After 3 years spending my summer hols pedalling across Europe, I decided this year I would stay in the UK and attempt the somewhat iconic Lands End to John O’Groats ride. Not sure why really, through largely down to a presumed lack of Rabid wild dog attacks!
Joint me for the ride this year are Matt, pretty much a veteran now of this sort of thing after 2 summers joint me through Europe, and David (on the left above). This is David’s first tour, and whilst we were all very excited about the trip, I think David’s excitement was most palpable. I work with David, indeed we sit across from each other and for some month’s the excitement has been growing as we planned out these 2 weeks of cycling.
I think it’s fair to say, as I write this on the morning of day 3, that David’s, and indeed all of our excitement has been replaced, to some degree, by fear, some annoyance, a modicum of stress and a sprinkling of exhaustion! Why? I hear all 3 of you ask… Well, majorly 1 thing – the Great British weather. It has absolutely tipped it down the last 2 days – borderline biblically!! Predictable, yes, but even though we have all the gear, the heavy, heavy gear, nothing can really dampen your spirits than being absolutely soaked 2 days on the trot – especially when you’re camping.
David and I travelled down together from London to Penzance (9 miles from Lands End) on Friday afternoon and set up ‘Base Camp’ about 3 miles from the official starting point.
A keen outdoorsy person, with designs on Ray Mears, David had brought a tent, for sleep and an absolutely massive camouflage tarpaulin – the idea being we would fashion a social area for eating, drinking and general merriment – a mobile base camp. And, on night zero, this remarkably all went to plan (pic above). Matt arrived later (2 am) and set his tent up in the pitch black with stealth. That in itself was remarkable as I was certain he’d roll into camp and straight over our tents, us, and the tarp, leaving a trail of destruction in his wake!! So, so far so good.
Day 1: Land’s End to Newquay: (Raindrops keep falling on my head)
Apart from the shots of Lands End above, I have nothing else to show of day 1 – is kind of impossible to take pictures, or even summon the energy to, when you’re getting absolutely drenched – the pic immediately above of David and I at Penzance station kind of sums it up though. Pissing it down!! Ponchos (sails) deployed.
We had 60 miles to pedal on day 1, and boy were they hard!! A true baptism for David. Not only was it pouring, but we were in Cornwall. I knew Cornwall was hilly, and it is. “I can take a few hills” – my famously positive thoughts to myself as the climbs mounted up – but these gradients, coupled with the pouring rain really took they’re toll!!
And they took they’re toll on my bike too – with both front and back brakes pretty much shearing off the pads around 40 miles in. This left me literally having to push my bike down hills – then take the pain of pedalling the tank back up, over and over and over. Nothing is flat in Cornwall, you’re either going up, or going down. I expect it’s stunning when it’s sunny, or even just dry, but I was despising it so far.
Progress was slow, ridiculously so, and we got to the campsite at 20:00 – it was pouring still. On the upside, we arranged a system whereby 2 of us would hold the tarp to fashion some shelter, whilst the 3rd would pitch their tent under it – and remarkably this actually worked. All of our tents went up dry and all our gear was also dry. Thank God.
There was a clubhouse at this campsite and so we rounded the day off eating, drinking and playing pool in there – we had survived.
Day 2: Newquay to Launceston: (Here comes the rain again)
Day 2 started brightly, in fact the sun was out. Hallelujah!! We de-camped and headed up to the clubhouse for some brekkie and to plan what we would do about my brakeless bike.
Plan was to cycle to Bodmin, the only place in a 50 mile radius with an open bike shop on a Sunday, then on to Launceston. Got talking to a bloke at the campsite as were preparing to leave (now know he’s called Mark) – magic chap, big into his cycling and a real diamond – he’d heard about the nightmare bike situ and just as we were leaving came over to give me his number – said if we had any issues at all, call him and he’d drive us wherever we had to be, even if we were anywhere in the Midlands (he lives there) – we were to give him a call – amazing bloke.
We set off to Bodmin just as the heavens were opening – fantastic! And made our way the 16 miles or so there, in reasonable time. The bike shop, predictably up 5 steep hills – was closed!! A new low I think for me on trips like this. Matt, famed for his lateral thinking (his words) suggested Halfords – googled it and yes, there was one, and it was open (though not a bike shop according to yesterday’s precious search). We made our way there and this man:
Roger, sorted all my shit out!! Amazing! I was close to rock bottom – but finally the clouds were parting!! And they were parting in a literal sense too – things were brightening up.
We had lunch (at 15:00), and then set off for our easy 20 miles to Launceston up the A30 – except after 200 metres on the A30’s 1 foot of hard shoulder, being blasted by trucks, cars and vans at 90mph, we decided we didn’t want to die. About turn, push bike the wrong way along the pretty much motorway and back up the slip road.
We decided to take the long (35 mile) way round. And I am so glad we did. For the first time on this trip, the sun was out, the hills were rolling, my bike could stop if I wanted it to. Having been down on Cornwall for 1.5 days – I could finally understand some of the beauty of it, and the beauty of these trips. Those miles were just fantastic – and to reward ourselves we booked into an Inn for the night. Chapeau lads – a tough couple of days – but hopefully on the up. Here’s Cornwall looking much much better.