Prologue: the onset of madness - End-to-end the downhill way - CycleBlaze

May 27, 2024

Prologue: the onset of madness

The British end-to-end, solo and unsupported

I was excited about early retirement, in just the way that a drowning man might be excited by a speedboat with free beer. But it needed a first challenge, an adventure. Once I'd discounted crossing Wales on a pogo stick, I was able to focus on Land's End to John O'Groats by bike as the next least obvious option. I hadn't really cycled anywhere at all for several years. So of course, it became an entirely natural choice, because challenges really ought to be challenging. Also, as I learned when first suggesting it out loud, it had the advantage of being ambitious enough to quickly wrong-foot all those annoying folk who kept saying "but what are you going to do once you retire?" - as if they thought the whole point of retirement was actually to keep working. 

The clincher, in the pogo stick v cycle dichotomy, was this. In researching a possible lejog-by-bike, I'd happened quite early upon two simple facts. One: the prevailing UK wind tends to be from the south west (allegedly). And two: Land's End is on top of a cliff, whereas JoG is reportedly at sea level. So if I approached this the right way, and my calculations were correct, the journey would be downhill, with a tailwind. Sounded like a compelling excuse for fourteen days of cake stops. What could be easier?

There was a certain point - I can't put my finger on it - when this went from a vague aspiration, to a clear plan. It certainly wasn't when I dusted off my decrepit old road bike, or when my first three training efforts on it ended with exploding inner tubes, as a result of perished tyres. But by Xmas I was on Komoot planning routes.  By January, a steady trickle of cycle kit was starting to arrive. By February, a Fairlight Strael steel touring bike was on order (because I was determined to do this cheaply (!!)). And in early 2024, fourteen unsuspecting pubs and b&b's were lined up on my account, having agreed to provide bed and copious breakfast. Along with, I assumed, first aid/ oxygen as necessary, health and safety legislation in the UK being what it is. All bookings refundable in the event of prior calamity.

By way of background: to be fair, I'd always thought of myself as being more than averagely fit... a couple of marathons a decade previously, a single isolated cycle sportive around the same time, and moderately regular gym visits even once duff knees had rendered most other cardio more difficult. I wasn't ready for lejog, but I had a passable fitness foundation. However, my lack of confidence in my mothballed, cheap road bike meant that I didn't fancy something falling off it in the middle of a fifty-mile trip, and being condemned to walk back, in cleats. So I registered for some bike maintenance courses, and I decided to crack on with training on a spin bike. Because it's good to be different. So throughout the rainy British winter - and spring, which is apparently different - I was regularly undertaking sweaty indoor rides of up to 3 hours, with various cardio challenges built in to try and increase my stamina for hills. That thing the experts suggest about training on the bike you'll use? Meh. If it's all downhill anyway, why get hung up with the details?

Fast forwarding to today, two weeks away from the start line, I think (read 'hope') the plan might just about work out. The new bike arrived five weeks back, and I've quickly gone from 30-40 mile runs, steadily up to a one hundred mile one. Being Devon-based, none of the rides were flat. And I could actually walk afterwards - although to be fair, I didn't really feel that I should have to.

The bike: an early tour to the seaside.
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Another random ride shot. Devon's lovely. But as all of us know, once you reach water level, the topography only goes in one direction (unless you're a submariner).
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Debbie Ironside-SmithThat will be Ted's view shortly as a trainee Submariner!!! :)
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3 weeks ago
Just to prove she also goes up hills. The wilds of Dartmoor. Looking at this now, it looks disappointingly flat. But as my Komoot ride planner tells me, Haytor was home to the 2019 hill climb championships, gaining 1100 feet over its 3.3 mile course. Personally, I think they rounded this down significantly.
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Towards Exmoor, if I recall. In all probability, it's likely that I simply stopped here for oxygen.
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So I'm now kind of committed. Whilst my accommodation is mostly refundable, the new bike certainly isn't. Nor are the ferries to Orkney, the multiple luggage bags I've bought, or the lycra wear that is likely to make people stop and laugh if I'm caught walking up any 3% gradients. Plus, I've told everyone. 

There's a good film which you might have seen called 'The Mercy', which comes to mind at this point. Based on a true story, it's about a round-the-world sailor for whom things go horribly wrong. Instead of giving up, he simply stays at sea and continues to send fictitious updates about his heroic progress. In that spirit, I'll be posting regular bulletins from my start date in two weeks, until I get back home two weeks later. The period in between might see me summiting the Cairngorms and arriving triumphant at the other end of the mainland. Or it might be that I simply ride in ever-decreasing circles around Penzance, where there are no midges and the pasties are definitely better. Let's see what the diary brings.

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Kelly IniguezI'm looking forward to following along. We need to see a photo of your bike, loaded up, and ready to go. You are allowed to be in the photo as long as you don't get in the way of the bike. :)
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1 month ago
Mike AylingTo Kelly IniguezYes, you have to be aware of the unwritten rules here!
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1 month ago
Mark BinghamI am SO looking forward to reading about this trip, not the least because of your writing skills.

Also: "I've quickly gone from 30-40 mile runs, steadily up to a one hundred mile one." What? Did you "retire early" at the age of 35? :-)
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1 month ago
Mark M.To Kelly IniguezAh, the bike. Yes, I'm trying to hook you in and keep you keen at this stage. Can't give you everything at once. 😉

Next journal entry is planned as a more detailed breakdown of kit and preparation. If you look carefully at the images with her in, you'll spot that she's already carrying three of the planned four luggage items. It's credit card touring, and I'm travelling light.

First pic of Raven and I (spoiler: that's her name) will be on day one at Land's End. I figure that if I pack everything beforehand to check it fits, it loses an element of suspense. At this stage, it remains possible that I'll be doing the journey whilst balancing a pair of espadrilles on my head. Which I think would be a new category for consideration in the record books.
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1 month ago
Mark M.To Mark BinghamThank you Mark, kind words. I started with shorter runs just to make sure I was happy with the bike and how my muscles would respond, but to be honest I guessed that I'd almost certainly trained enough for longer distances with my gym work. I did want to reach the hundred, just to give me more certainty about successive 70 mile days. Another helpful factor, as I've learned, is that long rides can reasonably be punctuated with a morning cake stop and a lunchtime break in the sun.

I retired a few days before my 52nd birthday. People still look bewildered when I answer the "what are you going to do?" question with "be retired." Part of me thinks it might be subconscious jealousy; I understand, and I forgive them. 😁
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1 month ago
Rich FrasierDownhill with a tailwind! My kind of cycling! Looking forward to following along.
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1 month ago