Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Diary - Part Twelve

Day 12 - Thursday 13th July

Today, like many before it, started with a visit to the bike mechanics. Both Doug and Matt's bikes needed attention this morning, so off we trundled to Oban Cycles.

Unfortunately, the owner of Oban cycles was not in quite as much of a hurry as we were, so by the time he turned up to work at 9.45am, we we already over an hour behind our intended schedule with two bike repairs still to be carried out! However, the mechanic set about helping us swiftly and efficiently and, after purchasing much junk food from the local Tesco, we finally left Oban at 11.15am.

Well, we tried to leave Oban at 11.15. Matt decided that he really needed to go back to the Youth Hostel because he had left his pasty in the fridge.

The first bit of cycling was unneccessarily arduous - a massive steep hill out of Oban got the blood circulating in the legs before we headed north towards Connell and over the bridge there (with some fantastic views)before reaching another bridge at Ballaculish.

Before today we had only met three JOGLErs - and that was by prior engagement down in Bristol. Just two days away from John O'Groats and we finally met up with some fellow LEJOGers at Ballaculish Bridge. We mistook the bandy-legged teenager and his mate for a couple of schoolkids out killing another day in the summer holidays. In fact, they had been completing the 1,000 mile end-to-end journey over the same time as we had. But they did it on BMXs.

The race was on. Each time we stopped for a breather, they caught us up. Each time they stopped to fix a puncture, we cycled on past. Soon enough the seven of us caught up with a second group of LEJOGers. For a brief moment, ten bikes took charge of the roads of Scotland.

A late lunch was had in the gardens at Fort William (at the foot of Ben Nevis) before cracking on past Loch Lochy and Loch Oich (great names - great views) to Fort Augustus at the south-western edge of Loch Ness. Here we stocked up on frozen lasagnes and oven chips and watched in awe as the locals placed bets at their annual plastic duck race down the river.

By now we were getting tired and, thanks to the particularly late start, it was beginning to get dark. Doug had developed a problem with his achilles tendon and we were all anxious to reach the Youth Hostel to get rested and fed for the night. The photo opportunity at Invermoriston was therefore pretty brief.

Just after 8pm, we arrived at Loch Ness SYHA and, after the robot on reception had checked us in, we decamped and set about cooking our lasagne. Later that evening, a young lad doing a solo JOGLE checked in to the hostel. He had set off from John O'Groats that morning, covering about 170 miles. Nutter.

Day: 12, Distance: 89.9miles, Cycling Time: 6 hrs 02 mins, Ave Speed: 14.9mph, Max Speed: 36.1mph.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Diary - Part Eleven

Day 11 - Wednesday 12th July

By now we've got these early starts off to a tee. Of course, it helps when you've got breakfast to attend to before 8.30 and a ferry to catch which, if missed, could mean being 3 hours behind schedule before the day has even begun.

Our massive cooked breakfast was wolfed down super-quick as the ferry departure time was looming rapidly. With indigestion nearly crippling us, we legged it down to the ferry terminal to find, er, nothing. The ferry was somewhere back towards the mainland, still on its way to Lochranza. We could have savoured that breakfast after all (a point I'm still bitter about, by the way!).

If we thought Lochranza was a quiet backwater kind of place, then nothing could have prepared us for Claonaig ferry terminal. To say that there was nothing there would be speaking literally. Just a ramp for the ferry and a bit of tarmac for the cars to park on. Oh, and a lot of rain.

With the wind and aforementioned rain at our faces we undulated our way up the Kintyre peninsula (cue: terrible rendition of Wings song) towards Oban. The cycling itself was pretty uneventful to be honest (which makes writing today's diary entry that little bit trickier!).

As we arrived in Oban the sun began to shine. Somehow Matt and Martin got separated from the rest of us as they raced through Oban (presumably in a bid to ensure they "baggsied" the best beds in the dorm). We finally rocked up at Oban Youth Hostel just before 6pm.

Dinner once again consisted of mountains of pasta (at Piazza on the North Pier at Oban, on the recommendation of Babs at Garvins) followed by a quick pint in the Harbour bar.

When we got back to the Youth Hostel, there was someone already asleep in the boys' dorm, so we were especially quiet not to wake him. It's a pity the 4 lads who came in about two hours later weren't quite so considerate. It was even more frustrating when we found out that the reason the first chap had gone to bed so early was that he was getting up at 4.30am. Not quite the uninterrupted night's sleep we were hoping for!

Day: 11, Distance: 64.4miles, Cycling Time: 4 hrs 55 mins, Ave Speed: 13.1mph, Max Speed: 38.4mph.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Diary - Part Ten

Day 10 - Tuesday 11th July

Today had been planned with military precision and the start was executed to perfection. Bacon and Egg rolls were served in the officers mess and the squadron were kitted out and on parade at 9am sharp.

Having read the last nine days' diary entries (you have haven't you?) you'll know that to expect everything to have gone smoothly would just be wishful thinking. There was a sense of inevitablity when Helen's chain slipped between two chainrings and somehow got mangled. We had made it just 10 yards down the road.

We returned to the Youth Hostel where it became apparent that the Hostel warden was a significantly more experienced bike mechanic with much better tools with him than any of us. Just how underprepared we were for this trip became apparent when the chap asked us how many spare chains we were carrying. Our answer? - "Less than one".

Having removed two links from Helen's chain (they come in pairs, y'know!) and re-joined it, we set off again. There was now a real danger that we'd miss the 3.15 ferry from Ardrossan to Brodick (on the Isle of Arran) and end up with a very late finish.

We cycled like demons for 60 miles, somehow making the ferry with just minutes to spare. Time to kick back with a bag of monster munch and a can of Irn Bru... On arrival at Brodick, we found a bike shop and left Helen's bike to have the chain replaced and new brake blocks fitted while we wandered off to buy ice-cream.

Having spend the morning pushing hard, it was a pleasant change to spend the afternoon at a more leisurely pace. The next seven miles were also quite relaxed, being a flat coastal road up the eastern edge of Arran. However, we didn't quite get it all our way as, rather inconsiderately we felt, someone had put a mountain between us and Lochranza Youth Hostel - our destination for the night.

Lochranza is a small town, and also the home of the Primrose family (Doug P being a Punter Southall colleague of ours). These two facts meant it wasn't long before we bumped into someone who knew them - George, the barman at the Lochranza Hotel. The steak and ale pie and pint of Guinness I ordered felt well deserved.

After catching up on Lost in the Hostel's TV room, we retired to bed. A short while later the coachloads of school kids from Buxton also called it a night and were sent to their dorms by their rather stressed-looking teachers.

Day: 10, Distance: 73.3miles, Cycling Time: 5 hrs 40 mins, Ave Speed: 12.9mph, Max Speed: 40.6mph.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Diary - Part Nine

Day 9 - Monday 10th July
Having unlocked the bikes and loaded up, we left Carlisle at 10.30am, heading North. An hour and a half later, we were in Bonnie Scotland.

We posed for a couple of photos (for about an hour). The picture you see on the left here is the third time Doug and Martin crossed the border from England to Scotland as they felt the moment deserved a decent photo. They also swore the air was suddenly smelling sweeter. I detected the faintest whiff of deep-fried mars bars.

After a bit of food-shopping in Gretna we got back on the road to Dumfries - ignoring the chap who shouted to us about the dragon up ahead (at least, that what I think he said, I still haven't quite grasped the language). We actually bumped into him again as we lunched in Dumfries but failed to get an explanation of the dragon, instead getting a warning of "the longest hill in South-West Scotland" up ahead. He wasn't wrong.

Eventually we reached Moniaive, a small town with a pub, a shop and a picnic table. We took advantage of two of the three.

The rest of the day was spent in the pouring rain cycling up long hills and down the other side, negotiating more and more cattle grids along the way - one of which tried to swallow Helen's bike.

Eventually, at around 7pm, we arrived at our accomodation for the evening. A shed in the middle of nowhere (Kendoon Youth Hostel, near Castle Douglas). The welcome was warming enough, it's just a pity the radiators weren't!

Still, it was a bed for the night and somewhere to get a hot cup of tea and some food. And also somewhere where french schoolkids can start out from on their way to getting lost in the Southern Uplands, or so it would seem.

Day: 9, Distance: 70.1miles, Cycling Time: 5 hrs 8 mins, Ave Speed: 13.6mph, Max Speed: 30.2mph.

Monday, September 04, 2006

The Diary - Part Eight

Day 8 - Sunday 9th July

The weather at the start of day 8 was little different to that at the end of day 7. Our kit barely had time to dry before we were climbing back onto the bikes in the pouring rain and heading off into the Forest of Bowland.

The terrain hadn't changed much either. It started hilly and then got hillier and then positively mountainous. After negotiating several cattle grids we happened across High Bentham where we stocked up on supplies and tried to shelter from the rain. It was a bit confusing to find that High Bentham is in Yorkshire, but this was to be a fleeting visit to the county.

We continued to climb. For every downhill there seemed to be two, steeper uphills to follow. It was hard going and we knew that when the proper descent came it would have to be a good one! We ploughed on through Kirkby Lonsdale and towards Cumbria stopping in a garage at Ings (via the nicest cycle path in the world on the side of the A591) where we stocked up on the obligatory Kendal Mint Cake to power us up into the Cumbrian Mountains.

More climbing later and we were becoming downbeat. It had been a struggle and we were barely more than half way through the day. It was cold, it was wet. And there was no Kendal Mint Cake Left.

We had reached the top of the Kirkstone Pass at 1,500 feet above sea level and had nothing left. Doug and Matt popped their head round the door of the Kirkstone Pass Inn to see if we could cheekily fill our water bottles. They came back with squash, chocolate and a £10 donation to our charities! John and Gail Jennings had made our day.

Suddenly we were reminded why we're doing this and our gloom miraculously lifted, just as the weather did too. And to top it all off, the next 6 miles was all down hill to Ullswater!

At the bottom, we met a man from Glasgow and his son doing a charity ride from Glasgow to Brighton and heard his story of how he tried (and failed) to do his bit for Anglo-Scottish relations over a couple of meat pies. The poor lad didn't look as if he wanted to be "made a man of", but probably had little choice in the matter.

Martin by now was getting anxious that he should miss the world cup final. To be fair, he had successfully managed not to miss every other match to date, so to fail at this late stage would be disappointing. The logistics, however, weren't on Martin's side. With an hour until kick-off, we were still some 26 miles from Carlisle - our final destination.

So Martin decided to go it alone, diverting to Penrith to watch the match, while the rest of us cycled on to Carlisle over some thankfully flat terrain.

On arrival at Carlisle, we (eventually) found our digs - which were student halls of residence doubling as a Youth Hostel for the summer holidays. We caught the last half an hour of the Cup Final in the TV room and then found our rooms in the student halls, before sending out for a Chinese take-away.

By the time Martin turned up, I was already in bed nodding off to sleep. He had cycled the 20 miles from Penrith to Carlisle in the dark (the match had gone into extra time) and without a puncture repair kit or tools of any description. It was midnight.

He likes his football does Martin.

Day: 8, Distance: 87.7 miles, Cycling Time: 7hr 34min, Ave Speed: 11.6mph, Max Speed: 39.3mph

Friday, September 01, 2006

Ten Thousand Up

We did it!!

An honorary mention to Iain Fitzgerald of Garvins as being the sponsor to take us over the £10,000 threshold. His donation to Cancer Research UK means our total now stands at a staggering...

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Sponsorship Latest

Wow! What a truly generous lot you are!

We'd all like to thank you so much for your donations and pledges to support our two charities - The Meningitis Research Foundation and Cancer Research UK.

And, as sign of our gratitude, we will be giving away an autographed promotional bottle of 10-year old malt whisky kindly donated by the Glenlivet distillery to one lucky sponsor. For each £5 you pledged, you’ll get a raffle ticket – names will be drawn out of the hat this weekend (2nd / 3rd September).

Don’t panic if you haven’t sponsored us yet – there’s still a little more time! To make a dontation to the Meningitis Research Foundation, click here. To make a donation to Cancer Research UK, click here.

So, how have we done? Online, we have raised £4,180 for Cancer Research and £2,070 for Meningitis Research, together with Gift Aid of £1,090 and £530 respectivley. Added to this is the £1,000 in matching sponsorship from Garvins and SIAS as well as some mammoth individual direct donations from Punter Southall and PSolve staff totalling £1,125.

This means our grand total as of 8pm on 31 August is....