Thursday, 25 February 2016

Day 15 penny farthing LEJOG

After another brilliant breakfast we got ready to leave for our final day on the road. We hadn't asked how much the b&b was going to cost us but after 2 weeks on the road we had a fairly good idea. We were in for a shock, everywhere we stayed had been good value, but a new standard was about to be set. They were so impressed by our journey all they asked for was a token amount to go towards paying for our breakfast!
We paid our tiny bill and said our goodbyes, hitting the road feeling slightly guilty that we'd been treated so well and for so little payment.

As we rolled out of Helmsdale we once again chatted about how we would celebrate in John O'Groats. We were both excited about finishing the ride and I for one was really looking forward to a lazy day tomorrow.

Seeing the signpost for John O'Groats was a lovely moment, I guess lots of cyclists probably have a photo similar to the one above.

The road away from Helmsdale was a tough one with lots of hills that were too big for me to ride. Our progress was slow but it was a beautiful morning and today's distance was short so we didn't stress about our tortoise like average speed. We walked a bit and cycled a bit, stopped for a few photos and gradually made our way towards John O'Groats. 
At one point we cycled through a police speed trap, I was clocked at 9 mph so no further action was taken! We had a brief stop in Wick for food and also posted a few photos on Facebook. I tweeted an update with our ETA in John O'Groats and then we moved on.

The road leading from John O'Groats was busy with fresh faced cyclists who were just starting out on their end to end adventures. I was excited for them but glad my ride was coming to an end. It had been a hard two weeks of very long days in the saddle. One of the cyclists just starting out had been following my penny farthing ride on twitter and when he spotted me he stopped for a chat and a photo. Embarrassingly for me I was pushing and not riding my bike when we met. The hills were too much for my tired legs, the final day was proving to be a tough one. 

Above is the photo Jason took and later emailed to me, his ride went well and I think he finished inside 9 days. Like a lot of end to enders he also raised a huge amount of money for his chosen charity.

At this point my fundraising was also going well, my just giving page was at around £2000 with donations coming in from friends and strangers alike. I even had one anonymous donation for £100.00. I thought this was incredibly generous, Mickey thought it was more likely that they had intended to donate £10.00 but had put the decimal point in the wrong place.

Our tired legs eventually passed the final signpost to our target and the efforts of the last 2 weeks were soon to be rewarded, I couldn't wait to step off my bike for the final time.

The moment when we eventually rolled into John O'Groats was a memorable one, Mickey captured the moment on camera and our ride was almost complete. There was still time for another surprise though. The first building that we passed on our way into the village was the John O'Groats guest house, the b&b that we were due to stay in that night. As we approached we could see some people outside of the building. The owners of the b&b were waiting to welcome us, and even better they popped the cork out of a champagne bottle to greet us!

It was such a nice gesture and a memory I will never forget. When me and Mickey finished our first end to end in 2003 I remember John O'Groats as being a bit of an anticlimax but this time it really was a warm welcome at the end of a very long road. We stopped for a few minutes before being encouraged to carry on and get that final photo by the famous sign post.

So there we have it, 970 miles and 15 days after we set of we had made it! I was now in a rather exclusive club of people who had done the end to end on a penny farthing. It's not clear how many people alive today have ever done this but from my research I think it's only about 10. It's an achievement that I am very proud of but I'm also fully aware that without Mickey's help I would never have made it, so I owe him big time. All those years ago when I first bought the bike I said one day I would do it and now I had achieved it. All that was left to do was to let people know, I phoned my wife, tweeted a photo and uploaded my final day to strava before sitting down for a coffee in the cafe.

My phone then started to go wild! I was getting text messages from friends and tweets from all over the world! Notifications from my just giving page were coming in so regularly it was starting to flatten my battery!

There was only one thing left to do, get back to the b&b to start the celebrations!

Our hosts welcomed us back like long lost friends and after a quick shower we were treated to some fantastic home cooked food with the other guests joining us at the table.
The company was great and the beer had never tasted so good, our ride was done and at last we could relax. It was the perfect end to our adventure. Looking back on the ride now I have some fantastic memories but this final night really stands out. Mary and Mark at the John O'Groats guest house could not have done any more to make us feel welcome. Of all of the places we stayed, and we stayed in some brilliant ones, this final place was easliy the best. If ever you get the chance to stay here you really should, one day I hope to travel back to see them, but when I do you can rest assured I won't be cycling there on a penny farthing!

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Day 14 penny farthing LEJOG

We were so close to the finish of our ride now. I was exceptionally tired and looking at myself in the mirror before we left the hotel it was obvious for all to see.

While I was feeling very second hand my bike just kept absorbing the miles. We'd covered almost 900 miles and apart from some wear to the front tyre my bike looked as good as new.

When I was planning the ride I was quite concerned about how the bike would hold up but I needn't have worried. It was almost certainly going to get me all the way to the finish.

Every year hundreds of people do an end to end ride. Some go from south to north like I did and others go north to south. Today as we were nearing the end of our ride we bumped into some people who was just starting theirs, going in the other direction. One of the riders turned out to be a TV celebrity and while I looked and felt completely shattered they looked fresh and had the whole of their adventure to come.
 As our fellow end to end riders approached us they spotted my bike and stopped to say hi. It wasn't an unexpected encounter as in previous days I'd been looking on twitter to see how other people's rides were going. When I discovered there was a chance our paths would cross I sent a good luck message. They responded to this and were amazed that I was on a penny farthing.

So there you have it, I rode 900 miles to meet Fern Britton, and very nice she was too. We chatted for a while and both took some photos before cycling off in different directions.

The good weather continued, even if it was a little cold. At one point I stopped to tweet my picture of me and Fern and I also sent a message to a cycling friendly cafe in Helmsdale to check how long they were open for if we called in for food. They quickly got back to me and also asked me if we had any accommodation organised. I responded that our plan was to find a b&b close to Helmsdale once we arrived in the village. Almost as soon as I'd sent the message they replied saying they would find us somewhere to stay. This was brilliant news and it really took the pressure off for the remainder of the day. 

We rolled into Helmsdale and made our way to the cafe, the thyme and plaice, greeted us with open arms and fed us well. Soon we were being introduced to the owners of the local b&b where we would be staying. It was only about half a mile from the cafe so after a short ride, and push up a big hill, we found our bed for the night.

It was a lovely spot, high on the hill side looking out over the sea. The room was perfect and we settled down for an early night.

Day 14 was another long day, but we were now very close to our goal. The final day would also be a shorter day so hopefully we would finish in good time to be able to celebrate in style!

Day 13 penny farthing lejog

The bad and changeable weather of the last few days now seemed to be behind us and we woke up to a glorious morning.
The breakfast at the clan macduff was excellent, we started with porridge, moved on to a full cooked breakfast including haggis and finished with toast and jam. With plenty of energy on board we set out for another long day.

As we cycled through Fort William we called in at the train station. We were having a few problems finding a rental van to get home so we thought the train might be an option. When I asked the question at the station the guy on the ticket desk said we could travel back by train no problem, but they couldn't guarantee to have space to transport our bikes. He also had serious doubts about even getting my penny farthing on one of the smaller trains that run out of Wick. So we left and rode on, still uncertain how we were going to return home.

Just outside Fort William is a wonderful memorial to the commandos who lost their lives in the second world war. We were lucky to have great weather for a photo, the setting in the mountains is breathtaking.

If you ever get the chance to go and take in the view yourself you should. This part of Scotland is so beautiful.

We moved on from the memorial and carried on heading north, getting ever closer to our goal. It was looking like we would reach John O'Groats on day 15, we were both confident of this so as we cycled on we chatted about how we were going to celebrate once we got there.

Having done the end to end once before we were both well aware that John O'Groats isn't exactly party capital of the world, so our plans were not that grand. Ideally we wanted to find accommodation in John O'Groats so that we didn't have to turn around and cycle straight off again. We decided that as long as we had a bed, a bar that served alcohol and some food then that would do for us. Our plan was to get on line tonight and try to book something, as well as try to plan a way home. 

Today's cycling was not too strenuous, the roads were undulating but without too many big hills. The road we followed from Fort William towards Inverness never strayed far from the side of one Loch or another. We kept a lookout for the Loch Ness monster but today Nessie was being shy.

Unfortunately we were getting a bit pushed for time when we cycled past the various Loch Ness museums and we didn't have time to call in.

After following the Lochs for much of the day we turned away from Loch Ness and we were immediately greeted by a monster! A monster of a hill that is, one of the worst of the whole journey! I had no option but to get off and push and Mickey decided to take the same action. Although Mickey's bike was lightweight his luggage was not and after almost two weeks of dragging our belongings with him this hill got the better of him. For me it was nice to have some company on the long slow walk.

Soon after we creasted the hill we started looked for somewhere to stay. Tonight our requirements were much the same as every other night but we also were looking for Wi-Fi. We need to look for accommodation at John O'Groats and hopefully book this in advance as we really wanted to finish our cycling as soon as we got to the famous sign post. We also still had to organise transport home.

The Lovat arms provided everything we needed, and was exceptionally good value too. We ate at the hotel and drank a few pints of beer as we searched the net. The search for accommodation at John O'Groats was successful, a guest house that had a twitter page had frequently been favouriting my tweets so I sent them a hopeful tweet. Almost immediately they got back to me and insisted we stay with them!

The best we could come up with for transport home was to hire a car one way from Wick airport, then buy a bike rack from Argos in Wick and hope for the best that we could somehow mount my penny farthing to the rack for the 750 mile drive back home. We booked a hire car and reserved two bike racks at Argos. We figured that once we'd finished the ride we would get a taxi back to Wick to pick up the car then drive to argos and buy the cheap bike rack, put it together in the car park, if it looked good then we'd not bother with the other one, drive back to the b&b, load the bikes up and head home.

The journey was almost over and my body was certainly ready for a rest!

Monday, 22 February 2016

Day 12 penny farthing LEJOG

It was another grey and damp start to the day. We ate another excellent breakfast and soon made our way outside. It was raining heavily again today but we had no choice but to carry on.

The roads that followed the shore of Loch Lomond were undulating but all perfectly ridable. Although the weather was shocking we were making good progress and I was averaging 12 mph for the first time on the trip.

The main road we were following, the A82, was providing some beautiful scenery through a very remote area but shops and food stops were going to be few and far between. So we stopped and stocked up on food as soon as we passed one. The weather was still bad and we were about to start climbing so there was every chance the rain could turn to snow.

We forced down some cake and bought other food to take with us, if we were going to get caught out in a snow storm at the very least we didn't want to be without food.

Fortunately as we started to climb the mountain road towards Glen Coe the clouds started to break up. Although we were gaining altitude the gradient of the road was not that servere and I was able to ride 90% of the time.  We were making good progress, it was such a releaf that the weather has changed for the better. I can imagine that this part of an end to end ride could be awful in bad conditions but today it was looking good.

The scenery here is fantastic, there were signs of recent snow on the mountain tops which made for some great photos.

As well as stopping to take plenty of photos we passed the time by planning how we were going to get home once we reached John O'Groats. Now we were getting close we felt confident enough to book something for a particular date. We decided our options were either a train journey or one way van hire.
We came to the conclusion that one way van hire from wick airport was our best option and as soon as we found a place to stay that night we'd Google our options.

Back to the riding and it was just beautiful mountain after beautiful mountain. The best part was I was able to ride all of the time. The road snaked its way past the biggest mountains and although we were climbing for a large part of the day the gradient remained shallow and rideable.

We'd been cycling for about 4 hours and we'd not seen any other cyclists, then on the horizon I could make out a figure on a bike.
As the rider got closer I couldn't believe my eyes, it was superman! Or to be more accurate it was super cycling man and he had just started his adventure.. He was aiming to be the first person to ride around the world while dressed as superman. I bloody love stuff like this! What a hero! As I type this, almost a year after I finished my ride, superman is still on the road and he still keeps in touch with me. People like this guy make the world a better place. 

I waved superman goodbye and we wished each other good luck for the rest of our respective journies. After many hours of gradual climbing we crossed the summit of Rannock moor and started to descend

The only thing that was slowing our progress was the constant stops to take photos. For me, this is the most beautiful part of the whole 1000 mile ride.

Mickey was also enjoying today, the lack of town traffic and nice quiet roads  made for a relaxing day. It was easy for us both to ride at our own pace and not run the risk of getting lost as there is literally only one road. We decided that we would try to end our day in fort William.

If you get the chance to go to this part of Scotland you must. Words can't explain how beautiful it is.

It was hard to believe that when we set out this morning the weather was dreadful. For most of the day we had bright sunshine but the weather had one last laugh at us late in the day. As we cycled off the mountain road it poored with rain, Mickey was ahead of me as I had to keep my speed under control on the descent. We had planned to split up on the downhill and then regroup at the first petrol station that we passed.

By the time I caught up with Mickey I was frozen, my gloves were soaked and I couldn't feel my hands. Fortunately this petrol station had a toilet and that had a hot air hand dryer. I spent about 10 minutes warming up under this while Mickey bought us a coffee each. The final thing I did before cycling on was to take some of the disposable gloves they provide at diesel pumps. My gloves were still soaking so I used the disposable gloves as a liner, it worked to a point and was certainly better than doing nothing.

At long last we rolled into Fort William and set about finding somewhere to stay.

We picked out a prime spot on the road into the village. We decided to stay at the clan macduff hotel. We had stayed here before on our first end to end in 2003 and it was lovely. Good food, good beer and a fantastic location.

Just look at that view from the bar!

So the day was over, looking back on the journey now we both agree that this was the best day we had. It started out in grim weather and we were uncertain how much progress we would make. It finished up being a thoughly enjoyable day in beautiful scenery.

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Day 11 , penny farthing LEJOG

After the tough finish to yesterday's ride we had hoped to wake up to better weather today. I drew back the curtains and tentatively looked outside, at least it wasn't snowing. However, it wasn't great news. Hail stones had replaced the snow and the sky looked full of it. We put the TV to watch the weather forecast in the hope that it was going to clear up but it looked bad all day.

We had no choice, we were just going to have to get going and hope for the best. We needed luck to be on our side today but 100 yards into our journey our luck ran out. At the first road island we came to disaster struck. I was first on the road and had already made my way into the busy flow of traffic. Mickey was close behind but when i looked back he had stopped in the middle of the road junction. Cars and lorries were all around him but he wasnt going anywhere fast. His chain had snapped right at the worst possible moment.

He managed to avoid getting run over and made his way to the side of the road, I made my way through the traffic and joined him. We had some tools with us so we found the chain splitter and I set about fixing the broken chain, in a hail storm. I'm quite good with a chain tool as I use them all the time at work so I soon had the chain repaired. Even though it was a quick pit stop my hands were now freezing. We needed to get moving, this was no fun anymore, after 100 yards of cycling we both wanted the day to be over.

We rode on, the hail turned to rain and we both remained miserable. We took shelter under a bridge in the hope the rain would stop but it just kept coming down. The next couple of hours were the longest and toughest of the journey  far. The roads were not difficult but the weather was really getting to us. Mickey's hands had gone so cold he resorted to putting his spare socks over them as well as his gloves.

Finding shelter became the theme of the day, as previously recommended to us bus shelters proved popular. Then later in the day railway bridges gave us some rest bite from the rain.

Eventually the rain eased and we were able to make reasonable progress. We found a good traffic free cycle path and made our way through Glasgow. We ended up going a bit further than we needed to but it avoided traffic. Mickey was pleased by this as he had less confidence in my chain repair than I did.

A short section of busy road led us to the Erskine bridge, with storm clouds still looming we crossed the bridge and continued on towards Loch Lomond.

As the scenery improved so did the weather, sunshine replaced the rain as we cycled along another nice cycle path into Argyll &Bute.

Tatty signpost welcomes us to a beautiful part of Scotland.

We arrived at the tip of Loch Lomond just before the tourist information office closed so I popped in and asked them if they knew of any accommodation on our route. A quick phone round had us booked in to what turned out to be one of the best places we stayed at. The inn on Loch Lomond in the village of Luss.

Our room was fantastic and our bikes got to stay in the beer cellar. The food was great and so was the whiskey. We'd made it though a hard day. Tomorrow was going to be equally tough as we had to cross the mountain range between the lochs but if we could do that and stay on schedule then the rest of the ride should be a piece of cake.

Another 70 + mile day. I'm glad our island isn't any bigger!