|Arrived at last
It is with some pleasure that we can confirm that Murray Fraser, Peter Fitch and Brendan O’Brien returned home after completing the Land’s End to John O’Groats bike ride starting on 7 September and finishing at John O’Groats on the 13th of September. The completion of the ride feels like an amazing achievement because of the distance ridden, the summits reached and the support we are able to give to Home Start Uttlesford (the charity supported by Breeze & Wyles Solicitors LLP in 2013).
We, the riders, would like to thanks a number of people. First, Chris Belton and Chris Smith who undertook the support driving, route planning and nutritional supplements. From the first day they stopped every twenty miles or so in laybys and waited for us to arrive. They repaired bikes and kept up the riders’ spirits when rain, distance or simple attrition looked like they might overcome the participants. Without the two of them the riders are in agreement that the completion of the epic journey would not have been possible. Finally, thanks to all of the people who donated to the charity on the page http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/team/bandwstortford. The pain suffered of which there was much was made less painful since we knew that we were doing this for a very worthy cause.
Pictured Top – the team before departure. From left, Murray, Brendan, Peter, Chris Smith and Chris Belton
Pitcture Under – Pete and Brendan on the Severn Bridge Cycle Path (Day Two)
So to the journey;
Bad day that cost all of us a lot. Sickness from yours truly plus lack of training from another meant that Launceston reached at a later time than was necessary. Team then took the wrong A388 out of the town and spent an hour traveling in the wrong direction by 20 miles (toward Plymouth rather than Okehampton). We rectified this but too our cost but ended up only 91 miles from our departure and worse still 45 miles from our destination at a village known as Horsebridge having ridden some distance through the Dartmoor National Park (a place the lejog riders should avoid at all costs). The Van picked us up at around 7 pm and we headed to Tiverton somewhat weary and non-plussed. (expected 122 miles – achieved 91)
So it begins (the catch up). We drive from Tiverton to Okehampton and then set off knowing that we needed to catch up more than 45 miles (only 31 of which would get us to the original day two starting point of Tiverton). The road to Tiverton was not flat (National Park-esque) and we eventually arrived at our hotel (OMG) at 11 am. Following the A38 we headed via Wellington, Taunton and Bridgwater to Bristol circling the ring road to Avonmouth. We stopped in Avonmouth for what was a almost the worst meal that the writer has ever eaten before then heading to the M48 cycle crossing of the Severn to Chepstow. From Chepstow we turned north on the A49 to Monmouth and the writers front light failed almost immediately. Oh what joy 39 miles of no light. Even better my colleagues back light was intermittent so there was very little to follow. For the uninitiated hill climbing is all in the mind. I can prove that. I had no idea whether I was going up or down throughout the ride but my Garmin feedback is that this was one of the hilliest sections of the whole ride. (expected 120 – achieved 134)
Tour de France day. I describe the day as this because it only in to Grand Tours that I see the cyclists achieve what was required of us (see later). We cycled from the hotel to Leominster (Tenby Wells) and then along the A49 to Shrewsbury. The weather was initially wet and the terrain perhaps the most challenging of the whole ride with one hill in excess of a mile exceeding 18% ( I walked! For a 100 yards). As the day progressed the weather improved such that the outer layers were shed. At some stage late in the afternoon just north of Warrington Pete and I decided that we would keep riding until such time as we had caught up the day one losses. Having lost our way around Wigan (the A49 now becomes the A6) after an hour of enjoying the outskirts if Wigan we found the A6 proper to Preston in the dark with lights now working. The wind previously in our faces had now died and we were able to make excellent progress arriving at the outskirts of Preston – Bamber Bridge at around 8.50 pm. Eventually after reviewing regularly the location of the hotel and our current position we arrived at the hotel to the north of Preston at 9.45pm (expected 118 miles – achieved 139.7 miles)
So to Scotland. Leaving Preston we made slow progress as the author had a significant sugar low only fixed by five red bulls plus a talking to from his wife about the effects of taking so much taurene. Still cycling slowing we made Kendal and outer limits of the Lake District. Oh what fun! Following probably the best chicken stew I think that I have ever eaten we set off for Penrith. Sarcasm aside I really mean it when I say fun. As I had been left behind I was able to cycle at my own speed that over the next period was the fastest of the lot. We had the joy of encountering and climbing to the top of Shap Pike (1450 ft – almost from Sea Level). It would have been nice had it been a steady climb but about half way along we had a sudden descent that mislead us into believing that it was all over. How wrong we were. The stiffest part of the climb was to follow. Tired limbed and elated I eventually reached the summit some 4 or 5 hundred feet behind Pete. From the Summit we headed down to Penrith and then on to Carlisle reaching the Scottish Border at about 7pm. Our destination of Lockerbie was achieved at about 8.30pm to the resounding chorus of Volvo trucks as we had booked a Days Inn hotel forming part of a motorway service station – Oh Happy Days – other than Burger King/McDonalds no food and no bar – thank goodness for Chris Smith and his mobile Gin and Tonic still without which sanity would not have been achieved.
Rain – I love it, it gets everywhere including inside your water poof socks – hotel bedroom walls being the proof of this as you take them off and spray the walls. We now turn our attention away from the A6 which for some reason changes its name across the border to the A7 or A70 (Murray indicates that this is a Scottish thing thus preventing English raiders from finding their way to anything that matters – chance would be a fine thing). So rain it was all the way to Edinburgh.
At this point came our lucky escape. Having cycled too far into Edinburgh was were redirected by the locals towards the Forth Road Bridge (our trusty interpreter close at hand when needed) only to find that the locals who were rotund in size and shape (hint: non-cyclists) were directing us to roads that could not be used by cyclists or pedestrians. Completely stumped by this piece of information we sat for what seemed like an age at the point that we could progress no further but which infact turned out to be 30 seconds cogitating on our misfortunes when a cyclist hereafter known as ‘Rob the Cowdenbeath’ arrived at our shoulder and indicated that if it was the FRB we were after that we should follow him. Putting aside the age old warnings of following strangers Pete decided that he’d had enough and would follow our new leader across the water. Disappointed that there was no walking on water but in need of a stop and a bite to eat it seemed appropriate that the rest of us should follow. Hey Presto we are across the Forth before we know it no walking on water included. Indeed I am still unsure that I could find my way there from the same place even if I had a hundred goes. So I raise my glass to Rob the Cowdenbeath even if it is a glass of Teachers. So at around 7.45 pm we arrive in Perth to all the fanfare of the wet raspberry as RtC had stated that it was only 25 miles to Perth failing to tell us that he meant from Cowdenbeath not where we were at the point when he said it. The author’s legs were like jelly upon arrival it taking him 30 second to work out how to negotiate a flight of six steps. So in reality only 5 slower than normal. (expected 112 – achieved 106 miles)
When describing this day to the other participants I spent a lot of time saying that this would be the most difficult day. Heading out of Perth in a ‘northerly’ direction our sniffer dog Pete explained that there was something wrong but his support and direction needed there. We set off quite nicely to the south of the city and then spent the next five miles traversing the city on the ring road. The A9 borders the Cairngorms without really heading up into the highest p[art thankfully. With the wind in our faces we turned west and began to head north west and then north. It was almost with surprise that we reached the Dromochter Summit at 1529ft and began the descent to Aviemore and then to inverness. Arriving in Inverness we had cycled more than 5 miles downhill with the average speed in excess of 30 mph (often exceeding 42mph) in driving rain. Ignoring the rain I didn’t pedal once and it was with this that I realised that there were benefits to the pain of climbing. (expected 115 – achieved 119)
Tough – you have no idea. Any romanticism about mileage/human endurance had been truly exorcised at this stage. Although the average height above Sea Level remained a constant 250ft my Garmin Connect tells me that the amount of elevation gained exceeded any other day. The reason being that we climbed 12000ft during the day to the tops of cliffs and then back down to villages at Sea Level.
However, the good news is that we arrived as a team all of us having cycled on our own for significant periods of time either at the front or at the back or in the rain or in the sun. We faced challenges from hills, ourselves and lorries to mention a few but perhaps the biggest challenge was the disappointment of John’OGroats when we arrived. Despite that disappointment nothing could dampen our good humour having pushed to and through human endurance to achieve 831 miles in 7 days.
Thanks to Peter, Murray, Chris and Chris without whom this would not have been possible. Please remember that this achievement was carried out in aid of Home Start Uttlesford for whom I have the utmost respect. If you wish to make a donation please give generously at http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/team/bandwstortford.
Breeze & Wyles Solicitors LLP
The Author getting his passport ready for the Border Crossing