A blog about cycling...especially the long distance stuff

Friday, 15 June 2012

Day 10 Lairg to John O Groats

The weather forecast for day 10 was really not great. Strong westerly winds, increasing as the day went on. I'd planned to go over the inspiring looking Strath Halladale, the problem being, once you get to the end of that and hit the north coast, one still needs to ride 65 miles east and into a big wind.

With fresh legs I'd be less bothered but my legs were about as fresh as an unpasteurized cheese. So, the "summit day" plan was to get up at 4am, eat, and be on the road as early as possible...as explained:

Being so far north, it was light at 3am so this was no trouble at all and I'd encourage anyone else doing this route to use this time if they need it...check the wind and pick the best time that suits your plans. This website: http://www.xcweather.co.uk/ is excellent for wind forecasts.

This road was pure magic. At this time in the morning, I had the whole thing to myself and a couple of wild deer families who ran along next to my bike when they bolted. The shear vast and rugged emptiness of the place is massively humbling....my little camera phone doesn't do the place justice, but I'll try:

It's about 35 miles over these hills to the village of Tongue on the north coast. I only just had enough warm kit for the conditions, it started raining and the westerly was bitterly cold. So long as I was peddling it was fine but felt a bit foolish and under prepared.

But of course, got there. And as no sooner had I turned east at the bottom of the hill, a bitter struggle into the strong westerly commenced. One saving grace was the land. Who ever heard of the Highlands Riviera?!

But it was just a huge grind to be honest. Legs had no power in them and any stop seemed to make a swollen ankle worse. Lots of hills on this coast too

Though it does flatten out near the end.

Finally pulled into the finish with another 100 miler done. Day 1 at Land's End seemed like last year. Never would have got here if it wasn't for the constant support and encouragement from friends, co-workers, and my wife! LeJog is a mental battle, and mainly tests your ability to recover overnight from big days, and then to it again the next day...and the next...and the next...

Thank you very much to everyone who sponsored me! I will post again with all the trip stats, route links etc.

Day 9 Drumnadrochit to Lairg

Woke up feeling the strain from yesterdays 200km grind and still having the blog posts to do which I've really been trying to stay on top off to help fuel interest in the charity's and try to pay back the incredible support on Facebook from friends! Besides...needed a lay in...

Today was planned as something of a contingency day, I nearly had a shot at a 9 day LeJog with this route, but thought it was a good idea to get to to the highlands with some time to spare in case of bad weather. So as it turned out I was in no shape to go for 9 days and tried to recover and prepare for day 10 instead.

The morning started with a very steep climb out of Drumnadrochit, possibly the steepest of the whole trip, or maybe its just that I wasn't warmed up...but anyway it was traffic free and very pleasant once getting up top, avoiding Inverness and that horrible A9 too. Here's the profile, short but nasty hills:

After that I did drop briefly onto that A9 road but found the total lack of a shoulder and all the big trucks roaring past far too scary and jumped on the B road [b9176] alternative instead. Fellow cyclists, please don't use the A9...its not safe!

Actually a highlight of the day was overhearing a conversation at a services stop on the A9 here between 2 local truckers. To the outsider, they seemed to be talking UTTER gibberish...for a good few minutes. I concentrated hard but could only pick out the odd word...until at the very end of the conversation, one of them piped up with "Alright then Bill, see you Monday then" in perfect clear English.

...erm at least until I realised I was not in England now and they were probably just speaking Gaelic, or, were very, very drunk at the time. Still, it made my day!

The rest if it was a much easier pedal, the shortest on the whole trip at a piffling 95 km / 60 miles. But in good position for "summit day" on day 10...and right in the heart of the Highlands! In Lairg:

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Day 8 Oban to Drumnadrochit

I set of north from Oban on day 8 after a very tasty breakfast, but feeling sluggish and preparing myself for another long one on the bike. It was looking like 100 miles, or just under, up the lochs, so I had my head down and tried to let my mind wander a bit to get into a rhythm. Great weather for riding, just slightly overcast but with a few sunny patches and perfect riding temperature in the early - mid teens. As I chugged on, I saw these 'Airy Coo's' having their morning swim in the Loch...such big beasties!

A couple of hours later, I found myself on  the edge of this beautiful loch with the road running up the side....but on taking this photo:

...realised something was wrong. The road should not be on this side of the Loch. It should be on the other. When was the last time I checked the map? Over an hour ago...oh sh*t...and it was worse than I'd imagined. In my morning daze, I'd missed the 2x2 meter sign saying "<--- Fort William" and biked straight on by it...more than 10 miles in the wrong direction! Bianca mkII had even tried to warn me...at one point resorting  to viciously lashing out at my leg:

But I'd missed the signs, and as a result, had more than 20 miles extra to add to my journey today. I was already fatigued so this was not good. After much peddling to get back on course, and a fair amount of berating my stupid mistake, I realised there was no point focusing on it and tried to take some wisdom from my Mum [See: you get a second mention!] of living only in the present moment. The present meant dealing with the extra 20 miles and getting my ass back on target. The only way to do this was to get in more energy than normal and spend more time on the bike.

So onwards, past "Stalker" castle (this is the one from "The quest for the holdy grail" )

Past the beautiful Glencoe Valley

Up Loch Linnhe & finally getting to Fort William for a late lunch at 14.30 and with 114km/70 miles on the clock already. Found my wife, and some Pasta for lunch, which helped perk me up a little bit, though I was still dreading how much further I knew I had yet to cover today...so couldn't hang around long.

After lunch there was a fair hill climb past Spean Bridge, which afforded great views of Ben Nevis

Then a long straight run above Loch Lochy which was the prettiest of them all today. 

The afternoon went on into the evening. I only saw a couple of other cyclists and had to battle through my body long ago telling me to stop. The section next to Loch Ness was particularly tough when a head wind kicked up in the evening and I'd past the 100 mile mark. It took me forever to cover the last 20 miles into Drumnadrochit, and I was fighting in particular an ongoing problem with my ankle.

Exhausted after a 202km/125mile day, I had just enough energy to ice up the ankle, stuff some food down...and crash. Hoping I dont make the same scr*w up navigating on day 9! 

The plan from here

Heading to Lairg today for day 9...which should be a short day, and time to clean the bike, clean myself...and prepare for the final 100 miler to John O Groats. I'm going over the top of the highlands rather than the traditional coastal route via Wick. I hope the swollen ankle improves as its still very sore. Strong westerly winds are forecast for day 10 which will make the final 50 miles along the North Coast a final hurdle and will need to be in reasonable shape to get through this.

In the meantime, here is another 'airy coo:

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Day 7 Irvine-Arran-Oban

I woke up feeling pretty good considering yesterdays struggle. Managed an early start and had a short 10 mile pedal over to the Ferry Terminal in time to catch the 9am sailing over to the Isle of Arran. At the terminal I had a chat to a mum/dad/child team taking a tandem over to the island to ride round. Dad and the boy on the tandem with mum on a road bike. Their kit was truly ancient and I admired their attitude...their boy was really young and I hope he gets hooked on the experience!

After a 1 hour trip west, landed on Arran and a large convoy of cyclists departed together. Had a brief chat to a German couple riding the just awesome Koga Signature touring bikes. Wow they look the business...not for speed but for long haul cross country tours. I want one!

Anyway, headed north up the coast and was on my own in only a few minutes. Arran is not a big island and I had a ferry to catch on the other side over to the Western end of the mainland. By doing so, this made my Lejog much longer (than going up the middle east of Glasgow which is the fastest possible route) but with far better scenery. Arran is very pretty:

It was a 14 mile ride over to the other side and I decided to gun it and try and make the 12pm ferry - if I failed to get this then it wouldn't be a disaster but would mean getting to the mainland after lunch and with only 20 or so miles behind me...which would mean riding into the evening. 14 miles in an hour. Doesn't sound much, and its not, but with a laden bike a quite a big hill:

...this required digging in. I got to the summit at 11:45...15 mins left to get to the ferry...and with one open road ahead...oh yeah...let go of the brake levers and just flew! Cue a "Top Gear" like finish...

I wont discuss speeds here just in case mum is reading, but pulled up at the ferry with 5 minutes to spare, wiping away my streaming eyes but not the huge grin on my face, and with one pannier hanging on to the frame only by its safety catch.

The next stage was a short 30 minute Island hop [in the safe hands of captain Haddock?!] 

and was talking to more tourers. This group were from the US and Australia, and spending 7 weeks cycling Lejog along with all the outer Islands including the Shetlands. They had huge loads and looked ready for anything:

There was also a blind women riding on the back of a massive touring motorbike with her partner...very courageous. 

Back on the Scottish mainland, time to crack on and try and get some miles in as the Ferry's had still meant lost time despite my sprint. The section from Clanoig north was superb, hardly any cars, great road and wonderful forest to pedal through. Made up some good time and didn't stop till I hit Lochgilphead around 2pm.

After that, the road meandered lazily through lochs, forest, and ancient monuments. Will let the photos speak for themselves.

The day went well though it was a hilly one, rolled in to Oban in reasonable shape. It was also slightly shorter than anticipated at a pifling 90 miles - looks like the site I was using for planning did include Ferrys in the calculation.

Tomorrow: Loch's and and the Highlands await...game on

Monday, 11 June 2012

Day 6 Gretna to Irvine

I'd originally planned today to be an 'easy' day and do about 90 miles, but the route meant a fairly direct line from Gretna straight up to Kilmarnock along the A76. I'd been warned that this was a pretty busy road and in planning this morning decided to veer further south and also check out a castle on the way, then cut back on the main road at least missing some of the traffic. Feeling really stiff this morning meant a slow start, but it was quite nice riding just cruising along down the coast towards Caelaverock.

On the way, I ran into another Jogle rider going the other way. Sporting a huge grin and a carefree attitude, I asked him how long he was planning to take to get to Lands End. "Oh I don't care" he said. He was in fact going to go back home for a bit and do the rest later. "I'm retired I can do whatever I want". Legend. In fact, he'd not only ridden from John O Groats but done all the outer Hebrides on his bike as well!! I want to be like that when I retire! I wish I'd taken his photo...what a character.

After about 25 miles I got to the brilliant Caerlaverock castle and stopped to take a look

Its triangular shaped, and has a full moat running round  the outside (not my photo of course):

I love castles that still have a working moat! A pretty place, although while I was having a quick look inside a staff member came to get me... apparently you have to pay to go in... (should have known). As I was being frog marched up to the ticket office we chatted about the cycle trip and by the time we got there she'd said..."ah dont worry about it". But I paid anyway, it was a nice place and worth preserving.

Plus I got a great pic of Bianca mkII

From here I was back on the main road, the busy A76 towards Kilmarnoc. Not a good road to cycle on, as per the warnings. In places there was some new tarmac, but a lot of it was just dire to ride on. You need a mountain bike with shocks it was so bumpy. And in many places several lanes of high speed traffic would merge into a narrow 2 lane corridor with very fast moving traffic and lots of trucks. Didn't enjoy this at all and got off it again as soon as I could, which was about 40 miles down the line unfortunately.

I did manage a nice picnic lunch by the rather swollen river

The sun came out in the afternoon and once off that darn road it was better riding. I had nothing in the legs today, no power or strength and the extra detours took the tally today up to 100 miles again. So much for a rest day!

However have the pleasure of my wife's company in the evenings now, and cant wait to get over to Arran tomorrow. I hope the legs can hang in there a bit longer and deal with the hill climbs that are to be expected now...and tomorrow will be another century.

Finally, whoever made the anonymous donation to rethink yesterday...thank you so much! May you be blessed with eternal cheese and good tidings!

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Day 5 Wigan to Gretna

What a huge day! Fed and watered myself early and was peddling out of Wigan before 8am, enjoying deserted roads, being a Sunday morning. The weather was cool and overcast, pefect weather for high milage...so thats exactly what was on the cards. I made great progress north and was pushing though Preston in no time. North of the town, 3 strong looking riders from Manchester pulled alongside and I had a good chat with one of them, who had done a 12 day Lejog a few years ago and by quite a similar route. He also seemed to think my target for today was a bit nuts!

I hit Cumbria, delighted to now be genuinly "north"

And thanks to the largely flat terrain, made the 100km/60 miles up to Kendall for lunch in awesome time. It took me ages to find anything reasonably healthy to eat (you do NOT want to ride with greasy food in your belly believe me) so in the end only had a 30 minute sit down here before it was time to move on.

The next stage involved the big hill climb. You may notice this hill in today's ride profile:

It was indeed quite a big hill, but a long and reasonably gentle ascent...taking roughly 5 miles to get up to the top and 6 down the other side. Great views on the way up, with the land around most definitly starting to have that more northern look about it.

When I trundled down the other side I was starting to feel the burn a bit. The acumulated miles from back to back century's starting to show basically all over. Gel and water time. Which reminds me, I decided on a name for the new Bike! Actually decided a while ago but was too ashamed to admit it...due to total lack of imagination....

It's "Bianca mkII" ...and here's me fueling her up at the bottom of the hill (unleaded)

Time to move on, still had 40+ miles to go. Onward to Preston and the land flattened out again. Nice riding, though the traffice was roaring along in places. One problem I am having with Bianca MkII: She dosent like to sit still. A happy Bianca mkII is being peddled. So, when stopping to take this photo:

(Nothing too amazing, but a pleasant enough field I suppose) She wildly threw me on the to the tarmac, giving my pride a definite dent. I mean, who can ride the length of England but fall off a stationary bike?! Problem is my handle bar bag has a tendency to suddenly turn the front wheel when the bike is stationary if you done have a hand on the bars...and if clipped in with SPD's, down you go. I looked a right chump!

Pulling myself back together and nursing a few bruises, more peddling, and this required another gel and some serious effort to keep going. 

Finally, after passing through Carlisle in some wonderful sunshine, it was only another 8 or so miles to my target....Scotland!!

I am only taking this ride one day at a time so I'm not going to talk about whats ahead too much yet, but I will say being in Scotland is a wonderful boost, and it means tomorrow I can ride a little under 100 miles and still be on target. Today was 197km/ 120 miles all told, and looks pretty cool on the big map:

Finally, just now while typing this a staff member here who is training to be a mental health worker, saw my "Rethink" t-shirt and its been cool talking a bit about this cause with him. Hope you're training goes well mate! 

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Day 4 Ludlow to Wigan

Travel tales to a minimum today. The reason(s) I'm riding from one end the country to other are try to do something to help out some people who have been less fortunate in recent times than I have. Whilst I'm swanning around on my bike, others are dealing with a less open view of the world, either from the after effects of a severe stroke, or from mental illness.

So a big thank you to the many people who have contributed to these causes so far - you are making a difference! I see a few more donations have come in since I started and I;m really very grateful for the support too...

Anyway, in brief: I pushed on another 100 miles today, up from Ludlow through some really pretty country

And past this inflatable 16th century house in Shrewsbury

Hitting the 100 mile target at Wigan, with actually pretty easy going compared to previous days

The easy day is a relief, because tomorrow its time to go crazy on the milage. Its also the biggest hill...gulp...

Day 3 Shipton to Ludlow

The weather looked dire again for day 3, massive stormy winds from the west and southwest, and heavy rain. I did get away nice and early and was on the outskirts of Bristol by 9.30am. Turning off down the first of many skirting side roads south of the city, I came across a car pulled over with the emergency services dealing with a thigh sized peice of tree wedges a few inches into the radiator...looked nasty and I would have taken a pic had it bean tasteful but the occupants of the car looked shaken (but unhurt). It was of course properly howling and there was plenty of debris all over the road!

It didnt take too long to follow a useful route a fellow CTC member had shared, and I was over the first bridge with no worries, there was a steel bern on my left all the way across that kept most of the westerly off me. The Severn bridge a bit further on was another story. ..will post a video when I can get a decent internet connection.

The ride across was frankly scary and really hard work, leaning in and requiring all upper body strength to stay on. I wouldnt say it was that dangerous as such, the worst that could happen is getting pushed into the divider seprating a the footpath from the road, but that didnt make it any less scary and I felt utterly pummeled when I finally got to the other side, arms were pumped with lactic acid...had my first carb gel to try and make up some lost energy.

After that, things got a lot better. For a start, I was in Wales! And nicely sheltered in a stunning valley called the Wye. The road had been recently resealed and wound its way through lush forrest above the flooded river, awesome riding. I saw loads of cyclists here and warned the strong looking riders /tried to put off the others about the wind on the Severn. I've not seen a single "lejog" rider since day one but seen plenty going the other way and had some good banter with them. One fellow CTC member was carrying a massive 50kg and camping the whole way - good lad!

Lunch in Monmouth. This was "superfood" pasta at a Wetherspoons would you believe it, with my customary 2 pints of liquid to try and stay hydrated, proper peddling fuel:

North of town it stopped raining and the land levelled out a bit, I blew off 50 miles in good time, hitting my target well in time for tea @ Ludlow. 

Weather looks good for day4, another century on the cards. Had some amazing support on facebook and thank you so much everyone, sorry I cant reply faster.  Day 3 summary: