We were riding in memory of our friend and Olympic swimmer Paul Marshall who sadly passed away on 23rd May 2009 in Cupar, Scotland after a two year battle against cancer.
This is the story of our journey:-
DAY 1 Lands End to Truro. 45 miles at 16.2mph average speedVin, Bruce and Gwyn set off from Left Lands End at 5pm and did 44 miles in 2 hours 40 mins. A good run with good weather. Glad to have started, and we got a great send off from Gwyn’s family!
DAY 2 Truro to Cullompton (North of Exeter) 89 miles at 15.4mph average speed
A30 out of Cornwall very hilly and dual carriageway most of way. Climbed 45 monster hills with lorries thundering past within inches. Not nice at all, and doesn’t make me feel good about the trip. We agreed that we should climb the hills at our own pace, so we rode individually for most of the day. Support driver Paul checked the map and got us off the A30 in mid-afternoon. Met friends for lunch who were in Cornwall on holiday – great timing! Went through Crediton and met the lovely Guy Butcher who showed us a way to get to Cullompton without climbing another big hill – fabulous advice! Weather has been good, no rain. Bit of a head wind in parts but OK. Arrived at a lovely B&B a bit wobbly and tired, but glad to have the A30 behind us.
DAY 3 Cullompton to Chepstow (Vin’s House) 80 miles at 15.6mph ave speed
The morning was good (although Bruce fell off twice... once because his chain came off then again when in a traffic jam when a car nicked into a space he was heading for... few grazes but otherwise he is okay). The afternoon was harder for Bruce and Gwyn, especially the 9 mile climb to Bristol Airport but they stopped and had an Espresso and got a 2nd wind. In the afternoon, strong coffee and jelly babies are the answer! They give you the "jolt" you need to keep going. Paul is handing out leaflets and being given £5 or £10 by random people in car parks – it’s amazing how generous people are. Overnight at Vin’s tonight, so well taken care of by his wife Lou. With over 200 miles gone, got very depressed tonight looking at a map of the UK and realising how little we had done. Head in hands moment – what have we done? Not sure I will finish the way I feel tonight.
DAY 4 Chepstow to Stafford. 109 miles at 16.2mph ave speed
There were 5 of us today, with Vin’s friends Adrian and Mike joining us for the day. The weather forecast was rain and we left Vin’s house in pouring rain, but it only lasted half an hour and we had a dry run for the rest of the day. Stopped in Chepstow for a photo beside the “Go LEJOG!” banner that Lou had put on a roundabout in town – nice touch! Having new faces along for the ride helped keep us going, and the terrain was relatively flat as you can tell by the average speed. Mike and Adrian not only joined the ride but made substantial financial contributions to the fund – just fantastic people. Went up through Gloucester and Tewkesbury, where Adrian punctured. Parked the support car in front of a sandwich shop in Worcester. The landlord from the pub opposite came and invited us to go over to the pub and go round all his customers for a donation... collected about £25! People’s generosity is unbelievable. Got to Stafford tired, but feeling like we might be able to do this after all – a routine is forming, and the legs are getting into the rhythm. Paul left us tonight to head home to his family, and Bruce’s brother Derek joined us as support driver for the rest of the trip.
DAY 5 Stafford to Lancaster. 105 miles at 15.0mph ave speed
Started the day feeling good, although we are beginning to suffer problems like permanently numb feet, aching knees and bottom trouble (nuff said). Mike and Adrian rode off South to ride the 109 miles home again, brave lads.
This was the toughest day so far. Morning ride was reasonably flat and weather was dry all day but afternoon was a constant climb with blustery head winds and we were all flagging this afternoon. The B&B last night was very noisy so we didn’t get much sleep, not good when faced with a 105 mile cycle. The routine is forming now, stopping for around 30 mins for lunch and having a mid morning and afternoon break, where the strong coffee, jelly babies and mars bars come out. Today’s afternoon stop was in Preston where we found a grassy spot outside a working men’s club. A man came out of the club and asked us about the ride, and then invited us in to meet the members. He went on the PA system and explained “these boys are cycling 900 miles in aid of cancer”, and then had a whip round the club and raised over £50! We were treated like celebrities, with people asking about the charity and what the money was for, patting us on the back, plying us with iced water (would have loved a beer!), then giving us a round of applause when we left. Really sweet, genuine people wanting to help.
DAY 6 Lancaster to Dumfries. 109 miles at 14.7mph ave speed.
Lancaster to Kendall was easy riding, but we took a wrong turn and got on the Kendall by-pass by mistake adding a big climb, loads of traffic and an extra 5 miles to our day. Stopped in Kendall to get Gwyn’s gearing adjusted at Evans Cycles (thanks guys!), and then hit Shap Fell. A 1400ft climb that took about 90 minutes to get to the summit, pushing all the way. Support driver Derek said it was unbelievable to see us churning it out to get to the top. It didn’t get any easier, the afternoon was really hard for all of us. We crossed the border, and still had 30 miles to go to Dumfries. We agreed to stop for photos at the Border, but Gwyn took a different road and ended up standing at a different “Welcome to Scotland” sign. Derek had to go and find him, and Gwyn added another few miles to his day cycling back to find us. For the final leg of the day, we had driving rain and strong head winds and Bruce cried on the bike thinking he wouldn’t make it. Vin took the lead, shielding the others from the weather, and we made it to the B&B after 8hrs of wheels turning today.Random acts of kindness for today... at a BP Garage in Penrith an employee came out and gave us 12 bottles of Lucozade sport for the trip. It restores your faith in mankind, there are lots of lovely people out there. Getting loads of texts and messages from people that really help to keep us upbeat.
DAY 7 Dumfries to Inverkip. 95 miles at 14.9mph ave speed
We started the day with an interview with the Dumfries Gazette, who took a bit of video you can find at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3VnfszO2G2k.
It rained most of the morning and half of the afternoon and the morning involved lots of hillclimbing. The weather cleared around 20 miles from Inverkip and it was dry and sunny as we cycled along past Largs and up the Ayrshire coast. The road was flat, the weather was calm and dry, and the scenery was stunning – a perfect end to a pretty gruelling day. Gwyn had a major mechanical problem today, a spoke in his rear wheel broke and mangled his gears and buckled his wheel. All our phones were in the support car charging up, so it took Dek a while to find him! Bruce doubled back to find Gwyn and then took a wrong turn and ended up on a different road, adding 6 miles to his day. Gwyn got on his iphone and found Alan at Aero Cycles in Greenock who was happy to stay open late and fix the bike. Alan stripped Gwyn's bike down, trued the wheel, replaced the spoke and rebuilt the bike in no time getting Gwyn back on the road – a true gentleman!
We’ve done about 600 miles now, and we all hurt. Saddle sores, sweat rashes, aching joints, you name it, we’ve got it. But finally our bodies seem to have stopped sending pain signals to the brain. Our bodies know we’re going to do it again tomorrow so they've stopped moaning.
DAY 8 Inverkip to Fort William. 115 miles at 14.4mph ave speed
Our longest day on the trip, and not an easy one by any means! We had another friend join us today, Rab Ross who came to our rescue with his toolkit when one of our chains came off and jammed the rear wheel up.
The day started well with a short ferry trip across the Clyde to Dunoon and it was beautiful. The ride along the side of Loch Eck was idyllic, and the scenery unbelievable. At the roadside, two men who were cutting the verges stopped to give Dek some money – more random acts of kindness!
At Inverary the heavens opened – a proper torrential tropical rainstorm. Staying dry wasn’t an option, so we did a steep 15 mile climb out of Inverary in pouring rain, and then stopped for lunch and a change of clothes. When the going got tough, Dek took a lot of stick as support driver, like "I need lunch now!". A late lunch around 2pm after 60 miles, and we still had 55 miles to go. Ouch! Several friends met us on the road today, which always makes you feel better, but we were conscious that we had to crack on to finish the day too. We climbed out of Inverary, climbed onto Rannoch Moor, climbed into Glencoe where we were delayed by the chain coming off, and then had a last flat 20 miles along Loch Lynne into Fort William where we stayed at Dek’s house. A day of amazing scenery, appalling weather, some massive hills, 115 miles and more than 8hrs of cycling – not for the faint hearted! Dek's wife Liz had the lasagne ready in massive portions - just the job!
DAY 9 Fort William to Tain. 101 miles, at 15.0mph ave speed
The best day by far, and Rab was with us for a 2nd day to enjoy the fun. We met 10 cyclists North of Fort William doing the same ride as us. Vin got us organised in a train and we had lots of fun hunting them down along the side of Loch Ness. The pace was high, the adrenalin pumping, and everybody’s aches and pains seemed to have gone away, for a while at least. Excellent fun! Blue skies and sunshine helped make it feel like a wonderful day. But all the energy spent in the hunt caught up with us later and we flagged North of Inverness. Drivers in Inverness and on the Black Isle were shockingly rude, tooting horns, pointing fingers, shouting at us to get off the road, and twice making obvious attempts to drive us into the ditch. This is the main route for LEJOG cyclists, and the local people seem to be very unforgiving of cyclists. Bruce was disgusted with his fellow Scots behaviour. The last 20 miles hurt today. A strong headwind in an exposed landscape, but we finally made it with only 89 miles to go to John O’Groats. The finish line is in sight! Tonight we relaxed, had a beer and laughed in the face of a mere 89 miles left to go. How wrong could we be!
DAY 10 Tain to John O’Groats. 89 miles at 12.3mph ave speed
So we headed out from Tain for the last leg full of the joys of spring. 89 miles? We laugh in the face of 89 miles! Ah, but we didn't. The Caithness terrain is tough, tough, tough. Plenty hills, barren landscape, a drizzly rain, howling winds off the North Sea - a truly gruelling and energy sapping experience. Vin led the way for the whole day protecting us from the wind, and all 3 of us felt it. By our lunch stop Gwyn and I were ready to give in - I can't tell you how bad we felt. But we got on and finished the job, and when we arrived at JoG, we felt elated enough to do a Mark Cavendish sprint over the line - we were breaking the 30mph speed limit when we entered the village of John O'Groats. Bruce’s family were waiting on us with flags and banners provided by Lou, and bagpipe music playing on an i-pod. We had champagne, photo's, hugs, tears - the lot. Then we put some notes for our friend Paul Marshall into a couple of bottles, weighed them down and threw them into the sea towards Orkney, which you could see in the distance.
We travelled 932 miles in 9 days. We raised somewhere close to £16,000 (including Gift Aid) for Paul's chosen charity www.rfablation.co.uk . We met some fabulously generous people along the way who gave us over £200 in cash, and it was an experience never to be forgotten. There are lots of people to thank and the main ones are:-
Derek and Paul - support drivers extraordinaire. We wouldn't have made it without cups of tea, and a sergeant major tendency to get us moving when our break times were up.
Lou, Jane and Liz - for making us welcome, putting us up and feeding us on our journey.
Linda – For keeping our “blog” going and keeping everyone informed along the way.
Mike, Adrian and Rab - for joining us for a day or two to offer support and encouragement along the road. Big respect to you all.
Big Guy, Vic and Paul, Ali, Joanne, Abigail, Bethany and Elia - For coming to see us along our route and cheering us along. It helped a lot when we were flagging.
The UCLH Charity for providing a fabulous bottle of malt whisky at the end of our journey.
To everyone who text and called during our trip - thanks so much for the support, its really appreciated. And finally, thanks to our friend Paul Marshall for looking after the weather, for providing the inspiration for the trip, and for keeping me going during the dark hours.
We are Gwyn, Bruce and Vin - and we are End-to-Enders.