Thursday, July 4, 2013

And the Final Scores, Please, Miss Doors....

Garmin Connect - LE to Llanberis

Garmin Connect - Llanberis to Kielder

Garmin Connect - Kielder to John O'Groats

So, it's been about 3 weeks since I rolled up to the finish post, and I have finally managed to re-plot my route (albeit in 3 parts not one due to technical difficulties. If you zoom in about 3 clicks the route will appear as if by magic!), which you should be able to link through to from here. The final distance comes in at a slightly-shorter-than-expected 1477.83 miles, but had I the inclination to do battle with the temperamental nature of the Garmin site, I might have tweaked it to take into account the unplanned modifications to the route that I had to make from time to time, and might have squeezed a few more miles out it. Either way, it was considerably further than the 'standard' route, and I am very pleased with myself for finishing it, not to mention over the moon with everyone who took the time to donate and support the venture. Thanks to your generosity, the current amount raised is £1804.28, plus a further £330 in gift aid, making a running total of £2134.28. My fingers are crossed for even a little more yet, as the page will remain active until the end of July I think.

In addition to the amazing total you all raised, I received a contribution from the Joyce Chapman  Charitable Trust, a trust that supports UK children's charities, cancer charities and Alzheimer's research charities, who very kindly gave £2000 to my fund as well, which means that between us, we raised a magnificent £4134.28!!

I for one think that is pretty darn good, and you should all be very proud of yourselves.

Just as a little aside, when I got back, I put the bike in for a well-earned service. It needed a new chain, new back gear cartridge, new cables and brakes etc. The shop called me up 3 days later to say the work had all been done but, while giving it a test ride up Headcorn High Street, a van made a turn without indicating, and the poor bloke testing the bike crashed into him, damaging the front wheel! Fortunately he was not hurt, and the van driver accepted responsibility and repair costs, but the poor old bike got a duffing up that I'd managed to avoid for the last 6 weeks! Never mind, hopefully this is the only crash that bike will be in, and I wasn't even on board when it happened!

So, what now? Well, I have to try and maintain the fitness I have earned until at least mid August, when I fly to Geneva and then cycle to Nice over the Alps - a 5 day ride of 80+ miles and 3500+ meters of climbing a day. So far, since I got back I have been out a grand total of zero times (the bike is in the shop, see), so I will have to buck up my ideas. I may well add a few posts during that time if I can find the internet, but as for the next major Crazy Roads Trip? Well, your guess is as good as mine, I'm afraid. Maybe the next one will be a journey of intellectual discovery rather than geographic exploration, as I embark on my Osteopathy Masters in September. But that would not make for an exciting blog, I shouldn't think. I'll have to see what I can cook up. I suspect it may involve motorbikes and revisiting my cycle route at speed! Until then, thanks a thousand times more for your support, both moral and financial, and for making this a truly successful Crazy Roads 5 :-)

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Longest Day - figuratively speaking...

Garmin Connect - 29 Crask Inn to John O'Groats

So, here it is. The final route for the final day, from the Crask Inn all the way to John O'Groats. The sign outside the inn said 90 miles, a book about LEJOG routes at the inn reckoned 85, and the final total came out to be around 81 miles. Not quite the longest distance, and it didn't take as long as The Day from Hell, but John O'Groats wasn't going to give up the goods and the glory without a fight, that much soon became clear.

When I'd woken at 6am, it had been clear, sunny skies as far as the eye could see. By 7am and breakfast, it was totally overcast, and the cloud seemed to be building. Not what the forecasts had said, and I got a sinking feeling.

I opted for the waterproof flouro-coat again, the sealskin gloves, and somewhat reluctantly set off by about 7.40. It wasn't the energetic start I'd hoped for. My camelbak began leaking down my back within meters of starting, and when I tired to get the lid screwed on right it just wouldn't seal. Despite the upcoming distance and the obvious need for fluids, I emptied it out and decided to go with just my bottles. A short distance later, the view required a stop for a photo and, as I cleared the top of the hill, I left the cloud behind and was cycling in warm sunshine, as promised in the forecast. Another stop, then, to remove the waterproof, and I'd not even gone a mile. Once all this annoying stuff was sorted, however, the road disappeared down the valley, and continued more or less down hill for the next 32 miles, all the way to Bettyhill and the north coast. A few more photo stops were unavoidable but, apart from that, I didn't break again until I hit the north coast road and turned East. An impressive 32 miles in under 2 hours, and the early sinking feeling was gone - what a day this was going to be!
Loch Naver. Nothing more to say, really.
I stopped at a cafe only to find it didn't open until half 10, so I was far too early for that - and the next food stop just never came. All the small towns had nothing to offer, so I had to survive on my snack bars. Not ideal, and my energy levels were starting to flag. It wasn't helping that from the moment I turned East - the direction I would have to go for the 53 miles to the finish - I was faced with a persistent and gusty head wind, which was making every mile a running battle. Eventually, as things were beginning to look a bit desperate, I came to Melvich which had a pub serving food. Saved by a dodgy chicken burger and chips!
An early view of the north coast. The strong wind spoiled the effect of the sunshine.
I was in to the last 36 miles by now, and starting to run out of oomph. The food had helped, but every part of me had started to hurt. Perhaps it was knowing that the end was in sight, but every ache and pain I had ignored for 5 weeks was kicking in with a vengeance. My feet were sore in my shoes, my right knee had started doing a strange internal clicking thing, my backside was feeling every tiny jolt in the road, low back was just generally aching, left hand kept getting pins and needles, and my right shoulder was just a throbbing ache interspersed with sharp stabbing pains. In addition to all this, the wind was getting stronger and my strength was dwindling.

Two other end-to-enders I'd met the night before at the Crask Inn and who had left about an hour after me, caught me up in Melvich, but I had to go at my pace so rather than wait for them to have their break and continue together, I left them to it and carried on. I won't deny there was an element of wanting to finish on my own, just as I had done the whole ride, but the truth was I knew I'd only be holding them up, so best to just do my own thing. Sure enough, though, about half an hour later they overtook me and left me behind, with a cheerful "see you in Thurso" - the next town about 16 miles away.

It took me so long to cover than 16 miles that by the time I got there and couldn't see their bikes parked anywhere, I figured they'd been and gone again, so I stopped long enough for a much needed, warming cup of tea, and carried on. It was getting really tough by now. the soreness was getting more, the energy and strength was getting less, and the wind was not relenting. I should have known that the wonderful, easy first part of the day wouldn't last, and that JOG had a trick or two up its sleeve.

I seemed to be getting slower and slower as I covered the last 20 miles from Thurso to JOG. That kind of distance had been taking no more than 90 minutes, if that, just lately, even at the end of a day, but today it seemed to go on and on. As I passed the turning for Dunnet Head, I gritted my teeth and ignored the fact that I might have been able to stop there if I'd stuck to Plan A. I was forced by discomfort to take a stretch-break just after the turning, still with 10 miles to go, and yet again about 5 miles after that. I really just wanted to get to the end, but it was just too painful to stay on the bike without these brief moments to straighten up and stretch some life back into my quads and calf muscles.

Finally, after what seemed like a ridiculously long 2 hours or more, I came to the final left turn of the ride, and coasted down the last 1/4 mile to the John O'Groats sign post. Steve and Dave, the two lads from the inn, had just finished taking their photos, and met me with warm smiles and pats on the back. They had both found the day tough as well, despite being far better cyclists than me, and being able to swap the lead between themselves regularly, thus each having a turn hiding behind the other and resting from the head wind. They seemed impressed that I'd done the whole thing on my own, and felt sure I'd cope with the Alps if I could cope with what today had thrown at us.
Veni, Perseveravit, Vici! (That's third person, present indicative, isn't it, boy?)
I duly took my photo at the sign, then joined the other two back up at the last junction for a celebratory pint. They were being collected and driven to Inverness for the night, so once they'd left at 5pm, I rolled back to JOG and booked in at the camp site, pitched my tent and reflected on my achievement.

I have found, after other trips, that there is a feeling of "OK, so what now?" when these things end. This was no exception, but for once I had an answer. I changed in to my shorts and walked down to the harbour slipway, set up the camera on its tripod, started the timer, and jumped into the icy water, completing the final challenge set by my brother - a swim in the sea off the north coast. Not quite the Antarctic that he'd swum in, but certainly cold enough for me! A fitting way to end the ride, perhaps, and maybe even good for the body at the same time.

The trip did not quite end there - I had the 20 miles back to Thurso to ride in the morning, as well as an additional 10 mile detour to Dunnet Head - the most northerly point in the UK (JOG is just the most north-easterly, and therefore the furthest from Land's End). With that 30 miles (with a tailwind this time - what a difference!!) completed, I have now got until Monday before my train tickets take me back south, so I will jump on a boat to Orkney and spend a few days cycling round over there, seeing what bird life I can find.

Thank you so much for the words of encouragement and support I have received from so many people via Facebook and the comments section here. It really did help keep me going when things got tough.  Thanks also, of course, to everyone who has donated money to the fund, some of you several times, and if anyone is still wanting to add some more, please don't hesitate, just go to and add to the pot. The total as of this moment is £1,395 - a fantastic effort from everyone! It would be so good to get it up to the target of £1603, so if you know anyone who has yet to donate, please give them a nudge!

Its been a pleasure (mostly!), and stand by for the final route/navel gazing to come in a week or so.

Closing in on the Finish

Garmin Connect - 28 Evanton to Crask Inn

So, folks, just a few more entries to make, I guess. I have decided that the final day deserves a post of its own and then, after I get home, I will throw together a definitive route and share that, along with a few post-ride thoughts, so that makes just 3 more to go, including this one. Once again, I have linked you through to the short day from Evanton to the Crask Inn.

So, a day off at Nethy Bridge, to relax in the sun after the mammoth 84 miler. I was sure nothing would come close to that distance, as I had my schedule well planned: 73 miles to Evanton, 55 miles to Altnahara, then 60 miles to Dunnet Head, and finally a short 10 mile hop to John O'Groats. Funny how the best laid plans, etc etc...

I phoned ahead to Altnahara Caravan park, hoping to book in, but was told they don't take tents at all as they don't have shower or toilet facilities. This meant I had to find a short-notice alternative, and the Crask Inn was it. I'd heard about this place, it was apparently quite well known to the End-to-enders, but it was about 15 miles closer to Evanton, and therefore 15 miles further from John O'Groats, changing all my carefully shared out mileage, and stacking things rather heavily on the day to Dunnet Head. I was now facing a 40 mile day followed by a 75 mile day. Still, needs must and all that.

The ride from Nethy to Evanton was pretty easy. Lots of places to stop for refreshments, no unpleasant climbs, and some more amazing scenery. The only dampener (literally), was the weather closing in a bit once I left the Cairngorms, and becoming both cold, breezy and a bit damp for a while, necessitating the use of my flourescent waterproof for the first time since entering Scotland. Disappointing, but also short-lived, as I was stripping off the layers an hour or two later as the sun won out in the end.

The Evanton Bunkhouse proved very luxurious and well placed, with a pub just up the road, so that was the creature comforts looked after. The 73 miles wasn't too bad despite the long day earlier, but I was glad in retrospect that the following day was to be only 40 miles - a distance that was now in the "easy day" category - and I knew it would allow me a restful afternoon at the Crask Inn.
From Evanton, I was cutting inland to the very centre of the the northern most part of the Highlands - apart of the country I'd had a taster of back in April when I'd visited Lochinver, and I was keen to see more of it. The weather continued to hold, and the ride up was easy, traffic free and thoroughly enjoyable.

So small it doesn't even have ONE horse!
I got to the Crask Inn - which has to have become one of my favourite stops of the whole trip - at about noon, got shown around the bunkhouse by Mike, the hill-farming owner, grabbed a shower and went over to the only other building in the village - the Inn itself. I quickly realised that modern technology had not yet reached Crask, so my debit card would prove useless. I explained to Mike that I only had £30 cash, so he should let me know how much of bed, dinner and breakfast that could cover. He somewhat gloomily thought it might just be enough (I realised at this point I'd not be able to buy a beer in that case), thought for a moment and then asked if I'd every worked with sheep.

I admitted I hadn't a lot of experience, but knew which end the milk came from, and that seemed good enough to get me a job helping him tag and release the ewes and lambs from his holding pens. One pair of overalls, a container of drench and a drench gun, and a tin of bright green Dulux gloss paint and we were ready to go. We shepherded the sheep from crofters holding pens in batches into a narrow channel, blocked them in, and my job was to grab the lambs, lift them up on to the gate so Mike could identify their role in life, before stamping them on the hip (ewes) or ribs (rams) with a big painty 'T'. Most of the boys already had a castration ring in place, but one or two needed that fashionable accessory added, and then the ewes needed to be drenched and released, or moved to another pen if they didn't have a lamb. He was keeping these back to use as a training aid for his younger dog.

In all, I grabbed and hoisted 87 lambs, pushed and shoved about the same number of eves, and earned myself the admiration of a hardened hill farmer (OK, this might only be my imagination), a couple of pints and a discount on my stay all at the same time. Mike was funny bloke in a totally unintentional way - he seemed kind of shy and not that keen on people, so running a hostel/inn was an awkward choice for him, but he'd come from farms in Yorkshire via Evanton over the years, and enjoyed the remote life that Crask had to offer. The food at the inn was fantastic home made roasts, and very plentiful, and I met my first other end-to-enders that evening, who were finishing off the next day. On chatting to them, I realised it would be better to finish with a roar than a wimper, so I resolved not to stop at Dunnet Head, but carry on right to John O'Groats, and changed my route again. Now, the next day was to be the last, and was to be an extra 10 miles in to the bargain - another 85 miler, right at the end!

With an early breakfast under my belt, or at least my lycra waist band, I shook Mike's hand, and bid him an emotional farewell and thanked him for the enjoyable afternoon the day before. "No, no, thank you for your help. I'd have never got it done without you, Andy," he replied. Classic Mike.

Friday, June 7, 2013

I'll Take the High Road...and then I'll Take the Higher Road.

No photos or Links this time I'm afraid, although I'll try and add a picture or two in later on. Felt I should throw a offering out there though, as this could be the last chance I get before finishing the whole trip! I also feel an apology is in order for what I feel is slightly thin content. I wish there was more to write about in detail, but the sad truth is that 8 hours spent on a bike are not that interesting, and hours of head down, lung busting pedaling does not leave room for the kind of misadventures that might have cropped up if I'd been in control of a motorised vehicle! Still, it is, as ever, as much for me as for you, so I will continue to chunter on.
Inchcailloch Island - stunning!
So, after a day resting the old legs at Drymen, where Clare took me out to Inchcailloch Island in Loch Lomond, I was ready for the next few days. The 65 mile run out to Fearnan on Loch Tay was yet another lovely ride. Most of the roads,even the smaller ones in Scotland seem to run up the valleys rather than over the hills, so there was yet more rolling roads, Loch side splendour and fine weather to be had. I was finding it hard to believe that, after the shoddy cold and rain and wind I'd been struggling through for most of England, once I arrived in the Lake District and then Scotland - a place with a notorious reputation for having a poor climate - I was basking in the best weather of the trip. And I was certainly not  complaining.

It was a mostly uneventful ride from Drymen, apart from a slight kitchen-table miscalculation on the route during the first hour. When plotting my routes from my large scale AA road map, I had looked for opportunities to get off the A-roads as early as possible, taking small lanes as short cuts if they looked viable. unfortunately, and as I'd discovered on the first day in Cornwall, these small lanes are often just farm tracks. On this occasion, it began well enough with nice smooth tarmac,but once I got round the corner, it lost its seal, then became rutted and stoney and, just as I had decided to wheel the bike over the rough terrain, I got a puncture. Thirty seconds sooner on the dismount and I might have avoided it, but them's the breaks. Or holes, even. Rather than fixing the puncture and then having more rough track to risk another one, I wheeled the flat back wheel on up the track, which became more rustic the further it went. It was, I thought to myself, the kind of track that is likely to have a gate at the end of it. Aaaaannndddd Bingo! A gate. And two deer, mind you, but I was in no mood to be admiring wildlife with a locked gate in the way. Unload, life over, re-load, wheel on to the end just so I could unload it again to change the tyre. A big, unnecessary chunk of time wasted, but in the end, I reckon I caught up the time well enough. Just a bloody nuisance, that's all.
The bridge at Killin
The bunkhouse at Fearnan was called Culdees, and was a strange sort of place. Very well kitted out, comfy rooms etc, but lots of rules about where to leave shoes, what to do with this and that, it left me feeling a little uncomfortable about relaxing. There was lots of info about what the owners were tying to achieve - basically a self sufficient commune - and the bunkhouse was its only regular source of income to date, until other things were up and running properly. Fair play to them, though, and good luck too.

It was just a short hop to Pitlochry the next day - only 26 miles, in fact.This kind of distance has become barely a blip on my radar now, which I find amusing. Even a day of 50 miles is now just a day, whereas at the start of the trip it was something of a daunting prospect. With the longest day of the tour (84.1 miles, as it turned out) arriving in the morning, however, I was glad to take an early day and get the gears on the bike seen to - they had been slipping and not changing properly for a few days now, and I guessed that maybe the new cable put in at Hebden Bridge had stretched a bit as it bedded in. As it happens,there was a more sinister problem (a thingummy that attached to the doohickey had broken, so the whatdoyoucallit wasn't moving the doodad properly), but the blokes at the bike shop had me sorted out no problem by the end of the day. Peace of mind is a wonderful thing.

And so, to the Big Day. I had been both excited and nervous about this one, both for the distance and the terrain. 84 miles was going to be tough, and the Cairngorms is not the flattest part of Scotland by a long shot. Luckily, the weather was still holding - a large part of the nerves had been having to do the day in pouring rain or strong winds - and I was treated to a glorious day of sunshine and calm that left little for me to do but pedal and enjoy the scenery. After a bit of a steep climb out of Pitlochry, there was  a decent fast stretch, before the long ascent up Glenshee. I was determined not to give up and push, especially as the incline was never too great (until right at the end), merely continuous, and I was very pleased with myself to make it to the top. I had a long respite downhill after that, and then more  of the rolling hills that are not much bother any more.
The Caringorms - not as easy as they look!
It was later in the day, though, that I faced a series of tough climbs. I nailed the first three, nearly busting a lung in doing them, and it was just after the second one that I stopped for a photo, turning off the timer on my GPS while I found the camera, and forgot to start the timer when I set off again. I think I lost about 20 minutes before I realised, which was annoying to me, but didn't really change much in the big scheme of things.

The final climb was in a league of its own, however. A stupidly steep climb out of a village called Cock Bridge (some joke about not getting up it might fit in here...) had me pushing for 100m or so, then again a bit further on, and then just as I thought it was all over as I crested the rise, I could see a huge, long, steep climb that I knew would be too much. Earlier in the day I might have managed it, maybe, but with 70 miles behind be and some big climbs too, I was never going to do it. So push it was, but for as little of the hill as I could, and I was back on the bike for the last section at least.

That was the final big challenge of the day, and apart from more relentless pedaling along valleys, it was pretty straight forward to the Lazy Duck hostel at Nethy Bridge. A very pleasing 9 hours to ride 84 miles,and that included stoppage time. I think the riding itself only took about 6 and a bit hours. I'll have to check the GPS and remember to add 20 minutes...

I'm having a day off today because my next ride is 73 miles and two giant days in a row is just silly. I think this will be the last rest before the end though, as I have just 3 big days to go until I reach Dunnet Head, and then its just a short hop to John O'Groats before carrying on back to Thurso on the 4th day. So, all things being equal, I should make it to the finish line on Tuesday morning, 5 weeks and 1 day after leaving Land's End. Keep an eye on Facebook until then, as I'll have more chance of posting there than here before I finish. Hopefully I will have both photos and route maps by then as well.

As ever, thanks for the donations that have kept coming in - they really do help to spur me on and keep my spirits up. The current total is £1240, which is fantastic, but I should point out that this is the first time on the trip that my mileage (1400-ish) has exceeded the money I spy a challenge? Why, I think I do! :-)


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

What Have the Romans Ever Done for Us?

Day 19 Burnopfield to Kielder by SteveMcM at Garmin Connect - Details

So once again, this trip has delivered - and not just with the riding. I spent Wednesday and Thursday catching up with an old friend from Writtle, Mel Hills, nee Bowden, and her family Kev and Niamh (or is that Naimh? either way, its pronounced Neeve!), and Josh. It was great to be able to catch up after 13(!) years, and hopefully now I'm back in the UK we will not leave it so long til next time :-)

Leaving Burnopfield, just outside Gateshead in County Durham, I headed north-westish, towards the Roman Road that runs alongside Hadrian's Wall. I had hoped to at least see the wall from where I was cycling, but never could make it out. I guess it was just a bit too well hidden from non-paying eyes...or is that cynical? What I did get was lots of hills (the Roman's may have known how to build 'em straight, but the lazy blighters couldn't even be bothered to dig a gully to put 'em in!), and ultimately a puncture at high speed, courtesy of a pot hole. I couldn't find a thorn or anything else, so suspect it was an impact puncture caused by too much weight over the wheel as it crashed through yet another hole in the road (damn lazy Romans again!), which had been hidden in the dappled light. Still, with my shiny new pump, I had it fixed in no time and was feeling pretty smug about the shrewd purchase.

From the east-west run of the Roman road, I headed further north to slice the bottom off of the Northumberland National Park (the 8th NP of the trip), and cruised my way a river valley to Kielder Water and the Youth Hostel there. Since leaving the Lake District, I have been lulled by a series of rolling landscapes, crammed with hills that are long and regular rather than short and abrupt, and I was loving it! Long, steady hills I can cope with, it seems. Just head down and find a rhythm, and try not to stop more often that necessary (its the starting again that really hurts the knees, you see!). Add to this the patriotic colours of the British hedgerows (Red Campion, white Wild Garlic and Bluebells) complementing the patriotic colours of myself (red face from exertion, whites of eyes bulging and teeth bared in effort, and blue of language), and I was feeling pretty good. I think having a mileage count up and realising I was well over half way, and seeing that my fundraising target was over a £1000 too, well things were looking pretty positive.
The end is in sight. You have my skin tight trousers to thank.
Leaving Kielder nice and early got me to the Scottish border 3 and a bit miles later, and I was really feeling that the end was in sight - even though there were still a good 600 miles of Scotland to go. Its all psychological, see? I was also pleased to see that the Scottish Borders were as pleasantly rolling as the previous few days, making progress relatively straight forward. I was looking out for a few more photo ops, feeling that I had been rather slack to date, but even though the countryside was consistently lovely, there was nothing that warranted an interruption to the zen place I was managing to put myself for the constant peddling. While rolling countryside is good for progress, it does require constant effort, as there are fewer descents to coast down.

From Peebles, I had my longest day to date ahead of me - 76.3 miles to Drymen and my brother-in-law's sister's house, near Loch Lomond. I was slightly apprehensive, as my last day of this sort of length was the now famous "Day from Hell", but with a hill profile that suggested nothing untoward I was relatively positive about the whole thing. Once again, barring another impact puncture (tyres too hard? Potholes too deep? not sure), I made it to Drymen after only 6 hours of cycling (plus a couple of hours for rests/maintenance). Very satisfying. I had stopped for lunch near Airdrie at a franchise pub, and felt a moment of pride as a local lad joined me in the beer garden with a friendly "Alright, Big Yin?". I soon realised (and he admitted to the bar maid) that he was "steamin'", which made his Glaswegian even harder to follow than my brother-in-law's, but he was friendly enough, and when his mate joined us, they were suitable impressed with my Bradley Wiggins get-up, and the ride I was doing. I got to shake hands 4 times, they were so impressed!

How to Recognise Different National Parks from Quite a Long Way Away: No 9 - Loch Lomond and the Trossachs
Now, I'm resting up for a day, to catch up with Clare, Jim, Jamie and Lilly for the first time since my sister's wedding, and to ease my thighs ready for 3 more big days. I'm heading closer to the Highlands now, and I suspect there is a clue in the name as to what the roads may be like when I get there. I have a 65 miler to get me back on the road tomorrow, then a cheeky 26-er, followed by a mighty 83 miles round behind the Cairngorms, which will be the longest day of the trip. That will be followed by 72 miles, and then it all gets a bit more sensible for the final push. I will try and get some photos for all that lot, and find a computer to tell you all about it, so all that is left or me to say for now is Thank you once again for all your donations, the total is over £1100 now, and keep spreading the word.  1113 miles done, not so many left to do :-)

Friday, May 31, 2013

Why Can't All the Days be Like this one??

So, Grasmere for the Bank holiday, a day ahead of schedule, and the weather just turned out lovely. Instead of having to ride the detour route of 44 miles from low Wray to Grasmere, via Hardknott and Wrynose Passes on Saturday, I woke late and enjoyed the fact that it was not raining or windy at all.

I now had an interesting choice: Take a day off to rest, or ride the detour route in reverse, starting and finishing at Grasmere, without the bags. It was a tough call to make, really. on the one hand, it was included in the full route plan but, on the other (and given both past hill experiences and the current pain in my legs) it was very likely all I'd do was ride out to the hills then walk the bike up them. kinda pointless, really. In the end and after much consideration, I decided to go with the day off option. I knew that the previous days off had not been long enough rest for my legs to recover much at all, and that I had a relatively easy week ahead of me, to be followed by some seriously big days, so decided that if I could give my legs every chance of recovery prior to the last big push, i'd be dong my self a real favour. Saturday, therefore, was spent enjoying a stroll round Grasmere village, some reading time at a pub, and generally a bit of a sit down. I figured that I could make up any shortfall in the mileage at the end once I got to the top of Scotland.
Some quintessential English countryside that lifts the spirits at a glance.

Sunday came soon enough and it was time for the last big day until next Friday, from Grasmere over to Middleton-in Teesdale - 65 and a bit miles. i was excited at the weather forecast which was for sun and light winds, and cracked on by 8am. I have to say that today was how I'd imagined/hoped so many more of the days might have been: Sunny, calm, rolling hills that offered a challenge but didn't crush the soul, and breathtaking scenery.

It made such a change to not be cold, blown around across the road, or coughing up a lung as I pushed the bike up a hill. I arrived at the campsite in Middleton by about 3pm, allowing me a relaxing wander around the old town, before chilling out by the river that bordered the campsite. The 65 miles over the dales was very enjoyable, with the ghostly calls of the curlew mixing with the shrill whistles of the farmers working their sheepdogs and the slightly comical party-favour squeaking of the lapwings. Every now and then, the over excited oystercatchers would spoil the mood, but on the whole it was a great place to be! Knowing that the next day was a short 20 or so miles over the Pennines to Edmundbyers - where I'd be taking a day off to wait for my old friend, Mel, to come back from a family holiday in Scotland -just helped relax me all the more. That short ride was a bit cooler, just as atmospheric and I made it to the hostel before noon and, more importantly, before the rain hit! The day off passed with ice on the knees (taking advantage of things I found in the hostel freezer), and Wednesday saw me polish off a final 12 miles to get to Burnopfield, just outside Newcastle, for another day off. A bit indulgent but, come  Friday, I'd be back on the big days, with a 51 mile, a 65 mile and a scary 76 miler in quick succession. The rest could have been very valuably timed! More importantly, it allowed me to catch up with an old friend that I'd not seen for about 13 years, and re-establish a connection that I hope will be easier to maintain now I'm back in the UK. Keep your eye on the site, I hope to get another update covering those days sorted out by Sunday (or monday if the weather/other incidents delay things!). Oh, and just for the record, the current mileage total, allowing for route changes, is (drumroll, please)....917.18 miles! I'm on the final push for sure :-)  Once again, thanks to everyone who has donated, your contributions are hugely appreciated. Keep passing the word around, there's not far to go until we hit both the targets! Gambatte!

Back on Track - Apart from Bad Wind...

So, some housekeeping: The previous 2 entries, including the day of horror, now have a photo or two in their midsts if you're interested in some visual relief. Also, apologies for the delay between posts. I've probably said it before, but its not so easy to find computer access as I expected!

Right, to business then. Having slept on the games room floor at Coddington, the morning pack up was easy.  I was bit short of breakfast but a muesli bar, some dried apricots and mango, and drink would see me right to the first cooked breakfast I could find en route, so I was on the road by half 7-ish.

It was to be a 57 mile day into the Peak District today, not (as planed) to Edale YHA as they were full up, or indeed to Castleton YHA because likewise. Instead, I was left with pretty much no option but a nice comfy B and B - a well deserved treat, I figured, after the nightmare of the day before. Not to be made a habit of, you understand, but just this once...

I found by breakfast easily enough, and the day progressed really smoothly. Despite being convinced I was destined for many steep climbs as I approached the Peaks, all I seemed to find was gently rolling countryside. Just my style! Needless to say, as Castleton drew ever closer, the hills did get more intense, but the biggest of all proved to be a down hill on the back of a long drawn-out climb (which, after a great deal of experimentation, is my preferred type of climb, it has to be said), which positively threw me at some terrifying warp speed down a narrow, high-sided gully into Castleton itself. It's actually a well known bit of road, especially locally, and I remembered driving through it a few years ago, but its name escapes me  for the moment.

The B and B was fantastic. Super friendly hosts who I found thanks to a different B and B, which was full when I phoned to book, doing the running around on my behalf, and finding me a vacant room and making the booking for me! The owners let me at their computer for route planning etc, and I managed to squeeze in
a blog entry (the one to Llanberis), so all was so much better than the day before. My positive attitude was being restored.

I knew the next day was likely to be a bit tough, as it was up through the middle of the Peaks, popping out at Hebden Bridge. the weather and winds were not too bad though, and I defy anyone to travel through the Peak District and remain grumpy. OK, I packed a bit of a sad on some of the hills, but basically, its such a beautiful place that you can't stay mad at it for long. I kept finding tiny villages plonked on the tops of hills, reached by old-style cobbled roads. Clearly, the current inhabitants were - quite rightly - proud of the originality of the road surface, but I was slightly put out that the road builders of the past had neglected to consider cyclists of the future! And, of course, a last ditch mountain to climb to get me to Hebden Bridge was my own fault - there was a perfectly serviceable low road, which I'd opted to avoid in the planning stages, so I have, once again, only myself to blame for the strenuous push to the top, followed by a road so steep down that, in the morning, I wheeled the bike to the bottom as I wasn't confident I could control a full scale, gravity assisted descent before even turing a pedal!
Hebden Bridge - a long way down some very steep roads!
At Hebden, I met my first fellow end to ender, a bloke called Kev Kelly, who was doing the route via mountain-bike tracks - so almost entirely off road. A considerable challenge and no mistake - probably tougher riding than I was facing - but still only 1200 miles, so at least I could feel on a par with him with regard my extra distance. Still, its not the size that counts, or something...

Day 14 Castleton to Hebden Bridge by SteveMcM at Garmin Connect - Details

I had been looking at the weather for the next couple of days. Out of Hebden, I was scheduled to ride 72 miles across the  middle and over the top of the Yorkshire Dales to Sedbergh, but with a shocker of a 72 miler still fresh in my mind, and strong northerly winds and rain forecast, I was forced to make a new plan. there was no realistic way I was going to cover that much distance in one day in those conditions, and the prospect of dying of hypothermia, even for a good cause such as Barnardo's, was not appealing. Therefore, I re-jigged the route to take me up the western side of the Dales in two 45-ish mile jumps to Low Wray in the Lake District, rather than the original 72 mile and 30 mile hops. A few miles shorter, but not significantly so. 

Leaving the Hebden hostel should have been easy, but just as I got set to carry the freshly loaded bike up the steps to the road, I realised the back wheel was flat. Somewhat non-plussed due to the thorough servicing and new tyre I'd got put on it the afternoon before at the local bike shop (Blazing Saddles - great name!), i unpacked and went through the familiar routine to change the tube. I'd chocked the door open with a rock so I could get in and out while I was doing this, despite the security code which I didn't know, and quickly had the tube swapped over (Torn at the valve. Not impressed). Everything went like clockwork this time - partial inflation by pump, finished with the new CO2 cylinder, wheel back to the bike, door swung shut behind me....bags left inside. No code. Doh and double Doh. And quite possibly a bit of blue language as well. It was half 8, beginning to rain, and no one was due at reception until 9. Arse.

Eventually, someone came and opened the door, allowing me to pack up and load the bike for the second time, and I really hoped that would be the last time that day I'd be fixing punctures (it was). After wheeling my bike down to the bottom of the hill in Hebden (too cold to risk riding it on a hill that steep), I was then faced with the ridiculous climb out of the town on to the B-road I wanted to follow. That meant more pushing up, which would have happened regardless of the incline, as there was yet another stretch of cobbles! I could hear the old Hovis advert playing in my head as I wearily (yes, wearily, even that early in the morning!) pushed my bike up the cobbled road. Once near the top I could finally mount my steep for the first time that day and crack on with the ride. It was a chilly day and,after spending the day battling strong, cold head winds, rain and hail so heavy I was forced to hide behind a wall like a sheep, I reached the conservation village of Clapham (a bit south of Kirkby Lonsdale) on the first hop, before struggling through less rain, but more wind and some sunshine the next day to get to Grasmere.

Ye Olde Clapham - not the flash-harry London one.
Clapham was a lovely little village just inside the Dales borders, so technically I was able to tick that National Park off my list. I'd also gone in some way during the day, so it was well and truly covered. With more time to spare, I'd have loved to stay longer and explore more thoroughly what the area had to offer. Yet another place to add to my list of must return to one day..."

The next day's ride to Low Wray was another battle with the wind, and in all honesty I kept checking my route to see if I could cheat and take a more direct line than the optimistic one I'd plotted in the secure environs of the kitchen table. At the time, my sense of adventure and lack of common sense had led me to choose exciting, remote looking roads, but the reality of extremely tired legs and bad weather was pushing me - reluctantly - towards modifications. I'd identified a fork in the road that would allow me to head up to an A-road for a faster run in to Windermere and the ferry across the lake to Low Wray, but somehow, with head down and more and more sun on my back, I suddenly found myself heading down to the ferry at Lake Windermere. I have no idea where the miles went to, but I wasn't complaining! Well, not about that, anyway. I was complaining about the ferry not running due to the wind (while at the same time feeling justified that the wind must have been strong enough to be complaining about earlier!), and began the detour round the top of the lake to approach the camp site from the other direction. It was then that I decided to phone tomorrow's hostel and see if they had space tonight, thinking I could go straight there. They did, and so I did, which added a few miles to my day's ride, but saved me a night of camping and opened up the opportunity to ride the big passes the next day without baggage. Straight to Grasmere and Thorney How Hostel it was, then, and just in time for the Bank Holiday weekend.
Lake district traffic jam at Grasmere
I'll pause then and post this, as I suspect it has rather got out of control, size wise, and will try and do the next bit in a another post. Well done for getting through to hear. I expect it was almost as tough as cycling it!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Geographically High, Psychologically Low

Ah what a comedy of errors I have in store for you today! This entry will cover the 72 miles from Llanberis to Coddington (near Chester), which seemed to have everything in them! Again, no photos, and the mappage is in about 5 bits for this day, so will take some surgery to stitch together when I have more time and a road map book! And now a monster day gets a monster write up! Before I get stuck in though, and because I have the resources at present, here is a calming photo to start us off;
Now, doesn't that make you feel better?
So, Monday it was, dawning dry in 'Beris, and I was on the road by 7.50 am. I had somehow misremembered that once I was out of the pass it would be a good, level day, hence the daft distance target. Little did I realise, until much, much later, that I had Monday and Tuesday confused in my mind. Monday was, in fact, destined to be quite hilly. Thinking one thing and getting another dished up - when the 'another' is a tougher deal! - really spoils the mood, I find.

I had thought that the ride out of the pass would be harder than the ride in on Saturday, but was pleasantly surprised to find that I'd battled my way to the top before I realised it. Well done, Legs, I thought, take the rest of the day off, it'll be  a doddle from here. Pah! Rubbish!!

I'd scheduled a short detour to Betws-y-Coed for first thing, to get the wobble taken out of my back wheel. A fast, largely downhill stage into town brought me in on target, and the local mountain bike hire shop sorted me out free and for gratis. Good blokes! It was as I was reloading the bike (second time today...keep an eye on that total!) that I realised I wasn't wearing my heart-rate monitor, which meant it was either deeply packed in a bag, or left at Dan and Ruth's. No prizes for guessing which. Text message sent, noting to be done but post it on if found. Shrug and continue with the 'easy'/long day. 60 miles or so to go...

Before leaving Betws-y, I indulged in a cooked breakfast (it was about 3 hours since first breakfast, you know), and shot off full of the joys of Spring in the mid-morning sun. The road was initially amazing, quiet etc, but got a bit steeper...until I turned on to a lane that just seemed almost vertical. Hmmm. Where was my 'level-ish' day? Perhaps this was the only other hill...

It went on this hill. And on. And then on some more, and was very steep, to the point of nearly causing me to stop and rest in my pushing. I reached the top...only to find it was a false top, and what do you know, the front tyre was suddenly flat! Small sharp grit is no longer my friend. Bags off, bike upside down, wheel off, tyre off, new tube in (old tube kept for repairs and spares), tyre back on, and now the clever bit! Previously, I'd used a CO2 cylinder to inflate a tyre and it didn't have quite enough push to get the required pressure. Being smarter than the average bear, I used the pump to largely inflate the tyre, before reaching for the CO2 to top it off. Not just a hat rack, my friends. Now, how does this thing work again? This bit screws on to the cylinder like this, and ..... PPPPSSSSSHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH...Bugger, the outlet valve had wound itself open in the bag! Who doesn't check that?? Well, me obviously. One cold, well aimed jet of CO2 to the groin later, and there wasn't enough left in the cylinder to do any good at all. I'm just glad the padding in my shorts was on the front line, let me tell you!

So, out with the hand pump again, and a very slow process to inflate as much as I dared, bearing in mind the last time I used this pump, I tore the valve off the tube (see Perranporth). Eventually, and after a chat with a concerned looking Welsh hill farmer, it was ready to go back on the bike. Bike upright, bags reloaded (third time), and on with the pushing...through the concerned Welsh hill farmer's yard, on up the road a bit, through a closed gate (huh?) on up an increasingly gnarly track (still pushing), out on to a different Welsh farmer's hillside, and on and on and on...Eventually, a quad bike came down the track with the other concerned and jovial Welsh hill farmer on it, and we chatted about stuff and I apologised for clearly not being in the right place, and he chuckled at the daft Englishman, and all was well.

EVENTUALLY, I hit the B-road and on I went at some speed, making up for about an hour of pushing for about 2 or 3 miles, still no sign of any level bits, and then a strange scraping noise. I stopped, checked the front, all OK, hadn't seemed to be coming from my rear (of the bike, obviously), so in went the clip, down went the pedal, and BANG!! like a gunshot, my back tyre exploded. Literally. The tube burst, and blew the tyre off the rim with the force. No idea why it should have done that, but I'm still trying to work out if the look on my face or the swearing that followed was most funny. Hind sight, eh? Lets you laugh at yourself from the safety of two days later!

So, bags off, bike upside down, back wheel off, tyre off (easy, it was mostly off already), shredded tube chucked in the hedge before conscience made me pack it away, last spare tube on, tyre....damaged. The rim of the tyre was slightly shredded, but with care it went back on, though clearly needed to be replaced as it was barely holding it together. I knew how it felt. Inflate....tyre bulging....deflate a bit...just enough...wheel back on, bike upright, bags loaded (fourth time), mobile out, fingers crossed for a signal...weak, but serviceable! A quick ask of Uncle Google, and Denbigh, 10 miles to the north-east, had a bike shop. I even called them to check it would be open.

Being cautious of the dodgy tyre, I wasn't able to speed to my destination, but made it eventually, and even accidentally went right to the shop...which was about as old-school a set up as you can imagine, with the 80-soemthing year old lady running her 84-year-old-and just-had-a-stroke-so-I'm-doing-it-now husband's cycle...kiosk, really, is all you could call it. She stood at a counter behind a glass window that slid open so she could talk to the customers! Spare tube in stock, but no tyres that fit (I just sold the last two I'm afraid...). Still, with some searching about, she found me an almost equally dodgy second hand, not at all reliable looking, but better than what I had tyre, and fixed me a cup of tea and a Club biscuit (yes, I DO like a lot of chocolate on my biscuit, thank you very much) while I sorted the change over. Bags off, bike upside-dow...I think you're getting the idea by now...

New-old tyre on, inflated with a borrowed stirrup pump from her shop window (the only modern looking thing in it!), bags on (fifth time today), and it was time to re-plot the course to my campsite. It was about 3pm by now, so I just let Garmin do what it wanted and find me the shortest route by this time (which was still about 35 miles or more), and once again it was off up hills and down them again until, at 7pm, I still had 16 miles to go.

I'd barely eaten all day, I realised. A small snack here, a dodgy Co-op wrap in Denbigh there, so this may explain why I was really struggling. I opted for an over-priced-but-did-I-care-nope-not-at-all (£1.50 for lime and soda!!) pub supper of pasta with a pate starter and apple crumble for dessert, that I couldn't finish, and set of for the final leg before it got dark.

Finally, at about 8.45, I rolled into the camp site. Dave the seasonal warden let me talk him into allowing me to just put my roll mat in the games room, as I really couldn't face battling my tent that evening, in the dark, only to wrestle it away, wet, a scant 9 hours later, then invited me to his awning for a cuppa. The kindness of strangers, eh?

I stayed and chatted with him and his wife as short as I could without seeming ungrateful, then made my excuses, went for a shower and turned in by about 10pm, feeling not at all enthusiastic about the 57-odd miles I'd have to do to get to Castleton the next day. But that is a shorter story, as is today's mission, so I'll leave things there and catch you up another time. Its half 8 and I'm ready for my bed!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Another Fine Mess I've Gotten Myself Into!

Day 10 Rhayader to Bala by SteveMcM at Garmin Connect - Details

OK, so for starters, sorry it's been a while - internet is harder to find than a road without soul crushing hills, it seems. Next, no photos this time, I'm afraid - no means to up load them :-( Thridly, due to my inability to operate my Garmin most effectively, I seem to have split many of the days into about 3 or 4 separate sections as far as these info-links go, so rather than post dozens of 'bits', I'll give you this one between Rhayader and Bala that seems to be in one piece, and try and get my act together for later. I may have to re-plot the bits into one big bit and then post it, but that will have to wait til I get a day off with a computer or after the ride, if any one is still interested by then! Also, I have lost/left behind my heart rate monitor in Llanberis, so there is not as much info in any case. Doh.

So to business. I'll try to be brief. The days seem to be blurring, much like my vision most of the time. I had a cracking spell coming off the Quantocks and getting up to Leckhampton (despite the rain), largely due to spending several nights in a row with various friends, and having a day off to boot. I also got to catch up with Dani, a friend from Canada, who caught a bus over to Cheltenham from London just to catch up during her flying visit to help her sister finish her fashion show. Huge thanks to Helen and Charlie (and Beth, Alice and Peter) for hosting both me and a complete stranger!

From Leckhampton, I went across to Wales, aiming to meet my parents on their canal boat in Llangattock for another luxury, social evening, and things went well there - tasty pub supper, gorgeous sunny evening in stunning countryside, not even a cross word from anyone! But it was after this that it got tough. The weather had been turning for a bit - most of the Wells to Leckhampton legs had been in the rain - and the morning I was due to leave the canal boat in Llangattock and go to Rhayader, it was actually hailing! I delayed as long as possible, being put off by the weather and the prospect of a run of hard days. The interruption of comfort in my Spartan routine had left me reluctant to get back on the road. I even tried convincing myself I'd stop early for the day in Brecon and service the bike, but when I got there I found the YHA was full of school children, so I had to keep going - even though it was already after 1pm and I still had 36 miles to go. I did find time to visit Bikes and Hikes, though, and the guys there were great, cleaning out the crud that had accumulated off the canal tow path (not quite as cyclable as it may have looked from the water!) and greasing up the chain - which probably all got smashed off by the second bout of hail of the day, which hit just as I was leaving town! The stretch of road from Brecon to Rhayader yielded my first Welsh Red Kites of the trip, which was a good addition to the day.

The Beili Nuadd bunk house in Rhayader was great, and the ride up to Bala was lovely. The weather was mostly holding now, and I followed some very remote hill roads which took me through some stunning countryside. I was finding my rhythm once more, it seemed, and at Bala the sunset did its bit to reassure me that all was well in the world after all, as did the Pied Flycather that distracted me at the camp site as I was readying myself to leave in the morning. The camp site owners did NOT help my sense of calm, by failing to charge my GPS as promised over night! I got it, and my phone back, almost devoid of any power a 8.30am, so the only option was a long breakfast in town to give them a chance to fill up a bit too!
Sunset at Bala Lake. This was just the start of it. It got so much better.
The hop from Bala to Llanberis and my next rest day (after 5 days of riding) was yet another majestic stretch of Welsh glory. As I neared Snowdon, I could see her hiding coyly behind a veil of clouds, perhaps snickering at what she thought she had in store for me. I was a little intimidated at the unknown, but apart from a strategic detour off the A-road just before the Llanberis pass road, which took me onto a long, gravelled, un-ridable farm track, she turned out to be far less scary than I'd expected. Despite a long and tiring week and a long and tiring push up the gravel track, I surprised myself by making it to the top of the Llanberis pass with not a push in sight (well, I could still see the push I'd just finished on the farm track, but you know what I mean).
The grave track - steeper than it looks (ask Ed - he understands these things).  The pass road to Llanberis goes over the big hill back left. Nice.
That evening I was able to catch up with Dan and Ruth Jackson over a beer or two, and with Sunday marked as a rest day, I watched some of the Slateman Triathlon (NOT tempted to join in the cycle, but did take advantage of the massage tent for competitors!), and I was able to get my bike lubed up again, and spot that the rear break was sticking and the wheel was out of true. One of Dan's mates dealt to the brakes, but the wonky wheel would need a side trip to Betws-y-Coed for a quick straightening on my way out of town on Monday. Sadly there was no internet around at the Jackon's as they'd just moved house, and Pete's Eats no longer had computers, so that part of the plan was scuppered.

I will leave it all hear for now, as Monday was a nightmare that never stopped and will take too long to go into now. Suffice to say I was at Betws-y-Coed before I realised I no longer had my heart-rate monitor, I had 2 punctures, trashed a tyre and was still on the road 12 hours after I started! My enthusiasm has taken a knock, but may just be on the rebound. I will try to write more tomorrow but, until we meet again, send positive thoughts my way, I am in need! 9pm has struck, and I must try and get some sleep. Hasta luego, amigos.

Monday, May 13, 2013

On the Levels

First order of business: I have stuck a few photos in the "Two Down, Too Much Up" entry, but none in the "Hairy Hands" one, and I have realised how few photos I have taken so far. I have yet to work out a good system for having the camera quickly to hand, what with waterproof bags and sheer exhaustion getting in the way of a creative moment, but I intend to sort that out soon, particularly as I am regretting the lack of visual evidence of my trip. That said, there will be two photos in this entry. Aren't you lucky?

I'm not sure exactly when I left Cornwall and entered Devon. It must have been around Tavistock of course, but I missed the signs. I hadn't realised what a difference leaving Cornwall behind would make to the riding I faced, but let me tell you, things have been getting easier.

On the one hand, it was sad to leave behind the friendly little villages, the tiny lanes with ramshackle farms which suggest you would either be welcomed in like a prodigal son, or welcomed in like a prodigal son before you become the star in a shotgun wedding, or your face got made in to a mask. This kind of thing happens, I've seen it on the telly...

Dartmoor, as I have said, was a breeze, quite literally. Exmoor, however, proved to be a whole other kettle of fish. For a start, I faced a 63 mile day around to the Quantock Hills, a distance which in itself was a tad daunting. The wind had dropped a little (a good thing), but shifted, and not in my favour (a bad thing), and there were some horrendously steep sections en route. Despite (or maybe because of) powering across Dartmoor the day before, I left Moretonhampstead feeling a bit weary, and this wasn't helped by the long, relentless climb out of the village right at the start of the day. Nothing like an energy sapper just before a 60 odd mile ride!
The road to nowhere...or everywhere?
After that climb, things settled in quite well, though. I stuck to my 'hour on, 10 minutes off' routine, and even slipped in an opportunistic break in a tiny village hall which was advertising a coffee morning! I joined the senior village reps for a mug of tea and a custard cream for 20 minutes, which took the chill off, and then trundled on to Dulverton. As I crossed one of the big A-roads, I spotted a greasy spoon cafe which, at 11.30am and after 4 hours of riding, was life saver! One plate of sausage, beans, bacon eggs and toast later and I was feeling energised again - which was just as well because Dulverton was on the edge of Exmoor, and had a run of steep surprises in stall for me!

I thought I'd left the soul-destroying climbs behind in Cornwall, but it seems there were a few left over in Somerset, courtesy of Exmoor, and it seemed like I'd managed to find them all simply by choosing the smaller lanes! Thankfully, at the bottom of one and just before the next, I found a tea rooms and a huge piece of dense fruit cake, that kept me ticking over til I made it to the top of the last big climb. Once there, it was mostly downhill to my campsite although, as my GPS had been misbehaving, I was convinced I still had 9 miles to go even as I was approaching the campsite!

I wish I could find more to say about the daily rides, but these first few days have been a massive struggle due to the terrain and my lack of match fitness. The hills take so much effort to get up, and the downhills are over so quickly, that I haven't had time to look about and take much in.

Since leaving the moors, however, I have discovered that it is, in fact, possible to ride at a consistent speed and find a rhythm. It was tough moving at 6mph upwards for ages, then 40mph down for the blink of an eye, with no benefit from momentum. Once I got over the Quantocks on Saturday, however, I found the roads more gently undulating, which allowed me to build up some speed and maintain it. Cruising at about 18mph is much more rewarding and, indeed, effortless (despite the constant pedaling it requires), than slogging away up hill just to have the down hill speed sapped by the next hill. Suddenly, after struggling to finish 40 odd miles in 8 hours, I was knocking off 50 odd in 4 1/2 hours! Even with the first touch of rain for the trip, cruising along the Somerset Levels was purely enjoyable. The only thing missing was the wildlife I'd been hoping to see, but which was hiding from the rain. Sensible wildlife.

I'd hoped to have company on Sunday, for at least part of the ride from Wells to Thornbury, via Cheddar Gorge. Mark Lavis - he who got me started on this with his invitation to the Alps in August - had said he'd join me for the morning, but during a frankly show-offy 80 mile training ride he did on Saturday, he 'broke' his back wheel. If he didn't think he could manage another ride, he should have just said. Nonetheless, I soldiered on, and Somerset once again proved lovely to ride through. I have spent a lot of time in these parts over many years, and it was nice to be riding through familiar landscapes. All of the UK is familiar, of course, but this part felt more homey.
The bottom of the gorge. Two bends later and I had to have a push.
Cheddar Gorge was one of 2 challenges for the day, which I was enthusiastic about when I plotted them in, but was having second thoughts about now, with aching legs and the thought that I could easily have found a flatter way! As it turned out, there was one very short section on an early hairpin bend that proved too steep for me, but after that, I stormed up the rest of it at a very respectable pace for one loaded down. A screamingly fast down hill towards Chew Magna Lake cost me my back light, when it was dislodged by a rough bit of road. Rather it than me, and I didn't even bother going back to look for it.

The last biggie of the day was the road up to High Ham - a treat I put in out of a misguided sense of nostalgia. As kids, we would go to Ham Hills and run about and get exhausted, so I plotted in this detour, and once again almost regretted it. Pedwell Hill was long and tiring, but ultimately not too steep to beat, and I felt pleased I'd not chickened out of it. From there, it was an enjoyable level-ish ride around the bottom of Bristol, through some rural tracts and up to Thornbury, where I am taking my second, harder-earned rest day of the trip. Tomorrow will be a short hop to Cheltenham, before I embark once more on the some challenging ground as I head to Wales. The Brecons are beckoning, and Snowdonia is thumbing its nose. I know who my money is on, and I hope yours is too! Thanks once again for all the donations - the running total is £600 or so, about 38% of the total. Keep on spreading the word, you've been great :-)

And now I must eat something. Its at least an hour since a large breakfast, and I'm starving again already!

Day 6 Wells to Thornbury by SteveMcM at Garmin Connect - Details

Day 6 Wells to Thornbury by SteveMcM at Garmin Connect - Details

The current triumph! Got a day off tomorrow to let my legs recover a bit. Stand by for some proper accounts of the last few days :-)

Day 5 Quantock Orchard to Wells by SteveMcM at Garmin Connect - Details

Day 5 Quantock Orchard to Wells by SteveMcM at Garmin Connect - Details

The first day I realised that not all of the UK is as steep as Cornwall...just large parts of it...that I'll be going through...

Day 4 Moretonhampstead to Quantock Orchard Camp by SteveMcM at Garmin Connect - Details

Day 4 Moretonhampstead to Quantock Orchard Camp by SteveMcM at Garmin Connect - Details

Exmoor was a stinker of a day - bad wind (not me!) and steep hills. Beat it in the end though.

Day 3 Liskeard to Moretonhampstead by SteveMcM at Garmin Connect - Details

Day 3 Liskeard to Moretonhampstead by SteveMcM at Garmin Connect - Details

The tail wind of my dreams swept me over the rugged terrain of Dartmoor!

Day 2 part 2 Padstow to Liskeard by SteveMcM at Garmin Connect - Details

Day 2 part 2 Padstow to Liskeard by SteveMcM at Garmin Connect - Details

Second half of the second day. Bodmin Moor was a bit tricky towards the end...

Day 2 part 1 Perranporth to Padstow by SteveMcM at Garmin Connect - Details

Day 2 part 1 Perranporth to Padstow by SteveMcM at Garmin Connect - Details

This is the first half of the second day. I stopped in Padstow for about an hour while I waited for the tide to turn for the ferry nd to have some lunch. Even cycllists need to eat...

Day 1 - Land's End to Perranporth by SteveMcM at Garmin Connect - Details

Day 1 - Land's End to Perranporth by SteveMcM at Garmin Connect - Details

Now you've done it. Blame Giles Birch for this - he asked if there was anyway to see the route I was riding, so I've worked out how to link across to my GPS site. This should (I hope) give you not only the daily routes (as I upload them) but also lots of interesting stats, like hill profiles, speeds, cadences and such like. I have been suffering a few tchnical glitches with my satnav, by the way. It is behaving in as much as it is showing me the roads I plotted in with no problems (any errors or poor road choices therefore are down to me, unfortunately), but at random periods of the day, the speedometer function seems to crash, and it stops recording speed and distance travelled.

I can insert the correct distance (as per the planned route), but the graphs may show periods of 0 mph but ground covered. This NOT, and will NEVER be, because I have thrown the bike on the back of a lorry! It bugs the cr*p  out of me though because, as was the case on Thursday, the distance led me to believe I still had a demoralising 9 miles to ride, despite feeling wiped out, when suddenly the campsite appeared! That was no bad thing in itself, but it is dispiriting to see the distance not advancing as far as I thought I had earned.

Never mind, I've spotted the problem now so it will surprise me less. I hope... I'll fire the first 6 day's riding up one after the other just now, and write a longer entry plus some photos tomorrow. Time to ice my knees....

Friday, May 10, 2013

"Beware the Hairy Hands of Bodmin!"

It was with these words that Mike bid me farewell this morning...and I couldn't help wondering if the man-hug I received was a little tighter than one might have expected...almost as if the mysterious "hairy hands" would see the end of me.

Perhaps I should explain. There is a legend among the locals who live on the fringes of Bodmin Moor that tells of people who have been driving across the moor, and felt a strange, hairy grip on their hands on the steering wheel, just prior to them swerving across the road, often resulting in an accident of some kind. Could it be a lost soul trying to get home? Some prehistoric spirit objecting to noisy cars in his/her final resting place? Or perhaps its just a  strong gust of wind or what drunk blokes tell their partners after they've driven home from a remote pub to explain away the dents in the bumpers.... (it brings to mind Lord Percy's tale of how his uncle disappeared mysteriously, along with his house and all his belongings...on the night of the Great Fire of London...)

Anyhoo, I have to say, with weather forecasts predicting 65mph winds and heavy rain by midday, and with 40 miles or so ahead of me, I was almost tempted to bludge another rest day at Mike's, but this would have been soft and delaying the inevitable first bad-weather ride, not to mention putting me behind schedule after just 2 days of riding, so I kitted up, got the bike loaded and hit the road at a very punctual 7.45 am.

Once again, the bike was running smoothly - but no thanks to me, it transpired. It had developed an intermittent click on Tuesday, and the back tyre had looked a bit soft after I'd had to change the tube at the start of Tuesday's ride (because I bust the valve trying to pump up it up). I dropped it in to the local bike shop in Liskeard, and the bloke couldn't find a reason for the click other than the end of a stray gear change cable hitting the pedal each circuit (doh!), but he did notice the break pads were poorly positioned - actually half on the rubber of the tyre. As he adjusted them, he asked if I'd had the wheel off for any reason, to which of course I could say yes, I'd had to change the tube. Turns out, I'd not put the wheel back on properly, and ridden the whole way from Perranporth to Liskeard with wheel half out of its mounting and the rear brake pads rubbing on the tyre! No wonder it had been a bit tricky braking in places, and quite frankly I'm amazed I didn't trash the tyre, the bike or me, but he put things right, advised me on how to do it better next time, and only charged me a fiver! Result!

So, Dartmoor beckoned, wheels were on straight and true, and thank whoever it is you thank for these things, the wind was in my back for the first time since I started. I'd been annoyed that whoever had suggested I go south to north on this ride to benefit from the prevailing SW winds had been proved totally wrong all the way up the coast, but today, with strong gusty winds in play, they were in the perfect direction to help me up the hills. I'd looked at the hill profile of my route and was fairly sure I'd be forced to push at some point, most likely either leaving Liskeard, or leaving Tavistock up on to Dartmoor.

The legs were working well though, and with the bonus of the wind, I pushed on through every hill, and was actually rather proud of myself for not caving in. Looks like I may be growing that pair (of strong legs) that Ed encouraged me to grow! Up on the top of Dartmoor, the road was fantastic, and I cruised along making excellent time, only occasionally getting a speed wobble as a stray gust of wind caught me on a fast downhill (today's top speed: 44.9 mph, for the stat-watchers!). Towards the end of the ride as I approached Moretonhampstead, a couple of switch backs and  sheltered stretch made it abundantly clear just how much help the wind had been, and how unpleasant it would have been blowing the other way, so I thanked my lucky stars again, and touched down at 1215, far earlier than anticipated.

I toyed with making hay, maybe taking a bite out of tomorrow's 63 miles, while the rain held off, but lacking a signal for satnav plotting, I was unable to find out if any sleeping places were a sensible distance away. Instead, I accepted the good time, and chose to stay in the very nice camping barn and enjoy the well earned rest. It will most likely be raining all day tomorrow, and things will go far slower, so maybe resting up is the best plan after all!

Although I am by no means past the worst of the hills, today was the first day I both felt an improvement in my riding, and enjoyed the hills (no doubt thanks largely to the wind), but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel indicating that things will get better as my fitness goes up, and that was reassuring. It was beautiful riding across Dartmoor, with its windswept character, and I can only look forward to the time when I feel more able to stop and smell the roses, so to speak, en route. Its been a bit about just surviving the riding to date, but I sense that things are changing for the better :-)

Continued thanks to all who have donated, your generosity has got the numbers ticking over far faster than I'd expected,  but I should point out that I have hit up everyone I know for cash, so either you all will have to find the rest yourselves to reach the target, or you're going to have to start encouraging more people to pick up the short fall! You have all been great so far. I know you can do it :-) Photos are coming, I promise, but until then, keep 'em crossed for tailwinds and no rain!

Over and out for now.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Two Down,but Soooo Much Up!

Crikey. And 'Gulp!' So, this cycling lark then...bit tougher than I thought it would be...lots of hills that go up, it seems. I went at it with gusto on Sunday, as I pedaled out of Penzance and straight out up a ridiculously steep hill that (I'm not afraid to admit) had me pushing the bike for a few metres there. Say what you like, you weren't there doing it, so don't judge me :-)

My bike was in fine shape, thanks to Lewis at Woods Cycles in Headcorn. After a first trial pack the day before the off, I discovered I was far too heavily weighted in the back end (oh, please. Behave yourselves!). This resulted in an emergency Saturday morning operation at the shop, jumping the queues of other customers, to get Lewis to bodge a rear rack on to the front of my bike to share the load a bit. I actually found this makeshift addition very reassuring, and more in tune with my style of doing things. Now, with the load spread better over both wheels, there was less chance of me coming a cropper on the steep up hills.

I got the train to London, walked the bike across town and made the connecting train to Penzance by the skin of my teeth. Five hours later and I was changing clothes on the platform and making sure things were securely tied on (to the bike rack. Come on people, minds out of the gutter, please).
A sunny Cornish evening, and an already pooped cyclist!
It was only 10 miles over to St Just, and a beautiful sunny afternoon, and even with the near-coronary-invoking hills, I was very excited to be underway. I got to St Just and my campsite for the night, in the garden of the YHA, in plenty of time to 'pop over' to Land's End that evening, if I felt like it. I decided I did feel like it, as this was often a strategy that people used - officially starting their ride in the evening, stopping the night and carrying on proper the next day. Of course, it was 3.5 miles out and the same back, so by the time that was done, it was a 17 mile day, with a biggie lined up in the morning.

Come morning, and my conscience got the better of me. I'd done the previous evening's Land's End visit without my luggage, which I felt might be seen as cheating, so I went back out fully loaded, adding an extra 3.5 miles to the official day's total, later on regretting the bravado of this decision, as the day's hills took their toll.
847 miles by the sign, 1603 miles by my route. Bring it on!
I was going to Perranporth on the first day, about 42 miles away (45 odd with the extra bit at the start), hugging the coastal B-roads as much as I could, and quickly learning that every down hill was paid for twice - the climb to get to it, and the climb out afterwards. This was a shame, as each downhill pretty much brought me into another gorgeous seaside village, each of which I increasingly resented, as to visit each one resulted in a ridiculous climb out afterwards! I quickly grew to dread the downs as much as the ups!

Soldiering on, my cycling strategy for the first day was off kilter a bit. I was riding as though (a) I wasn't carrying an extra 25-odd kg of kit, and (b) was out on a one-off training style ride, with nothing to do tomorrow. I wasn't drinking enough, having enough rest breaks or topping up my calories either, so by the end of the day I was pretty wiped out. Still, the view at Perranporth was amazing from the cliff-top YHA, and just about made up for it. It also gave me time to review my strategy, and adjust my food and water needs for the next leg.

Day 2 was a 50-miler to Liskeard via Padstow, so started the day continuing up the coast. I kept humming the 1980's tune by Musical Youth (be honest, you remember them) as I "passed the Duchy 'pon the left hand side". Now THAT is a good pun by anyone standards, especially in light of the physical activity I was submitting myself to! I made a point of stopping for a 10 minute rest every 10 miles or hour of riding, give or take a good place to stop, and this helped a lot with keeping energy levels up. Padstow marked the almost exact halfway mark and lunch, so by the time I was delivered across the bay  by the wee ferry, I was suitably refreshed and ready to tackle the second 25 miles across Bodmin Moor to Liskeard.

Despite my breaks and efforts to keep up with fluids and food, I was seriously flagging as the afternoon wore on. Bodmin Moor is not flat, and after slogging up several long and almost never-ending slopes, or other short and viciously steep hills, I found I was forced off the bike more and more often. I eventually gave up feeling too bad about pushing the bike up some of the worst hill, as I knew the alternative was to not progress any further. I am interested to see how my fitness and strength improve over the coming days and weeks, and hopefully find I will be able beat more of the hills than beat me.

I've taken a rest day today (already! What am I like?!) mostly to catch up with an old college mate from Writtle who I've not seen in 11 years, but also to rest the legs a bit, as they are certainly not used to the kind of thrashing I've just given them. Tomorrow I have a 40 miler out to the eastern edge of Dartmoor, so lots more lovely climbs to  come! I will endeavour to throw some photos into the blog by the end of the weekend, and see if I can work out a link to a map to show my route...not to mention add in some statistics, so check back soon, and in the meantime, thanks to everyone who has donated, and please, please tell more people! Every little helps and, trust me, I'm earning every penny!

That's it for now, more soon, thanks for tuning in :-) 

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

And He's Under Starter's Orders...Again....

What can you say to someone who invites you on a cycling holiday in France? Of course, what you should say is "what's the catch?" (especially when the person asking is Mark Lavis, a 'friend' notorious for turning a "short run" into a half marathon, cross-country), but that somehow seemed a little rude. So I said "Sure, sounds great, just give me the dates and I'll book it". Then he delivered the catch.

The trip I somewhat impulsively signed up for, it turns out, is 5 days of riding from Geneva to Nice, over the Alps. Now, even with my limited geography, I'd say that is likely to include some hills. Also, I have a feeling its quite a long way. So, my idea of a scenic trundle along side some babbling brooks and meadows, with a few cloud-topped mountains in the distance is, in fact, going to be five, 80ish mile days, each with about 3500m of climbing. This, I was told for perspective, will be equivalent to climbing Everest twice.

Well, stubborn pride would not let me bluster my way out of the trip, so instead I looked for a way to train for it, given that I have not ridden a bike any significant distance for about 7 years, if ever, and even I am not daft enough to tackle one of the toughest sections of the Tour de France without a bit of preparation.

Obviously, I could ride out from home and cover some miles that way, doing loops and circuits of my local area. Alternatively (and given that I am out of work having just returned to the UK from NZ after 10 years, and won't be starting my Osteopathy Masters until September), I had some time to kill, so decided to make the training into a charity fund-raising opportunity.

And so was born the Land's End to John O'Groats (LEJOG) "Gimme 5 (pounds)" Tour.

Now, I was a little surprised at how many people join groups and do this ride every year for charities (and good on them, too), and the option was there for me to join a group and be flogged for 10-14 days down the A-roads of Britain for 1000 miles. A trip like that, though, would need training for, and training was the purpose of my ride. Instead, I plotted my own route - 60% further than the standard one - that will take me through the highest parts of the country I could find, and thus give me plenty of hill practice.

I have chosen Barnardo's as my charity, partly because I know someone that works for them, and partly because I recognise that while I am getting a chance to pursue yet another career, many kids out there struggle to get even one chance. Barnardo's work with kids regardless of their gender, race or disability to try and close the gaps through which they may be falling, and give them a chance to realise their potential. If I can help them even a little, by getting people to hand over a small amount of money to their cause, then that will be a Good Thing, and all those who helped by pedaling (me) or donating (you) will know they have done something of which they can feel proud.

So, to the nitty gritty. There is link on the right side of this blog page that will take you to a JustGiving donation page, which is a secure and easy way to donate money. If you know me or meet me on the way, please feel free to hand me cash, and I will see it safely to Barnardo's, but I'm sure we'd all feel better if it all happened on line. For one thing, I won't have much space to carry a secure cashbox on my bike...

Thank you for your support.

I'll leave you with a brief run-down of my trip, and then future blogs will elaborate on the details. I'll be starting on Monday 5th May at Land's End and finishing 1603.81 miles later in John O'Groats. I have 29 'legs' plotted out, ranging from around 30 miles up to 82 miles, but mostly around the 50-60 miles distance, each to be completed in a day. There will be occasional rest days (either forced by weather or physical necessity), so I hope to get to John O'Groats by about the June 10th. Some judicious zig-zagging will take me through Dartmoor, Exmoor, the Brecon Beacons, Snowdonia, the Peak District, the Yorkshire Dales, the Lake District, Northumberland National Park, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, and the Cairngorms. I will try and work out a link to Google Maps to show the exact route.

How much you choose to donate is entirely up to you, of course, but I'd like to just draw attention to some simple maths: 1p/mile would be £16.04. Which seems very fair to me.

Finally for this first blog update, but perhaps most importantly from the fundraising perspective, how much you are able to donate yourself is almost secondary to how much you could help raise on my behalf, by telling friends, family and work colleagues about my ride and directing them to either the blog or the JustGiving page. I appreciate that times are hard, and Comic Relief has only just been on the telly, but the more people who know, the more can choose to donate. And, if anyone out there wishes they could do something similar but just doesn't have the time due to family or work commitments, this is how you can do your bit.  Thank you.