LEJOG 2 (2006)

After completing LEJOG in the summer of 2005 I did a number of triathlons and running races with reasonable results.  Ironman UK 2005 was only my second ever Ironman.  I did 10hr35 on a tough course, 45th overall and Top 10 in my AG (Hawaii qualification on roll-down).  In three years time I would be trying to go almost 2 hrs quicker, but at the time I was really pleased with this.  The bike leg certainly felt more comfortable, thanks in part to LEJOG and other bike block training.

The transition to 2006 was unremarkable in terms of training and racing.  I did a terrible half Ironman-distance race at the beginning of June, just 5 days before LEJOG so I was looking forward to taking a break from all the hard training and clearing my head.

Rather than do the same LEJOG route as 2005 I decided to make it a little more interesting, and challenging.  I’ve not seen a lot of Scotland and have certainly never ventured out to the Hebridean islands.  I liked the idea of hopping back and forth between mainland Scotland and some of the Hebridean islands, going out as far as Lewis in the Outter Hebrides.

Once again I loaded the bike with camping equipment, including a dome tent.  Whether I was able to reduce weight from the previous year, or increase it (the introduction of more warmer clothing and sleeping gear) I don’t know, but the effort uphill was just as painful.  At least the wheels were a little more robust this time around.  The mileage on some of the days was huge (up to 140 miles), but some days were reduced to balance it out.  Overall I covered 1140 miles in 13 days.


LANDS END to JOHN OGROATS (2)
9 June – 21 Jun 2006

lejog-route-06

DAY 1 (FRI)
Start cycling: 17:15
Finish cycling: 20:15
Distance covered: 34M
Conditions: Warm, Breezy, Undulating
Route: Penzance-Lands End-Hayle

Arrived in Penzance at 5:15pm on the Friday evening. Helped another LEJOGer set her bike trailer up and wasted no time in heading down to Lands End. Passed a few other LEJOGers on the way – all single females(?). Had a 30min moment with the sea to think about the task ahead and why I was doing it. This year I didn’t quite have the trepidation, I’d already done it once. But I did want to see more sights, particularly Scotland and the Hebrides. Also wanted to get match fit on the bike.
Turned around and cycled down to a place called Hayle, near St Ives. A quiet little campsite. 34Miles in total.

Start at Lands End

DAY 2 (SAT)
Start: 06:30
Finish: 21:00
Distance: 141M (Tot=175M)
Conditions: Hot, Undulating
Route: Hayle-Camborne-Redruth-Bodmin-Lauceston-Okehampton-Crediton-Thorverton-Cullompton-Willand-Uffculm-
Meyock-Churchingford-Blackdown Hills

Woke at 5:15am and started cycling 6:30. Did 141 Miles in total – 25Miles further than I’d ever cycled in one day before AND with the tent, camping gear on the back to drag up the hills. The 27 rear cog really was needed and both wheels seemed to be handling the job very well. I’d invested a little money in a custom-built rear wheel from my bike mechanic.
Very long day, drank around 8litres in the heat and stopped a number of times for football updates. My plan was to get plenty of mileage in today and tomorrow that would put me somewhere near Chepstow or Monmouth, leaving me just 50miles the following day, and an afternoon off to recover.
Started to get a bit worried around 7pm when I still couldn’t find a campsite. There was one on the map a further 30miles away if I took some short cuts. Unfortunately these short cuts took me down some narrow undulating country lanes. A few stops were needed to double check the map but I finally made it to the campsite as it got dark and wasted no time in getting the tent up. It was a running club get-together at the campsite, so quite busy.

DAY 3 (SUN)
Start: 08:30
Finish: 20:30
Distance: 112M (Tot=287M)
Conditions: Hot, Humid, Undulating
Route: Blackdown Hills-Taunton-Durston-Othery-Glastonbury Tor-Wells-Cheddar-BRISTOL-Avonmouth-Severn
Bridge-Chepstow-Tintern-Monmouth-Great Doward (Forest of Dean)

Another hard day today. Had a coffee in Street at Mac D’s and a quick chat with Iain (was going to watch his Tri in Burnham on Sea but didn’t have the time). Then popped down the road and climbed up to Glastonbury Tor. Then went to visit Wookie Hole. Didn’t fancy paying to go in to the caves though. It was not long after this point while eating strawbs by a farm seller that I blew a puncture. I fixed it but the pump exploded too. I had obviously been cursed by the Wookie Hole Witch.
In the end I didn’t have time to visit Cheddar Gorge and stuff myself with Cheese. Took a risk with the tyre. It was a Sunday so if I blew again I’d be stranded. Cycled on to Avonmouth and the Severn Bridge.  The Bridge is amazing and, due to maintenance, completely closed to traffic this time. I had a 30min break, felt like I was in ‘The Stand’.
Passed Tintern village around the slow stream and the ruins of the Abbey. A woman and her two kids were being rescued from a boat which I found amusing considering how small the stream was.

Found a campsite just outside Monmouth up in the hills of the Forest of Dean and settled down as it got dark. Woke around 12pm with breathing probs. I really struggled to get air in. Was quite concerned, but I was so tired with numb pains down my back and legs that I couldn’t be bothered to get out of the tent. Could have slipped away at that point and not cared. A storm then started soon after that – lightning, thunder and heavy rain. My tent is rubbish and the ground was hard so couldn’t peg it in. Luckily not windy but got damp inside the tent. Anyway, I think this cleared the air, and my breathing.

I do like Severn Bridge

DAY 4 (MON)
Start: 08:30
Finish: 12:00
Distance: 42M (Tot=329M)
Conditions: Hot, Undulating-Flat
Route: Great Doward-Whitchurch-Much Birch-HEREFORD-Leominster-St Michaels-Tenbury Wells

Cycled only 45Miles today through Hereford and Leominster. The legs were becoming increasingly painful from the hours I’d been putting in and the crotch was also getting a little sore. I hadn’t used the softest saddle I had which was probably a big mistake. Bought a new tyre in Climb-on-Bikes (Hereford). No problem with punctures from now on.

Arrived in Tenbury around 12pm. A little later in the day I noticed that the plastic base of my cycling shoes were coming away from the upper material. They’d obviously taken a pounding over the years and the hill climbs were now literally pulling them apart. We applied some alraldite to hold them together. Spent the rest of the day trying to rest the legs as much as possible and catch up on some (World Cup) football. The legs had developed a deep core-numbness now which was a bit worrying. From this point on I tried to elevate my legs during sleep.

Forrest of Dean, from the campsite

DAY 5 (TUE)
Start: 08:30
Finish: 20:00
Distance: 120M (Tot=449M)
Conditions: Humid, Rain, Undulating
Route: Tenbury Wells-Woofferton-Ludlow-Bromfield-Craven Arms-Church Stretton-SHREWSBURY-Whitchurch-
Spurstow-Eaton-Hartford-Northwich-High Legh-Heatley-Culcheth-Leigh-Farnworth-Little Lever-Starling

The day started clear and warm. I knew I’d have to get some serious mileage in again today in order to reach Gavin’s house so I tried to keep to at least 12mph av. Never sounds like a lot but over the day, with all that weight to shift up hills and lots of short breaks to see the sights, buy food, toilet stops, etc it was quite difficult.

The weather started to deteriorate after lunch and as I approached Warburton the rain started coming down. Stopped outside a shop for half an hour and downed a packet of liquorish allsorts (my favourite touring snack). Then found a quite spot to change into more shower-resistant gear. It was from this point that I wished I’d invested in Gore-Tex. Quite uncomfortable cycling wet but the thermal top and leggings did keep me warm. Not long after this I came to a flooded underpass. Some of the cars were struggling to get through it and I had to be careful I didn’t come off the bike.

Reached Gavin’s house in Bacup around 8:30pm+. Had a great evening chatting, watching football and downing some quality food and drink. Top bloke and a great host. Had a sneaky weighing-in on his bathroom scales that evening. 11St-5. I’d lost around 5lbs so far.

DAY 6 (WED)
Start: 10:00
Finish: 19:00
Distance: 85M (Tot=534M)
Conditions: Clear, Warm (am). Overcast, Rain (pm)
Route: Riley Green (BLACKBURN)-PRESTON-Garstang-Lancaster-Carnforth-Oxenholm-Crook-Windermere-Kirkstone
Pass-Glenridding-Little Mell Fell

Full English breakfast from Gavin which set me up for the day. His mum made some amazing juicy baps. The first time I’ve ever been able to snack on plain bread. Provided with enough of these to last the day which was great. Because the area was so built-up and I’d had to travel to the east the previous day, Gavin gave me a lift back out to Riley Green. Ok I missed a few miles but then this wasn’t a strict, conventional End-to-End anyway with all the island hopping I had planned. I’d done the full metre-by-metre route last year.

Preston and Lancaster were unavoidable and extremely frustrating. Plenty of traffic and t-lights. Was so pleased to finally leave the built-up areas again and get out on to quieter roads. Took a 5mile cycle path just south of Lancaster and spotted a guy in his 60s cycling along as happy as Larry in the wind and rain with just his shorts on. And he wasn’t the only one, I remember at least one other in Scotland doing the same thing! At the end of the cycle route I had a problem. They’d started resurfacing the last 400m. So the cycle path was redirected on to what looked like a path laid with small, sharp stones. I decided to risk it and tentatively rode through. At the end I inspected the wheels to find a few small cuts but I got away with it.

A little later on the A6 from Lancaster I was approached from behind by another cyclist in his 50s-60s. We had a chat about cycling, etc and he told me about how you can feel completely sore to the core for the first few days doing something like this, but the body becomes accustomed to it. I knew this from last year but was great to hear someone confirm it because I was going through a bad patch at that point.

A lot of small, rolling hills as I cut west from outside Kendal, heading to Lake Windermere. Stocked up on mintcake and headed on towards Ullswater. I decided to tackle Kirkstone Pass on the direct route. The views were great but it was quite hard work and had to do some zig-zagging a couple of times to haul the bike up. About 400m from the summit I spotted a sign for ‘The Struggle’. A piece of road on the route to Ambleside. It was 2m-wide with a 20% incline. Looking across the other side of the chasm between the hills as they converged I could see the start of it. And was tempted to try it out, only it looked about 2miles further round the mountain, and I’d have to double back afterwards. From the top I had a clear view of Ullswater and enjoyed the speedy descent towards it. Reached Cove Park Campsite following a climb up the Little Mell Fell and met Pete (aka Cobbie) who’d been running all day over several hills in the area as a recce, but still looked fresh. Battled with a few midges setting up the tent. Then headed down to a local pub and gorged ourselves on good food and alcohol while watching some football. After returning to camp Cobbie unleashed a bottle of wine from the back of the car. By the time we’d downed that I was feeling a little dizzy and had to refuse (through gritted teeth) another bottle. Collapsed into the tent and lay my legs over the top of the panniers. I’d started to notice a sharp pain to the outside of the right knee at this point.

Summit Kirkstone Pass

Ullswater

DAY 7 (THU)
Start: 08:15
Finish: 21:15
Distance: 127M (Tot=661M)
Conditions: Warm, Clear, Hills (am) Drizzle (pm)
Route: Little Mell Fell-Greystoke-Hutton End-CARLISLE-Gretna-Annan-Bankend-DUMFRIES-Crocketford-
Balmaclellan-St John’s Town of Dalry-Patna-AYR-Lagg (Heads of Ayr)

Left Cove Park early and made my way due north down the last of the Cumbrian mountains. Passing through Greystoke (unable to get to the castle) I found a very roman type of road, parallel with the A6, that was completely straight for about 10 miles. I could see right to the end of it and with a tail wind I picked up quite a speed. The rear of the bike sometimes had a bit of a sail-effect from a strong tail wind. Having stopped at a Café in Carlisle for coffee and scrambled eggs I decided to risk the A74 to get back on track and save some time. As I approached it I realised that the map was misleading, the A74 acquires the M6 traffic for 5 miles to Gretna. An uncomfortable experience having to cycle the hard shoulder of what looked like a standard motorway with heavy goods traffic going by. I even stopped to ask a motorway policeman if it was ok.

Crossed the border! Then visited the information centre at Gretna Green to get some info together for the rest of the journey – up to date Scottish cycle routes, camping sites and a ferry timetable. Headed on towards Annan and Dumfries. My original plan was to take up Harry’s (aka Haribo) offer of somewhere to stay, eat and watch the England football match. But having reviewed my schedule over the following days and checking ferry timetables I realised that this wasn’t going to be possible. There were very few camping options between Dumfries and Ayr. There was one at Glentrool, but this was another 3-4 hours cycling from Dumfries. So when I arrived in Dumfries I just had a chat with Harry and his daughter before moving on. Great to meet them and got some information on the route ahead.

I still had it in my mind to head for Midge City (Glentrool) but I was ahead of schedule and the weather was good. Having checked the map, I noticed a fork in the road at Crocketford. The road SW would take me through Castle Douglas and South Galloway on to Glentrool. The NW route, as recommended by Harry, would take me on a more direct but hilly road to Ayr, through small local villages. This was 51M but I’d have no campsites and probably not a lot of options for food. It was now 4pm and there was a village shop here so I decided to sit for a while and eat, drink as much as I could while weighing the options. In the end I went for the direct route, seeing it as a chance to get ahead of my schedule.

There was a deceptive but steady climb for about 20-25 miles that was really frustrating. The weather turned again and my hunger came on not long after. There was generally no reception on my radio for the football, but I did just about catch the Gerrard goal just as I turned it on and heard “2-0” so was happy. When I reached a village called Patna around 8pm I stopped for chips. Had some strange looks from the locals here and was glad to get out. The midges were hunting me down so found a bus stop a few miles from Ayr to eat the food.

When I reached Ayr I couldn’t find the campsite shown on the map. Another one was about 5 miles south along the coast (Heads of Ayr). By the time I got there I had 30mins until it got dark. My legs were sore and numb and I couldn’t wait to sleep. I realised the next day that I was averaging twice as many hours of cycling for every hour of sleep, every day. Woke up a couple of times in the night and made my way through the campsite to the toilets. My body was only just semi-conscious and my vision was hazy. The closest I’ve come to that sensation previously was from a morphine anaesthetic, pre-op.

Pete Cobb, King of the Mountains

DAY 8 (FRI)
Start: 08:00
Finish: 19:00
Distance: 89M (Tot=750M)
Conditions: Crisp, Overcast, Flat (am) Drizzle, Hills (pm)
Route: Heads of Ayr-AYR-Troon-IRVINE-Kilwinning- Ardrossan-Largs-Weymss Bay-(Ferry)-Rothesay-(BUTE)-
Rhubodach-(Ferry)-Colintraive-Portvadie-(Ferry)-Tarbert (KINTYRE)-Lochgilphead

The knee pain was sharp and had spread a little into the calf and quads. Packed up and headed out to meet Andy (aka T-Rex of Tri) a little after 8am and we headed North along the West Coast. I’d set myself some target times today based around the ferry timetables. I had three ferries to catch that would hopefully get me to a campsite near Tarbert on the Isle of Kintyre.

Drafted behind Andy as he took me through Ayr and Prestwick to his home town of Troon. I was amazed at how many golf courses we passed, obviously a very popular pastime here. At Troon we stopped at his folks house for coffee and eggs on toast. We then continued on through Irvine, Saltcoats and Largs. It was quite amusing seeing him drift off ahead of me as I started the inclines. Must have been frustrating having to wait at the top of some of the hills. The knee was quite tender at this point but the wind and drizzle soothed it.

I continued a few more miles to Weymss Bay and my first Caledonian ferry of the trip. Left it a little late as I had to venture in and out of the terminal to get a ticket and then climb on the back with the cars rather than the foot passengers. I was soaked through from the rain at this point but preferred to stay beside the bike on the lower deck. The views from the ferries were breathtaking at times and the Isle of Bute, and the hills (inland) surrounding it, had lush vegetation.

When the ferry arrived in Bute I stopped for chips and ate them by the harbour. Then popped down to the beach and collected one of the blue muscle shells that litered it (I later did the same with stones from the other Isles to make a collection). The ride along the NE side of Bute was stunning. This was matched by the views from Colintraive on the mainland, to Portvadie, following the next ferry. There were some very tough climbs on the A886 and A8003 to Portvadie. But the views from the top were worth the effort. The ferry from Portvadie from Tarbert was peaceful. I’m not sure why the ferry drifted so slowly across but it may have had something to do with many small islands in that Loch and wildlife. They let me off this ferry without having to pay.

Another coffee stop and a snack in Tarbert before I decided to head on to Lochgilphead, about 12 miles of good, flat road. Two (Dutch I think) cyclists caught up with me after a couple of miles and thought it would be funny to draft and whisper behind me. Rather than motion them away I thought I’d teach them a lesson by trying to out-run them. So I went into Time Trial mode and really put the effort it.. They stayed with me for a few miles but then dropped back. I hope they were suitably embarrassed to have been between by a tourer with full panniers. Nice campsite in Lochgilphead, and the midges weren’t really interested in me thankfully.

DAY 8 ROUTE

Views between Colintraive and Portvadie (3-4pm)

DAY 9 (SAT)
Start: 07:15
Finish: 20:45
Distance: 109M (Tot=859M)
Conditions: Overcast, Drizzle, Very Hilly
Route: Lochgilphead-Kilmartin-Arduaine-Oban-(Ferry)-Craignure (MULL)-Fishnish-(Ferry)-Lochaline (MORVERN)-
Strontian-Salen-Glenuig-Lochailort-Portnaluchaig

This was one of the toughest days so far but my body was starting to adapt. I had the same experience last year. First week was tiring, but by the second the body was used to the long hours in the saddle. The loss in weight was off-set by the tougher terrain.

At 6am I awoke to quite a sight on a very dark and drizzly morning. There was limited light breaking through the clouds and fog and beneath the hill fog was a fast moving ground mist that swept across the town. The town lay in the bay of Loch Gilp and, with the weather, created quite an eerie atmosphere. I was in a Scooby Doo cartoon! Had a few moments sat by the bay before heading off north towards Oban and the ferry that would take me to the Isle of Mull.

Gave myself plenty of time to reach the 13:45 ferry. Had 37miles to clear in over 6 hours. My plan was to start very slowly as my knee was painful, and have at least one coffee break on the way and a good lunch in Oban. The first few miles were bleak but very flat. This and the cold wind and rain eased the knee again. From Bridgend it started to get a little hillier. I stopped at a village called Kilmartin and ‘The Stone Circle’ (a collection of pre 14th,and 15th century handcrafted tomb stones) leaning on the walls of a small sanctury behind a Church. This was the perfect place to get some shelter from the rain and have something to eat. Continued to Oban through the Lorn forests and hills. Only passed one small shop/café during the whole 37miles, and they were not open until late in the morning.

Arrived at Oban in good time and stopped for a fry-up and coffee. Was enjoying this so much that I lost track of the time and had to sprint down to the ferry terminal. The views from the ferry were stunning. Took pictures of Oban, the small islands of Kerrera and Lismore, and the approach to the Isle of Mull. My plan was to time trial my way along the east coast of Mull in order to catch the ferry from Fishnish to Lochaine. Only 5 Miles on the map but found I had only 25mins to make the trip. Luckily the terrain was flat and I reached the ferry just as the the chain gate was being drawn across. Shame I didn’t get to see more of Mull. The ‘Sound of Mull’ was quiet with many sailing boats. Not a lot of wind due to the mountains either side, with the Fiunary Forest on the north shore. At Lochaine (Isle of Morvern) one of the ferry guards , a local cyclist, let me know that there were some tough hills coming up and I’d be pressed to reached Mallaig. Looking on the map for other campsite options I spotted one around Loch Sunart. But this would leave me 51 miles short.

The first few miles on Morvern were very hilly but again some great views from the summits. The road took me up and down huge valleys so I had a clear view of where I was heading. The vegetation on the downhill approach and loop around Loch Sunart was very colourful. A strong wind rushed up the Loch from the West. I stopped at a shop in Strontium to buy provisions and had a nice chat with the lady owner. She seemed to be in her 60s and was very friendly. I told her that I had to decide whether to camp just a few more miles down the road or risk another 50M more on to Mallaig. She said the roads were flat and that I wouldn’t have a problem reaching Mallaig…………….fast forward 2 hours later to the loud swears and screams echoing across the overcast skies from a tired cyclist over what can only be described as mountains! What was she thinking? I checked the map and there was only one road Eiither she was a sadist, or had a completely different idea as to what constitutes hilly terrain. Maybe the man she kept calling to at the back of the shop a la Little Britain was her sherpa husband. Anyway, the views helped me get through the worst of it and after that I just counted down the miles.

About 8 miles south of Mallaig I took a road along the coast. I found a campsite after a while but there were no shops to buy food. At this point I was wet, hungry and tired. The weather was bad and the campsite was situated right on the coast, fully exposed to the gales and rain with limited facilities. I was worried about my health again but nothing I could do. My tent was quite old and sagged very easily under high wind, so I found that the water was coming in heavily, particularly through the front flap fabric. Within a couple of hours a lake had formed at the front of the tent so I shifted myself towards the back. I covered myself with everything I could get my hands on including an emergency foil (blanket) sheet, put my ear plugs in and slept.

DAY 9 ROUTE

Stone circle (8:30am)

A861 towards Mallaig (4pm)

DAY 10 (SUN)
Start: 08:30
Finish: 17:00
Distance: 70M (Tot=929M)
Conditions: Overcast, Drizzle, Hills
Route: Portnaluchaig-Mallaig-(Ferry)-Armadale (SKYE)-Broadford-Portree-Uig

Glad to leave the camp in the morning. The foil blanket was a mistake as it trapped all my perspiration and left me damp. Lucky not to have made myself ill that night. Didn’t leave early enough so missed my target 9am ferry from Mallaig to Skye. Instead I relaxed outside a coffee shop in the town and then ate breakfast by the bay. Weather was much better today, a clear sky. Got chatting to a German man on the deck as the ferry left Mallaig and he informed me of all the best rides through Germany, taking in the major rivers. So I may look into this later.

The clouds rolled in by the time I started cycling on Skye and the rain came down not long after. The forecast was for 3 more days of rain and wind in north Scotland. This was becoming very frustrating, not least to hear that London was still enjoying clear wether with temperatures of 25-30c.

Stopped in Broadford, one of the two biggest towns in Skye, and bought food to eat a little later by a Loch. However I tried to stop twice just after Sconser and found I was attacked by clouds of midges within minutes. When I reached Portree I was wet and cold so stopped off for soup and coffee in a café. Original plan was to camp in Staffin further north, and cycle about 5miles to Uig in the morning for the 05:30 ferry. I decided to check with the Tourist Info in Portree first and found that there was a campsite actually in Uig.

Uig was just a ferry town. Lots of closed down shops and service station. There was a large residence here but only one pub. I presumed mainly fisherman lived here. The campsite was again situated right on the coast by the beach. The wind wasn’t too bad as we were sheltered by the northern hill. The ground was marshy though. Owners were very friendly and cooked up a couple of cheese toasties and a coffee. Got chatting to a Norwegian canoeist while waiting for clothes to dry. Then tried to get to sleep early.

DAY 10 ROUTE

Portnaluchaig campsite (8am)

Mallaig Ferry to Arndale, Isle of Skye (10am)

Isle of Skye

Approaching Uig Bay (5pm)

DAY 11 (MON)
Start: 05:00
Finish: 20:45
Distance: 87M (Tot=1016M)
Conditions: Gails, Rain, Hills
Route: Uig-(Ferry)-Tarbert (HARRIS)-Balallan-Stornoway (LEWIS)-(Ferry)-Ullapool-Ledmore-Lairg

Woke up at 4am for the 05:30 ferry that would take me over to Harris Island in the Outter Hebrides. The wind was light in the bay but the sky was still very overcast so didn’t get the pleasure of seeing a sunrise over the sea. The ferry trip took 1hr45, crossing ‘The Minch’ – the sea that comes down between the Outter Hebrides and North Scotland. There were very few people on board such a large commercial ferry and I spent most of the journey relaxing and catching on Sky News.

When thinking back to my arrival at Tarbert I can’t actually remember seeing any other vehicles or people around in Tarbert, which itself just consisted of a few houses. Again, I was the last to come off the boat and by that time I presume the traffic was well on it’s way SW or NE towards Stornoway (The Capital). The weather was really awful, with rain and strong winds. The first 3 miles were difficult as I tried to make my way up the mountain. The gales were knocking me all over the road so I cycled right up the middle to give myself a margin of safety. It took me ages to make my way up and after 5 miles I took a rest next to a little loch. I was soaked through and cold. I had a balaclava and tinted glasses on so that the wind didn’t make direct contact with my face. Took some video footage here to remind me of the moment. The next few miles took me through mists.

The climbs and descents were taken carefully to start with. I wouldn’t go downhill faster than 5-10mph because of the winds and sheer drops off the side. A car would pass about once every 20-30mins so I generally used the whole road. Passed a couple of hostels and the weather eased a bit. Managed to grab some sweet food at a small shop in Ballalan a couple of hours later, then stopped 7 miles later at a gas station/coffee shop. From here I had just under 10 miles to reach Stornoway, most of which was downhill.

In Stornaway I had hunch before finding out the ferry to Ullapool on the mainland was delayed by one hour. Spent the time cramming more junk food and chatted to a couple of guards (one of which told me the route to Lairg would not be difficult. I took this with a pinch of salt of course). At 14:20 we left Stornaway and I had another decision to make. Should I cycle the 41 miles from Ullapool to Lairg after landing at 5:30pm.

So when we arrived at Ullapool I headed straight off into the Hills. The first 17 miles to the junction at Ledmore were tough going in the wind and drizzle. But once I turned SE on to the A837 single track road I managed to double my speed along the ‘Coire a’ Chonachair’, a very fast piece of road that went down through the valleys with a tail wind. Very exhilarating. At Invercassley I went through Oykel Forest which meant midges! No problem until my speed slowed on the ascents. Reached Lairg by Loch Shin at 8:30pm and found the campsite. Lots of midges as I set the tent up but I overly applied my two sprays (fabric and skin) knowing this was to be my last night camping. They didn’t come near me after that.

DAY 11 ROUTE

Harris Island (8am)

Loch Kanaird, nr Ullapool (6pm)

DAY 12 (TUE)
Start: 07:30
Finish: 15:00
Distance: 77M (Tot=1093)
Conditions: Bright, Very Windy
Route: Lairg-Altnaharra-Syre-Bettyhill-Strathy-Reay-Thurso

The face, partic the nose, was red raw today from the all the wind. Midges attacked me as I left the tent but I wasn’t too bothered, just packed a little quicker. A few hills out of Lairg, but a lovely ride up Strath Tirry. Great views of the rolling forests, lochs and hills on a clear road and at last some decent, clear weather. Placed the mobile in my bentox bag and played some mellow music through the speaker which added to the atmosphere. I cycled along slowly. At Altnaharra I decided to head up alongside Loch Naver and take Strathnaver. The Loch was very pretty and took a few choice refreshment breaks along the side of it as well as photos. The sheep here roamed freely across the roads and no traffic passed the whole way.

When I reached the North Coast I was hit by strong winds from the East. From Bettyhill onwards I had some sharp hills to contend with again. My mindset was now just to get through each mile at a time. I ditched the tent after a few miles to help speed up. Reached Thurso around 3pm and headed straight to my pre-booked B&B. Would have liked to have finished the whole thing today and have Wednesday off, but had had enough and wanted to settle down to watch some football. Tried a run but could only manage 800m. Tonight was the start of my extended binge session, which ended up lasting a week

DAY 12 ROUTE

Approaching Loch Naver – typical single track road (9:30am)

Loch Naver

Bridge of Forss (2pm)

DAY 13 (WED)
Start: 09:15
Finish: 12:00
Distance: 47M (Tot= 1140M)
Conditions: Cloud, Very Windy, Hills
Route: Thurso-Duncansby Head-John O’Groats-Thurso

Had an enormous breakfast (they set no limit, so I almost had the whole menu) and headed off with just one pannier full of essentials. Cycled to Duncansby Head first as I was told last year by some pedantic cyclist that you have to visit this to make it a true End-to-End experience. Very windy. Headed back down to John O’Groats afterwards, quick photo, checked the shops, then headed back to Thurso. The cycle shoes were coming apart again so I taped them up.

DAY 13 ROUTE

Dunnet(!) Bay (10am)

Duncansby Head Stacks (11am)

Finish at John O’Groats (12pm)

THU 22 JUNE

Took the 6:30am train from Thurso in the morning. The journey back to London involved three stops at Thurso, Inverness and Edinburgh. Finally arrived in London at 7:30pm and cycled the last 12miles back home.

FRI 23 JUNE – MON 3 JUL

Had a course from 23rd to 25th Jun which meant my body didn’t have chance to rest. Last year I stopped suddenly and suffered the “over-reaching crash”. This year I went straight to work on the Tues. I did however feel a little sluggish and mentally uninterested in training.

A week of binge eating meant my weight had gone from 11St-10 on the 8th June, to around 11St-3 on the 20th June and then 11St-11 on 3rd Jul. However, most of the new weight was hanging, and I made sure I kept a strict diet for a few days after this to take it off again. As of 10th July I’m back to 11St-4. Generally I feel OK but I don’t have enough energy to train the weekly hours I did before Lejog. My knee problem is also still there.

I’m not sure if I’ll ever do an End-to-End bike ride again. For a start I don’t think it’s any good on the knees to ride multi days over hills with a heavy bike. But I may do some smaller bike rides in Europe for a change. Next year I’ll be trekking/camping across the Pennine Way. I’d like to also go back to Scotland either in the near future and trek across the mountains and lochs (using an inflatable dingy).

DISCUSSION THREAD (From Day 3)  [1]


AFTERWORD

In some respects I find it funny reading back over these reports.  I was still quite naive at the time over various aspects of gear choice, weight management (myself as well as the bike), training/tapering etc.  And yet without this raw enthusiasm and inexperience I may not have done the LEJOGS in the first place.  In a similar way my brother and I look back on our 2-week camping hikes over the Pennine Way and Coast to Coast and wonder how we managed it.  Despite having arguably more strength and stamina we wonder whether we’d have the same mental fortitude to do a similar challenge in the future without reducing distance covered per day and/or using ‘proper’ accommodation.

There is of course one factor that has a huge bearing on these experiences – when you’ve done them once, do you really want to do it again(!?).   I enjoyed the first LEJOG so much I felt I had to do it again albeit with a change of route and the ‘island-hopping’ angle.  I’m not sure I’ll ever have the need or opportunity to do LEJOG again, but I have discussed the Pennine Way with my brother a few times as this year will be the 10th anniversary of that hike.

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