I wasn’t sure whether I was going to write a blog to accompany my ride from John O’Groats to Land’s End. I had written one during my 2018 trip in the opposite direction (which you can download here, should you be interested), but I didn’t do any typing during MizMal (Mizen Head to Malin Head) in 2019, and nor during the North Coast 500 in 2020. I think this was because MizMal was physically harder than LEJOG, and I was more tired at the end of the day. And I cycled the NC500 in a state of permanent exhaustion thanks to a couple of broken ribs, which made it too painful to sleep at night. Both were great rides, though, and I take this opportunity to show photographs of two of the greatest cycling climbs I have ever undertaken: the Mamore Gap in County Donegal and the Bealach na Bà in Wester Ross in the Scottish Highlands.
But today two people asked if I was going to write a JOGLE blog, one making the (very good) point that doing so would encourage me to take more notice of my surroundings. It’s also true that writing down what happens every day makes it much easier to remember it all in the future. So this is the first of two prologues—this one describing my preparation and packing. I know this sounds boring, but be grateful that I’m not going to do any unboxing videos, or describe the best way to apply chamois cream. And in case you think I’m being facetious, I can tell you that if you Google ‘how should I apply chamois cream’ you get 5,240,000 hits. I just hope that Google doesn’t find this blog and make it 5,240,001. (If we do get to that number, and if someone should alight on this page in search of advice, I would only say “don’t double-dip”.)
I’m going with the excellent Bike Adventures again, and Dominic, who works in their office, tells me that the ride will be led by Rob, who shepherded us from Land’s End to John O’Groats in 2018. As readers of the last blog may recall, Bike Adventures make it as easy as possible to cover 1052 miles in 15 days, not least by carrying our luggage from hotel to hotel and by checking us all in before we arrive, so that all we have to do on getting to our destination is shower, eat, and sleep. And, for those so inclined, write a blog.
Bike Adventures provide us with all we need to know before we set off. Of particular importance is the route, which comes as fifteen .gpx flies that we can download to our Garmin or (as I prefer) Wahoo cycle computers. We also get instructions on how to pack our bikes, ready for transport to the start line. My correspondent Julian Hutchings—author, cyclist and YouTuber; check him out—describes in his own LEJOG book how he wasn’t keen on the Bike Adventures approach of packing one’s bike in a flimsy cardboard box, and he instead opted for a (sorry, Julian) Byzantine approach involving his mate Northern Jon and a hire car. I could see Julian’s point: I too have a £500 SciCon bike bag that I am loath not to use. However, the Bike Adventure scheme worked well for me four years ago, and I didn’t want to impose on my friends, so a cardboard box it was. Having said I won’t do any unboxing videos, my next blog will describe the re-assembly of my Mason bicycle from the cardboard box kindly donated by my local bike shop Bon Velo. Fingers crossed!
So Bike Adventures will take my bike to John O’Groats. But how do I get there? I had planned to take the train to Edinburgh on August 13th, to spend the night there, and then to take another train to Inverness on Sunday the 14th, from where Bike Adventures would drive us to John O’Groats. I booked the train tickets and reserved a very expensive room in an Edinburgh hotel (all the cheap rooms had gone—something to do with a Festival going on). However, as I entered Bon Velo to pick up my cardboard bike box, my phone pinged with the news that was to be a rail strike on August 13th. My plans were scuppered. I briefly considered renting a car and driving to Inverness, but in the end, and reluctantly, I decided to fly. Reluctantly, I should say, not because I fear flying but for sound ecological reasons. Oh well—at least I saved quite a lot of money: the flight was much cheaper than the train tickets and I didn’t have to pay for the hotel. Perhaps this will justify my ‘investing in’ a GoPro camera or something.
I haven’t mentioned training yet, but at this point it was so far so good. I had done the Etape Loch Ness earlier in the year, I took the 100-mile RideLondon in my stride, I had circled Richmond Park so frequently that I was on nodding terms with the deer, and I had accumulated enough (ahem) XPs on Zwift that I was (ahem again) Levelling Up rather well. But then I got COVID. It was on 38 degree Monday, the day that preceded 40 degree Tuesday (that is, July 18). I cycled home from King’s Cross to Herne Hill, and although I was feeling a bit ropey it was nothing I couldn’t put down to the heat. Then, as bed-time approached and I was feeling no better, I reached for the LFTs. I was astonished. Two and a half years of negative PCRs and LFTs, and within 10 seconds of applying the fourth drop I could see a positive band. Bother. I told my son to keep away from me and retreated to my room for a week, emerging only for essentials. I wasn’t feeling too bad, but was terribly tired all the time and slightly short of breath. It was such a good job the Tour de France was on—I couldn’t concentrate on anything else.
It took 12 days for me to test negative, and I managed a little walking and some short rides towards the end of that time, but not much else. I was trying to weigh up the risk of losing fitness with that of delaying my recovery, and I think I was right to err on the size of caution. I take solace in the fact that the JOGLE ride is a holiday and not a race! I still feel tired three weeks after seeing that positive band, but I have managed a few rides to work, some Zwift rides, and some short runs, so I hope this will be enough!
And finally, packing. I am a precision packer. Everything fits into its place, everything is folded neatly, I have everything I need and nothing I don’t. Precision packing is particularly important for cycle tours, where there’s not much chance of buying anything you have forgotten. So for every trip I keep a detailed note of everything I’ve taken, and I use these notes as the basis for what I should take on the next one. I realise that I am setting myself up for some ridicule here, but I do think this makes sense. As a user of tubeless tyres, for example, the last thing I want to forget is the little thing that allows you to remove the core from a bicycle valve so that you can inject extra tyre sealant. You’ll be pleased to hear that I’m not going to publish the JOGLE list (unless the comments section below is particularly vociferous in this regard), largely because the number of pairs of underpants I take is, I believe, a matter for me and me alone.
So I set off on Sunday, flying to Inverness, and then (no doubt) to be photographed on Monday morning at the sign that marked the end of my LEJOG trip four years ago. I hope that time has not been too unkind, that the wind is in my favour (unlikely!), and that the succeeding two weeks will be fun. I’m sure they will be.