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Day 11 – Tain to John O’Groats – c’est fini!

June 14, 2007

All (especially Becky’s parents) – we’d like to extend our profuse apologies for any inaccuracies, errors (grammattical, spelling or otherwise), or ommissions from this or the other posts. Any such mistakes are not intended and are purely down to being either very tired, very sore, or (as tonight) very inebriated…

Mike: Slainte!  We made it at 5.50pm today.  And what a day.

(By the way, I found my bike computer buried in my luggage, but have lost my XDA charger…)

The journey from Tain was wonderful, apart from the strong wind coming directly at us.  I was tempted to take a diversion via the Glenmorangie distilliery but it was a wee bit early.  We passed over the bridge of a firth (can’t remember which one) and on we went. 

All was well and we made reasonably good progress initially, then things went slightly pear shaped and our mph gradually dropped to an average of about 11 which was our lowest of the trip.  The wind got stronger and we battled against it.

We had heard that Helmsdale was a “challenge” but that is an understatement, a 13% hill which goes on for quite a few miles, then relaxes to probably about 9% for another few miles.

That was followed by Berrydown, which was worse in some ways as it was even longer. 

From there, there were more hills all of them short down and long up.  We called a halt to the morning at Dunbeath and had 38 miles remaining.

The locals at the diner told us that after the hill out of “town” it was fairly flat (YEAH, RIGHT!)In the afternoon our average picked up a bit and we followed the coastline up hill and down dale.   

We hit Wick about 4pm and stopped for afternoon tea (and cake) with 17 miles left.  Again, everyone told us the remainder was flat – Important lesson – everyone lies!.  Sadly we believed them and set off at a fairly “hasty” paste (20-ish mph) for the first few flat miles but then a few more hills appeared.  Nothing step but quite long and after 80 odd miles, they were not what we wanted.

We stopped a couple of miles outside of John O’Groat’s to make sure we were in our best outfits etc and crusied the last few miles downhill then turned left into the carpark rather than continuing to the official finish line. Ho hum (their fault – should have better signage).  So, a quick about turn and we crossed the finish line, then cycled round in circles and crossed the finish line, then again and again – all for photo’s with different camera’s. 

So that’s it, we made it and we feel ecstatic.  Bring on the next challenge (but wait a few days for the bottom bruising to heal).

Derek: We made it! The feeling of euphoria and relief is fantastic. We don’t really know what to do with ourselves right now. It was great crossing the finish line – even if we did have to do it 4 or 5 times to make sure we got all the photo’s that Becky wanted. 😉 

Mike has covered the route quite well above, but I’d like to add that this section was much much harder than we imagined. On it’s own, it wouldn’t have been too bad – quite a long ride with a few bumps and a few real hills, but given the fact we’d been cycling for 10 days before this, it was really really tough. Mike hurt his knee while going up Helms-deep (new name for Helmsdale), and I could see him cycling with a limp and can empathise from experience how much he must have been hurting.

I’d also like to apologise publicly to Becky for “giving her the finger” while going up Helms-deep. I guess she chose the wrong moment to try to offer to be supportive (I was already swearing to myself at the time). As Mike has already said – this was one nasty hill. Just when you think it’s over, you go around a corner and there’s yet more hill, and even steeper each time. My heart goes out to the people who do this ride solo, with panniers on their bikes – I really don’t know how they do it. 

As a final note for today, I’d just like to mention that this isn’t the end of the blog – I do plan to update it with some pictures, route plans, B&B recommendations/reviews, etc, over the coming week. Sorry we’ve not been able to do this so far, but we’ve been a little busy.

Bex: What an emotional day! The boys were so upbeat at breakfast this morning (boy what a long time ago that feels!) but then they didn’t appreciate the horrors to come. The Support vehicle (aka Mikes company car) had to change from 6th gear right down to 3rd gear to conquer Helmsdale (aka Shrek 3)… Does that give you some clue as to how long and torturous Helmsdale really is.??? I ‘positioned’ myself 3/4 of the way up to offer motivation (big mistake, see above) but hey, it was well meant!

The scenery was stunning, in my view better than Glencoe but the boys didnt get to enjoy it, perhaps tomorrow on the way back home in the car….. 

I would like to thank the lady on the fish counter in the Tesco’s in Wick for an igenious Champagne chilling device – and it didnt even taste fishy!

The end was stunning. Felt really bad that I had fed the boys coconut sponge cake thinking (as told) Wick to J.O.G was flat… Oops! Sorry Guys! Anyway, I tried to motivate the guys on the final hill before JOG and told them it was all down hill after that. I finally lost it (whilst on the phone) as the guys passed the John O’Groats sign and started blubbing like a baby and have an excellent photo of them passing the sign with O2’s proudly displayed on their bottoms, baboon style!!!

I was so proud of them and their spectacular achievement, for those who havent sponsored (I wont name and shame anyone) but please do so, it really is not too late! 

To the next adventure…….. 

Thank You’s: 

Derek – I’d like to thank all the support team (Becky, Jayne, Mike, Phil and Ben & Shannon from Symantec). Without your help, we wouldn’t have been able to make it. You offered much more than just driving and doing errands for us – you were a source of entertainment, relief, inspiration and support. Thank-you all. 

I’d also like to thank Lindsey and her family who have been my inspiration and motivation for finishing this on more than one occassion. My sympathies are with you all for your recent loss.

Also, can I thank the various people that we have encountered on the way – the people that have beeped their horns or cheered in support, the people that have sponsored us on the ride, the other riders we’ve encountered and chatted to. 

Obviously, in true Oscar style, I’d like to thank my mum, dad, family, friends, their pets, etc. 

I’d also like to thanks all those that have supported us and helped us in organising this – especially, O2, Symantec, and Compel.

Finally, my heart-felt thanks have to go to Mike. This adventure was his idea – while at times I might have regretted saying yes (which I did by buying a new bike by the way), we’ve had a great time that I’ll never forget or regret. Without Mike, I know I would have given up long before the end, and it was re-assuring to have him there throughout the ups and downs (no pun intended). His determination and support have been an inspiration to me, and I look forward to our next adventure! 

Mike – For me, thanks go to the support team, all different – all brilliant!  As Derek said, we could not have done this without you, so I will make sure you share the achievement.

Phil – What a character and source of entertainment!  You were an inspiration.

Mike – You surprised me with how tuned in you were. Your calm efficiency was just what I needed.

Jayne – What can I say?  Such a joy.

Becky – Diligence and attention to detail dont cut it!  You were at exactly the right place at exactly the right time! 

Shannon and Ben – You may never know how much we appreciate you taking time out to come to Cornwall and be with us for the big event!

Compel and Symantec need our thanks too – without our their support this adventure would have been personally much more expensive and may not have been possible. 

I’d like to thank O2 also for their support, encouragement and providing us with the excellent XDA Orbit which served as phone, camera and sat-nav.

Thanks also to Steve who was due to ride with us – a chest infection stopped him but he still motivated us to continue in his name. 

Neil deserves some thanks for being mad enough to join us for a little 84 mile ride from Chepstow to Shrewbury – he thought we were lunatics before the morning was over but I think he is converted to the cycling bug.  (London – Paris next year?)

Shelby raised my spirits in Chepstow and I love her dearly.   

Maddy always has my undying love but meeting her on the trip was mind blowing.

Thank you to all friends and family for the support and sponsorship! 

Finally, thank you Derek.  When I suggested doing this I had no concept of what was involved and can honestly say I could not have done this without you.  At least 12 days together, no arguments and still friends!  What more can I say?  You are a star.

Beer of the day: Champagne. Light, bubbly, (in designer tesco carrier bag ice-cooler) need we say more.

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Day 10 – Spean Bridge to Tain

June 13, 2007

Derek: Today started with plenty of optimism and excitement. We had a good breakfast at the B&B (our standard professional athlete’s breakfast of porridge, and scrambled eggs on toast). We then set-off bright and early at about 8am.

From there, however, things went down-hill. Or rather, they didn’t. Yesterday as we ended the ride, I could feel a slight twinge in my left knee. Overnight I put on a support bandage thingy, but this was a bit tight so I had to take it off to prevent haven’t to cycle with only one leg.

A mile into our morning ride, we hit the first climb. As climbs go it wasn’t too major, but as we weren’t warmed-up, it was quite tough going. At this point, my knee really started to become a pain (literally), and for sympathy, my right calf decided to join in too. After less than 90 minutes I was cursing and seriously considering getting off my bike and going home. Having come this far though, I have vowed to myself that nothing is going to stop me from finishing, even if I have to push the bike the final 90 miles.

While this was a good and right decision, it didn’t make the rest of the ride any easier. We both seemed to be very tired and were suffering all morning. Apparently, we cycled past some nice scenary and Loch Ness, etc, but to be honest I wasn’t really paying any attention – it was iPod on, head down, and just keep peddling, just keep peddling…

Eventually, after what seemed like an age, and quite a few climbs on what the guide-books call a “relatively flat” ride, we arrived at Inverness where we had lunch.

After lunch, we decided it was quite cold outside, so we added some layers. For me, that meant 1 pair of padded under-shorts, 1 pair of cycling shorts, 1 pair of bib cycling shorts, 1 pair of padded long trousers, a cycle top, sleeves (yes, seperate to the top itself), and a jacket. This was much warmer. Unfortunately, about 10-15 minutes later (just after we had set off), the sun came out, so we were too hot, and had to call for the support vehicle to come and collect our clothes while we stripped off on the side of the dual carriageway.

From then on, the route and cycling improved greatly. A few good long decent climbs, but in general a much smoother and nicer ride. There was also a fantastic descent over about 3 miles which was great, but freezing cold because of the wind. We decided not to call the support team to get our warm clothes back again though.

We eventually arrived at Tain, which is home of Glen Morangie whisky, and in fact we are staying at a B&B in Morangie road.

So, 90 miles done today and about the same to do again tomorrow – for the last time – ever!

p.s. I’d like to thank the chap that drove past us flashing and waving – I assume he works for O2 at Alness as that was where we were passing at the time. Either that, or he just likes men in Lycra.

Mike: What a difference a day makes!

I suppose after the exhileration of yesterday we should have expected today to be a little “down” by comparison.  We knew we were doing the distance today but also expected the Loch Ness run to be flat.

So today started cold, misty and damp (with plenty of midges).  I couldn’t find my cycle computer either and wasn’t prepared to waste too much time looking.

Within minutes of leaving the B&B we were climbing, then more rolling hills (undulations really) all the way to Fort Augustus at the near end of Loch Ness.  I had no idea what speed we were travelling at so just kept peddaling at what felt like a sensible rate.

Whether it was the conditions, the tiredness after yesterday or something else I dont know but this morning I was at my lowest point in the whole ride – the thought of surrender did cross my mind briefly, hastily chased away by “NO – come to far!” and that was that.

At one point Becky drove passed us so we flagged her down and I donned my long trousers as I was really struggling to keep my leg muscles warm. That helped with that problem, but unfortunately not with the lack of energy or the sore bottom..ho hum.

We did get to do some real racing stuff at Fort Augustus where Becky held out Snickers bars which we grabbed while cycling past (that was easy, getting them in to the back pocket of my hi viz jacket was much more tricky)

For some reason, I had imagined the road by the side of Loch Ness being similar to a canal path (right by the side of loch and completely flat) – it isn’t.  Well, about a mile of it is, right at the far end.  The rest goes up and down and isnt very close to the loch either.  As a cyclist, I determined that it was actually not a hugely interesting piece of water.

When we arrived at Inverness we were well and truly ready for lunch (which was deeply appreciated).  Like Derek, I changed my outfit too and briefly wore 4 layers but found I couldn’t cycle so had to get changed in the Tourist Information toilets (which meant stripping down to almost nothing and re-dressing).

What a difference a break makes! The afternoon, was much much better and we were amazed at how well we felt.  We made great progress and climbed the first hill out of Inverness without noticing it.  The second one we noticed but it was “do-able”, there then followed a 3 mile descent to the bridge which was excellent but very chilly as the north wind had nowhere to go and decided to hang around in our faces all day.

The rest of the journey to Tain was relatively flat with some minor uphill stretches but we were now determined to get there – Tain being the home of Glenmorangie whisky and it was calling me…  At one point I was doing over 20 mph for several miles apparently (not that I knew without my computer)

Arriving in Tain was a relief.  The B&B is quaint (I think thats the right word) but to be honest after over 90 miles it could have been a shed.  The thing we all noticed was how light it is, both in terms of clarity and that its 9.30pm and looks likes it 6pm.  Sleep will not be a problem though.

The end is in sight…roll on tomorrow night.

Bex: This morning the boys were less than cheerful at breakfast…. after such a cracking day yesterday it was always going to be tough with the tiredness today and they were obviously suffering (their faces were actually grey) but off they set in the midge haze that surrounded them…

I met up with them an hour and a half later, not too far from Fort Augustus and was  worried for them, yesterday and that first hill had really taken it out of them, but a boosting Snickers later they put their heads down and ‘just kept pedalling!’

I then shot off to Inverness in such of extra padded cycling shorts for sore bottoms and a lunch venue and the boys met me at 13:30 having done 55 miles of a 91 mile stint. At lunch you could have heard a pin drop and I think there was whole 5 minutes where nothing was said and I was pondering my Dilemma….

I had driven further on from Inverness whilst on a recce for potential lunch stops and knew immediately after lunch they had a horrible hill climb. My dilemma was should I actually tell them about it, so they could psyche themselves up or just let them pedal off blissfully unawares?? I chose not to say anything at lunch itself but hint as they actually set off.

This afternoon was thankfully a lot better (after the first hill) and definitely helped by the sun coming out and a shorter distance to cover. I left the boys 20 miles before Tain and shot off to check us into the B&B and buy much needed ‘treats’ for the boys on their arrival…. A bottle of Glenmorangie and some more Nurofen!!!

The guys seemed much happier tonight and after an excellent meal at the Royal Hotel, its time for bed and some sleep in preparation for the big day tomorrow!

Beer of the Day: McEwans 70. Creamy head, gassy, but otherwise undefinable and unremarkable… there were lots of things it wasnt but nothing it was (if you know what I mean!?!)

Whisky of the Day: Glenmorangie. (Being in Tain, it couldn’t be anything else really could it). Crisp but mellow with some comples overtones. Ah let’s face it, it’s wonderful stuff.

Alternative review by Bex:- Very drinkable. Peppery and Smokey and doesnt put hairs on your chest (at least it hasnt yet!!!)

Day 9 – Tarbet to Spean Bridge

June 12, 2007

Mike:    How can I sum up this morning?  Oh yes, one word – AWESOME!.
The day started grey and misty so we donned our hi-vis gear and set off and followed the north shore of Loch Lomond.  We said to each other that if the road stayed like this for the next 80 miles we’d be happy.  It didn’t.

Once we left the lochside, we started climbing and carried on climbing – up through Crianlarich and Tyndrum, then on and upwards where the views got more and more spectacular.

We paused at Loch Tulla for some photos and a chat with another cyclist, then we did another 400-500 foot climb where I found my off-switch and went non-stop (Sorry Derek – who I think wanted to take a break at the truck stop half way up, but I was already passed that point) to the sign that said “Welcome to the Highlands”.  I almost felt that I had come home.

We cycled along Glencoe, admiring the views and passed The Kings House Hotel at 11.45.  Our original plan was to lunch there but it was way to early and we were feeling full of energy and inspired by the scenery.

Once we finished climbing, it was time for the long descent, and what a descent!  The bike just ran and I split my viewing between the road and the scenery.  Two thirds of the way down I was awe struck by the sight of the mountains and was quite emotional, with even had a tear in my eye (Wife please note – I am not dead inside)

We carried on to Ballachluish for lunch and then followed the A82 around Loch Leven and found ourselves facing a strong head wind (again) all the way to Fort William, then more climbing (a wee bit tired now) and more headwind until reaching Spean Bridge.

Some aching muscles tonight but it was worth it – I cannot imagine a more impressive view than up in those mountains.

One thing I have been meaning to say for a week now is how brain dead we are in the evening (I know some may say “no change there”). I think its the concentration used during the day to navigate, avoid potholes, stay out of the way of traffic (sometimes sucessfully) and adjust the brain every now and then (No, we are not stopping…no, it doesnt really hurt…etc).  So by the time we go to dinner, we are physically tired and mentally incapable of simple arithmetic, or even intelligent conversation…although we can give a good discourse about road surfaces….

Derek: Today was cold, wet and steep. All in all, the perfect recipe for a totally brilliant day!

The ride started really well, with some nice undulating roads along the shore of Loch Lomond. At the time we considered this to be really nice and pretty. As we got higher, we started to get much damper – as we seemed to be driving through clouds. Fortunately, Becky was nearby and happened to drive past just as we were starting to get soaked, so out came the rain-coats (mostly for visibility than water-proofing). On the way down, the ride was so fun that I was actually singing at the top of my voice all the way down – fortunately, I don’t think anyone else could hear me.

The climb to Crianlarich was tough going but great fun – a long steady steep climb. We stopped at Tyndrum and met up with Becky again at the services there for a brief pause before continuing onwards and upwards.

The views all around were fantastic – picturesque, flat and mirrored waters reflecting the hills in the backgrounds – breathtaking!

There were a series of other long steep climbs, the best of which culminated at Glen Coe with our highest ride ever – about 1,473 feet high! The descent from this was also quite fun too! As we descended we were cycling literally between mountains on either side, the tops of which we couldn’t even see due to clouds covering them.

Throughout the ride we were also playing cat and mouse with some other end-to-enders. These 3 guys were riding on bikes with panniers, so weren’t as quick as us, but after we had overtaken them and gone on a bit, we’d have a rest stop, and they’d catch us up, only for us to then overtake them again, and so on. Who knows, maybe we’ll see then at JO’G on Thursday.

Without a doubt, the scenary was the high(!) point of the day – I have never seen anything like it anywhere else.

Becky: Bless! What a day. After an excellent breakfast thanks to Maria at our b and b for the night, it was off for my first day supporting Derek and Mike. Its really quite emotional seeing ‘the boys’ head off for the day and then once I had checked us out of the b & b and messed around with the sat nav, I set off for Glencoe. I drove along the A82 and kept thinking I will see them in a minute, I will see them in a minute…. in the hour since they left they had done a cracking 14 miles! Good on them! Unfortunately, thats when it started to get wet and hilly…. The scenery is nothing short of breathtaking, but that is due to the mountainous terrain, this is also where the boys had to cycle and I know the A82 goes between the mountains but trust me, its still very steep! Every hill I drove up a hill I thought the boys are going to have to cycle this and my heart was in my mouth for them, I really cant explain how it feels, but you feel a mixture of motherly, protective and in awe. They have really impressed me both with their achievement so far and their attitude. Go boys…… only 2 more days!!!

Beer of the day: Calder’s 70 – dark and slightly nutty, which Mike describes as Splendid.

Whisky of the day:  Invergordan.  A very pale, almost clear tipple with a slight citrus tang.  A bit girly really.

Day 8 – Elvanfoot to Tarbet

June 11, 2007

Derek: Today was a relatively un-eventful day. On this sort of event, that is exactly what we like to experience. The roads heading towards Glasgow were generally quite good, except for some areas where the road surface was as smooth as my bottom feels right now.

Some of the back roads were quite busy – especially around a quarry near Boghead. It was shortly after this that we had a bit of a scare – I’ll leave it to Mike to fill in the details on that one.

We crossed the Erskine bridge which I think was quite lovely, but I was watching the road most of the time.

The ride then carried on the a82 into Tarbet which is on the banks of Loch Lomond. While we didn’t get to see much of this while cycling, we do have a glorious view of it from the lounge of the B&B we’re in tonight – a rather pleasant room, based on the TARDIS and locked in a time-warp from the 70’s. The lady running it appears to be Austrian and comes complete with chirping cookoo clock and a lovely pink bathroom.

We wandered down the road to a converted church which appears to be the only restaurant in the area that’s open to the public. This was very nice, but obviously targeted at middle-aged American tourists – who were there in the plenty and splendour savouring the highly authentic replica’s of everything.

While eating, Mike and I found yet another scary similarity in that when it came time for pud, and the waiter went through the specials, we both instantly went for the Treacle Pud and Custard (note: not Creme Anglais up here in Scotland!).

On a side note – today we’ve been told by Becky that we’re looking really well, and also apparently the waitress in the pub at lunchtime told Jayne that we looked really fit. Maybe it’s the hazy Scottish air impeding their vision?

Mike: Today was a bit of a late start and we commenced the journey down the familiar B road with all its bumps and holes etc.  There was one stretch that seemed to have every possible variant of surface over a 1 mile.  I came to the conclusion they must be experimenting (to see which would be most uncomfortable for poor saddle-sore cyclists).

One detail that perhaps should not be shared is that we are both wearing 3 pairs of shorts now due to the saddle pressure (not chafing, just the same feeling one gets from sitting on a bench for hours, magnified by a few hundred times)

As Derek mentioned the roads were a bit busy from time to time – and some cars came close, one very close…close enough to knock the back of my hand from the handlebars with it’s door mirror.  The driver, who I am fairly sure was on a handheld mobile, was nice enough to wave an apology as he continued driving up the road.  However, we made good time to Glasgow nonetheless.

This afternoon was almost entirely by the side of Loch Lomond and we achieved probably the best consistent speed of the trip so far (I was pretty much in a zone today, but fortunately Derek didnt complain so I guess he was feeling fit too!)

Today we said goodbye to Jayne, who had been supporting us admirably over the weekend.  Her replacement is Becky who was flying up from Heathrow this afternoon but unfortunately her flight wasnt until quite late and was then delayed.  Jayne brought some of our luggage to the B&B in Tarbet and then drove the car back to Glasgow (leaving it in our company office car park).  By the time Becky arrived in Tarbet, Derek and I had eaten and I had already tucked into a hot chocolate.

So tomorrow is up to edge of Loch Ness…with some hills included apparently.  And there was me thinking Scotland was flat.

Beer of the Day: Maverick – A dark robust ale with distinct character, warm roasted malt flavours matched with a fruity hop aroma, brewed at the head of Loch Fyne.
(The above was “written” by Derek, having read it on the bottle….the real description would be dark and hoppy!)

Whisky of the Day:  The eatery (The Ben Lomond) didnt have much of a selection (surprisingly) and I left it to the waiter to bring us the most local one, which turned out to be The Macallan (not that local really).  Crisp, clean and almost refreshing, without so much of a hint of smokiness (This really was written by Mike!)

Day 7 – Penrith to Elvanfoot(ish)

June 10, 2007

Mike:  Firstly a big thank you.  The gentleman we met in the garage yesterday did indeed remember the web address and sponsored us.  I think we were both bowled over by that gesture, so if the man responsible is reading this – thank you!

What an eventful day!  Our support person, Jayne, who has been spoiling us rotten over the last few days, arrived this morning in a state of distress.  Due to the Appleby Fair in Penrith, there wasnt enough accomodation for all of us in one place so Jayne found a room in a nearby B&B (nearby meant about 10 miles away!).  To keep the bikes safe she took them to her accomodation.  The problem as we found this morning, was that reversing out of the drive (which she got the house owner to do as she was sure about a big car going backwards up a steep drive) my bike got caught on a tree and came off the car.  So, Jayne drove to us completely distraught and we piled in to go check out the damage.

It wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been, the brake lever was skewed which we fixed, and there is a dent in the down tube (which will have to stay there).  So a few adjustments, checks and a road test later I decided it was okay and off we went.

We got to Scotland before 10am and did the obligatory photo by the sign (to be uploaded shortly) and on we went.  We were making such good progress that we passed through Ecclefechan by 11am which was due to be our lunch stop (whatever Jayne did to my bike clearly improved it!).  We then decided that we would lunch at Moffat (which is actually where we are staying tonight).

After a very nice lunch we set off with a plan to ride beyond Elvanfoot and get Jayne to pick us up later.  This began somewhat ominously with a climb out of Moffat toward the Edinburgh Scenic Trail.  We were going up for sometime before our left hand turn (B719) came along, and then went up more, and more, and more.  Before the end we were at 1270 feet, having started at 220 in Moffat.  The downhill was good though!

We then rejoined the road we had been on most of the morning (cant remember the number but its national cycle way 74).  Have to say its one of the tedious roads I have ever been on – the scenery is fine, sometimes spectacular, but the road is long, straight and flat for miles. Worse stilll is the road surface which has the same smooth qualities as a not very smooth thing from rough land.

Finally we got to Elvanfoot and there came our second “event” of the day.  We missed the sign to Abington and went through the village instead and up the otherside.  Once again we found ourselves on a long slow climb in the blazing sun.  Dont know about Derek but I was really enjoying it.  The vista opened out to a wide glen and hills/mountains.  I could almost hear the sound of dead clansman calling and couldn’t resist shouting “MacLeod” as I rode along (From the film “Highlander” in case you dont know that)

We travelled on for, oh about 8 or 9 miles and came to a “Welcome to Dunfries and Galloway” sign.  After taking a picture we then realised we were heading South, which is not really a good thing when the destination is John O’Groats.  A quick phone call to Jayne (who was currently in a service station about 20 miles UP the road) who kindly said she would come back and pick us up.  We decided not to wait where we were but headed back the way we came to meet her at Elvanfoot.

The journey back to Moffat was the third “event” but I think Derek best explain that one!

Derek: Things had definitely been going to well, so there was bound to be a time when it all came undone, and today it was undone in style. As Mike said, there was an incident with the bikes, with Mike’s coming off much worse than mine. My bike only suffered from a twisted brake/gear lever, a covering of pollen from the offending tree, and a dent to its pride – other than that it was as road-worthy as ever, so still no excuses to duck out! My main concerns though were for Mike who’s bike had been quite badly damaged, and for Jayne who was

The ride into Scotland was fun, and also somewhat exciting. The A74 was very busy even for a Sunday morning, and there were roadworks which reduced it down to two lanes. Mike and I decided not to do as the sign suggested and to carry on without calling for a police escort. This was, as I said, quite exciting – that is if you find riding on a 12″ verge next to very fast and large HGVs and caravans exciting!

Then we were in to Scotland – a major milestone for us in that we now consider ourselves to be well and truly over the half-way mark in every sense – days, mileage and even countries.

The ride to Moffat was ok in general, with the exception of the B7076 (the road who’s name Mike couldn’t remember). This is, having done a few dozen miles on it, without a doubt the most boring, repetetive, dull and brain-numbing road on the planet, not helped by the almost cobble-stone road surface which makes every bone and muscle ache – especially your feet, hands and, er, bottom. If you ever get a chance to ride on this road – stay well clear! It was so bad, in fact, that to take his mind off things, Mike was dancing to a song from the Proclaimers while cycling on his bike!

The B719 that we tackled just after lunch was, on the other hand, fantastic. It’s a bit of a nasty climb, but well worth it in the end. It has lovely views, and an even better descent!

Unfortunately, this is where things went wrong for the 2nd time today. Shortly after the B719 and yet another tedious stretch on the B7076, we were heading for Elvenfoot and beyond. Because we had originally had Elvenfoot as our end-point for today, we both naturally headed towards it. Personally, I blame Mike as he had the list of roads in his pocket, but I suppose that’s not really fair as we were on the right road – the A702 – just heading in the wrong direction, and I missed the sign too. We did have a lovely, if tiring, ride up this road for quite a few miles – I’ve rarely seen any countryside so beautiful. It was just a pity that this was slightly marred by the fact we had done a long slow painful uphil for almost 10 miles in the wrong direction. So, back we rode towards Elvenfoot to be picked-up by Jayne and the support-vehicle (Mike’s car), and then taken back to the B&B.

This was where the 3rd incident occured. While driving down the A74(M), Mike noticed that the shadow from the bikes didn’t look right. On checking, we found that my cycle helmet, which held my newly puchased glasses, my only decent riding gloves, and my iPod, was hanging precariously from the handle-bars. Fortunately, all ended well with a quick and brief stop on the hard shoulder to rescue said items before they became 21st century road-kill (how I would have continued without my iPod I’d hate to think!).

Fortunately, the day ended on a real high as the B&B in which Mike and I are staying, the March Bank Wood House in Moffat, is absolutely stunning and fantastic. I have the best loo-seat view I have ever seen (picture to follow, of course). For £30 a night, this place is a bargain and I’ll definitely be coming back!

So, onwards and upwards as they say – tomorrow we head for Glasgow and beyond, with high hopes for a good days ride, incident free!

Beer of the Day: Velvet – a chocolatey coloured beer that does indeed taste velvety. What can I say – I’m no beer expert, but it was nice, smooth and went down well with steak and chips.

Whiskey of the Day:  BLADNOCH.  Pale straw colour with orangy bouquet.  A slight liquirice aftertaste.  Lovely!  (Although our hostess did a sharp intake of breath when I asked for a little water in it…)

Day 6 – Leyland to Penrith

June 9, 2007

Derek: Breakfast today was fantastic – home made porridge, with banana’s and a nice cup of tea – a cyclists dream!

Today was another long ride – somewhere around 85-90 miles. The ride was more up and down than recently, but this actually helped us as we didn’t have to peddle constantly.

On the way, we got to have a couple of races. The first was with a girl aged about 7 who tried in vain to keep up for about 30 yards. The second was with a slightly older young lad – probably about 10 – who was very persistent and really tried to race us. We did eventually get bored and put our feet down – fortunately we did actually manage to pull away.

Lunchtime was in Kendal (where they make the mint cake). We managed to find a nice pub just the other side of the town. Jayne went in to order our food and when she told the waitress to just look for the two guys outside in bright blue lycra, got a rather confused/excited(?) look back.

It was at this point that we realised (a) we had planned one of our longer rides through the lake district area and (b) 60 miles into the ride we would have to cycle up Shap, a mere 1400 feet of hill (mountain!).

So, with grim determination, we set off to cover the next 30-40 miles of our ride and to face the beast which I have now renamed Shrek.

Shrek was, as it turned out, pretty horrid. Fortunately, it wasn’t a sheer climb of 1400 feet – more a series of climbs and winding roads, going up 2-300 feet at a time. Eventually, we made it to the top with much relief and very very red faces. The good news was that the other side of Shrek was quite a long fast descent – definitely more enjoyable than the way up, provided you could dodge the motorbikes coming the other way on the wrong side of the road at over 120mph! (I did wave a one nicely, but only had the energy to wave with one finger).

After Shrek, things continued to be bumpy for a good few miles. We went through Penrith and out the other side. I have had to confess to Mike though that, in Penrith itself, I (or rather, the Sav Nav, honest!) took us the long way around the town centre up some very steep hills. After getting back on-route, I realised we could have just went straight through and avoided most of it. oops.

After that, we just did a few more miles before stopping and heading off to the B&B which is quite a quaint place in completely the middle of nowhere. I mean – no mobile signal! What’s that all about!

Mike is on the phone right now, but has asked me to let you all know that his knee is feeling much better today, and thank you all for your concern.

Mike: Starting this morning was better than expected. The terrain was very good for us with a few small undulations and lots of flat. We made excellent time through to Preston and beyond. At one point we stopped in a fuel station for a toilet break and received the attention of a very nice chap who was filling his car. He was very interested in what we were doing and was keen to sponsor us although we didnt have anything with the web address on it, so recited it to him a couple of times. I hope he remembers it.

During the course of the morning, both Derek and I had the same unusual experience – a fly up the nose! Not pleasant.

Before long we were in Cumbria and the terrain got more bumpy. By the time we got to Kendal we had covered over 50 miles in the warmest conditions so far. Both of us were tired but I was more concerned at how smelly I must have been (I could smell myself so what others thought I daren’t think)

So on to Shap, a tough climb but what a feeling on reaching the top. I felt like a real cyclist!
The problem with that climb is not just the ascent which is gruelling to us non-club types, but almost worse were the midges which seemed to get everywhere.

The road from Shap to Penrith has its share of undulations too so by the time we got beyond the town, I was hot, tired, smelly and ready to drop into a bath (and that’s exactly what I did).

Tomorrow we reach Scotland and in theory its a short day – but we are allowing for a few little hills between us and the destination.

Beer of the day: Cumberland Ale by Jennings (Brewed in Cockermouth). Pale and gentle, like honey with a bramble finish. (Yes, ok!)

Day 5 – Shrewsbury to Ecclestone (Leyland)

June 8, 2007

Derek: Today was due to be a long ride, but also quite a flat one. Both turned-out to be true. 

Until now though, I had been hoping for a flat ride. Today, we got one, and I found out the down-side. On flats, you have to pedal. Non-Stop. All the time. Relentlessly. It’s actually more tiring than riding over bumps.

The ride itself though was fairly good and we made good speed, arriving at the O2 call centre in Preston Brook shortly after noon. This was a good opportunity to have some lunch (a jacket potato with chicken curry AND a sausage roll).

On leaving the building we bumped into our CEO who was there to do a presentation. He popped over to have a chat with us, and then promptly brought a film crew with him to interview and film us – who knows which Hollywood screen we’ll be seen on next.

The afternoon was a fairly brisk 30 mile route through Wigan and up towards Leyland. This didn’t seem to take too long, and we even managed to arrive before the support vehicle (ok, they were having a flat tired repaired in Preston, but still…). The B&B is a lovely new converted barn – all very posh and modern. Now, off to the pub to find a beer to sample and review…

Mike: First thing this morning my knee was killing me, so much so that I was sweating.  Once out of Shrewsbury, it settled down a bit.  Derek noticed that I take my feet out of the pedals “heel out” whereas he does “heel in”. I changed to that and it does seem to make a difference, although I guess tomorrow morning will tell.

The miles rolled on, flat and fairly dull.  When you travel on a straight road at 13 to 15 mph the view doesn’t change much.

Preston Brook was a welcome sight!  After a decent lunch of jacket potato with beans and cheese plus some red beans and rice on the side (which drew some strange looks from the cashier), we prepared to go and met with Matthew Key which was a pleasure and an inspiration.

The first section of the afternoon was through Runcorn and Warrington, which I am sure are very nice towns, but on a bike there is too much traffic, too many roundabouts and traffic lights.  Once clear of that we made better progress.

Yesterday’s falling off incident was still in the back of my mind when we reached a set of traffic lights.  I got my right foot out and was putting it on the floor when for some reason I started slipping left and ended up in a heap on the pavement – partially trapped under the bike. (oh dear!)

The good thing with the towns is that the miles pass by as we are concentrating so much on navigation and not being hit by traffic. 

I am turning into a grumpy old man (ok, too late), I was getting frustrated by all the nice cycle lanes in these towns which had cars parked in them.  Added to this, we were coming down a hill with a uphill the other side, at the bottom there was a car waiting the turn right (which was fine, loads of room on the left), when the two cars behind swerved left to undertake and then realised they couldn’t get passed but in the process stopped us from getting the momentum advantage (I did call them a rude name, to myself!)

We carried on and stopped briefly at the “welcome to Lancashire sign” then found the accommodation which is possibly the best yet.  I have been told to stop now as I am all that is between us and the bar.

Beer of the day: White Witch – really quite a nice beer. Mike describes this as light and fragrant. It’s colour also seems to resemble something that you may do in the bathroom first thing in the morning.

Day 4 – Chepstow to Shrewsbury

June 7, 2007

Derek: I woke this morning and could hardly move – my legs were solid and really strained. I thought this was going to be a really tough day, but hey – I decided at the start that my approach would be to just get on the bike each morning and to start peddling, so that’s what I did. 

We were joined on the ride today by Neil Symmons who also works for O2. Our plan was a steady 86-odd miles to Shrewsbury.

Leaving Chepstow, there was a steady climb out of the town. I found this really quite a strain – I realised why a bit later when I tried to change into my top chain-ring, only to find I had been using it all along. Oops.

Then we began a steady up and down along the river heading north. Mike set off at quite a hectic pace – making me swear underneath my breath on more than one occasion. It turned out this was as he was nursing a bad knee and the only way to make it feel better was to cycle fast and ride it out.

There were some good hills, and a fantastic 10% descent. We were quite gutted though as we only managed to get to 39.9mph. 

Lunch was some 42 miles down the road, but before we could get there we had to go up a mammoth hill – probably 2 miles long and several hundred feet high. For some strange reason though, we all seemed to actually enjoy this one. We also enjoyed the baked potatoes, and sausage baps at the top too.

The descent wasn’t as good as the previous one, but fun nonetheless, and very very long.

In the afternoon, the roads were much nicer – there were some rises, but they were generally slight and steady so we barely noticed them. This meant we managed to increase our average speed – at one point making in excess of 20mph. 

We arrived at Shrewsbury at about 5:45. The B&B is a lovely, interesting place which looks like it used to be an old coach house.

Sadly, we had to say goodbye to Phil today who has been helping us since Sunday – his help (and humour and enthusiasm) has been very important to us over the previous few days. Today, we’ve been helped by Mike W, who will support us again tomorrow until we get to Preston Brook at lunchtime at which point Jayne, from Weston Spirit, will pick-up the reins.

Mike: Unusually, I’ll start today’s log with a review of last night.  There was a bit of a party atmosphere in Chepstow with a gathering of various people: myself, Derek, Phil, Maddy (wifey), Mike W (support from Shrewsbury), Neil (our guest rider for today’s leg), and Shelby (my surrogate sister – dont ask!)

Anyway, we gathered in the bar area and strolled down the hill to a GReek restaurant, where the meal was very good.  Unlike the walk back up the hill afterwards.  I went to bed immediately on return but I think various people stayed in the bar quite late…. 

So today, we set off a little later than planned and cruised down the Wye valley.  Neil and Derek complained that I was setting a fast pace, I reasoned that we had a long way to go, but actually my knee was painful (an old injury) and I was trying to work it through (to no great effect).

We reached Monmouth and had a short rest before climbing the long hill.  The next leg of the journey to Hereford and beyond was “up and down” a lot more than expected, including a climb from 65 feet to well over 600 immediately before lunch. 

At this point I had finally worked out what was aggravating my knee, it’s the twisting of the foot to get out of the pedals.

This afternoon was generally a lot flatter and we made quite good progress with no real incidents until we arrived at our destination, where we turned left off the road in to the carpark, which was a slope.  I slowed and tried to release my foot and failed.  I was now stationery and promptly fell over.  Fortunately Mike was reasonably close and slowed by descent but I still ended up on the ground, cutting my dodgy knee.  It’s now has a plaster and a tubi-grip bandage thing on it in a effort to get it ready for tomorrow. 

Beer of the Day: Abbey Gates – a nice bitter which we determined had a nutty chocolate flavour. (a bit like a Snickers!)

Day 3 – Tiverton to Chepstow

June 6, 2007

Mike: People have said Day 3 is the hardest. In some ways I agree although not through the fatigue perspective, more from the 86 miles all into the wind, which included a few 8% hills which were more than 3 miles long.

We started in Tiverton, and were not looking forward to more of yesterday’s hills.  We were pleasantly surprised by miles and miles of almost flat road (busy dual carriageway but we cant have everything).

There were a few hills between Wellington and Taunton but we progressed to Highbridge in plenty of time for lunch.  We got there, found a bike shop, got Derek’s bike fixed (Derek will say more) and met with Phil and Maddy (wifey).  We rode on to Burnham on Sea and had Fish & Chips on the beach.  Phil got himself in trouble by walking down the beach to the “sea”.  The lifeguard was then promptly on his megaphone telling him to come away from the water.

This afternoon’s journey from Burnham to Chepstow was a long haul but we arrived by 6.30 to a small welcoming committee

In terms of stats, we averaged 13 miles per hour, which considering the wind was okay.  My bike computer went a bit haywire and told me that my max speed was 934 mph (I think it was probably about 32!).

So, long day, tired but reasonably pleased.  As long as the muscles work tomorrow we shall be fine!….

Derek: I was quite apprehensive about today – as Mike mentioned, everyone said that Day 3 was the hardest. From a terrain and distance perspective, I don’t think it was a problem – but I’d describe today as a breeze. Unfortunately, all the breeze was heading towards us head-on. This slowed us down quite a bit. Despite that, the morning was a good, and we arrived at our lunch stop ahead of time. 

This was a good job as I was having a few ickle problems today. Firstly, my cycling sunglasses somehow got snapped, and secondly I couldn’t get the bike onto the top chain-ring. We found a fantastic little bike shop at Highbridge who fixed this for me, for free! I also managed to pick-up a new pair of glasses to boot.

The lunch on the beach was fantastic – good ol’ fish n chips. This was made even better by Phil getting told off by the life guards. 

Once we set of, and then found our way (with the help of sat nav and a local passer by), we headed-off towards Bristol. This was a looooong hard slog – especially the killer hill for the 2-3 miles up to the airport. The descent from there was fantastic, but we were slowed again by the wind – we should have got 40-45mph, but could only manage about 30.

The good news is that we consider today to have been a major milestone as we’re now in Wales and have escaped the Devon and Cornwall hills. Can’t wait till tomorrow!  

Beer of the day: Brains SA – apparently they sponsor the Welsh rugby team. Maddy (Mike’s wife) says it’s a bit weak. Mike Wood’s head after two pints has a differing view. Mike M says it’s deceptively drinkable.

Day Two – Camelford to Tiverton

June 5, 2007

Mike: We started off the day feeling better than expected. A short run down Camelford centre and then a huge great long climb from about 120 feet to 966 over 3 or 4 miles.
The run to Bude was generally downhill, shortish climbs followed by long sweeping downs where I breached 40 mph for the first time on the ride.

The rest of Cornwall passed very quickly and we trundled past the “Welcome to Devon” sign at about 10am.

From there things got more difficult. At this point in the day, I was feeling ok while Derek was suffering from tiredness so the hills were no longer funny!
We quickly determined that Devon was worse than Cornwall. The hills generally were not a steep but much longer and far more draining.
We did our steepest hill of the ride, from Holdsworth to Hatherlee. We went down a hill into a valley and the bikes were doing over 25 mph within seconds. At the other side of the valley, we ended up on our smallest gear and were still standing up, to achieve a remarkable 1.5 mph!

Lunch couldn’t come soon enough and was found in a tiny little village, but was lovely! We were roasting in the beautiful sunny weather so ate inside.
We had covered close to 50 miles so only had 27 miles to reach Tiverton (apparently!)

After what seemed like days we reached Crediton (much relief for me as I was desperate for the loo, and not the sort that can be achieved at the side of the road!).
The “credit” I give to that town, is for the most disgusting toilets I have ever encountered.

An observation – Devon’s “miles” are not the same as the rest of the UK. After Crediton, we continued on the final leg (17 miles) and after a while passed a sign saying “Tiverton 8 miles”. Two more hours and another sign said “Tiverton 6 miles”, and then another saying “4 miles” which was much, much more than 2 miles further. We had ascended a 800 foot hill in the process so maybe that doesnt count.

We reached Tiverton after 71.1 miles, met up with Phil and put the bikes on the roof to get to the B&B (Rhode Farm & Livery Yard) which is delightful, but up a 17% hill and not on our route so we felt justified in getting a lift. Phil will take us back to where we left off tomorrow so we are’nt cheating…honest.

Derek: The start was rather mixed today. A fast, swift down-hill, followed by a long tedious uphill climb for several miles. After that, things got a lot better for quite a way – lots of rolling hills, some climbs, but lots of good descents – fun!

As Mike says, entering Devon we had hoped the hills wouldn’t be quite as bad as Cornwall – boy were we wrong. In Devon, they try to punish you and work together with the wind to make your life miserable. However, we peddled and plodded on.

The good side of this was a few of the descents – we were hurtling down some at a rate of knotts and there were some very “exciting” sharp turns half way down them. I even wanted to go back and do it again, but the thought of cycling back up the hill was a little too much.

Later in the afternoon, it was Mike’s turn to tire and my turn for a second-wind (probably all the carbs from the sweet-and-sour pork and huge mound of rice I had for lunch). I guess I was also motivated by the picture on the back of Mike’s jersey (pic to follow at some point) 😉

There is a cycle race where about 40km of the ride is on cobbles. Well, arriving in Tiverton felt just like that – the last 2-3 miles were horrid because of the road surface – Mike and I both suffered from numb toes as a result of all the vibrations.

Anyway, we’re now safely resting in the B&B, which looks very nice, and about to head into town to grab a bite to eat and a pint of the local.

(Belated) beer of the day – Marstons Bitter & Marstons Smooth. Apologies for the late addition of this – we wrote the blog entry before we had dinner. The bitter, Phil and I described as Glorious (concise but accurate). Mike described the Smooth as, well, er, smooth. Glad you waited?