Land's End to John O' Groats - Week One
It's six in the morning on the fifth day of the cycling challenge I've taken on – from Land's End to John O'Groats (LEJOG) – and while I should be asleep recuperating, I can't help reflecting on how I ended up here!
The ride started off like any other project. I'm cycling with an old friend from uni who I rarely see, David Bickley ('Bickers'), and after talking ourselves into it last September, our enthusiasm carried us through the planning and training stages to the point of us meeting up with heavily laden bikes at King's Cross station - in fact, me arriving a day early for an unplanned rehearsal, out of anxiety and excitement I think.
After catching the train down to the West Country and overnighting in Penzance, we hitched a ride from some friends of Bickers to the start point at Land's End. Cold, windy, deserted Land's End, at 8.30am. With the two of them joking about Bickers' map-reading and mechanical skills.
Up until that point it had all been a bit of a joke anyway. A good 14-day break, a great way to get fit and raise money for charity, and we'd put a lot into the planning so had good reason to be confident and in high spirits. That evaporated literally on the first hill, steep, dark, twisting and energy-sapping with the weight of 14 days' of kit to carry with you. Had our decision to ride unsupported been the right one?
Reality hit in hard on days one and two as one long, painful climb followed after another, with the corresponding downhills seemingly over in seconds. I have three personal rules of cycling: respect the ride (which means planning, training and good preparation); the bike carries you, you don't carry the bike (no walking!); and stay hydrated. Rule two lasted no longer than the first day, which shows that absolute rules are rarely good ones.
I should say at this point that LEJOG cycle tours are like holidays to France – there are lots of ways of doing them. We've chosen to do a fairly circuitous route taking in some beautiful scenery and avoiding main roads, 1,050 miles in all, which suits us. We're following a published route produced by other cyclists, though while they obviously have an eye for scenic highlights, there is more than an element of masochism to the steep narrow country lanes they've mapped out in places.
Cycling friends just don't understand why we are cycling so slowly. It's hard to explain unless you are out there doing it. It's about persistence, more than speed, this challenge. We're fit, but not cycling buffs, so it's just about getting through the miles.
How are we getting on? After four days in the saddle, tiredness is beginning to set in, with aching legs all around and a niggling knee pain for Bickers. We can borh easily cycle 80 miles in a day, but waking up knowing you've got to do it again, with a heavy bike, probably in the rain, could seriously take the fun out of it if you let it. With planning and prep all done, determination is what we need to see us through.
We are enjoying ourselves though! We've cycled through pretty towns and villages, some of the country's best tourist sites (we still have the Yorkshire Dales, Cumbria and the delights of Scotland ahead of us), and have had some great weather so far (but not, we suspect, for much longer!).
To keep ourselves entertained we've been rating B&Bs, breakfasts and beers on our Facebook blogsite, and we've taken a lot of encouragenent from the messages of support we've received.
I'm riding to raise money for Exhall Grange Special School, a specialist school for children with learning difficulties, including physical disabilities, visual impairment and Autism. It is a wonderful cause and a brilliant school.
I'd like to thank all my sponsors, friends, family and supporters in the FM industry. If you'd like to donate it would be greatly appreciated, please visit my donation site online.
Time to go. A wet and windy trip to Ironbridge (and I hope some bike repairs in Leominster) awaits ...