I can see the flag

An entry level runner on an entry level bike…


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LEBlog

*Health warning – Long blog ahead.

About 18 months ago JB and I decided to LEJOG. Neither of us will take responsibility for the idea but I can blame JB for roping in Twinkletoes and The Prof. I think in turn, The Real Jim can blame TToes 😳.

We went through all the options from self-supported to husbands-in-vans to a Proper Tour, eventually settling on Peak Tours to make it happen; turns out this was one of our better decisions!

JB and I live near each other and so trained together. We built up our miles from April and rode at least 50 miles each Saturday and Sunday with three or four week day rides of 20 or 30 miles. Our plan was called 1BHER, or One Big Hill Every Ride.

Fast forward to August and the hottest weekend of the year. My husband deposited us with our bikes, our kit, our anxieties and a pasty to keep us going till tea, at the YHA in St Just, deepest darkest Cornwall for Day 0. The YHA didn’t open till 5 so we logged some final panic training to the sea-side before meeting Peak Tours Matt who showed us to our room – a perk of being early was that we’d blagged the bottom bunks!6bb283c7-b0aa-4575-86e7-8eb33f965352
We stabled our bikes and then walked to St Just to meet the group, have dinner and most importantly- get our Peak Tours LEJOG jerseys.  Over dinner we got a feel for the group, and more importantly for me, the volume of the group. We were singled out early on by The Hurricane as ‘The Quiet Corner’, a status we only managed to confirm by legging it as soon as pudding was eaten, back to the YHA and our books and a nicecuppacocoa. There are a hundred spin-off blogs to be written about the characters in the group, suffice to say, my opinion on group ‘holidays’ hasn’t changed and at times JB had to take my punching stick and put it in a safe place 😉

Day 1: Lands End > Fowey

Each day started with morning briefing and The All Important Numbers.  These were: miles, brew stops and lunch stop! So: the numbers for day 1: 65 miles, 4500′ of climbing.

Following the expected twatting around at Lands End getting that photo…
f54f1016-0d2a-45e2-a0a4-c7692dcc4a24we set off as a group of 24 to our first Brew Stop which was 12 miles away in Marazion.  I see now that Peak Tours were breaking us in gently… The Brew Stops deserve capital letters. They were nothing short of perfect. Sweets, dried fruit, actual fruit (watermelon, pineapple, melon, apples, banananananas), biscuits, caramel wafers, crisps, tea, coffee, squash… Except – oh. They don’t have coke. I asked Peak Tours Matt if I could get some coke and put it in the Brew Van and was told not to be daft, they’d get us some. “Hmmm, bet they forget” I said to JB.

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Cornwall was hot but stunning. Our route was programmed into our Garmins and was easy to follow. Taking us inland a bit until the lunch stop at Perranwell, following which we dropped down and caught the King Harry Ferry across the River Fal and UP the other side. We were then taken an uppydowny route to St Austell and our second Brew Stop. And whaddayaknow. There was coke. And it was poured into a Peak Tours mug and waiting for me. That’s a service. 😃

Final push and a nasty little climb before the last decent into Fowey where we followed the simple instructions to our hotel for the night where we were delighted to find our room had a sea view!

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Our evening routine began – charge everything, wash kit, hang kit to dry in windows and on chairs and on hangers and on anything else you can find, go eat tea, upload photos, eat biscuits, sleep. We didn’t even have the energy to fight over who got the big bed.

Day 2: Fowey > Mortonhampstead.

The numbers: 63 miles and 5800′ climbing

This was billed as one of the tough days, so you can imagine how happy we were that it was really hot by 8:30 when we had briefing. 🙄

The route started with a ferry crossing across the River Fowey and another on the Cremyll Ferry following our lunch stop at a pub next to the Cremyll Ferry stop.

Day 2 FerrysOur Brew Stops were in [the other] Seaton and on the top of Dartmoor.  Following another uppydowny morning and a frantic ride through Plymouth, masterfully navigated by The Prof, we were spat out onto the Plym Valley Trail which we followed until we were spat out onto the Moor proper. We learnt a valuable lesson that day, which was to Pay Attention to briefing and The Numbers 🤔. Nearing the top of the climb onto the moor we couldn’t remember when Brew Stop was; and needed it to be soon! As we passed Aussie Jim walking his bike up the hill, I decided we must have ridden past the Brew Van and spotting a shady spot with my name on we stopped. Raiding the emergency bar bag for a bar, a sit down in the shade and some more photos we felt ready for the final push to Mortonhampstead.

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Then…

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We hadn’t missed the van after all – another mile and there it was! Refuelled (again) we rolled into Mortonhampstead and completed our evening routine; despite our quirky B&B’s best attempts to break us 😳.

Day 3: Mortonhampstead > Street

The numbers: 70 miles and 3800′ of climbing.

A day that promised a flat finish if you could only get over the Blackdown Hills.  Well, JB & I knew we could get over the Blackdown Hills cos we’ve done it in training. The fly in the ointment was that I will only go up there if there’s a promise of a stop at the Aviator Cafe for a bacon bap.  There was no such promise today.

It was good and bad to be on familiar turf – the ride down off the moor was exactly as you’d expect – hot and uppydowny – but it was good to know our way across Exeter and to be confident about where the cycle lanes and paths were. First Brew was at Broadclyst and then out towards lunch at Broadhembury before the climb up onto the Blackdowns.  A surprising number of the group were anxious about the climb, after all, it wasn’t the worst we’d faced or would face. I hate it up on those hills, the roads just seem to go onandonandonandonandon and they mess with my head and make me feel more tired than I actually am, so I was glad when we eventually dropped down near Staple Fitzpaine and headed along the final stretch towards Street. Luckily for us, The Prof had punctured earlier and we were at the last Brew Stop together with him and TToes. Without waiting for an invitation, we slotted like little ducklings in behind Prof and TToes and wheelsucked shamelessly for the last 15 miles or so!

That evening we were so tired, we didn’t make it out of the hotel that evening, except for a trip to the fish and chip shop…img_6932

Day 4: Street > Monmouth

The numbers: 66 miles and 3700′ of climbing

Finally turning North, we were taken via Wells and right past the Cathedral.

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I think it was this day that we dropped a really subtle [ahem] hint that a mint tea would be nice at Brew Stop and whaddayaknow – those boys are legends 😍.

I wasn’t looking forward to riding through Bristol, but the Peak Tours route master played a blinder, taking us through the Ashton Court Estate (where the Balloon Festival is held), over the Severn and carefully and quietly around the outskirts where the traffic was hardly noticeable.  What was noticeable though, was that we were approaching Wales. This was noticeable because we were Wet. A mizzle that turned into rain was in for the day.

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Crossing that Severn Bridge into Wales felt like a milestone; I said to The Hurricane and JB “we’ve only gone and ridden our bikes to Wales”.  But disappointingly, there was no “Welcome to Wales’ Sign’.

Day 4 bridge 2The final section to Monmouth was a slog passing Chepstow and stopping in Tintern Abbey for afternoon Brew; long boring roads with nothing to really make it feel like we were in a different country: the sun had even come back out.

We were all staying in the Weatherspoons in Monmouth and finding our room in the maze of a building caused us more navigational issues than the entire ride had so far! Happily though, we found our way to the restaurant and I had a scampi and chips to celebrate.

Day 5: Monmouth > Clun.

The numbers: 58 miles and 3600′ of climbing

Billed as one of the easier days, I can remember virtually nothing of this day’s riding.  Except the slight of hand when from nowhere, at the Brew Stop, The Hurricane produced a selfie stick and probably the funniest day of my life.Selfie

What I can remember is Clun.  And having to beat Bendy and Wendy (our roomies on YHA days) to Clun so that we didn’t have to have the top bunks. Clun is beautiful and would be a great place to pass through. The YHA… I’m ok with basic, I really am. JB picked up a little friend who bit her on the leg, the beds… well, they were on the floor… It’s run by nutters generous and well meaning volunteers and I was happy to leave. We did manage to get our kit washed but even now, I can still smell the Clun Smell a bit… The Hurricane had to contend Clun and Presta, his roomie, who had the grace of an elephant, ate like every meal was his last and wasn’t keen on soap.

Rescued at dinner from a spider with tattoos and boots by Peak Tours Simon – there really was no end to the service they provided – the rest of our stay passed without incident or comfort.

Day 6: Clun > Northwich

The numbers: 83 miles and 4800′ of climbing

This was our longest day so far and I really remember very little of it! The Hurricane had taken to riding with us and provided some very welcome hilarity, much of it from his complete ineptitude with his selfie stick.

The Hurricane had formed some opinions of our little breakaway and decided that we were safe. No, wait: he decided that we were gossips and was happy to discuss all the little nuances and quirks that he had noticed within the group. We decided that we could be in an Agatha Christie book and placed bets on who was going to murder Fanny Poser (the smart money was on her long suffering husband, The Doctor).

The only things I can remember about Northwich was our room which had a round window and it was really tricky to get our kit hung up to dry; but best of all it had biscuits from Roof and a message from home. On a day when we had ridden through the Other Tiverton, this was a most welcome and lovely surprise.

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We got soaked on day 6 and panicked a bit lot about the lack of wet weather kit we had.

Day 7: Northwich > Condor Green

The numbers: 75 miles and 3500′ of climbing

Also known as the day of the Shopping.

I can’t remember much of this ride either.  What I can remember is that in a state of mild panic about being poorly equipped for any conditions except summer, we sought out Peak Tours Matt. In true Peak Tours stylee he gently put us back in our boxes and promised to go to a Halfords and see if he could and find shoe covers and gloves with fingers. It all seemed a bit tentative to us, and on spying a Sports Direct we detoured in search of base layers and long bottoms. We left The Hurricane obediently outside holding the bags bikes. Purchases made, we deposited our wares at the next Brew Stop where Peak Tours Matt presented us with shoe covers and long fingered gloves. He nearly, nearly got a hug.

Condor Green was flat and smelled like the seaside. We had a room above a pub, and so deciding where to go for tea was easy. Except JB wasn’t feeling well. She went to sleep at 6 and woke up the next day much better.

hotelIt’s fair to say we hadn’t had the best sleeps, and aches and pains were becoming harder to manage. I couldn’t remember when my lower back started hurting, but it showed no signs of stopping, my hands had no feeling where they joined onto my wrists rendering my thumbs next to useless, and the next thing to go on the shopping list was anti-friction cream for reasons I shan’t detail.

Day 8: Condor Green to Penrith

The numbers: 61 miles and 4000′ of climbing

While JB slept the previous evening, I’d been let loose on Facebook and made contact with V’rap and eL Bee! who live nearby where we were. Wherever that was.

They’d been following our progress and were coming to meet us at first brew. They were there as promised, and it was so good to see them! It gave us a lift – familiar smiling faces were exactly what the trip had needed.

P1040431Tentative arrangements were made for eL Bee! to come and ride with us to Gretna the next day. He was looking forward to riding his ‘half-bike’ for a change, his normal steed being a custom tandem which he and V’rap ride at a hellovapace.

Lunch was at Tebay (no, not that Tebay, but in a pub in the village nearby). The Hurricane had become an almost permanent fixture in our little group. He’s great company and very naughty.

After lunch there was a sign of things to come with the first meaty climb we’d had since leaving the South West. It wasn’t so bad.

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That evening my husband, son and inlaws met us in the worst rain shower we’d seen. They took us out and fed us, brought us biscuits and fleeces, and put up with our mono-sylabic answers as we fell asleep in our dinners!

Day 9: Penrith > Moffat

The numbers: 72 miles and 2500′ of climbing

We met eL Bee! as promised at first Brew Stop at around 20 miles and he escorted us (read: gave us a wheel to sit behind) for the next 20 and our lunch stop at Gretna Green. He was a great sport and very patient with all our inane questions “where are we again?” “where are we now?” “what about now, where are we now?”

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He departed after lunch and rounded up his trip to 100 miles, just because.

We, on the on the other hand, went to Scotland.

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What I remember about Moffat is not being able to get to sleep because of laughing. At The Hurricane. And these photos (which I’m aware is not actually funny at all, unless you *know*).

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(And, I am still laughing at it, tell you the truth).

Day 10: Moffat > Kinross

The numbers: 82 miles and 4000′ of climbing.

The first half of the day was fairly uneventful, except we had our first (Irn) Bru Stop!

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I was really looking forward to riding over the Forth, I love those bridges! Before we got to do that though, we hadta get through Edinburgh. Before that though, and in the outskirts of Edinburgh, we hadta fix JB’s puncture. Which we couldn’t because of our hands and thumbs which no longer worked. Luckily for us, Peak Tours Simon happened along as the day’s sweeper, and with his working thumbs he helped us get the tyre back on and sent us on our way. Half a mile later we repeated the process.

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We stuck with Peak Tours Simon through Edinburgh, and on reflection the punctures were the best thing to have happened as we ended up with our own personal escort through the city. With barely a wrong turn we caught a big chunk of the group on the Forth bridge, hanging around taking photies. Naturally we rode straight past to take our own.

bridgeQuick brew stop on the other side and off to what we were now calling f%@Kinross; memorable only for The Hurricane trying to share Presta’s food with us, without Presta’s agreement; and for the Corby Trouser Press in our room being used to dry our wet kit! They need to review the 30 minute timers on those things, it’s really not long enough.

Day 11: Kinross > Ballater

The numbers: 82 miles and 4400′ of climbing

It felt like we were finally, properly in Scotland. The lowlands gave way to the Cairngorms and huge views that you struggled to take in.

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With this came climbing but nothing unmanageable. We knew day 11 & 12 were the tough ones, it said so on our route notes, so were prepared with equal amounts of dread and fear.

Reviewing Strava in our pristine hostel later, we realised that we’d climbed number 65: The Cairnwell, of the Official 100 Climbs. And actually, it was ok! Maybe tomorrow we’d survive The Lecht too? The decent was amazing, not like Devon where you get thrown to the bottom of the hill before you know it – the roads were long and open so visibility was brilliant with no hedges for cars to hide behind and not so steep you hadta get on your brakes – I managed a respectable 47 mph.

cairngorms.jpgBallater Hostel is geared up for cyclists and is a great hostel.  We didn’t even need to beat Bendy and Wendy (although we did) as there were actual beds for us all, no need to fight for the bottom bunks! We had a curry for tea, and it was amazing to have actual vegetables and not pub grub for a change.

Day 12: Ballater > Inverness

The numbers: 74 miles and 5100′ of climbing

Via The Lecht Pass – the Guardian puts it in the top 10 of climbs (it’s number 66 in the Official 100). I’ve driven this – I knew what was coming and had been careful not to say; but early on I gave myself permission to walk/crawl/cry. I know my limits.

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At the top JB was waiting with the camera – Shani was waving and yelling that we hadta cross the cattle grid to finish the segment. I couldn’t have cared less about the segment – I’d ridden the thing! It’d been on my mind ever since we’d received the route notes weeks before. The relief was massive. After photos JB and I pottered over the grid and finished the segment before I went at the Brew Stop goodies like I’d not eaten for days!

lecht.jpgWe weren’t out of the woods but the scenery made up for the undulations. I love Scotland (well, being Scottish, I should, right?) because of places like the Cairngorms and the Highlands to come.

We picked up the cycle path that ran close to the A9 and some of the old A9 which was virtually deserted. Then it hailed. Which of course was the perfect time for JB to get a puncture. Fanny Poser and The Doctor were just behind us and Fanny was able, with a worrying amount of strength, to wrestle JB’s reluctant tyre back on it’s rim.

With the promise of The Best Porridge in Scotland for brekkie (it was good, but the best? Nah, me mum makes the best porridge, everyone knows that), I went mad and had a pizza for tea! It was amazing, as were the cheese dreams that followed.

Day 13: Inverness to Crask [Altnaharra]

The numbers: 77 miles and 3300′ of climbing

Peak Tours Dave said “you’ll know you’re at Crask because there’s something there”. He also said “we’re putting you Devon lot in Altnaharra to keep you together”. I’m pretty sure I know what he meant by that

This was my favourite day. Once we were out of Inverness and into the Highland’s proper it was just as I’d hoped. Single track roads, a tail wind and just too much scenery to see with one pair of eyes.  So much so that I demanded a stop, just to sit and take it all in for a moment. In fact – here’s photos, they’re much better than words.

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views23jpg.jpgIt was really good to be with just JB, TToes, Prof and TheRealJim. We had a right laugh and basically a house to ourselves as the landlady only came in to give us our venison for tea! I think we’d won favour with Peak Tours as we had Tunnocks Tea Cakes on our pillows and a much more pleasant evening than those who stayed at The Crask. The Hurricane was struggling to be positive the next morning…

Day 14: Altnaharra > JOG

The numbers: 74 miles and 3600′ of climbing

The final day. I let myself think that we might actually finish this bike ride! The wind was really strong and in our favour – 40mph tailwinds were reported. I couldn’t wait to see the sea.

We pottered slowly towards the first brew, we had a 9 mile head start on everyone else a they’d stayed at The Crask, so we soaked it up taking photos and enjoying the easy riding and views.

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Then I saw the sea.

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I could have stopped there. It felt like that should be the end. Instead we had an uppydowny ride along the top of Scotland, with alternating stunning coastal views and some inland bleak towns.

Peak Tours regrouped us after the final brew stop at a hotel so that we would all ride the final 10 miles to JOG together. Yeah, right. With MDCC there that wasn’t going to happen. 10 miles? That’s a TT right?

Prof, TheRealJim, The Other Annie Foot and Peak Tours Matt streaked off into the distance with Bendy trailing just off the back.

TToes, JB and I started slightly more sedately, but I noticed the pace gradually increasing until we were flat out. Well I was flat out, JB had a bit more and TToes was spinning gently and smiling serenely. In the distance Bendy had dropped off the back of the first group and that was all it took. The pace increased and we held 28mph for a bit, swooped past Bendy, offering her to get on the back (she couldn’t) and when we crested the final rise we saw Prof who had dropped back to scoop us up – he got on the back and we barely dropped the pace. About 9 miles along I was blown! TToes and JB were relentless but Prof got in front of me and towed me the last mile. It was brilliant – we couldn’t help grinning – JB said “fancy still having that in our legs after riding 1010 miles!”

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The final roll into JOG was a bit of an anti-climax. Much like LE it was swarming with people needing a photo by The Sign.

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I’m a bit of a wuss and was expecting to be a bit emotional on arriving in JOG, however it was the highlands that got me. Somewhere like that can make you feel very small and insignificant and to be there on my bike with my mate made the rest of the world seem a long long way away. In a good way.

Peak Tours were outstanding. They were around every corner with the Brew Van loaded with cake, sweets, biscuits, drinks, kind words, encouragement and technical help. Their support was without exception patient and subtle. They didn’t stop until the last ‘man’ was in and having dinner.

Now my bike’s clean again, my shorts and jerseys are washing machine clean (and Clun free) and I’ve been for a recovery ride I’ve had a bit of a chance to reflect on the ride. I’m finding it hard to see it as the achievement everyone says it is; at the moment it just feels like I’ve been out a bit further than usual on my bike – a bike boot camp if you like… I’m sure eventually it’ll sink in, probably around about the time I give Peak Tours my next deposit…

Final word goes to my bike. I’m entry level all the way and my GT Grade was totally up to the job – I wouldn’t have wanted to be on anything else.

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Day 1: LE > Fowey 
Day 2: Fowey > Mortonhampstead
Day 3: Mortonhampstead > Street
Day 4: Street > Monmouth
Day 5: Monmouth > Clun
Day 6: Clun > Northwich
Day 7: Northwich > Condor Green
Day 8: Condor Green to Penrith
Day 9: Penrith > Moffat
Day 10: Moffat > Kinross
Day 11: Kinross > Ballater
Day 12: Ballater > Inverness
Day 13: Inverness > Altnaharra
Day14: Altnaharra > JOG

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