THE RIDE FOR GARAI
11 July 2018: Written By Idai Makaya
This report is a summary of my 1,720-mile (2,768km) Double End to End ElliptiGO bike ride – twice Across Britain, from Land’s End to John o’Groats and back to Land’s End. The ride took place from 24th June 2018 to 5th July 2018 and was held in memory of my late brother Garai Makaya, who passed away in a skydiving accident on 11 February 2017 in Rustenburg, South Africa.
A brief video summary of why I took on this challenge can be seen in the BBC News report below:
The Double End to End ride was my own lifetime longest ride ‘commitment’ under The 2018 Longest Ride Challenge, a cycling community initiative which I had set up in memory of Garai, aimed at encouraging everyday cyclists to take on their lifetime longest rides in 2018.
This project was intended to help raise awareness (and also to help raise funding) for a documentary film about Garai Makaya and the skydiving community which he founded in Botswana. The fundraising surplus – and all the proceeds to be generated by the documentary film itself – are aimed at completing Garai’s skydiving legacy, whilst also raising funds for the charitable causes which Garai had been associated with in Botswana.
Full details of this project can be found in the link below (which takes you to the documentary project fundraising page).
My Double End to End ride was an official Guinness World Record Attempt for the Return Journey Across Britain between Land’s End & John o’Groats and was also an official Audax UK Brevet taking place under Audax Brevet Randonneur (BR) time-limits. The maximum allowable time for the ride under Guinness World Records verification rules would be 14 days and under Audax UK rules the time-limit would be 13.5 days. My personal goal was to complete the ride within 11.5 days (which I had felt would be a good reflection of my ability).
Here’s how it had all unfolded…
On Saturday 23 June 2018 I’d traveled by car to Land’s End for the start of the journey, with my great friend (and long-distance riding buddy) Alan McDonogh – and his wife Kim, who was going to be our support driver. Alan has ridden all the same big long-distance cycling challenges as myself on his ElliptiGO bike, over the years, and we’ve found each other to be very compatible companions for long rides. Alan would be accompanying me for the entire 1,700-mile Double End to End ride, which would allow him to become a joint World Record Holder with me, if we were to both succeed.
Our plan was to join forces with our friends Jim (who had traveled all the way from the USA) and Stuart (who lives near us in Leighton Buzzard). Jim and Stu would accompany us for the first 2 days of our ride (300-miles) and were to be the first of many riders who had planned to join Alan and I for parts of our very long journey. Jim and Stu put up for the night with Rod (an endurance training buddy who had recently moved from Leighton Buzzard to Penzance) whilst Alan, Kim and I would be staying at the Penzance YHA Hostel.
I’d never stayed in a hostel before so it would be a new experience for me on this trip (but I was scheduled to stay at a number of hostels along the course of the journey and it certainly wouldn’t be new to me by the end)! That first night in the hostel didn’t go too well. I was staying in a room with 6 bunk beds and, including myself, 4 of the beds were occupied. Two of the guys were very heavy snorers and had made an incredible racket, which had meant I couldn’t sleep much on the night before my biggest ride. I had feared I’d stay awake until it was time to leave, but miraculously the fatigue had built up sufficiently to allow me to fall asleep around 1am.
By 4am, when my alarm had rung, I wasn’t ready to get going after just 3 hours’ sleep. But I had no choice – and we got ourselves packed up and drove to Land’s End to meet Jim, Rod and Stu.
OUTBOUND LEG – Day 1 (Sun 24 June): Land’s End to Taunton, 153-Miles
I was quite disappointed and had felt really tired as I’d got ready to leave. But I still had that nervous excitement at finally facing this ‘beast’ of a ride that had been looming in the distance for so long. In fact, the scale of this ride was such that I had never been able to visualise it in the way I usually would prior to one of my big riding challenges – and I had no image in my mind of what I had expected the ride to look and feel like, or how I’d expected each part of the ride to unfold. Normally I try to have a vision of the ending of a ride, but this project had felt so big – and so important – that I simply didn’t have those visions. It was like a blank slate to me, an adventure with an uncertain shape…
We’d headed to Land’s End early in the morning of 24th June with the aim of starting the ride at 5am. Jim, Stu and Rod were already at The Land’s End Visitor Centre when we’d arrived. We’d unmounted the bikes from the roof rack of the support vehicle and had made our way to the Land’s End tourist signpost at the back of the Visitor Centre, where people tend to pose for souvenir photos when they visit Land’s End.
The place was deserted at 4:45am and we were the only people there, which had allowed us to film our start for a live social media video quite easily. That live social media video was to be our proof of start time for Audax UK and Guinness World Records verification. We had then ridden slowly through the Visitor Centre, again something impossible to do during the day, when the crowds are large, and we’d headed onto the A30 road towards Exeter.
The first few hours were spent getting into a rhythm and routine, eating and drinking and chatting. We had also got a better feel for the roads and had deviated from the planned route (which had used a lot of minor side-roads, with more hills). Instead we rode on the main A30 dual carriageway and had tried to use the hard shoulder as much as was possible. There was always a bit of debris in the hard shoulder, but with the hard-wearing puncture-resistant tyres we had all used the fear of punctures was minimal.
It was a sunny day and the weather forecast (which only went ten days ahead) had suggested we’d have a rain-free ride at least for the first 10 days, which had seemed just too good to be true! But we soon had learned that the sunny ride wasn’t necessarily and advantage, as the temperatures had crept up and the direct sunshine had begun to hit us hard for the rest of the day. Kim was placing herself strategically at laybys and setting out meals of various descriptions for us. That was a luxury I’d never experienced on a long ride and it was quite welcome.
Alarmingly, at the first food break, I had seen Jim step off his bike and roll onto the ground to lie on his back. He had then shared the fact that he had arrived from the USA with a serious back injury and that he didn’t think he’d be able to ride the first 300-miles with us, as had been the original plan. I had felt terrible, after the trip he’d invested in, but Jim was clearly unable to continue and had pulled out of the ride at that first meal stop (around 50-miles into the ride). We had mounted his bike onto the roof rack of the car and he’d then helped Kim navigate the support vehicle for the next two days. He did get back onto the bike intermittently, later in the day, but he could not ride continuously with us for very long periods.
At our next meal stop we had seen a professional-looking photographer (a guy called Chris, who was a cyclist from the local area) taking shots of us as we had rolled in and I had realised that many cyclists were now following us on the live tracking website which I had to set up to satisfy Guinness World Records requirements. The tracker would turn out to be very useful on this trip, as many riders had planned to come out and meet us (either to ride with us for a while, or just to wish us well).
It had felt like a big step forward when we had branched away from the A30 dual carriageway later in the afternoon (as we had headed through Pathfinder Village on the A38 road to Exeter). It was a much quieter road – but also more urban – passing through many neighbourhoods. Soon after passing through a village called Broadclyst we’d run into my Audax buddy Ian, who had visited me in the same area during my last End to End challenge in 2016 and had taken some great photos of me. This time around Ian was on a bike, so he’d ridden with us through Cullompton before departing.
Later in the evening another Audax cyclist, called Bruce, had approached from ahead and had u-turned to ride with us. It had turned out that he was a friend of another Audax cyclist called Iain, who lived in Taunton and had offered to host me overnight at his house that evening. Iain had done a 400km Audax event on the previous day, so he was not as inclined to ride far and had asked his pal Bruce to lead us into Taunton.
So Bruce had led us into Taunton, towards Iain’s house, but Iain himself had actually shown up on his bike not too long afterwards and had chatted with us as we rode into Taunton. A late decision had been made by my team that I’d be more time-efficient if I had stayed at the hotel in Taunton where Jim and Stu were booked (because it was a family room with three beds). So I’d had dinner with Ian and then I had caught up with the rest of the group at the hotel in Taunton and I’d slept there instead.
Day 2 (Mon 25 June): Taunton to Shrewsbury, 150-Miles
We were up early that next morning and all four riders (Jim included) had made our way towards Bristol, where a number of friends were waiting to meet us at a Cafe called The Boston Tea Party. We’d thought the cafe name was apt – with Jim visiting us from the USA and Lyn (one of the friends waiting for us in Bristol) also visiting from the USA. But we first had to stop at an intermediate location prior to reaching Bristol, so I could do a radio interview with BBC 3 Counties Radio (our home radio station which had been reporting on our ride for the previous two days).
The interviewers had scheduled a 7:15am call with me, so we had aimed to be 30-miles into the day’s ride by then and had just made it to a suitable off-road layby with 5 minutes to spare before the interview, thanks to what would become a characteristic slightly late start! We’d found Kim at the support vehicle waiting with our breakfast set out and everyone had launched into breakfast while I had waited sat in the car for the BBC call (which came in promptly at 7:15am).
I’d completed my BBC interview by 7:30am and we had left Kim (and the still-injured Jim) at the layby to clear up and move on to the the Bristol meeting place. They had later told us that a local food vendor had driven her van into the layby shortly after we had left and had been extremely abusive towards Kim, thinking that Kim had taken her van’s parking space. She even got violent, pushing Kim around and kicking all her breakfast pots and pans out of the way… A truly shameful and upsetting incident which Kim had somehow shrugged off with incredible dignity – and thankfully nobody was hurt.
When we had reached Bristol it was as hilly as I had remembered it from my 2016 LEJOG ride, but I was better able to handle the hills this time around because of the rest strategy which we were using in this ride that was allowing us to refresh each day. Although we’d only slept for 4 hours on the previous night (and I’d had even fewer hours of sleep during the night at the hostel) I’d actually felt physically rejuvenated – possibly because for the three hours before we’d slept I hadn’t actually been riding. It was already looking like the time spent off the bike after each day’s ride was as important for our recovery as the sleep itself.
In Bristol we’d found our American friend Lyn (a fellow ElliptiGO rider) waiting with Kim and Jim (and an Audax rider called James, with whom I’d made prior arrangements to meet there). James would ride to the Severn Bridge with us and then return to Bristol on his own. He was just there to give us some much welcome moral support. We’d had coffees and more breakfast at the cafe before rolling out of Bristol towards the Severn Bridge. As had been my experience in my LEJOG 2016 End to End ride, the bridge had seemed to take ages to finally appear on the horizon – and in total it had taken us over an hour to reach it from Central Bristol. The Severn Bridge is a good 15-miles from Bristol.
We’d crossed the bridge into Wales, posed for parting photos with James, and then carried on into Chepstow and towards Tintern. The forests had provided welcome shade and Tintern Abbey was as captivating as ever. The area had looked hilly but it hadn’t felt as hilly as it looked. Kim had set up in one of the laybys near Monmouth and we’d had lunch there before rolling into Monmouth, where my great buddy Tim had appeared on his green ElliptiGO bike – as expected – and he’d joined us for what was planned to be quite a long ride.
Tim had wanted to ride with us from Monmouth to Lancaster, where he’d stop for a few days and get some trail running training in (as he was preparing for a number of ultramarathon running races). So we’d all traveled together towards Shrewsbury, where I’d be meeting another friend called Mark who was participating in The 2018 Longest Ride Challenge and planning to put in a 150-mile ride, which would be his longest ride in a single day. We’d be putting up at his friend Frances’ houses in Shrewsbury Town Centre for the night and Mark had met us on the A49 just outside Shrewsbury and had led us in to the hotel where Alan and Kim would be staying.
Stu and Jim had finally parted with us in Shrewsbury, at which point Stu had ridden 300-miles with us on his ElliptiGO Arc bike. Sadly, Jim had had to drive most of the 300-miles in the support vehicle, because his back had shown no signs of improving. And on the following day he’d flown out of Heathrow Airport and back to Ohio in the USA. So it was just Alan, Mark, Tim and myself left on the road for the next day’s riding.
Day 3 (Tues 26 June): Shrewsbury to Penrith, 150-Miles
Tim had stayed in alternative accommodation nearby (an Airbnb room) while Mark had led me to Frances’ apartment in Shrewsbury Town Centre, where we’d spend a good few hours eating, drinking and getting washed up – before bedtime… We’d tiptoed out of Frances’ apartment early that next morning without saying goodbye (it was 4:45am!) and we’d met Alan outside his hotel – and had set off towards Lancashire. Another 4-hour night of sleep, because of messing about and socialising…
Approaching Whitchurch we’d heard a very loud hissing noise and it hadn’t taken much imagination to guess that Tim had experienced a puncture. We were a little surprised by that, because he was using the same Schwalbe Marathon Plus puncture-resistant tyres as the rest of us. But it had conveniently happened at the services, so we were able to go in for a coffee while Tim had wrestled with the tyre change (with help from Alan – too many cooks can spoil the broth)!
It had been discovered that the Schwalbe tyres hadn’t let Tim down and what had in fact happened was that his worn rims had finally given way, splitting and cutting the tube. He’d needed a new 20-inch wheel rim. That wouldn’t be something we’d be able to easily find on the route and although the tube had been replaced surely it was just a matter of time before the wheel rim punctured the new one too. So Tim had taken the decision to retire from the ride, after ‘just’ 115-miles of riding with us. He’d caught a train from Whitchurch and gone back home to Abergavenny.
Not long after that we’d ridden past a bearded chap on a very old mountain/hybrid bike. He’d tagged onto the back of our group and cruised along for a while, soon getting chatting with the guys at the rear of our group. It had turned out that he was Hungarian and was a keen bike tourer. He had come out to meet us after hearing about our challenge and had decided he’d ride along with us all morning and all afternoon, until we reached Lancaster. Just to keep us company.
His name was Janos and he was very good company. Not every cyclist knows how to ride with ElliptiGO riders, but he was really good, keeping to the back of the group so as not to obstruct us – or interfere with the pace. This is important when riding with people on less efficient and slower machines (which have different dynamics and which handle hills differently). So it was a pleasure spending the day together. Going through Wigan a cyclist in an Audax UK cycling top – named John – had appeared suddenly, introduced himself briefly and then handed over some money and a bag of nice sweets. Then he was gone. He was another well-wisher from the Audax ‘brotherhood’…
The stretch from Wigan through Preston on the End to End route we were using is pretty dull. It is very urban and passes directly through the Wigan and Warrington Town Centres. The temperatures were excessively hot and Mark, who was sticking with us until Wigan (in order to turn back and return to Shrewsbury, to post his longest ever ride in a single day) said he’d drunk 6 litres of water up to the 72-mile turnaround point. And he’d not needed to pass urine…
I was quite dehydrated myself and was failing to keep up with the hydration demands of my body, having quite small water bottles on my bike. I had also discovered that my once-daily applications of sunscreen were inadequate for the conditions. Having a dark skin I am not prone to sunburn and normally I get by just fine on a single daily application of sun protection. But under these harsh conditions, with 13 hour sun exposures, that was insufficient – and my skin had started to react badly, developing heat rash on all the exposed areas. Nobody is ‘designed’ to spend 13 hours in the sun, for days on end, it would appear…
Shortly after parting with Mark, to the north of Warrington, we’d met my very good pal Andy, just south of Preston. It was the same place where we’d met in 2016 when I was doing the End to End ride then – and our group was now comprised of Alan, Andy, Janos and myself.
Soon after meeting Andy we’d met Tom, a fellow ElliptiGO rider from Preston (who’d planned to ride with us here but had suffered from a heart ailment in the buildup and was now recovering from stent-insertion surgery). However, he still came out and met us to provide refreshments – and to boost our morale on that burning hot day. Seeing him under that shaded bridge where we’d met outside Preston had meant a whole lot to me.
Andy had then led us all through Preston town centre and onto the A6 towards Lancaster. We’d finally stopped for a meal with Kim just South of Lancaster and Andy and Janos had turned back and headed for home. The food stop was just near the roundabout leading to The Lancaster Royal Infirmary, the hospital where I was born (yes, I was actually born right in the middle of the End to End route)!
From that point just Alan and myself had been left riding towards John o’Groats and we’d proceeded into the Lake District and faced an 8-mile long hill climb called Shap Fell.
I had remembered the Shap climb from my 2016 LEJOG ride – and back then it had been a nasty surprise, in the middle of the night. This time it was evening, probably around 8pm, and the scorching temperatures had just begun to subside – so it was the best time to climb a slope of that nature. We’d gone up Shap Fell pretty comfortably, despite having ridden for 130-miles by the time we’d reached the hill. We’d found Kim waiting at the top, where we’d had a snack and a cup of tea before heading towards Penrith, to the hostel we’d be staying at. The 15-miles of riding after Shap Fell had progressed really quickly and I was surprised to see us complete the last 15-miles of riding in under an hour!
We were to stay in a cycling-focused hostel in Penrith called the Wayfarer’s Hostel. It was on the popular Coast to Coast Route, as well as on the End to End route, making it very popular for travelling cyclists. It also had a fully-fitted bike service workshop where one could work on one’s own machine (or get a qualified mechanic to do so, for a fee). I was quite impressed with the standard of the hostel, everything was spotless and finished to a high standard. I only had one roommate this time around and the bathroom was en-suite. I’d met my roommate under not the most inspiring circumstances (he was lying on the bed shirtless – with three beers on the floor – eating crisps and talking loudly on the phone, in a foreign language)…
However, after his call was over he’d taken the beers to the fridge in the kitchen and had settled quietly into bed. We’d got talking briefly and I had realised he was just a normal guy. He’d told me he was a recent Romanian immigrant who’d been lured into the UK 6 months previously by work prospects, but was now ‘stuck’ here due to what he referred to as ‘modern slavery’ (work paying just enough to keep him alive, but not enough to save money – or to improve his circumstances – and not enough to allow him to leave).
He was basically working just to be able to stay working. I’d felt bad for him and had given him some earnest words of encouragement – telling him not to give up hope on his dream of being able to return home. I really hope he does eventually make it back…
Day 4 (Wed 27 June): Penrith to Kinross, 140-Miles
I’d managed to leave the room without waking my Romanian roommate and had set up the bike and headed out with Alan towards Carlisle. We knew this would be a good stretch to ride and it had been. We had made good progress and had entered into Scotland and found a nice cafe in Lockerbie, where we’d stopped for Breakfast.
The cafe owner had invited us to leave our bikes in their backyard, rather than in front of the cafe on the high street, for safekeeping (they lived above the cafe). And we’d then ordered Full English breakfasts. Kim had incidentally driven by the cafe and Alan had miraculously spotted her passing and had run out of the cafe to flag her down. So she’d also joined us for breakfast!
From there we’d proceeded onto some very slow and rough roads. Again, we had expected this from our previous End to End experiences. But coupled with the intense heat the experience had been even less pleasant than anticipated. The wind was beginning to work against us and we could clearly see the wind direction from the direction which the Clyde Wind Farm windmills were all facing! What we hadn’t realised was that this entire section of road was a gradual (but imperceptible) upward slope, which had compounded the slowness of the road surface and the wind.
The scenery had improved greatly once we branched away from that slow stretch of road running alongside the M74 motorway. But the terrain heading towards Carnwath had been quite hilly. The villages there were beautiful, especially one called Thankerton, but the roads were rather undulating. Near Carnwath a Glasgow Audax rider called Alex had joined us. He was planning his own attempt at an End to End ride from John o’Groats to Land’s End just a few days from the time we’d met him (which would include an attempt at a non-stop 300-mile ride as part of my 2018 Longest Ride Challenge).
Alex would be starting his End to End ride at midnight on the Sunday night coming (which would be the 2nd day of July – and two whole days after we were scheduled to reach John o’Groats) so it was unlikely he’d ever catch up with us during our own return leg. But it was great to catch up and chat about it all. We’d stopped for a meal outside Carnwath and sat in a nice little garden layby setup at the road sign announcing entry to Carnwath. It was very hot by that stage and also a bit windy, but we had maintained high spirits.
Alex had eventually parted and headed back to Glasgow for final preparations for his own big ride and we’d proceeded on to Edinburgh where we’d met another Audax rider called Dave, who lived in Edinburgh near the Forth Road Bridge. He’d led us through the outskirts of town and onto the Forth Road Bridge, before departing for home. We were surprised at the micro-climate at the bridge, which was shrouded in clouds of mist and was as cold as winter! We had to put on warmer clothes just for that small section and had soon heated up as we had climbed the hills leading away from the Forth Road Bridge and towards Kinross.
It was a hilly road section to Kinross – but manageable – and that day was actually our shortest of the ride so far, with just 140-miles scheduled for the whole day. However, when we had reached the Airbnb accommodation in Kinross where we’d be staying the hosts were so friendly that they’d made us a huge (and brilliant-tasting) pasta meal! Alan and Kim had been caught up in the conversation but I had managed to pry myself away and go upstairs to do some stretching.
Day 5 (Thur 28 June): Kinross to Alness, 151-Miles
It had felt rude leaving dinner early, after all the trouble our hosts had gone through for us, but we had been losing sleep time throughout the trip. I had averaged just 4 hours’ sleep per night for the whole journey, to that point, and we were already late so I’d not be able to get much more than 4 hours’ sleep (even on the shortest riding day of the journey, so far) unless I had taken drastic action to enforce an earlier bedtime.
It had felt like another lost opportunity and I’d finally gone to bed after sorting out the changing and charging of all my batteries and after arranging all my validations for Guinness World Records and Audax UK – only to wake up seemingly seconds later to my alarm ringing. Actually, 5 hours had passed – and it was time to get moving again! This was the first morning during the ride when I’d woken without very sore muscles.
I’d started taking slow-release 12-hour ibuprofen on the 4th night of riding and that may have been the reason for my reduced muscle pain on the 5th morning. Or it may have been the fact that my power output was now so low (compared to what it was during the first three days) that my body wasn’t able to hurt itself any more. On the 4th riding day I had certainly noticed less of a feeling of my tendons seeming to be strained whenever we had pushed hard (whilst on the previous 3 days that had been a dominating concern). Basically, for the first time in the ride, I was feeling more confident that my body could hold out for the full distance…
I was getting used to the sleeping and seemingly immediate waking pattern and the process had made it seem like one continuous and non-stop ride (because as soon as my head would touch the pillow I’d be asleep – and as soon as my eyes had closed the alarm had already seemed to be ringing). So the sensation of actually sleeping was completely lost and it was as if the 4 hour sleeps hadn’t even happened.
Every morning when I awoke it was noticeable just how puffy my face had been and how swollen my eyes had seemed. The dryness in my mouth and nose was significant every morning – and through the day – and that dryness had seemed ‘untouchable’ by water because my body was clearly dehydrated down to a cellular level. There simply wasn’t enough time to fully re-hydrate at the end of each day. If I was to do that I’d have no room for food for at least an hour or two. And pressed for sleep time I could not sit up waiting for the water to pass through my system in order to be able to eat.
So I was making compromises and trying to drink as much as I could each morning. In order to do that, it had meant not being able to eat at all before we had started riding. So both Alan and I would only drink water and re-hydrate before starting the day’s riding, but no food was consumed first thing in the morning. It would then take up to 2 hours before my stomach had the space for food, so I’d usually only eat my first meal after 30-50 miles of riding each morning.
Alan was more extreme with fasted morning rides than I was and he had actually planned to ride this way from well before we’d set out for the ride. So he’d seldom eat anything before 50-miles of riding were completed each morning. But I had found that although I was also well-conditioned to fasted riding, if I went a full 50-miles before eating I was prone to overeat at the first food stop at the support vehicle. And that would then lead to excessive drowsiness…
Our food stops for main meals were planned at approximately 50-mile intervals and our days were planned as 3 distinct sessions, each session 50-miles long. However, Kim had the discretion to intercept us for snacks between scheduled formal breaks and she often went by feel (deciding on where the next stop would be, based on weather conditions). I must say she was really good at it, knowing when we probably needed more water, more food, some Cola, etc – without necessarily being told.
Alan and Kim also had a brilliant communication system set up, with Alan using a phone earpiece (connected by Bluetooth to his mobile phone) which allowed him to take calls whilst riding and also to call Kim in advance if we needed to change the routine in any way – or if we had wanted her to buy something for us before we reached the next scheduled stop. It had all worked rather well and was very well organised.
Kim was also great with making meals for varying numbers of riders with very distinct and varied diets. We had regular visitors during the ride and sometimes she had no idea how many of us would show up at the meal stops! But we had felt obliged to feed our guest riders, even though none of them expected anything, and many even refrained from indulging in our provisions because they didn’t want to ‘impose’ on our resources.
Alan was quite a balanced and healthy eater – and I would eat just about anything. But our guest riders were often much more demanding – with vegans, vegetarians, zero carb dieters and clean eaters the order of the day. Kim had somehow catered for us all! My breakfast routine was usually one or two large bowls of muesli, mixed with Greek yogurt and fruits. Much like Alan would eat. Then we’d have a fried breakfast afterwards, with sausages, bacon and sometimes eggs. Lunch was always varied – and so was dinner. Kim had worked like a professional chef!
We’d headed out of Kinross via a Nisa Local shop (to get a proof of passage receipt) and then we’d ridden into some beautiful countryside on a flattish route, with a slight tailwind, which had all seemed too good to be true. And that’s because it was too good to be true! After a few miles we’d realised we were off course and had to retrace our steps and head in a more rugged direction – with a lot more undulation. The scenery was still lovely though and we quickly got to Perth. It was a lovely town to ride through and wasn’t too busy, despite it being around rush-hour time.
But after Perth things got tricky with navigation. We were off the country roads and onto the A9 dual carriageway. It had a bike road beside the carriageway, but the path was rugged, undulating and unnecessarily meandering, adding unneeded extra distance and climbing to the journey. So we’d decided to just go on the dual carriageway of the A9 instead. But we were in luck because roadworks had closed off one lane on the dual carriageway and we were able to ride in the closed lane for many miles, unbothered by the motor traffic.
But at the end of the roadworks we’d opted to go off the A9 and use country lanes instead. It was hillier, but much nicer looking. Alan had come up with a new route suggestion – the National Cycling Network Routes 7 & 77. We’d attempted to follow that route from Dunkeld Train Station and although it had been a really rocky start (with off road and gravel trails) we’d eventually got onto nicer tarmac roads.
The route had been refreshing, being new to us both despite us both having done end to end rides previously. But it was much hillier than the A9 and a bit slower for that reason. Still, I would recommend it over the A9 every time. That route had got us to Pitlochry and on to Blair Atholl, where we had met Kim in quite extreme temperatures. It is worth mentioning that for most of the Scottish leg of the journey the roads had heated up so much that they were actually melting!
At the Blair Atholl Visitor Centre we were able to shelter from the heat under the well designed canopies and could eat our hefty breakfasts in relative peace. What I did notice at the time was that after a heavy breakfast we’d become very sleepy. This was compounded by the bright sunshine and it often meant that the middle 50-mile ‘shifts’ were by far the hardest sections for us. Blazing sunshine, incredible heat – and the blood flow in the body being diverted to the digestive system (instead of to the legs) – thanks to over-eating. A recipe for a struggle on the road…
The last 50-mile stretch of each day had tended to be the best for us. Temperatures would finally be declining and the sunshine would be weaker (although we’d discovered that daylight would persist until about 11pm in Scotland, at least an hour longer than it did in England and Wales). So we seemed to do our best work in the evenings.
It was all relative though – and the days did seem unfathomably long, regardless of how well we had seemed to ride. 150-miles is a long way, especially on a stand-up bike, and although we’d been completing the first few days of riding within our planned schedule (i.e. by 9pm) by this point in the journey we had noticed the finishes becoming later and later.
Our rides had started taking 15 hours and more to complete towards the middle days of the challenge. The main cause of the delays was our longer and longer stops at meal breaks, because after the first two or three days our pace had pretty much stopped declining. But we didn’t have the discipline (or need) to shorten our stops, because we were bored – and it was hard to communicate whilst riding on noisy and busy roads.
So the stops had become very social. And because we were still on target with our riding schedule we’d not taken more extreme measures to curtail the long stops. Kim was bored too, driving the support vehicle, so she probably appreciated the interactions too.
Despite their length the stops never seemed long enough to do everything I’d wanted to do. There was seldom enough time to eat, call my family, do the necessary social media promotions for my fundraising cause and answer urgent emails, etc. But, strangely, my parents had always seemed to get lucky and would call me when I had happened to be stopped at a layby. So I got to speak to them regularly. Phoning my wife and children wasn’t as easy with their school and university schedules (my wife’s doing a university degree and was busy finishing off her second year requirements in the two weeks when we traveled/rode).
From Blair Atholl we’d decided to stick with the National Cycling Network heading into the Scottish Highlands and up the climb to Drumochter Summit (an imperceptible uphill drag many hours long – making you feel uncharacteristically slow without any obvious reason). It was a mistake to use those lanes rather than the A9, in my view, because the path became extremely undulating – and for much of the way was just gravel or sand.
The Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres did their job and we didn’t puncture, but we were terrified of breaking spokes. Luckily nothing gave and we completed a good 35-miles of off-road riding (until we reached Dalwhinnie where the cycling route had become very civilised again). Speed had increased again and our spirits had lifted. But it was blazing hot. So hot, in fact, that during our lunch stop I was able to lay out all my wet laundry from the previous 4 days (on one of the benches at Ralia Cafe Services) and it was all dry by the time lunch was over!
From there we’d pushed on to Carrbridge and then towards our sleep stop at Alness. Reaching Inverness had been another troublesome part of the journey. The National Cycling Network had been okay until the outskirts of Inverness – albeit exceptionally hilly – but it had got us hopelessly lost at Inverness town centre.
We rode through the university and through town centre, following small signposts rather than using our GPS route (which was based on using the busy A9). We eventually got through Inverness – but not without difficulty (and not without using the motorway-like A9 dual carriageway to get back on route and to reach the bridge over Moray Firth).
The bridge, like the others we’d crossed earlier in the journey, had its own micro-climate. It was cold, shrouded in clouds – and dark. After crossing we’d met Kim at the very next layby for a quick meal, change of clothes and fill of our bottles. We’d then stuck to the A9 for simplicity and although a busy and fast road it had not felt unsafe. Kim had seemed very worried and had layby-hopped along the A9 the whole way to Alness, taking lots of photos and videos as we passed, but probably just checking that we were still alive!
We had another Airbnb place to stay at in Alness and it was great. Messing about with showers, cups of tea, emails and social media had ensured that I got to sleep after midnight – as was now becoming normal on this journey. And the alarm had rung much too soon, as was now also quite normal on this journey….
Day 6 (Fri 29 June): Alness to John O’Groats, 100-MilesWe were finally into the 6th day of riding and would be hitting John o’Groats on that day! It had felt like a triumph, although we were really just using John o’Groats as a landmark. We didn’t see it as anything more than being halfway through the ride. But it would also be our first genuinely short riding day, with ‘only’ 100-miles to be covered to reach John o’Groats (for what would be an extended break to help us catch up and prepare for the return journey). Because we’d reached Alness late – and because we had a short riding day on day 6 – we’d decided to wake up a bit later to allow at least 4 hours of sleep. So we’d set out at 6am rather than at 5am on that 6th day.
The trip had become hillier after Alness and I knew we’d have some long and big climbs into Helmsdale. But once again the hills were not as bad as I had remembered them from my 2016 End to End ride. That would be because I wasn’t as sleep-deprived this time around, despite the 4 hour sleeps.
Getting to Helmsdale we’d come across a massive 2-mile climb and had met Kim near the top, parked in a layby. Breakfast was very welcome and as we ate my Mum had phoned to give me encouragement, which had been a very cheerful start to the day for me. We’d then continued to work through the hills in that section and 20-miles from John o’Groats, at Wick, we’d met my great buddy Thomas – who had flown in from Denmark on the previous day.
Thomas used to live in Milton Keynes and had been my close training buddy throughout 2017, before leaving the UK in March 2018. But he’d flown back specifically to support my ride and was planning to accompany us all the way back to Land’s End, for what would be the longest ride he’d ever done (the full southbound End to End – or ‘JOGLE’). Logistics were complicated, so Thomas had flown in with just a backpack and had then bought a road bike on Ebay – which he’d picked up when he arrived in the UK at Inverness. From there he’d traveled to Wick to meet us.
It had gone well and we met Thomas at the bridge over the river running through Wick Town Centre. We got riding almost immediately and Thomas had handed his backpack to Kim at the next layby and we’d then rolled into John o’Groats at great speed, thanks to a strong tailwind! Our first half of the journey, from Land’s End to John o’Groats (‘LEJOG’), had been 865-miles long and had taken us 5 days, 13 hours & 53 minutes.
When we arrived we had posed for the mandatory photos at the iconic signpost and I had taken out the container which I’d been carrying with me that had contained ashes from my late brother Garai’s cremation. I had emptied half the contents into my hand and scattered the ashes into the strong winds at John o’Groats to mark the first half of my ‘pilgrimage’ being complete. I had closed the container and put it back in my bag, saving the remainder of Garai’s ashes for scattering at the end of the journey (at Land’s End).
In John o’Groats we had booked Airbnb accommodation in a static caravan less than a mile from the ferry terminal. As we rode back a taxi had cut across the road ahead and parked at one of the hotels – and out had jumped Adam, Garai’s best friend! He had a small clothing bag (and a large bike bag) and was there to complete his longest ride too. He would ride for the first 2 days of our return leg to make up a total of 300-miles in memory of his best friend. My brother Garai had been the Best Man at Adam’s wedding (as he’d been at my wedding too – so Adam and I had that connection in common)!
Getting to the farm where our caravan was situated we’d realised we were just a few hundred yards from the Seaview Hotel where Adam was based. The farm had a massive garage with motorcycles in it, where we could park our bikes. We did a quick chain tension adjustment to the ElliptiGO bikes and lubricated their chains – and that was all the bike maintenance we had done so far on the trip. Then we went to shower and dressed up more comfortably in non-riding clothing.
I was finding John o’Groats slightly chilly as we’d walked to Adam’s hotel for a drink before heading back to our static caravan for dinner. Alan, Kim, Thomas and myself had stayed in the static caravan – which was great, by the way (apart from a lack of soundproofing – which had made toilet visits slightly awkward for me before bedtime). But the caravan was large and comfortable – with a big living room – and it was also well fitted out.
RETURN LEG – Day 7 (Sat 30 June): John O’Groats to Carrbridge, 150-Miles
True to form, we still only managed about 4 hours of sleep, despite getting to John o’Groats in good time (we’d arrived there just before 7pm)! In the morning we had met up with Adam at our caravan and rolled back to the signpost at John o’Groats to enable Adam to get the opportunity to start from that iconic cycling location. We had taken some photos and had then set off steadily, with a slight headwind.
Kim’s work was diversifying at this point because Adam and Thomas would be with us for a long period and both had special diets. Adam was on a zero-carbohydrate high-protein diet and Thomas is a vegetarian. So Kim had to work both those considerations into all her cooking from this point on – and she did a remarkably good job of it, I must say!
It was gratifying to note that Adam and Thomas are both very experienced cyclists and riding with them was very comfortable for us. They knew to hold back and ride behind us, so as not to interfere with the very careful (and even) pacing required for a 1,700-mile ride. And whenever they got bored they would overtake fast and head for the hills on their own, without interfering with Alan and I. It was also refreshing that being new on the ride – and riding for the first time in those parts – both Adam and Thomas were fascinated by the scenery in Scotland.
During the first part of the morning they would both take some of the hills faster than Alan and I on their road bikes, just for entertainment. But as the day had worn on the discipline had increased and both Adam and Thomas had been content to just hang back behind us and have an easy time of it. After a few hours of riding Adam had commented on his growing saddle discomfort and I’d pointed out that the slower pace was likely to make the saddle less comfortable than normal, as would the long hours. But he’d worked hard on his posture and on his weight distribution and had seemed to cope quite well thereafter.
The heat had been quite bad that day and the hills were tough heading through Helmsdale again, causing us to soak our clothes in sweat each time we were on a long, steep hill. Then we’d literally freeze when we were coasting down the other side of the hills, as the sweat had evaporated from our clothing.
Those extremes had made for a challenging morning, but the scenery going back south had often seemed better than it had on the way going north. We could see certain landmarks which were not visible from the opposite direction and it had seemed like a completely different route.
In the bright sunshine the sea to the left of us had looked beautiful and crossing one of the high bridges we’d seen a massive seal (or sea lion) gazing up at us from the deep blue sea. We had stuck to the A9 this time all the way back to Alness – and on to Inverness. Inverness went smoother this time and we’d intercepted Cycling Network Route 7 much more easily this time around. But it had been a long day and the sleep stop at Carrbridge was very welcome.
Adam and I had shared a hotel room and Alan, Kim and Thomas had shared an apartment. I had a massive fish and chips meal while Adam had a low GI meat and onion rings meal. My mouth was really uncomfortable from quite early in the ride, due to the volume of eating – and also due to being burned by trying to eat hot food quickly.
So eating was a challenge and I think only my twice daily tooth brushing routine was ‘saving’ me and allowing me to continue in this way. I could barely taste my fish and chips as we ate that night and I did once again burn my tongue while rushing to be done with eating, so we could go and shower and get ready for bed.
Day 8 (Sun 1 July): Carrbridge to Carnwath, 152-Miles
Adam had completed the first 150-miles of his planned 300-miles and was relatively fine, apart from the seat discomfort. We had set off around 5:15am on the next day. Our plan had been to aim for a 5am start each day – but right from the very start of the ride we’d failed to do it (leaving Land’s End at 5:02am and then getting progressively later with each successive riding day)!
Day 8 was a landmark for Alan and I because we’d exceeded 1,000-miles of riding during that morning (with the furthest we’d previously ridden being the 887-miles in the LEL 2013 Audax Randonnee). We were already accomplishing our longest ride, with 700-miles of riding still to come…
It was a slow start to the day’s ride and we’d again stuck to the A9 dual carriageway and avoided the National Cycling Network. That had not really sped things up, due to a headwind and an incredibly slow road. It was only when we reached the signs for Drumochter Summit that we’d realised that the slowness was actually not just because of the headwind, but was also due to a steady and imperceptible uphill climb (which had lasted for 3 hours)! Once we’d crossed that summit things had sped up considerably and we’d rolled into Blair Atholl in high spirits.
It was once again scorchingly hot and we’d had to take cover under the shelters at the visitor centre. We’d then got back onto the A9 and searched for Cycling Network Route 77 – having by now passed the big off-road section between Carrbridge and Blair Atholl. Again, it was reasonably pleasant, but when we’d reached Pitlochry we’d abandoned the cycling route in favour of the single-carriageway A9. Traffic was busy – and fast – but we’d grown impatient and there wasn’t an easy way to navigate off the A9. Also, the hills on the side-roads were making us so slow that we had decided it was best to use the A9 main road.
What I had noticed on the previous excursions on the A9 was that the best way to keep the cars passing us wide was to ride in the actual road (and not within the hard shoulder). Riding within the hard shoulder seemingly gave motorists the incorrect impression that we were ‘safely off the road’ and many of them were tempted to just hold their normal driving line and pass us well within the legal 1.5 metre distance stipulated in the Highway Code.
But as soon as we left the hard shoulder and rode in the actual car lane they would overtake very wide, as if they were passing another car or motorcycle. We didn’t have to ride well into the lane to get these wide overtaking responses, literally just riding on the inside of the line marking the hard shoulder was sufficient to trigger motorists to give us a lot more room.
Crossing the big bridge at Edinburgh had been a welcome relief and Adam – who has a fascination with bridges – had wanted to stop and take lots of photos. We then used the toilet at the services on the other side of the Forth Road Bridge, because we were finding an increased need for toilet visits with the incredible volume of eating we were doing. Both Alan and I had pot bellies developing simply from bloating, after 8 days of force-feeding, which is not pleasant for a ‘body beautiful’ guy like myself! It wasn’t pleasant for Alan either, I can only assume, because Kim had kept on joking about it!
We had reached Carnwath, our sleep stop, very late. The hotel we used was called Robertson’s Arms – and it was great. A pub-type hotel, but immaculately fitted out. We had showered and sorted ourselves out for the next riding day – but Thomas had camped just outside town (he’d brought a light tent with him and just used our shower facilities in the room Adam and I were sharing).
Day 9 (Mon 2 July): Carnwath to Lancaster, 140-Miles
We’d left Adam asleep in the hotel and Alan, Thomas and I had headed out into a sunny and pleasant day. We had a partial tailwind and had cruised at a decent 13mph average speed all morning. We’d discovered those slow roads from the northbound leg were also the result of an imperceptible mild uphill incline – and on the way back we were benefiting from the downward slope and the tailwind. So we’d reached Lockerbie well before 10am and had breakfast with Kim at the same cafe which we’d used on the inbound journey.
Then we’d crossed the Scottish border back into England and passed through Kinross, stopping just before the Shap Fell climb for lunch in the burning hot sun, at a layby just south of Kinross.
Shap Fell was much shorter from the north side and there wasn’t much climbing. We’d met an Audax cyclist named Pete on Shap Fell and he’d ridden with us all the way to our sleep stop in Carnforth (Lancashire). Thomas and I were to sleep in Carnforth while Alan had ridden a little further to Lancaster and stayed there with Kim at an Airbnb.
Our host in Carnforth was another Audax cyclist named Iain, whose wife had made us a great meal and they’d let us use their shower facilities before we were put up in his neighbour’s two-bedroom static caravan. We’d arrived at the caravan in the middle of a ‘property dispute’ – with some ‘squatters’ having tried to break into the uninhabited static caravan, which had belonged to Iain’s neighbour. So there was a lot of fuss, with the elderly (and very distressed) caravan owner and her partner liaising with the police and trying to find the offenders (whom they were sure were hiding in the bushes).
Day 10 (Tues 3 July): Lancaster to Hereford, 165-Miles
Thomas and I were exhausted and sleep had been a swift affair, as always, despite all the fuss going on outside with the squatters. We’d woken earlier than normal – at 3:45am – to allow for the 165-mile riding day we had needed to face in order to make up for the shorter distance of the previous day. We caught up to Alan outside the Lancaster Royal Infirmary Hospital, where I was born 44 years before, and headed into Lancaster with our host Iain (who is used to waking very early before work for all his rides).
Again we’d continued on the A6 main road, which was pretty quiet at that time. Outside Preston my good buddy Andy had shown up again to escort us for a while and another Audax cyclist (called Martin) also from the local area, had pitched up too and had spent a short time riding with us. Not long after Andy and Martin had left us our new Hungarian friend Janos had appeared again, as he’d promised he would, a few miles South of Preston. He was to accompany us all the way south to Shrewsbury.
This was one of the dullest parts of the journey, with the stretches through Preston, Warrington and Wigan basically being town centres. And they were big towns! The heat had peaked on that day and we had really suffered, especially in the second 50-mile segment of the day’s ride. We were brutalised by the sun and got very dehydrated, despite our best efforts at regular drinking and eating.
Reaching the meal stop at Shrewsbury was supposed to feel like a triumph, but the traffic along the A49 was very fast and very inconsiderate, with many close-passes by huge lorries. And going through Shrewsbury itself there was a very noticeable hostility towards our riding party, because the locals had felt that we should have used the rocky cycling lanes on the other side of the carriageway. Some of us did that, which had possibly caused further conflict, because the local drivers thought that if some of the riders could use the cycling lanes then all of us should. But the cycling lanes terminated awkwardly and were not continuous, which becomes exceptionally tedious when riding for 1,700-miles and I simply couldn’t be bothered any more.
So I’d put up with the regular beeps and shouts, although I’d let the heat and tough conditions get the better of me (and I had eventually lost patience and begun hurling insults back at the rude drivers – and making my feelings clear to them with a variety of ‘hand signals’ – behaviour quite uncharacteristic of me under most circumstances). I guess fatigue and adverse conditions can break down even the most resilient of us!
I must make it clear that cycling lanes are discretionary – and not mandatory. If they are good then cyclists will actually use them. If they are rubbish, then cyclists will avoid them. However, things had calmed down drastically after we’d left Shrewsbury and the heat (and traffic volumes) had dropped a lot. So the final 50-miles to Hereford were rather pleasant, even along the A49 (which was quite deserted after rush-hour).
My good buddy Tim, who’d accompanied us from Monmouth on the northbound journey (before his ElliptiGO rear wheel rim had broken) had gone and booked a nice hostel for Thomas and I to stay in that night (we were due to stay at his house but he had decided on the day that it would take up too much of our desperately needed sleep time making that diversion). It was one of the many great acts of kindness and support we’d received along the journey – and the hostel booked for us in Hereford was great. Thomas and I had ordered fast food (pizza for me and chips for Thomas) and we had showered and (eventually) gone to bed.
Day 11 (Wed 4 July): Hereford to Okehampton, 150-Miles
In the morning we’d linked up with Alan, who’d stayed with Kim at a huge Travelodge Hotel in city centre. We’d found Alan waiting alongside a large orange velomobile recumbent. It belonged to my online buddy Kevin, whom I was meeting for the first time and who would accompany us for the first 50-miles of the day’s ride. It was also the first time he’d ever ridden with other riders in his velomobile and had turned out to be a huge highlight for him, which was great to be a part of.
The velomobile is very different to other bikes, being able to actually make up for slow uphills by speeding up on the downhill stretches. So although he could not keep up even with our slowish pace on the big hills, Kevin would shoot past us at 100km/hr on the other side of the hills – which was quite spectacular to witness. Kevin had tracked with us all the way to Monmouth, where we had met Tim again. This time Tim, a professional photographer by trade, was there in his car – and he took a number of professional photos for us to keep as souvenirs.
We’d passed through Chepstow, which was exceptionally busy (I assume there was a horse racing meeting taking place that morning) and then we’d crossed the Severn Bridge and parted with Kevin there. He had then ridden in his velomobile (at the speed of a car) back to Hereford! Bristol was tough for us this time, with the hills seeming even steeper.
We had met Kim for breakfast just south of Bristol, in a shoddy layby, at which point the first rain had started falling. It had gone on to rain for another 2 hours. Not much rain, but seemingly enough to cause Alan and I to start losing consciousness and falling asleep whilst still on the bikes! So we’d stopped at the next cafe for a triple espresso, to help wake us up. Progress had been good afterwards, but it had felt like a day of drudgery, nonetheless…
Taunton and Exeter had been very urban experiences and we’d encountered a similar hostility to what we saw in Shrewsbury as we’d gone through Exeter, with lots of drunk students shouting out of cars telling us to use the non-existent (or inconvenient) cycling lanes or pavements! This time I’d refrained from responding, especially when one young girl had come past screaming obscenities from the car window and I’d realised she was young enough to be Alan’s or my daughter! So I didn’t insult her in response…
Beyond Exeter Richard had shown up just to say hello. He’s another Audax rider and a good friend of my buddy Ian (who was out on a 600km Audax ride and thus was unable to drop by himself to say hello). The main feedback from Richard’s visit was that our sleep stop at Okehampton was still 38-miles away. Sad news, considering the sun was already setting and we had decided (at Alan’s suggestion, I might add) to use the A30 dual carriageway as the most direct way to Okehampton – at night, in the dark.
To be fair, the A30 was quiet, but it was still nighttime and I had felt that motorists wouldn’t expect to meet bikes. However, our bright flashing lights had definitely made it clear that we were on bikes and there were no near passes at all that night. The ride was swift, with Alan pushing the pace and trying to finish as soon as we could. I wasn’t so keen on a fast pace, but I was beyond complaining! We had rolled into the Travelodge in Okehampton at around midnight and had wasted more time eating and showering. We had now completed 11 days (and over 1,600-miles) of riding…
Day 12 (Thur 5 July): Okehampton to Land’s End, 100-Miles
We decided to give ourselves a slight reprieve and start the last day later than planned, with the final 100-miles to Land’s End being a much shorter day than we were accustomed to riding. My only stipulation was that I had wanted to complete the whole ride in under 11.5 days (which had meant that we needed to be done by 5:02pm on that last day). Our 6am start had seen us onto a very fast and increasingly busy A30 dual carriageway – and because the lack of sleep was finally beginning to affect my reflexes, I had felt very uneasy about riding on a dual carriageway in the weekday rush-hour.
Sadly, all our attempts at routing ourselves off the A30 were unsuccessful. Alan and Thomas had just wanted to finish the ride as soon as possible, so they were actually keen to stick to the A30 dual carriageway. But I was actually scared, a feeling I’ve never had before on even the busiest roads. I was as concerned for the other riders’ safety as I was for my own – and I had an inexplicable feeling of foreboding.
I couldn’t get myself comfortable with using the A30 road and had kept on wondering what I’d tell Kim if Alan were to be hit by a lorry. Or how I’d get hold of Thomas’ parents in Germany – or his fiancee in Denmark – if something bad was to happen to him on the A30. And what about my own family? My own wife and children? Surely, I could not put them through another sporting accident – not after I’d seen what losing Garai had done to us all…
I was a bit of a mess, mentally speaking, but Alan and Thomas had gone to great lengths to explain that it was the same A30 I’d happily used on the first day of the challenge and the probability of being hit had not changed in any way. The suggestion was made that I de-stress myself by using the hard shoulder. Although there may be close-passes when we ride in the hard shoulder, we had never seen a vehicle cross into the hard shoulder, so there was virtually no chance of being hit if we simply kept to the hard shoulder…
Strangely, this careful and crafty explanation had been sufficient to calm me right down and I had accepted that we were stuck on the A30 and I had completely relaxed. From there we’d made it to the final control point at Victoria Services, on the A30, with just 50-miles left before we’d reached Land’s End. At Victoria I’d fueled up at the McDonald’s restaurant – with two breakfast meals – and as we had left for the final 50-miles of riding I had felt a huge sense of purpose.
I’d led out the group at a committed pace, as fast as I would normally ride in a hard 50-mile training ride. The wind had seemed to swing into our favour slightly, at that point, and the long gradual hills of the A30 had allowed us to sustain a very good pace. There were no real interruptions from there – except for a broken down SUV pulling a caravan, which had caused a traffic jam on the A30 for a short time – and there had also been a small incident, during which we were visited by the police…
A concerned citizen had called the Cornwall Police to say some bikes and ‘scooters’ were spotted on the busy dual carriageway and although the operators were wearing high-visibility jackets the caller wasn’t sure ‘scooters’ should be allowed on such a busy road. When the officer had seen us he’d seemed relieved, expecting to find mobility scooters! So to make the most of his ‘visit’ we’d posed for photos and exchanged jokes about him serving as a police escort for the rest of our journey!
That had been the final interruption and we’d pressed on with the journey. With just 2 hours of riding remaining I had begun to think about my late brother Garai and to ‘fathom’ the fact that we were only here, doing this ride, because he’d died. I had accepted Garai’s death right from the time it had happened, but there was a strange realisation in this surreal setting of the true reality of what had happened. I would never see Garai again. He really had died. I was completing the biggest ride of my life, but I had felt completely empty. There was nothing for me to celebrate…
Tears had started to pour uncontrollably down my face, but I had the ‘security’ of riding in front of the group – in single file on a busy dual carriageway – with dark glasses on. So I had relaxed and had just waited for the tears to stop flowing whenever they would. Nobody saw it – and I had ridden harder and harder to ensure nobody could pass me and see my tear-stained face. I’m not ashamed of crying, but this was also Alan and Thomas’ biggest ride ever – and I didn’t want to spoil the ending for them.
After 10 minutes the tears had stopped and we’d continued riding through Penzance and finally onto the hilly road to Land’s End. Just near the Land’s End Visitor Centre, our final destination, our friend Rod had appeared from behind us on his carbon road bike. You may recall he had hosted Jim and Stu on the night before we’d started our ride (nearly 11 and a half days previously) and now he was there to film our finish. Rod had caught us just in time, less than a mile from the end!
When we reached the Visitor Centre gates we’d slowed to a crawl and had made our way around the back of the centre, to avoid the large crowds of tourists (a surprising sight for me on a Thursday, outside of school holidays). And we’d slowly rolled up to the Land’s End signpost, by the cliffs overlooking the sea, where Kim and Rod were waiting for us.
Alan and I had simultaneously dismounted from our ElliptiGO bikes after riding 1,767-miles (2,827km) from Land’s End to John o’Groats and back again to successfully complete our ride in a new (jointly held) World Record time of 11 days, 10 hours and 37 minutes. You can see the GPS data for the ride on this link. The 2nd half of the ride, from John o’Groats back to Land’s End (‘JOGLE’), was about 850-miles long and it had taken us 5 days, 10 hours & 30 minutes to complete. It was Thomas’ lifetime longest ride.
After all the required formalities were completed to officially end the ride we’d posed for photos at the famous Land’s End signpost and I’d then scattered the remainder of Garai’s ashes into the strong winds, which had rapidly carried the dust cloud up and towards the sea before it had quickly vanished into the blue skies…
All I had felt at that point was relief. That’s all I’d wanted to do for the last 6 months. To ride twice across Britain – in under 11.5 days – and to scatter my brother’s ashes at John o’Groats and at Land’s End, as a tribute and as a show of respect. And that was how I had ended my Double End to End ride across Britain, in memory of my brother Garai Makaya…
The video above shows my post-ride interview with BBC News. If you’ve enjoyed reading this event report please consider making an online donation to The 2018 Longest Ride Challenge Documentary Project.
You can also watch a detailed video blog covering this event on this link. The full ride video is probably the closest thing to actually being there with Alan and I while we were riding and I’m confident you’ll find it both insightful & entertaining.
Lastly, this page will be updated with any relevant media reports, as and when they are published and shared with us.
Thanks & Kind Regards,