Lands end to John O'Groats

jonny jeez

Legendary Member
Post 1. And so it begins...

Well, the training is complete...ish, the bike is set...ish and the money is raised...ish

and I'm ready

...ish

For the next week I shall be tapering off the training (short of a 110 mile ride to the coast tonight!) and starting to take it easy in the hope that I shall be rested and truly ready for the big push.Since deciding to undertake this challenge I've cycled over 4500 miles in training and am currently averaging 200 odd miles a week. Much of that is made up of a 40 mile commute to the office and back but there are many more long (sometimes wet!) weekend rides in there too.

Then, on Tuesday 24th at precisely 9.30 I shall set of, with two mates and 18 soon-to-be-mates and cycle from Lands end to John O'Groats, to raise £3000 for Breast Cancer Care.

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Its a challenge unlike any I've attempted before, which so far have been about as extreme as walking to Tescos as opposed driving. That said I've put in some miles to prepare and lost the equivalent of a backpack worth of sugar in body weight, to help me up those hills. I remind myself constantly that its not a race, that completion is the goal.

Still doesn't stop me quaking in fear at the task ahead... around 100 miles a day for 12 days, with no resting, no break days, no weekends off...just riding (with a couple of short days that are only 70 odd miles along the way)
 
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jonny jeez

jonny jeez

Legendary Member
Post 2. Training is ....er...fun

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The result of an all night (starting at midnight) 114 mile ride from London to Southend and back. Wet is not a good enough word to describe it!!!
The halfway mark,

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those who know me will spot my ride, those who don't can follow the clues in these pages...they are all there.
 
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jonny jeez

jonny jeez

Legendary Member
Post 3. Weather Warning

After a long, shockingly wet training ride at the weekend, my thoughts seem to be over focussed on the virtues of a truly waterproof jacket. The wet doesn't usually concern me much, as most of my rides last less than 5 hours.
However, after the weekend experience I now understand the limits of my existing "waterproof" jacket, which seems to be 5 hours of drizzle or 1.5 hours in a down pour at gas mark 0, after which, my jacket turns to a sponge and actively assists the rain in permeating all of my layers with extreme efficiency. Leaving me shivering and feeling very sorry for myself
So, do I sell a kidney and "blow a bundle" on a exotic Gore-tex number, or cross my fingers and hope that northern Scotland will be delightfully warm and balmy... in October.
Hmmm.
I suspect I'll buy a jacket then.
The challenge now, is knowing which of the epically expensive jackets on offer are truly waterproof and which are just a glorified boil in a bag and as such will ultimately prove to be a waste of my bartered body organs.
I detest having to make big purchases under time constraints, I like to do my research. Who's bright idea was it to go riding across Britain in September anyhow!!!
 
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jonny jeez

jonny jeez

Legendary Member
Post 4. Pack up your troubles....

Anyone reading this blog as a resource, or information source will likely be interested in this post. The rest of you most likely shan't.

Don't say I didn't warn you!

So I'm starting the process of getting my kit together. Some essentials are already sorted, like the bike for instance!

Whilst she is still due for a wheel true, cable swap and some shiny new bar tape, by way of a departure gift, she is already sporting a new set of colour co-ordinated, red piped, Schwable Durano S tyres, which are puncture proofed (for this, read "less likely"), slick, but most of all extremely pretty.

On top of that I have riding clothing. As a commuter I have a fair selection of riding clobber for all weathers, thing is though I generally have one of two of everything. With a ride taking in 11 days and with no washing facilities en-route, two pairs of shorts isn't going to cut it!

So I am madly scurrying about town picking up shorts, socks, shirts and longs to make up the numbers.

In terms of the stuff I can wear, I plan to take;

  • 8 Jerseys of varying lengths
  • 2 pair of arm warmers
  • 1 pair of leg warmers
  • 1 pair of long bib-tights
  • 3 pairs of bib shorts
  • 2 pairs of cycle shorts
  • 2 wind/shower proof jackets (boil in bag variety)
  • 1fleece, that I hope not to wear
  • 10 pairs of socks
  • 1 pair of shoes (SPD)
  • 3 pairs glasses varying shades (I have multiple glasses instead of multiple lenses as I tend to loose glasses)
  • 1 helmet
I have a ton of other paraphernalia ranging from external chargers for the Garmin to plastic bags to keep valuables dry. I shan't list absolutely everything as this would be dull even for me but suffice to say...there's a lot of stuff.
 
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jonny jeez

jonny jeez

Legendary Member
Post 5. Preparation.

With thanks (I think) to "Craigs Beginners Guide" over in the US, here are a few rules to help the uninitiated, including me, understand what its like to be a Long Distance Cyclist. I'm not sure its helping to motivate me, but it made me chuckle
...and then sob
Step 1: Get a spaghetti-strainer and several small sponges. Soak the sponges in salt-water and paste them to the inside of the spaghetti-strainer. Place the strainer on your head. Find a busy road. Stand by the side of the road and do deep knee-bends for 8 hours. This will acclimatize you to a day’s ride.

Step 2: Take some sandpaper and rub your rear-end and the insides of your legs for about 20 minutes. Rinse with salt-water. Repeat. Then, sit on a softball for 8 hours. Do this daily.

Step 3: Each day, take two twenty-dollar bills and tear them into small pieces. Place the pieces on a dinner-plate, douse them with lighter fluid and burn them. Inhale the smoke (simulating car-fumes). Rub the ashes on your face. Then go to the local motel and ask them for a room.

Step 4: Take a 1-quart plastic bottle. Fill it from the utility sink of a local gas-station (where the mechanics wash their hands). Let the bottle sit in the sun for 2 or 3 hours until it’s good and tepid. Seal the bottle up (kinda, sorta) and drag it through a ditch or swamp. Walk to a busy road. Place your spaghetti-strainer on your head and drink the swill-water from the bottle while doing deep knee-bends along the side of the road.

Step 5: Get some of those Dutch wooden-shoes. Coat the bottoms with gear-oil. Go to the local supermarket (preferably one with tile floors). Put the oil-coated, wooden shoes on your feet and go shopping.

Step 6: Think of a song from the 1980′s that you really hated. Buy the CD and play 20 seconds of that song over and over and over for about 6 hours. Do more deep knee-bends.

Step 7: Hill training: Do your deep knee-bends for about 4 hours with the salt-soaked spagetti-strainer on your head, while you drink the warm swill-water and listen to the 80′s song over and over (I would recommend “I’m a cowboy/On a STEEL horse I ride!” by Bon Jovi). At the end of 4 hours, climb onto the hood of a friend’s car and have him drive like a lunatic down the twistiest road in the area while you hang on for dear life.

Step 8: Humiliation training: Wash your car and wipe it down with a chamois-cloth. Make sure you get a healthy amount of residual soap and road-grit embedded in the chamois. Put the chamois on your body like a loin-cloth, then wrap your thighs and middle-section with cellophane. Make sure it’s really snug. Paint yourself from the waist down with black latex paint. Cut an onion in half and rub it into your arm-pits. Put on a brightly colored shirt and your Dutch oil-coated wooden shoes and go shopping at a crowded local mall.

Step 9: Foul weather training: Take everything that’s important to you, pack it in a Nylon bag and place it in the shower. Get in the shower with it. Run the water from hot to cold. Get out and without drying off, go to the local convenience store. Leave the wet, important stuff on the sidewalk. Go inside and buy $10 worth of Gatorade and Fig Newtons.

Step 10: Headwinds training: Buy a huge map of the entire country. Spread it in front of you. Have a friend hold a hair-dryer in your face. Stick your feet in toffee and try to pull your knees to your chest while your friend tries to shove you into a ditch or into traffic with his free hand. Every 20 minutes or so, look at the huge map and marvel at the fact that you have gone nowhere after so much hard work and suffering. Fold the map in front of a window-fan set to “High”.
 
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jonny jeez

jonny jeez

Legendary Member
Post 6: Getting there...


It turns out that moving three blokes, with three bikes and three bags full of two weeks worth of gear plus an absurd amount of technology...is no simple task.
Today, we travelled down to Penzance to prepare for the first days riding from the nearby Lands End. Simple you would think but in practice...what a faff!
First was a straight train to Victoria station, then a lugging of gear to the nearest taxi rank (a tube was out of the question after all) to grab three separate taxis to Paddington, followed by more lugging of gear, to the concourse, which of course is on a totally different floor, then more lugging to the guards carriage, which after some diligent strapping of bikes, was followed by a final negotiation with a large gaggle of prepubescent school kids, to reclaim our rightful seats with the help of their exasperated teacher (who'd be a teacher?...definitely an under paid job!).


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Then...relax for 5 odd hours while we pick our way across country chasing the setting sun. Until, eventually....

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Upon arrival and after a similar but opposite amount of faffing, we are met by a kindly chap waving a official bit if plain paper. The Kindly looking chap led us to a car park where our pride and joys are unceremoniously hulked and dumped on top of each other in the back of an unmarked, white transit van.
It was only as we stood in the now empty car park, watching the tyre smoke settle, the smell of burning rubber still ripe in the air, that any of us began to wonder if we perhaps should have asked for some form of ID before handing over our bikes, especially when we spotted a Discovery Adventure van roll into the car-park... from a separate entrance.
With growing uncertainty we set off to find our hotel, which, we were informed by the kindly chap was "over in that direction".
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Inevitably, It was in the opposite direction....
We pressed on, stead fast with confidence that local Cornish folk were the salt of the earth, honest to the core, kind and...oh wait, there he is at the bar with the other organisers...thank f##k for that.
Never doubted him for a moment.
Despite the ever-so-slightly tatty exterior, our hotel was welcoming, the rooms tidy and the food both filling and tasty. We were staying at the Long boat, a traditional pub and hotel on the high street.
As we checked in, we couldn't help but notice other cyclist shaped types skulking about and were soon part of a pretty large group, all enthusiastic and brimming with a healthy mix of fear and excitement.
Conversation inevitably turned to previous form, as we each tried to subtly assess one another's cycling prowess. It'll be interesting to watch our respective personalities come to bear over the next couple of weeks. So far we have Lizzie, Maria, Matthew and Bryan who together with Angus, Nick and myself make up the southern contingent. Matthew is Lizzies other half and decided to join the group only two weeks ago. I'm already taken by his gentlemanly approach as he gave up the opportunity to spend two weeks sharing with Lizzzie, so as not to spoil Maria and her trip. I'm certain I couldn't be so selfless.
Then we met Craig, Don, Dons wife ( for today only) and Colin who has already been for two runs today! Followed by Vajran, the bath Buddhist Alastair and finally Jo (killer smile) and Sarah. More riders to meet tomorrow...and hopefully friends to make.
Food eaten, beer drunk, coffees downed and blog updated, its off to bed.
Breakfast tomorrow at 7.30 then a coach to Lands End for the fun to really begin
 
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jonny jeez

jonny jeez

Legendary Member
DAY ONE- No Returns

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

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One of the major factors in choosing to ride from Lands end to john O Groats, as opposed John O Groats to Lands End, is the South Westerly prevailing winds that are known to literally blow you along in the early days of the ride. these winds are a gift.

If they work...
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hold on, shouldn't this flag be pointing the other way?

For some reason, today, the wind decided to defy convention to blow in the opposite direction and straight into our faces.


Having said that, it was a small price to pay. The contrary wind brought with it a cloudless sky accompanied by a warm sun. Riding in these conditions was going to be bliss, despite the wind.

We rocked up at Lands End in the Discovery Adventure organised coach. Each of us was anxious, not just about the task ahead but the level of performance that would be...could be...expected.

Getting going was imperative, it would allow us to just ride and in doing so, get to know our strengths and weaknesses. But getting going took some time. there were bikes to unload, info sheets to hand out, maps to digest, speeches to give and photos to be taken of us each standing at the famous Lands end sign.


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ready to hit the road

None of this was frustrating, it all had to be done and all added to the experience but none the less I was glad to push the pedals for the first time.

Oddly the start line at lands End is blocked by a no entry sign, regardless, myself and a few others nipped across the line before nipping back once more and running with the pack in the "correct" direction.

We were off. It was flat, warm, beautiful, exciting and most of all great fun. Within 2 miles a delegation of the team had managed to take the wrong route. We watched them from across the hedges getting further and further away as we pushed on. The adrenalin helped, all of the hills that we had driven in the coach to get there looked huge and long, yet now that we were riding they melted away. It was easy going although the terrain was, in reality, pretty lumpy.

Soon we hit the Penzance area (from where we had left on the coach that same morning) and stopped to take in the stunning views of St Micheal's Mount. We all agreed that we needed to take time on the tour to stop and smell the roses now and again.

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We wound through tiny streeted coastal towns at a good pace until pretty soon we were at our first tea stop. Bananas and water were taken on board and a brief chance to stretch out my legs before pressing on once more. We were 23 miles into a 1000 journey, it was time to push on.

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From this stop we climbed hard to the moors outside of Leeds town before dropping down to redruth and onto Truro. The climb out of Truro was preceded by an epic drop, moving with traffic this time and negotiating a safe position on the busy road. We climbed out of Truro to a well earned lunch stop in the town hall of Probus, the least likely sounding Corninsh town...sounded more like a spaceship or perhaps a procedure than a mining town.

After lunch we promised to push on and miss the next tea stop as the weather was closing in and none of us were keen to ride in rain.

The dramatic hills soon changed our minds and we welcomed our last tea stop after the most epic climb I think I've ever ridden. A 10% lump that went on for miles and miles, climbing out of the seaside town of St Austell.

Interesting rock structures accompanied us for tea,

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Steady now...





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Our group had, by this point separated into a number of small teams, each finding strength from one another to push on up the now very challenging hills.

By the end of the first day, there were hours between the groups but all of us arrived feeling a heady mix of exhaustion and pride.

The best feeling about riding this way is the sense of progress, the sense of not having to return to the start.

No Returns....
 
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jonny jeez

jonny jeez

Legendary Member
DAY TWO- Hills & Rain

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

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Was it Billy Connelly who said that “there's no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing?”

Unfortunately today, I had both.

We cruised out onto the hills of Liskeard at dawn, fuelled by porridge and optimism. Today was billed as a “Hard Day”, short on miles and big on hills. We would leave Cornwall and climb the heights of Dartmoor, before dipping up and down to Exeter.




Whilst the hills were tough and extremely long, they weren't as bad as our imagination had coloured them…and despite the gradient, it all seemed to be going well.


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Pretty soon, were crossing out of Cornwall and entering Devon, with a long climb up to Tavistock.

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Tavistock is a beautiful market town in the foothills of Dartmoor. At our tea stop in the village we established that Bryan (a sinewy giant of a man) had a dangerously snagging freehub and a small group of us set off in search of a local bike shop to see if we couldn't sort it out.

This was excellent displacement activity, as we darted about town, here and there...delaying the inevitable climb up onto the moors, for as long as possible.

Tavistock Cycles worked hard to sort the issue and within 30 minutes we were rolling again, the chap in the shop refused payment of any kind and was happy instead to simply trade cycle stories, it was rich currency.

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I like Tavistock, it's a relaxed, friendly kind of town, full of patient types, I wanted to stay…but time was pushing on and the moors were calling.

We set off.

All the while we rode, we were reserving energy in the anticipation that things would get tough soon. But the thing is, they just didn't. Sure it was hard and the hills were long but our training was really paying off and we each felt that we were well within our comfort zones.

So, instead what followed was some epic riding. We swept along the down hills, the wind filling our ears, the ups were taken in our stride, dropping the gears and winding it in. The views on the moor were just stunning, windswept, dramatic and encouraging us along with every push of the pedal. All the while we climbed up further into the mist. My ears were popping from the altitude and my lungs bursting from the effort…up and up we climbed.

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Wildlife was abundant along the road, suicidal sheep, nonchalant ponies, cows...then more cows... and then really big cows who made us realise pretty soon that this was actually their road, as they stood fast, letting cars and cyclist weave around them whilst they enjoyed lunch.

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Our lunch (a tiny church hall in Postbridge), was plentiful. As we get to know one another the organising team (Jen, Ian and Lachen) are beginning to find our tastes and stocking up well on all the right food.

As we left, Matthew (our best dressed rider) mentioned that it had just started to rain a little, it was no surprise as we were well and truly up in the clouds by now.

We hit the top of the moor as the rain began to come in thick and fast, we were keen to push on and get out of the cloud and so began to put the hammer down. We were flying as we dropped nearly 1000 feet in a matter of minutes. Sadly, the rain stayed with us and seemed to be getting worse as we hit the lowlands but it was warm and there were plenty of sharp long hills to work up a steam, we shrugged of the rain.

Last tea stop was up the last sharp hill into Exeter, we refilled our bidons and scoffed Bananas and jelly babies as fast as we could before pushing on for the last 15 miles. The rain , by now, was falling fast and we were dressed for sun. Negotiating Exeter in heavy rain was tricky, just seeing the Garmin was hard enough, let alone making out the route but despite a few wrong turns (that were swiftly dealt with with Uturns) we were out of the town and onto the final stretch to Cullumpton.

We arrived at the impressive Padbrook Park Hotel, drenched, hot and happy. The Hotel supplied a dry, carpeted room to store the bikes along with plenty of old tea cloths to wipe down the essentials, ready for tomorrow.
Today was fantastic, made better still by the realisation that we had cracked what was billed as the Hardest day, with a good deal of energy in reserve.

As a post script, I have to admit that, I've made a new friend. Just like my missus she’s shapely, sleek, intelligent and most importantly…she’s always right. This little Garmin is a wonder, it’s the first time I've really stretched its legs and we would be literally lost without it.
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Doesn't she look fine?

Day Three Tomorrow, we shall leave the south and finally head north, then Cross into Wales.
 
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jonny jeez

jonny jeez

Legendary Member
DAY THREE -High rollers and big surprises.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

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Whilst the ride today was going to be long, it was also promised to be flat. Probably the flattest of the entire trip but also, most likely the busiest. To cover the miles we need to cover, we cant avoid busy roads and we accept that not every day can be full of delightfully picturesque back roads, sweeping through chocolate box villages.



Over the past days the group has begun to subtlety split into sub groups who share stamina and ability. Today however, because of the busy roads, we all chose to keep safety in numbers and ride as a group.

This was to be a choice that I would pay for later.

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The decision to ride as a group also provided a great opportunity for us all get to know each other a little more. Riding along with 20 like minded souls, swapping jokes, tales and insults was the perfect distraction to the roaring HGV's and the miles flew by.
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The mix of fast, busy roads and the accompanied entertainment meant that we left Devon and entered Somerset at ramming speed. We waved at the "Somerset" sign that was carved into rock at the side of the road but gave up all hope of a photo opportunity



We rode a few small hills but for the most part the flat A38 carried us across this new county stopping only for traffic lights and to stretch out the numbness of maintaining a regular and unvaried pace.

The banter continued and for much of the ride we were in stitches. The slightest occurrence seemed to cause another round of contagious laughter. Watching Tommy, a generous and hilarious Phil Mitchell lookalike, take a straight drop to the floor as he forgot to unclip in the layby we had commandeered was funny enough, but seeing home leap up like a meerkat and immediately lean cooly on his bike as if nothing had happened...set us into fits of hysterics.

After much stopping and even more chuckling, punctuated at appropriate times by the sound of Andy's comedy horn, honking the punch line to every comedic moment, we eventually turned of off the main road and entered Somerset proper heading for the town of Wedmore.
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Toby J, if you are reading this, we were all over your manor today but try as I might I don't recall , from our child hood visits, Somerset being so incredibly flat.

I guess all that was about to change...

In the village of Wedmore we met Cheddar Road, spotting its name on a road sign high on the side of a dry stone wall ...the writing was literally on the wall and the flatlands were about to change.
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For a while we continued along stream accompanied roads, the view was flat and far reaching. Then, as we swung around a willow festooned bend a new horizon was suddenly upon us.

For 180 degrees all we could see was a great lump of "Mendip". Slumped in the surrounding flat lands like some vast sleeping dog. In defiance of all childhood lessons, we simply couldn't let this one lie.

We crept closer and closer until the impressive hillside blocked us in all sides leaving us nowhere to go... but up.

And up we went..and up ..and up some more. After so long locked in the horizontal, the shock of climbing again was sharp and brutal. The group opened up as some went on the attack and others resigned themselves to digging in and winding in the hill.


When we eventually reached the summit, we busied ourselves wolfing down lunch whilst the enveloping mist did an equally efficient job of swallowing the view. Rain was coming.... we needed to push on.

On the descent from the Mendips we suffered our first and last fall. Pete, a tough and weathered scot, lost traction whilst braking in the wet and dropped like a stone, sliding across the road and into a ditch. Like a true Scott, he wiped the blood from his skinned leg and knee, picked up his bike and started to mount up. It was all we could do to stop him whilst we gave both him and his bike a going over. Even now as I type this I'm grateful it was Pete who dropped his bike. If it were any of the rest of us we would most likely have given up there and then. I'm looking forward to Scotland even more now, they're a hardy lot these Scots.
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As we picked our way towards the Severn bridge the rain started to come in. Whilst it wasn't heavy it made navigating a little harder. What happened next would prove to be a defining moment for me that day. We approached a bend with Matthew in command, he dropped along a right turn and sat himself up upon a terrace overlooking the road, looking for all the world like Simba surveying the Savanna. We diligently followed him around the bend and i took point. As I did I could see a hill in front of me, "thats ok" i thought, "the route notes mentioned a hill at the end of the ride" but the hill soon grew, then grew some more but still the group pushed on panting and in some cases screaming their way up

When I eventually reached the top and I popped out the route notes, sure there was a hill at the end but we were 20 miles from the end and this wasnt a hill...it was a cliff face and a tall one at that. Turns out, that the entire group had climbed all this way...for nothing.

The thing is though, that to a man (and woman) no-one grumbled, no-one complained, no-one even seemed upset. It was all another laughable chapter in a great days riding with a great group of riders. Didnt stop me feeling like a pratt though and to try to ease my guilt I declared that the team had now entered a elite club, that from now onwards they were to be referred to as the "High Rollers". It didn't work, I still got a good ribbing.

The approach to the Severn, was ultra busy, huge lorries past us at speed and many of the group were frustrated and worried for the safety of the us all. To add to this, the area was deeply unattractive with row after row of industrial units, warehouse and faceless heavy plant works. It was a relief to find ourselves approaching the impressive Severn Bridge.

Crossing the Severn Bridge by bike is a milestone for me and was exciting and frightening in equal measure. Whilst the bridge has a dedicated and safe, free cycle path, if you take a moment to stop mid bridge, you can feel the whole thing swaying and rumbling from the weight of the thundering traffic. It was with no small relief that we crossed, finally...into South Wales.
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As we rocked up to the hotel, after 92 hard miles, we were immediately impressed. The hotel was more like a large country castle, with a tree lined avenue approach that made us feel like arriving dignitaries...in lycra.

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We stored the bikes in their 1st class accommodation,complete with chandelier and broad loom carpets...
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and headed off in search of our rooms; but what I found instead was a real surprise. My wife and two daughters had been driven up by a mate of mine (thanks to Jim for taking such good care of them for me) just to support me and say Hi. It was a beautiful surprise but one cut short by the fact that I had chosen today as a day to hang back with the main group and take my time...the result was that after driving for over 3 hours and waiting another 4, we had so little time left before they had to leave for the long drive home.
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So a lovely ride in the company of a group of people who are fast becoming good friends, with a wonderful, if short lived surprise. I wonder what tomorrow shall bring.
 
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jonny jeez

jonny jeez

Legendary Member
DAY FOUR- Contrast

Friday, 27 September 2013

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South Wales is gorgeous!

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After a rather industrial crossing of the Severn last night, we climbed out of our beds and out of the beautiful and luxurious hotel for a short early wakeup climb of another kind, up onto the mouth of the Wye Valley.

I still struggle to believe that the countryside can change so much across such a slim section of water. We had left flat land, fierce roads and row after row of warehouses and entered a stunning, dramatic and breathtaking world of sandstone outcrops, granite peaks and just the right type of coniferous forest all coming to a smooth finish on glassy topped rivers.

The tapestry was rich and perfectly coordinated by gods own landscape gardener. If you ever find yourself in Bristol and in need of inspiration, then please treat yourself to the toll and drive 5 short miles to feed your soul in this wondrous place.



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Along the Wye Valley

The ride today was predicted to be a 100 mile mainly flat one with some lumpy bits to end on. What it also turned out to be was sublimely fast and hugely satisfying. After a 7 mile downhill drop, we cruised along the base of the Wye Valley and eventually climbed up and back across the border into England and Hereford. The terrain once again changed dramatically and after our first tea stop, the now open, empty and smooth roads proved too much to resist...
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Craig Climbing hard

Angus, myself and Craig, a whippet of a rider from Lancashire, pulled quietly away from the pack. The roads were fast, uninterrupted, dry and bathed in the warmth of the bright sun, whilst some may have been disgruntled with the condition of yesterdays roads, there were no complaints today.
By the lunch stop we realised we had been riding at a average speed of 21 MPH for the last 30 Miles and each agreed that today had been the best riding that we had ever experienced.

After lunch the landscape adjusted once more with a few hills to negotiate and some long sweeping drops. We meandered a little in the afternoon as we struggled to find our way with the limited GPX Data we had been provided.

I should explain...GPX data is a file that is supplied to us and loaded onto our sat navs to help guide us. Unfortunately the GPX fies we had didn't match our course notes (a hard copy back up) and this created a bit of stress. It also meant that we missed our last tea stop for the day and so rode the last 50 miles, without a stop.

We had a bit of a comedy moment during the last 30 miles of the ride today. As we approached the lumpy bits of Shrewsbury, the above mentioned GPX sent us on a few climbs up short but near vertical hills, only to throw us back down the other side at a huge pace. After the third such diversion, we began to wonder if the sat Nav had developed its own HAL-like sense of humour. What made it worse was that, shortly before the first climb we passed a chap in a loose, flappy jacket riding a shopping bike.... only to find ourselves right behind him again on the low-bits. After the third pointless climb and subsequent reunion, this chap couldn't resist but ask us why we were making the journey so much harder for ourselves.

We stumbled for an excuse, babbled on about being in training, blasted past him and followed the sat nav once more up a vast incline.
When we inevitably met this chap again none of us had the nerve to overtake him for a fourth time and so, instead we sculked along behind him for a few miles until, eventually and to our great relief... he turned off


The countryside that we are riding in is beautiful and impressive but what impresses me even more is the overall distance that we are covering since we began...Tomorrow we reach Preston
 
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jonny jeez

jonny jeez

Legendary Member
DAY FIVE- The Doldrums

Saturday, 28 September 2013

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The weather this morning perfectly mirrored the mood of the group. There was a general fogginess some gloominess ...and it was decidedly still.

Emotions are running higher now as we settle into the work of riding without the novelty of "beginning".

Tears have already been shed and many within our group are beginning to feel the consequences of the continuous mileage. Others seem to be thriving on the experience and its fair to say that the rest, are all someplace in the middle.

And it was with this added dynamic that we set out today on the fourth 100 (odd) mile day in a row.

Our route today would lead us to Preston, via a series of counties, villages and most importantly, large busy towns. The prospect of a long day spent negotiating traffic, on a Saturday didn't sit easy with some and I decided to hang back a little and offer my urban riding experience to the group. This suited me as I was keen to save my energy for the ride across Cumbria tomorrow (and the inevitable climbs that this would require).

We immediately ran into challenges as, yet again, the Gpx data that we had been supplied, varied enormously from the course notes, sending the group off in totally opposite directions from the moment we left the car park. This was disconcerting and annoying as many of the people who we wanted to spend the day riding with, went off alone.

Whilst the route was busy and congested it was also extremely flat with very little in the way of hills and as we pressed on over busy arterial roads the banter faded and the work started. If I'm honest, this wasn't a great start .

However, the sun battled on and with the surprise arrival of Philip, who had been finding his way independently via the use of an old street map, the mood immediately lifted. Soon we were stripping off layers and at Phillips suggestion we were scouring maps to find a less busy route. I was so pleased to see Philip this morning, his positive approach to life cant fail to rub off on you, he is a great companion for a long days ride and today, he proved to be the perfect antidote.

The second we pulled off of the main A49, the mood changed. We rode two a breast, along deserted lanes chatting and chuckling as we had for so many miles before, the comedy horn even woke up and made an appearance. Phillip did laps of the roundabouts screaming "weeee" as he went and worked hard to cheer us all up...

Things were picking up.

Eventually we caught up with the A49 once more and as the sun lifted the fog, so did it our spirits. The pace quickened and other members of the group appeared at various points along the road, each with a different story to tell about where they had been directed.

As the route progressed, we began to enter the urban sections, crossing into busy Saturday traffic. Its amazing how much difference my own experience of city riding comes into play in these environments. I've learnt many things by commuting through London on a bicycle, over many years, some are practical, some provide added safety but of all the things I have learnt, the most important is to stay calm.

Despite sounding simple, staying calm in dense, heavy traffic is incredibly challenging and for one member of our group things just got a little too much at some point and as a direct result, they came into contact with vehicles on two occasions. The second of which caused them a little physical damage but probably a fair bit more emotional denting.

I was mindful that, in a group of 10, one person could have two incidents within 50 miles, I wondered how that would translate across a city full of riders.

I cant say I wasn't happy to see the end of today's ride. Whilst it is important to have days like this, if only to allow us to cover the miles, it struck me that despite crossing Shropshire, Cheshire and Lancashire in one day, the most interesting thing that I saw to take a photo of... was my afternoon tea stop treat

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These little fellas are fast becoming addictive.
 
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jonny jeez

jonny jeez

Legendary Member
DAY SIX- Middle

Sunday, 29 September 2013

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Today was a big day, meeting the halfway point of the challenge is a huge milestone. We planned to celebrate by accepting an extremely kind offer from Craig (who lives in Preston and has been looking forward to this day all tour) to take us off mission, add a few miles to our total and lead us away from the busy and unrewarding roads up to Carlisle.

It was an amazing gesture and Craig kept point almost all day (no mean feat in this headwind) guiding us through some beautiful country that was empty, save of a few cars. Craig is great company, with a cracking sense of humour and an extremely accommodating nature, today was a fine example of his willingness to help the group. It was the perfect celebration of the fact that we had now travelled halfway across Britain, under our own steam.

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As well as providing great scenery, the peaceful, open countryside allowed us to ride rapidly in a sweeping peleton, two by two and 5 deep.

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We kept an amazing pace, and at some points caught a rare tail wind that swept us along still faster. The group were communicating like pro's and were carving around bends en-masse and with grace...it was exhilarating and thoroughly enjoyable. So much so that, despite a puncture and one stop,

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...we found ourselves riding over 40 miles before stopping for tea at a beautiful cake shop on Morcombe Sands.

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Eventually we joined the planned route and merged with the busier A6, heading into Cumbria, the lake District and the town of Kendal. This provided an opportunity to nip into a shop and pick up some customary Mint cake..and then to pose like fools.

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The next part of the day promised some more amazing scenery. Our route took us up to the top of Shap Fell, a long and winding 1200 foot climb onto the top of the world. A year...no wait...a month ago I would have struggled to take on a hill like this, but with the exhilaration of riding amongst a fantastic team, the great weather and the new ability that the past few days had honed into me, we wound our way up, all the while being buzzed by fast moving motorcycles, who had the same idea. Craig and Angus pulled ahead for a short while, whilst Philip stuck it out with me (as I enjoyed a break from the fast pace earlier in the day) and insisted that we wound in the hill together, I never did thank you properly for that Phill...

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There, that should do it...

The top of Shap was beautiful but somehow undefined. Where I was expecting a huge sign shouting out my achievement for all the world to see, sat a layby and a small bin. It didn't matter, the entire area...in fact everything as far as my eyes could see, was so beautiful that I shall forgive Shap Fell for not supporting my efforts.

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Today not only marked the halfway mark for us all but was also a physical milestone for me. I seem to be coping well and am more than capable of holding my own in the lead group, the training really has paid off and today, over 100 miles we averaged over 15MPH, Despite the huge hills and relentless head wind.

This is a point that I hoped I would get to, to be halfway there and not struggling, to be enjoying the riding and not just getting through it, to be making this an experience not a tedious trial.

I can honestly say that despite the doldrums of yesterday and the prospect of some inevitably horrendous weather (this gorgeous sun cannot last), I look forward to each days ride.

Tomorrow, we enter Scotland, I doubt I'll sleep well tonight.

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PS, keeping this blog up to date is fun but I'm aware that its also tricky, not only to find a reliable internet connection but also to starve others of the laptop needed to do so, so please excuse any grammatical errors or typoes. I promise I'll tidy the whole thing up when I'm finished and at home with a beer one night.
 
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jonny jeez

jonny jeez

Legendary Member
DAY SEVEN- Countdown

Monday, 30 September 2013

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Today was going to be exciting, not only were we now counting down the miles having past the midway point, we were about to cross the border from England for the last time and enter Scotland to start what feels to me, like the homeward leg. For the past few days we have been blessed with cool, bright, dry weather. Today was to be no exception and everyone seemed dressed to take advantage of what might be our last sunny day.

The temperature had most definitely shifted down as we travelled further north. Despite the uninterrupted sun, there was a distinct chill in the air. This was a reminder to me of how far we had travelled in such a short time. Many of the route notes (in fact many of the images at the top of each of these posts) have needed to shift a little due to Hotel issues. This means that, on the most part, the rides are a tad longer than billed and in some instances a lot steeper.

We set of for a short 14 mile sprint to the border, where we planned to pose for group photos at the last/first house in Scotland.

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The head wind was ferocious but we pushed hard to get up to a healthy pace.

Its inspiring to me that despite the relentless demands we've placed on ourselves we are all still able to push on with gusto and produce some astounding speeds. 20...22...23...25...28mph rolled up on my speedo before we slowed for a regroup and a fast left turn to the border.


Well, I say "we"....without realising it a small contingent had pushed so hard that they flew past the turn and rolled on for a few miles before stopping to read all the text messages calling them back.

We waited excitedly at the border, taking photos at various vantage points.

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I refused to walk past the Border to take shots, that short journey HAD to be done on the bike.

Soon the full group had reassembled and with group shots taken, Pete, the hardy Scotsman amongst us, cracked out a surprise bottle of whisky for us all to take a wee dram, in celebration. In the chilly morning air, the whisky took my breath away but did a good job of warming me from within.

Pretty soon we were ready to roll and across the border we went. As has happened on so many occasions during this trip, the terrain and scenery changed yet again. Small stone houses appeared, substantial and purposeful villages built proudly with colonnades and sandstone blockwork stood oddly out of place in such a wild, open, and mostly deserted land. Sweeping roads with no hedgerows offered tantalising views of what was to come.

For the first time on the entire trip, as we entered Scotland proper, we picked up the most amazing tail wind that swept us up and literally blasted us along at a phenomenal pace, with very little effort. We were cruising at 27mph, in top gear and rolling almost silently as the wind matched our speed. All I could hear was the buzzing of my tyres on the road and the wise cracks from my friends.

Despite our speed, everything was quiet and felt oddly still

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Our progress was halted slightly when Nick picked up a puncture and the rest of the group rolled by. We took our time knowing that the wind was with us and that in no time we would be at the tea stop. A few minutes later, were were jumping back in the windy express and headed for tea and biscuits.

After tea, the terrain inevitably changed again and as we turned into the wind, the road surface became unbearably slow. Huge repetitive rutts left us shaken and made it hard work just to move, let alone gather momentum. At one point I was shifting down to pedal down hill and almost standing up to do so.

We were certainly paying for the express ticket we rode on earlier. For the next 30 miles we pushed on, all the while fighting hard against the road surface and the wind as they worked on us like some mercyless tag team. It was hard going and to add to the agony, whilst the roads were wide, and for the most part quiet, they were visited by huge lorries that appeared at a pace and thundered by, buffeting us still more.


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By lunch I felt done in and was grateful for an hours break.

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Fed and watered, Garmin charged and tales of relentlessly rutty roads swapped, we pedalled back out onto the road in search of our last stop...an Ice cream parlour, some 25 miles away. The thought of decent ice cream was good motivation and we rode hard to the stop. After the stop, and fuelled by choc-chip ice cream we found the road surface improved a little and with only 20 odd miles remaining, we chose to give it our all and see what average speed we could maintain. We rolled into Kilmarnock, exhausted but feeling very happy with ourselves.

The sensation of rolling through each town at the end of each long day is wonderful. We sweep with purpose, in a tight group all moving fluidly to the stop and roll up feeling very much as if we have earned our stay.

Jen is always on the door, cheering as we arrive, making us feel even more like the returning warriors. Its a great sensation and one that I shall miss when this trip is done. Today, for the record, we averaged over 18 miles per hour across the entire 100 miles, hills, rutty roads and savage winds included. Its an immense achievement, given the toll that the riding is taking on the group.

Tomorrow, we shall briefly take a ferry across the wild, west of Scotland, now that something I've never done before.
 
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jonny jeez

jonny jeez

Legendary Member
DAY EIGHT- Bitter sweet

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

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Our hotel last night was on the luxurious end of the lejog scale of accommodation. The food was also very good and the beds extremely comfortable. This perfect trinity combined to provide me with the first full nights sleep I have had since starting the challenge.

Each night so far, I would sleep light, waking frequently and rising eventually at 4am to lie and wait for the alarm at 6.30. Oddly, this hasn't made me any more tired during the day but has been taking its toll of an evening. I suspect that there was an underlying concern keeping me awake, the constant question of "can I do this" played on my mind and maybe, as I get a real sense that we are nearing the end, that anxiety has faded slightly.

Maybe not, maybe tonight I'll be pacing the halls at dawn once more.

There are other distractions to keep your mind occupied in the wee small hours such as...am I eating correctly, pacing myself well, over doing it, under doing it, what will the hills be like tomorrow, the wind, the rain, my knee and a million other tiny and largely unimportant thoughts.

However to add to these, I now seem to be spending far too much time worrying about my feet. Not that there is anything wrong with my feet, nor has there ever been, they're a bit on the large side granted, but that's never been something that kept me awake at night, twisted with concern.

Nope, this particular preoccupation is all the fault of Phillip an ex mountain bike champinon with a terrific pace and a sense of humour to match. A few nights ago, when I mentioned my recent insomnia to Phillip, he offered some very Zen-like advice. Apparently all the monks about town these days obtain a state of meditation by emptying their minds of unnecessary thoughts. To do so they concentrate on one, innocuous thing....typically, their feet.

So now I lay awake most nights, thinking of my feet...

...how much they hurt, how many more stokes of the pedal they shall need to undertake tomorrow, did they always have that vein thing on the side, why are they shaped so funny, what are toes really for?

It hasn't helped ...but I have developed a new found respect for my feet, so I suspect its all good...somehow.

Last nights footless sleep was a good set up for todays ride. A slightly shorter ride by recent standards and broken into more parts with the inclusion of a ferry ride across the head of the clyde.

We had been promised stunning vistas and smooth, undulating riding. We hoped the promises were true.

We set of in good spirits and rode as a group whilst we negotiated the suburban fringes of Kilmarnock. Along the route a cluster of locals who were gathered at the side of the road waved, cheered, clapped and filmed us, making us feel like Wiggins and Cavendish on their victory ride. It was a wonderful gesture but one that, unbeknown to us at the time, would lead to a sad and sobering end.

A few small hills interrupted the otherwise rapid flow of the group and we soon arrived at Largs in time to stop for a drinks at Nardinis, an art deco oasis, sat high on the sea front. We were treated to exotic coffees and rich pastries by Nick, in a shameless attempt to buy favour. (Sorry Nick, lovely gesture really).

As we prepared to remount, we learned from Colin that one of the locals at the side of the road was in fact a good friend of Alistair, our Scottish Pastor. It became clear that Alistair's friend had chosen to ride with the group for a while and join the celebrations. A little after joining, this chap ( Called John as we later found out) hit a misplaced manhole cover and was sent to the floor head first.

From all accounts it was an horrific crash that left Alistair's friend in hospital with a broken jaw, cheekbone and missing teeth. We since learned that John had been well cared for and was in good hands at the local hospital. Still it was a awful thing to happen to him and a shock to those who witnessed and attended to him.

Shocked and more than a little shaken by this news, we rejoined the road and pushed on for a gentle and overly cautious 14 mile ride to to Gourock, to catch the morning ferry. Distracted from the earlier news by the thrill of a ride on a ferry, our departure worked like clockwork and we scuttled aboard like excited school kids on a day trip, making far too much noise and bothering the locals wonderfully.

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Boarding the ferry


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A few "Titanic" poses later and it was time to disembark..

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....into another world.


If I thought the river Severn provided a stark contrast between the opposing landscapes...I had another thing coming, This was in an all together different league. The place that we had landed on wasn't in any way similar to the one that we had just left. Picture post card scenes were on every turn, tiny sea front cottages, wide open waters all the while dominated by the most magnificent mountain ranges, looming down from on high.

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And it got better, soon we were riding along the side of clear fresh water lochs fed by roadside waterfalls and winding tributaries, the shores lapping inches from our wheels.

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Along their lengths were sandy coves with vast established pine trees standing out like gigantic Bonsai with deep, impenetrable forests all around. The road surface was, for the most part smooth and newly laid...but most importantly for today...it was flat.
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We wanted no hills to distract us from the scenery, no "heads down" today. Each of us rode slowly so as to absorb the environment more fully. We were aware that, not only were we actually here but that we had earned our place by cycling here from the opposite end of the country, this deserved more than a few photos, more than a glance...we wanted take in every glorious detail.

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Our lunch stop was nestled in the grounds of a botanical gardens, approached by a picturesque wooden bridge...
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Angus front and Tommy...upright for once...to the back


... and was served amongst the huge slabs of lumber cut down and machined into various forestry Posts and panels. The impressive collection of machinery and paraphernalia made for the most interesting lunch stop yet.

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The road and the scenery continued as the wind picked up and soon we were climbing again. At various points Alistair, as perhaps a distraction from his concern for his friend, would regale us with his encyclopaedic knowledge of the surrounding hills and their historical significance. This added a new level of immersion that I enjoyed greatly. I like these small lessons in history from Alistair, he delivers them with just the right balance of fact and flourish, without a hint of rhetoric.

As Inveraray came into view we were struck with just how much more riding was to come before we could reach it. The town itself was situated on the opposite side of a long thin and turbulent loch, circumnavigation of which was now required before we could rest. One side of the loch offered a demoralising and strength sapping head wind, whilst the other provided a much earned lift into town.

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Inveraray itself is a beautiful, small and interesting town. Despite its size it posses its own (and impressive) prison, A significant castle, A dock, A town square, high street and, most importantly for us, the beautiful Loch Fyne Hotel, the second most luxurious hotel on our tour so far and certainly the most beautifully located.


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Today was an exceptional ride, broken up a little more and made all the more interesting for it. The scenery made us mall feel that this was what we signed up for, that this is what it was all about. Tomorrow we head for Fort William and Loch Lochy, just west of loch Ness.

Tomorrow, the weather looks ....changeable.
 
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jonny jeez

jonny jeez

Legendary Member
DAY NINE- Slogging it in paradise

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

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Things are starting to get tough. As the miles countdown, there's a real sense that we are almost done but rather than deliver comfort, this seems to be making the going even harder.

With only two full days remaining the end is well and truly in sight and the pressure is now on to get the job done. We are no longer starting, we are finishing.

...or at least that's how it feels to me.

Today's weather forecast sounded rough. It cast a shadow over the enthusiasm of the group well before doing to same to the landscape and nobody seemed to be in a rush to leave the luxury of the hotel and its accommodating, linen clad, breakfast tables.

A few souls began to drift into the car park, shiver a little, then rush back in to change their wardrobe one last time. Whilst it wasn't truly cold, it "looked" cold and the wind was doing overtime to make up the difference. What to wear became a crucial decision.

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Jen and Larchen braving the morning chill at Inverarary


No body got it right.

We set off and left town to face a long slow climb over into the next peninsular. The surroundings were awe inspiring. Long clear roads, lined with ferns and backed up by dramatic hills. The clouds broke occasionally shining a spot light upon small sections of hill side, illuminating them in bright yellow.

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The Lochs reflected the sky in shades of dark grey and green, punctuated with bright but brief flecks of white, driven up by the strong wind.

That same wind was going to become a major factor of today's ride.

The terrain was unchanging, constantly dramatic, constantly imposing, constantly beautiful and enhanced somehow by the bleak, threatening sky. Mists swirled, clouds rolled...and always the wind.

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With such constant surroundings, it became harder to judge distance. The miles that had previously taken us from county to county and even country to country...in a single day, now seemed to crawl us along the side of a single loch.

Progress seems very slow in Scotland. Everything is so vast, so huge and so far from the next thing, that it takes an age to make the horizon shift, even slightly. Add to this the need to traverse huge lochs, over vast distances, simply to progress a matter of miles from your origin.

well... its a bloody good job Scotland is pretty.

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To break the journey up and to escape the ferocious head winds, we dropped into a small but exquisite church on the shores of Loch Awe (or as Angus called it Loch Awwhhhh fu***ing hell, as he banged his shin mid description).

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Despite being captivated by the intricate architecture, the romance of the occasion was killed somewhat when Angus (still in a hump over the whole shin thing) announced that the entire building was a pastiche of about 5 different medieval architectural forms, all cobbled together in the late Victorian era...to look very old.

So this was actually a "Theme park", a "McChurch", a "b***ard of a building".

Nice...

Still, it wasn't windy inside so that had to be good.

Our tea stop seemed further away than ever before but was approached on the back of an impressive tail wind. These tail winds worked in a simple fashion, one way up the loch...big head wind, back down the other side...big tail wind...Simple in description but in practice...incredibly hard and hugely wearing.

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After tea we eventually crossed the end of Loch Awe on the Connell bridge, a tall box bridge that allowed traffic in one direction at a time, we had the bridge to ourselves and rolled across side by side..

We pushed on, head to tail, tail to head...on and on, over and over until finally we reached our lunch stop some 30 miles later.

I was exhausted but managed to find the energy to spin straight past the stop and had to ride all the way back. This was the second time this week I'd done this. I blame the wind.

After lunch the weather deteriorated a little more, the wind picked up still further and the rain came in. We approached Fort William and split of in search of batteries and a spare light (tomorrows forecast was grim so lights...and strong ones at that ...were the order of the day). The roads became increasingly rough until eventually they gave out altogether and we found ourselves riding on something akin to cobblestones, for a good mile or so.

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We rode on regardless (what else could we do?) and soon found the explanation just outside Spean bridge, when we were treated to an escort of Royal proportions. We had our very own "convey" car and lead vehicles, out riders wouldn't have seemed out of place. Unfortunately both escorts were restricting our progress to approximately 3 MPH and at times we and to stop and walk to save bumping into the back of our chaperon.

The road out of Fort William was being resurfaced in time for the harsh winter and the workforce were literally rolling out fresh tarmac for us to ride on, this meant we needed security front and back to escort us safely away from the sizzling hot tarmac and the prospect of instantaneous melting of tyre's.

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Just outside Spean Bridge, we stopped to visit the commandos memorial and enjoyed the most windswept of tea stops, complete with lashed down tables and gazebo. Larchen, our DA crew member had stood in the memorial car park for an age, being sandblasted by the Arctic winds for hours...just to wait and serve us tea and jelly babies. It was a solemn, bleak and reflective place and the memorial seemed ideally positioned to reflect the occasion.


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We began our decent into Loch Lochy, which was a gift after such a hard days ride and within an hour we were pulling up at the Hostel that would be our evenings accommodation. No 5 star spa for us tonight. Instead a home cooked lamb tagine, created masterfully by Jen, Ian and Larchen followed by pie (unidentified ...and unimportant) with custard.

We were hugely grateful to them and they put on a great spread. The Hostel is a vast country house set in the base of the valley, flanked by tall hills of pine forests.

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Its a dream spot, lets hope its beds are comfortable enough to provide some sweet dreams too.

Loch Ness tomorrow accompanied by our biggest most frightening hill yet....in the sheeting rain.
 
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