Saturday 9 June 2012

John O'Groats here we come!

Day 9 saw a very cold start in Roy Bridge with a hard frost on the ground and both of our support vehicles frozen up early in the morning. Without a cloud in the sky the temperature soon warmed up once the sun had risen so slippery roads where not a worry for us cycling.

We stopped briefly, after a couple of miles, to take in the stunning views of Ben Nevis at the Commando memorial before getting on with the day properly.

The trip up to Invershin near Bonar Bridge was another scenic day in the Highlands. After a break for refreshments at Fort Augustus the decision was made for half of the team to go to the east of Loch Ness and half to take the west side. Both routes had their benefits.........

Daz - on the descent after Loch Tarff
Jonny followed by Shelagh
Daz taking in the stunning view

You would think that the flatish route to the west of Loch Ness would be the quicker journey as you can keep up a good overall speed. Those of us going up the east side had a pretty big big climb to make before a long descent to Inverness so this side was probably going to be a bit longer. No monstors were spotted in the Loch but spookily both teams managed to meet up at a roundabout in the middle of Inverness, so both routes turned out the same.

Lunch stop - Kessock Bridge, Inverness

After refuelling it was back on to the busy A9 for a short stretch. As we were about to cross the Cromarty Firth we had the first road sign counting us down to John O'Groats.

A few miles later we left the busy A9 and headed north on the B9176 through spectacular scenery and yet another amazing descent into Bonar Bridge. Arriving at Invershin in good time gave us the chance to relax before dinner.  Sunny from The Invershin Hotel and our mascot Mabel kept an eye on the bikes for us:)

So our final day had arrived and yet again we had perfect weather. As you can see traffic free open roads were a joy......

Whether it was the last day or the great weather or a bit of both but our pace slowed a little and it was a perfect end to our 10 day ride. First coffee stop was around 30 miles at the Altnahara Hotel.

Allister and Ashley enjoying the Highland sun!

 Whilst having coffee we met two other cyclists there planning a ride in the area later in the year. They explained to us the history of the area, especially the clearances around Loch Naver which we were just about to cycle past.

Loch Naver - Strathnaver
The sea was finally spotted at about the 50 mile point which meant all that was left was to cycle across the North coast to our destination - John O'Groats. Be aware if you are coming this way the road is very rolling with fast descents and long, not too steep, climbs.

Whilst John O'Groats is known as the farthest inhabited point from Land's End the actual farthest point by road is Duncansby Head so to cover all bases we went to both!

Thankfully the two points are quite close together so a few minutes later just before sunset we finally made it to the end.....

After many photos and a few champagne corks being popped it was a dash back to Thurso followed by a quick shower and change before the pub closed. Beaming smiles were all around as we were so proud of ourselves and each other for making this amazing journey for a great cause.

By the end of June we should have a final fund raising total, so keep an eye out for our final blog entry then!

Friday 18 May 2012

Scottish Highlands

The view above was the one that greeted us at the breakfast table and what a view it was!

Food and accommodation at The Whistlefield Inn was excellent value for money and our host, landlord Jackie, certainly pulled out all the stops - especially at breakfast.

After taking advice from past Lejog riders to stay as far west as we could for our Lejog, those words of advice paid off today. The roads in this part of Scotland were extremely quiet, not too hilly and the road surface good. The route we had taken with the very short ferry trip meant we avoided the built up areas around Glasgow.

Todays route took us from Loch Eck towards Oban with a coffee stop at Inveraray and Loch Etive. Before reaching Oban we took a turn to the north, now bound for Fort William.

On the approcah to Fort William the heavens opened, you can see the storm arriving at the end of this short video....

As the rain was so heavy a decision was made to jump on the pavement in Fort William for our safety. A short way up the road we were grateful to meet both of our support vehicles, enabling us to wrap up in our waterproofs as prior to the storm we had been in summer cycling kit.

Even when the rain had subsided, the 10 miles or so to our stop at Roy Bridge felt the longest stretch ever.  Snow on the horizon showed how far north we had progressed.  Thankfully the bunkhouse attached to the pub was a warm one.

Kit list

Several people via email, Twitter and Facebook have asked about the bikes and items that we took along on our Lejog. For security of our steeds we never said during the trip just incase we were tracked down as their value added up to many thousands of ££.

For those who asked here is all the detail......

Bikes from Colnago, Cube, Felt, Giant, Look, Specialized & 2 Trek's. Plus a spare from Giant.
Groupsets all came from Shimano or SRAM.
Wheels from Bontrager, DT Swiss, Mavic, Fulcrum & Paul Hewitt.
Tyres mainly Continental GP4000 or Gatorskins.

We all carried our own spares to fix roadside repairs - punctures, broken chain etc
The two support vehicles carried equipment such as track pumps, spare cables, wheels, cleaning kit and a workstand.

If anyone out there is planning the same ride and is wondering which spares to take along the following happened to some of our bikes - broken rear hanger, broken spokes and the usual punctures (although we didn't have that many of them)

A little sign we spotted one night after bike cleaning!

Tuesday 15 May 2012

Part 2!

Spending a night at home gave us the chance to catch up with family, fix any mechanical bike problems and restock our daily food supplies etc.

Day six saw us all freshened up and ready for part 2 of our Lejog. There seemed a renewed energy boosting the team, perhaps knowing we were half way there and still had so much more to give. 

The team met up at Ulverston Victoria High School, bags all loaded back into the support car and we were off on our way again, cheered off by some of the pupils.  Later that day the Sixth Form pupils received an assembly from other members of Team Alice covering the very important subject of signing on to the Bone Marrow Register which is at the very top of Alice's Bucket List of things to do.

Our journey took us out of Ulverston and north through Cumbria to Windermere.  The first pit stop of the day was at Windermere School where the team received a hero's welcome from the pupils as they cycled up the driveway, and then coffee and of course cakes!  Day six also brought with it a change to our support crew with Vicky swapping her duties with Alastair for days 6 to 10. Vicky and Alice did provide a welcome surprise for us all though by joining us at Windermere, and then all the way up to Carlisle.

Pit stop for vital spares at Biketreks Ambleside

The next challenge of the day - tackling Kirkstone pass in some pretty windy, but thankfully dry conditions. After Kirkstone and Ullswater the terrain is mainly flat for most of the way to Carlisle.

In Carlisle we were very fortunate to call at the home of the McKnespiey family for lunch. Paul had been riding with us from Ulverston, a lot of the time at the front, for which we were very grateful.

After copious amounts of sandwiches, cake and gallons of coffee in Paul and Emma's beautiful kitchen it was time to finish off the day and cross the border in to Scotland.  Vicky & Alice waved us off on our way, and we made our way North.

After a fast blustery ride through the borders we finally arrived at Moffat, a lovely B&B Buchan Guest House run by Chris and Brenda. As Chris is a fellow cyclist he knew all that we needed including washing all of our cycling clothes, a very welcome bonus!

Day seven saw us cycling on the old road next to the M74 for several miles before we turned west towards our ferry. So far we had been very lucky with the weather during the first 6 days, Scottish Borders are relatively flat this meant we were exposed and just at this point we encountered a huge hail and rain shower, a tough start to the day for sure.

A disused railway line near Johnstone had been turned into a new cycle path so this safely took us on our route to Greenock where we picked up the ferry to Dunoon. 

A short ride from the ferry port of around 15 miles brought us to Loch Eck and our resting point for the night, the Whistlefield Inn.  With the bunkhouse next to the pub, it was a quick case of bike cleaning and great pub food before bed.

Tuesday 8 May 2012

Happy Days:)

Day four saw us winding up through Shropshire and Cheshire along some traffic free country lanes with very little climbing to do after we decided as a group to remove the major climb of the day near Church Stretton and use the more direct route instead. This turned out to be a blessing to all when we rode past the bottom of the deleted climb and saw how steep things would have been.

A surprise lunch was laid on for all the team today courtesy of Wumpy and Andrew, close friends of the Pyne family. One team member commented that our hosts had done excellent homework and must have read a cycling recipe book as we were treated to gorgeous pasta dishes, chocolate brownies, fudge and coffee - all essential cycling energy foods! After team photos in the garden it was off to Warrington for an early finish and to prepare for the big day.......

Day five was always going to be a big day and it certainly lived up to it's billing. Plotting a 1000 mile cycle route that comes through the town where you live had us all worried we could find it difficult to leave home again the following day, but on the flip side it was a golden opportunity to share our adventures with friends and family. In the end those fears never came to fruition as all had a great chance to catch up with family, get on top of washing the cycling kit and carry out any essential bike maintenance or cleaning.

The night before a team decision was made to use two of the north wests major roads, A49 and A6, rather than our planned route. This meant a speedier trip to Ulverston and one that could be controlled easier as we had a set time to be there. After all, we knew there was a party to attend!

Leaving Warrington early in the rush hour was a bit hairy with huge numbers of cars, thankfully all negotiated past and no incidents occurred. More of the same near to Wigan, Preston and Lancaster before the roads started to quieten. Progress was made very quick to the north of Lancaster with an average speed in the low 20's mph! The lunch at Burton in Kendal was arrived at almost an hour early giving us a relaxing break before we headed in to the excitement of the day ........

We left Burton in Kendal after a good lunch and set off for our meeting point on the outskirts of Ulverston, this part of the route we all knew well from training rides flew by in extremely good spirits due to high levels of excitement.

Whilst our ride was to raise funds for the new charity Alice's Escapes it was also to promote awareness of this wonderful new cause. Our arrival into Ulverston was timed to coincide with the launch of Alice's Escapes and this would hopefully bring the charity much needed media attention.

Alice had been in contact with Cumbria Constabulary before the start of our LEJOG ride and they kindly offered to help us safely along the final stretch of the journey with a police motorcyle escort. Wow, now we felt REALLY important!

After arriving to collect our escort bang on time we changed into clean cycling jerseys and were met by Alice who joined our team car for the convoy.

To take up the story please click on the ITV image below..

The charity was officially launched with a speech from John Woodcock MP, and after photos, TV & radio interviews with the Bay Radio roadshow we all made our way to our home comforts.

Saturday 5 May 2012

Going up the country

Day 2 was intentionally shorter, at about 75 miles, so that we could catch our breath and have an 'easier' day before getting in to the rhythmn of doing around 100 miles per day for the rest of our lejog.  The first half of the day went off without any notable hitches until we reached a downhill descent that was covered in gravel and extremely steep. A few of us resorted to unclipping or even walking down it was that unpredictable. If in the area it is probably best to avoid Hangman's Hill near to Oakfordbridge on a road bike, it would be good fun on a mountain bike though!

Thankfully during this little bit of off roading we didn't need any support from our team cars as we had lost contact with each other:) All was soon sorted and the lunch pit stop was being prepared.

The welcome lunch stop at Bishops Lydeard was taken before the only major climb of the day in the Quantock Hills.  We started to wish we hadn't enjoyed the feast so much though when we met the next big climb!  Our reward after climbing into the Quantocks was a descent that should feature on all road cyclists list of things to do. The road lead down from Cothelstone to Enmore, whilst not actually that steep the length of the endless descent on a wide clean road towards Bridgwater was the best point. After Bridgewater the scenery changed as the terrain is almost pan flat towards our destination of Brean.

Even on stage 2 a daily post ride routine was starting to form of bike washing, shower, eat & bed. Another fabulous accomodation stop in Brean at The Old Rectory meant everyone was rested ready for day 3.

Sunday arrived looking not too bad, weather wise, which was good as we had to cross the Severn Bridge later that day and knew there was nowhere to hide from the elements, more of that later.....
After leaving Brean the next major stop was the outskirts of Bristol for coffee and cake (this had now grown to include Green Tea, Bananas, Malt loaf, Eat Natural Bars, Mars bars etc etc). One thing that struck us all in Bristol is the amount of cyclists on the road, at certain points it looked like there were more bikes than cars, well done to Bristol!

If you are planning doing Lejog the Clifton Suspension Bridge is well worth including, it is a feat of engineering, has fab views of Bristol and cyclists can ride over for free!

Leaving Bristol we pressed on towards the Severn Bridge heading to Chepstow. On the way to the bridge we got caught in a few sharp showers but thankfully the crossing, although windy, was not too bad.

Another of our top 10 descents arrived at Symonds Yat Rock, very fast in places and the road narrows to a single track so take care when you meet an oncoming vehicle.

Just up the road we took lunch in The Harp at Hoarwithy kindly provided by Rob & Barbara (Uncle & Aunt to support car driver Cathy), also a surprise visit from Cathy's Aunt Eileen & Uncle John gave the team a lovely cheer as they all arrived.  An excellent steak sandwich and a sample of the local brew, Butty Bach, was just the ticket then we were on our way again.

  Rolling countryside was welcomed and Ludlow arrived in no time at all. This was the first of two nights at Travelodges helping to keep our overall accommodation costs down. Catch you soon........

Thursday 3 May 2012

Lejog Part 1, of many!

Left to right
Ashley, Simon, Gary, Daz, Jonny, Shelagh, Steph and Sonja
So the big day finally arrived and we set off from Cumbria bound for Land's End on  Thursday April 19th. The idea was to update our blog as we went along but the lack of either a phone signal or wifi matched with physical tiredness meant that nothing happened at all. So to rectify things here are some of our experiences. A traffic free motorway trip down the M6/M5 with several pit stops for coffee and cake ensured we made the journey in around 7 hours. Only problem on the way was that lunch was almost snaffled by some of the team who discovered the cool box full of rolls:)

Accommodation for the night before we set off was at the superb Land's End Hostel run by David and Susie.

After a meal at a nearby pub we prepared our bikes and cycling kit ready for the day ahead.

Friday April 20th dawned and we made the half mile hop from our hostel to the Land's End sign post. After team and individual photos we set off on our 10 day ride to John O'Groats.
Day one turned out to be a tricky day for us all with endless short hills in Cornwall and Devon, punctures, broken spokes, navigational troubles for our support cars in the narrow lanes and to cap it all one of us was knocked off our bikes by a lack of concentration from a car driver. Thankfully we carried spare wheels as the accident wrote off a rear wheel:(

The Granite Way was a sight for sore eyes, once here we knew Okehampton was very close by, after a couple of photos......

....on the wrought iron Meldon Viaduct it was a dash to our digs for food, bike washing and bed.

To be continued.............