afternoon, I catch up with the Cambridge brigade and cycle with them for a while. What am I saying ... yes, I actually keep pace with them, slip streaming with the team for miles. This really helps with the continuing head wind. So after 5 weeks of training and 2 weeks of Touring, I can finally keep up with the regular cyclists - fantastic.

DunnetDunnet Head lighthouseDunnet Head
Dunnet Head

We take the short detour to Dunnet Head on the way to John O'Groats, to take in the views of the Orkneys, and just to say I've been to the most northerly point. And finally, into John O'Groats, the finish ... there's even a finish line painted before the pub. No tea today - cakes and champagne at the campsite before lots of group photos at the John O'Groats signpost.

The FinishJob doneCampsite, tea and champagne
The FinishJob doneCampsite, tea and champagne
The Cambridge crewBikes heading for homeHighland cow
The Cambridge crewBikes heading for homeHighland cow

Congratulations from complete strangers are welcome and we shout "good luck" to some cyclists starting out in the other direction. They're about to cycle through the worst rain and floods the UK has seen in many years, while we're off to the pub. Dinner with Trevor and Andi and the whole group. Pool and darts until late with Andy and the self-proclaimed "naughty group", and off too bed.

Today's route from Google maps
Tour summary: 59 miles planned, 60 miles actual, 1075 miles in total.

Saturday, 23 June 2007

Day 14 - Rain on the Moors - Evanton to Bettyhill

This was the worst day for me - wet, grey and foggy all day with no views to speak of. Well, there probably are views across the Highlands here, but you couldn't see much further than the edge of the road - fog or rain obscured the rest. A day of just pushing on and on. Stopped briefly at Shin Falls to buy a postcard and dry out, but the helpful shop assistant complained about the number of bikes and we moved on.

Didn't see many people, even fewer cars across the bleak moorland, but at least the rain seems to keep the midges at bay. Or is it the total body cover I have to wear that's working against them. Arrive at Bettyhill late afternoon to find no camp set up - what about our tea and cakes? The vans have been delayed so we retire to the hotel for a beer. Checking in, I find there's no en-suite, so sneak into the only bath before anyone else has noticed. Then time for beer, cakes and plan dinner.

After days of grey on the moors, the views from Bettyhill are wonderful - the beaches , the coast and even some sun occasionally. The whole group are eating together at the Bettyhill Hotel tonight - comrades together almost sad to be ending the tour. So dinner, a few games of pool and late to bed, hoping for sun tomorrow.

Highlands riverThe final hill into BettyhillView form Bettyhill Hotel
Highlands riverThe final hill into BettyhillView form Bettyhill Hotel

Today's route from Google maps
Tour summary: 77 miles planned, 79 miles actual, 1015 miles total so far.

Friday, 22 June 2007

Day 13 - Passing Loch Ness - Fort William to Evanton

Highland view

From Fort William there's a choice of routes, through the country tracks or the road to Invergarry. With increasing confidence, and after a day on the roads yesterday, I opt for the tougher country tracks. These prove challenging on a road bike, with ruts and holes more designed for a mountain bike. And the weather doesn't help ... but great views cycling along the shores of Loch Lochy and onto the Caledonian Canal.

Meet up with several others at Fort Augustus at the head of Loch Ness. There are a series of locks here stepped together into Neptune's Staircase to climb up to the higher Loch Awe, matched by the descent at Fort William. Lunch with other cyclists in the sun, and a shop by the lock - it almost feels like a normal holiday for a while.

Weir between River Oich and Caledonian CanalNeptune's Staircase at Fort AugustusHead of Loch Ness
Weir between River Oich and Caledonian CanalNeptune's Staircase at Fort AugustusHead of Loch Ness
Lunch at Fort Augustus - Len, Abi, Carl, Ian and LouiseNeptunes StaircaseLock
Lunch at Fort Augustus - Len, Abi, Carl, Ian and LouiseNeptunes StaircaseLock

Cycling by Loch Ness in the afternoon is quite disappointing. Nowhere near as beautiful as the lochs and glens in the Lowlands - Loch Ness is too big to have that same feeling about it. Feels more like cycling beside the sea. Reach the campsite in time for tea and cakes after a very long day.

Route from Google maps
Tour summary: 80 miles planned, 82 miles actual, 936 miles total so far.