The (planned) Route
23/05/13 – Arrival at Thurso
So I got my bicycle onto the Train at Euston. It was a lovely warm evening and it started to really feel as if I was going on an adventure. When I found my berth I wasn’t sure whether I should have been more surprised by the tiny size of the cabin or the fact that I was sharing with a complete stranger. I knew I might have been sharing with someone but I thought, well not many people would be going on this train to Scotland surely so the chances would be good that I’d have it to myself. Well I didn’t. It was small for one person and his panniers let alone two people and their stuff.
Since we were to share this box space for the next 12 hours I knew I’d have to come out of my shell and introduce myself. Fortunately conversation flowed with this friendly Invernessian since he had previously completed the LEJOG (opposite direction to mine) and enjoyed running too. In addition, as we stood in the narrow corridor chatting, Stuart a fellow cyclist who was undertaking the same challenge as myself, albeit over a slightly different route, joined in the conversation. This really helped to ease the nerves.
I was so excited about this train journey that I didn’t get much sleep through the night. In fact I think only 1 hours worth! It was a new sensation to me. The unique sounds, the clunking, rocking and at times it sounded like the engine was getting closer to my head. Nothing was constant like you would get on a plane or ferry and each change pulled me out of my slumber.
I also didn’t want to miss the scenery and didn’t need my alarm which I had set for 4 in the morning to purposefully wake up and watch the sun rise over the countryside. It was well worth it and good to poke my head out of the window and feel the chilly fresh air on my face.
Later in the morning the weather was becoming noticeably rougher until eventually we passed through a blizzard in the Cairngorms. I was at this point becoming a bit concerned to say the least.
So finally after a change at Inverness and a winding, long but pleasant train journey I reached my destination, Thurso. By this point and with all that travelling I really just wanted to settle into the task of heading South but at Thurso I was greeted by clear sky and some extremely strong, cold winds. Pretty normal up here I should have imagined but it was a contrast to being boxed up in air an conditioned carriage for such a long time.
The ride to John O’Groats presented my with a major issue. My phone wasn’t charging off the dynamo. I couldn’t believe it. Fortunately I had brought three fully charged batteries and was I glad of that! Consequently I had to change the battery through some of the longer days which would break up the GPS logs but to me, so early on, it was a huge set back. I needed the phone to push my current location to this site aswell as maintain my daily logs, update my blog and most importantly navigate! I’d have to adapt to this situation quickly.
I was heading East and the wind was blowing from the North with such ferocity that I thought it would blow me off the bike but I thought of my fellow JOGLE’er who had got off the train at Wick so would have to cycle North straight into this wind. Not easy. It was around 3pm by this point and when I reached John O’Groats I was underwhelmed by the place. Pretty bleak really.
So I sought the ubiquitous John O’Groats sign and attempted to stand my little camera tripod in the wind. It wasn’t happening. Fortunately a couple of chaps saw my predicament and were able to take a few snaps of me. I thanked them and they donated to my cause and then some LEJOG’ers pulled up looking extremely tired. One of them expressed surprise when I said I was going to attempt the trip in 11 days. He almost suffocated in disbelief and told me it’d taken him and his friends 18 days! OK, I thought perhaps it wasn’t such a good idea after all fearing I’d not be back at work when I said I would with no holiday left. At this point Lands End seemed a long, long way away. So with that I knew I had to make some progress and off I rode to Duncansby Head. This is actually the furthest point from Lands End and not John O’Groats as some people believe. On my way there I crossed paths with Stuart who looked knackered after battling with the head winds. We had a quick chat. We both knew we had our own challenges to complete. He was b&b’ing it all the way so I envied him not having to carry all the weight of the camping gear and especially not knowing whether the weather would turn sour further South.
The ride to Duncansby Head Lighthouse was incredibly exposed. I literally fell sideways off my bike with the wind. I was cursing that this was not going well what with my non-charging phone. Finally I got to the lighthouse took a few quick snaps as evidence and then promptly turned back to head off to my next destination Dunnet Head, the most Northerly point of the UK.
I was thinking these little parts of the challenge were so annoying and I really wanted to get them out of the way. It didn’t feel like I was making any progress but I knew if I didn’t visit these destinations it would rankle. Since they’re in such close proximity to one another they really would have to be ticked off the list but the wind was making it extremely challenging.
Finally I reached Dunnet Head where I could capture some photos and then get on with some more riding before it got too dark. Fortunately being so far North the days are longer so I was able to fit in a fair amount of riding until I found a grass covered spot in some woods just out of site of the road. I hadn’t seen any traffic on the way here so knew it would be quiet. This is where I pitched up, cooked some food and fell fast asleep…
– Perhaps my best day on a bike ever!
I woke up after such a deep sleep I thought I was still in my bed at home. My watch was vibrating frantically on my wrist alerting me to the fact that I should be doing something but I hadn’t registered what I should be doing until my senses started returning. The smell and the yellow light from the inner sanctum of my tent. Then I realised that I had to get up and complete a mission. The lack of sleep from the previous day had really caught up with me but I did feel quite refreshed so I got up and crawled out of the tent. It had been raining overnight but seemed to have stopped in the mean time. I heated up some water and poured in two sachets of porridge. Scoffed it down and packed up. The whole process had taken about an hour so I knew I’d need to refine my technique to really make the most of these early morning starts. I found reassembling my bike took a fair bit of time. My racer doesn’t have eyelets for the pannier rack and instead mounts onto the quick release for the rear wheel. I dropped the nut for the quick release and had to find it in the long grass. This was a concern for me as I realised this could be a big deal if I couldn’t find it so in future I would be super protective of the quick release components.
It felt good to be on the road but I didn’t think this journey would really begin until I started heading South. I was shocked at how close my campsite was to the edge of the moor. Literally ten meters on the other side of the trees! Had I carried on cycling the previous evening then I would have found it very hard to find a decent site in the poor light as there was no shelter and from the road it looked boggy too. Stroke of luck I thought briefly….for once. In the meant time the wind, although not as strong as the previous day, was still blowing in from the North and with it was cold rain. My jacket was doing a good job of preventing the side of my face from stinging so I felt pretty comfortable and the miles ticked by until finally I reached my turning point where I would head South. I was very wet and pretty cold at this point so I stopped off at The Weavers cafe in Tongue to eat a cheese and ham pannini and attempt to charge my phone. No charging points. Great. It was a good opportunity to stock up on some verrry expensive bottles of water too.
When I started heading South I really raised my pace. The weight of the camping gear didn’t seem to be hindering my progress now, not with the tail wind. Coupled with some amazing views, quiet roads and silky smooth tarmac I was bounding along with high spirits. At one point, along a straight section of road, I could see the outline of a cyclist coasting down the hill towards me. The sun was out and it was an almost euphoric moment as when he approached he raised his hand and we gave each other a good solid high five. No words were spoken but we were both clearly enjoying the moment in our own thoughts surrounded by some of the most beautiful scenery in the country. I turned round and at the same time he had and I bet, just as I was, he too was grinning like a cheshire cat. What a fantastic place this part of the world is.
And this is what it was all about. Thanks to everyone that sponsored me….