Jo’s Ride Across Britain – Part 3

Day 7: Edinburgh to Strathdon

Friday 13th September | Miles: 112 | Elevation:7,707ft | Start time: 7am

During the usual trip to the loo in the night I was rewarded with a very starry and beautiful sky. We had arranged to meet at 6:30am for the off. I was there with my croissant as usual. Dave was waiting somewhere else, we found him eventually. There was a very long queue at the start, it seemed to take forever. Thor entertained everyone in the process. Everyone was in good spirits, despite the impending hills. The weather forecast was very good for today, which was a huge relief but it was a very chilly start. 

We finally got going at 7am, along some small lanes first. Then we joined a lot of rush hour traffic, then onto the amazing Forth road bridge. It was a stunning sunrise over the Forth river. The motorway bridge to our left and the railway bridge to the right. Caroline and I stopped for photos half way then caught up with Thor & Dave on the other side .

After the bridge, we wound our way along some cycle paths then up a long climb. Then it was up and down for ages through some rather bleak little towns. The scenery to the right back towards Edinburgh was amazing. What a place to live.  I was finding the constant hills really draining today. I seemed to be so tired with no umph at all. We kept loosing Dave, who told us to go on. He was really suffering and wanted to take things slowly. It was a beautiful road north but it really did feel like a lot of uphill. We stopped in Kinross for the loo, all the cyclists were eyeing up the cafes. A lovely little town. We found a public loo in a community centre right on the high street. 

We vaguely followed the motorway up to Perth. It looked like a beautiful city, we skirted round the edge and over the river. Then a few miles outside the city was PS1, at Perth racecourse. This is where I first noticed the incredible wind. We’d had some wind but this was really starting to blow. There was dust blowing everywhere and the pit stop was pretty deserted, I think we were towards the back of the pack. I saw Sam and Sarah. Sam had been up most of the night being sick. Somehow she was managing to cycle. I didn’t envy her with the hills we had ahead. There was obviously a bug doing the rounds. I tried not to think about it.

We carried on along some pretty roads. The pit stop had done nothing to boost my energy though. I felt like I was crawling along so slowly. Fighting waves of fatigue. By the time we got to Blairgowrie I was desperate for some caffeine. I saw a Co-op and shouted to Thor and Caroline that I was stopping. I bought a can of coke; struggling to use the self check out – I couldn’t remember how the real world worked!  I chatted to a local couple outside as I downed my can. They were intrigued as to what we were all up to. It did feel pretty amazing to tell them we had come from Land’s End and the state of me and my bike by this point did look like we had come a long way! I got going quickly to go and find Caroline and Thor. They had stopped at a cafe further on and were getting coffee AND coke! I should have waited! Too late now, we needed to get going.

As we left the town we started the climb in to the Cairngorms towards Glen Shee.  Plod plod plodding along. I didn’t even feel I was making much progress on the downhills. I had no pedal power at all. Thankfully the others were feeling similar. We stopped frequently to rest our bums, legs and other aching things. The wind was still blowing hard from the west. I threw by banana skin into the hedge and instead of going in the direction I threw it, it came straight back and landed on Caroline’s bike!  The scenery was getting increasingly stunning. The road undulated but there was a gradual up-hill theme.

Eventually we reached the foot of Glenshee. You could see the road snaking up and up until it disappeared. How much further it was beyond that I didn’t care to know. I got stuck into the hill, finally feeling some energy for the task ahead. I stopped half way for a photo and to look back at the road we had travelled. Just amazing scenery. As it got steeper I dumped out the rest of my water and energy drink. I passed loads of people on the hill with two full bottles – who needs extra weight when there’s a pit stop at the top?  

A guy fell off his bike ahead of me. I think his chain jammed. He landed on his back with his pedals still attached to his feet. He got up apologetically and a bit embarrassed but ok. Everyone seemed very quiet and focused. The last part of the climb was really hard. We could hear the cow bell ringers and flag wavers were just before the summit, so there was still a bit of agonising grind left when we got to them. Then finally the top! The road started to descend to the pit stop opposite the ski centre (yes ski centre!). I rode down towards it, the tiredness of the day and the relief of reaching the top of Glenshee overwhelmed me.  I just had to stop and lean over my handle bars and cry for a while. I was shaking with the effort and emotion of it all. 

It was freezing at the top. I put on my jacket and went to grab some food and join the coffee queue. I had lost Caroline and Thor on the climb. I could see them looking for me when they arrived but I was stuck in the queue. I finally got Caroline’s attention. We did a little group photo. All smiles now.  I saw Sam and Sarah again, Sam was eating a sandwich which was a good sign. I’m amazed she made it all that way after being so ill. The coffee was strong! That should do the trick!

Coffee and food consumed we set off on the descent. I don’t really like downhills, unless I know them. Windy, steep Scottish ones were particularly worrying. It was ok, we were fairly sheltered from the wind and it was more sweeping than steep, with incredible views, as we descended a similar valley to the one we had just climbed up. Thor and Caroline shot-off into the distance. I met up with them at the next sign of civilisation. It was all very beautiful. We were now in the pine forests and following a river, the wind was behind us now and we whizzed along a main road. We passed Balmoral Castle – the flag was up!  These nice bits never last for long and we soon turned off the main road to be met by a big hill up a winding forest road. I knew there were a couple more climbs today. So I was ready for it. 

It was warm out of the wind but soon we were out of the trees and back on the chilly exposed moor.  At the top I realised it was going to be too cold to wait for the others, so I carried on, thinking they would probably catch me up on the descent.  It was a steep and twisty hill. Suddenly ahead was a RAB crew member flagging everyone to slow down, then an ambulance on a very sharp bend. I felt for whoever was being treated and hoped they were ok. Some rides still came flying by very fast. As usual I took things sensibly.  Then to a junction with a stone bridge and another hill – Shorter but steeper. This was a bit of a lung buster. This must be the second of the two climbs of the day – mustn’t it?

A short descent then there ahead the road climbed and climbed miles into the distance around the next mountain. You could almost hear the inner cries of despair from the other cyclists.  I think my cry of despair was probably audible!

So onwards and upwards we plodded, very hard on such tired legs. I stopped near the top for a photo, the cyclists at the bottom were tiny specks. 

The coffee and really done the trick and I really enjoyed the final section of the ride that day. The hills were relentless but somehow I found some reserves.  Then another descent – this one was very steep and the wind was windy, I hung on for dear life, expecting lots of faster riders to whizz past, but no one did. At the bottom we reached a t-junction. I stopped to wait for Thor and Caroline after about 10 minutes I gave up, I was getting cold, so thought I’d better carry on. 

Pine forest descent

The final five miles to the base camp was so beautiful, in the valley, in the evening sun, sweeping downward. Some lovely easy cycling to finish the day. The basecamp was in the village of Strathdon. 

I finished at 5:30pm, so not crazy late but late enough to go straight into dinner after racking my bike and finding my tent. Thor and Caroline weren’t far behind me, I saw them on my way to collect my bag.  Lasagne and garlic bread for dinner. I heard via What’s app that poor Liza had ended up in the broom wagon and when I saw her at dinner she had said that she felt an utter failure for not making it the whole way. This brought more tears to my eyes, never ever is someone who is 65 and attempting LEJOG for the second  year in a row a failure!!  

After dinner I went off for a shower and when I came out I could hear bagpipes!  I thought it was just a regional variation on the music they usually play around camp. But no, as I came around the corner to find a band of bagpipers and drummers in full Scottish regalia. Amazing! I stood and watched and filmed a bit and choked back tears.   It had been a very emotional day all round.

It felt like we were nearing the end, that we were coming into land. Only two more sets of kit left in my bag. No more laundry drop off’s. A bulging stinking bin bag of dirty cycling gear. And joy of joy’s, only two more nights in the tiny damp tent! The bagpipes had moved inside the dinner tent, along with Scottish dancing. I could hear everyone cheering and clapping. I went off to wash my bottles and charge my bike. Liza was complaining via whatsapp from her tent about the noise! She’d  gone off for an early night.

I headed in for the evening briefing and pudding. I think I had a big slice of cheesecake and a brownie, or was it apple crumble? What ever it was it was always very good and very welcome. It was really cold in the camp by now, so I went back to my tent for my hot water bottle, which I was determined to use having lugged it around with me for the last week.  

Finish time: 5:55pm | Moving time: 8 hrs 59 | Elapsed time: 10 hrs 43 | Average Speed:12.5 mph

Day 8: Strathdon to Bonar Bridge

Saturday 14th September | Miles: 119 | Elevation: 7,000 ft | Start time: 6:09 am

The night wasn’t as cold and I feared and I actually got too hot with my HWB. My 3pm Glenshee double espresso kept me awake rather too long. A 4am wake up alarm, this was getting crazy! We set off just after 6am it was still dark, you really needed lights to see the road. Thankfully I had a big-ass front light. Though it only worked on full beam for about 20 minutes before the battery started flashing red. We were heading back the way we’d come last night towards the dreaded Lecht. The forecast was for rain across the area. But looking at the satellite we might just stay to the east of it. Fingers crossed! I was dressed for the worst! 

It was light before we reached the Lecht. Round a corner suddenly there was a wall of road and cyclists. It was as horrible as I expected. A 25% incline on day 8 with all those miles in my legs, sore knees and sore Achilles. I had already conceded that I would probably walk a bit but thought I’d see how I got on. I really didn’t want to injure anything, so once it got crazy steep I got off and walked a bit. Quite liberating really. Until I realised that walking was almost as hard! As soon as it flattened out a bit I got back on and cycled again until it ramped up again.

I carried on like this to the top of the first section after the trees. Walk a bit, cycle a bit. Then there was a downhill where you could see the rest of the climb marching up the mountain ahead.  That was the first time we’d feel the force of the wind for the day. I don’t think I made much progress down the hill, I felt like I was blowing all over the place. Not much chance to get a run up at the next huge part of the climb. I really wanted to cycle all of the next bit, as the gradient didn’t look as awful but as I got closer it got harder and harder, so I did end up walking again.

Then Martin came past me. It was great to see him back on the bike after being ill, and he was getting up the Lecht without walking – which he didn’t manage last time. I saw the event photographer and quickly hopped back on. It ended up being one of my favourite photos of the ride, me laughing and looking like I am killing a great hill-climb, The reality was somewhat different! 

I had planned to meet Caroline and Thor at the top but it was freezing. I took a photo of Martin by the ‘I conquered the Lecht’ sign. (I didn’t feel I qualified!)  I decided it was too cold to hang around and set off behind Martin on the descent. Another steep windy one which I wasn’t looking forward to. Thankfully we had the protection of another huge hill to our left, so the wind wasn’t too awful. I still took it carefully, it was twisty and quite steep in places. Eventually it flattened out to a lovely sweeping downhill. I felt exhilarated and pleased to have the worst bit of the day done- or so I thought! We went through a sweet little town which looked very touristy – the Whisky capital apparently and pretty deserted this early in the morning, although there were some tempting looking cafes.  Then Richard whizzed past me. He was trying to keep up with a rider who had joined for the Scotland leg. Then there was a nice bridge over a river, then we started climbing again. As we wound up the valley the head-wind suddenly appeared. It was awful trying to pedal into it and going nowhere. Expending precious energy. 

Then another horrid steep climb which nearly finished me off but I didn’t walk this time. Up and up it went until we were on a really exposed ledge in the full force of the 40 mph side winds. I plodded on, hanging on for dear life. No one looked happy.  Eventually the road started heading down again but still the wind buffeted us, putting pay to any speed. A line of trees gave a bit of respite but then as you came out again the wind nearly blew you over. I had a few wobbly moments on the way down where I got blown across the road. Thankfully there wasn’t much traffic apart from passing bikes. 

Eventually and thankfully we reached PS1 in a little town. Civilisation at last!  Thor and Caroline appeared while I was in the loo queue. They had survived the wind too but Caroline wasn’t having a great day, struggling with the hills and wind. We ate and regrouped and set off again. Dave arrived just as we were setting off. Good to see he was still alive and well and cycling. 

Civilisation didn’t last for long, we were soon back on the open moors, with the ferocious wind. When it was behind you it pushed you forward with such force, but then it would whip round to the side and nearly blow you over.  We carried on like this for what felt like forever. Thor and Caroline were a fair way ahead of me now, I was starting to feel fed up and pathetic. Tired of the constant battle. Starting to tell myself I couldn’t do it anymore.

The endless bleak landscape

The route turned off on to some more sheltered roads and the others were waiting for me. Then on in to a forest. It was lovely! Warm and sheltered. We had all dressed for really cold wet weather (apart from Thor who had mislaid his jacket at basecamp) So suddenly we were really too warm. Over a narrow stone bridge that was littered with cyclists taking photos – rather dangerous!

Caroline and I stopped again to re-dress and Thor went on. Now I started getting sleepy again and in the sheltered woodland we started eyeing up nice soft grass verges. I could have just laid down and slept. We met up again with Thor and then we were back in the wind. We seemed to  plod up a long incline for eternity into a ferocious head wind, It was exhausting. Thor said we were near the airport, I’d be back there in a few days time, ready to fly home. What a weird thought. We went past the Vodafone support girls, who had boundless energy and chocolate, which we gratefully consumed. The road took us under a beautiful viaduct. Then there was another short sharp climb to a main road, the road to Inverness. Finally, we might be able to make some progress – oh no – more headwind!  This road took us past Culloden battle ground and down into Inverness.

Viaduct outside Inversness

PS2 was in Inverness (up a hill of course!) it was crazy windy and it was spitting with rain. I spent rather too long sheltering in the loo on my phone, until someone knocked on the door looking for their pot of Chamois cream.  Then I spent too long in the coffee queue. Caroline was chatting to a friend who lived locally and had come to see her. Thor was getting something checked on his bike. I remember eating fresh pineapple and a muller rice pot! Plus my usual sandwich and various chocolate bars.

Eventually we set off, no one really feeling like getting back on the bike or riding into the wind. We set off with quite a posse from the pit stop and stayed with them through Inverness. Past my hotel, which I didn’t realise until I was back there on  Monday. 

After Inverness we seemed to have a bit of a tail wind along a main road. well, it wasn’t a head or side wind, so we were just grateful. We went along in a nice little group, sitting behind the mighty Thor! We’d picked up a girl named Sophie, who was funny and quite bonkers. Caroline and I were at the back trying to stay awake. My coffee had done nothing! Caroline was slapping her face to try and stop from falling asleep. Who would have thought you could nearly be asleep cycling.  The road went along the river that flows out from Inverness. It was all very picturesque.

The road out of Inverness

We turned off this road eventually and headed up a quite meaty hill to the next pit stop – 3 stops again today.  The ‘splash and dash’ was on a wild and windy lookout with a cafe above the river. I waited an eternity in the freezing wind outside the portaloo (probably someone in there on their phone!) then grabbed a few snacks and filled up my water bottle. It was driving drizzle and not very nice. The broom wagon was there, which put the fear of god in us all, so we quickly got going again. 

Thor told us we had another sizeable hill to get over before we reached Bonar Bridge basecamp.  We followed a nice road through the forest and then a gradual climb which I quite enjoyed, suddenly seemed to have found some energy. Sophie had stopped to sort out her shoes, so we had a Skittle break. Then we were back out on the open moor and into the wind again. We plodded on but I had really had enough of wild exposed Scottish moors by now. Eventually we headed downwards to an amazing view point out towards Bonar Bridge. Sadly it was so misty and damp that we couldn’t see much. We still stopped for a photo though.

The rain was getting worse now, so we headed off tentatively down the hill, as Thor had warned us of a steep turn over a stone bridge, and there were some roadworks too.  We crossed the iron bridge into the town of Bonar Bridge, now soaked through, hoping hoping the basecamp was just round the corner (although the miles on my Garmin told me otherwise!) No basecamp! Out of the town we went along an A-road. The rain was lashing now and made worse by some really strong winds. We seemed to ride for miles battling against the wind and rain. It really was ridiculous weather. We were in the middle of a hurricane! We finally reached the basecamp. Not much solace here in the horizontal rain and wind.

I parked my bike then ran to the massage tent to book my massage (I’m not sure why this was my first priority!) Then straight in for dinner. I stood in the food queue still in my cycling gear, probably still in my helmet, freezing and dripping wet. I knew it was the right thing to do. I would never manage to negotiate the basecamp in these conditions without food inside me. I sat at the first seat I could find and talked to some guys who had finished hours ago, they seemed surprised that people were only just finishing or still out cycling (this didn’t help my mood!) I had chicken pasta, it was wonderful. Everyone else looked warm and dry and showered. I felt miserable. 

Cyclists arriving at the wet and windy Bonar Bridge basecamp

I left the warmth of the food marquee to find the tent allocation tent. Only to find it had been taken down and it was back in  the food marquee, I could have cried. Back I went in the rain. It’s this kind of extra effort that really tips you over the edge at times like this. I managed to hold myself together, stay calm and not let it all come crashing in on me. Wet bag deposited in wet tent. There really wasn’t much hope of anything being very dry.  I didn’t get my bed out, I would have just made everything wet in my soggy cycling clothes. I headed off for my massage then to the shower queue – which had been moved inside one of the tents due to the crazy conditions. Not many people having massages, I guess the last night people are less likely to bother. I had the same student has I’d had in Bath, we chatted about the trip so far. He covered me in lots of nice warm towels. I could have just slept there! But he was waiting to go off for his dinner.

Then another soggy dash back to the tent to get my bed set up before evening briefing. I wanted to charge up my bike but it was a little too wet leave the battery out in the rain. I was pretty sure there would be plenty of charge left for tomorrow but I wasn’t very keen on testing the theory on the final day.  I went to get pudding, cheesecake again! The tent was rammed. I was trying to find a seat and bumped into Caroline, also looking for a seat with her dinner. We sat together. I was really happy to find a friendly face.

The final briefing: lots of speeches and thank you’s. Mack said lots of lovely profound things and how amazed he was at all of us for carrying on. The crew looked exhausted. Not easy running an event like this in these conditions.  Andy Cook talked about the route for the final day and that it was his favourite day of cycling ever and that once we reached the north coast we would have a tail wind all the way to John O’groats. It sounded great! I was really looking forward to the final day. Everyone seemed to say it was a fairly easy day of cycling with no terrible hills. And it would be dry!!

By the time I left the briefing it had stopped raining. So I went to put my di2 charger on my bike while I went to the loo and cleaned my teeth. It wouldn’t be very long but better than nothing.  The final night in a tent – hooray!! 

Finish time: 6:13pm | Moving time: 9 hrs 55 | Elapsed time: 11 hrs 52 | Average Speed: 12 mph

Day 9: Bonar Bridge to John O’Groats

Sunday 15th September | Miles: 104 | Elevation: 5,207 ft | Start time: 6:06am

No one slept much due to the wind. I felt like someone was shaking and hitting my tent most of the night. My air bed was lifting up at the end where it was resting on the tent wall. And my light fell off and hit me in the head. I went to the loo at some point and there were little green tents blowing everywhere. Apparently the locals were fishing them out of the river for days afterwards. I felt sorry for the plus package hotel people who had to camp the final night. What a night to have to do it!

My alarm went off at 4am again – for the final time! Packing up my bed and sleeping bag for the last time. Last time trying to shove everything in my bag. No sign of the coffee van, it would have to be instant today. Last bacon egg and tomato bap. Last croissant grabbed from the table on my way to the start. I found Thor and Caroline and a guy called Stephen, who had been riding with us on and off since day 6. It was dry but still windy and dark of course!

We set off just after 6am with all the Threshold crew clapping and waving us off, this brought a lump to my throat. We wound our way through some woodland lanes, which was a bit tricky not being able to see much. Caroline whizzed off and when we met up with her further down the road we could see why, her husband was there.  Her family staying close-by, he’d popped out to see us come by. Caroline looked a bit emotional, not surprisingly.  

Daylight had arrived and we went through a small village on a loch/river then up on to the exposed moor. Great!  This is where the wind really got the better of me. We were on a single track road (an A-road apparently!) and despite my best efforts I was constantly being blown sideways to the point of not being able to cycle. How were so many bikes whizzing past me so easily? After about half an hour of this I stopped on the side of the road and cried. My resilience had gone, everything came crashing in. All the tiredness, all the effort of the last 9 days was suddenly too much. I couldn’t do it anymore. I had a good sob. Leaning over my bike with my head in my hands. Everyone else was enduring their own battles too much to notice. I got back on and continued the slog. The event photographer came by, I couldn’t look up. I’m glad she still took the photos of me. I was still sobbing. It’s a good reminder of how tough things got.  

The lowest point of RAB

The others had stopped to wait for me, they could see I wasn’t ok. I’m so thankful for my little cycling group. A friendly face and a few words of encouragement and being back in our group really helped. We battled on, everyone being blown about. There was a particularly precarious moment on a small stone bridge where everyone seemed to almost get blown off. There was a house just after this with many cyclists huddled against the wall for shelter. Thank goodness it wasn’t raining as well. Then finally a tree-line – a bit of respite and then the road turned and we started to descend, steeply at first, then a wonderful twisting gradual road down, we were sheltered from the wind and the scenery was spectacular. A huge mountain to our right. Lochs ahead of us down in the valley.   

Finally to PS1. A tiny little pub/cafe place. The wind was freezing, so everyone had jammed themselves inside. I grabbed some food then battled my way through about 50 cyclists to reach the ladies loo. Then back through them all again. Then realised I had left my gloves in the loo – so back again!!  Everyone seemed to be having an awful day and had really struggled up to this point, which made me feel better. I found the scotch eggs and had two for good measure. Then we set off again. Just me Thor and Caroline, Stephen stayed to get his bike fixed.  

After this things improved no end for the next 20 miles.  We followed a beautiful Loch with a tail wind on gently undulating road. It really was lovely. 

Lovely road along the loch after pit stop 1

Although our enthusiasm ended as soon as we hit the wind again on the way into Betty Hill. There was the sea! we had reached the north coast!  Big huge lashing waves, golden sands and sunshine. We stopped for the loo and a shop in Betty Hill. One lady got blown over trying to get back on her bike! Coke and chocolate bars bought we set off again.

The stormy seas at Betty Hill

The next part of the ride didn’t live up to my expectations. I imagined a nice run into John o’groats on some nice quaint coastal roads. Everything was still big and bleak, exposed and hill with crazy winds.  The road had huge ups and downs like a roller coaster and the wind was gusting at 40mph. It was highly dangerous! The road would have been lovely and fast on a calm day, although I wasn’t begrudging of the tail wind which helped me up a fair-few hills.  Caroline and Thor were more courageous than me on the downs. I was just terrified of a sudden gust on one of the big downhills and took it slow. Which was pretty frustrating with everyone flying past me – but honestly to fall off now would have been heartbreaking. 

Caroline and Thor were stopped ahead and with them were Caroline’s husband and kids. Thor shared out his whisky flavoured Scottish tablet and on we went. We reached PS2 which was on a golf course – no gazebos – too windy, just a few vans, some cereal bars and a long chilly walk to the loos . We saw the rest of the SW rabbers there, Andy E, Andrew, & Nick. Everyone seemed to be enjoying the days riding a lot more than me. I just wanted it to be over now. I’d had enough of battling with the wind.

On and on we cycled for the last 30 miles. Counting down the miles far too often. Thor repeatedly saying. ‘Nearly there!” in his ever cheery manner. We went through Thurso, past a beautiful beach. Past a big belching bull and a field of skittish cows. Past some poor cyclists with punctures, up a few too many hills and suddenly you could see John O’Groats in the distance. We passed a cyclist going home on his bike with his medal on and his huge bag on his back. Maybe we were dreaming – who would do that!?  

Then finally we were there! 
Down the hill, round the corner (no finishing arch – too windy) lots of clapping and we had made it! 

It was all a bit of a blur. Some people put medals round our necks, we hugged, we cried. Caroline’s husband produced a bottle of fizz which Caroline opened and sprayed around. We all had a swig. We took more photos, then I said goodbye to Caroline. She was whizzing straight off to inverness in the car to fly home.

I was going to see Thor later, so I didn’t say goodbye to him. I asked someone where the John O’Groats sign was – it was right behind me, as was the queue. So I went off and joined the queue for a photo. It was quite fast moving but it was freezing. I asked a guy to hold my bike and I ran off to find my bag. I’d put my coat right at the top exactly for this reason.

My signpost photo.

It was all a bit chaotic. I went into the cafe with the soup and roll for finishers, no familiar faces in there, so I ate, then went to sort out my bags and bike ready for transport. I couldn’t face having a shower in the freezing porta-showers, so I just changed my shoes. I walked back up the hill to drop off my bike with the Cycle Transfer people in the car park field. Then I got my bag and went to wait for my 5:30pm coach. It was already there, and after a short wait we all got on. It was heaven. Warm and cosy. I sat and caught up on all the messages on my phone and watched out of the coach window at other cyclists finishing and walking past with family and friends. So many now familiar people I had shared the journey with. I was pleased to see each of them had finished too. Then we were off! the landscape whizzing past, far too fast, not bike speed. I looked out of the window at it all, soaking up the views and taking in exactly where I was and what I had done. It was very hard to take in!

Three hours went very fast and soon we were in Inverness and it was getting dark. I shared a taxi to the hotel with a couple of other cyclists. I was so happy to be in my hotel room and to find there was a bath. I could have cried. It was utter heaven!!   I threw the contents of my bag all of the floor. So happy to have a space bigger than a postage stamp to sort it all out. I really just wanted to crawl into bed at this point but I was now very very hungry! I went downstairs to the restaurant and ordered fish and chips with extra bread and butter and a large beer. There were a few other cyclists in there all looking tired. Then Thor arrived from his coach, bounding in, talking loudly!  He went to drop off his stuff and came to join me. We chatted, I had pudding, then I went off to my lovely comfy bed.

Finish time: 3:05pm | Moving time: 8 hrs 10 | Elapsed time: 9 hrs 3 | Average Speed: 12.7 mph

Day 10: Inverness to Exeter

Monday 16th September

Breakfast the next morning was spent chatting to Thor and the other cyclists in the hotel. Then I went for a wander round a very chilly rainy Inverness – only 8 degrees, 18 at home!! I felt like I was in a dream, with a big smile on my face but feeling ravaged and exhausted. I walked into a cafe in need of more food and coffee and there was Thor and a few other cyclists, having second breakfast, so I joined them. I bought some gifts for the family then it was time to pack and check out of the hotel. A few of us shared a taxi to the airport, one of which was coughing man from day 3, who turned out to be Daren from Somerset! He’d made it! Dave had also made it and was at the airport too. Basically the plane was full of cyclists or Threshold crew! 

We were back in Bristol within an hour of taking off. Crazy when it took us 5 and a half days to cycle it. I looked down at England whizzing past below imagining all the roads we’d cycling down there. Thor and his wife kindly gave me a lift from Bristol to Tiverton parkway where Andy met me. Nearly home! At home, lovely excited kids and Congratulations and welcome home banners and an amazing cake.  

I am still trying to process what has happened. Every night I have dreamt about cycling and I haven’t stopped talking about it (Andy has been very patient) Writing all this down has been a wonderful process. It all felt like such a jumble in my head when I got home, all the basecamps blurring into one. With the help of other people, photos and texts and strava maps I have put it all back together.

The Threshold motto is ‘More is in you’ and that really is true! When you reach the bottom of what you can do, the end of yourself, somehow you find that there is more. For those 9 days in September RAB is an amazing community, a wonderful bubble of people all with the same goal. There’s nothing like it. It has been a life changing experience, something I will never forget.

Cycling will never be the same again because every time I get on my bike it reminds me of my epic adventure.  It was so, so hard and there were lots of aspects of it that I hated, and was so sick of by the end – like the camping and the weather. But I’m so glad I did it and I’m so so proud that I made it! Whether I will do it again is undecided. I’m sure with the passing of time, my memories of the difficulty of it all with soften and the great bits will remain and the wonder of the RAB bubble will lure me back!

Jo’s Ride Across Britain – Part 2

Ludlow bike park

Day 4: Ludlow to Haydock

Tuesday 10th September | Miles:107 | Elevation: 3,435ft | Start time:7:13am

As usual I was awake before my 5am alarm. First stop was the Camper coffee van for my morning wake up!  I sat with Sarah and Sam and breakfast. Then went to collect my still wet shoes from the drying room. Putting them on wasn’t as bad as I feared. The forecast was better for today,  and we had a nice flat easy day ahead of us. I went to grab a last-minute croissant from the dinner hall and went to meet the others: Martin, Thor, Dave, Marcia, Caroline, and Andy E at the start.  We set off at about 7:15 and were straight into tiny lanes. It was nice and peaceful but you had to concentrate as there was a lot of gravel and debris after yesterday’s rain. I was feeling a bit extra cautious after my fall yesterday. I rode with Martin for a bit but I struggled to keep up with the others as they seemed happy to zip along a bit faster than me.

We regrouped at the top of a hill for a photo.  Everyone was in good spirits and it was nice to have company. There were a lot of riders around, as the roads were small we were more condensed. It felt like the first 35 miles flew by. I had a loo break in a very prickly field. We went through lots of pretty villages, nice countryside. I was starving by PS1, which was in an old mouldy truck stop. Not the nicest but the sun was coming out by now and the day was warming up.  

We set off from PS1 with Dave, Thor, Caroline and Marcia, and Martin. We seemed to have lost Andy E.  I ate too much at the pit stop so then I went to a sleepy stupor for the next 10 miles. We went along a horrible section of A road then back into the lanes.  

The weather was quite nice now, warming up. Back on the main roads, our small group became a huge group, so Thor pulled over and all the hangers-on went on. A good trick of getting rid of excess cyclists. Unfortunately we also lost Martin!  We cycled through a lovely country estate with some beautiful gate houses, over lots of pretty canal bridges. We had a nice stop at PS2 and sat at a bench. Caroline got her personalised cake from Macmillan for raising lots of money for them.

 Martin got two punctures, we caught up with him while he was changing one of them and Thor went back to help. The rest of us used a field for a wee stop – until we realised there were school kids on the footpath on the other side. Poor kids! Oh and my Di2 ran out of battery about 10 miles from basecamp, so I was in the small ring – which was fine as it was mostly built up areas and not very hilly.  We crossed the Manchester shipping canal (a useful fact from Thor).

Crossing the Manchester Ship Canal

There very funny moment at some traffic lights where Thor asked a lady in her car to play ‘I want to ride my bicycle’ by Queen. He thought she should be rewarded with some sweets, so Dave threw a bag of Randoms to Thor, Thor dropped them and they landed in the path of oncoming traffic. Then the lights changed and off we went to the sound of the lady’s music.

There was a lot of talk about the end of the day’s ride being very busy through big built up area as we pass Manchester and Warrington but it was all pretty ok. I don’t remember any terrible roads or terrible traffic, so that was a relief. The sunshine helped. A few people suffering with sore bums today, a flat day when you aren in the saddle a lot doesn’t help. 

We arrived at Haydock in to the back of the racecourse, quite picturesque. Caroline was due to see her parents at the finish, I watched her ride over to them. Then heard a voice shout my name – it was Andy!! He’d come up on the train as a surprise. Such a good surprise. Though I was a little too tired to take it all in.

I went straight off to book my massage, Andy went off to find the PR guy and get a wristband for dinner.  It was a beautiful afternoon and the racecourse was fluttering with flags and people sitting outside in the sunshine.

The camping area was quite a walk away in the middle of the racecourse. It was quite squelchy from the rain the day before. Andy carried my bag to my tent for me. He gave me some clean clothes he’d brought for me. I gave him a bag of horrid washing to do. He did ask what he could do to help! While he was doing that, I went off for my massage. The lovely Andrew Midgley was there waiting for the physio, or was he doing some work? I don’t know. Anyway, he gave me a bit of his birthday flapjack, which was covered in chocolate and tasted divine. He and some of the other SW rabbers had stopped at his house for a birthday treat. But these were from his parent’s who he had seen at Okehampton. Andrew seemed to have a cake stop with family on most days!  I had my massage and chatted to the guy about my sore Achilles and knee – he suggested getting it taped up, so I booked in for a taping appointment at 5:30 in the morning – bleurgh!

I toddled off for my shower and dropped off my laundry net. Andy had found the drying room and hung up all the gloves and arm warmers I had given him.  He had also gone to plug my battery into my bike to charge my Di2. What a star! Better start trying to remember to do that each night – another thing to do! 

So far I hadn’t actually managed to clean my bike and it was looking pretty terrible now after two days of mucky roads. So I grabbed my bike cleaning wipes to give my chain a going over after dinner.

Andy and I headed to dinner. This was in the racecourse building with the restaurants were spread over three floors. It was the Haydock in-house caterers not it wasn’t the lovely Lou Lou.  There was chicken and mushroom pie again but I knew it wouldn’t be a patch on Lou Lou’s, so I went for ravioli and roasted veg. The girl dished me up about 3 ravioli! I asked for more, she gave me one more. I was aghast!   I could have gone for food again in one of the other canteens but I filled up with potatoes, bread, apple crumble and custard!

Andy’s brother Rick and wife Chantal and kids were arriving to pick up Andy – and see me of course!  We chatted to them outside for a bit over cups of tea, which I pilfered for them. Then went en mass to clean my bike. Then we showed them the tents. Mattie (age 3) was very excited. 

Then they headed off home to the Wirral and I said goodbye to Andy. Suddenly feeling the pang of not seeing him again until all this is over. Such a long long way to go yet, so daunting. I had been trying not to think about all the miles ahead and suddenly it seemed overwhelming.. 

I remembered I’d forgotten to put all my tech onto charge. A bit annoying as it would be another thing to do tomorrow morning and I was already squeezing in my visit to the physio.  I went off to the evening briefing, some guy from Biritsh cycling who I had never heard of but everyone else was all amazed about. He went on a bit, then I went to bed.

Finish time: 4:40pm | Moving time: 7 hrs 50 | Elapsed time: 9 hrs 28 | Average Speed: 13.7 mph

Day 5: Haydock to Carlisle

Wednesday 11th September | Miles:116 | Elevation: 6,129 ft | Start time: 6:51am

I Spent a long time in the night trying to ignore the need to go to the loo, woke to rain at about 3am and decided then that I definitely needed the loo now it was pouring down! Getting out of a small tent when it’s raining without getting everything inside wet is a skill I still need to learn.  It as still raining in the morning and windy. Not a nice way to start the day, still dark, miles to walk to the racecourse building. I went to get my knee and achilles taped up – which seemed to take ages. I had breakfast – cereal which made a nice change. I ignored the rubbery looking eggs and had some very nice gammony bacon in a roll. And there was coffee and I was sitting with Liza, so not so bad. 

I went to collect my stuff from the charging area, and went to use the nice indoor loo’s. Then went to collect my laundry bag and finish packing my stuff. The laundry bag was toasty-warm I stuffed it inside my coat to keep it dry on my way back to the tent. A wet difficult struggle with my bag through all the tents to the baggage lorry. I reversed myself up to the lorry and the guy almost lifted me up with the bag. 

Pouring rain before setting off from Haydock

Already soaked I met the others sheltering from the rain under the racecourse building,  Caroline had a nightmare with her bike since arriving here yesterday and was on a borrowed bike for the day while the mechanics tried to get a new front fork for hers. I went off to find the loo while we waited for everyone else. I  went up three flights of stairs to find them locked, all I could find were gents toilets, so I used those in desperation, not very nice! Marcia had set off earlier as she as suffering in the saddle department and wasn’t sure if she would even finish the day. Poor Marcia.

Finally we were all present and correct We set off at 7am into the torrential rain and rush hour.  It took 2 hours to do the first 17 miles. It was so wet you could hardly see at times, we all took it slow and sensibly. The rain did ease a bit and we amused ourselves saying hello to all the school kids waiting at bus stops and chatting as we stood in the endless queues of traffic.  I stopped for the loo at an ATS garage – a good spot by Dave (too many coffee’s again!) We eventually reached grey gloomy Preston. Past some very slippery rail tracks which the Threshold crew were making everyone walk over after someone had broken a leg there just before us. Eventually we left the urban roads behind and the landscape opened up. The rain stopped and the day started to feel a bit better. Apart from the prospect of Shap Fell later on! 

PS1 was in a very flash garden centre car park. There was a chilly wind whipping around which made it very cold standing in our wet clothes.  We didn’t stop long. The landscape was lovely now, we were in Cumbria, stone walls, hills, sheep. The forest of Bowland, which is moorland rather than forest. Some lovely sweeping descents.

The rain and rush hour of the morning had been a distraction from the tiredness and aches and pains but now we were on open roads, I started to feel  waves of sleep and fatigue. There were a few sharp climbs and long drags but mostly this bit was quite nice. Well anything was nice after the morning. We had lots of stops for photos of nice views. Then PS2 the Halfway point! We got a photo at the halfway sigh. Had a leisurely lunch in some camping chairs. Thor bought cans of coke. The sun was trying to come out but it was also threatening more rain.  Then we realised the pit stop was due to close in 10 minutes, so thought we should get a wriggle on. The halfway point brought mixed feelings. An incredible sense of achievement but also the thought that we had to do all that AGAIN!

Half Way!!

We set off knowing our next challenge was Shap Fell. We went through Kendall and then started the climb. There were lots of up’s and down’s on the way up but mostly up and huge hills all around. The road we were travelling disappearing far off into the distance.  I stopped for a photo of the view looking back towards Kendall. It was really lovely, very green, lots of sheep and farm land. The climb wasn’t very steep it just went on a really long way, 8 miles to be precise. At the top there were flags and cowbells and people cheering and giving out skittles. We re-grouped at the top and had a photo with the motor bike support guys. It was incredibly windy but an amazing view right over to the M6 in the distance. (we spent a lot of time crossing the M6 today – 13 to be exact!).  

At the top of Shap Fell

Dave said the descent coming up was one of his favourite bits of cycling ever! So he shot off to enjoy it, followed by the rest of us. I can’t say it was my favourite, as my bike was flapping around like an autumn leaf in the wind on the first section at the top. It got less windy as we went down but I had missed the really nice fast bit. Oh well. We then dragged along main roads to Shap Village where we had PS3. A smaller ‘splash and dash’ pit stop. Not sure I was planning on much splashing. I ate stuff and stuffed food and sweets in my pockets, went to the loo – which seemed to be full of blonde 20-something ‘rapha girls’ with neat plaits. I tried and failed to strike up a conversation. I don’t think socialising with 40 somethings wasn’t on their radar! I have since found out that one of them was a minor celeb who had been on Love Island with half a million instagram followers. No wonder she didn’t need to talk to me.

Caroline was chatting with her parents who had driven up from Haydock to meet her. We set off again, another 25 miles to go. Which on a normal day wouldn’t be a very far but is a significant distance when you have already done 90! The long draggy A-roads carried on, up and down, along, along and it started trying to rain on us. Big black clouds loomed and threatened and the wind picked up again.

An ambulance came past us and further up they were attending a cyclist on the side of the road. We later heard she had broken her leg. Poor thing. We cycled on and stopped for skittles a few times to try and keep our energy up. But every time we stopped all the people we had just passed came past us. We did this a few times! Tortoise and the hare.

Eventually, with relief, we turned off the A-road, only to be met by a small hilly road. We were all cursing Andy Cook’s route planning and his grippy climbs! Then after a nice downhill under the motorway, the base camp came into view. A last! we were so, so tired!

Muddy, soggy Carlise basecamp

This was a new basecamp site for this year. A not very exciting corner of a muddy field as far as I could tell. I wasn’t that impressed. I (again) walked straight past all the people cleaning their bikes. I racked mine somewhere I hoped would be easy to find again.  It was 6:30pm by the time we finished, 11 and a half hours on the road. I was exhausted after such a long day. All I wanted to do was collapse but I got on with all my camp jobs. Collected my bag from the pile – which was now being rained on. Got a nice chap to carry it to my tent. Stood in the epically long shower queue wrapped in white fluffy towel for warmth. Caught up on messages and posted to Facebook and Instagram. A good use of queueing time. There was a really chatty lady behind me, I wasn’t in the mood, thankfully she started talking to someone else, 

I had my shower, washed stuff, hung stuff up, washed my bottles, wrestled with my fecking bed, charged my bike. It was all such an effort. I was too tired for all this. Too hungry!!   Finally I made it to dinner just before the evening briefing. Dinner was Cumberland sausage and mash. I ate the mash and gravy but really didn’t fancy much else, I was beyond tired and I was very grumpy. I didn’t manage to find anyone else from our group, which is probably a good thing. At some point I phoned Andy for a cry and a sympathetic ear.  On the plus-side, I slept really well that night. Sheer exhaustion I think.

Finish time: 6:09pm | Moving time: 9hrs 14 | Elapsed time: 11 hrs 8  | Average Speed: 12.6 mph

Day 6: Carlisle to Edinburgh

Thursday 12th September | Miles:104 | Elevation: 3,448 ft | Start time: 7:07am

I was feeling a bit more chipper today after an ok-ish night’s sleep. Though there was rain forecast for the middle of the day, it didn’t look too heavy and it would be dry and sunny by the time we reached Edinburgh. It was very exciting that we would be crossing the border into Scotland!  My first port of call was the Camper coffee van for my morning flat white. We met at 6.30 to set off but Thor couldn’t find his bike for ages. He really thought someone must have moved it or taken it. 

The start at Carlisle basecamp

We set off,  the route taking us straight through Carlisle. After that the road carried on much like  yesterday had finished, with long draggy A-roads. Soon we were at the Scotland sign. It was a bit chaotic on the side of the road with so many people stopping but we had to get a photo!  Then through Gretna Green and alongside the M6 until PS1. Not the nicest pit stop; Cold, grey, too many bikes, no where to put your bike! Mine ended up in a bush next to a driveway. 

Scotland!!

We didn’t hang around long. About 5 minutes after we left it started raining, then it started raining HARD. and it carried on like this for the majority of the day. I didn’t have my warmest clothes on and I was a bit worried about how cold I would get in the wet weather. We were so much further north now and in the Lowlands, the landscape was bleak and the wet weather looked like it had set in for the day.  It was a shame not to be able to see the scenery through the mist. We trucked along the A-roads pretty quickly. There was no option of stopping for a breather, you would instantly get cold but as the roads were quite fast, the miles went buy quite quickly.

When we were all reaching the end of ourselves, Thor had a brilliant idea of trying to find a cafe. He said there was a place called Abingdon. (Very handy riding with someone who knows the route). It seemed to take an eternity to get there. But finally there was a cafe. It wasn’t very big but thankfully there were only two other cyclists there. 

Warming up in a very welcome cafe

We ordered hot chocolates and coffee and I bought some cakes and shared them round.  We dripped all over the floor. More and more cyclists came in, including Sarah and Sam.  The lady was rushed off her feet. We hauled on our wet gloves and jackets and got going again. Freezing to start with until we got warmed up. But inside we still had the warm glow of our hot drinks. It was a life saver.  We turned off the A-roads eventually and went over a very steep stone bridge and then we were at PS2. Still raining. Everyone was rammed into a tiny village hall. There was a hot fugg of sweaty wet cyclists but I didn’t care, it was warm and dry. There were quite a few people sporting foil blankets trying to warm up.  

We set off again and the rain was easing. We were on some nice country roads now. I chatted to the cows , which I had started doing from day 1.  They always looked very interested in us cyclists. We reached the ‘Welcome to West Lothian’ sign and decided to take a group photo. Thor asked another cyclist to take the photo, offering her a bag of skittles in return, which none of us actually had! It was a very funny moment and we all got a bit hysterical. Edinburh felt like it was within reach now. 

We reached civilisation, turned off on to a very random muddy cycle path then we were back in the urban sprawl – lots of roundabouts, then up a hill and an amazing view over the Forth river to the Cairngorms in the distance (that;s where we were heading tomorrow). The sun was out now.  I need the loo and considered the corner of the corn field but there were too many other cyclists taking photos.

Sunshine at last and beautiful views towards the Caingorms

It was only another 6 miles to basecamp. It was a nice approach all down hill along some country roads. We were in the estate of Hopturn House National Trust property. I nearly fell off in a muddy dip going over the finish line, so I got off and walked. I dashed off to find the loo and left my bike with Dave to park.  The loo was miles away, and then I had to trek all the way back to get all the stuff off my bike – when I actually found it. 

We got into basecamp at 4:30 pm, a vast improvement on yesterday. I found my tent and got my bag carried to it by another helpful chap. Everything seemed very spread out at this camp. I wasn’t appreciating the distance between the tent allocation and the bag pile (mine seemed to be right back up by the finish.) Once I had dumped my bag, I went to book my massage, they had a slot in 20 minutes. I went to get a cup of tea in the food tent. There was no bread for toast or tea cakes left (I did see a visitor in a suit tucking into a hot cross bun – how cheeky!) but luckily we were all treated to a free muffin from one of the charities, so that hit the spot. I ate it whilst waiting for my massage.  The sun was out and I was feeling good. My massage was with a funny Spanish guy. My knees were still giving me a lot of bother whilst freewheeling. Fine with pedalling and even up hill, just agony when ever they weren’t doing anything. I later found out this is due to a build-up of fluid around the joints. I still had the tape on them, so there wasn’t a huge amount he could do to loosen it up. He worked on my quads and achilles. I couldn’t face taking the tape off and getting up extra early to get it put back on,

I went for my shower – more catching up with social media whilst queuing. Then dropped off my laundry and went to get my tent set up. The tents were crazy close to each other. I  kept getting confused by which row I was in. There was a nice atmosphere, people sitting outside their tents in the sun. Lots of non cycling visitors. A much nicer base camp to visit that yesterday’s in Carlisle. I managed to loose my water bottles in the drying room, I only put them down for a few minutes whilst putting my shoes and other bits of hand washing in there to dry. The drying tent was lovely and spacious with loads of room to get stuff dry and amazingly effective. My arm warmers were dry within half an hour. I found my water bottles at the info desk, a helpful person had picked them up and taken them there!  I also realised I’d lost one of my sports bras – in which round of laundry I had no idea. Thankfully I found it in lost property. It’s all these little things that start to go awry and are hard to keep on top of when you are so tired. But I did manage to give my bike a bit of a clean – just the moving parts, a rather pathetic scrub with an oily brush and a spray of bike cleaner. I had started making some awful gritty, grinding noises! Poor bike.

Dinner was beef chili, which is a staple in my house but Lou Lou’s was great, I can’t remember who I saw or who I sat with. Martin had sadly had to pull out of tomorrow’s stage due to being nearly hypothermic and sick on today’s ride. Sad for him. I remember texting Andy and saying – wow I’m in Scotland, I’m nearly there, it’s nearly over. Oh how wrong I was. The hard bit hadn’t even started yet!

Edinburgh basecamp

Finish time: 4:22 pm | Moving time: 7 hrs 32 | Elapsed time: 9 hrs 14 | Average Speed: 13.8mph

Jo’s Ride Across Britain – Part 1

Day 0: Exeter to Land’s End

Friday 6th September 2019

All the training I could do was done, hours and hours of it for 9 months. Like growing a baby. The nerves had been building for the last few weeks. The day had finally arrived!

I’m ready!

Andy dropped me off at Exeter airport to meet the coach to Land’s End. I found a Canadian lady to chat to. No sign of any other Rabbers. The coach appeared and I heaved my bag over to it, then lots of other people appeared from the cafe and cars.

The coach was very full. I sat in the first space I could find next to a guy who had done RAB once (or twice) before. I thought it would be like one happy family but everyone was fairly quiet and reserved. All feeling nervous I guess We set off and then almost immediately stopped for half an hour at Exeter services! I went to the loo and ate some of my lunch and chatted to Anthony from Bristol who I had met on a training ride over the summer. 

We finally hit the road. I tried to switch off from the guy next to me and closed my eyes. It started raining.

We arrived in Land End at 2pm, suddenly there was the basecamp before us! So exciting! A Threshold crew guy got on the coach and told us what to do on disembarking. I got my bag, then put it down again and joined the wrong queue! Then I went into the marquee and joined the right queue for registration: Wristbands, ID stickers, water bottles and laundry net were given out. Then I joined the queue for tent allocation. Got chatting to a guy who recognised me from the facebook group, then I saw Liza and chatted to her. It was cool and breezy and spitting with rain.

Off to my tent with my giant bag, declining the offer of someone to carry it for me – silly! I was in the far field, quite a walk away. I set up my bed and got my cycling things ready for the next day. Filled up my water bottles and went to find my bike, Pumped up my tyres, attached all the bits and needed attaching and checked it was all ok.

Then I went to the marquee for a cup of tea (the only time I used my collapsible cup) and found lots of other familiar faces – the South West rabbers! Amazing to find I know so many people. It was great. Dinner next, lovely food, i had chicken in mushroom sauce and a plate of lovely salads. Then a few of us wandered down to the Lands End sign for photos. The rain and clouds had cleared away and it was a lovely evening with the evening sun going down over the sea. All very evocative and moody and very, very exciting!

Then it was back to the marquee for the all important welcome and rider briefing.  There was a real buzz in the tent. It was great to hear about how everything would work during our time on RAB, at the basecamps and pit stops. 

Then it was time for bed. I faffed about with all my stuff for a while then settled down to sleep. It was the first time I heard coughing man. Who was also sleeping in the green zone. 

Rider Briefing

Day 1: Land’s End to Okehampton

Saturday 7th September | Miles: 105 | Elevation: 9,022 ft | Start time: 6:51 am

Land’s End basecamp

One loo visit in the night, the stars were amazing and you could hear the sea.  In the morning I got my cycling gear on and half packed up then headed for breakfast, Had a bacon and egg bap with some tomato in it. Then grabbed a banana and made a peanut butter sandwich for the road. After breakfast I went back to the tent to finish packing. Then heaved my bag to the luggage lorries, hoping I had remembered  to take everything out that i needed. One more visit to the loo and off to get my bike! . Everyone was rushing around, even saw someone running. They won’t keep that up for long!!

The weather was pretty mild and there was a little bit of a breeze, it was just getting light. The SW guys were planning to meet to set off at 7 but I wanted a bit more time, so joined the queue a bit earlier. Standing in the queue I felt really nervous, this was it! And then I was off, out onto the roads.  I was expecting the first few miles to be really busy and manic with other riders but it was really quiet and peaceful. The sun was slowly coming up. It was a nice time to reflect on all that was ahead.  

A few riders went past and I went past a few then we were in Penzance.  I stopped at St Michael’s Mount for a photo. Saw a lady from Instagram who’s husband is riding and Penny from Southampton, who I had met on the London Revolution and the Canadian lady from the airport. I ate my banana, took off my jacket and set off again.  More people around now. Got chatting to a lady from Singapore for a while – who was the mum of what became known as ‘pit stop baby’ Her husband and baby were at every single pit stop. She was often crying! 

Cornwall was nice, familiar kinds of roads, lots of little lanes, a bit lumpy but nothing awful. Pit stop 1 was up a really steep hill, and very busy when I got there. Lots of queues for everything. Got a plaster for my finger which I cut at work on Thursday. Saw Martin and Liza, ate a nasty cold cheesy pasty (must make some better food choices) and carried on.  There were lots more ups and downs, familiar place-names going by. Turo was shortly after the pit stop, there was a nice view down to the cathedral as we came into the city. All the sudden city traffic was a bit of a shock. There was a long climb out of the city. I got indignant about some ladies getting pushed up the hill – on reflection what did it matter? There was a lot of hard cycling to come. 

We went past Lanhydrock National Trust house and down some nice descents and up more steep climbs.  I chatted to various people en route. Pit stop 2 was again at the top of a steep hill. It was a nice place with log cabins and a big lawn. The sun was out and it was really warm now. Everyone was sitting around enjoying the sunshine. There was a really long queue for water , so I grabbed my food and ate my sandwich in the queue. Trying to get into time- saving habits for the pit stops.

After this is when the hills really started. We climbed and climbed and eventually found ourselves on Bodmin moor at Minions. Lots of people stopped to take photos of the Minions sign. I carried on. I saw a few people hiding out in a cafe having a cream tea.   There were lots of steep descents now, tricky twisty turny ones. My shoulders were starting to seize up. 

Eventually we got to Launceston, so I knew Devon wasn’t far away. There were loads of people stopping on the side of the road now, obviously getting tired. I was mostly cycling alone.  Then the Devon sign! I stopped for a photo in the undergrowth by the side of the road. The next 20 miles got really hard. I started running out of energy, getting that over hungry feeling which means I’m nearly empty. I ate half a kendal mint cake bar which helped.  The road from Lauceston to Okehampton just went on and on. Long draggy stretches of main road and lots of long hills. I thought it would never end.  

I finally got to basecamp at 4:30pm and there were Andy and the kids! Great to see them and show them around. I racked my bike and we went to the marquee and I had a cuppa and some bread and jam and chatted to them all. . Then we went and found my tent – Thom carried my bag. Ellen tried and failed! Then after they all had a look at my tent, they headed off home , it was weird saying goodbye.I wouldn’t see them again until after all this was over.  I went for a shower and dinner (beef bourguignon and rice) and caught up with how everyone else had got on.

Finish time: 4:20pm | Moving time: 8 hrs 17 | Elapsed time: 9 hrs 28 | Average Speed: 12.7mph

Day 2: Okehampton to Bath

Sunday 8th September | Miles: 110 | Elevation: 7,267 ft | Start time: 7.10am

Dawn at Okehampton basecamp

I went straight to the Camper coffee van at 5:30 before breakfast. I was in my BGE top today and as I was cycling through the home patch, I sent a photo to the club page. There was an amazing sunrise over the camp, we were right by the moors, so quite a lovely setting. Again I decided to get ready in my own time and was at the start nice and early. It was a very chilly morning. There was a bit of a long wait to get going, then a freezing decent down into Okehampton – my fingers were throbbing. No huge problem though as we were straight up a hill on the other side, which warmed me back up again. 

There were main roads all the way to Bow, nice undulating fast road. Then twiddling through the lanes from bow to Crediton. Strange to be on the familiar roads with so many people. It was a beautiful morning and the views were lovely. Early morning mist and sunshine.  The Cadbury road was as unforgiving as ever, but I think knowing all the ups and downs was good. I soon got to Bickleigh and there was Liz! All ready to set off but I told her to wait so I could eat the peanut butter sandwich I brought with me from breakfast. 

It was a nice familiar ride up to Bampton where PS1 was (up another nasty hill!). I said goodbye to Liz and headed up the gravelly path to a nice sunny field. The day was warming up now.  I had food and said hello to Sarah and Sam. 

On my way again, just outside Bampton I found Liz waiting for me, she decided to come to Wiveliscome. So we carried on together, chatting away. I also rode with Penny for a bit and we talked about our bikes, which are the same!  I said goodbye to Liz again in Wiveliscombe, then along a nice fast flat main road section that I really like. This is where we turned off the familiar roads towards Bishops Lydeard – Up a really nasty sharp hill! It was country lanes now until Bishops Lydeard and then the dreaded Cothlestone – it wasn’t nice. A bit like Chineway hill near Ottery but more broken up. It was an effort but I got up it. There were lots of people cheering with cowbells and flags and the top. I carried on rather than stopping and we were rewarded with some nice descents to Bridgewater (and a few ups too) and our first view of the Bristol Channel. First sight of the way we would be heading from Bath tomorrow.  The next feed stop appeared on the Somerset Levels, still sunny I sat on the grass with Andy E and Martin and I had my first pot of muller rice of the trip and an amazing salted caramel brownie from a visiting bakery, I saved half for later in the day.

Then onto Cheddar gorge. A climb I had done on on my first 100 mile training ride back in March. It was heaving with cars and people and cyclists.  I waited in traffic for ages with some other cyclists (no PR today then!). It’s a nice climb, just a few sharp steep bends to get your teeth into as you go up and then it flattens out to a much more gradual hill.. One of the chaperones came along side, so I rode with him to the top. Then I went the wrong way at a junction and he came chasing after me – embarrassing!  The final leg to Bath, with longish climb along a busy A-road and then into the City. 

The basecamp was spread across several buildings on the Uni campus. I got my bearings eventually but it was quite a walk between everything. Having a room was so amazing though – A bed with a duvet and a pillow case. I unpacked all over the place and had a lovely shower. So nice to have everything in one place. I was really sunburnt from the warm weather of the first few days. The first time I’ve looked in a mirror since leaving home.  I dropped off my laundry and went to book in my massage – a long walk to the massage place! Then another long walk to dinner where I found Andy E. I had a speedy dinner of chicken tagine (not Lou Lou’s catering but quite nice) then headed back to have my massage. It was good but really not long enough. 

Then back to the dinner hall for some pudding,. I chatted to Martin, Andy, and Nick.  The evening briefing was in a big sports hall with seating. I soon realised it was going to go on for a very long time. Two ex-Olympic athletes with the guy from deloitte running a  Q and A session. YAWN! Very dull (lots of people started leaving before the end) but I’m glad I stayed because I we did see loads of riders – including Thor get their golden jerseys for completing 3 or more RAB’s. 

The forecast for the next day was looking rubbish, and getting out of Bath during Monday morning rush hour in the rain wasn’t going to be very fun. Oh and we had an earlier start of 6am to try and avoid the worst of the traffic. I was feeling a bit stressed and apprehensive going to bed. This was uncharted territory, my third 100 miler in a row, the most I have ever cycled.

Finish time: 4:55pm | Moving time: 8 hrs 16 | Elapsed time: 9 hrs 37 | Average Speed: 13.3 mph

Day 3: Bath to Ludlow

Monday 9th September | Miles: 99 | Elevation: 6,149 ft | Start time: 6:31am

The comfy bed didn’t deliver the promised good sleep, very disappointing. Too hot and restless. At least it was only a few short steps to the loo. I got dressed and headed to breakfast, it was already spotting with rain. The food hall was busy with long queues. I wasn’t feeling very chipper. Everyone else seemed really happy. I didn’t even have my the usual egg and bacon bap! . But there was coffee – I had two! Thankfully Nick across the table was as grumpy as me! What I like about the rab was you were never very far from someone you know. Breakfast eaten I went to queue for my laundry in the rain. I just about managed to catch the bag before the guy put it down on the soaking wet table – that would have been a bag of damp laundry. Actually most of it was still pretty damp! Starting not to care by this point.

I finished packing and lugged my huge bag down three flights of stairs and miles to the baggage lorry. I spent a while trying to find my bike, despite making a mental  note of where I left it. this is becoming part of the usual routine, 10 minutes searching for my bike each morning.

It was raining quite hard now and I set off – it was still dark. Down some steep hills from the uni, which in the rain and dark wasn’t very nice, then up out of Bath. I stopped to take a photo of the view over the city. Then along a random gravelly cycle path. Then came the climb people had been talking about. Narrowish road out through some houses and it went up and up. There were so many cyclists and so many cars trying to get by. All you could do was sit and plod behind the person in front of you. The rain seemed to stop fairly quickly, I hoped that was it for the day.

We then wound our way along country roads, some quiet, some commuter routes. Past an M4 junction that was gridlock.  Eventually we reached the Severn Bridge. This felt like the point I was leaving the familiar territory of the south west and getting further from home. I stopped for a photo but it was very grey. Couldn’t manage a selfie with wet gloves on, so asked another rider. 

I got chatting to a few other riders as I crossed the bridge. It was looking very grey and rainy over in Wales. A lot of people seemed to get punctures on the bridge. We then twiddled our way along some cycle paths alongside busy roads, then eventually onto some open roads. Then it started raining again. I passed Sarah and Sam and one point, didn’t realise it was them until we reached a junction. So I rode with them for a bit. We all needed the loo (two coffees!) so we found a village shop with a kind lady who let us use the staff one. I wanted to eat something so I told Sarah and Sam to go on, it was only about 10 miles to PS1 in Chepstow.  

The pit stop was in a car park was wet and cold, there was a gazebo to huddle in and a bit of shelter from some trees. I got a coffee and chatted to Doris who lost her Garmin over the edge of the severn bridge. Andy sent me a photo of the cat, which made me feel home sick. I reluctantly set off again. Over a beautiful iron bridge in chepstow with amazing views of the river and castle behind us.  Then it was a long slow slog up a hill, which seemed to go on forever. 

The Wye Valley should be beautiful but it was just wet and cold. I tired to keep moving at a good speed to keep warm.  I decided to pull off the road on a corner to eat my banana. There were two cyclists in the layby further up, so I pulled off the road slightly earlier than I wanted to and into a pile of gravel. The bike slipped out from under me and I landed in a wet, gravelly, muddy heap and a bit shocked at my sudden meeting with the ground. 

I got straight up. Feeling the hurt spreading through my body. I could see a graze on my leg below my knee warmers and my other knee and elbow were throbbing. Nothing seemed to be broken on me or the bike. The other cyclists were Chiniese and made no move to come and see if I was ok. They moved off, I hobbled to the hedge, hoping someone would stop and give me some sympathy. My bike looked ok.  Nothing hanging off. I ate my banana and then checked my gears were ok. Then Sarah and Sam came by and asked if I was ok. They stopped and I rode along with them for a while at a nice easy pace. It was nice to have the company. Apart from feeling a little shaken, I was fine and the bike seemed fine, which was amazing – it could have been much worse. It might have been ride-over.

Sarah and Sam stopped in Ross on Wye for a loo break, I said I would carry on to PS2,  as I wanted to get my bike checked by the mechanics. We went from main roads to tiny potholed gravelly lanes. This wasn’t much fun in the wet and there were some nasty steep climbs. This would all be very pretty on a nice day with dry roads.  Eventually made it to the PS2, which was in a beautiful village location. Again hard to appreciate in the wet. I left my bike with the mechanics and went off to get some food. Not a place to stop for long. It was freezing standing still, soaked to the skin in the rain. My bike was fine so I got going again.  

The rest of the day just felt like head down keep pedalling. I can’t remember much, apart from passing coughing man who was next to my tent at Land’s End.  I said hello and mentioned that he sounded quite rough, he said he was really poorly and wondering if he would make it to the end of the day.

At some point the rain started easing,  when I got to Ludlow I remember it being fairly dry,  or maybe I had just got used to the rain! The basecamp was quite a way out of Ludlow at the racecourse. I passed a high school at kicking out time and suddenly remembered I have a family and kids who would be doing the same. It felt like another world, another life. I seemed to have got to basecamp pretty early, which was great.  Today was the day when I started getting some new aches and pains. My right knee was feeling really painful when it was in the free wheeling positing and my left Achilles had started hurting when pedalling. Not a good sign. I was quite anxious at this stage as to how much more painful things would get – in all areas!!

At the finish was the famous cheese truck I had heard so much about. I ignored the bike wash area and went straight in for cheese!  It was amazing, I wish I’d stayed for more, but I was so cold and wet. Ludlow camp was lovely. All the food was inside which was nice as it was very warm and cosy. I had a great tent right next to the loos and showers.  I grabbed my shower stuff, had a lovely shower and got warm and dry. Then off to get my tent set up. I spent ages blowing up my bed to find the plug wasn’t in the other end! Starting to hate the tent and all the packing and unpacking and my damp pillowcase and sleeping bag. I seem to suffer from a lot of condensation, inside and outside my sleeping bag. My knees are really not enjoying being knelt on in the tent doing all rummaging through bags.  I then went off to find the drying room. This was inside one of the racecourse buildings, a dark damp room with some heaters in. Nothing was ever going to dry in here! I put my shoes against the wall and hung up my jacket and over shoes. The rest went into a bin bag to fester for a few days! 

I wandered over to the massage and charging room to do those two jobs, saying hello to a few people on my way. Then I went to hunker down in the food hall and got a cup of tea, I messaged the SW rabbers to see who else was around.  I was still there as dinner was starting to be served – Chicken and mushroom pie – heaven!! After dinner I went off to stuff some paper towels into my shoes. There was a lady in the loo drying her shoes with the hand drier! Clever!  The drying room was carnage by now. It was like something out of a horror film. I checked my jacket and over shoes hadn’t been knocked off or were not under someone else’s dripping things. It was hard to find them! Ducking past people’s wet dirty bib shorts was absolutely disgusting! 

Chatting to the others over dinner I conceded that some company tomorrow would be good. It had been a long lonely slog today, so I agreed to meet them all at 7 the next day to set off together. 

I went to get my stuff from the charging room. My plan was always to get my stuff charged up before bed each night, so I didn’t have to remember to collect it in the morning. There’s a lot ot charge:, lights, garmin and the battery pack that I charge my phone up with in the tent at night and another battery pack for my Di2 bike gears. It all started off very organised but as the week wore on, I’d forget to charge the battery pack or leave things in the tent. It all gets a bit hard to remember.  After the rider briefing I went to the tent to try and get some sleep. My tent being on the end of the row I was subject to a lot of people’s late night phone chats to home.

Finish time: 3:45pm | Moving time: 7 hrs 50 | Elapsed time: 9hrs 13 | Average Speed: 12.6 mph

The tents at Ludlow racecourse