Thunderstorms, wind, rain, heat stroke, injuries, fatigue, crashes and mechanical issues failed to stop myself and 2 friends from achieving our goal of cycling from Land’s End to John o’Groats in just 9 days, a feat normally accomplished in 14 days. Myself, Greg, Hodgson and Matt Keetley all from the Kimberley/Watnall area, started out from Land’s End at 7am on Saturday 20th July, finishing 9 days later at John o’Groats just before 4pm on Sunday 28th July. The team were aided during the gruelling ride firstly by Richard Glover and later in the week Jimmy Logan, who drove a support vehicle carrying the team’s gear, spares, food and water bottles. Matt’s wife Tracy Keetley joined the team for the final 3 days to offer moral support and hand the odd water bottle out of the van window.
Setting off from Land’s End just before 7am, after the obligatory photo under the marker post, it wasn’t long before we were hitting Cornwall’s short sharp climbs under blue skies and blazing sun. We made good time, but on reaching Fowey, Matt was suffering from heat stroke. A rest at a local pub, a pint of coke and several bidons of water and Matt was ready to complete the final leg of the first day’s ride. One of the toughest days of the ride was completed in Plymouth 12 hours after setting off, having ridden 107 miles and climbed over 9,600ft of elevation.
Day 2 was going to be a similarly tough day, having to cross Dartmoor first thing. The climbing never relented and neither did the wind for the first 25 miles of the day. We also had to contend with kamikaze sheep and charging longhorn cattle. With 118 miles covered and with weary legs we arrived at the overnight stop in Cheddar having climbed another 9,000ft.
Day 3 and a crossing of the Severn Bridge into Wales. This was a long day in the saddle with 122 miles to cover and another day of over 9,000ft of elevation to climb. It was a late finish to the day as we rolled into Church Stretton in Shropshire for the overnight stay in a camping pod.
Day 4 and probably our lowest ebb. A few wrong turns and niggling injuries meant that the team had to finish short of the destination for the day. Having covered 117 miles, the team were 30 miles short of their destination as the sun started to set. With no option but to curtail the day’s ride, we put the bikes in the van and drove to the overnight accommodation.
Day 5 dawned early as we rose at 4:30am to head back to Belmont, the stopping place the previous night. On the road at 6am we were soon making good headway into clawing back the lost time and making such good progress that we stopped in Ambleside for a well deserved lunch. We said goodbye to Richard as Jimmy arrived to take over as support driver for the final half of the ride. This was one of the most picturesque days, with the Lake District bathed in glorious sunshine and the sun reflecting off Lake Thirlmere as we pedalled past. After 123 miles and seemingly better legs we arrived at Longtown, just 3 miles shy of the Scottish border. Despite sleeping on the floor of a Methodist Church Hall, this was one of our favourite overnight stops. The local Christian Aid group had offered us accommodation for the night and they laid on a feast fit for a hungry team of cyclists.
Day 6 awoke to the sound of rain, but this was just a precursor of what was to come. Just 3 miles into the day’s ride and the team crossed the Scottish border and into Gretna. This was a milestone in the ride, having ridden the length of England in just over 5 days. Despite 5 days of riding the pedals were turning well and we were making good progress, until we hit Glasgow. Negotiating the cycle lanes of Glasgow, we got caught in a tremendous thunderstorm. With water lapping the kerbs, we were now wet and cold and made slow progress to the hotel in Dumbarton, further hampered by a puncture. On arrival, having covered 110 miles, we were told that there was no TV signal due to the storm knocking out the signal! The mood was however improved with the arrival of Matt’s wife Tracy.
The skies were again leaden as we rose early on day 7. With horror stories of the treacherous roads around Loch Lomond, we set off in drizzly conditions to negotiate this tricky section. As the morning progressed the sun showed it’s face briefly to highlight the beautiful landscape of mountains and lochs of the Scottish Highlands, before hitting us with rain, wind and even a bit of hail for good measure. Taking in the sights along the way, including the Commando Memorial at Spean Bridge, we made good time to cover the 121 miles, arriving in Fort Augustus on the shore of Loch Ness to late summer sun.
Day 8 started with a 30 mile ride along the edge of Loch Ness and plenty of opportunity to spot Nessie. With only 81 miles to cover the day was a more relaxed affair. With just 15 miles to go to the overnight stop in Lairg and thoughts of the final hurdle in sight, we took our eye off the ball, resulting in a tangle of bikes and Matt hitting the deck hard. We limped home nursing a few cuts and bruises and poorly bikes.
The weather forecast looked dire for the final day of the ride. Heavy wind and rain was expected to roll in mid morning and last all day. The forecast was unfortunately correct for once! Due to the forecast we rolled out of Lairg early to try and make headway into the final 97 miles. With roughly 50 miles covered, the heavens opened. With little in the way of habitation in which to shelter, we pushed on individually through the wind and rain to reconvene at Thurso with just 21 miles of the challenge to go. After a few coffees to try and warm up, we headed for our final destination. The weather didn’t relent as we continued to get wet and cold. This was further hampered as Greg punctured with just 7 miles to go. Cold and wet, we rolled into John O’Groats together having completed 997 miles in just over 66 hours of riding time and at a speed of just over 15mph. All that was left was to have the obligatory photo under the marker post, sign the End to End book in the Tourist office and phone loved ones.
With donations from friends and family we have raised over £3000 for our chosen charities. If you would like to donate to one of the 3 great causes, you can do so at http://www.justgiving.com/Greg-Hodgson2013 or http://www.virginmoneygiving.com/team/lejog2013
If you’re thinking of such a challenge, I say go for it. Having trained hard I felt great during the ride which was probably helped by riding at a slower pace than usual. One day my average heart rate was only 101bpm! In 2015 I’ll have a crack at JOGLE in 7 days.