Day Five: Leighton to Boothstown

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Waking up in a misty country idyll, we set off towards the heart of industrial Lancashire. From Jez and Katie’s to Mum’s house, in other words.

80% of the ride was fantastic. I had no pain to speak of and started to get the sense that my body might be adapting to riding every day. The legs felt ready, or at least resigned, and to bit where they joined the rest of me felt pretty well moulded to the saddle.

In theory this was one of the easiest days of the trip. Long enough, at 82 miles, but with just a couple of climbs at the start and nothing but rolling countryside the rest of the way.

Jez and Tony were riding with us and seemed gleefully excited to be making the trip. Tony managed to maintain most of his smile through the various technical glitches his (let’s just say ‘twice as expensive as anyone else’s) bike threw in. Watching him tinker kept the rest of us smiling too.

The climbs were fine and soon done, after which the miles started to roll by. The terrain was forgiving enough to allow long conversations and catching up with two old friends was worth any effort the trip might have demanded.

Tea stop in Malpas. Can’t recall the name of the cafe but it had impressive collections of both ceramic snails and septuagenarian cyclists, this latter group seemed attracted to Tony’s carbon fibre Cannondale, succeding only in irritating him rather than making his gears work.

The stretch through Cheshire was the best 20 miles of the whole trip so far. It felt like we were flying along on a magic carpet, and brought me as close as I can remember to the pure pleasure of childhood riding, pedalling and pedalling and pedalling and just going and going and going. All great. Tom was enjoying himself too, as far as I could tell, although when we talked about this being the easiest day and I, pedalling harder to go faster,¬†said, “perhaps we shouldn’t be pushing it so much,” he replied, “are we?”

Lunch was an enormous picnic laid out by Mike and Shirley, my in-laws. It’s been one of the revelations of the trip the extent to which friends and family seem genuinely excited by what we’re doing. Mike’s been texting advice when we’ve taken wrong turns, watching our progress on Endomondo, and i’m surprised how much messages like those help. They managed to feed us well, encourage us, explain GPS technology and, along with everyone else who tried during the day, fail to fix Tony’s bike.

And from that point the day started to fall away from me. We said goodbye to Tony and Jez in Lymm and met my brother Stu, who had ridden out from work in Manchester to meet us in Irlam. The people who have come out to ride with us have been a really important part of the experience so far, so it was great to see Stu pulling up on his single-speed bike, keen to ride the only 5 miles of the trip that he could possibly get to. However, from the moment we set off I felt my energy really start to flag. As we got closer to Mum’s, Tom and Stu disappeared farther and farther into the distance, with Rob only held up by the terrible potholes in the unclaimed road over Astley Moss. I couldn’t believe it. A great day and now, riding through the streets where I grew up, I couldn’t find the energy to catch my brother and ride home with a smile on my face. It seemed as if the last 5 miles sucked both the strength from my legs and the joy from what had been a great day. I found it hard to recover and as the day ends i’m wondering again whether I have what’s needed to get to the end of the trip.

430 miles down.

Don’t forget, if you’d like to use our trip as an excuse to give to the Disasters Emergency Committee, you can here: http://www.justgiving.com/rob-lejog. What’s more, Environ UK will match the total donations.

Day Four: Ross-on-Wye to Leighton

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Best day of the ride so far. We set out in showers and within ten minutes of leaving Ross were drifting up and down alongside the river, beginning to climb alongside the Welsh Border. Having trailed this day as the one where we rode the length of Wales, we were only actually out of England a couple of times, which seems a shame when reviewing the map, until you look at how furrowed the contours get for the cyclist who drifts too far West.

It was beautiful. The sun came out, the countryside opened out before us and, of the first real stretch of time, we started to see landscapes and villages we weren’t at least passingly familiar with. At times it seemed as if houses from suburbia, complete with immaculate lawns and ornate fence posts, had been scattered randomly across empty countryside. Rather than moving through a succession of hamlets and villages, we just seemed to pass either houses or farms.

I’m not sure why I enjoyed today so much. On paper it was the shortest day, estimated at about 67 miles, but it took us a long time. Somehow the progress just seemed to happen at the right pace. It felt like we were really riding, the aches and pains were lifting, and we were going to be able to do this.

We had a couple of bracing climbs to make, which came up by surprise. At the top of the first Rob announced that nearby lay the highest golf course in England, prompting the obvious question: why couldn’t we ride by the lowest instead? We thought we’d done our work for the day but the second hill brought us a further 300ft higher than the first. Sometimes these hills seem almost pleasant to get up, other times they’re crippling. If I could work out why, perhaps this whole enterprise would be easier.

We had a great lunch in Bishop’s Castle, having been greeted by a cycling family who squealed, “Bet we’ve gone farther than you today!”. I don’t like to upset kids, but sometimes it’s unavoidable.

On to our friends Jez and Katie, who relocated to the wilds of Shropshire from Manchester some time ago. We arrived in Leighton, having arranged to meet Jez outside what looked like the major local landmark. Still, it was uncomfortable to find myself pacing up and down sweating profusely outside the village school, dressed in a bright yellow, skin-tight, semi- transparent t-shirt.

Some confusion trying to find Rob who we’d cut loose a couple of miles back after his tyre exploded. Luckily we got to him before the vultures.

So part way through a sweet, warm evening with Jez, Katie, Ben, Charlie, Tony and the Rainbows, i’m moved to write at length about friendship, family and how Summer evenings like this can really seem to bring those things together perfectly. But it’s 9.30, I’m knackered, so fortunately for you I won’t bother.

343 miles down.

Day Two: Stoke Climson to Stocklinch

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Up at 6am, porridge with rhubarb and out the door at 7am. Against expectations, we were full of energy and the first 20 miles, which on the profile chart seemed to go up and down like a toast-rack, were good fun and passed relatively easily. Overcast skies and gentle drizzle helped.

We joined the Granite Way at Sourton. Disappointed to discover that it’s not a 10-mile stretch of polished granite work-surface, but I guess also relieved. I didn’t have the tyres for that.

We met four fellow riders in Crediton and were greeted with a little gentle abuse for arriving behind schedule. Harsh, but I would have done the same in their shoes. Ally, Nick, Colin and Jools all had shiny racing bikes and preceded to zip off up the hill out of town, leaving Tom and I behind. Luckily they left in the wrong direction and it took them 10 minutes to catch us up. However, this set the theme for the day, much of which I spent watching the other five disappear up various Devon hills. As I chugged along I had plenty of time to consider why this might be. Are they fitter? Better bikes? More aggressive attitude to hills (certainly true for Tom who is much quicker and more attacking uphill than me)? Their projected distance must account for some of the difference but not much, I fear. I suppose that my old hybrid really isn’t built for boosting up hills, but again, I think that’s only part of the story. Perhaps I should work on my approach to climbing, but I’m pretty sure that to do that at this stage in a ¬†1000mile trip would be foolhardy.

It was good to take in the stretch from Langford to Broadhembury, which is pretty much home territory for me, although it was with regret that I turned away from Honiton where, at this time on a normal Sunday I’d be locking up my bike and meeting Jo for lunch. Instead, today, Jo and Karen, Tom’s wife, were meeting us with a picnic. We waited for about 45 minutes before realising that the shop we were sat across the road from was actually an open tea shop.

When the car, families and picnic arrived it was very welcome but continued the emerging trend of taking a too-big lunch just before the biggest climb of the day. The climb to the top of the Blackdowns was just short enough to keep lunch in its proper place.

From there we skipped over the top, shedding fellow riders as they turned back to Exeter at regular intervals. Down into Somerset and pushing up to Tom’s parents at Stocklinch. Half an hour later I was fast asleep on the landing floor.

176 miles down.

Day One: Land’s End to Stoke Climson

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Confident and relaxed on the dive down to Penzance, I woke up late, couldn’t find any of the stuff I thought I needed and, rushing to get dressed, eat porridge, get the bike on the car, I left for Land’s End feeling completely unprepared, nervous and strung out, feeling as if six months of training had delivered me to the start line weak and fallible.

After a few photos under the signpost, and much dithering, we set off at 7am. The point of departure, after all this waiting, came quickly. Saying goodbye to Jo was difficult and then, almost unexpectedly, we were just riding our bikes. As it happened, we were riding them down a dead-end in the Land’s End car park, so shortly after the waving and cooing of our launch, we reappeared and sheepishly drifted by the farewell party again, this time in the right direction.

We’re avoiding A-roads wherever we can, and have spent 3 months planning a B-road-or-less route to Scotland, where it seems all the roads are A-roads. Most End-to-Enders aim to get out of Cornwall on the A30, grinding their way up the dual carriageway, hoping not to be clipped by trucks and caravans. The route we took, wending immediately through deserted lanes, was beautiful although disconcerting. Within five minutes it felt as if we were out for any other Saturday ride. It would be several hours before we saw another rider doing the long trip. It was only 20 minutes before we got lost and ended up on our first A-road…

The trip to Fowey was great. Some ups and downs, but all manageable. We took the King Harry Ferry (cheating in my book) and, bizarrely, ended up on the same 50m crossing as the family’s, which was nice. They followed us for the next few miles, sometimes unbeknownst to us, and at least once eliciting one of my fiercest dirty looks as they hung off my back wheel refusing to pass. The sight of a husband’s face turning as he realises he’s just hexed his own wife rather than a random stranger, can’t be pleasant to see.

It was Lifeboat Day in Fowey, which seemed to involve a chap on a tannoy repeatedly shouting “We’re sorry the lifeboat can’t be with us, it’s out on a shout dealing with a fishing boat in distress…”. No-one seemed to mind. We had a great big lunch and then, rather too quickly, began the climb from sea-level to the highest village in Cornwall, which, in 80 degree heat, accounted for most of the last 25 miles. We arrived in Stoke Climson, just 2 miles away from the Devon border, I was out of gas.

Some stretching, some Rego, a protein bar, a very welcome shower, a little hand-washing and a long sit-down with our fine host John and Viv. Crucially, they kicked us of to bed at 9.30.

Other highlights: we saw a man in a mobility scooter speeding along holding a big poodle on a lead. Said poodle was clearly terrified of said mobility scooter and attempting to bolt in the opposite direction whenever it could.

92 miles down. A bunch more to go. Pretty tired. Worried about tomorrow. I’ve been focussing to excess on the moment we get back no the bikes on day 2. I figure if that goes well, we’ll be okay. If not, well, who knows?