End to End

Ever since I supported the Jane Tomlinson Appeal End to End ride in 2008 I’ve thought that it is probably the best way to challenge yourself while seeing some of the best, and most out-of-the-way bits of our country. Unfortunately attempting the ride in 9 and a bit days meant that everything got a bit much. I do want to stress that overall I had an amazing time and am so glad I did it, however there were frequent moments of frustration, tiredness, pain, stress, sunburn and getting very very bored with cycling.

Starting the end to end at John O Groats is a bit more difficult (in my opinion) than starting it at Land’s End. For starters John O’Groats isn’t near anything, at all. The nearest train stations are Thurso and Wick (both 20 miles away). As we were doing the ride unsupported we needed to get up to the start with all our stuff but nothing more, so we hired a car in Leeds, drove to Inverness and dropped the car off. We then wheeled the bikes over to Inverness train station and had a 5 hour train journey up to Thurso.

Having set off from Leeds at about 5am we arrived at our b & b in Thurso at about 6pm. Thurso is far away.

On looking at the maps for day 1 it immediately became clear that I had miscalculated when I’d worked out that Thurso was ‘quite near’ John O’Groats, it isn’t, it’s 20 miles away. This meant that our 100 mile first day was now going to be at least 120 miles. Not a fantastic start.

Day 1 saw us making a suitably early start and setting off into the fog, wind and drizzle for John O’Groats (not quite the predicted sunshine). After about an hour and a half cycling into an incredibly demoralising headwind we arrived at the derelict hotel, carpark, postcard shop and public toilet that marks the start of the end-to-end. It was at this point that I took the first of many tumbles due to not practising properly with my cleats. I unclipped my left foot, shifted my weight to the right and promptly overbalanced and fell over. Idiot.

The very far north of Scotland

The scenery in the far north of Scotland is pretty stunning but also desolate and hilly, there isn’t much to see apart from lots and lots of heath. The last 10 miles into Lairg at the end of day 1 were fairly miserable, I hadn’t eaten or drunk enough and my body was going on strike. A valuable lesson learned.

Day 2 to Grantown-on-spey was the shortest (apart from the last day) and easiest day by far. Everything seemed really straightforward, I’ve no idea why. We managed to cut a fair few miles off the planned route by going over some hills, but even they weren’t too…hilly.

A “big ‘ill” north of Inverness

Day 3 was by far and away my favourite day, it was mega in every way – mileage, scenery, hills but it was absolutely brilliant. We headed straight over the Cairngorms which was AMAZING, we cycled past 2 ski stations (Lecht and Glenshee), did 5 or 6 big climbs and it was generally unforgettable.

The following day which took as round past Edinburgh and then down and across to Annan was one of the hardest days, I think it’s fairly obvious now that the hills completely took it out of me, I’ve no idea how the Tour de France guys do 3 or 4 mountain stages on the bounce (well, we know how some of them might). The number of wind farms we passed indicated that we were at least lucky not to cycle into yet more headwinds but it wasn’t much fun and was really one of those days when you just get your head down and keep hoping for the end.

The Cairngorms!

The next day took us back into England, everyone we spoke to in Annan referred to the terrors of ‘Shap’ awaiting us, Shap turned out to be a little village near a quarry – my thoughts were ‘what was all the fuss?’ yes there had been a bit of a hill but nothing too bad. Turns out the Shap that everyone was referring to was a big old climb after the village that wasn’t too steep but just went on, and on, and on…and on. It didn’t help that half the road was closed, this meant that trucks, coaches and almost every other vehicles whistled past, not bothering to slow down or even try to give me a bit of space – fun times. Down the other side we hit Penrith at rush hour, which was interesting and resulted in us getting a bit lost. But we eventually made it down into Lancashire and, after getting shit on by a seagull, ended up at Mick’s parent’s house near Lancaster.

The next two days were, in a word, ridiculous. We were just outside Lancaster at the start of day 6, we were aiming for Bath by the end of day 7. This is far. Turns out, it’s too far. The plan was to ride about 120 miles from near Lancaster, down round Chester, into Wales to just outside Welshpool. The following day we would then ride down the border between Wales and England, cross the Severn, skip round Bristol and end the day in Bath, I didn’t have a precise figure on what the intended mileage was on this day but it was further than the day before (i.e. 120 miles). Stupid. Then the sun came out and I got hilariously sunburnt.

Turns out it’s really bloody hilly between Lancaster and Bath. Powys, Shropshire, Herefordshire, Monmothshire, all places I’ve not been to before, these are all places I can now tell you – through experience – have lots of hills.

We made it to Welshpool ok, admittedly we were both very sunburnt and we didn’t finish until it was dark – and I had an interesting encounter with a cattle grid (in case you were wondering, yes a bicycle wheel can slip between the grids) but we made it.

We tried to reroute the following day, originally I’d had us going all round the houses to try and avoid hills and towns and main roads. However we decided to just go for it and head in as straight a line as possible for Bath.

Straight lines, experience now tells me, are rarely flat. We made it across the Severn ok but by then it was about 6 o’clock and we still had to get to Bath which was a way away, not sure exactly how far but far enough that by the time it started getting dark at about 8 we were still about 2 hours ride away. By this point we had two options, finish early or ride, in the gathering gloom, down a main road in the vain hope that Bath would show itself before too long. We chose the first option and decamped to a fairly posh b and b in Chipping Sodbury (I don’t think the owners were hugely impressed with two very dirty, very smelly, very sunburnt cyclists turning up out of the blue).

The next day we set off early in an attempt to make up the miles we’d lost. That morning proved we’d made the right decision, the main road was hilly and incredibly busy – it also had no lighting so in the dark would’ve been lethal. Bath is pretty but, sods law decreed, is also built in a little valley, all downhill to the town centre and all uphill for miles on the way out. GREAT. But we made fairly good time, made up the miles and finished the day in deepest darkest Devon (a few more counties ticked off along the way).

The next day saw us entering the final part of the trip into Cornwall. Now, confession, I love Cornwall but the 1 and 1/2 days I spent cycling there tested my affection to its complete and utter limit. Cornwall is horrible to cycle in, horrible. The roads are a succession of unenjoyable steep uphills and downhills, they are also narrow, busy and poorly maintained. Rubbish. The penultimate day saw us finishing near Redruth.

Every bike ride I’ve done has resulted in me becoming obsessed with the stats that crop up. Unfortunately I managed to break my phone a bit so the only numbers I can share are:
travelling 992.3 miles in 95 hours cycling over 9 and a half days. Throughout the ride we were always trying to keep above an average speed of 10 miles an hour so it’s good to see we managed that.

Related:

End to End – the tweets

Despite giving up the daily blog pretty quickly (after day 4 I was too grumpy every evening to want to tell everyone about anything) I did manage to keep up fairly regular stream of Tweets which may or may not be of any interest. If they are, here they are, if not then…ignore everything that follows…

Up at 5, now heading to inverness. When did it start getting light at 5.15!? #end2end
21 Apr

Just passed a snowplough outside Glasgow. SNOWPLOUGH!? #end2end
21 Apr

@leedsmet thanks guys :) currently in inverness waiting for train to thurso.#end2end
21 Apr

Misty, cold, lots of seagulls. About to have breakfast then set off for john o’groats #end2end
22 Apr

Two facts to shock and disturb, chamois cream is cold and mick doesnt like baked beans.#end2end
22 Apr

Cycled 20 miles, freezing, foggy, windy. Now we are just at john o groats!
22 Apr

At bettyhill, horrible day has turned absolutely amazing.#end2end http://twitpic.com/4nz7wm
22 Apr

Finished day 1, slightly longer than planned at…120 miles! Glorious weather apart from the bloody head wind we had for 50 miles.#end2end
22 Apr

Blog about day 1 at http://ashmannblogs.Wordpress.com #end2end
22 Apr

@emilyjmacaulay thanks! Currently trying to work out if we can make tomorrow shorter without having to go over any more hills. Not possible!
22 Apr

@Mike_Tomlinson ha, my arse is doing alright. Mick has started moaning about his!
23 Apr

On the a9 into inverness, suddenly there is a lot of traffic.#end2end
23 Apr

In inverness, making quite good time. Mick is looking for a pannier, think he’s jealous of mine.#end2end
23 Apr

Finished day 2, currently in grantown on spey.Got our first sight of the massive, snow covered cairngorms, uh-oh.#end2end
23 Apr

Deep heat applied. Put way too much on, it buuurns.#end2end
23 Apr

day 2 post up at http://ashmannblogs.wordpress.com – nothing very interesting to say, brain is all tired. #end2end
23 Apr

Leg spasm, bad
24 Apr

Hard day, everything creaking, bike, shoes, knees. This is where we are #end2end http://twitpic.com/4ov0tm
24 Apr

Finished day 3. Mega. Blog to follow after I’ve made myself stink less.#end2end
24 Apr

Sometimes you’re the hammer and sometimes you’re the nail. Today I’m the nail.
25 Apr

Day 6. Have got to head through Lancaster at rush hour and then down towards Welshpool, its gonna be a long day.#end2end
27 Apr

150km done, 40 to go. A long day, but, we’re in Wales! #end2end
27 Apr

Have just worked out we can cut 20 miles off tomorrow AND get to cross the severn, ace! #end2end
27 Apr

About to set off for bath. Day 7 #end2end http://twitpic.com/4qf9in
28 Apr

@calebdorey our detour is to avoid gloucestershire, too many hills!
28 Apr

@calebdorey currently discovering that herefordshire isn’t exactly flat!
28 Apr

Didn’t make it to bath, ran out of legs and light. In chipping sodbury at a very swanky b and b. Today was still 110 miles tho.#end2end
28 Apr

Made up the miles lost yesterday. Just past bath.#end2end
29 Apr

The mendips, now who thought that was a good idea…#end2end
29 Apr

At taunton, hip has just seized up. Painful! #end2end
29 Apr

Near tiverton. Stopped at a garden centre for coffee and to use the facilities #end2end
29 Apr

Lovely couple at local chippy donated cost of our meal to @janesappeal, ace!
29 Apr

Bloody hell, we seem to have found cornwall’s hilliest road. Imagine a series of w’s as the profile, for 16 miles.#end2end
30 Apr

John o’groats to land’s end is a very long way. But we’ve just FINISHED! #end2end
1 May

900-odd miles cycled, knees and ankles ruined, sponsor me please WWW.justgiving.com/ashley-mann #end2end
1 May

just tallied up our mileage.992.8 miles in 95 hours of cycling #end2end
1 May

Day -1: bags (almost) packed

Have spent a fairly frantic morning trying to locate everything I need for the ride, that done I then tried to force it all into one pannier….which was never gonna happen. So, for the first time ever I’ll be riding with two panniers. and cleats. wiser people than i would say this is probably not the time to try so many things for the first time. it’ll keep things interesting at least!

Off to pick up the hire car that’ll get us up to Inverness later, I think the last time I drove anything was last summer to/from Istanbul. Fingers crossed the roads are better than Bulgaria.

Countdown

2 days to go and I’ve just fitted SPD pedals to my bike – these are to go with the new cycling shoes I got for my birthday. The process involved lots of getting covered in axel grease and swearing.

The theory is that cleated pedals mean you pedal more efficiently and god knows I need every drop of efficiency I can get my hands on, HOWEVER cleated pedals also mean you are clipped to the bike. I have spent the last hour trying to get the hang of clipping in and out of my pedals, unsurprisingly this has been a fairly spectacular failure so far – I expect to fall over on a daily basis, to anyone who knows me this won’t be a massive shock.

This is a very bad idea…

Oh, weather prediction for Friday and Saturday is currently 14-16 degrees, sunny, hardly any wind. Perfect. Let’s hope it delivers as promised!

Training, weeks 1-4

Right so apparently I’ve convinced myself that I’ve started training for the list of things I’m doing this year (details: http://www.justgiving.com/ashley-mann/). Annoyingly due to the slightly stupid way that things have worked out I effectively have to train for a 1000-mile bike ride and a marathon at the same time.

I’ve trained for a marathon before (read about it here and here), it’s no fun, it makes you hungry, tired and sore. Let’s see if cycling 100 miles a week helps that – I’ve been informed by a few people that it might actually be a good idea, cross-training n all that.

I’m yet to be convinced…

My training at the moment consists of trying to do at least 1-hour a day on the turbo trainer (bike) combined with trying to get out for a longer weekend ride on the road and trying to get my weekly running mileage up past the 30 mile mark. Which has met with mixed success thus far.

Ah well. 2 months to go…(eek)