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Lands End to John O Groats and Back!
Lands End to John O Groats and Back!
2016 was a rest year for me until I was asked to go on a long ride.

Twitter @ironjedibra

An Unexpected Journey! Lands End to John O Groats and Back!

Ironjediby IronjediAug 29th 2016
I start this blog at the end of the journey. At 11.30 pm on Friday 15th July I sat in the cold on a picnic blanket leaning against the car in soiled cycle kit with a huge smile on my face waiting for the AA to come and break into my car. Mrs P had managed to lock the car keys inside the car amidst all the excitement of the day. Lots of people have said to me “you must have been really angry”. In truth, I couldn’t stop smiling. Why should I be angry with such an amazing person who let two men ride off on a voyage of self-discovery and supported us day in day out from afar and to be honest she is whom we drew strength from. The car being locked was for me the icing on the cake and made me laugh out loud.

An idea is born

Land’s End to John O Groats and back again was born on a cold, wintery night. I returned home to be asked by my stepson Jake, who by the way is only 17 years old, yes, only 17 years old, whether I would help him ride from Land’s End to John O Groats during the summer of 2016. I thought about it for a nano-second. Of course I would. I offered up support in the form of either riding with him or driving a support vehicle, although Mrs P doesn’t recall the latter offer.

It was quickly established that he would like me to ride with him. The planning began. We considered the option of Mrs P driving a support vehicle, however we soon established that this would not be possible so it was decided that we would ride unsupported with all of our kit. After a couple of weeks of looking at routes, distances, flights, trains, taxis and the issue of getting back from Scotland with 2 bikes and all our kit Mrs P made a half joking suggestion…….
“So getting back looks like it is going to be a complete faff logistically plus a load of expense, do you fancy riding back? and so LEJOGLE16 was born.

Jake decided to undertake the challenge in aid of World Bicycle Relief, an organization mobilizing people through The Power of Bicycles. World Bicycle Relief is currently working to provide 50,000 bicycles to students (70% girls), teachers and educational workers in rural Zambia and South Africa. For 95 pounds they can provide a World Bicycle Relief bicycle to a student in need, these bikes are known as Buffalo Bikes.
I was impressed with his choice of charity and the fact that he had put a lot of time into choosing one that was right for him. He then set about planning everything with my help â€" the logistics of sorting routes, accommodation, designing/ordering bespoke cycle jerseys, researching and ordering the right equipment. This all proved to be quite time consuming plus there was the small matter of the training that would be required to ride up and down the length of the country in a time restricted 14 days.

In summary though I had two challenges, both equally important and both of which needed to be completed without compromise:-

1. Get back to our home address in time for my Wedding Anniversary.
2. Safely get Jake from Land’s End to John O’ Groats and then back to Land’s End.

SIMPLES!!!!!

Thank you
Some of the accommodation was sorted with the assistance of the wonderful ultra-community I have become part of. A massive thank you to Louise C, Mark Y, Steve P, Alan R and Pete S for their hospitality in opening their homes to us and providing us with a place to eat, sleep and generally zonk out. Grateful thanks to Jon R from Astral Couriers who provided us with a couple of nights at the Travel Lodge in Carlisle for both Northern and Southern legs and also Martyn O who provided us with a night at the Travel Lodge in Perth.

Thanks to Betteryou for providing Magnesium support, multivitamins and vitamins for the journey. Thanks to Brett H at Jackoatbar who provided us with enormous amounts of Jack bars in a variety of flavours including a bar he made especially for Jake, the Salted Caramel bar. Thanks to Science and Fitness who helped us with Glycosource drinks which fuelled us along the way. Thanks To Mark Whittle from Whittlefit Coaching for parting with some gems of knowledge and advice. Finally a massive Roar and thanks to Paul M from Team Bear who got behind Jake making a special hoody for him and supporting him through social media.

Thank you to everyone who supported and donated to the charity for Jake on this journey. Without the kindness and support of everyone this would not have been possible.

BetterYou. I wanted to mention this company who have supported me over the last three years. We used their products before and during the challenge and the products they supplied were one of the key reasons we could get up and ride day after day. Every morning we sprayed our legs with Magnesium Oil and ingested a multivitamin spray, Vitamin D spray and B12 spray. After lunch we would apply a second helping of oil. Whenever possible in the evenings, we would bathe in Magnesium flakes and then have another helping of either Magnesium body butter, lotion or oil. We repeated this routine daily without fail, apart from one day which you will read about later. We paid for this school boy error! Thank you BetterYou.
Let’s prepare for the challenge

Training started some months earlier. Jake and I had to do most of our training on our own due to Jake juggling college, part time work and training. I managed to do most of my training by commuting to work on my bicycle. I aimed to cycle at least 4 times a week (a 64 mile daily commute). Jake usually cycled 4 times a week - 3 short 20 milers and a longer weekend ride. We decided that doing frequent rides was more important than long rides. This would get Jake used to sitting on the saddle day in day out. I too planned some long rides. The longest training ride we did was 141 miles. We also did some back to back weekends - 100/80 milers. Over the Easter holidays I got Jake out 7 days in a row come rain or shine. Training went well for him. Jake had a few little blips but ultimately I was impressed with his commitment to the end goal. He missed a number of social functions with his friends due to early morning rides and his commitment to training.
The Night before GO!

The night before we started LEJOGLE I drove down to Land’s End with Mrs P, Jake and Tony (Jake’s grandfather) arriving there at 9pm, just as the sun was setting. It was quite windy but exhilarating. After some photos and a portion of chips we settled down at the Youth Hostel at Saint Just. This had everything we needed and was close enough to the start. I would recommend it as a place to stay if considering LEJOG.

We planned to set off each day by either 6 or 7am depending on the length of the day’s ride. Our route had been planned and set into the Garmin 1000 that a friend of mine had lent us (Thanks, Chris W). Without it we would have ended up well and truly lost. We had no margin for cutting days short or making them longer depending on how we felt. All stops were either booked with hotels, B&Bs, YHA or friends. There was no room for error.

The ride in figures!

Miles covered: 1837
Calories burnt: 112,000
Climbing in foot: 95,352
Hours spent in the saddle: 136

Day 1 2nd July Lands End to Blackdown Hills

Mileage 145.1 miles Riding Time 10:29 Ascent 12,346 ft

Jake seemed a little nervous but keen to start his adventure. We woke early to porridge and croissants. We headed down to the start, Jake’s dad, Matt, had driven down that morning to see him off which very much touched us both. After some photos and a short video, we set off at 0715hrs. As we cycled away we were both so excited about the challenge ahead. The sun was shining and we couldn’t have asked for a better start to the day. Although we had our bike baggage on and were completing the challenge self-supported we did leave some essentials at home. This was a luxury due to the first overnight stop being home. After that we would be fully laden so wanted to enjoy it whilst we could. Day 1 was going to be the hilliest day of the two weeks and it certainly did not disappoint.

After Penzance, we stopped for a quick photo at St Michael’s Mount. We marvelled at the stunning view across to the Mount, it was funny to think that the Tour De France was at Mont Saint-Michel on the same day. We then hit the hills. It was clear even then that the route we had planned was going to be hilly……why pick a flat route #flatisboring.

Mrs P and Tony had planned to meet us for a second breakfast. Our plan was to have a second breakfast daily between 1000-1100hrs. The reason for our disciplined start and break times was because we wanted to have cycled 50/60 miles by lunchtime. I knew this would boost our morale and was key to breaking the back of the day.
We stopped at a little bistro for a bacon roll and coffee, perfect timing as the moment we walked into the cafe the skies opened with a heavy rain shower, lasting until 2 minutes before we set off. We spent the next few hours on the A390 putting coats on, taking coats off as we were showered on most of the day. We next saw Mrs P and Tony on the edge of Dartmoor. The section to and over Dartmoor was hilly and by the time we reached the first climb onto Dartmoor it was about 1430hrs. We stopped for lunch and both felt absolutely beat, we had only travelled 92 miles.

Those last few miles had been hard and had taken it out of us. After a 30 minute lunch stop, we headed onto Dartmoor proper, having stopped longer than I would have liked but spending that little extra time with family was worth it. These were familiar roads as we had reccied them a couple of times. Whilst climbing over Dartmoor we came across Mike and Alison, Jake’s Great Uncle and Aunt, they were waving flags and armed with sweets and chocolate. It was lovely that they had made the effort to find us within the beauty of Dartmoor.

We headed off Dartmoor through Moretonhampstead and then ploughed on to Exeter. News had reached us that we had some support in the centre of Exeter. As we hit the centre we were greeted by more family - Peter, Sue and Elizabeth (Jake’s Great Uncle and Aunt and his mum’s cousin). They all had Ironman cowbells, flags and Haribo. It was a great final boost and now we only had 22 miles to go. Refreshed by seeing some family we pushed on through Broadclyst. As we approached a bus stop on the left I noticed a familiar cycle jersey hiding in the shelter, the wearer was a member of KJCC (Kentisbeare Junior Cycling Club) a children’s cycle club which I help to lead. Some of the chaps from KJCC had come to lead us home - Vernon, Marcus, Simon and Stuart. This certainly increased our average speed as the company drove us on. Vernon hung onto the back clocking Strava PR's on the way. Hilarious. The chaps led us up onto the Blackdown Hills, gradually peeling off as we approached home. Jake and I rode the last 3 miles home together. Jake said "haha, we have just cycled from Land’s End to home in one day". He was amazed, relieved, impressed and almost dumb struck by it. As we rode towards home the family were clearly watching the Spot Tracker that Martyn O had lent us (Thanks Martyn) so were outside waiting for us to roll in.

At home two good friends that I have met through doing endurance challenges were also waiting. Matt P and Adam P had come down from Cardiff to spend most of day 2 with us. Annie and Mia were also with them and would pick them up after the day 2 ride. It seemed rude not to have a couple of beers with them to celebrate a fantastic start to the challenge.

Both Jake and I showered and went through our BetterYou Magnesium ritual.
After several helpings of lasagne we were off to bed for a 7am start in the morning.

Day 2 3rd July Blackdown Hills to Evesham

Mileage 131.6 miles Riding Time 08:58 Ascent 5725 ft

So, an early start for me as I packed up the kit, prepared bottles, packed food and got breakfast ready for Jake before leaving at 7am. The KJCC chaps (Vernon, Stuart and Simon) came to join us again. The seven of us headed off and after 10 miles were joined by Grant B. We descended from the Blackdowns and into Somerset via Corfe Hill which had been resurfaced with nice, flat tarmac. A fast descent by all past two of the local constabulary (Matt and Maria) who offered some support. Vernon, Stuart and Simon peeled off and within an instant three more friends joined us in Taunton â€" Mark, Jim S and Mike T. We headed across the Somerset Levels keeping a good pace up all the way to the bottom of Cheddar Gorge. We stopped at the base of the Gorge for a second breakfast. The weather had been stunning since leaving.

After breakfast everyone raced up Cheddar Gorge with the exception of Jake and I, fully laden with around 20kg of extra weight. At the summit, we said goodbye to everyone apart from Matt and Adam who stayed with us until Stroud. The weather was glorious; we even pulled out the sun cream, although we wouldn’t need this again until the penultimate day.

We climbed over the Mendips and then blasted down a descent, Matt and Adam in front and Jake behind me. Within the blink of an eye LEJOGLE was almost over before it began. I raced down after Matt and Adam clearly forgetting that I was fully laden down with kit (the extra weight meant you really had to think about positioning and plan your breaking). In all the excitement I had forgotten this. As we flew down a left-hand bend, unbeknown to me some temporary road works had been set up with traffic lights. I had either not seen the warning signs due to going too fast or they were not there. Either way the same thing would have happened. As I came round the corner I saw that the traffic was all backed up on our side of the road, I applied the brakes and didn’t initially stop, due to the speed and weight for sure. I applied increasing pressure to the brakes. I still wasn’t stopping and started skidding. The cars in front were backed up and a line of cars were coming towards me through the temporary traffic lights. My back wheel started to overtake my front wheel and I was now skidding on the wrong side of the road sideways towards the oncoming cars. The only way this was going to end was with me on the bonnet of a car.

I didn’t know what to do, the brakes were doing their best but they were not good enough, I could feel the heat burning off the pads! Just before the point of impact I let go of the brakes. In an instant my back wheel swung like a crocodile tail back to where it should have been which gave me enough time to steer the bike through the middle of the cars and thereby avoid hitting them. I shot straight to the front of the queue of traffic and finished with a skidding endo at the lights. Change of shorts definitely needed after that. My heart was racing and it was enough of a scare to make me slow down.

We stopped for a late lunch at a local service station. Over the next two weeks this would sadly be the staple of our diet. To our surprise Jake’s Aunt and Uncle, Chloe and Mark, had come out to see us. A quick stop with them and a plentiful supply of chocolate and sweets and we were off again.

After that excitement we climbed towards the edge of the Cotswolds. The scenery was stunning, and on reaching Stroud we waved goodbye to Adam and Matt who, within only minutes of leaving us, were tucked up in a pub having a pint or two, tweeting about the ride whilst they waited to be picked up.

We left them with only 30 miles to go. These miles seemed like the longest 30 miles ever, the last part was on the A46 which I certainly don’t recommend. As we rolled into Evesham I was truly spent and we were only on day 2. We arrived to the warmest of welcomes from Louise and Simon who had offered to put us up for the night. We were certainly spoilt. They met us with a massive banner they had made and then made sure we were fed and watered with pizza and beer. We both showered and then a lovely lady called Amanda arrived from AJH Sport Massage.

Louise had arranged for her to come and give us both a sports massage. Jake went first, all I could hear was grunting and groaning coming from the other room, this was the first sports massage he had had. I was up next, absolutely loved it and my legs felt reinvigorated by it. Thank you Amanda. What lovely, kind, thoughtful people.

Day 3 4th July Evesham to Bury

Mileage 129 miles Riding Time 10:08 Ascent 4145 ft

We made an early start and were on the road by 6ish. We had two cities to negotiate today - Birmingham and Manchester. Today was supposed to be an easy day…….it was far from it.

Cycling through the Midlands was pretty dull; the roads were boring, full of cars and quite flat. Right from the start of the day the Garmin was having a fit; it wanted to send us through fields, houses, gardens and over rivers. As a result of the Garmin meltdown we ended up getting lost for about an hour in Birmingham, resulting in Jake’s cleat breaking. Fortunately I had brought spares. There was a massive downpour of rain and we got absolutely soaked. Slow progress.

As we were heading out of Birmingham we stopped for a very late lunch. We had planned to simply pick up some supplies from a supermarket and eat on the move due to having lost so much time. We stopped at a supermarket and loaded up with food. As we were about to head off we were approached by a young man in his 20’s. My initial and unkind thought was that he was slightly unhinged. However, it quickly transpired that this young man was extremely kind and in fact lifted our spirits massively at a point where we were not enjoying the experience. His name was Joynal and he offered to take us for lunch. We really appreciated the offer but were keen to try and make up lost time. He asked us about what we were doing and why and then gave Jake some cash for the charity. His kindness made a real difference to us both. Suddenly all our worries were gone. We thanked him and cycled off with smiles on our faces.

As we headed towards Manchester the Garmin went on strike, so we had to go old school and use actual maps to guide us into the city centre. I had been previously worried that we would hit the city centre at rush hour but I need not have worried, we missed the rush hour by a couple of hours. We rode straight through the pedestrian centre which was awesome. I made a call to Mark Y, our host for the night, and he agreed to ride out and meet us.
As we cleared the centre we met Mark and followed him to Bury. It was great to forget about our appalling navigation that day and not have to think about which way to turn. What had been on paper a leisurely day, had ended up being an absolute slog. Mark and Jo made us feel very welcome, we were again treated to beer, pizza and potato wedges. Superb! It had been a hard day in the office however it was great to see Mark again. We first met whilst both training for the Brutal Events Extreme Triple Iron Triathlon. By the way, they are running another Triple in 2017 and you can enter here.
Mark has since gone on to complete a Deca Iron in Snowdonia this year. Read about it here.

Day 4 5th July Bury to Carlisle

Mileage 110.2 miles Riding Time 09:17 Ascent 8281 ft

On paper, we had another short easy day ahead of us. Wrong again! Mark set off with us in the morning and after about 20 miles we stopped for a bite to eat in Clitheroe. By now our bodies were like furnaces, we constantly had to keep feeding them just to maintain forward momentum. We sat in the centre of the town which was very pretty, the castle in the background at the top of the hill. I found a small café. Once inside it was clear that this was no ordinary café as they had about 50 whole chickens on spits in the oven. What an amazing sight. We ordered hot drinks and bacon, sausage and egg baps. I was in shock at the price; they practically paid me to take the food away. Mark reminded me that “we were up north now”. Those baps lasted all of 10 seconds. Jake wanted another one and it seemed rude not to partake at those prices. Unbeknown to Jake I had already stocked up on pastries, chicken pieces and sausage rolls. I would pull these out of the bag later to lift his morale.

We waved a fond farewell to Mark and headed on into an area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB), The Forest of Bowland. Wow, what an absolute treat, the roads were smooth tarmac, the traffic non-existent, the weather was beautifully sunny and the views outstanding. It was a pleasure to ride over these long sweeping hills. They were brutally hard but worth every minute. We came off the hills and headed over towards the Lake District which we could see from some distance away. Rather than cycle straight to Carlisle, our destination for the evening, we headed towards Kendall so we could get some Kendall Mint Cake.

We stopped just outside Kendall having stopped to purchase another spare set of cleats at one of the local bike shops. I pulled out the array of chicken and pastries for our late lunch. The chicken melted in our mouths and was a welcome treat, particularly as we had been mainly eating at service stations. We didn’t want to carry too much extra weight on the bikes so we tended to eat whenever we could as we had no idea when the next food stop would be and didn’t want to get caught out with no food or water.

About 10 miles from Kendall, just as we were heading properly into the Lake District, Jake’s rear gear cable snapped. Thankfully we were outside a cluster of houses. We set out to change the cable, only to find we had no wire cutters. Eventually one of the kind residents lent us some blunt wire cutters and we sorted it. Although to be honest it would have been easier to cut the cable with my teeth.

Off we went over the Lakes and up “The Struggle”. This was a spectacular climb and to be honest, having never been to the Lakes before, I was blown away by the views. On reaching the top, we blasted down to Ullswater and then back up another dragging climb until we stated to leave the Lake District behind. On paper it looked like we had a 20 mile descent into Carlisle. Eeeeeeeeesaaaaaay! Not! This was probably the hardest part of the day and mentally we were beaten to a pulp on what should have been an easy short day. By the time we arrived at the Travel Lodge in Carlisle, we were exhausted. We ate some food from the restaurant there washed down by a pint of Guinness. We were well and truly done in.

Day 5 6th July Carlisle to Perth

Mileage 143 miles Riding Time 10:37 Ascent 6468 ft

Day 5 was set to be a pretty hard day so we got ahead of ourselves and left at 0600hrs. We were happy to see the back of Carlisle. We had been so exhausted the previous day that we didn’t really appreciate the place and actually felt quite hateful towards it.

We left so early that we were unable to get breakfast at the hotel. We stopped about 3 miles in and bought some sandwiches from a service station. Jake was mentally broken before we had even begun. This was down to two things; firstly he was feeling physically and mentally exhausted and secondly he and I were both thinking about Mrs P at home who was due to start her treatment that day.

I tried to keep Jake’s spirits high but I was wasting my time. He was cold, tired and tearful. I thought ‘that’s it, we’re done’. We had cycled just over 10 miles in well over an hour with an average speed of 7.5 miles per hour. Jake kept telling me how cold he was. He ended up with about six layers on and was still cold. I told him we would soon be in Scotland and were over half way to John O’ Groats. We talked about his mum at home and agreed that, compared to what she was facing, all we had to do was ride our bikes, it was that simple.

We made it to the border at Gretna Green and Jake seemed to perk up. It helped that he was doing an impression of a Scotsman and telling me all the things that Scotland is famous for. It made us laugh, so we just dug deep and pushed on. We followed the cycle path which runs alongside the M74. This was a lovely route; we soon picked up a little speed and felt that we were finally moving forward. We stopped at a roadside café, stocked up for the day and even ate a proper breakfast. I had a text from work; it seemed that every time they checked the tracker to see where we were, it always landed on some eating establishment which amused them greatly.

We passed through Lockerbie and headed towards Falkirk and Stirling. At Stirling, we stopped at the site of the Battle of Bannockburn which was cool. The weather hadn’t been great since arriving in Scotland and we spent the day putting on coats, taking off coats, getting wet and drying out.

The Garmin was still having a bit of a wobble over directions and the day was certainly stretching out. It was clear we would be riding in the dark that night. Approximately 12 miles from Perth (where we were due to stay at the Travel Lodge), we realised we were slightly lost. We had two choices; either add about 5-10 miles onto our route in order to avoid the A9 dual carriageway or time trial 12 miles along the A9 in an attempt to end what had been a gruelling day. There was only one thing to do…. we time trialled the A9. So much so that I got a top 5 Strava cup on it. This was because I was either now super fit or people just aren’t stupid enough to ride this section of road. It was certainly the latter. It was the scariest 12 miles I have ever spent on a bike on account of the lorries and I was so relieved to get to the end of it and arrive in Perth.

As we arrived at the Travel Lodge there was not much in the way of food but we needed to eat, and eat fast. McDonalds was our only choice. We ordered a mass of food. We were dirty, wet and cold. I chatted to the guy serving us whilst he sorted our food, he couldn’t even imagine the distance we had covered in the last five days. For us it was becoming the norm to get up, ride, eat, sleep and repeat. I walked over to get some condiments and joined Jake at the table as the guy was going to bring the food over. When he did, he also had my wallet in his hand; I had left it next to the straws and serviettes. This made Jake and I crack up with laughter because I had become paranoid about losing my wallet since we started the challenge. Every time I stopped to get something out of the bags, I would question myself whether I had left it on the road as we cycled off. Leaving my wallet on the counter was a clear indication of our tiredness.

We downed our food and headed to the Travel Lodge. Martyn had got us separate rooms. It was quite weird to have our own space as we had got used to spending 24 hours a day together. It was good to have a little time to reflect on what we had already achieved. Jake had been amazing up to this point and having got through the day I knew he would make it to the end.

Day 6 7th July Perth to Invergordon

Mileage 150.3 miles Riding Time 10:49 Ascent 6866 ft

On paper this was set to be a beast of a day, it didn’t disappoint.

We left at 0600hrs, rode through the outskirts of Perth, found a supermarket and stocked up for the day. We were set to be on the A9 for almost the entire day. Jake didn’t know how far the day’s mileage was. In fact, he chose not to know the distances for any of the days. If he had, it might have broken him. His Garmin was only set for ascent. In the supermarket, a lovely lady who served me asked what we were doing. I told her and she gave me all she had in her purse in support of the charity. It wasn’t much but the thought behind it was overwhelming. Avril from Perth, Thank You.

We had a lovely ride initially. The weather was great and we cycled across rolling hills for about 12 miles. As we approached the turn for the A9 I saw a sign…. ‘Inverness 107 miles’. I glossed over this as our destination was to be a further 30 miles beyond Inverness. We would be on the same road for well over 100 miles.

The A9 was varied to say the least - stunning, isolated, cold, wet, windy, depressing, fun, amusing, rough and extremely hard. It threw everything at us and shook our bikes to the point of almost falling apart. We climbed up over the highlands. The day was full of all sorts of emotion.

Coming off the Highlands and into Inverness felt like a massive achievement in itself as the A9 was hardcore. We met some interesting people along the way, fixed some worn brake blocks, replaced another pair of broken cleats and remained stuck in the moment.

Crossing the Kessock Bridge at Inverness, Jake decided that the bridge was a little too daunting but I wasn’t about to detour, I just wanted the day to be over. We crossed the Cromarty Bridge and headed north. Steve P who was hosting us for the night lives just outside Invergordon. Fortunately, he rode out to meet us with about 20 miles to go which was a real boost and we seemed to fly the last few miles. We arrived at Steve’s house to stunning views across Scotland. This was a very special part of the world for sure. His venison stew was just what we needed after such a hard day. It was handy too that Steve is an ex pro bike mechanic and was able to give our bikes a once over. My old Kona had coped well with the miles up to this point and had certainly fared better than Jake’s bike which was only just holding together â€" a few bolts had been rattled loose by the infamous A9. My bottom bracket was not sounding the greatest and I wasn’t sure how much longer it would survive either.

After being treated like royalty by Steve, bed was calling. The next day was going to be a short day and to be honest we both needed a couple of easy days to recover from the slog of the previous six days.

Day 7 8th July Invergordon to John O’ Groats

Mileage 96.7 miles Riding Time 06:48 Ascent 4891 ft

We set off at about 0730hrs which for us was an absolute lie in. It looked as though we would get to see the Tour de France highlights on both days due to our rides being relatively short in distance. Although short we were still set for some hills. We continued on the A9 following the coast and crossed the Dormoch Firth Bridge.

Steve stayed with us for the first 25 miles until we stopped at a café in Golspie for a breakfast bap and coffee. This was becoming the norm for us now. It was great to have Steve ride with us again, company was always great. After bidding farewell to him we had two big climbs to get over, one which was at Helmsdale. By now we could feel every climb in our legs. The landscape had changed, there were hardly any houses and shops were few and far between.
We passed through Wick and suddenly John O ’Groats was within reach. The day had been short but hard on the legs. We felt excited about reaching our destination but as we arrived at John O’Groats we felt quite underwhelmed. I don’t know whether it was due to the fact that we were only half way through our journey and had to get up and ride tomorrow or whether it was because there is just nothing there. We rode up to the lighthouse which is apparently the real finish of Lejog. We were UNDERWHLEMED!

After a couple of photos, Jake rang his Mum and Dad. At least they were not underwhelmed! We then headed off to find the John O’ Groats sign. The wind had really picked up and it was quite cold. The rain showers had been off and on all day. We enjoyed the obligatory Fish Supper and Irn-Bru then headed to the B&B, crashed out, watched the Tour, ate Pepperami and went to bed.

Day 8 9th July John O Groats to Invergordon

Mileage 90.6 miles Riding Time 06:26 Ascent 4636 ft

Breakfast in the B&B was interesting and I can safely say that I won’t be staying there again. We headed to Wick and bought some supplies for the day which included Lidl Scottish Macaroons. These were basically 600 calories worth of brown lumps of sugary fudge. They were awesome and became the staple of our diet, often brought out in the afternoon to lift the spirits and bring on an almighty sugar rush.

We decided to change the day’s route. It should have taken us across the northern coast of Scotland and then down through the middle, back to Steve’s at Invergordon. Instead we rode back down the A9 to make the day as easy as possible and to ensure that we arrived in time to watch the Tour de France. We stopped at Dunrobin Castle for lunch which was very picturesque.

It showered throughout the day and nothing eventful happened until about 10 miles from the end. My knee had been playing me up all day and I was in some pain. We stopped at a service station as I needed to rest. Jake was not very sympathetic. I wanted to find out how much the completion of the challenge meant to him so I hammed up the pain a little and told him I didn’t know whether I could carry on. He was angry and said “that’s it, this is fecked and Mum’s not going to let me finish this on my own”. He began to pace around, thinking about what he could do. He then announced that I should get a taxi to Steve’s. He took the Garmin off my bike and put it on his, informing me that he didn’t need me and that he would finish this on his own. I got him to slow down, get me a coffee and just rest for a bit. I oiled up my legs and told him I would limp to Steve’s and we would see how my leg was in the morning. Jake was adamant nothing was going to stop him and that he would finish this on his own if need be.

We arrived at Steve and Adele’s for a second night and were given another fantastic, warming meal. We met Elliot (the bunny) and watched in amazement as he ran around the house clearing the stairs in one leap. He was a funny fellow and Jake warmed to him. Steve had also got hold of a bottom bracket for my Kona and fixed it. Their kindness was awesome.

Tomorrow would contain the part of the route we were both looking forward to the most. The Great Glen!!

Day 9 10th July Invergordon to Crianlarich

Mileage 144.1 miles Riding Time 10:15 Ascent 9296 ft

We set off early to get ahead of ourselves. Fortunately the pain in my knee had eased overnight. We hoped to get to Lock Ness by 10ish for breakfast. We headed out of Steve’s drive and must have only been ½ mile from his house when a cyclist passed us, clearly on his daily commute. We didn’t really notice him as we were just riding along soaking up the scenery. I said a jolly loud “Good Morning”. The guy just grunted at us because we were in his way. We both commented on how rude he had been and that there was just no need for such unfriendliness. We watched him fade into the distance until the point where we turned left to re-join the A9. The rude guy had gone straight on. About 10 miles later, as we approached the Cromarty Bridge, I saw Mr Grumpy up ahead who was now on the same road. I said to Jake, “Let’s catch him”. So we did. I wanted to pass him at full speed, fully laden down. We were soon up on him and then powered past him without the smallest of glances towards him. We rapidly distanced him as we approached the Bridge. I then became aware that he had managed to catch us up and was quite happy to sit behind us, benefiting from his now aero position. In defiance, I wanted to see if I could break him again. I continued to wind up the speed and I could hear Jake telling him we were on day 9 of our epic trip. Funny, beforehand he wouldn’t even speak to us as it appeared we were not worthy of even a hello. Now he could see we meant business. We crossed the bridge and the cheeky “bar steward” had no shame in sitting behind us, it wouldn’t have been so bad if he had only taken his turn. Needless to say, we covered the first 50 miles at speed with a very good pace and arrived at Loch Ness at 10am for breakfast. What a great start to the day!

At Loch Ness the rain started and it continued to rain hard for the rest of the day. The clouds were low and having anticipated spectacular views throughout the Great Glen, catching sight of the fabulous mountainous terrain, we were disappointed to instead be cycling through fog, rain, spray and general wetness. Our destination for the day was Crianlarich Youth Hostel.

As we headed towards Fort William we came across the Commando Memorial at Spean Bridge. Although we were both tired and wet through, wishing for the day to end, we agreed that this was one place where we could spare the time to stop. I found it a really moving place, the appalling weather just added to this feeling. So glad we stopped.
We rode on through the Great Glen and although the weather was absolutely hideous we made it to Fort William. The rain was so hard that we had a second late lunch, fish and chips in a sit down chippy, just to shelter from the rain. The hot tea and fish supper lifted our spirits but this was soon to be crushed. We left Fort William with me leading the way. The rain was hard, the spray from the road was fierce and you could not hear anything due to the sound of the rain sloshing around. I rode hard for about six miles and then looked round to see how Jake was, only to find that he wasn’t there. I pulled over thinking he would only be a short distance away but time went by and he still didn’t arrive. I started to worry a little so began to ride back towards Fort William. After 2 or 3 miles I saw him, slowly cycling towards me. I waved him on and found a safe place to turn. As I reached a corner I could see Jake up ahead sitting on the top bar of his bike with his head in his hands on his handlebars.

“Jake are you alright?” I said as I gave him a friendly rub on the back. He replied, “I thought I had lost you”. He was in floods of tears. Fatigue and the anonymity of the day with horrendous conditions had broken him. I told him everything would be alright and comforted him however I couldn’t resist….. “see, you do fucking need me, don’t you!” Jake amidst sobs…. “Yes”.

We then set off again following the Garmin which wanted to take us over a massively steep hill on an off road track and down an old waterfall. After a quick detour back to the main road plus a 25% climb for nothing, we were on our way again. This day was hard in many ways.

We climbed on through Glencoe, this was stunning even in the rain and fog. I would love to go back on a fine day. As we climbed, the weather got progressively worse and the wind had picked up. At the top we made our way over Rannock Moor. This was bleak beyond bleak in these conditions. We both found it hard and eventually arrived at Crianlarich. It was late, the village shop had shut, in fact that we hadn’t even realised what day it was, and of course shops shut early on a Sunday. We were soaked through and starving hungry. We braved the local pub. As we walked in dripping wet, it was clear the locals thought WTF! The place went silent and everyone stared at us. Cold and exhausted, I couldn’t have cared less what they thought. We ordered a couple of burgers and chips and a pint, scoffed it down and then booked into the Youth Hostel.

It was clear that the lady booking us in could see we had had a hard day. She tried to be nice. I realised that I had not in fact booked a private room but instead two beds in a dorm. Realising my mistake, I tried to change the booking but the place was rammed full of wet people and wet gear. We tried to hang our kit in the drying room but that was full. I found a little space but there was no chance our kit would be dry by the morning. We went to our room which was on the ladies side, so in order to have the privilege of using the most rancid showers known to man, we had to walk across the hostel. We managed to lock our bikes up, get some kit sorted and then realised we were sharing a dorm with one of the biggest knobs you could meet. Fortunately I resisted the urge to choke him to near death. He had commandeered the majority of the plug sockets so we struggled to charge any of our kit. We both hated the place. Due to the set up we didn’t even put our Betteryou recovery oil on. We would pay for that tomorrow.

Day 10 11th July Crianlarich to Carlisle

Mileage 156 miles Riding Time 10:37 Ascent 5700 ft

We were up early (screw everyone else in the dorm), we had some miles to cover. We got changed in the communal lounge, scoffed some toast and hit the road at 6am. Whilst loading the kit back onto the bikes and putting on damp clothes and shoes, we were eaten alive by midges. As we cycled away from the Youth Hostel we vowed never to go there again. Good Bye!

So after the previous day’s hills and thrills, we were rewarded with a few miles of descent all the way to Loch Lomond. The lake was pan flat and you could see your reflection in it. We took some pictures and then larked around with some midge head nets. We didn’t really need them thanks to all the rain but we felt like we should make use of them, having sourced and carried them. We cycled with them over our helmets for about 50 metres before disposing of them. We twisted and turned following the edge of this stunning massive Loch. On one of the cycle paths Jake came off, having crashed into a small hedge. It was a bit of a shock for both of us but I think his pride was more hurt than anything else.

We passed through the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park and made our way to Glasgow. We passed under the Erskine Bridge and then took the cycle path under the River Clyde. Up to this point we had thoroughly enjoyed the ride and were keen to find a Mcdonalds just before 1030hrs in order to grab a second breakfast. Sadly we were five minutes late so settled for burgers, chips and shakes. We managed to get lost in Glasgow but eventually got onto the National Cycle Route 74 and shadowed the M74 all the way back to Gretna Green. Prior to leaving Glasgow we passed through an outer suburb, it was there we met Rab C Nesbit and his mate who were hell bent on ramming us off the road and shouted obscene abuse at us for being “Fucking lycra wankers”.

The cycle route back was fantastic. As we reached Gretna Green, Jake’s spirits lifted; we had made it back to England. The last six days in Scotland had not only flown by but also seemed to last for weeks. I blame the rain and wind. We were almost back at the Travel Lodge in Carlisle, again kindly booked by Jon R from Astral Couriers for us.
It had been a long day but an enjoyable one and we were both in great spirits. We stocked up on food for the next day and went to the hotel, feasting on pot noodles and pasta amongst other things. The hotel staff had kindly put us in the disabled room, having arranged this on our previous stay a few days earlier. There was more room for our bikes plus we were on a lower floor. The disabled alarm in the room kept going off which prompted the reception staff to hurry to our room. I was really embarrassed when they came in to check the cause of the alarm as it looked like a grenade had gone off in the room, with our kit all over the floor. We couldn’t work out why the alarm was continually going off as the alarm cord was in the bathroom. We laughed when we realised that there was an alarm button behind Jake’s pillow which he kept activating as soon as he leaned back. Carlisle looked like a beautiful city and we saw it in a very different light second time round.

Day 11 12th July Carlisle to Liverpool

Mileage 126.6 miles Riding Time 09:35 Ascent 6246 ft

We again left early, after dining in our room on porridge pots and croissants.
We decided to go through the Lake District but this time a different route. We were again blown away by the beauty of the area. We passed though Keswick and past Lake Windermere, a “Honey Pot” site as described by my step son Zac, and then headed down towards Lancaster and Preston. We were staying with Alan R tonight and he came out to meet us for a quick blast to his house.

On arrival, we discovered that Jake’s Dad had driven up to see him. Jake was touched by this, it really did mean a lot to him. He didn’t stay for long but it was great that he came. Alan and Jen fed us Pizza and Chips, washed down by Guinness. We made it there with enough time to watch the Tour. Jake was over the moon for a number of reasons but secretly I think that Jen offering him some of her moisturiser just tipped him over the edge of happiness.

Day 12 13th July Liverpool to Malvern Hills

Mileage 138.3 miles Riding Time 10:01 Ascent 3607 ft

We left Liverpool at 0700hrs and headed off to the Liverpool Docs. Alan led us there safely, giving us a tour of industrial Liverpool on the way. It was a whistle stop tour and at one point we were cycling towards the Liver Buildings on a carriageway with four lanes in reasonably busy traffic. It was a bit sketchy. We arrived at The Liver Buildings which looked spectacular on the Liverpool Skyline. Liverpool is certainly a place I would like to return to.

The plan was to get a “Ferry across the Mersey” so we waited for the Peter Blake “Dazzler” ferry to arrive. We said goodbye to Alan who had looked after us so well. Once on the ferry I was expecting a long crossing over an expanse of water. I was surprised by the short trip which is clearly a well used commuter route. We got chatting to another cyclist, Liam, who has been using the ferry for the last 12 years. He gave us a potted history and briefed us on the bike/ferry politics. Our three bikes were resting against the railings and as we came into dock, a massive wave washed over the deck of the boat, soaking our bikes and dampening us. We cracked up with laughter and Liam told us that it had never happened before. We took it as a sign of good luck. As we exited the ferry one of the guards offered us a cup of coffee. It turns out that coffee is available free of charge to all people commuting on the ferry. The guard was really interested in what we were doing. We loved the hospitality and friendliness of Liverpool.

After our unplanned stop at the ferry, we headed through Chester and down towards the Malvern Hills. We were due to stay with Pete S overnight. I had met Pete the previous year at “The Oner” and he is a pretty awesome ultra runner. Pete was due to come out and meet us to guide us back to his house. Prior to that we passed through Whitchurch and Shrewsbury.

As we approached Leominster, we had our first puncture of the trip. Jake’s rear tyre had gone flat after cycling over some unavoidable shards of glass from a bottle. We set about changing it, unbeknown to us in the middle of an ants nest. This slowed us down somewhat, although to be honest Jake needed the break as he had practically fallen asleep on the bike and fatigue had certainly set in.

We met Pete and headed home to a feast of Pasta and Pizza. We met his family and were made to feel very welcome. Thank you. We ate and then I sorted the kit on my own whilst Jake got an early night. Tomorrow was going to be a great day as we were heading home!

Day 13 14th July Malvern Hills to Blackdown Hills

Mileage 125.5 miles Riding Time 09:37 Ascent 6639 ft

We started the day at 0600hrs as we wanted to get ahead of ourselves in order to get home for my Wedding Anniversary. We had some porridge and toast and headed off. We seemed to make quite good progress and stopped in Monmouth for our second breakfast - croissants and pain au chocolat. We rode down the stunning Wye Valley taking in all it’s beauty. At Chepstow we stopped for a third breakfast at a roadside burger van, practically inhaling a bacon, sausage and egg bap. We then headed over the Severn Bridge. The weather was fantastic. Today had been the sunniest, hottest day of the trip and we were back in short sleeved jerseys.

We headed towards Clifton in Bristol and the Clifton Suspension Bridge. On route there we were met by one of Jake’s friends, Fran, who knows Bristol like the back of her hand. She saved us a bit of time and led us to the bridge during her lunch break. After crossing the bridge we rode through Ashton Court which was pretty cool. As we left the estate at the southern entrance I told Jake that we were now heading home. He was surprised at this as he had assumed that he was heading home since leaving John O’Groats. He had not realised that these small detours to see different things were actually adding mileage on. Well, it was too late for him to moan about it, as now we really were heading home.

After passing through Congresbury we met up with a friend of mine, Dave H, and he rode with us all the way to Bridgwater. We cycled along the Strawberry Line Cycle Way which was stunning. Arriving at my workplace in Bridgwater, we were treated to cake, sandwiches and tea. We waved goodbye to Dave and swapped his company for Phil T who was going to ride the last 32 miles with us. All we had left to do was a typical commute home from work, one which I have done so many times before.

As we passed through North Petherton we came across Jake’s grandparents who had come out to wave us on. Whilst we were stationary Jake’s Great Aunt and Uncle, Peter and Sue, turned up. They had been stalking us on the tracker all afternoon and had just missed us by minutes in Bridgwater. A quick stop and then we were keen to get home.
We passed through Taunton and then cycled up Corfe Hill onto the Blackdown Hills, the last climb of the day. Two more friends joined us, Mike T and Rob W. It was so great to have company and it always seemed to up our average speed. Jake flew up Corfe Hill, you couldn’t tell he had the best part of 1700 miles in his legs The lure of home was too great for him.

We were ½ mile from home when Wendy, my wife and Jake’s mum, jumped out to surprise us. She was going to ride the last ½ mile with us. It was fantastic to see her although it was going to scupper my plan to pick up the flowers for my wedding anniversary which I had asked Nancy, my sister in law, to leave in the phone box for me. As we approached the village, we sent Wendy ahead of us and I was able to pick up the flowers. As we cycled through the village there were lots of our neighbours out clapping us home which was really lovely. One of our neighbours gave us sponsor money and ale to drink. Thank you, John and Andrea.

As we reached home all the family were there to cheer us in, including Jake’s Great Grandmother on her mobility scooter at the grand old age of 96.

It was amazing. I had completed one of my goals… getting back in time for my Wedding Anniversary, just one more day to tick the other one off.

Day 14 15th July Blackdown Hills to Land’s End

Mileage 150.6 miles Riding Time 11:29 Ascent 10566 ft

I woke up and the normal routine began. I did everything whilst Jake slept. I lay out all his kit, got his cooked breakfast ready and checked the bikes but I wasn’t complaining, that’s what I was there for, right, the super domestique!

We set off from home at 0700hrs in the company of Stuart M, Simon C and George K from KJCC who were going spend the first part of our final day with us. Again, it was great to have company. The weather was ok, just a little drizzle. The plan was to cycle to Okehampton, north of Dartmoor, skirt the edge of the moor and then retrace our steps through Tavistock before heading straight down to Land’s End. Simon dropped off to go to work, Stuart left us at Crediton and George stayed with us until Okehampton where we stopped for coffee and croissants. Peter and Sue had been chasing us all morning and finally joined us there which was great. It was lovely to see them again.
Jake and I were now on our own again. We made slow progress to Tavistock where we bumped into Alison and Mike WP. They followed us for a bit, leapfrogging us. It was great to see them. The next 70 miles were brutal hills and we slowed down considerably in comparison to the first fast 40 miles.

Wendy and the rest of the family were going to head down to Land’s End to see us come in. They tracked us down on route and on a few occasions stopped to offer us food and support. It was lovely and we really appreciated it but to be honest, it was just slowing us down. We so wanted to finish and get the day done. With 40 miles to go it was time for them to leave us. Jake was at an all time low, mentally and physically. We were so close and yet it still felt like such a long way to go. We talked about it and agreed that we would try to smash the last 40 miles at speed and give it everything we had. We wanted to simply enjoy the last part of the ride together and alone.

The Garmin was predicting an arrival time of around 10pm based on our current speed and performance. I am pleased to say we reduced that considerably.

We started the 40 mile time trial. We absolutely gunned it and arrived about a mile from the finish just before 9pm. I stopped as I just wanted to have a moment with Jake, as I knew it would be mental at the end.
I told him how much I respected and loved him, how proud I was of him for achieving such an amazing challenge and for raising so much for charity. We hugged and I cried. I had watched him turn from a boy into a man. It was as if we had been part of some ancient tribe and that I had taken him away from the tribe for a voyage of self discovery. This would set him up for whatever life had to throw at him, from this day nothing would be beyond his reach. He could achieve anything he set his mind to. I had absolutely enjoyed every day in his company and wanted him to go and finish his challenge. I set him free but in truth he had the strength within himself from the start and didn’t really need me. I was just his security blanket. I watched him ride away from me towards Land’s End.

As I watched him roll over the finish line having cycled 1837 miles in just 14 days up and down the length of this beautiful country, I was able to relax. The second part of my challenge was complete. I had got him back safely.
 
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