>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