>Keep Right On

>Day 11 – Friday 3rd July 2009

Today was simply the end of the road. The day I finally reached John o Groats. I can’t begin to explain how good it felt to roll down the hill within sight of JoG. More about that later….

I was up and on the road just after 08:10 this morning ready to face the daunting prospect of Helmsdale and less than 10 miles later the infamous Berriedale Braes. The latter being a series of infamous Hairpins that climb at an AVERAGE of 13%. I spent most of the last 12 hours wondering why I had chosen to go via this route instead of via the flatter route I had initially planned to use.

Looking up /down parts of the Berriedale Braes

I suprised myself in getting up Helmsdale and still able to feel good at the top of the same. In fact still being able to pedal was an achievement in itself that I did not expect when viewing the climb last night & this morning.

I made my way on towards Berriedale, expecting to reach it about 7 or so miles from the top of Helmsdale, but it was much sooner than that. There is a very fast descent, then a series of hairpins before the bottom is reached.

Now the fun started and I was beginning the ascent of the Braes. I got up the first two hairpins before stopping at a parking bay to let the queue of traffic pass me.(Well that was my excuse) it was interesting to observe how the lorries, vans and even cars all laboured to get up the hill. A clearing in the traffic and I set off again up the hill and on the final hairpin I noticed a church and a cemetery – the bodies of those LEJoGgers who failed to ascend the Braes?

Whilst the average gradient of the Braes is 13%, it is much steeper when you are going round the inside turn of the hairpin. That is rather steep!

After reaching the top of Berriedale, it was comforting to know (or was that hope?) that the worst of the day’s climbing had been done in the first 10 or so miles. Now, it was just 40 + miles to JoG. I did not know where my support team were, and indeed when I stopped for a drink of water at Lybster, I tried to text all four of them and call all of them, but could not contact any of them – some support team eh? Still in bed was my guess ;-).

The road from Helmsdale followed the coast all the way to JoG via the A9 and A99. Having since driven back along the route in the car, it is more undulating than I realised whilst cycling it. I guess that the excitement of knowing I was nearing the end of this ride blinded me to the effort I was making.

I eventually met Jo & Tom on the road heading towards Wick, well about 8 miles from Wick, and we arranged a rendezvous there with my parents also. Before Jo & Tom set off again, I once again refreshed my water bottle from their bottles of water. I was by now feeling good and averaged over 20 mph for the last 8 miles into Wick.

Wick is home to the smallest street in the world. Apparently I rode past it as I came into the centre of the town. I was too focused on the road ahead to have even noticed the street. So much for seeing Britain by bike eh?
Stopping in Wick with Jo, Tom and my parents provided a chance for a last cup of tea and a scone before JoG, and a chance to refill those water bottles etc. We passed a chip shop in Wick that made the one yesterday in Dingwall (open at 10:30) look like a late opener. This one opened at 09:00. It raises the question as to what sort of people go to buy fish and chips at 09:00? Who answered “Scottish people”?

So now I had approximately only 17 miles to go from Wick to JoG and the end of the ride. I estimated it would take me between 1 – 1.5 hours to get there. Jo & Tom were to get some pictures of me on my final leg of the ride before meeting me at JoG when I arrived.

The sheer exhilaration of being in striking distance of my goal meant that I rode the shade over 17 miles in under 43 minutes, averaging around 24mph. I passed Jo & Tom doing well over 30mph, in fact it was so fast that they missed me with the picture they took. They made up for it with several other stops for photographs and shouts of support and encouragement. It was funny hearing Tom shout the same things in encouragement that I used to shout to him when he competed in cycle races.

As I closed in on JoG, I saw several group of cyclists obviously setting off for Lands End.
What do you say to them?
“There’s only 900 miles to go”
“There’s only Berriedale and Helmsdale that are bad today”
“Don’t worry about Berriedale, it will seem ok when you compare it to Shap or Dartmoor”
“Don’t do it”?
In the end, a simple “hello” was all that I could say.

15 miles after leaving Wick and over 49 miles from last night’s hotel in Helmsdale, I was coming up the final hill and I could see JoG in the distance maybe a mile or more away. What a great feeling knowing I was nearing my goal. Strangely it was also tinged with sadness knowing the end of adventure was near.

My mind started suggesting that I could turn round at JoG and cycle back to Lands End. Was I losing the few marbles I had left?

The tired aching limbs suddenly felt refreshed, I was now in the big chain ring and pushing a 53×11 gear and flying down the last few bends and corners, past the coach companydepot on the right, the Seaview Hotel on the left and into the car park at JoG. Now all I had to do was find the finish line. I knew it was near the derelict hotel. I headed for the hotel, and ended up riding along a footpath to get there as I had taken a slightly wrong turnn in the car park. Jo, Tom & my parents were watching the main road as I sneaked in to their side and reached the finish line at 12:49. It was funny watching them look the wrong way as I crept passed them

Photos, handshakes and congratulations were received from all, including others who had finished their own LEJoG earlier. Most importantly though, I signed the register and got my record card stamped. I was now officially an “Ender”. I had completed my own personal End to End. It matters not that other did it faster, on fixed wheel bikes, camping, in one go or whatever; I had done my LEJoG.

Today was my shortest ride at only 51.4 miles and I have to confess to a feeling of having cheated as 51.4 miles seemed too short. I wanted to get back on my bike and ride some more to make a full day’s riding. However, the chance of a cold pint of beer persuaded me otherwise. What a good idea to have a licensed bar at the finish.

The day ended with trip by car to Dunnet’s Head (the most northerly point in Great Britain)and to the hotel in Dunnet’s Bay. I wanted to ride these 20 or so miles, but was banned from my bike.

Later with my support team, I had a celebration glass or two of bubbly and a cake before a meal at a hotel in Dunnet’s Bay.

Thanks to everyone for the help and support they have provided.

Distance ridden: 51.4 miles
Time Taken: 03:31
Average Speed 14.6 mph
Distance Climbed: 3125 feet

>Stormy weather

>DAY 10 – 2nd July 2009

The day began in Drumnadrochit on the banks of Loch Ness. Instead of carrying on up the banks of the Loch to Inverness, I had planned to go the more direct route via the Muir of Ord. this was described in a guide book as being a “steep but punchy” route.

Steep is an understatement. The first 3 miles were the hardest of the ride so far. It was not what I expected! fortunately, I was able to keep breathing when I got to the top of the hill and carried on towards the Muir of Ord. I was not sure if there were more steep hills to come as the route guides I had seen did refer to it being steep over the Muir of Ord, which was 10-15 miles from Drumnadrochit.

Meanwhile, my parents were driving from Fort Augustus to Drumnadrochit to collect my bag from my hotel and heading up to catch me up. Also, my partner Jo and my son Tom were driving up from Nottingham to meet me. where would we meet up? As ever, there was no real plan, to the location, I knew they would eventually pass me and we could then sort out a meeting place.

I got through Dingwall before 10:30 and saw a chip shop open at that time and people coming out with chips at that time in the morning. They say the Scots have chips on their shoulder, its probably because their stomachs are so full of chips there is no other place for them.

I continued on in the baking sun up the A9, eventually stopping in a little place called Alness for a cup of tea. It was so hot that I had to move inside the cafe out of the sun whilst having my tea. I used this stop to arrange to meet my parents and Jo & Tom at Tain for lunch. As I got to Tain, I received texts saying they were still some 15 miles away, so I pushed on, in the now falling rain towards Dornoch for a lunch stop.

Crossing the Dornoch Firth, the rain stopped and the sun came out. I stopped at a garage near Dornoch to meet up with the travelling clan. Text message told me they were miles behind still, so I set off onwards towards Golspie, intending to lunch there. Shortly after restarting, Jo & Tom passed me, and after exchanging pleasantries, and pinching all the water from their car for my water bottles to try to conquer the dehydration I was feeling, I set off to Golspie.

I reached Golspie having done 60 miles and had a late lunch stop – circa 15:30. As usual a massive lunch of a scone and a cup of tea and I set off to do the last 20 or so miles towards Helmsdale.

The last two major hills of the ride were due to be at Helmsdale and a bit further on at Berriedale Brae. If I rode 90 miles, today I would have done both Berriedale and Helmsdale, but there was no where really to stop after Helmsdale. Jo had been requested to find somewhere to stay at or near Helmsdale.

Leaving Golspie, the weather changed and the promised thunder storms arrived. Sadly for my my parents had headed on to Helmsdale and had my bag with my overshoes, arm and leg warmers etc. I was left riding in torrential rain, thunder and lightning with no wet weather kit apart from my shower jacket. There was so much rain that when riding uphill, I had rivers of water to contend with.

At one point whilst riding in the rain, I passed a golf course and saw 2 men playing golf, with one holding the umbrella over his colleague whilst he putted. I remember thinking what mugs they were playing in the rain. I mean who is that devoted to their hobby? Then reality hit me and I remembered what I was doing. Oooops!

As I crossed the bridge into Helmsdale, Jo had come in her car, and told me she had booked us into a hotel up the hill about a mile on the road. I saw the hill through Helmsdale and thought, its no problem if its only 1 mile to the hotel. The infamous Helmsdale hill isn’t that bad i thought. I got up the hill and turned right into the hotel and as I dismounted from my bike I looked behind me and saw a long climb, some 2 – 2.5 miles long! Ooops, I had not climbed up Helmsdale at all and would have to face it tomorrow morning first thing.

The hotel we stayed in was a beautiful place, perched on the edge of the cliff and a really romantic place. Jo had done me proud in finding it. It was a shame that I was too tired from cycling to stay awake beyond about 21:00 and similar for Jo with her having driven 500+ miles that day.

I later learned that the weather in the area had been so bad the police had closed the A9 road I had been riding on. The railway line which ran parallel to the road was hit by lightning and the train service suspended. Yet I have to say I loved riding in the storm. Am I mad? Who said yes….?

Distance: 81.7 miles
Time Taken: 05:41
Average Speed: 14.3 mph
Distance Climbed: 3609 feet

>Night Train

>Tuesday 30th June brought the start of part two of my attempt at LEJoG.

After a day at work, I was to ride up to Euston to get the sleeper train to Crianlarich and start off next breakfast time on my trip to JoG, some 280 miles of cycling.

I had managed to get a first class sleeper ticket so could use the first class lounge at Euston. The receptionist there looked on open mouthed as a scruffy cyclist walked into the lounge with his bike and proceeded to park it in the entrance hall. After proving I had a first class ticket, I was able to avail myself of the showers, tea, coffee, computers and even phone charger.

Boarding the train brought the first worry of the night. I was booked in coach G, but there appeared to be 3 separate carriages all coach G. The train is about 20 carriages long when it leaves Euston and gradually splits into separate trains to Fort William, Inverness and Aberdeen. When I asked about the guards van for the Fort William sleeper, I was told there wasn’t one until Edinburgh and I would have to rely on the staff at Edinburgh moving my bike from the Aberdeen sleeper train to the Fort William one. That sounded like a recipe for disaster. I had visions of waking up in Crianlarich but my bike being in Aberdeen. Fortunately the “host” on the carriage I was sleeping in managed to put the bike in the spare pantry on that carriage, so I would be able to sleep safely knowing my bike was going with me to Crianlarich.

The “host” however had bad news for me in that the air conditioning in the sleeper compartments was not working & the windows in the compartments do not open, meaning the night was going to be very hot and sweaty – despite being alone.

I did eventually get to sleep after a fashion. When I woke the next morning, I had a shock in that the train was now moving in the opposite direction to the way it had been when I went to sleep! this must have been when it split at Edinburgh at some silly hour in the morning.

A knock on the door at 7am brought a nice cooked breakfast and the morning papers. Reading the Scottish view on the world is interesting. The paper was discussing the English Rugby Football Union being awarded the 2015 World Cup Final and started it was going to be a great decade for BRITISH sport, with London holding the 2012 Olympics, England hosting the 2015 Rugby World Cup and potentially England hosting the Football World Cup Finals in 2018.

0735 the train arrives at Crianlarich early (due in 742). Bike disembarked, and I’m off… well all of 2 yards anyway… I have a flat front tyre. Arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh the fairy has been travelling on the train. I changed the inner tube but could not find a hole in the original tube. That was something I would investigate later. I rode up to Tyndrum (5 miles) and met my parents, dumping my saddle bag with them and raiding the fridge for snacks. Then it was off on towards Rannoch Moor, Glen Coe and beyond.

The weather was very hot, but I did have a tail wind. I had intended to make an early tea stop, but was making such good progress that I did not stop till after I had been over Rannoch Moor and into Glen Coe.

A tea stop in Glen Coe and communication with my parents left me realising I wouldn’t be meeting them there for coffee. They were still on their campsite. I was now over 30 miles ahead of them. We agreed to meet in Fort William for lunch. This would be 52 miles in before lunch. I reached there around 12noon.

Arriving at McDonalds in Fort William, I found the fairy had visited again, and another flat front tyre. I was waiting for my parents, so examined the tyre. There was no puncture in the tube, it seems that I had a dodgy valve on this inner tube. I also examined the tube I replaced at Crianlarich and found that it did not have a puncture either, just a dodgy valve which I was able to fix and used that tube again.

I had done 52 miles before lunch out of a hoped for 83 miles. This was an extension of the original plan to do 76 miles. My parents were staying on a campsite at Fort Augustus at the start of Loch Ness. I carried on from Fort William and reached Fort Augustus by around 15:30 pm. The weather was great, I was feeling good, so what do I do? Yes, I carried on eventually reaching Drumnadrochit some 20 or so miles up the road from Fort Augustus. I had done 104 miles by then, my longest ever ride and at an average speed of 16.4mph. My fastest ride on LEJoG.

I then had to persuade my parents to bring my bag to Drumnadrochit as I had nothing other than my very smelly cycling kit that I stood in. They came to my hotel and we dined together there and made plans for the next day.

After studying the maps, I decided to change my routes for the rest of the trip. I decided to take the hilly but shorter routes.

Glen Coe was the scene of the famous massacre of the McDonalds by the Campbells. There is a big visitors centre there telling you the history of the incident. I didn’t have time to stop there though.

I had plenty of time to muse over the incident whilst cycling and thing about its consequences. History will record that despite being massacred at Glen Coe, the McDonalds have had the last laugh.

Just think about it- how many kids these days eat Campbell’s soup compared to the number who eat Big Macs etc.

Ride Statistics
Distance: 104 miles
Time Taken: 06:20
Av speed 16.4 mph
Distance Climbed 4569 feet