After completing what I would call a “medium distance charity fundraising bike ride” earlier this year, I’ve set my sights on something a little broader in scope. My initial foray into the world of longer distance cycling was a ride from Chatham in Kent to Poole in Dorset, around 200 miles in 3 days. So in realistic terms it was a fairly leisurely affair (although it didn’t feel like it at times – particularly the ridiculous sand-loaded headwind we found ourselves cycling into along the ten or so miles of the south coast by Bournemouth).
We went over the North Downs, the South Downs, through the New Forest moving county to county through Kent, Sussex, Hampshire and into Dorset. It was an amazing experience, and I’m determined that it won’t be one of the “once in a lifetime” kind.
The holy grail of long distance rides for UK cyclists is the Lands End to John O’Groats. So that’s what I’m in the middle of planning right now.
Let me say right now that I’m going into this with my eyes wide open. I know that 200 miles and 1000 miles are very different prospects. I know that there will be times during the ride that I will curse myself for even thinking about it let alone starting it. I know it will be the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, but equally I am ready to do the preparation, research and training and I’m sure it will be one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done as well.
Depending on your route a “LEJOG” (or “JOGLE” if you tackle it in the opposite direction) can be between 870ish and 950ish miles (“ish” being a familiar term to most cyclists – route distances are always flexible and watches really only need an hour hand as arrival times can normally be expressed in the more general terms of “five-ish” or “six-ish”), but the obsessive part of my personality felt that anything short of the round 1000 was a bit like cheating. And then I realised that if it was going to get bumped to 1000, I might as well investigate the possibility of visiting every part of the British Isles. So I’ve now worked out a route that comes in at 1028 miles, starts at John O’Groats in Scotland, goes to Northern Ireland, then into Eire, back over to Wales and finally to Lands End in England.
Another seriously staggering statistic associated with this ride is not simply the distance. The amount of climbing involved is more than the height of Mount Everest.
Winter riding has never really been my forte. I know it gets easier once you’re out (in the wind, rain and biting cold) but I just find it really difficult to force myself out of the front door at this time of year. So at the moment I’m trying to just generally get “fitter” at the local gym. Obviously this is including a certain amount of time on the cycling machines, but also on the treadmills, the rowing machines etc. I’m approaching 40 years old, so I am going to have to be a lot fitter than I am right now.
Being nearly 40 also means I have a family to consider, so several aspects of the ride have been determined by what I will politely refer to as “external factors”.
The dates have been largely set so it would coincide with the usual family holiday in the summer, but only really once the majority of it was complete. That way I could spend some time resting in the west country once it was finished. That family holiday also determined that this ride is going to be a JOGLE rather than a LEJOG as it was much easier to find a swimming pool to lounge around in Cornwall than it was in the Scottish Highlands. It’s back to front according to conventional logic and I might find myself battling headwinds when I really won’t want to and finshing up the whole affair with the notoriously hilly stretch towards Lands End, but I figured I could always do it the other way around next time…
Other aspects have been very much set by me.
I wanted to camp where possible, so campsites have been found for most of the route. I quite liked the idea of doing a bit of guerrilla camping along the way. Just ducking off the road at dusk and pitching somewhere a bit sheltered, tidying up after myself and heading off when the sun comes up. But there are two problems with that. First, it’s illegal (and I’m not saying that there are whole teams of police out searching likely campsites after dark, but I do try and abide by the rules where I can) and second, I quite liked the idea of being able to have a shower… So yeah, campsites. That meant a tent, and a two man tent meant has the further benefit that I could also get the bike in. The only place you can really legally camp without anyone’s permission in England is Dartmoor, so as it’s not frowned upon I think I’ll probably do that there. Partially because I’ll save a bit of money but also because it’s what I really wanted to do; get away from it all.
I’m still not sure if this ride will be a solo effort or if there’ll be one, two or more other riders along for some or all of it. That will come together over the next few weeks. It is a massive commitment, and it’s not necessarily cheap (although it probably is cheap compared to the cost of an 8 day UK break, it’s not an 8 day UK break that the whole family can enjoy).
The ride will be for charity, and at the moment I’m thinking the charity will be Re~Cycle, who send “pre-loved” bikes to Africa where they can be used to increase access to education, employment and just generally make life a little easier. If I’m going to put myself through the wringer, it makes sense to have that extra bit of motivation for when the temptation to sod off to the nearest train station kicks in.
Another temptation busting move is going to be the fact that the ride can be live tracked via GPS. People will fairly quickly realise what’s going on if I’m doing 50 miles an hour along the line of a railway track. It will also mean that the family can check in on my progress whenever they want to and hopefully that will set their minds at ease. My wife has already told me that she’s just going to worry about me for eight days straight. I do have the ability to live stream video through Skeegle and an EE Action Cam, but let’s be honest, 12 hours of me puffing and panting while the camera wobbles from side to side as my peddling becomes increasingly laboured might be a bit boring after, I dunno, 20 seconds? I imagine I’ll only end up using it on the more impressive sections.
The bike is going to be a fairly standard road bike. I’m not entirely sure which one I’m going to trot out this time. The Carrera I completed the Chatham to Poole ride was solid as a rock, but I don’t know how it will handle the extra weight of kit (and it hasn’t got the necessary lugs to get some nice fitting racks on it). I am, after all, going to try for front and rear panniers (as they keep the weight low to the ground and off your back). I can be fairly self-sufficient when I need to be. If the worst comes to the worst I can repair most things, or at least jury rig them until I can get to some help. Punctures, chain links and spokes seem to be the most common problems and none of that really holds too much horror. The stories about the midges on the Scottish borders on the other hand… Can they really be as bad as I’m being told? I’m going to prepare as best I can just in case. Avoiding camping near water or long grass and staying as covered up as possible.
I’ll aim to keep the gear as light as possible. As I’m visiting campsites I’ll be able to wash clothes as I go, so I can take less. I’ll eat out or eat cold, so no need for a camping stove, mess tins etc. I’m doing the ride in the summer, so a single skin tent should suffice. It’ll be interesting to see how much I think I’ll need compared to how much I actually need, but I guess that’s for a post ride report. It’ll be good to get out in the new year for a few test rides with the actual weight that’s going to be involved and see how I (and the bike) behave differently.
So that’s the plan. I’ve got the next few months to assemble the kit, get fit(ter) and plan the detail of the route and then it’ll be into proper training.