Originally uploaded by Andrew Birkett
Heh, I’ve had this photo ready since about day 5. 🙂
The last 16 miles were hard work, with a stiff wind coming from the side and front, and a couple of hills to add to the fun. The run in to John o’ Groats goes on forever and it’s a pretty nothingy place to be honest. I’m glad I’d been there before in the car – I wasn’t harboring any high expectations! There’s a closed hotel, a cafe, the sign post, a few tourist shops, one other unsociable cyclist and a lot of motorbikers.
I phoned home, phoned for a taxi to get me back to Wick, got photo taken and had just settled down to a celebratory cup of tea when the taxi turned up. He had a bike rack – what a clever idea – and soon I was whizzing past landmarks in reverse order back towards Wick. We passed about 7 LEJOG cyclists still struggling against the wind on their way to the end. I find it strange that these folk must’ve been just behind me on the road for the last few days, yet I never saw them. In the whole ride, I only passed one person heading north, and wasn’t passed by anyone. But I guess everyone gets funnelled onto the one road just before the end.
Kinda wierd to think how different tomorrow will be. I’ve been in a really regular routine for the last two weeks. In a way, because the final destination is so nothingy, it makes you appreciate the journey as the main thing rather than the end point. Today was a good day for cycling, and I enjoyed it. But equally, days pass and life goes on and I’d always rather look forward to the next thing than try to keep hold of past times. Diem carpe’d.
If anything, a kind of stubbornness has been the most important attribute on this trip. Having decided to get from A to B, you get faced with a big sequence of mini challenges to overcome. To get to your goal, you just need to keep overcoming the challenges until there are none left. It’s almost mechanical. If you’re tired and still have 20 miles to go, you need to first cycle the next 5 miles and then worry about the rest once you’ve done that. To climb a big hill, you first have to pedal up the nearest bit of it. Sounds dumb, but that’s what kept me going at points when my brain was telling me that it was too steep, too far.
Probably the best bit of advice I heard before I left was from a TV documentary following some people doing an extreme race to the pole. A psychologist told one of the racers: when you get tired or frustrated, it’s easy to become a danger to yourself. If you get into that situation, you should imagine that it’s not you there, but instead, your daughter or son is there instead. Now think, what would you want them to do in that situation? Good advice indeed. It saw me stop for food when my instinct was to press on. It saw me stop and take the time to put on warmer clothes rather than push on and risk making bad judgements from cold. And it saw me pulling into the side of the road countless times to let approaching traffic past if I didn’t like the look of the road ahead. Crazy psychological trick, but it works well.
In the end, I averaged 12.1 mph whilst riding, but with lunches and breaks and navigation it was 8.3mph overall. Max speed was 43.2mph – lots of fun. I left by 9am most days. I arrived at anything between 3pm and 7pm. My bike worked great – no punctures, nothing replaced, and only the seat ever needed any adjustment. Physically, I fared well. Day to day, I felt pretty much the same. My right knee got sore, in a way that hurt most when unclipping from pedals, so I think I twisted it at some point when reaching back to get something out of the panniers. I took 200mg of ibuprofen for a few mornings and that settled it. I got a pinched nerve like pain at the top of my leg around the middle of the ride, but then I noticed that my seat wasn’t pointing straight – fixing that fixed the pain. No saddle sores, but I did steal a tub of sudacrem from my wee girl to take with me. (TMI warning!). It is an anti bacterial barrier cream and good for putting on the bits of you that contact the saddle to disuade any bugs from causing painful spots or infections. Fignon lost the Tour de France because of a sore butt, so good for us mortals to err on the side of caution!
Traffic was fine the whole way; better, not worse, than I expected. Weather was probably worse, and I’m glad I took waterproof socks and winter beanie hat in addition to my normal rain gear. Probably biggest risk to life and limb came when I was stopped and getting stuff out of panniers. The bike had a habit of rolling off to the side, and I nearly twisted my knee several times trying to grab a toppling laden bicycle.
Road surfaces are often poor, particularly in south scotland. I often ended up cycling precisely along the painted white line at the edge of the road because it was the smoothest part of the road!
Enough wittering – I have to catch a 6am train in the morning!