Here are 12 observations, a week after finishing the trip:
- The Hills: From reading blogs of previous riders, I had expected hills, challenging hills, even. But I was still not prepared for the hills that I encountered. It was simply impossible for me to do hills with grades over 15%. And we had enough of them, especially in the first half.
- Taking a pannier with a good camera: The idea was that I would use my good camera throughout the trip. But after day 2, the pannier and camera was left in the van. That’s because I needed to shed some weight. Besides, it took too long to take the camera in/out each time. The iPhone became my main camera.
- The Bike: The bike was purchased with this trip in mind (as well as some possible future trips: see note 12 below). But it was the heaviest bike in the group and it needed one more gear at least to get up the hills. Still, the experts in our group suggested it was still a better option than my carbon fiber bike. It was durable.
- Time to Explore: I had expected to do a little more exploring (off bike) while on the route as well as when we reached our destination. But because my average speed was much lower than expected, the day was filled with riding. Still, I made sure to stop for pictures, as well as explore any village we stayed in.
- The route: I was amazed at the back roads we took to avoid the busy “A” roads. We went down country lanes that I would never have went down on my own. Thankfully, the GPS was trustworthy and reliable–in fact, one had to learn to trust it rather than some fellow riders who could take a wrong turn or two.
- The Hotels: They were fantastic, some being a higher quality than I would stay in back home. It definitely was much more comfortable than sleeping in tents. The only complaints I would have would be the heavy blankets, as well as the poor WiFi in many places.
- The Food: There was lots of it. Breakfast was a full cooked breakfast, while dinner was typically a three course meal (usually soup as a starter.) These meals were included. Along the way, we typically stopped for morning coffee (with scones), lunch (some sort of sandwich, and/or soup), afternoon coffee (or coke, with a pastry or two.) I was weighed today at the doctor’s office and I did still somehow manage to loose a few pounds in these weeks.
- Twelve Days of Riding Before a Rest Day: Apart the walking climbs (which in reality didn’t take more time, since walking or riding a 25% grade takes the same time), the greatest challenge was being in the saddle for 12 days in a row. (Previous trips, the maximum was six days before a rest day.) I think my body and mind would have appreciated a rest day somewhere in the middle of those 12 days, as the rest day in Stirling, really helped me finish well.
- The Scenery: What can I say but that the scenery throughout was fantastic. It is hard to believe we went through so much countryside. It created a very different image of Great Britain than my previous tour, which included some big cities. Despite a long history of development, there is still plenty of countryside left.
- Scotland: I had expected the hills of Scotland to be as challenging as the hills of Cornwall/Devon, but they were not. The hills were more gradual and I managed to do them all. In addition, the scenery of Scotland was simply brilliant. The second last day I would do all over again.
- Do it again? Any regrets about doing this trip? To be honest, there were a number of times, at the beginning when I wondered: What did I sign up for? I felt at times unprepared. But I made it through. More than that, after Abington, I really began to enjoy the rides even more. There was a great satisfaction in doing this classic end to end trip.
- Do another cycling trip? Again, in the first half of the trip, I would have had my doubts, but as the trip progressed and finished I would say yes. Where and when? Next year Sea to Sea is doing another continental trip, but at this point, I am not inclined to do the whole thing (in fact, it is not possible for me to do the whole thing, as I would have a doctor’s appointment sometime in August.) If I had the time and ability, there is another cycling trip that intrigues me, but that is still in my dreams.
I really haven’t touched upon my fellow riders, even though they are a major part of the journey. After all we spent a lot of time together. Together we encouraged and supported each other. There were 12 cyclists, plus our tour leader.
In terms of ages, I was one of the youngest, with Sarah also being 52. (NOTE: Throughout this trip, I said I was 52. But today (July 27), I realized that I am only 51. I will be 52 in a few weeks time. That makes me younger than Sarah and the baby of the group!) The majority of the group were between 65-70, and the oldest one who was 83. He was my inspiration: Alex. He could get up hills, I had to walk and in terms of riding I couldn’t keep up to him.
Simon: He was my roommate. He was 65, a semi-retired nurse. He was the strongest cyclist of the group. Given that we often left at the same time, I rarely saw him on the road, though we did cross paths of coffee/lunch stops.
Ken: He was a very quiet person, who tended to ride on his own, at his own pace–much like me. He would like to stop, explore, and take pictures–much like me. (Though he had more time than I did because he hardly stopped for coffee/lunch.)
Allen: Though he now lives in Vancouver, he grew up in England and is a Brit at heart. He is nearly 70 and a retired international banker. In his younger years, he was a road (cyclist) racer. He would point out to me some of the interesting history along the route.
Bill: He was also from Vancouver and knew Allen from their cycling club, and so was also a strong cyclist. He was from Dutch background (actually born there) and raised CRC but left the church after his teenage years.
Liz and Harry: A couple, aged 71 and 70, who cycled as a husband and wife should–as a team. I was at their level of cycling and we were often on the route together. It amazed me that they could have a pint of beer at lunch, without it affecting their riding.
Roger: Retired, around the age of 68. He too was a strong cyclist, able to give it an extra push when needed. One of his common phrases was “ho, ho, ho.”
Robin: A person with a very strong accent, so that even most of the other Brits have difficulty understanding him. He was an old fashioned cyclist, riding without a helmet, but instead a distinctive red hat. He also preferred to use the map over the GPS. He was a great help to Sarah.
Janet: She did this trip as part of a year celebrating her 60th birthday. She could not convince her husband to join her. She was determined rider, who used a professional trainer, to get her to do every hill, which she succeeded brilliantly.
Sarah: The youngest, just a few months younger than me. As she would admit, she was not a cyclist and did very little training for this ride, though she is an avid runner. As a result, she was last each day. But that did not daunt her, as she had strong will power. Pieces of her bike were removed to help make it lighter for her.
Plus our fearless leader: Chris. He has guided this trip many times and it shows. He has all the details worked out so that we didn’t have to worry about any of the logistics of the trip. We just had to ride.
Days 19 & 20: The Journey Home
Note: Yet to come. The Riders (who were we) and Reflections
But first the journey home, which took two days. On Wednesday, we had our final breakfast as a group. Then at 8:30 we boarded a coach bus, with room for 50. It took us to Inverness. It was a very wet rainy day, probably the worst rain we have encountered. So I was very grateful not to be biking today.
We arrived in Innverness at 11:30 and most of us were dropped off at the railway station, a few would be dropped off at the airport. While I had booked a hostel, Allen had a hotel room which he would not be using. So I used his room.Thanks Allen. My first room to myself in 18 days. Far better than sharing a dorm with five other guys.
The hotel was only less than 300 meters from the train station–but to get there with a bike box and pouring rain?
Well, you get a trolley, which the porter says I may use to the hotel, contrary to what is usually allowed, as long as I bring it back. Then I see someone emptying a recycling bin and I ask for two plastic bags. I use that to cover the cardboard box. Thankfully, the heavy rains stopped. I made my way the short distance to the hotel, got checked in, put everything in the room and returned the trolley. Mission accomplished.
I ended up having lunch with Bill at a lovely spot, looking over the river. While Inverness was a historic town to explore, the heavy showers from time to time prevented straying too far from shelter. I might have stayed in my room to watch the Tour de France, something that my fellow riders were into, but there was no remote for the TV and one could not be found.
After supper, it stayed dry so I made a long walk down the river, which passes through the town. Then it was to bed.
Thursday is airport day. You know what that means: lots of queuing and waiting. The taxi picked me up at 9. I was pleased that my luggage is checked through to Ottawa, though I will have to get a boarding pass at Hethrow for the second leg of the journey. As I write this, I am waiting for the first leg to start. We’ll see how it all goes.
Well, I made it, but not all of my luggage. I had over 90 minutes to exchange planes in Hethrow and it took nearly all that time to do it. I had to go from terminal 5 to terminal 2, go through security again and pick up my boarding pass. When I arrived at the gate, they had already started boarding. My main luggage made it over, but not my bike box. It is still in GB and will be on a flight on Friday. Since I am camping for the weekend, it will be delivered on Tuesday. It’ll be interesting to see the condition of the bike box by then.
With jet leg, I work up early on Friday and by 6 am I was off to camping. A weekend to relax and recover from a hard journey–though to be honest my body isn’t hurting as it was when we arrived in Stirling for our rest day.
Day Eighteen: Bettyhill to John O’Groats
Stats for today: 83.9 kms, 19.4 average, 53.0 maximum, 4:18 on bike, 9:00 to 2:30 on route
For the first time since Stirling the sun came out. Indeed, the weather was brilliant for our last day’s ride. The first 25 kms were up and down hills along the coast, providing some excellent views. Then it was cross country through some decent farmland to the end point John O’Groats. The goal was achieved.
I went down to get my picture taken and then back to hotel to wait for the others. When everyone arrived, we went back down for group pictures and buy some souvenirs.
Then the task came to put the bike back into the box. The box itself was not in the best shape any more, after being manhandled at the beginning. It was a challenge to put the bike in and make it fix. When the help of the others, it was done, but I am sure the guys in the bike shops will cringe at how it was placed in. Somehow less stuff was placed in the box, so my luggage bags a little fuller than at the beginning. We’ll see how it makes it home.
A lovely dinner was had, served earlier at 7 and quicker than usual. Before desserts some final words of thanks were expressed. Then some conversation and for the only time, I watched the sun go down. That was at 10. Now to bed.
Day Seventeen: Tain to Bettyhill
Stats for today: 116.2 kms, 20.9 average, 45.7 maximum, 5:34 on bike, 8:30 to 3:30 on route.
Today could have been a most miserable day as the rains threatened. Indeed, in the first third we did have drizzle and then rain. While at the coffee stop, it can down heavy. It eased as we left and then stopped. In the final third, I could take off my wind/rain jacket for the first time in many days. It ended up being a brilliant day.
The first third followed a costal inlet. Then we left the coast and headed inland. The road became a single lane, where even a bicycle and a car had difficulty passing. But it was open for vehicles in both directions. But there were plenty of laybys for passing and in reality the last section had very few cars. We are in the hinterlands of Scotland.
When the road became single lane (from 50km mark to the end), the scenery was absolutely fantastic. After a summit, it was downhill, following a river. Then after the second stop, we made a turn, going around a lake and another River to the coast. Along the way, sheep wandered over the road.
We are staying a hotel that has a great view of the coast. It is hard to believe there is only one more riding day.
Day Sixteen: Nethybridge to Tain
Stats for today: 119.2 kms, 19.6 average, 45.6 maximum, 6:04 on bike, 8:40 to 4:30 on route.
Today’s ride was less dramatic than yesterday. If it wasn’t for the stop and go traffic in Inverness, I might have made the 20 k average. There was some rain while riding through Inverness. Wind was not a major factor. It was overcast and somewhat cool. (England is experiencing heat, while Scotland is cool. Perhaps 16 degrees.)
Along the route today was Carr bridge, built in the 18th century. Lunch was in Inverness, after which we had to cross a major bridge.
After the afternoon coffee stop, I made good time to get to the hotel. Tain is a Victorian town, though the town’s city tower goes back to 1630, rebuilt in 1708.
Dinner is usually at 7:30. But tonight it got delayed till 8, because the place was busy. We were served at 9:00. But there was plenty to eat. But by the time we were done, we were past our usual bedtime. It meant going bed on a very full stomach.
It was a poor night sleep. They do not use sheets here but duvets, which are too heavy. I woke up totally sweating. Yet without anything, it is too cool. The solution is to open the windows to cool down the room.
Day Fifteen: Pitlochry to Nethybridge
Stats for today: 114.4 kms, 20.1 average, 45.7 maximum, 5:40 on bike, 9:00 to 4:20
Yesterday the story was the rain, today the story was the wind. The wind blew the rain away–most of it as in the afternoon there was some light drizzle but it didn’t amount to much. In the morning, for the first 40 kms we encountered some serious headwind. It slowed us down considerably. The next ten k was downhill and slightly different direction, so we could pick up speed. Our first stop and lunch stop was at the 50 km Mark.
After lunch we changed directions and the wind came behind us. What a change it made. The next 15-20 k flew by. And so it continued to the end. The end result is that for the first time I averaged over 20 kph. Considering how difficult the first 40 k were it is quite the result.
Anyway, the views on both parts were good. Passed by Bliar Castle. After 20 k, we were basically on a cycle path to lunch. At the beginning of that section is where I saw the deer. After lunch I passed by Ruthven Barracks, ruins from 1721, which housed soldiers for the English to deal with the Jocobite uprising.
There was no official afternoon coffee stop, but many of us ended up at a garden nursery that also had wonderful cakes and coffee (5.50pds or basically $10–and so the money gets spent.) The unique thing here was the ability to watch many different kinds of birds come to feeders, as well as red squirrels, which is an endangered species here.
Nethybridge is a very small village with a very large Victorian hotel where we are staying.
Day Fourteen: Stirling to Pitlochry
Stats for today: 98.3 kms, 18.3 average, 56.3 maximum, 5:20 on bike, 8:15 to 3:00 on route.
Back on the bike after a short rest, but that one day rest was needed. There was one major climb shortly after leaving Stirling and then just some rolling hills.
We went through some lovely countryside, but unfortunately the rain started at the 40 km mark and continued to our destination. It was quite heavy at times, but very little wind with it. Just straight down. As a result, there are few pictures for today, which is a shame because there would have been some good shots.
The rain did stop shortly after we arrived. That meant I could walk around this Victorian town, which is clearly focused for tourists. So I bought my souvenir for the trip.
Day Thirteen: Rest Day in Stirling
Note: Because of major difficulties of accessing WiFi at the hotel (a very frustrating experience;to have time to work on the blog but get little accomplished.) the pictures to accompany these entries will have to wait.
Stats for today: 0 km ridden, but over 22,000 steps so far.
Sleep in? Would be a brilliant idea if I could do it. But I was first at breakfast, followed fairly quickly by most others. I headed to Stirling Castle, arriving there just as it opened at 9:30. I walked around it for two hours. The buildings in the inner court date back to the 1500’s and even earlier. It was the centre of the conflict between the Scottish and the English.
After a coffee break, I visited the Church of the Rund. It is a Mideval church. John Knox preached here at the occasion of the Coronation of King James II. In the 1600’s a division arose within the church and a wall was built to separate the two congregations.Only in 1935 was the wall taken down.
By this time, I needed lunch. Afterwards, I wandered around the town. I discovered a place that did Thai massage. That meant as part of the massage, I was actually walked upon. She loosened up a lot of muscles. We’ll see if there are any positive effects tomorrow.
Another coffee, with chocolate cake. Then the frustration of the hotel WiFi once again. I found a public place on the street where I could access WiFi. It worked.
Day Twelve: Abington to Stirling
Stats for today: 121.1 kms,, 18.9 average, 47.8 maximum, 6:23 on bike, 8:30 to 4:45 on route.
A much better day on the bike than yesterday, even though the mileage was longer. The weather was overcast and though some people got rained on, I was spared till the final end and even then it wasn’t much.
The first portion of the day we rode through some broad valleys, able to keep up a good pace, even doing over 20 kph as average for that section.
In the last section, most of us left the official GPS route to follow the Forth & Clyde Canal, though I was on my own in terms of riding. It was about 20 km of riding along the towpath, obviously very flat. The goal was the Falkirk Wheel, an ingenious way of lifting boats from section of a canal to a higher section, without the use of typical locks.
Because we were off route, we had to find our own way back to the end point. Thankfully, a few others of our group also arrived and one of them figures it out with his GPS unit. It was a 20 km final section, along the busiest routes in our journey so far. But we made it to the Golden Lion Hotel in Stirling, where we will stay for two nights. Tommorrow is a long awaited rest day.
Day Eleven: Wetheral to Abington
Stats for today: 109.4 kms 19.0 average, 51.2 maximum, 5:45 on bike, 8:45 to 4:45 on route.
We had two options: a shorter route that followed the Motorway and described as dull and a longer route that was much more scenic, but had a serious climb. Only two of our best riders chose the later. There was no way I could do the additional 30 kms, with a climb.
There were two highlights for today: First, entering Scotland. There was a bar/restaurant where historically weddings took place as the rules in Scotland were lax compared to England. It was the Las Vegas of the time for the wedding chapels.
The second highlight was stopping in Lockerbie, where in 1988, a plane which was blown up in the air crashed into parts of the city. 270 people died including 11 on the ground. As part of the cemetery, there is a Garden of Remembrance. It was a moment of sober reflection.
We were following the motorway north, along the old main road, which paralleled it. It was as the trip notes said “a dull ride.” The 50 kms from Lockerbie should have been easy, but we faced a headwind as well as some bumpy roads. It made the route dreary.
Our evening hotel was the complete opposite of yesterday. Yesterday was posh and an indoor pool, whereas tonight’s was run down and no internet. But a bed is a bed. Dinner may not have been fancy, but it was filling.
Day Ten: Hawe to Wetheral
Stats for today: 96.1 kms, 17.4 average, 46.7 maximum, 5:30 on bike, from 9:15 to 4:15
if you compare today’s stats with yesterday’s,you will notice a consideration difference–nearly two hours less on the road. why? Because there were no major climbs. (And so this is the second time I did not walk up a hill.) In addition, there was no afternoon coffee stop as lunch was a little later than usual.
In terms of weather, the morning brought off/on showers, while in the afternoon we had to deal with some strong head winds.
in the morning we followed a valley, with a stream and a railroad. Not as dramatic as yesterday, but still nice. Lunch was at the Railway Cafe. After lunch, the mission became to get to the hotel.
Our hotel is a very fancy one, where many guests are wearing suits. Yet here we come in with our dirty bike clothes to check in. Someone took care of parking my bike in the some room. There was an indoor pool, but I spent the time in the hot tub, talking with two local guys who have memberships to the facilities
Day Nine: Huddersfield to Hawes
Stats for today: 102.9 kms, 16.4 average, 54.0 maximum, 6:16 on bike, on road from 8:20 to 5:00
A day that will be remembered by how the ride ended.
But first, the first section to coffee took us over a moor. Since yesterday ended with a major climb, today began with a 5 km descent. That’s all fine except we had to get on top of the moor. So that meant a steep climb, one that I had to walk for a good distance. But the views on top of the moor was lovely and one could see for a long distance. Coffee was in town famous for the author of Pride and Prejuice.
The second section to lunch was unremarkable as it was mainly through urban areas.
The third section was absolutely brilliant. It was a quiet road, with no major climbs and we went through parts of Yorkshire National Park. Many fields of sheep, with stone fences.
After coffee, we biked through a small valley, following a river. this too was very scenic, but then with 13 kms to go to the end, there was one massive climb to get over to the other side. Some parts I could bike, but when over 16% grade I had to walk. About 5 kms later, I was at the top, with three others. We were warned about the descent, because of the steep decline.
As we reached the top, the heavens opened and it poured down rain. Almost sideways. Soon streams of water was flowing down and across the road. But we had to descend down through it. I tried walking, but it was too steep to keep a good footing and still hold to the bike. So I remounted the bike and tried to ease my way down. The rain in my eyes made it difficult to see. But we all made it down.
Thankfully, the hotel was now short distance away. It was dry at the hotel. A good warm shower was needed to calm me, as I was a little shaken by the whole ordeal. I needed a little personal space and time to refocus.
Overall, it was our most scenic day yet.
Day Eight: Bakewell to Huddersfield
Stats for today: 76.3 kms, 16.3 average, 52.7 maximum, 4:40 on bike, 9:00 to 3:20
You will notice that we keep cycling. Unlike Sea to Sea with its regular rest days, we have only one and that is nearly 2/3 way through the journey. So it means that I will on the bike for a longer period of time than ever in my life. We shall see how my body holds up. Overall, the body is coping well, though I have to keep on eye on saddle sores.
This is Britain, where it rains. Up and till now, we’ve only experienced a very slight drizzle for a very short period of time. Today, however we experienced some heavy rains. Thankfully, it was a shorter day.
The first section to coffee (22 km in) involved some heavy rain. I got soaked not only from the rain, but through the pooling of the water on the road, the spray from the front tire, as well as spray from passing motorists. Coffee was a time to dry off and warm up.
The second section to lunch (47 km mark) involved a light rain. It went through some lovely countryside, though the rain prevented some good pictures. This section also involved three major climbs, the last one having a major section of 25% grade. Needless to say, I walked up.
Why am I walking hills, when others can ride up them? (Though others are walking some of these climbs as well.) Because I have the heaviest bike on the tour. (Does that mean I bought the wrong bike? I asked some other experienced riders whether my first bike would have done this trip and in their opinion it is good that I have another bike. But it is a touch too heavy.) It really needs one more gear to get me up better. In addition, I underestimated the steeps hills and did not train appropriately. But having said all that, I am typically in the middle of the pack.
The third section of the ride (to the end, with no stops) brought us through the largest town so far in our journey. Even though there are major cities close by, we have avoided them. Just before the hotel, there was one long, steady climb, straight and in town.
It was my earliest arrival at a hotel, which has allowed me more time to work on my blog. Since dinner isn’t till 8, I had a BLT sandwich, with fries and salad. When the waiter brought it to me and said “Here is your dinner.” I said, no, it’s my afternoon snack. The benefits of biking is being to eat four times a day. (But with a glass of lemonade it cost me 8.25 pds (over $15 dollars.) Coffee stops and snacks are not cheap.
Day Seven: Shifnal to Bakewell
Stats for today: 100 kms, 17.0 average, 55.4 maximum, 5:54 on bike, from 8:20 to 4:30 on road.
It was a day riding through the countryside. A more challenging riding day with one major climb. But it began with a 40 km ride to our coffee stop at Stone. Along the way we passed by a poppy field.
We also went a very dirty path, which Chris, our tour leader got people to avoid, but us first three riders got there before he did. The bikes got a little dirty.
The next section also involved some very narrow lanes and just before the lunch stop, one massive climb, where I had to walk up three different portions of it.
But after lunch there was some good scenic sections, one part along a old rail line (hence flat) through a valley. Then through parts of the Peak National Park, with stone walls dividing the fields. There was a final section where one could zoom along (with one nasty uphill.)
We are staying at the Rutland Arms Hotel, a very historic place, in Bakewell, a small historic town.
Weather today was mainly overcast but no rain and for a short time around lunch a little bit on the cool side. The forecast and the hills for tomorrow do not sound promising. We’ll see how that works out.
Day Six: Hereford to Shifnal
Stats for today: 99.1 kms, 19.1 average, 52 maximum, 5:10 on bike, from 8:30 to 4:30 on road.
It was a brilliant day. While we did get some light drizzle in the first two hours, the rest of the day was just overcast. The ride was much easier, as it was a shorter distance than the last two days. As well as, the hills were overall reasonable and for some long sections I made good times. For the first time, I did not walk any hills.
But it was brilliant, because at the three stops, I had some time to explore. Leaving first at 8:30, with Simon my roommate, it was a two hour (40 km) ride to Ludlow. After coffee and a pastry (which here is stuffed with beef and vegetables), I explored the town.
There was a ruined castle. I did not enter the premises, though I did get enough of a view. instead, I wondered the streets, with its historic buildings. Some of them date back to the 14th century. A quick visit to the church, just before a funeral started. I witnessed the procession, in which the funeral director walks in the front in a historic type outfit, followed by the hearse, then the family walking.
it was another 40/2 hrs ride to the second stop: Much Wendlock. After a smoothie and sandwich, I explored this little historic town. In particular, there were the ruins of a priory (a monastery). It was a pricey admission (4.7 pds) for a short walk (10-15 minutes) but I enjoyed it.
Then it was 8 k to Ironbridge, a World Historical Site, because as the name implies, here is the first iron bridge in the world. It was in a lovely setting.
It was a short 12 k ride to the hotel, which included a pool and hot tub. What luxury. Parts of the hotel is a former manor.
Day Five: Sidot to Hereford
Stats for today: 125.7 kms, 17.6 average, 55.4 maximum, 7:07 on bike, from 8:00 to 5:20 on road.
The tour sheet described today as “it will be long and complicated.” It will probably be our longest ride, and given my average speed, it is a full day. I basically only stopped for morning coffee, lunch and afternoon coffee, plus a few very quick photo stops. There is really no time to do any sight seeing along the way.
It was complicated because of the many twists of the route to get around Bristol and still get on the Severn Bridge. In fact, at one point I turned left when I should have turned right. I was quickly onto a three lane round about crossing the M5 (an expressway.)
Lunch was at Chepstow, which had a medevail arch, as well as a ruined castle. Then it was more straightforward riding, going through some very forested areas. At one descent the road became very narrow, when three cars came in my direction. I had to quickly stop. The drivers here are very curitious and given that they have to watch oncoming cars, as often the road is too narrow for two cars to pass, they do have to pay attention to the road.
Afternoon coffee usually involves one or two major sweets to give me the energy to finish the ride. After the stop in Ross-on-Wye, there were some very significant hills. We rode through bike lanes to get through the heart of Hereford, passing by the Cathedral.
Dinner was on our own tonight. This meant a few of ate early, at 6:30 rather than 7:30 and since there were just three of us, we were served quickly and finished by 7:45; allowing time to watch some soccer while writing this blog.
Day Four: Exeter to Sidot (Chedder)
Stats for today: 112 km, 18.3 average, 47.7 maximum, 6:05 on bike, from 9 to 4:45 pm.
A much different day than yesterday. There were no major climbs (though still some very short steep climbs and a few steady climbs.) It was a sunny day, with the wind picking up in the afternoon (mostly a side wind which pushed us around a bit.)
We traveled through farmland. I stopped at a few small churches along the way.
Day Three: Lostwithiel to Exeter
Stats for today: 105.7 k, 16.0 average, 60.2 maximum, 6:34 on bike, from 8 am to 4:50pm
Today may have been the most challenging and exhausting day of the trip, because of the massive hills. But it was a brilliant ride. It started off very foggy and misty, but by the end of the day it was brilliant sunshine.
A quick stop to see “King Doniert Stone” , around 875. Then our coffee stop was at Minions, named long before the word became famous. But yes, minion was spotted there, along with sheep. We then crossed over from Cornwall county to Devon, over a very old bridge (1437). The lunch stop in Travistock allowed a few pictures of a the city centre.
Then came Dartmoor National Park, with some big, big climbs and descents. One had to keep an eye out for wild ponies and sheep. The vistas were grand, though a bit foggy.
Our late coffee stop was at Moretonhampstead–a coke, carrot cake and a donut. It has root to the medieval period. THen it was three more big hills (one with a 16% grade) to reach Exeter.
Exeter is a large city and we stayed at the city Center, so it was short walk (after cleaning up) to see the Cathedral, which was no longer open. Then another three course meal, catch up the blog and to bed.
Day Two: Helston to Lostwithiel
Stats for today: 73.5 k, 15.8 average, 53.9 maximum, 4:38 on bike, from 9:00 to 4:10.
I was surprised by the hills, even though I read about them in the various blogs of this journey. But until you do them, you have no idea the steepness of some of the climbs. One main reason is that we are off the main roads and onto quieter back roads, even lanes. They are old paths, some going back centuries, even a millennium, and so are often sunk below the farm land. And they can be steep, up to 16 percent grade or more. I will admit I had to walk a few of them. Thankfully some of them are short, but not all.
The hills are one reason for the low average speed, which normally I would be at 20-23 kph. But there are other factors: there are no straight roads here, so you can’t ever get a good pace. It’s up and down and lots of curves. The roads are in good condition but narrow so you do have to aware of traffic, including sometimes oncoming traffic. It also means you have to be careful on the descents, so again you can’t always let her rip.
Despite the challenge of the hills, the rides are fantastic. We are going through rural areas, with very little build up in terms of industry or towns–just small, quaint villages, with lots of character and history.
In terms of today’s ride, the highlights include: going through small lanes surrounded by farms; our coffee stop at Treslissick Gardens; taking the King Harry Ferry; lunch at Charlestown which is at the sea and had a harbour that one could view; and finally our stopping town which was founded by the Normans (12th century).
Our hotels are fantastic, very high quality, with obviously excellent showers (one key to recovery). Tonight’s even had a pool, which I used and talked to a local family. The food is also very high quality, with a three course meal (tonight’s main was roast beef with Yorksire pudding). (Another key to recovery) Breakfast is also very good.
Day One: Penzance to Land’s End to Helston
You know you are starting to get local when you return to the same place for break fast and they remember and you talk about the trip. The same thing happened when at 10:30 I went to the same place as yesterday for coffee. Not only did the staff remembered me, so too did the same people at the next table. They are regulars and are also into biking. I joined them and we talked for over an hour.
I then headed to the train station to see if people were gathering. Indeed, they were. I got my luggage down, then my bike. Three of us (two other from Canada–the rest are English) went to have a Cornish pasty, filled with steak. Then we were off.
We had to bike to Land’s End ( 16 km away) for the official start of the tour. A group picture was done, as well as as individual one. Then we were on our own own. We have a GPS unit, with route on it to follow. That’s key be use the roads and lanes quickly change without many markers.
The ride to Land’s End was hilly and into a good headwind. Since I have been off the bike for ten days it was a rude awakening. Then after the picture, we returned to Penzance and into Helston, along some very narrow back lanes.
Arrived at 6, with group dinner at 7:30. Back to the room by 10:30. Dinner included soup, “sausage and mash” and cheesecake for dessert.
Stats for today: 58 km; top speed 58 km. Three hours on the bike, 19 kph average speed.
A Free Day in Penzance
I purposely arrived a day early so that I would have one day to get myself sorted after travelling so far. I had a solid night sleep. I am staying at a local person’s house, which I booked on Airbnb. It was cheap. I now know why. It is very basic and could use a complete make over. But a bed is a bed and it is quiet. It is an attic room, with a decent view of the town.
So the day started by finding a nice place to have a typical British breakfast (egg, toast, beans, bacon, sausage, ham, coffee) by the sea. Then find an adapter so that I can recharge my electronics, as I took European adapters, not British (because the two are different aren’t they?) The main task was to reassemble my bike, which I did. However, one cable was not in the right place and I couldn’t figure out how to prevent it from hitting the front tire. So off it went to the bike shop for a quick fix. The next task was to find a hat, with England on it. Failure. All them were burnt after England lost in soccer. Found one with Penzance on it. It will have to do. By this time, it was well past lunch time. I found a place that served traditional fish and chips (a common British meal.) Even though, I generally don’t eat/like fish, it was good.
After a little rest after lunch, I continued to walk around town–over 30,000 steps today, taking in some garden parks. At 5, I had a Cornish pastry with chesse and onion. They are plenty of pastry shops in town. It was enough to fill me up, so that I did not have supper. More walking and finally decided to call it a day
In terms of the weather, it has been overcast, temperatures around 18. From time to time there was a light shower, but they quickly passed by.
Getting to the Starting Point
Apart from whether I did enough training, my real concern is making it to the starting point, on time and with my bike box. After all, this requires a plane trip plus a lengthy train ride (with one change over), with a short walk to my B&B, where I will stay for two nights. Will it all happen as planned?
The plane ride should be the smoothest–the arrival of President Obama did add a few wrinkles at the airport. The airport website said to give plenty of time–so I did (but then I usually do. Somehow I can wait an airport, but not elsewhere; perhaps that’s because once I am through security, I get into vacation mode. I typically start a diary–this time working on this blog, or read or people watch.)
My flight is scheduled to leave at 5pm. The Knier’s picked me up at 1 so that by 2 was inside the terminal. I did have to pay extra for my bike box (last year West Jet did not charge more.) It took 30 minutes to get through security. (The airport website showed a wait of 6 minutes, updated to 22 minutes while I was still in line.) But I have plenty of time. Sitting here, drinking a coffee, writing this.
The first stage was easy. A short hour flight to Toronto. By the time we are served a drink, we are already on the way down. Landed at 6. The next flight to London (Gatwick airport) is scheduled to leave at 9:30. In the meantime had a bite to eat (burger, fries and soft drink for $20). And just in case you think I am just sitting around in airports all day (which it does feel like I am doing), I have managed to do over 11,000 steps so far.
Despite two international flights boarding next to each other at the same time, the process was smooth to board. We took off at 9:45 for a five and a half hour flight to Gatwick. I was surprised to discover there was no entertainment system of any sort on the plane. The plane was so old, there were still ashtrays in the bathroom doors. But since it was a night flight, my goal was to sleep not watch a movie. I must have a dozed a little, but I won’t call it a good night sleep.
I was relived to see that my bike box arrived, though worn by the handling. Walking with it, with a trolley, to the nearby train station, was an interesting feat to manovuer around people, as well as try to figure out where I was suppose to go. Thankfully, we speak the same language, sort of, and people were very friendly.
On the first train, the person selling coffee asked about my bike box. I told him my plans, which he then publicly announced to the whole carriage, adding I must be a little crazy. A kind gentlemen helped me get the bike off at Reading, where I had to transfer trains.
In the two hour wait at Reading, I had a small snack and another coffee. Just before my next train arrived, a staff member mentioned that my bike box will have to go into a separate compartment, if there was room. If there wasn’t room, the bike box would not be loaded. Thankfully I did not much time to think about that potential serious complication, as the train arrived and there was space. The train left at 2:30 for a five hour ride to Penzance.
There was some scenic sections along the way, especially towards the end. It’s all very lush and green. But then it rains often. Today it was very overcast, though I got no rain. As the carriage became emptier, I ended up talking more to those who were left to the end. The people are friendly and helpful.
Arrived at 7:30 and it was a very short taxi ride to the B&B. Easily walkable except for the bike box which got dragged around enough to today. I got some pizza for supper and am ready to call it a day–two days actually.
I read somewhere that a minimum of 50 hours is required on a new bike. So I set a goal of doing at least 1000 km on the bike (20 kph x 50). I ended up doing just over 1100 kms so that goal was realized.
However, I still fell short on a number of points: my longest trip was only 100 kms, whereas I should done at least one 120 km day. I also should have done a few more serious rides back to back–unless doing a 72 km ride after a 40 ride is considered a good back to back ride. More hills also would have been a good idea. In addition, I never had to change a flat. While that is good news, it also meant I had no practice changing a flat on my new bike. Finally, it will be over twelve days since I have ridden last to the begining of the trip. We shall see how all these factors come into play once the ride starts.
So how in the world did I end up signing up for a biking trip that will take me from one end of Great Britain to the other? Good question. After last summer’s adventure of cycling the Rockies, I wondered where I could cycle this summer. I like the pattern of a winter escape and a summer cycling trip. While Sea to Sea was joining with Ragbrai–a week long trip across Iowa, the prospect of crossing the rolling hills of Iowa once again did not excite me.
As I searched the Web, I happen to come across an article that highlighted a number of different cycling trips, including this one in GB. It’s a classic trip, called End to End–going from Land’s End (southwest corner of England) to John O’Groats (northeast corner of Scotland). It’s a journey of about 1000 miles/1600 kms. There is no official route, except for the beginning and end point.
While many cyclists do this trip on their own, self-supported–either by camping or using hotels, there are a number of different companies that offer a fully supported trip. I found one that is based upon a cyclist club. It’s called CTC Cycling Holidays and Tours (see: http://www.cyclingholidays.org/tours/index.php It will be fully supported, meaning our luggage will be carried by a van. We stay at hotels and eat in restaurants. As a result, it will be a very different experience than my previous Sea to Sea trips which mainly relied on camping. Of course, it will be a much more expensive way of cycling than Sea to Sea.
My expectation is that this should be a good way to see the scenic backroads of GB. Over twenty years I visited GB with a friend and saw the typical tourists spots. Now I will see the more natural side of the country. But I do expect to experience the historic side of the country as well. I’m sure that I will be taking plenty of pictures.
A New Bike
I had already a very good road bike–a Trek Madone 3.1 In fact, I had done two major trips with it: a cross-contiential trip in 2013 (6000 kms) and the Canadian Rockies in 2015 (900 kms.) It had done me well.
So why would I want to get another one? Well, it wasn’t my intent when I brought it into the bike shop for its spring tune up. But after I talked to the bike guys about my future plans, which may involve more rugged conditions, I started to investigate the options. While the End to End of Great Britain may not be too rough, a more durable touring bike may be better. The end result was the purchase of a Trek 520.
So what’s the difference between the two?
- carbon fibre frame vs steel
- pad brakes vs disc brakes
- two chainrings up front vs three
- nothing for storage vs saddle bags
- gear shifters with brake levers vs gear shifter at base of handle
The new bike will not be as fast as my old one, but it will carry more stuff (especially my good camera.)