Cycle 1000 miles - see little, learn a lot
Sounds boring….and in many ways it is but if you keep your eyes open you learn a lot, if not see much, apart from hedgerows and sheep.
I went with cycling friend, Kevin. We travelled on good road racing bikes and carried only one bag on our backs (with half a change of clothing) and a saddlebag with essential spares.
We did about 100 miles a day and stayed at B&B’s we found along the way. We stayed as much as possible to ‘B’ roads and lanes. You go from south to north so you get some good following wind in the first few days and get over the first days of climbing the Devon and Cornwall hills.
Every day was the same.
Alarm at 7.15am
Breakfast of cereal and cooked veggies
On bikes around 9ish
Cycle 35-50 miles
Have a break
Cycle 30-40 miles
Have another break
Cycle the rest
Find a B&B
Have a shower and do some stretching
Find a pub with food
Eat loads, drink one pint
Watch football on TV
Txt and call friends
Go to bed
So what did I actually see?
In a way, not a lot: some nice villages, some excellent lochs, some major towns and cities – Chester, Liverpool, Glasgow etc and some good coast line.
The challenge isn’t so much the distance and time but the weather conditions. As long as you stop and eat regularly you avoid much degeneration. But the weather!? There were days when we almost got blown off the bike, almost suffered hypothermia in the highlands and battled all the way out to John O’Groats on the final day. But also there were days when we flew along at 25mph for hours on end in short sleeves. The challenge is against the conditions – not against the distance.
What did we learn?
Everyone has been touched by cancer somewhere. We were cycling for two cancer charities, when we mentioned this everyone had a story of a friend or family member who had cancer.
Cafes in cities are for young people for breaks from their routine, in the villages they are for old people to laugh, chat and wile away the day.
Cities cause road rage. We were never hooted in the countryside but as soon as we hit a city there would be some car with some problem with the way we simply existed on the road. When you’ve been cycling for hours through countryside and hit a big city it really hits you back as to how condensed, dirty and frantic these places are to live.
Obviously then, people are friendlier in the countryside and villages. Outside the cities we couldn’t buy anything without a half hour chat – either with the shopkeeper or the person in front in the queue. I was in support of the quirky ‘ independence for London’ campaign (especially when I heard a regional DJ announce “and after the break Charles and Eddy” – that wouldn’t happen in London! But we need each other – the people (that may in the main support hunting) but are friendlier, more helpful, have more time and are more rounded than us city dwellers.
So many people live to shop. Whatever time we hit a city the streets would be packed with people carrying branded retail bags. Something has got to be done to encourage people to find fulfilment through other means.
B&B’s must be the nations largest sector of small business. Each is run by an entreprenaur. All are working at ways to make sure their business is as busy and profitable as possible – because they need to in order to live. We paid between £17 and £25 a night each and that’s not much with which to build a small business and live.
There must be a book somewhere for ‘running a successful B&B’ as several golden rules seem to crop up in most places – a small edible chocolate ‘treat’ in the bedroom, letting people serve themselves as much cereal as they wanted, having facilities for drying wet clothes, when these things weren’t in place it was noticed.
The church really was so influential in the past. We cycled through so many villages with enormous churches. Villages that at the time of the church build must have had a handful of resident cottages. Now so many of those churches had a barometer outside, measuring the amount of money that had been raised for a new roof or steeple…
Many people in this country work all hours for almost no money. There was the transit driver who took our bikes from John O’Groats to Inverness for our flight home, who had moved into a mobile home as he couldn’t afford the council tax and was lifting us 110 miles at 6am for £20 cash in hand. He was due to finish at 7pm. The café owners who would be up at break of dawn to bake and then sell their bread and cakes until closing time for a pittance.
Chain stores have got a few things right and that’s frustrating. In a few towns we ended up in chain coffees stores and not local cafes. Which is mad – travel through the country but go to a café that could be anywhere. But the reason for this is the chains were better – more choice, better coffee and still open when we came passed at gone six. Surely some café owners can learn and incorporate the best of both so they provide the best product along with the best environment.
My overriding memories and one highlight.
Writing down huge lists, in tiny writing, of all the villages we were going through the following day so we wouldn’t get lost in the lanes.
Cycling down un-signposted lanes no-handed trying to get that list out of my back pocket.
Buying two papers between us and ripping out the bits we wanted to read in the daytime cafes and reading them in the evening pubs.
Listening to Radio 2 on my essential mobile / radio as I cycled in the wind and rain. It was the only station I could get but kept my mind occupied through the hardest bits.
Seeing the word ‘Slow’ written in massive letters on the road, just on the brow of a hill we’ve taken 20 minutes to climb!
The words and things we saw more than anything else – hedgerows, sheep, ‘Londis’, ‘Spar’, ‘No’ and ‘Vacancies’
B&B always offer a grilled tomato and only produce baked beans by special request.
Eating packets of sweets for the first time in years – Bon Bons and Murray Mints kept me going for many a mile.
My mobile only ringing in the few minutes I actually wasn’t cycling each day and my wife claiming it was her witchcraft.
Getting txts of support – even one a day can be enough to motivate you when things get tough
Pubs and cafes marked as being up lanes on handwritten signposts are always too far. We gave up on several but managed 8 miles off track once for a piece of cake and a double espresso
It’s a lot harder to go up hills with a bag on your back than without!
…And whatever you do, your bum will ache.
The highlight. As Kevin knows there is only one and it came on the last day. We had 80 miles before 5pm to make the trip in less than 10 days. Having gone 7 miles we did our normal stop to remove our jackets as we warmed up. ‘Where’s my bag?’ enquired Kevin looking at his bike – and not a lot else. He had managed to do the 7 miles with the bag still back at the B&B. I did feel guilty as I laughed.
PS – in hindsight, another highlight. In 1000 miles of cycling we never had one ‘incident’. We never felt in danger at any point and never clashed with anyone on the road.
What did I get out of it?
I love simplicity. So travelling in lyrca for 10 days and only having one bag was excellent. When we arrived for our flight home we were told our bikes wouldn’t be allowed on if not packed in boxes. One call to Halfords and a taxi firm resulted in two cardboard bike boxes ferried out to the airport with minutes to spare. It’s great what you can achieve when you’re travelling light and the travelling is the only thing you have to focus on.
You cannot concentrate your mind on much for long when you’re cycling, it’s as if life stops. I progressed nothing in my mind while I was away. You just focus on one thing and achieve it and that’s a great break from routine.
Just read Chris’ “see little, learn a lot”. It’s all there really…though I’d like to agree that it is easier cycling without a bag on your back. Unfortunately, I can’t as I cycled seven miles without my bag and didn’t notice.
Just a few reflections, observations.
§ Distance, time, weather
Funny how it worked out at almost exactly 1000 miles (even though the signs at either end say ‘874 miles’ – must be M5, M6), giving us 100.2 miles per day, or 101.23 if you leave your bag behind.
Also, neat that we did it in the planned 10 days, with minutes to spare. I felt we always knew that is what we would do, almost to the minute, but what if…we had persisted heading into the wind out to Arran and found the ferries were docked, or if the 120 mile day through the Great Glen and on to Dornock had hit us with the same winds and rain as the other four days in Scotland.
Agree that the main challenge was the weather, but only in relation to our goal of 10 days. That meant pushing on, keeping as close to our daily 100 miles as possible, making up bits of lost time and not drifting. I guess there’s a mental/motivation side to that, as well as physical. I had to get the train on the Friday so I could see Spurs V Man U on Saturday. Having seen the game, don’t know why I bothered. Still it was great to be home for the weekend.
South/North or North/South. There must be pro’s and con’s to both but I wouldn’t have fancied the Cornish coast road against a gale force wind and rain.
§ Tea and Coffee houses, pubs and B&Bs
Somehow, on this type of ride a pub seems the right place to have an evening meal – stopping off at Rick Stein’s restaurant in Padstow just wouldn’t have seemed right ( and it might have been as hard to book as bike spaces on the Wick/Inverness train).
Likewise, mid-ride breaks had to be in tea/coffee places. We must have cycled past hundreds of pubs in search of mid-day sustenance.. but would we stop? Had it been a 35 mile leisure ride on a summer Sunday can’t think of anything better than the English village pub. And why are out of town tea/coffee shops so hard to find? The passing traveller can find enough pubs to satisfy Oliver Reid but as Chris mentions, an eight mile detour to get a cup of tea.
While on the subject of drinking and driving (well, tangentially)… best road side sign – one of those official, neon ones, somewhere in Scotland reading “Don’t take drugs and drive”. Perhaps, it should be adapted for the Tour de France.
Back to tea and coffee. I am now a convert to these establishments. That mid-day double expresso ( and more places served expresso than I had expected), savoury snack and cake plus our ‘how to read the papers’ skills (see below) was wonderful… but it got sacrificed in the relentless slog against the Scottish winds and rain.
Why don’t more road side establishments provide tea shop services? We passed florists, garden centres, antique shops. None (save one) offered tea or coffee.
B & Bs: Agree with Chris. There is very little between the Alistair Sawday ‘special places to stay’ and the perfunctory ‘ there’s your bed, here’s your English breakfast’. More variety and initiative would be a winner.. like Claus and Karen’s one in Buckley, Shropshire that was also a post-office, second-hand book and bric-a-brac shop, tea house and tourist information spot.
§ How to read the papers
Mid-day breaks would see us waddling into a café, in that style that only a cyclist or clog dancer can perfect, with the Guardian and Independent, and then see us waddle out an hour later with a selection of newspaper cuttings, leaving the remains of the aforesaid papers littered around the café. I owe this skill to Chris – he’s probably sitting in a café in Hammersmith at this very moment literally dissecting the contents of today’s Indy. It’s a great way to concentrate the mind and get the best out of a paper. What do the headlines tell me? What can I speed read? Do I really want/need to read that football report? What do I want to invest some quality time reading?(just before sleep in the B&B).
Funny moments: one cutting that Chris passed on to me was Andrew Marr’s G2 piece ‘How to read the papers’. Also, Chris posted home an envelope containing all the articles he hadn’t time to read.
§ End to End, training and fitness
According to my polar watch on day one my average heart rate was 124 – what it would be on an average three hour training ride, roughly. Each day it began to go down and by day six onwards was around 98 to 104 per day. There might be bit of fatigue slowing me down, but with the effort into the wind I doubt it. Yesterday I went out for 3 hours, cycling quite fast (for me) and average HR was 114. So our10 days worked well as part of a training regime.
Finally here, sorry to the makers of energy bars and carb drinks, but it is so much better to be able to refuel with real food.
§ Thank you Chris and Helen ( and Moira)
Talking to other End to Enders, it seems common to have back up, even a support team. Without Chris painstakingly writing down the place names, cycling no handed and checking out our map pages (and often going ahead and finding B&Bs) it would have taken me a lot longer. Helen was like a virtual support team using e mail, internet and mobile to check out rail times, buy tickets and so on.
Thanks to Moira also for your interest and enthusiasm and that amazing, surprise dinner party when I got back.. and thanks to all the friends who came.
its Friday night and we've made it to Liverpool to stay with some old friends. Another 100 miles today but we've come off the guide book route a biut as we kept getting lost and sticking more to B roads rather than lanes.
Its been great so far - Kevin (at 58!) is doing brilliantly and we are getting in the 100 miles a day we need to do to finish by next thursday.
The weather has been excellent, the b&b's great and the views good (when you can see over the hedgerows).
thanks for all the texts of support - its good to get them.
observations so far...
cafes in london are for young people - outside london they are for old people.
People in shops want to chat. so you can't buy anything without it taking half an hour.
hills are alot lot harder when you when you have a bag on your back
All B&b's serve tomatos but not baked beans for breakie
anyway - about 430 miles done, about 2,400 calories a day burnt, averaging about 15mph (including slowing down to look at maps all the time), averaging heart rate about 91 and feeling good - apart from bum pain.
The Night Before
Off tomorrow, catching the 10.12am train to Penzance. A 12 mile ride out to Lands End. have our photo taken by the famous post, sign in at the hotel that we're off (me and Kevin) and then its set off towards St. Ives.
We're going from the bottom up as apparently it means getting the worst out of the way first and we should have the wind behind us on the way towards Bristol.
Not sure what the weather is going to be like so I'm a bit nervous about that. Also I've damaged my knee training for the marathon (got in 28 miles this week though) and I'm nervous about whether that is going to stand up to the challenge also.
Hopefully with my new phone and a bit of help I'll be able to post updates on here with photos and words as we make our way.
wish us luck!