Category Archives: The Expedition
9 posts for 9 riding days? We shall see.
Its now the day after we completed our journey from the very bottom to the top of the country, which we rounded off with a small party in Aviemore with family and friends. The last day of cycling, 65 miles from Tongue to ‘JOG’ was a tough day, physically due to the many steep hills, and emotionally as we reached our target knowing that the one person we were doing this in memory of isn’t with us any more. I can’t really express how I felt as we reached the small post marking the end of our journey, but I think this sums it all up in some way:
Do it for Dee
Every turn of the crank, every push, every pull,
Every inch, every yard, every mile on the road,
Every second, every minute, every hour on the bike,
I’ll do it for Dee.
Every hill, every climb, all the work to the top,
Every straight, every turn, each bend in the road,
Every ache, all the pain, the hurt and the loss,
I’ll do it for Dee.
I can’t fail, or falter nor give up this ride.
I won’t quit or stop, nor forget why I’m here.
I’ll get to the end, no matter the cost.
I’ll do it for Dee.
Thank you all for reading, donating and keeping our spirits up. We all did it for Dee.
27th July – 4th August 2012. 9 days, 1000 miles.
Dedicated to the memory of Delia Catherine Thompson, nee McGivern.
17th June 1974 – 14th August 2011.
Our Wee Dee.
Sadly missed, never forgotten.
Our cunningly arranged early breakfast was somewhat spoiled by there also being a similarly early one organised for a bus load of tourists. Never mind, at least we had a ring-fenced pot of porridge only for our group.
Van loaded, bikes quickly cleaned up and eventually we hit the road. The sun trap that was the hotel car park lulled us in to thinking there was fine weather ahead, but the haugh was rolling in over Loch Ness and the air chilly as a result.
We powered along the loch-side, sun now coming out, for a rendezvous with my brother Dominic, astride a mountain bike that had seen better days – slurry lubricant on the chain was the teams’ best guess.
We headed slightly off-route, using Dom’s local knowledge to get to a decent bike shop for a fix for Mark’s front mech’ – Jerry from Bikes of Inverness to the rescue and we were soon back on the road.
Leaving the city, we made our way towards Beauly then on to Muir of Ord, meeting the van for a fuel stop. Dominic turned back at this point (Olympics telly to catch up on), around 15 miles done with us (and another 15 into the wind and uphill to get home).
On we went passing Conon Bridge, through Dingwall, a slight mismatch between mine and Sam’s Garmins causing a bit of a stir before ‘this way is north’ lead us on to Evanton and towards Alness.
A brief stint on the A9 came to a welcome end as we turned off on to the B9176 and a great climb up and over Struie hill – fantastic scenery, views and not a bad hill to cycle up – just a slow, steady incline with very little harsh gradients.
We soon reached the top, and after a brief stop at the view-point, headed down, a glorious descent, passing through Ardgay before meeting Cameron and Mark in Bonar Bridge for lunch. Bridge Burgers and macaroni cheese and perhaps the odd pint were consumed, bought from the pub where a local lad Ben threw us a few quid for the charity (thanks!).
Just before we were to leave for lunch, a Canadian couple, tour-cycling asked about a local bike shop (none for miles) as they’d no spare tubes. We gave them a couple, Michael assuing them that the thinner road tubes would be ok in their slightly wider tyres. As a thanks, they donated to our charity (thanks Paul & your wife – we didn’t catch her name).
Off we went, Inveran and Invershin, another climb through to Lairg an then Altnaharra, now on single-track roads, stopping for our final refuel at the Crask (?) Inn, fellow cyclists Ally from Skye and Axel from Germany applauding from the beer garden as we pulled up.
We chatted briefly before starting of on the final 20 or so miles between us and the end, the wind in our faces. We dug in, switching to single file to minimise the work as we made our way up and down the seemingly endless hills before us.
At the top of the final hill, we stopped to take some photos, the clouds hanging low over the distant mountains. We rolled down the hill to meet the van, Tongue barely a mile away, to be told the hostel was not up to scratch, so a quick negotiation was made by Mark with a local B&B and we were sorted.
Day 8 done. 113 miles done.
Only 65 to go.
A fine nights sleep in the hostel for some, a night in the van for David (snoring avoidance) and a slight change to our routine to become more efficient (and to fit in with hostel breakfast-time policy) by packing the van first, then eating breakfast. Today we were met by Epilepsy Scotland’s Robyn, a companion via email over the last few months, to see us off in person. The swarming midges outside forced us inside for a few quick photos, but not before we were their breakfast. Robyn headed off, we got on the road soon after, a few of us circling round the hostel driveway in a vain attempt to avoid being bitten while the last few folk pumped tyres or grabbed essentials from the van.
We hit the A82 with our new domestique, Michael M, fresh from a 36 mile cycle to meet up with us. Sam took the lead as we single-filed it along the busy road at an easy pace, taking in the miles as the day started with sunshine looking likely. We’d not gone far when the first incient of the day was to occur. Moving out slightly to avoid the bulging cats-eyes at a parking spot, front-man Sam was cycling towards a large crow , which appeared to be resting on the road – normally such beasts will quickly fly out of the way, but this one seemd to have a grudge of some sort and barrelled into him instead of flying in the other direction. Bouncing off Sam, it hit the deck, and the following train took evasive manouvres, narrowly missing it. As we moved on, comments flew forward – “you pull that out of your pocket to throw at us Sam?”, “hmm, does that mean I’m the only one to have pulled a bird on this trip?” came the reply.
Onwards. Next issue – stopping at a contraflow there was a bang, this time Sam’s rear was flat. Gio ran a quick recce, and reckoned nipping through the lights, we could perform bike surgery on the coned off side of the road. He and Sam went to work, fixing the tyre and we were on our way. The road was damp, but the occaisional splash of water couldn’t change the fact that the weather was turning out to be near prefect for cycling.
Next stop – second breakfast (or first lunch) at the Green Welly Shop at Tyndrum, where we ran in to some JOGLE cyclists (North to South). Nice lads from Devon, raising money for Macmillan – we exchanged a few cycling pleasantries, swapped tales of each others road ahead and got Cameron to take a quick set of piccies.
Scones, soup and various other cakey consumed, we got back on the bikes and on up the hill beyond to Rannoch Moor. The climb was taken easily (big ring not quite all round), the occasional passing car or parked up tourist cheering us on.
Once at the top, just as we were going to start our descent into Glen Coe, Sam’s rear tube went bang again. Repair, this time replacing the (torn it was discovered) tyre.
Just as the repairs were done, a large squad of Hummersknott CC, also on a LEJOG, pulled up alongside us.
Hello’s and chit-chat ensued before we all moved on downhill, DIFDers nipping by the ‘knott guys and gals on the descent – we were in more of a hurry than them, covering a few more miles per day.
Our next target – Fort William, and second lunch. The promise of a fine feast lay ahead of us – Cameron’s sister Isobel had agreed to feed and water us, and we soon arrived to an excellent spread of sarnies, cakes & pancakes which was scoffed down in short measure “the best lunch we’ve had” – many thanks Isobel.
Off we set – well, nearly, Big J had a front puncture. Fixed in quick time, we headed off for the last 50 miles of the day, revived from our hefty sandwich consumption. A brief stop at the Commando memorial was our only pause as we piled on to the last planned van meet-up at Fort Augustus. A quick cakey break and back in the saddle, the realisation that we were running behind resulting in a blistering pace being set – the team stepped up and everyone took their turn at the front, the switches smooth and methodical allowing us all to work the train along at 20mph+ on the flats and lesser hills. We covered the last 20 miles in under the hour to be met by friends and family in the hotel car park.
Day 7 done. 135 miles (171 for Michael!).
Another day, another ton+ miler ahead of us. Rain. Looking out of the hotel room as we headed down for breakfast did not make the day ahead appear to have much promise on the weather front. Regardless, breakfast was consumed, complementary coffee from the proprieter was well received by the coffee fans in the team. Our host, Ian from the Towenhead Hotel, was generous enough to get up and make breakfast early as well as offering us complementary coffee and cake and even knocked £50 quid off the stay just for us – nice one! End to Enders get this establishment on your accomodation list – a great team who really went the extra mile. Truly appreciated by all.
By the time we got out to the van to pack our gear, the rain had pretty much stopped, so we got on the bikes and headed off.
The road ran alongside the motorway (the old A74 – great fro cycling as it’s almost car free), and we made solid progress, only stopping to switch to waterproofs on/off and the essential occasional toilet stop. The few hills were long and steady rather than anything to tax us, so the miles flew by, and before long we had reached Abington. The rain was still on so a quick coffee stop was called for, the van parked up next to a bike friendly hotel, the Abington. We dived in, coffee, hot chocolate and scones ordered in swift measure. The chap who served us fired on the heating to help us dry off, so bonus points to them.
Second scones ordered and demolished, the rain easing off, we headed off again, traffic quiet roads all the way, our trek only broken by the inevitable jackets on/off and toileting.
Galston was soon reached, our lunch stop for the day with extra company in the form of Mrs Bryan and his dad, Charlie. A quick scout around town and we settled on the Aroma cafe, piled in and ordered soup, sandwiches, baked potatoes and similar fare, coffees, cappuccino and irn bru.
The friendly staff swept into action, providing our grub with only minor issues on a coronation chicken panini, quickly sorted (and eaten by us anyways). And then cakes. Oh what cakes – baking heaven. Excellent lunch.
Mrs Brian had brought more cakey to see us through the next few days, which were loaded onto the van and our goodbyes said.
On and up we went, the hill out of town not posing any issue, the weather clearing up as we went. Over the top and down, now on familiar roads round Stewarton and on to Paisley, and the finest descent of the week – a great speedy downhill from the Glennifer Braes into the town. We filtered through town, out onto the Erskine bridge, where Gio got his second puncture of the trip.
Puncture soon changed, and only a few miles to our end point, we moved on, mixing with the rush hour traffic along the A82.
Young Davo was meandering along behind the group when Turbine offered to tow David and Big J back to the main group. Turbine nearly got a toe in a delicate place as Young Dave motored onto the main group.
Keeping it tight, we climbed the road through Dumbarton, Alexandria and Balloch to the nearby youth hostel. As we turned in to the driveway, a surprise was in store – Mammy Mary and Davo’s kids Emma & Lucy with friend Olivia, along with Mark and Cameron waving flags and cheering our arrival.
Our two day domestique, Mark D was thanked all round for his help over the previous 2 days and we said our goodbyes (with a few nipping to the pub to see him off properly) as we said hello to his ‘stand in’ for the last few days, friend Michael M who’d arrived to drop his bag.
Pub. Dinner. Blog. Day 6 done.
[garmin link will follow!]
Quote of the day – “I was never out of the big ring” (most of us, but in reality I reckon we all used the wee ring once or twice)
Food of the day – tough call between the Townead Hotel breakfast, Abington’s scones and the fine Aroma cafe – my suggestion, take in any of them if you are in the area
Blog fan of the moment – Fino!
Downer of the day – Gio’s puncture only 10 miles from home (noisy bridge with no 3G)
Day 5. The day that would see us hitting the overall halfway marker at just shy of 500 miles. As usual a target time of early o’clock was planned, and as usual we didn’t get going for a good 30-40 minutes later. Never mind, Today we had Mark D joining us – a keen cyclist and for the next couple of days a ‘domestique’ for the team (in pro teams the domestiques help the ‘top’ rider win the race by drafting them and generally doing the work).
We set off in high spirits, the previous days 140 miles seeming to not have had any major effects on the group, except for a few aching limbs, par for the course on this LEJOG. Our route out of Lancaster took us down some quiet country roads, Mark D earning his place leading the pack for the most part and before long we were passing Kendal and heading into the Lakes proper, climbing as we went. This constant climbing was soon met with our reward, a long descent into Ambleside. A stop was called, ice cream, photos and toilet break taken.
The road onward soon began to rise again, the toughest climb of the day on which we were joined by a local mountain biker. Everyone made it up without too much trouble, and the descent into Keswick was a joy, fast downhill and easy bends allowing us to pick up terrific speeds as we went.
The van was parked up in a pub just outside of town, and we screeched to a stop to decide our next move (lunch). Some quick tinkering was required, so a visit to the local bike shop was first, then lunch in a pub (baguettes or baked potatoes all round), some cakey and then a return to the van (now parked at the Pencil Museum (oh if only we had time to visit) to resupply.
Half a mile up the road and a bang signalle d a puncture – Big J’s front, again. A failed tyre wall, so a quick swap of tyre and tube. Well, quickish. Off we went again, target Carlisle, making excellent time on the A591, minor detour off to catch the planned route (Garmin arguments again) but eventually arriving in roughly the right spot.
A decision to keep rolling to Gretna unless we rode by a coffee and cake shop kept us moving through the town, a maniac in a white van the only incident of note – impatient with the black car ahead of him, behind us, he undercut us all at set of lights in a left only lane, nearly taking Gio out, leading to an exchange of colourful language. Deciding not to give chase, we let the idiot go, the couple in the black car amazed as we were at the van drivers actions.
On we rode, again on quieter roads, I was in the lead position when a tractor pulling a massive trailer squeezed by me. Bus-chaser Daly let out a cry to draft it, and the whole team burst into action, tagging on to the vehicle and getting an amazing tow. For a half dozen or more miles we hung on to his tail, topping 30mph on the flat and 27+ on the upward hills – “dig in lads” was the cry as the road rose, no-one wanting to drop off the free ride we were getting as to do so would mean quickly being left behind. On we hung into Longtown, locals looking on in bemusement as 8 cyclists clung to the back of the agricultural behemoth. Sadlly we were to turn off, Young Davo declaring he’d have happily followed it all the way back to Land’s End.
The path to Gretna was soon made, and the traditional End to Enders stop by the Welcome to Scotland sign was made. A quick (by our standards) van restock made, we piled on to the last 20 miles to the end of todays route.
Travelling 2 up, we made excellent time, swapping a few at the front along with the tireless Mark to drag everyone home up the last couple of hills before a welcome final downard run into Lockerbie and the hotel.
Day 5 done. 114-ish miles out of the way.
embarrasing moment of the day – getting left behind by a lady cyclist just oustside of Keswick (John was “taking it easy” on his new tyre)
best moment of the day – hitting the half way mileage-mark
most frustrating moment of the day (other than lack of sleep and cakey) – 2nd tyre death on Big Js front wheel
Day 2. When it dawns on you that you’ve still got an awful long way to go and you don’t have a day off to recover from the 100+ miles of the previous day.
Breakfast was quickly despatched, cereal, fruit and yoghurt for most. The van packed, last minute room checks, a swithering over whether to take or ‘call in the van’ for waterproofs and we were on the road at just after 7:45. The first section of road was flat, followed by a few smaller hills, where my chain locked up switching rings – a mechanical crunch which seemed to sort itself out, so on we went. A nice downhill, topping 40mph, followed by rolling hills allowing the team to work well in our mini-pelaton, passing a lone cyclist as we went. However, we soon hit a stop, my front derailleur had actually snapped in my chain crunching episode, so I was effectively stuck in the ‘big ring’ (the harder to pedal/ faster gears). This wasn’t a major issue, as the ‘profile’ for the day (essentially how the hills look) was showing a mostly flat day until the last few miles (big hill). This would allow us to stop at a bike shop around lunch for a fix. Nicely worked out.
So off we went, making good time, pausing only if/when the GPS got confused and at Tiverton, just by the Whilrliwash for a van catch up and bottle fill and to phone ahead to a bike shop in Taunton to see if they could sort my bike.
We set off, soon missing the intended route, heading along an unmapped road instead of the dual carriageway A38 – probably a fortunate error, avoiding the busier road. Taunton was reached, a phone call to Cameron and Mark to establish the location of the bike shop, and we headed over. The nice folk in the Bicycle Chain came up with a new part for my bike which they would fit while we went to the Kings Arms for lunch. A fast lunch watching a bit of Olympic telly – the road cycling naturally, and we returned to collect my bike, but not before a couple of folk in the pub donated to our charity – thanks Kit and Beverley!
Bicycle Chain had sorted my bike – good as new (the part was new, cannabilised off another Canondale bike the same as mine), so off we went, taking the road to Bridgwater through heavy traffic. This turned into a serious jam, allowing us to overtake the cars, filtering our way carefully by the often stationary cars. Highbridge, Southwick, Wedmore were passed by, a brief van catch-up stop our only pause as we moved swiftly to Cheddar in the Mendips. Here the road was to climb, steeply – our support team at the ready to grab a photo as we toiled up the steep incline, myself at the back, though barely a gap was between the team. Fortunately the severity of the hill did not last, and a gentler slope lay before us (and a queue of cars behind us) when we finally reached the top. And turned back, as we’d missed the turn off. A few more miles of confused GPS following, a run in with the van team to determine which way to go and we were soon flying down the hill to our accomodation for the night. But not before another “we’re lost” moment and about turn for the last couple of miles, finally reaching the Bristol Road and a beaming Cameron waving us in to the hotel carpark.
Day 2 done. 102 miles.
Best near-bonk moment of the day – Big J asking for a sweetie/ gel 400 yards from the hotel.
Scariest moment of the day – numerous run ins with oncoming traffic on narrow roads and in the traffic jam, especially a bus or two.
Best moments of the day (other than finishing) – the many beeps and waves from friendly motorists, Kit & Bev donating to us
Worst moment of the day – my camera is bust, so no photos after lunch 😦
The first day of actual cycling was preceeded by the night of a thousand squeaks – the hostel bunks had the charming feature of making a terrible racket every time you made any movement. Result – not a very good nights kip for many of us. Still, up at 6-ish, showered (optional), breakfasted, bottles filled and some last minute mechanical tweaks before heading down the 3/4 mile to the ‘start’ at Land’s End.
John, Sam and I filled in the ‘End to Enders’ book in the hotel, then a series of photos at “The Sign” for the whole team. Then to the ‘start line’ – yup, there is an ‘official’ start line painted on the road. Striking a quick pose for camerman Cameron and we were off.
Problem #1. We’ve only ever ridden as a group of 7 once, months ago, so the ‘system’ we regularly use to change the ‘man at the front’ which works fine for a single file line of 3-5 folk wasnt really going to cut it with the ‘peleton’. Three systems came into play, which made for a fun few rotations while we worked out what was what. Eventually we got into a rhythm, merged the 3 into 1 system, and the DIFD train was 2 abreast and working well, swapping the lead pair every mile or so.
On we went, taking it reasonably easy, aiming for our first break (and potential cakey stop!) at Redruth. Mark was having some problems with his gears, so a quick stop at a bike shop (no use it turns out) meant we missed the van rendezvous. A phone call re-arranged a layby stop – van, cake, bananas and water refills. On we went, toiling up a hill or two, making good time and only having to play with the traffic a few times on the busier parts of the A30. A silver van tried to take us out, but missed us all as he zoomed by, giving us at least 3 inches of room (why would we need more?) and nearly causing a peleton pile-up.
Target 2 – lunch at Wadebridge (60 miles) and rendezvous with McGivern cousins Gary & Claire. The only issue between us and there/ them, the haybale challenge. It must be some new Cornish cycling test. Local farmers block the road with haybales and us cyclists need to negotiate the resulting slalom to prove we are true masters of the bike.
Slalom test passed, we arrived in Wadebridge, located pub, van support, cousins and something solid to lock 7 bikes to.
Lunch demolished in quick time (for those that got it on first order, something of a wait for tables 2 and 3), chat with one and all, then we were back on the road for the last 40 miles. Should be easy enough but for problem #2 – the bikeroutetoaster courses and Sam’s and my Garmins were not playing nice, making dealing with route and direction changes ‘fun’ – wrong turns and roads aplenty. Still we got the right one eventually, only to discover problem #3 – the last 40 miles (no problem) contained 2 hefty hills (potential problem). So far Cornwall hadn’t quite presented the 25% inclines we’d anticipated and in the end nor really did these two. We took the first at pace, a long gradual ascent rather than a torturous steep affair, the team now well used to such challenges. In between this and the next, a road with new ‘loose chippings’. Or, in my humble opinion, a pile of gravel threatening to have you off the bike if you dared to move at any pace, pretending to be a road. For miles. And up hill, making it even more fun. In the end, no issues, but a nervous few miles.
The last hill took its first victim – Bryan going for the cadence record of the day, as his chain jumped off the sprockets, me narrowly missing running right into his back wheel. A short stop to fix his chain back on, resulted in the group stringing out and Bryan playing catch up. After a bit of climbing, it seemed he wasn’t catching the group, Gio, then myself eased off allowing him to regain contact with us, then a quick tow to Mark and David ahead. Sam and John had vanished into the distance, so the 5 of us got a train going , eventually catching them up at the roadside. We reformed the full group, hoping for an easy last 10 miles. This hope was dashed, most of the remaining miles taking us up hill, passing the 100 mile mark (and David’s first century ride) before a final fast downhill into Okehampton.
A last ‘where’s the accommodation?’ conflab – turned out it was just round the corner, up a ‘nice finish to your day’ bit of road according to a local. In other words, a hill. Not quite a killer, but did offer the opportunity to do a ‘Cav’ and childishly sprint by the rest of the team from the back for the first ‘stage win’. Day 1 in the bag. Lets see what tomorrow brings.
Garmin link to follow… and here it is:
LEJOG day 1
up and at em at silly o’clock cos I couldn’t sleep – a mixture of nerves and excitement about the adventure (ordeal?) ahead of us. David came to mine, Bryan’s dad picked us up and kindly took us to the airport. We met the other 4 DIFD cyclists and slowly made our way to security where David was relieved of various toiletries not under the 100ml limit. An uneventful flight followed, but a harsh landing added a little excitement to proceedings. First time I’ve been in a plane landing at 15° roll.
We piled into the minibus for our transfer down to Land’s End, stopping briefly at the services to grab lunch. An uneventful journey, with brief moments of gadgetry use as we checked email and tweeted a bit.
Arriving at the hostel, it seemed we’d made a slight misjudgement, the owners on the understanding that we were not going to be there til 5pm.
It was just after 3pm. Result – a walk to Lands End to meet up with Cameron and Mark Snr, Mark and David hopping back in the minibus for a lift to the nearby “Last Inn”.
Our support met, a few photos taken and then return to the hostel, bikes unloaded and assembled and the lady owner phoned, soon then arriving to let us in for the inevitable fight over beds. The accommodation resolved, a short warm up/ bike check ride for 10 miles introduced us to our first Cornish Hill. A mere 17% incline. This ascent topped, we turned to get back to head out for dinner. The Last Inn, fine ale, decent pub fare, but a long wait to actually see the grub arrive.
Home. Fireworks at Lands End in the distance and a check of email to see dozens of ‘justgiving’ donation alerts. Much twittering of thanks, then a quick blog post before bed – a 6am start likely for our first acutal day on the bikes.
Tuesday night is van packing night. Or it was yesterday. Wrestling pedals off their cranks, removing of handlebars (or not, as was the preference of some) followed by boxing of bicycles & their wheels, spare wheels and assorted stuff into the van – various spare parts, tools, our gear, a vast selection of energy food and (yes!) cakey (thank you Mrs Sammy!). And of course a Nespresso machine. Packing was followed by a curry, naturally.
For two of us, this morning is day 1 of the LEJOG. The support crew of team DIFD, Cameron and Mark Snr should now be on their way south with the aforementioned van-load of stuff.
the DIFD crew are a very team oriented bunch, so much so that even the van wants to feel like its a true part of the team. We can’t upset our poor little transit, so to stop it feeling left out, we’ve got a couple of these:
Nice DIFD door magnets. Now our hire van will be one of the gang sporting its very own version of the team kit. Awww.