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The brave hearts arrived in John O'Groats at 18:15 today
27th July 2001!!!!! Well done lads! more news to follow....
On Saturday 30th June, we went down to Somerset to check out the bike. We rode from SJS Cycles in Bridgewater to Taunton and back. Nat, always the consistent performer, managed to manouvre us successfully out of Bridgewater. Don't ask any of us how! Dex guided us successfully through busy Taunton and gained the others' trust with his careful main road, high speed control, although the bike nearly ended up in two pieces with one of his 'racing lines.'
Dan found waving at people and saying hello particularly amusing. However it took him many laps of a nearby industrial estate to be able to steer the thing at all.
We received many looks from Saturday shoppers in the centre of Taunton while we made a few adjustments. Brave Dex (uttering 'gahd, i'm getting blatent looks,' clad in lycra, hair ruffled) went and bought a permanent marker from W. H. Smiths. Dan and Nat used this to write the web address on their legs, which didn't come off for days and no one could even see anyway.
We felt the practice went very well. We proved to ourselves we could ride fast, get up hills (small ones) and handle traffic (most drivers give way so they can get a decent view). We've talked to the helpful people at SJS Cycles and they will make a few adjustments. We're confidant of success.
Tuesday dawned fine and warm. Dan got out of bed almost unaided and collected Nat fresh from holidays in Italy. By 1200 it had clouded over but our ten o'clock start was under way as we headed for the M4. By 1230 it was raining and at 1300 the windscreen wipers stopped accompanied by an acrid smell. We stopped, got wet and started again. The wiper motor was indeed hot and reluctant. Despite following the wake of juggernauts we managed to make on in light rain. Robin at St John's Street Cycles suggested we contact Non - Stop in Bridgewater and Clive there gave us the name of Vauxhall dealers. We tracked the part down at Uphill Motors in Weston super Mare who were kind enough to speed things up for us and gave a discount. By 1700 Nat and Dan were receiving induction at SJSC, the car was being repaired at Non-Stop and the author was eating sandwiches obtained with the assistance of Tony there.
We hope to reach Penzance YHA (once we get the bike
on the roof) by 2100 in time for more food ("carb loading") and
sleep for some. Dexter arrives at Penzance at 0050 having - wait for it
- had tea at Buckingham Palace. We plan to set off at 1030 (taking it easy
on day one) at will be showing off at Sainsbury's Truro between 1400 and
Dan, in the central position, acted as conduit to the discontent passing between Nat and Dex, adding his own vitriolic comments to the brew. Putting the power down throughout the day, Mr D. "I love challenging my body" Perry was never entirely satisfied that Dexter was putting in the effort. In fairness, although Dex was clearly enjoying himself too much, his consummate map-skills steered us faultlessly to St Austell. Beyond this delightful backwater, the Cornish signposts conspired against us, rerouting us through Cornish hills that felt more like cliffs. Seizing the opportunity to blame Dex, we nevertheless made it to the hostel in good spirits. Many thanks to Sainsbury's in Truro, who fed us with more than we could eat, and allowed us to harass their customers in our typically charming manner on the behalf of our cause.
Early morning clouds had been light and fluffy in the anchor-butter advert school. Such fortuitous omens were quashed by the storm clouds on the horizon, which rather that soaking us from on high, seemed to descend to meet our trudging path. The next miles were spent embraced by cloud, obscuring the Dexter's proud new Briko sunglasses. His blatant looks quota may have to be modified, to compensate for the number of sheep he mistook for fine young ladies during this interim. With our momentum the top speeds crested 43 mph, but such gargantuan forces acting on the bike seemed to take their toll, so that a good deal of half informed tweaking was required at the end of the day. We may even have sorted out the front derailleur, which required a frenetic up and down shift to 'ease' it into gear.
£40 of food, generously donated once a gain by Mr J Sainsbury, meant we were stocked up on Dan's gourmet pasta at the close of the day, ready to tackle the 110 miles which dawn would bring.
We have now found out what cycling Land's End to John O'Groats is going to be like . We struggled yesterday.
We were blessed with great weather and the best hills Cornwall had to climb. A 20 mile stint on the A390 caused particular pain as each leg destroying ascent was followed by an equally soul destroying descent where we could not exceed 5mph for fear of overworking the brakes, and thus exploding a tyre.
Eventually, having climbed up part of Dartmoor, lunch was called. We had all sworn to avoid pub lunches on this trip, but nobody even raised the point as we crawled into the Bearslake Inn at Lake (there being a distinct lack of Sainsbury's around). Lunch was eaten in almost total silence and several years later we climbed back onto the bike. The day slowly improved as hills got smaller and in the end we got just over the M5. Not as far as planned, but still good. All we had to do now was survive a half hour drive with Alan "McRae" Perry!
We left Minehead Youth Hostel in high spirits and many winding roads later arrived at the previous day's finishing place. After some initial climbing we rocketed our way to Bridgewater Sainsbury's with Taunton town centre the only hindrance to an average speed of over 20 mph (isn't that amazing err no). Anyway we were received by Josh's (from Big Brother aka Nat) cheering grandmother and cousin. After a fat mange in Sainsbury's café, mostly for free, Josh and Dan shopped, while Brian (from Big Brother aka Dex) badgered the hugely generous Bridgewater populace and Alan ferreted around in the car as usual.
Several cereal bars later we continued to Bristol at pace (around 23) before reaching the Mendip Hills. Coming down the gears and working hard, Dan, his first day at the helm, forgot to "call" the final shift, (tell everyone he's changing) and despite some strange sounds from the rear of the bike, one of which was Brian's squealing, the chain was "sucked" off the easiest cog and into the space between the spokes and the cassette. Due to continued pressure from a determined Dan trying to get up the hill, the chain was jammed in so hard that it had actually been squashed thinner. So after a team effort of Josh dismantling the bike undoing the chain, removing the wheel, Brian holding the bike and making suggestions instantly rejected by Dan but actually quite sensible and Dan holding the rich fruity tea cake, breaking bits off and placing them in Josh's mouth.
On the repaired bike we laboured up several hills, put off by inconsistent milestones but encouraged by passing white van passengers offering words eventually deciphered as keep going lads. We whizzed into Bristol, negotiating traffic lights and triple carriageways without dying and followed signs to the youth hostel. Obviously these didn't take us anywhere near the youth hostel. After asking several helpful peeps who sympathised given the labyrinthine, one way mess of Bristol town centre and after many dazzling displays of our team spirit and synchronization, or to be more precise shouting at each other as loudly as possible, blaming everything on everyone else, we limped to the wrong entrance of Bristol YHA. At the correct entrance, Brian signed us in while Dan and Josh guarded the bike from enthusiastic 11 year olds, as Alan continued to struggle with anti-car youth hostel signs.
Plans for another early start were scuppered by Dan's deliberation over his report. The Bristol YHA had provided us with comfortable beds, though sleep was somewhat hampered by the flatulence visited upon Dexter by his diet of cereal bars. Setting out from Bristol, it was a relief to breath the fresh air, but the approach to the Severn cycle path seemed interminable. It was, however, flat, and the miles swept by, leading us through Bristol's bleak docks cape to the bridge. A small victory was celebrated by maturation from the top of the magnificent structure, before we pressed on into the Wyes valley. Met near Chester by a relative of Dan, we were warned of the rolling road that followed the river. In the event all was well, ourselves cruising through the beautiful countryside as we swept up and down from the Wye. Unfortunately, hubris was once again at work, and no sooner had Nat mentally noted the apparent success of the day, than his famously lax concentration slipped once again. Normally these lapses in mental application can be dealt with by a series of "sorry what's", but the ten foot bike which Nat happened to be steering prevented such a fortuitous escape from the claws of disaster. Turning back to the road after trying to catch one of Dex's mumblings, he realized the bike had made its way towards the curb. Never the coolest head in a crisis, he failed absolutely to compensate, and the bike ground along the lip of the verge before propelling the riders into a hedge.
With the appropriate levels of swearing for such an extraordinary feat of incompetence, the riders returned to their machine, readjusting the relevant parts, before setting out again. Making it to Monmouth, they made a second stop, at which point Nat realized that the stem (connecting the handle bars to the forks) had been wrenched enough to burr the clamps. The upshot was an hour's delay as we located a bike shop, the relevant part, and replaced it on the bike. Struggling through to Hereford to lunch they braved lashing rain and each other's tempers before recharging body and soul in a bizarre café-church in the city. With this much needed sustenance they set off again, finding the roads after Hereford fantastically flat as they ploughed through at speed towards Shrewsbury. They turned off before reaching the home of international fives (ask Dexter) and spent the last leg on B- roads, slowly nearing the hostel at Ironbridge, with reassurances that earlier in the day the whole ride had looked in jeopardy. Finally arriving, as the evening drew in, the gods had their final laugh as the hostel warden uttered the immortal words: "I've got a booking for Mason, but it's at the other Hostel". "Where is it", we asked tentatively- "Oh, about three miles up the road". Having experienced the hell of the final five miles, another trio did not seem feasible let alone attractive, but as a final recompense it transpired that we could stay at the first hostel. A much-needed sleep would recharge us for the longest day of the trip .Nat.
The YHA is in crisis as one of the tourism consequences of Foot and Mouth. There is a £5m deficit forecast and talk of selling hostels to balance the books. It would be tragic if such a wonderful organization should be damaged. All sorts of people enjoy the facilities in amazing locations and some depend on low cost country accommodation especially schools and long distance trials of endurance such as 3 on a bike.
What can be done I hear you cry. USE THE HOSTELS. Visit the surroundings as far as possible even if walking is still restricted. Go out of season, what could be better than a crisp Autumn morning on Dartmoor. If you haven't ever visited one try, you'll be pleasantly surprised.
Some footpaths are open but impassable. Beat a path
if you can, find a way of helping clear if you can't. I'll try and find
out who to contact. AMP
Here I am sitting outside in the morning air of Bowland Forest. The Slaidburn YHA we are staying in is a lovely old cottage. Everything would be positively nice, bar the hundred miles through the Lake District that loom ahead.
Back to yesterday.
It was the longest day planned and we did longer! Successful it may have been, but the 125 mile trek from Telford West of Manchester to beyond Blackburn is not one I will look back on with rapturous joy. The morning was flat, and we soon found ourselves clocking up the miles. As lunch approached Dan and Nat decided to take it upon themselves to personally attack me. They were apparently upset by a rather exaggerated wobble that had occurred when I (the person on the front) had been paying slightly too much attention to a reflection of myself in a shop window.
Sadly the afternoon brought a change in progress.
As we got through Bolton the Pennines arrived and our legs disappeared.
Knackered we pushed on and at 7:30p.m decided enough was enough, and stopped
outside Clitheroe. Having found a friendly (Clitheroe) golf club that promised
to look after our bike we jumped in the car and held onto anything we could.
Alan "McRae" Perry failed to deliver though, as we were overtaken
en route to the Hostel. A miracle?
After a pleasant stay in the beautiful Slaidburn Youth Hostel we were all recharged and ready to take on the supposedly easy Forest of Bowland. We started at a fast pace over the gently rolling hills and eventually crawled into Kendal slowed by several pain stops.
We decided on a cheaper meal than our normal pub lunch. Nat had several helpings of chips and Dan, already suffering from previous efforts and general lack of energy "manged" down his pie and chips, coming back for a cheeky toffee sponge and custard. However, this helped him not at all because the A6 out of Kendal rises up into the hills to a height of 1400 ft. Somewhere near the top he said he needed to stop because he felt sick. Anyway, after lots of breathing and several pictures taken by Dex, Dan rose from his knees by the side of the road. The riders reached the summit and had their photo taken before beginning their rolling descent into a Penrith. Dan was unable to continue helming supposedly because of exhaustion and numb arms.
After a quick refuel in BP, we zoomed through 18 miles of rolling country to Carlisle. There, we had no idea where the Youth Hostel was. After asking people a couple of times, we reached the comfort of our apartment (university accommodation during term time). A little later the fresh support team of Robert and Howie arrived and they took us for a pleasant meal at a local Italian. Less enjoyable though, was the half hour tour of Carlisle as we had no idea how to get back to the hostel. Eventually, we asked a police van which escorted us there in a matter of seconds.
The single rooms offered by Carlisle YHA had proved
themselves as remedy to the
pains remaining from the A6 climb. Having enjoyed a recharging sleep, it was
the initiative of one of the new support team that saw us attempt to get up
earlier than 8:30. With dad looming over him, Dexter was obviously far more
inclined to move than when Nat had offered similar threats to get him up on
previous mornings. The arrangements which ensued meant, of course, that we only
left half an hour early, but with fresh legs and a ridiculously large
breakfast (Nat) we powered out of Carlisle towards the border.
Despite the drizzle, all seemed well, at least for
Nat who had opted for once
to put on warm clothes, but within moments we were sampling the fickle brunt of
the British weather system. For almost the first time in four days the sun
burst out to meet us, and rather than meekly disappearing within minutes,
stayed with us as we surged through Southern Scotland. Dexter was overjoyed
that his white lycra team jersey was now ideally suited to the climate, and
wasted no time in pointing out to Nat that he would be shortly overheating. There was little Nat could say in reply, even in the face of Dex's garish 'Euro'
garment, and within the hour he was lamenting the clothing choice.
With the support vehicle + contents currently on
a golf course, there was
little hope of remedying the situation, and Nat was about to perspire when
someone pointed out that the sweeping downhill he was trying to power up was in
fact going up. Such was the gradient of the climb over Lanarkshire moors that
it always seemed that you had reached a flat section, but the feeling in our
legs was enough to convince us that we were still climbing. Eventually the
promised lunch stop came, as we reached the village of Abington, and after a
lengthy refuelling we got back on the bike to leave the moors and head for
Glasgow. In their thirst for useful cycle paths, the National Cycle Network
appears to have constructed a vast, well-maintained route from Carlisle to
Glasgow that resolutely follows a B-road. Normally this would make it an
unpleasant experience, but for the motorway running parallel which drained the
traffic. In a final irony, the path, on which we saw only one other cyclist,
had become obsolete as it was just as safe, and faster, to cycle on the B-road.
The genius of a rejuvenated Glasgow is not to put
the "Welcome to Glasgow"
signs until you're in the town centre, so it was some time, after forcing our
way through the sprawling suburbs that we reached our goal. This was not to
say that it was done easily, Nat reaching the brink of hysteria as the traffic,
potholes, thick Scottish abuse and Dan's jovial back-pedalling at all the wrong
moments became too much. Dexter did, however, navigate us through in the end
with surprising alacrity, but having been misdirected by Alan's well intentioned
internet map, we had to carry the bike up three flights of stairs before finally
reaching the youth hostel.
Another day gone and here we are in Glencoe YHA sitting not a stone's throw (or something else?) from an absolute Yati of German origin. I always knew I should have done another language at GCSE!
Today was billed as the miles that would make or break us. Our first stop was the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Glasgow, where we had our pictures taken with 2 kids with CF, Holly and Stewart, for a local paper. It was great to have this opportunity to get some publicity for the charity, but it left us with 90 miles to get through from 11:30 p.m. Personally I doubted we were going to do it, especially given the small matter of the pass over Ranoch Moor at the end of the day.
The cloud set in, mountains disappeared and the Scottish drizzle stayed
The report has been briefly interrupted by Howie's gourmet stir fry dinner. Another Yati has appeared to sit within range (mental note: Glencoe YHA = centre of excellence for German Yati's).
. Glasgow and what was left of the morning slowly passed and the A82 became more bearable. Loch Lomond made brief appearances as the mist set in and 3onabike began to loose heart.
Eventually a stop was called in Tarbet Hotel and 3 hot chocolates, 1 sandwich, 1 Danish pastry, 1 cookie and several nutri grain bars later (did I mention the malt loaf), we set off up from Loch Lomond into the Western Highlands. The climb was steady and at 4 p.m. lunch (?) was called at the famous Little Chef of Tyndrum.
And so to Ranoch Moor. Leaving Tyndrum the drizzle turned into rain and within minutes 'water-non-proofs' were turned into wet suits. However altitude was gained with relative ease, possibly due to the fact that it was impossible to see the road, let alone the gradient in front. The Summit of Ranoch Moor raised a cheer among the riders, followed at length by various claims of invincibility from Dan 'I passed out on the A6' Perry, mixed in with expletives.
The descent started slowly, but as the mountains
appeared and the sun made a feeble attempt at warming, we flew the last
few miles into Glencoe YHA
which all leads me to here, sitting in
the dining room, not a stone's throw away from a German Yati.s
Finally Day 9 is drawing to a close and soon I can take my weak body to bed. We've just eaten 1.5 kg of pasta between five people (Robert and Howie had normal sized portions, therefore 400 g of pasta per rider (in fact Nat's a fatty, or just has far greater storage facilities, he ate most himself.))
The final moments of last night were spent meticulously calculating the distance from Glen Coe Youth Hostel to Inverness. A plan was drawn to leave at 10 (a comfortably safe time) and arrive at Moray Firth Radio at 3:30.
In fact Inverness is around 85 miles from Glen Coe rather than 60. However we did manage to leave before 10 but failed, once again, to not be the last group leaving the youth hostel.
Muscle aching and with a weary Dan at the helm, the riders made a couple of miles before stopping at a magnificent bridge over Loch Linnhe, offering spectacular views across the glassy loch with wispy cloud tens of feet above the pallid water. We made our way onwards after a cheeky photo or two, one for our own portfolio and the other from a passing Easy Rentacar. Swiftly, we rode alongside the loch and arrived in Spean Bridge, where Dan "always in pain" Perry performed his usual collapsing routine beside the road complaining of back pain. Dex took his place at the helm and after several conversations with support people about radio and back ache we set off again.
Another break was taken at the end of Loch Oich where we admired a rickety suspension bridge, capable of supporting 50 people, watched boats enter the canal and Dan, his legs ruined by much exertion, consumed the best part of an entire malt loaf. Lunch was to be taken in Fort Augustus, where we arrived after our first off road spell on the pot-holed towpath of the Caledonian canal. We decided to eat at Neuke's Café after careful consideration of several menus. This turned out to be an excellent choice since the owner not only generously gave us a 50% discount on our main courses but helped advise on our route past Loch Ness.
A near death experience with an overtaking lorry (R937OST) survived, Dan couldn't take the pain any longer at we stopped at Drumnadrochit. Then we slogged the last 15 miles into Inverness, cold and soaked by pouring rain. Moray Firth Radio briefly interviewed Dex about our ride while Dan and Nat remained cold and drank hot chocolate.
We then began our 35 mile slog to Tain golf course where we were to meet our support car for the lift to Carbisdale Castle. Soaked by mad Scottish drivers we arrived hungry, sore and miserable. A quick shower briefly lifted our weary spirits and after a lengthy drive we reached the magnificent castle built in 1907. After admiring architecture and artwork, we began our feast.
Dan had back ache again this morning and could hardly
be bothered to eat breakfast.
Carbisdale's famous ghosts had failed to provide their ethereal entertainment, but the pixies had obviously cast their spell on Dex and Dan, who finally managed to rouse themselves of their own accord. After consuming the bulk of last night's pasta, Nat still felt the need to cook extra eggs on toast, and thus after fully charging the group were ready to roll in their typically relaxed fashion.
Back on the road the plethora of pasta provided by our head chef Howie was not enough to ease the pain, and once over the Dornoch firth there were several misgivings about the likelihood of success. It was, nevertheless, the last day, and with this incentive our progress was steady. A rolling sea mist had obscured the majesty of the .
At this point Nat gave up writing, and gave himself to drink. We shall never know what he was referring to, but at a guess "Dexter's perfectly toned legs" might have fitted in well.
In story telling fashion I shall continue in chronological fashion. On the other end of the Dornoch Firth a stop was taken, both to complete the morning's bodily functions, and to load up with cereal bars. Off we went with a huff and a puff and a 'urghhhhhhhhhh', from Dansi, our resident invalid.
Cloud flashed past and soon we found ourselves in Helmsdale for our late morning stop. Tea was taken in a pub and a Scottish lady informed us that we hadn't a hope of getting to Johno today. How helpful
Out of Helmsdale the road went up and up. Our final day: cloudy and mountain climbing. Morale was strained.
Eventually the sun made some effort to burn off the cloud and with hints of blue appearing Dan removed one of his 13 layers on clothes. As if by magic the hills also disappeared, and the road ahead resembled something that could almost be described as flat.
Lunch was taken in Lybster and 3 boys carefully totted up a £30 bill, perhaps in a final attempt to leave themselves incapacitated, thus avoiding the final 35 miles. Talking about those it might be appropriate to give Dan a chance to describe those final moments. Indeed there is a rumour that he actually forget his various pains (back, hamstring, calf, neck, wrist, head, nose, 3rd toe on right foot .), and actually had a go at pedalling for a while ..
A very pleasant lunch was cut short by Dex demanding our departure. We got on the bike in the best sun we'd had for days and were ready for the final 35 mile push. In high spirits we chattered away as we revved along the A9. Soon enough we reached Wick, receiving the various greating of "what tha?" "oi, oi," "the bloke on the back's not pedalling (me)," that we'd become accustomed to after 900 miles. After Wick, we once again found ourselves in mist/cloud, but at least the road was reasonably flat. We made contact with the various support staff before going on a burn, Dan having finally decided to do some pedalling, (Dexi has no effect on burning, his legs having no muscle capable of producing any greater power or muscle definition, despite Nat humouring him.) Having burned we then realised we were still 7 miles from Johno and were a bit knackered. We simmered down, fuelled up with cereal bars, chocolate bars and whatever decaying crumbs of foodstuff we had left in our pockets, passed the mobile, on the move, to the support car which had precariously pulled alongside. We continued at a snail's pace, though this was due to some gravitatious hills, and had a brief stop to drain some fluid on top of the final. We got back on the bike having completed the shortest break of our trip due to the abundance of midges attacking our perspiring bodies.
We rocketed down the hill, sprinting despite aching legs, pushing so hard that our bums left our seats (maybe not Dex). In scarcely a minute we entered the complex network of stupidly small car parks, didn't know where to go, had our shortest argument of the trip and eventually found our way to various "last houses in Johno," signpost that tell you how far it is to Land's End , and cheering family members and support staff.
Utterly relieved, we jubilantly posed for photos and sprayed champagne everywhere...........