Land's End to John O'Groats 2012
Inverness to John O'Groats - Monday, 6th August 2012
Dave was up and away at 4.00am for his train journey back to Leeds.
We had a long exciting day ahead and were ready early for a swift getaway. Haydn had rebuilt his wheel bearings again after having all the grease washed out by the rain. I'd heard a rumour that the B&B had left a breakfast box due to our early start which was now on the van, then Carol took orders for coffee and porridge and left in search of McDonalds. Stewart organised the warm up session in the car park and at 7.10 am, we set off on the last leg to JOG.
It was a cold grey morning and the roads were damp. I take breakfast very seriously and don't perform at all well in a morning on an empty stomach. I'd heard Stewart say (possibly joke) that we'd stop for breakfast after the bridge, but not which bridge. We turned left at the Telford roundabout onto the A82 and crossed the River Ness on Friar's Bridge. A few roundabouts later however, we were back on the A9.
My hopes were raised when the impressive Kassock Bridge came into view, a fine cable-stayed bridge across the Beauly Firth. One of the buildings on the other side looked for all the world like a McDonalds, I was probably hallucinating and should have known better due to the lack of golden arches. I was feeling slightly unhappy and anxious when it became obvious that breakfast was not just around the corner. I'd had emergency food with me in the room for just such occasions but hadn't known that I'd be needing it.
The road climbed up over Black Isle to the roundabout at Tore. We passed a road sign telling us there were 103 miles to Thurso. I had a word with Rob who was similarly suffering without food then Haydn sprinted forward to have a word with Alex and Stewart. Stewart tried to pass me a salad sandwich through the window which I refused on the grounds that I'd probably be sick eating it for breakfast, Gav took his. A bit further on, the van pulled into a lay-by and we stopped. We didn't have to wait long before Carol arrived with the coffee and porridge. At last I knew what was going on regarding breakfast and was much relieved. I'd cycled nine miles without food!
We coasted down the other side to cross the Cromarty Firth. Just as I reached the bridge a heron flew overhead and down to the left, I stopped and frantically reached for the camera but it'd gone by the time I'd turned it on. I took some photos anyway, such lovely scenery. The others were gathered in a lay-by on the other side of the Firth and my heron story caused much hilarity.
There were terrific views along the coast, then the road turned northwards and climbed up to Tain, where we passed Glenmorangie Distillery on the right. The view across Dornoch Firth was wonderful with more and more of the bridge being revealed as we rounded the corner. We stopped at the start of the bridge to take some photos. As Haydn briefly disappeared once more it became obvious why there's a 'P' sign in every lay-by.
The road climbed again, Carol told us that lunch was waiting for us at the bottom of the next hill. We passed Evelix, the hill peaked and true enough, the van was parked in a lay-by down the other side. Alex and Stewart had prepared a vast picnic consisting of every bit of food available from the van. It was a truly impressive spread with home made protein shakes, all kinds of fruit, yoghurt, chocolate, sandwiches, protein bars and pork pies. Jen's massage table made a brilliant picnic bench. We'd done 43 miles.
We sped down the hill round to Golspie and were on the final coastal stretch with nothing but the North Sea on our right. We passed through Brora where a road sign showed 66 miles to JOG. There was a slight climb before Portgower then a run down into Helmsdale. On the other side of the village, we stopped to take in the scale of the climb ahead of us.
Some chocolate and energy drink later, we turned left at a roundabout and started up the hillside. The road turned a corner to the right climbing all the time, then it turned to the left in a big sweep, it seemed never ending as the road turned once more before revealing the summit. The others were waiting at the top and Rob handed me a bottle of coke, Stewart had been putting bottles in his back pocket on the way up.
As we were recovering from the climb, drinking coke and admiring the wonderful view in the sunshine, Haydn proceeded to lie down with his bike and adopt a startled crash pose. He suggested that if we could get ahead of Alex and Carol, then we could stage a mock pile-up for them to find. As we stood considering this wonderful if somewhat cruel wheeze, a guy pulled up in a blue Qashqai.
He approached saying in a Yorkshire accent that he'd 'been looking for us all day!', which in the middle of nowhere seemed extremely odd. Then Gav noticed he was wearing a blue BTRS wrist band which clearly identified him as 'one of us'. John introduced himself, explained he knew Carol and that he was in the area on holiday. He offered to take our empty bottles and ended up with eight as we each handed them over one by one. We told him that Carol was somewhere ahead in the bus and he left to find her. Somebody spotted that my front tyre looked odd, there was a bulge in the side wall.
We descended sharply, followed by a short climb before the road plummeted into Berriedale. The others accelerated away but I was more cautious due to the tyre. Momentum took me so far up the other side but then there was the click click of hasty gear changes as the chain took the strain. Bit by bit I ground my way up the hill, passing the 13% sign as the road curved right, straightened then reached a left hairpin over the sea. John was in a lay-by on the left cheering me on as I laboured through each turn of the pedals. The gradient lessened but there was no sign of the summit as the road curved left and right, it was endless.
I knew that the worst of the hills was over as we regrouped at the top. I'd read that the best advice for long distance rides was to never go anaerobic, the last two hills severely tested this advice but recovery was fairly swift.
After passing the Thurso turning, we made our way to Lybster where the van was waiting in the car park of the Portland Arms Hotel. Haydn and Gav's families were there and gave us a huge welcome. Spirits were high as we only had thirty miles to go. There was another end to end cycle team finishing that day and we kept passing each other, interestingly they were supporting a brain tumour charity as well.
The run into Wick was exhilarating as the adrenaline kicked in. We soon passed through the town, crossing the river then on to the right turn at Reiss. We stopped in a lay-by just before Auckingill for a chat with Carol whilst Haydn visited the 'bathroom'. Carol and John encouraged us up 'Hill of Harley' just before Freswick with the news that there was only one more climb. Rob's ankle was killing him and he was finding it hard to pedal as the gradient picked up through Tofts. After a brief respite, we laboured up 'Warth Hill' the last hill in Scotland, passing John half way up applauding and roadside encouragement from Carol with news it was all downhill to JOG. We regrouped in a lay-by near the quarry and prepared for our grand finale. The mist was coming down.
As JOG became closer, a million thoughts competed for space in my head; sheer elation; culmination of ten day's effort; magnificent teamwork; nearly 1,000 miles travelled under our own steam; everyone we'd met; funds raised; support crews; fulfilment of a long held ambition; people's generosity; immensity of end to end; over a year's planning, preparation, training, thoughts and fears; memories of Ian Meek whose absence we all felt keenly.
Out of the gloom came the first John O' Groats sign then the official one. The van was parked on the right opposite the John O'Groats Guest House and we arrived to the flash of Alex's camera and unexpected applause from a bunch of women dressed in colourful cal4u hoodies. Their white Range Rover was behind the van - Facebook cal4uswapshoproadtrip. We posed for photos by the JOG sign and Haydn did his upside-down cycling trick. After a good deal of faffing, Rob eventually joined us as we departed in a flurry of car, bus and van horns for the final push to the sea.
photograph by John Millington - team at John O'Groats
The optimistically named Seaview Hotel where we'd be staying for the night, flashed by on the right. Then a boy emerged out of the mist cycling towards us. We turned right down to the harbour and were met by a fantastic reception from Gav's family and in-laws, Haydn's family and friends plus Alex, Carol, Stewart and John. Rob popped the champagne cork, doused the tarmac with foamed Bollinger and tried to make a speech through all the emotion. We had a group hug and took loads of photographs. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant.
Our verification forms were stamped by the nice woman in the little shop and that made it official, we'd done it!
Summary and video of the finish.