Tuesday, 9 June 2015

My End to End ride; what was it REALLY like?

A trace over 1100 miles in 29 days. A long, solo cycle camping tour. So, how do I feel about it? How did it actually go?

Well, first and foremost, I'm really glad I did it; wouldn't have missed it for anything. Despite being a cycling novice; only been cycling seriously for around two years, I had no problems at all with the physicality of the challenge. True, I climbed hills slowly, aided by the low gears on my Sherpa and a couple of times I got off and pushed but I never, repeat never, had any muscle pains. Obviously, regular Peak District cycle riding had left me physically and mentally prepared for anything the notorious Cornish or Devonian hills could chuck at me.

What I was less well prepared for was the mental challenge of being alone for such a long time, for me anyway. By the final week of the trip, this aspect was beginning to take its toll and, on occasion, I found myself wanting the trip to be over. Because of this I'll probably never tackle anything quite so long again, at least not on my own. I found myself craving company and conversation, which is why I've said already the connections I made with other folk on the trip were the highlights of my journey.

I've frequently described my ride as unsupported but, with hindsight, this was far from the case. True, I was travelling alone, but I had support from a diverse range of people, not least Chrissie (evidenced by the massive phone bill I've just had). I doubt I'd have coped without regular chats with the love of my life; always supportive. Then there were the delightful people who offered, via a number of internet avenues, to accommodate me along the way. It wasn't just the accommodation though, it was the vital human interaction this gave me which had a massive impact on the success of my trip. I'm so very grateful to you all.

Then there was the weather! Despite the impression from some of my photos, it was challenging to say the least. Wind, rain, hail, cold; I had the lot. Crossing Scotland, many locals were complaining that, "it shouldn't be like this in May" and farmers were suffering with a lack of foodstuffs for livestock due to the cold and poor growing conditions. I suffered with serious chilblains because of the cold and found myself wearing more and more clothing as I traveled north.

I struggled being alone, but I'm glad I was. I could travel at my own pace, in my own time and make instant decisions on where and when to stop. No-one heard me ranting at the weather or cursing yet another false summit on a long climb, nor did anyone hear me talking to the animals in the fields as I rode by, or singing my "song of the day" less than tunefully as the wheels turned relentlessly round.

Overall, I did enjoy the experience. Riding from Thurso to John O'Groats on the last afternoon was truly idyllic; easy riding in fine weather ... and then the sun came out! What more reward could I ask?

I will cycle camping tour again. I love the exhilaration, the achievement, the exercise and the independence. Right now I'm craving some warm weather though and a next long tour may see me on the continent. I may tackle something shorter in the not-too-distant future, but I'll watch the weather forecast and WILL cancel if it's not good. I need an antidote. I need some warmth; some sunshine.

Would I recommend riding End to End? Yes, without a moment's hesitation. But, do it on your own terms; make it your own journey, your own ride.

Would I do it again? I doubt it; but I'm not one for repeating things. I'd prefer to try something different. But, finally, I have no regrets. May 2015 will linger in my memory as one of the most momentous adventures of my life ... so far.


My End to End ride; post script on equipment and the like

So it's done, the biggest physical challenge I've ever undertaken and, ten days or so since I finished, it feels like an appropriate time for a few comments on how it went, focusing here on equipment. You'll find a complete list of what I took in an earlier, pre-ride post, so I'm not gonna duplicate that; instead, some random thoughts on particular successes (or not).

I still consider myself a cycling novice. Really, I'm a hillwalker and outdoor lover on a bike. The benefit of this background though is my familiarity with lightweight backpacking. Transferring these skills to cycle touring has proved relatively straightforward and, as a result, I'm pleased to report no significant issues with the gear I took on my long ride.

My Terra Nova Superlite Voyager shrugged off both gale force winds and heavy rain with no issues whatsoever. Not the lightest of tents and a good two person size, I was glad of its strength, weather resistance, stability and space. Taking it down wet and re-erecting later in the day needed only a quick wipe of the interior floor with a microfibre cloth. Even though it erects inner first, the inner tent soon dried off with good airflow between inner and outer meaning I was snug and dry inside in the foulest of weather.

I took a titanium pan and aluminium frypan along with my MSR Pocket Rocket stove to enable proper cooking rather than relying on dried, backpacking meals which are expensive and hard to find en route. And I love my old, faithful MSR mug sized coffee filter, giving me proper coffee whilst travelling; always a piority for a coffee lover like me. I also had a tiny cheese grater, allowing me to add cheese to pasta or omelettes.

My Thermarest Neoair XTherm Max and Rab Ascent 700 bag, with an Exped pillow gave a cosy, comfy sleep on even the coldest night.

Ortlieb panniers kept gear dry in heavy rain and needed only a quick wipe with a microfibre cloth before being brought in and lined up down one side of the tent allowing weatherproof access to all my kit.

Meeting Chrissie halfway(ish) I junked only one piece of kit; my large microfibre towel. I found my hand towel version was all I needed when showering. The smaller one was easier to dry, bungeed on top of my luggage on the rear rack during the occasional dry spell. Oh, and I swapped my bulky, heavy Giro Feature mtb hemet for my lighter Giro Savant road helmet, which made only a little difference to riding comfort.

My mtb shoes and neoprene overshoes failed miserably in the forst couple of days leaving me with permanently wet feet. Replacing these with Northwave Celsius Gore-tex mtb boots, from Evans Cycles in Bristol, solved this at a stroke; I had dry feet for the rest of the journey.

Thank goodness for my Berghaus Paclite lightweight Gore-tex jacket and trousers. These are old-school technology. I've used them for backpacking for many years with success so I bough a new set for the trip, preferring their small pack size to "proper" cycling stuff. They were brilliant, especially given the awful wet weather and cold I experienced. Many days saw me wearing the jacket as a warm, windproof layer over my merino shirt(s). Even in heavy rain they never let me down and I would recommend them without hesitation.

My Leatherman Crunch came to the rescue just once, when I needed the metal file to take off a sharp burr I noticed on the end of a section of tent pole BEFORE it damaged the tent.

Meeting Chrissie at Clitheroe for a day off I systematically checked all fastenings on the bike but nothing had come loose and nor did anything for the rest of the trip.

Muc-off C3 ceramic chain lube was amazing. I applied this stuff to the degreased and cleaned chain before the ride and there was not a hint of rust visible after two weeks of wet riding with no attention in between. I only bought this stuff cos of the small bottle size but I'm now a convert.

As for my Thorn Sherpa. I never once regretted riding this relatively heavy bike. It was always comfortable, suitably low geared for slow, steep ascents and the 2" wide Schwalbe Marathon Mondials proved sure footed on a wide range of surfaces. I had one slow puncture which I never fixed until the ride was over; I simply pumped it up each morning for the last 6 days or so and it retained more than enough pressure for the next 24 hours.

If you want any more details or thoughts on other gear I used, just ask.

Next up; my post trip thoughts and feelings.

Monday, 1 June 2015

The end of my End to End cycle ride

It's Sunday 31st May and I'm sat in the van at the Caravan Club's Dunnet Bay site in pouring rain.
Yesterday afternoon I rode into John O'Groats in glorious sunshine along with fellow LEJOGers, Nicky & Rachel. The final 20 miles from Thurso were a delight; easy riding, fine weather and pleasant company. Such a blissful end.
I'd hoped to give my beautiful Thorn some tlc today, it having borne me successfully along the entire route but it'll have to wait for a better day.
Highlights? I've been asked this a few times towards the end and my answer's always the same; the wonderful people I've met on the route.
Sandy, who I shared breakfast with before departure. Well done on your LEJOG.
Stephen, who rode the second half of day one with me. Hope your LEJOG went well.
Stephan, who gave me coffee as I waited for the King Harry ferry.
Ellen, Sally, Charlie & Scooby who accommodated and fed me and gave me tlc on a bad morning.
Ian and Ian, who fed me fish and chips and beer and made me laugh so much.
Nicky and Sarah from Nottingham, who I rode with for a while along the Welsh/English border.
Ian and Anne Barton and their lovely children who let me stay in their beautiful farmhouse near Whitchurch.
Ian rode with me up to Delamere Forest.
Tony from Leek on his red Thorn Sherpa.
The lovely Pastor Michael at the Quench Cafe, Culcheth for his peace and spirituality.
Ryan at On Yer Bike, Blackburn who checked my tyres for me.
Ben, Sam and Alec who visited at Clitheroe.
Hamish and Kim who joined me and Chrissie at Clitheroe. Hamish rode to Morecambe with me.
Ian Woods who shared his home, food and wine and many stories in Morecambe. Ian guided me towards Kendal.
Wendy for kindness, cakes and tea at Carnforth.
Tommy Page on his Thorn Raven Tour, making his way round the coast of the UK. Hope it's going well Tommy.
Ria and Bob for making me so welcome in their lovely Kendal home.
Alistair Wright, who recognised my Thorn outside Starbucks in Carlisle.
Stewart and Kath Wallace near Annan for just being so lovely and friendly.
Linda and Harro from Holland, who fed me pancakes and tea at Lochgilphead.
Marika, from Canada who made me tea and kept me company at Gairlochy. Hope your trip's going well.
The two, very funny North Eastern kayakers at Loch Ness Shores.
Andrew, the lovely warden at Dingwall Camping Club site.
Nicky and Sue on their Thorn Nomads, on their way round the UK mainland.
And especially Nicky and Rachael who I first met at Ardrossan, waiting for the Arran ferry. Despite trying, I just couldn't shake these two off and they kept creeping up on me at ferry terminals and cafes. It was lovely to share the final miles and moments with you two.
I must also thank all who've sent messages on here and on twitter which made me feel supported and all those of you who've donated to my chosen charity, Cancer Research UK in support of my trip.
God bless you all.
Finally, thanks to my biggest supporter, the fantastic woman with whom I'm proud to share my life, Chrissie. I love you.
Oh, nearly forgot my canine angel, Tilly x.