This is the first post of our guest blog series. We’d like to share with you Callum’s nine-day diary who, along with a team of friends, cycled from Land’s End to John O’Groats over Easter this year to raise money for charity. A grueling ride that really tested their endurance, the team that rode this challenge were; Jack, Tora, Mark, Janice, James, Barry & Callum. Without further ado, this is their story…
What a first day! Where to start? The morning started off with a hunt for a missing wheel spindle nut, great practice for the Easter egg hunt on Sunday. After that, as every good hobbit knows, the perfect day always starts with a second breakfast!
When we got to the end of land we stopped in the sunshine, took various photos and were perplexed as to why the main sign was missing? Little did we know they charge £10 for 1 photo with the main sign. Outrageous!
We covered 112 miles and climbed over 9000ft, Cornwall gave us the hilliest day of our entire adventure. The first 6 hours of riding we were treated to better than expected weather, however that soon changed when the last 45 minutes of our ride we encountered a full-frontal assault of face stinging snow.
Now it’s time to rest our weary heads and pray to the cycling gods that our legs are fully recovered by the morning. Day 2 we’re coming for you!!!
This morning when we drew back the curtains we were met with grim grey skies and lashing rain. Needless to say, breakfast this morning was a more subdued affair.
113 miles with 7000ft of climbing day 2 was due to be another long hard hilly slog! As hard as the day was, we were treated to some amazing scenery. Rolling through the Devonshire hills and into Somerset we were able to see the Severn estuary and climbed one of the top climbs in the UK, Cheddar Gorge! An amazing winding climb cut through the hills, towering limestone cliffs on either side!
Sadly, we did lose our lead navigator and best domestique. Jack came down with a sickness bug at the end of day one and valiantly fought his way through the first 20 miles of today. Unfortunately, he had to succumb to the inevitable and instead took up the role of director sportive. Providing support and encouragement for us along the route. The good news is that he is feeling better already and will be lining up with the rest of us tomorrow morning.
Now time to smash as much food as possible and enter food coma’s back at the hotel!
Happy Easter everyone!! Today we treated ourselves to a well-deserved ‘rest day’… well… our one and only day with less than 100 miles to complete.
The morning started off with a stunning sunshine filled view of the river whilst we filled our bellies with breakfast. Cycling over the River Severn and into Wales was certainly the highlight of the day. Our trip to Wales was short lived and within a few miles, we were back in England.
We set ourselves the perfect carrot on a stick with an Easter cream egg pit stop just 10 miles from home. Thank you, Zena, for providing the eggs and encouragement.
Getting to the BnB nice and early after a shorter day was a welcome reprieve from the mental drain of late evening finishes. The legs are certainly starting to feel the strain, the average speed is reducing and the need to have a word with ourselves and to tell the legs to shut up has increased. I’m sure you’ll all also be glad to hear that Jack managed to cycle with us for the whole day!
Well, day 4… what can I say… it was the cycling equivalent to going the full 12 rounds with Anthony Joshua.
113 miles of torrential rain and freezing cold temperatures. There wasn’t a single square centimeter of dry on any of us.
When we were down and out after only 30 miles, Tora was visualising a picturesque fireplace and hot chocolatier to warm us all through. And like magic the next pub we stopped at delivered us fire and hot chocolate, marshmallows and cream! The pick me up and thaw to help us through to lunch!
We also had our first puncture just 12 miles away from the warm and dry comfort of our BnB, an agonising set back when we were all so desperate for the day to end.
It really was a day to test our resolve and was a huge reality check for the enormity of the task we have set ourselves. I think we have all underestimated just how hard these 9 days will be. We’re hoping all of our training and resilient minds get us through till the end…
Feeling mentally worn down, recovering from illness’, tiring legs and the thought of more rain wasn’t the best way to start day 5. But we got an early jump on the day to set ourselves up for a positive start and hopefully an early finish.
The forecast rain for the day had mostly fallen overnight and we were only greeted by passing showers for the first few hours of the ride.
We stopped off at an amazing cafe for morning fuelling, it was filled with a wide variety of interesting nick naks, odds and sods and treats to decorate your home with. The BLT’s, egg and cress sandwiches and sweet treats propelled us 2 miles down the road when we then had our second puncture in 2 days. On closer inspection, it was worse than initially thought. The whole tyre had blown! A quick call to our knight in shining armour, Barry came along with the support car and the spare tyres. Unfortunately, this did delay us by around 45 minutes. However, while we were waiting our long lost friend the SUN came out and shone on us for the rest of the day. The first time all trip we have had sustained sunshine.
Once we started to enter the Lake District the scenery changed and acted as the perfect distraction while the miles ticked away. The mood change in the group was tangible with the beautiful rolling hills, glorious sunshine and the cry of newborn lambs in the stone walled fields. Each direction you looked could have been a framed photograph.
We had a 10-mile climb up Shap Summit. A truly alpine like climb, twisting and turning up the fells, our biggest elevation gain in one go so far. It was a great challenge and the rollercoaster decent took almost to our doorstep in Penrith.
A day to raise morale and a taster of the stunning scenery to come. A wet, windy and cold day to tackle tomorrow, hopefully, our last wet day of the trip.
Day 6 was always going to be a tough day with rain, strong headwinds and plummeting temperatures forecast all day. We all put on a brave face, did our best to waterproof our kit and to wrap up warm and stepped out into the torrential rain at 8 am.
Today’s route was not as inspiring in terms of scenery as the route ran parallel to the M74. Just the constant drone of heavy traffic and the sight of the wheel in front of you to keep the mind occupied.
We hit a major milestone on our journey as we reached the top of England and entered into Scotland. A quick pit stop for tea, cake and bin bags to ensure we were extra watertight before continuing on our way.
As we continued to cycle to our next 30-mile checkpoint and opportunity to thaw and feed. The early tailwind changed to the predicted headwind, the temperature plummeted, and the rain kept on coming. All of us were frozen and soaked to the core!
Once we were inside the pub, had a chance to collect our thoughts, disrobe from our soaked through clothing, feed and drink. 4 of us came to the incredibly difficult decision to stop for the day. The weather was forecast to continue to deteriorate with the rain turning to snow within the hour. There were a few tears as we were bitterly disappointed that the weather had gotten the better of us. The conditions were very dangerous with the risk of an accident or serious illness too high.
2 brave souls from the team, Mark and James, decided to battle on for another 19 miles to see how far they could get. They gloved up and stepped into the ring with Mother Nature for what turned out to be a monumental battle of will, determination and stubbornness!!!!
Not long after they stepped out the door the rain turned to snow. At first, it only lingered in the air and was driven hard into their faces by the ever-increasing headwind. Before long it began settling on the trees and grass and soon after on the roads… despite the now very treacherous conditions they fought through the snow for a further 5 miles to reach the planned service station stop. Looking more like snowmen than cyclists, they had to admit defeat after almost 80 miles of battling the elements. True hero’s!!
It is hugely disappointing not to complete the Day, a very tough and emotional decision to make, but the correct one. All of us can hold our heads high and say that we have truly done our best, but this time Mother Nature got the better of us.
Tomorrow… WE RIDE AGAIN!!!
Today’s update is going to start with last night’s dinner. We went for a wonderful Italian meal with Tora’s delightfully warm and welcoming Aunt, Uncle and two cousins. They provided us with an essential box of cakes to help propel us to the top of Scotland and concluded that Jack has goat hair that smells like hay.
Day 7 was our longest days riding with the second most elevation gain. 125 miles with over 7000ft of climbing. We were all hoping that the weather would be kind to us on such a tough day. To our delight as we stepped out of our hotel the small section of the Glaswegian sky in view was brilliant and blue!!
Cycling through Glasgow was not a fun affair. Potholes galore and to our disappointment, dark and ominous clouds in the distance. A few miles later our jaws dropped as we saw the freshly white-capped mountains rising above the city horizon. All of us were itching to get closer to see the splendour of the snow and to see if the planned route up the mountain pass was clear.
The first 35 miles flew by as we climbed up crow road and into what could have been the set for the North in Game of Thrones. Signs that read ‘walkers welcome’ told us otherwise. There was Ice and snow everywhere, giant looming mountains and the biggest grins on all of our faces. Plenty of opportunities for photographs and videos to document what was yesterday’s nightmare and today’s treat from Mother Nature.
At the first food stop, we were joined by Paul one of James’ university friends. It was great to have some more company on the ride and a fresh set of legs in the headwinds was very welcome indeed! Especially as most of us seemed to hit a low point on energy and morale between the first and second food stops.
We then cycled up into the Scottish highland. More treats for the eyes in every direction. The majesty of Scotland is unreal. Cycling through some of the most stunning scenery in the UK. It was gut-wrenching to cycle past Glencoe ski resort. Maybe next time on the 3-week trip where we actually get to stop off and have fun we’ll fit in some fresh powder skiing in the UK.
The last 20 miles of the day were kind to us. Although the headwind was still present it was mostly downhill and then a lovely rolling road along the sea towards Fort William. For 4 of us, today was the 3rd time in the space of a week we have topped our longest ever rides. A massive achievement for everyone to get today completed, especially after the disappointment of yesterday. Only 2 more days of this challenge to go now. It’s almost time to believe we might actually make it to the end!!
The first 10 miles of today were very tough for all of us. The wind was against us which made the miles hard earnt and tick by very slowly. By this point of the trip, we are all taking a little longer to get our legs and heads in the game before we are fully ready to attack the day.
The swirling wind was playing games with us all day. One moment on our backs propelling us towards our destination, the next against us, forcing us to work hard. Taking turns on the front of the peloton forcing a hole through the atmosphere we inched closer to our goal.
Riding along the lochs of Great Glen we were again spoilt by the views. Although there were ripples on the water of Loch Ness we sadly were not treated to the presence of Nessie herself.
It seems that there are no houses in Scotland, instead, the countryside is littered with cute cottages, chalets, chateaus, castles and any other alliterations you can think of. I have run out of superlatives to explain the beauty of Scotland before Scotland itself has run out. I am sure we are due for some more delights tomorrow.
There was one massive climb along the banks of Loch Ness. It was an absolute monster! The toughest climb we have done all trip. It was long and the slope gradient was over what is normally ‘comfortable’ for a big climb. When we were at the top the wind was mighty! So strong that as Tora went to get back on her bike she was blown to the floor and Jacks lovely aero bike was trying to take flight! Despite the jeopardy of the windy descent, we were all able to smile in the face of the weather at the bottom. A very entertaining challenge for the day.
We were also reminded of the kindness of strangers today. All the way through our trip we have met some truly lovely and accommodating individuals, but this was epitomised by the family sat next to us at lunch today. They took interest in our challenge and sponsored us £10. A very kind gesture. Their £10 donation brings our total closer to £2000 (including gift aid). It would be amazing to surpass £2000!
This time tomorrow we WILL have finished! Only 121 miles to go!!
WE MADE IT!!!!!!
This morning we knew we had a long 121-mile ride to John O’Groats so we got up early and aimed to be out the door and on the bikes at 7:45. We got off to a flying start… 0.9 miles into our journey we had to stop for our first mechanical of the day 🙈. A tweak of a cleat later and we were on our way.
The roads and wind were kind to us this morning. But I have been struggling with knee problems for the last few days. Each morning it has been taking me longer and longer to loosen up and for the pain to go away. Today it took 2 hours and some moderate ibuprofen abuse for the pain to subside and for me to be able to keep pace with the group. A massive thank you to all my teammates for their patience.
At our first stop, The Crask Inn, we were joined by Richard, Tora’s Uncle. It was great to have the company of another rider en route. Lovely to catch up and a great burst of enthusiasm and energy. Tora’s Aunt, Loddy and Cousin, Izzy also came along to support for the day. We all felt that we had been elevated in the ranks of cyclists. Not only did we have a team support car we now also had a team camper! With full catering, music and tea facilities! Something to be taken full advantage of throughout the day, we are now a proper world tour team!
After the first stop, we were again reminded of just how stunning Scotland is. We entered the playground of salmon and trout fishers as we followed a meandering river on the most amazing undulating and winding road. Scotland has by far been our favourite place. The roads have been smooth(ish), the weather (bar day 6) has been far better and the scenery has been out of this world. All of these factors have made the last 3 days of our challenge really enjoyable. If entering the final third of a 1000-mile bike ride can be an enjoyable experience.
We had another mechanical a little further down the road. Tora discovered a slow pinch puncher after hitting a pothole. Super mechanic mark had the wheel fixed in no time at all. Mark has, again and again, helped us all when we have had mechanical issues over the past 9 days. Tora later discovered that she had in fact flat spotted her tyre. The perfect excuse she was looking for! New wheels for her birthday please Jack!
One final stop 15 miles from our finish line at the team camper for scones with cream, jam and a cup of tea. One final leg of our monumental journey. As we edged closer and closer to the end the pace quickened and quickened, willing ourselves to reach the farthest point of the UK mainland!
There were tears, smiles, laughter and champagne showers when we reached John O’Groats. A passing conversation from one East Essex Tri Club member to another has led us on a colossal 9-day adventure. One that has pushed all of us far beyond anything we had done before or even believed possible. By day 2 all of us were in unchartered territory. Not knowing what we had let ourselves in for. There have been peaks and troughs for all of us and not just on the road. The hardest challenge any of us have ever done before. As a side note, we have cycled almost double the distance of 4 time Tour de France winner Chris Froome this week!
Tomorrow brings a new challenge… trying to remember what life felt like before the cycle, eat, sleep, repeat routine began.
Thank you so much to everyone who has passed on advise, well wishes and words of encouragement, sponsored, supported and cheered us on. We really couldn’t have done it and kept our heads up without you!
Now it is time for a very very very well deserved rest!
You can still donate and help support the fantastic charity Macintyre. MacIntyre School is truly a special place, providing excellent education and care for Children and Young People with Autism, Severe Learning Difficulties and complex needs. Click here to donate. Thank you.