LEJOG Journal

Cycling Lands End to John O'Groats April 22nd 2011; 1000 miles, 10 days…will we make it?

Our LEJOG: Thanks and what we would have done differently…

Our LEJOG seems like a long time ago now and as ‘Summer’ progresses I look back and think just how bloody lucky we were to have done the ride back in April/May (which seems to be when we get our real Summer now anyway!).

We’ve now collected just about all of our sponsorship money and we’ll very soon be passing the money that was raised for the Schleroderma society to Penny’s Fund (see our sponsor page for details) so I thought now would be a good time to wrap things up, say a few thanks and offer a few final pearls of wisdom to anyone planning on doing the ride in the future.

Firstly, the lovely money: to date, we have raised £1859.00 (+£458.06 gift aid) for Penny’s Fund and £2234.56 (+£505.33 gift aid) for Cancer Research. Result!

So we owe a massive thanks to everyone who sponsored us and also those who helped make the trip possible. In no particular order, these are as follows:

  • All of our generous family, friends and colleagues.
  • Sperry Rail who sponsored our kit.
  • Northgate Vehicle Hire, who provided us with a free van.
  • Generous strangers en-route who helped us generate an additional £300 in sponsorship.
  • All the people who gave us free stuff on our way, from Ferry Crossings to free toll bridge crossings.
  • Everyone online who provided us with advice on route selection and preparation.
  • Various family who met us on the way and generously gave us some money for diesel.
  • Finally, to Norman for driving the van ridiculous distances, fetching us food and taking some great photos that will provide memories to last a lifetime.

Our Just Giving sponsorship pages are still open by the way, so if you’d still like to donate, it’s not too late!

In terms of advice, these are the things I personally would do differently if I were to do the ride again (which I may do, but not just yet!):

  • JOGLE instead of LEJOG. The reason we set off from Land’s End was to take advantage of prevailing winds which are apparently more likely to be in the cyclists favour if you head up the country; this wasn’t true in our experience. It wasn’t that we had the wind against us particularly (apart from the final day), but we didn’t get any advantage either. The sole reason I recommend finishing at Land’s End is that there are more lively places to have your final night celebrations (e.g. Newquay and St Ives are both close) – there isn’t much to do in John O’Groats. Even Thurso, where we got a hotel, was very quiet.
  • Plan your route so you have a short last day. We left ourselves a big distance to do and by the time we were done we were pretty much too tired and it was too late for any major celebrations. When you finish you’ll have just cycled approx 1000 miles – you’ll deserve to enjoy at least a couple of beers before passing out!
  • Use a GPS system. This is down to personal preference and these things are quite expensive, but you can buy one off Ebay, use it for your trip and then sell it again when you get back. We didn’t use one and ended up on a duel carriageway near Runcorn. Some people will be able to follow a map better than us, but I would use one just to cut down on the stress.
  • Plan your route so your end point each day is your accommodation, even if you have a support vehicle. We usually had to load the van and travel 15 miles or so to our hotel, adding about an hour to the start and end of each day. When you’ve been cycling all day your rest time will be precious, so make the most of it and keep the faffing to a minimum! In Scotland we finished our riding at the hotel and the difference it made to our time in the evening was significant.

Well, I think that’s about it. Writing this post has brought back some fond memories and anyone who is planning their own trip at the moment should be excited – it’s a great experience. Do your training, do your planning and enjoy! Feel free to get in touch with any queries.

Now then, what to do next….suggestions welcome!

Gaz

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Our LEJOG photos on Flickr

Finally got around to selecting a few of the photos from our trip to add to Flickr. Check them out here.

Thanks to Norman for his hard work in taking some amazing shots that have given us memories that will last a life time.

Our last day heading toward John O'Groats

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Day 10

I’m writing this post from the van on the way home and I’m glad to say we’re all still in one piece and newly accomplished End 2 Enders!

It’s not been easy and I think we can all feel proud of ourselves. There were times during the last ten days when it has been 50/50 whether we’d all make it or not and I’m really pleased to be able to say that we have. We’ve had it tough at times, but we’ve also got some great memories. I think we’re already starting to forget the pain and it’s the memories of the good stuff and the sense of achievement that will last.

As I mentioned yesterday, the Altnaharra Hotel was packed out with the TVR Club, and there was only us, them and one other guest in the hotel. This made for a fitting start to our last day, as everyone knew what we were up to and came out to see us off. We even got a song (not a very creative one, but you can’t complain!).

The weather was amazing again, not a cloud in the sky and feeling around 20 degrees. We really have been blessed on this trip, with 9 days out of 10 being this way. Quite unbelievable for the time of year.

We rolled out at a gentle pace, expecting a relatively easy day with less mileage to cover than the previous several days. This carried on for the first 20 miles or so as we headed out towards the coast, taking a slightly longer route for better views, passing the impressive Ben Loyal and Ben Hope. To give you an idea of how remote this part of the country is, we only passed two cars in this whole time.

Despite our hopes for an easier day, morale quickly began to be sapped as we hit some big climbs on the undulating coastal road, made worse by a strong head wind. It became clear after a few miles that we were going to be stuck with this headwind for the rest of the trip and our final days riding was quickly becoming our hardest. We were spurned on by a couple of supportive toots on the horn as the TVR Club passed us again late in the afternoon though, so thanks again to those guys.

After having a welcome sandwich stop at Thurso, and after some gentle cajoling, we decided that we would stick an extra ten miles or so on the day and make a small diversion to Dunnets Head, mainland Britain’s most northerly point. After coming so close, I think we would have regretted not doing so. It was hard to divert though with the end so close in sight.

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After a couple of photos and some cake we pressed on for the finish point.

Rolling in to JOG everyone was fairly quiet; I’m not sure if this was because we were feeling contemplative or if we were just completely spent. For saying we’d expected an easy day, it ended up being pretty brutal.

For me, I was thinking about all the miles we’d covered and everything we’d been through over the last 10 days, plus all the planning, that had lead up to this point. In a way it was a little sad, but in another much more significant way, it was a massive bloody relief to be finishing!

We were met at the finish line by Norman and a bottle of Champagne. JOG was pretty much deserted; the hotel is closed for refurbishment and, if I’m honest, it felt like a bit of an anti climax. But not to worry – we hadn’t finished yet! We had another 2 miles to do to Duncansby Head, the UK’s most north-easterly point.

I’m glad we convinced Jordan that the final two miles would be worth it, because Duncansby Head felt like the finish that such an epic trip deserved. We had a great view looking out over the Atlantic, with a glorious sunset to enjoy with the Champagne. If you’re finishing your trip in JOG, it really is worth the effort to come up here.

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Glad to be finished and excited about waking up tomorrow and NOT having to get on the bikes, we loaded the van and headed back to the hotel for as many drinks as we could fit it before falling asleep (embarrassingly, this turned out to be 3).

There’s already been a lot of talk on the way back about what the next challenge will be and I’m not sure what we’ll go for, but I suspect cycling will be out of the question if Danny and Jordan are going to be involved (keep you’re eyes on EBay if you’re after a Trek or Ribble road bike with moderate mileage on the clock – I suspect a couple may be coming up in the next few weeks!).

For now though, it’s time to get home and look forward to a diet that doesn’t consist primarily of Go Bars (or, as John has delightfully come to call them, No Go Bars).

Thanks to everyone we know who has supported us and thanks to everyone we’ve met along the way too – it’s made it all worth while.

The sponsorship pages are still open, so if you’ve enjoyed our blog then please donate.

Finally, good luck to all you other LEJOGers and JOGLER’s, I hope you all have great trips.

Adios for now.
Gaz

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Day 9

It’s really starting to feel like we’re close to the end now and everyone is in good spirits now that we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. How could you not be in good spirits with clear blue skies, the scent of sun tan lotion in the air and nothing to do all day but cycle through beautiful Scottish landscapes?

We set out from Invergarry after a great breakfast and a good nights rest at the fantastic Invergarry Hotel; I’ll definitely be coming back here.

Our destination was Altnaharra near the border between Sutherland and Caithness. Our route took us along the length of Loch Ness and gave us fantastic views of Cromarty Firth later too. And I know you’re wondering, did we encounter the Loch Ness monster? Yes we did; it was in the form of a 15% gradient climb that went on for around two miles. The sight of Norman and the Northgate van at the summit had never been such a welcome sight!

Despite all the climbs today (there were several tough ones) everyone remained pretty positive. In part, I think this was due to the scenery becoming so stunning as we picked up a minor road up to Altnaharra. The only way to describe the landscape up here is other worldly. It feels kind of like Spain, with the heather giving an arid rather than lush appearance. Then there are the mountains rising dramatically and independently, with huge bright blue lochs all around. It feels almost lunar in a way.

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We passed the Crask Inn and were cheered on by a group who set off from Land’s End on the same day as us, which was nice.

Duncan and John, as usual, got a bit competitive on the last stretch and put the hammer down while the rest of us took it easy and admired the deer grazing on the horizon as the sun set. Very cool.

It’s difficult to believe that anyone would miss out on this section and stick to the major roads following the coast out of Inverness. If you’re planning on doing this, don’t! You’ll miss one of the most memorable parts of the ride.

As we arrived at the hotel I tried out a new way of dismounting my bike, which basically entailed a dab on the front brake on a patch of gravel, toppling me on my arse for all to see. It got me off the bike, but I think I’ll stick with the traditional method going forwards!

We checked in to find the hotel packed out with the TVR Club on a rally. These were a good bunch who clearly intended enjoying their weekend away! They also chucked a fair bit of cash in our little purple sandcastle bucket from Cornwall too, so thanks for that.

We finished the day off with a couple of drinks and a hearty three course meal, before retiring, all excited to be finishing tomorrow.

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Until then…

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Day 8

Happy Royal Wedding Day!

Appropriately, Queen Victoria once stayed at the hotel we woke up in this morning. No celebrating in the traditional style for us however (i.e. making the most of the day off work and sloping off down the pub); we were Invergarry bound, 104 miles closer to John O’Groats.

We were all pretty tired and had a bit more of a lie in than we had planned, but this wasn’t too much of an issue as we had breakfast waiting for us downstairs at the hotel and didn’t have to load the van to travel to where we had left off the previous day (as we would normally have to).

The hotel was situated in a great spot on the edge of the loch and before setting off we took the opportunity to get in a couple of group photos.

It’s been pretty windy today and unfortunately it’s been against us most of the time. It made the approach to Ranoch Moor pretty testing, but we reached the summit in decent time all things considering (even accounting for the photo stop with the bagpipe player). We’ve generally been split into three groups while riding, with Duncan and John making the best time, Danny and myself holding the middle ground and Jordan bringing up the rear. The reward for the early climbing was awesome, with a really long and fast 40mph+ decent into Glen Coe, where we all gathered for a coffee break (except John and Duncan, who were halfway through a pint by the time the rest of us arrived. Look, we know you’re faster than us, but that’s just taking the p*ss!).

We then had 40 miles to complete the day and it was a steady, fairly flat slog. 800 miles in 8 days is starting to take its toll now though; everyone is starting to feel a little sore and the pace is dropping. We’re all still enjoying the experience and loving the cycling here in Scotland, but I think we’re all looking forward to the end now too! So, when we came into Invergarry, the hotel was a very welcome and relieving site. And another fine hotel it is too.

We’re up in the room as I write this, after having eaten another good evening meal downstairs. For me, this is the first time I’ve been to this part of Scotland and my appetite for coming back has definitely been whetted. It really is a beautiful part of the world and it’s fantastic for cycling. Plus, I think the fantastic quality of the hotels we’ve had in Scotland may be influencing my views somewhat!

All off to bed now, set for a 7.30 meet at breakfast and aiming to get a 9pm start as these early finishes are still proving hard to come by.

Hard to believe that it’s only two more rides before we’re due to reach John O’Groats. We looked at it on the map over dinner tonight and the ground that we have covered is amazing. So close!

Until tomorrow…

Gaz

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Day 7

The day started with a big porridge order at McDonalds and we all ordered double as today’s route was scheduled to be our longest. 116 miles, with an early climb and a ferry crossing that we had to make sure we were on time for.

Despite the slightly intimidating mileage, the section today has been fantastic. In fact, you know it’s a good days riding when you say ‘this is my favourite part of the route so far’ and then repeat the exact same later on when the scenery becomes even more spectacular. The first time I said this was on the road out of Moniaive and the second was as we hit the coast to the North of Ayr. Awesome!

The views on the ferry from Gourock to Hunter’s Quay were pretty special too and it gave us chance to cram in a few more calories to carry us through the last 30 miles into Cairndow. By the time we got there it was gone 8 o clock, we were all shattered and feeling pretty glad that we had left the Travelodges behind. Our hotel was the Stage Coach Inn, located at the head of Loch Fyne (like the restaurants) and it didn’t disappoint. Tonight was the first time we had cycled straight to the hotel, rather than loading the support van and driving, and it made a huge difference. It saved loads of time and it’s a real psychological boost knowing that as soon as we reach the end point we can begin to relax.

Travelodges have been a cost effective and low research option, but if we did the trip again we all agreed that it would be better to plan it so that we could cycle into the hotel every night.

The room I was in at the Stage Coach Inn had a huge inviting bath, but due to the late finish we only had time for a quick shower before heading down to the bar for last orders. We had some very good food, John and Jordan told some jokes that could only be described as non-PC and Danny got slightly drunk. Very nice!

Then it was up to the room to get some much needed sleep in preparation for a 104 miler to Invergarry.

Goodnight for now.

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Day 6

Phew, tough day. We started out on the outskirts of the Lakes in Burton in Kendal and we were glad to be away from the traffic – especially the traffic lights, which made it such slow going in parts yesterday. It was nice to be surrounded rolling countryside again too. It’s pretty amazing that we’re covering the length of the country and we’ll only have had to spend one day in heavily urban areas.

I’d say the biggest challenge of today was the 10 mile climb from Kendal to Shap. It’s a long, steady climb, on a rough surfaced road and today we had a head wind. It was a real tester but we’ll all pulled through it (admittedly, some quicker than others!).

Passing into Scotland through Gretna gave us a good sense of achievement and we had a team photo to celebrate the moment. We also bumped into an End 2 Ender going in the opposite direction. He was riding a mountain bike, carrying 30kgs of luggage and riding alone. He was aiming to do 80-100 miles a day and so far this had taken him approximately 12 hours a day. Plus, he’d had 6 pints and a curry the night before! I think for a moment it made us feel like we’re taking an easy option, but this was quickly replaced by a sense of relief as we went for a sit down in a van full of food!

The road into Dumfries, the A75, was busy and would be avoided if we planned the trip again (if you look at our route we had planned to largely avoid it, but we ended up turning on to it too early. D’oh!).

After turning off the main road to cover the last 16 miles into Moniaive on a very scenic B road, we were joined by a local cyclist who was out for a spin. This has been one of the nicest things about the trip so far – the community spirit when people find out what we’re doing.

Once we arrived in Moniaive we went for a drink in the hotel in the centre of the village and decided to eat in the restaurant a few doors down – The Three Glens. Definitely recommended, good food and very friendly staff.

Feeling well and truly spent, we returned for our last night in a Travelodge, roll on luxury hotels from tomorrow onwards, starting to feel like we’ve earned them now.

Gaz

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Day 5

Argh, the fine weather finally left us today. To be honest though I think that if we continued to have have the glorious weather that we’ve had until now, then we’d somehow feel like we’d cheated a little bit. No danger of that though – we got several thorough soakings.

The route today wasn’t the best either. After a nice stretch of countryside from Malpas to Frodsham we quickly entered the highly built up areas of the North West; Warrington, Wigan, Preston and surrounding towns.

Thinking that we were safe to follow signs for Warrington after leaving Frodsham was a mistake – the road signs actually lead you to the motorway (no good then) and the only other option once you get this far is to pick up the expressways around Runcorn to get back on track. These are duel carriageways, so still no good, but doable. It wasn’t a major disaster but it made for a miserable and relatively dangerous section of riding. For those planning to do the trip themselves, make sure you’re 100% clear on your route passing through this area, as we made it more difficult than it needed to be.

The other thing that has been a pain today too was the traffic lights and traffic generally. I think if it’s possible to plan your trip so you do this day on a Sunday, you’ll make much better time and enjoy it all the more. Either that or just do as most people do and accept it’s not going to be a particularly great day of riding.

As compensation for a slightly rubbish day scenery-wise we have had a number of people keeping us company en route. Tommy (John’s brother) and John’s mum met us first thing in Malpas, leaving Belper at a crazy hour to do so, which was a nice surprise. They also stuck with us through to Lunch in Charnock Richard, where we met more of John ‘s family and Lydia, my girlfriend.

We were a little disappointed when the pub we went in only served carvery as we thought that this would be a bit heavy, especially with around 40 miles remaining after we’d taken it on board. However, we went ahead and loaded our plates and it worked a treat – Jordan has never cycled so strongly!

John also got his wheel fixed at a bike shop over the road, so he’s running on full steam again. Not that it was slowing him down before! He’s very fit for someone who doesn’t exercise very often.

The day ended at J36 of the M6, around 7pm. For saying it was meant to be a fairly easy & flat day, it still felt tough. I don’t think 100 miles on a bike and ‘easy day’ go together!

Highlight of the day (for me): being picked up by Lydia at the end of the day to spend a night at home in Preston.

Low point: a puncture in the rain at the side of the A6 in Preston. The five of us stood around must have looked a sorry, miserable sight.

Thanks go out to: Tommy and my folks for supporting us with some diesel money, and Lydia for replenishing our sugar supplies – great brownies.

Tomorrow see’s us reach Scotland, fingers crossed for some better weather.

Stay tuned…

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Day 4

Good spirits in the camp tonight! It was tough dragging ourselves out of bed an hour earlier this morning, especially after a long and fairly fraught day yesterday, but it has definitely paid off.

We covered 104 miles and arrived in Malpas by 5.45 – a drastic improvement on the late finishes the previous two days. Don’t get me wrong, it’s been another tough day of riding with a number of physical and mental hurdles to surmount, but the difference that having time in the evening makes is huge. Everyone’s happy!

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ABOVE: A photo from yesterday of us crossing the Severn Bridge.

Spirits were also lifted by meeting up with my folks this afternoon, who met us for our last break at Ellesmere and then again for our post ride dinner. Very nice to see some fresh and familiar faces.

The riding was hillier than we expected, with one particular tester fairly early in the ride (on the way up to Knighton, around 20 miles in). The other tricky issue with today’s route was navigating around the minor roads. When done successfully it was rewarding, as riding on these roads is much more pleasant than sticking to the A roads. So, I wouldn’t wan’t to discourage anyone from picking out a similar route. What I would say though is stop and check where you are whenever you’re at all unsure; this will seem a pain as it breaks the rhythm, but it’s not as bad as pressing on and realising that you lost the track and are going to have to add 10 miles to your journey (yes, I am speaking from today’s experience!).

We have still been surrounded by beautiful countryside today, though the rolling hills are starting to flatten out a bit now. Tomorrows route should be reasonably flat and easier to navigate, but it is going to be much more built up than the landscape we have passed through so far.

We’ll be passing through Preston and calling in for lunch, meeting with some of John’s family and my lovely missus Lydia, which will be nice. I’ll also be getting a lift back from our finish point in Burton in Kendal for a night in a familiar bed, so double bonus for me tomorrow.

Funniest moment today: Jordan having an emergency al fresco ‘call of nature’ and being disturbed by two barking dogs coming over to enquire before he was quite ready to move on. In fact, I think this was the funniest moment of the trip so far, but I don’t think the content is wholly suitable to be posted on here!

Most frequently mentioned word of the day: ‘Gooch’. For those who know I need say no more. For those who don’t…let’s just say it relates to saddle sore and leave it at that.

Number of times someone has said they were ready to give in today: 2. Don’t worry, it’s not happening!

Here’s looking forward to tomorrow.

Gaz

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Day 3

Today started with us meeting Greg, our Twitter friend who we tried without success to meet up with yesterday. It was only a fleeting visit, with him meeting us at our hotel to say hello before setting out on a ride with Bridgwater cycling club. He warned us that today would probably be the toughest as we adjusted to the constant pressure of approx 100 miles a day. Low and behold, he was right.

The ride actually got off to a good start. It was fairly flat and we did some good group riding with us each taking the wind at the front for 10 minutes at a time before dropping back to let next in line lead. Our rhythm was broken after about 20 miles when Jordan got the first puncture of the trip though and it was downhill from there in terms of holdups.

We took a wrong turning for the Avon cycleway and instead followed route 41, which took us way further up the river than we needed to be before allowing us to cross. The surface was poor too, more of woodland path than anything remotely suitable for road bikes (especially if you care about your tyres!). Plus it added around 6 slow miles, so avoid making this mistake if you are a fellow LEJOGer. It did end up in us cycling through Bristol city centre in the sun however, which was lovely, so all was not lost.

Around 15 mins before we were due to meet Norman (our support man and John’s Dad) for lunch at Aust services, Jordan had the misfortune to pick up another puncture . More time lost. The early finish we were hoping for was slipping away fast.

Crossing the Severn bridge was fun and we got a good team photo too. So we were in Wales.

The countryside in Monmouthshire is beautiful though it was beginning to sap our energy a bit and we had to concede that rather than the 5.30 finish we had planned, 7pm or later was looking more likely.

The ups and downs continued and we eventually arrived in Clifford at 7.30, feeling pretty beaten. Fortunately Duncan had ridden ahead to meet family (and to give him chance to ride at his pace rather than ours!) and a decent pub with views of the River Wye awaited us. Perfect.

I’ve got to mention the comical ‘oh dear I’ve forgotten to unclip my foot from the pedal’ moments from today. Well done Danny and Jordi, top prize goes to John though; spectacular and hilarious.

In a separate point, the late finishes are becoming a bit of a bind, especially with kit washing etc to sort in the eve. Therefore we’re meeting at 7 tomorrow for an earlier start and all being well the elusive early finish.

I’ve just remembered we’ve also got John’s buckled wheel to sort too…going to be interesting.

Hellos and thanks today go to: Lizzy Whittle for sorting out the physio ointments and ice packs that transform us from hunched OAPs every morning into people that are capable of actually mounting our bikes; the guy who chatted to us and directed us through Pill (shame you didn’t catch up with us when you decided to set out); and all the people who kindly donated en route.

Also, hello to the Harlow boys who are doing the trip – all the best.

Finally, hello to the lady in the pub who works for Northgate Exeter and who had seen an article on our trip in the Northgate magazine (small world!).

My folks are joining Norman to support us tomorrow which will be very nice.

Best get some sleep now!

Buenos noches.

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