Friday, 13 June 2008

The Proof!

All of a sudden the legs don't hurt and the sun is shining...

Almost two weeks later and things are starting to return to normal once again, such as sleep patterns and day to day routines. There are a few reminders though; my left hand still doesn't quite work like its supposed to (but its much better than it was!). I have a bike with both wheels in for "repair". Chris still hasn't been able to run yet due to muscular soreness - although with rest this should heal.

... I don't know how uncomfortable sitting on a bike again will be yet - but somehow it could never be as painful on a regular ride as it was on day 8!

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Day 8 - The Champagne Leg!

Now when we booked our accommodation for the Inverness Youth Hostel it was “probably the best hostel in Scotland” … I think that they were being a sarcastic. We shared our dorm with a couple of snoring Poles in a hot stuffy room – to be honest though we still slept for most of the night after Day 7’s exhilaration.

So we were back in the saddle for one final push from Dingwall on to John O’Groats. As we walked out of the hostel I had a bit of a chat with a couple heading out on their bikes…the incredulous look from them when we said we were going all the way to JOG said it all.

So we headed off on the long road North East. Now for some reason today hurt a lot more than previous days – psychologically I suppose we must have relaxed and the mind had stopped blocking out all of the pain. Now when I say pain I don’t mean tired legs and limbs - we‘ve had them since day one…what I mean is sore backs from bending over the bikes all day, sore necks, creaking knees – but the most acute pains shot up through the saddle and took the form of an incessant reminder of every one of the lumps on the road. Oh for a bit of smooth road! What’s more, both Paul and I still hadn’t regained the use of our left hands – which meant any gear changes required a look over the shoulder and two hands on the left gear lever whilst the bike veered across the road and the chain clunked onto the big cog and control was regained once more… But what kept us going through all the hardship was balls of steel.

We pressed on through gritted teeth and before too long we were teased with signs for JOG – the fist one at 104 miles was met with whoops of joy!. With about 80 miles left on the clock we stopped for a quick feed with the girls before pressing on to break the back of the day – over the bridge over the Dornoch Firth and along the coast line grinding out the miles. We were lucky with the weather today and apart from a headwind the sun was shining all day. Out past the spectacular Dunbrobin Castle and along the A9.

By now the views were getting dramatic looking out across the North Sea on our right and the rolling yellow flowering gorse bushes which spread across the rolling grassy banks. After another few hours and a couple of harsh unexpected 15% climbs around the coastline we rolled into our last proper stop of the trip and a picnic in the sun to recharge the batteries one final time. Becky and Natalie were a sight for sore eyes with soup and flapjack from a clifftop with spectacular views.

The last 40 miles passed steadily – and mile by mile the end drew nearer. Normally by this stage we would be tanking along to make the end of the day but by this point we hand plenty of time in hand as there were no mountain ranges or big hills to conquer so we made it in up over the last rise and down into John O Groats for our welcoming committee of Becky, Natalie, Mark and Helen (honeymooning from Chris’s office!). I’m glad we don’t have to wash our kit for tomorrow as the champagne may have been a bit sticky mess! This was all followed by the compulsory photos at the sign post thanks to Mark and the comforting sense that we wouldn’t have to sit on our saddles again tomorrow…

Tonight’s celebratory meal included a delicious “Stack of Haggis”, locally sourced smoked salmon and hake- washed down by some wine, beer and a couple of wee drams of the local whisky as nothing else would seem more appropriate. When we started to fall asleep at the table we retired to our homely B&B.

Saturday, 31 May 2008

Day 7 - Loch Lomond to Dingwall

We spent the night at Ardlui Hotel, situated at the North end of Loch Lomond. The view of the lake was stunning.

After a superb full Scottish breakfast with porridge and everything, we collected our bikes from where the hotel manager had locked them up for the night. We then made preparations for the day ahead. This usually involved a smothering of Assos cream (for your sore bits), mixing the drinks bottles with energy powder and distributing the energy bars we ate to keep us going.

There was a really long and sharp climb out from Loch Lomond. The highlight of the day was passing Glen Coe wich was breath-taking. We climbed over 1000ft then had the pleasure of coasting all of the way down to the bottom. Andy and I lost Paul on the climb but he soon caught us up by slip streaming a caravan!

Natalie flew to Inverness and caught the train over to Drummendroichit where Becky picked her up. We all met up at Loch Ness then carried on our way to Dingwall.

When we reached Dingwall we met with Becky and Natalie then drove to Inverness where we planned to stay the night at the Youth hostel there.

Friday, 30 May 2008

Day 6 - Dumfries to Loch Lomond

The weather finally changed for the better today. Knowing that we had broken the back of the ride we were feeling pretty pleased with ourselves but cautious that we had a long ride yet before reaching John O'Groats.

I think that the Scottish countryside is stunning. I have little recollection of Scotland since my parents took me as a child. I vaguely remember lots of castles and complaining alot about the long drive from South Wales.

From leaving Dumfries we followed a cycle route through the hills. This was a welcome break from the dual carriageways we had been navigating.

On route we visited a Drumarrig castle. After getting a lady at the
he castle to take a picture of us outside the castle, she said that we must visit "Riks bike museum." The duke who owned the castle had helped Rik fund the mountain bike trails around there. The mountain bike there are for all abilities, you can even hire a bike and get lessons there.

Paul's spoke snapped about 25 miles from Kilmarnock, we were lucky that we had Becky to call on. When she arrived in "the beast" we managed to switch Paul's broken wheel for one on Becky's bike. Becky was able to take the broken wheel to a bike shop called "Walkers" in Kilmarnook.

When we arrived in Kilmarnook, Becky was sat outside the pub having a drink. It was her birthday after all! The people in Walkers were very welcoming. The lady in the shop made us a cup of tea because she knew how hard the trip was since she did it with her husband on a tandem in 1996.

We got a bit lost around Glasgow and a helpful chap on a bike took us out of his way along the urban cycle paths, to get us back in the right direction. He even made a donation for the cause. He was a really kind chap and if we ever get his name I'd like to thank him again for helping us out.

The last stretch to Loch Lomand seemed to take forever. The lake was breathtaking which helped me take my mind off my knees. I recommend a mountain bike if you take these roads as they were terrible. After all of the mishaps with the bike and getting lost, this was the longest day of cycling we had done so far. We arrived at the hotel at 8:45pm, just short of a 12 hour day in the saddle.

Pictures to follow!

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Day 5 - Kirkby Lonsdale to Dumfries

Just woken up in Kirkby with sore everything! The rain and wind seems to have followed us up the country but we are in good spirits.

Better had get on with breakfast.

Kirby Lonsdale to Kirby Stephens was a beautiful undulating ride through the countryside. We took the ride relatively easy because at this point our knees and quadriceps had been burning from the ride.

We passed Hadrian's wall although we didn't get to see it then made our way through Longtown to meet Becky for a soup stop which had become acustomed to.

A short ride later and we were through the Scottish border and Gretna Green. Dumfries was a bit of a rough ride and Paul picked up the first puncture of the trip just a couple of miles away from where Becky was going to meet us

We all stayed in Mabie forest bunkhouse which is an excellent place to stay especially if you like mountain biking. The bunkhouse was run by Pam and Geoff who decided on a career change and took over the bunkhouse 2 years ago. They made some slight improvements, a sauna and a hot tub supplied by a spring in the forest.

Once we had unloaded that van and used the facilities, Pam cooked us a great lasagna for dinner then we bedded down for the night.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Day 2,3 and 4

Day 2.
The rain and wind woke most of us up that night. The other people were woken up by Andy W’s snoring. It was so bad that John got up in the middle of the night and went to find a different bed!

Conditions in Dartmoor were thick with mist and rain. I had to really take it easy costing down the hills for fear of sliding off the road.

Later that day once the rain had cleared up and the sun came out, for all of 5 minutes, we passed the same 2 lads in the garish orange t-shirts we saw on day 1. After climbing a really big hill, I pulled in for a quick drink when one of the lads stopped by us. He was doing Lejog also and was waiting for his friend to catch up because he had a slow puncture and had to keep pumping up his tyre every 15 mintutes. When John asked why he didn't just change the innter tube the lad replied that they didn't have any! Andy Q gave him a spare tube and some food too(they didn't have any left) and wished them well. Hats off to the lads, they were doing lejog raw, in 10 days, with no back up, no food and no spare inner tubes!

We extended the cycle a bit more that day so that we didn't have to drive back into Bristol city centre the following morning. We pulled into a pub and waited for Andy to take us to Cardiff where we would be staying with my mum.

On day 3
It was really great to see my mum and sample some of her home cooking. Needless to say we all ate really well that night.

We packed our bags and drove back from Cardiff to where we finished up yesterday, somewhere just outside of Bristol (Andy W will have it written down). The weather started bad and got worse. The rain and wind was hitting us straight on and was really impacting our progress. On average we were doing about 21km per hour. It was a case of heads down and tuck in behind each other to get out of the wind.

After a few hours the rain eased off and we all started to enjoy ourselves again. We passed through Button Oak which was a really beautiful forest on our way to Ironbridge. Ironbridge is incidentally named after the Ironbridge which was built there which kicked off the industrial revolution in the mid 17th century. We all stopped on the bridge to have a photo taken on until Konrad pointed out that the “Ironbridge” was 300 years old. Just at that moment Paulette and Steve (Andy Q’s parents) turned up and bought us all dinner.

After an excellent dinner at the local pub near to the youth hostel we were staying at, we said goodbye to Andy’s parents and soon after Dawn, who had come to take John and Konrad back to Manchester.

Day 4 - Ironbridge to Kirkby Lonsdale.
Andy and I had already done most of this route in a previous training ride so we were confident we could make it. We really pressed on today and made good time to Warrington.

Andy W was leaving us half way through the route and we were without support for a few hours until we met Becky. Andy did a fantastic job looking after all of us and getting that temperamental minibus working again. Without him I would have probably been still walking around Penzance trying to find a place to get my bike fixed. The ride through Warrington was long and tedious due to the thousands of round about there. We were glad to get past there.

We made it through and met up with Andy W’s parents – Joe and Paula. They had brought us tea and biscuits to keep us going and cheered us on.

The ride to Kirkby Lonsdale was stunning, I think it had the best scenery of all of the places we had been. My knees were playing up at this point and I was in a bit of pain so we eased up and and took it steady into Kirkby. When we arrived Becky was there in “the beast,” a large 4x4 which Lex donated to us for the remainder of the trip, complete with balloons and champagne celebrating the half way point in our trip. Jo (Becky's mum) cooked us the most amazing dinner. I think she said it was a South African dish called 'Bobotie'.

Driver update, days 3 and 4

Okay, the guys are so knackered each night that it's up to me to put something here to show the world what's happening!

Day three (Monday 26th May) was a tough one. The wind was gusting gale force and the rain coming down like stair rods. Morale dropped because of this; I think the "it's a new adventure" feeling was wearing off and cold reallity setting in.

Here's a pic of the start at Bristol - just outside The Swan pub at Almondsbury:

The minibus only cut out a few times and the accelerator stuck just now and again so things were looking okay. Most annoying was the squeaky clutch!

The pace was good considering the weather and the guys just got on with cycling into the northerly wind. Faces were reddened and clothes soggy, but determination drove them forward. I sourced some soup for lunch which I warmed on the gas stove to keep up spirits. Here they are, huddling in the back of the bus (with soup):

During the day I liaised with Andy's parents and Dawn (John's girlfriend) to arrange meeting up for dinner - which we did in Ironbridge. We had a lovely restful evening, good grub and a few beers.

Sadly, this was where we saw Konrad and John leave us (work commitments) and we were down to just three cyclists.

Day 4 (Tuesday) saw us depart from Ironbridge. After a quick photo, we headed up via Whitchurch up the A49. Stopping briefly for a brew in Sandiway with my parents, I left the guys to cycle on up through Warrington (while I sourced lunch) and met again at Newton-le-Willows. This was to be our last meeting - I then returned the minibus and handed the mantle over to Becky (Andy's girlfriend) to assist these brave chaps on the second half of their journey.

At this point, I'd like to add that I'm sorry to be missing the rest of the journey but I wish Chris, Andy and Paul a safe run to the end. Look after them, Becky!

(Oh, and Chris, how much will you put to charity for me NOT to publish THAT photo of you being massaged?)

Andy the driver