So onto the day after the finish with an abundance of photo's that didn't make the daily blog, some statistics, some thoughts of the ride and anything else that may come to mind.
677.42 miles - total distance cycled (1,090 km)
96.77 miles (155.7km) - average distance cycled each day
45.19 - hours in the saddle
22,979 feet - total elevation climbed
23.05 kph - average speed
3,965.7 - Average calories burnt each day
299,750 - total number revolutions of the pedals (Believe me when I say that out of boredom I actually did a count of revolutions per km on various days and different terrain and arrived at this number. As sad as that sounds it does help pass the time!)
0 - Number of punctures (I am most definitely a convert to tubeless tyres)
0 - Number of mechanical issues (Although Brent's front axle started to make some very worrying sounds after the 3rd day and later that night I could see he was Googling '' How far will my front axle bearings last once they start making a sound...the answer was 1,000km .. so on that basis he decided to press onto the finish without visiting a bicycle shop)
The getting there bit -
Not sure I would take the Caledonian Sleeper again. Well not in terms of the value for money it represents. Close to £285 to attempt to sleep in small claustrophobic cabin with minimal air flow. I say ''attempt to sleep'' because that is exactly what it was. With the sound of the track passing under you, and the bit about getting up at 4am to move bikes it didn't make for a restful night. Far better value for money to mind would be to simply book a day train that runs to Fort William and enjoy the scenery albeit from a seat rather than a bed. At almost 1/4 the cost of a sleeper far better value in every sense me thinks. You could then arrive Fort William, book a nights rest there, and still be ahead in terms of money spent.
The routine -
The routine was pretty much formulae from all the previous long distance trips I have done. Albeit with the slight difference being that I had to take someone else's time management into account.
Rise about 7 am, breakfast at 7.30 am and be on the road by 8.30am at the latest. Cycle 25-30km and stop for coffee and cake. Aim to have more than half the days distance done by lunch, which sometimes on the steeper terrain (such as Cumbria) meant we were eating lunch towards 2pm. Be off the road by 6-7pm. Stretch for 20 minutes (Well I did. A legacy of spinal surgery back in 2009 and a lesson learnt from all my long rides is that if I wanted to get up the next day and feel like doing it all again, then stretching and decompressing the spine is imperative post ride each day) shower, then eat as soon as possible. Brent had done the Ride Across Britain a few years ago from Lands End to John-o-Groats which is a fully supported bike trip. They transport all your gear for you from one campsite to the next, provide dinner and breakfast and even lay on massages for you. One of the things they drilled into him and everyone else on the ride was the importance of fuelling as soon possible once you had finished riding. Brent brought that mantra with him on this ride and so it meant some very early dinners (by my standards). Once dinner was taken it was usually close to 10pm and for Brent that was sleep time. For me it was time to reflect on the day and write the blog and then sleep. Next morning press repeat.
The Logistics -
One of the overriding questions I get asked a lot during these rides is ''where are you staying tonight or are you camping?''.
For this trip it was solely booked accommodation in 2-3 star hotels, pubs or Bnb's. Wanting to be as lightweight as possible and therefore not carrying a tent.
When I came to planning the ride I had looked at the total distance, and then divided it by the number of days I had time to do it. In this case it worked out that I would have to cycle approximately 150km a day. From that I simply looked at where 150km got me each day from the previous night and then looked for accommodation in that area. On some occasions - especially on the Saturday - it was difficult to find accommodation on route. Thus on that particular day we actually detoured 10km off route to get to Richmond which was where i had sourced our beds for the night. Turned out to be a good choice too. The ride off route to the town was lovely, the accommodation first class (Frenchgate Guest House) and the ride back to the route, (whilst very steep to begin with) was lovely too.
I booked the first four nights accommodation before I left home. Given two of those nights were going to be a Friday and Saturday and availability at a premium I didn't want to risk leaving it to the last minute. Wise choice too. In hindsight and given the timetable I was following I should have booked all nights so as to avoid the uncertainty.
Here's something I have learnt too and willing to share. When it comes to finding accommodation my tried and tested method is simply type into Google '' Accommodation in xx'' (where it was I was planning to stay) . 99/100 the first websites you will be directed to are booking.com or hotels.com . Both very useful tools, but to this author I have become a little adverse to the monopoly they seemingly have. Often whilst a hotel may not have any rooms available on that particular website they will still have rooms. So quite frequently I will use either of those websites to source a hotel in the area and then call or email the hotel directly. As they're not paying the commission to those websites the hotels will often give you a better price direct too. Another methodology is to simply type in ''BnB's in xx''. Basically what I am saying is that there's plenty of ways to skin the accommodation cat and relying on those two sites are not your only choice.
Value for money is always an interesting discovery. Our hotel in Kilchoan was a family guest room as it was the last they had available. It was subsequently huge. The breakfast was fantastic as well . All for £70 per person. The small box like room with no air flow that we stayed in Holbeach with a greasy full English breakfast, all for £60 not so much. On average we spent about £50 per night per person on accommodation.
What to carry and wear.
Covering such a big distance across a country that is famous for its weather meant having to be prepared for all situations that may have evolved. This meant being prepared for wet and sun and cold and wind. As it transpired it was really only the sun that I need worry about. Quite unbelievable really too. That anyone can spend 7 days cycling through Scotland and England and only have to use their rain jacket for 3 hours on the very first day of riding
In the top tube pack sat my external battery and glasses and a chocolate bar. When my phone (mounted on the blue attachment at the top of the stem) started to run low on battery I would simply run a cord from the charger to the phone.
In my saddle pack were all my clothes which included the following - compression tights to help recovery post ride, spare cycling socks, pair of socks for evening wear, pair of sneakers for post ride wearing (always good to get out of cycling shoes), pair of lightweight hiking trousers with detachable lower legs, underwear, spare cycling jersey, spare cycling shorts, electrical cords to charge everything (lights and phone and battery) , assortment of plugs and a double adaptor, toothbrush, toothpaste and deodorant, 2 packets of neurofen , bottle of midge spray (never used) , midge head net (never used), tub of ASSOS Chamois Creme (used EVERYDAY) , bottle of factor 50 (used every day bar one) thermal t-shirt base, a gilet, rain jacket, pair of gym shorts, gym t-shirt.
There's a technique to packing that pack too. Couple of soft items in first, fill the inside of the trainers with socks and plugs and underwear and then place them into the bag toes first. Then basically cram everything in and around the shoes. Placing the bag between your feet then compress all the air out and roll the excess of the bag to close it watertight. Apidura make good kit and they are bullet proof as well as been waterproof.
The frame pack has a pocket on each side.
On the left hand side (looking down when sat on the bike) were my arm warmers , thermal skull cap, helmet cap (for really heavy rain) , inner gloves, waterproof Goretex mittens, lightweight ABUS bicycle wire and lock. Energy gels and whatever snacks I was carrying that day. Spare lens for the riding glasses.
On the right hand side was everything to do with the bike. Cable ties, two spare spokes, a spare inner tube, plugs for the tubeless tyres should they get punctured, plug inserter, set of allen keys, (Brent was carrying a pump and puncture kit), tyre removal levers, assortment of rubber bands, spare batteries, chain link repair gear, chain oil,
Add two water bottles of 1.0 litre each and suddenly a light weight bare bike gains some weight.
What you eat and drink is going to have a huge bearing on your performance and ultimately enjoyment of the day ahead. To that end I did a lot of carbohydrate loading the week before hand.
During the road I basically ate what I wanted and as much as I could cope with. Large breakfasts full of protein and carbohydrates, and at lunch time repeat. Dinner was a bit more varied.
During the day, especially given the warm weather, it was imperative to drink as much as possible. To that end I always started the day by drinking as much water as humanely possible before leaving the accommodation. With two 1.0 litre bottles of water I had gone through those most days before lunch and would refill with water from a tap or from purchasing a bottle of water from a store to fill them. Lunchtime ask the cafe or restaurant to fill the bottles for us, and then mid afternoon repeat the morning's exercise.
They say you should eat and drink on the ride before you actually feel the need. For that reason Brent had actually set his watch to 30 min alarms which were a signal for him to drink. I followed his pattern more or less although I probably drank less water than him
During our caffeine and sugar stops we would load up on sugary products for the quick hit of energy they provided. (For some reason MARS bars were the go-to confectionary) That energy shot is short lived though so whenever the need arose I would delve into my bag of energy gels which are very high in carbohydrates and caffeine. Can't recall every feeling excessively drained of energy. A couple of times tired from the hours in the saddle but never 'spent' . I have been into that dreaded red zone. It's not a nice place to be and takes a fair bit to recover from hence the desire to avoid getting there in the first place.
I was sole navigator for the ride. I had pre-planned the route by scouring the web for people who had done the same West to East ride. One chap had what looked like a great route but steadfastly refused to share the details with me as he considered it his intellectual property. All very strange. But I guess it takes all kinds to make up the world. On the other hand there was a young guy who did the trip about 4 years ago and like me blogged about his experience. Each day's entry of his also had the GPX ( a downloadable file) file for the route taken that day. I took his files, joined it with some of my own, downloaded onto my navigation app called STRAVA and that was my route. One continuous blue line from Ardnamurchan to Lowestoft.
My location was signalled by a blue dot (bit like Google maps) and I would simply follow the blue line. Many times however, due to the scale, we would take a wrong turning and either have to figure out a way to get back on route from where we were or otherwise turn around and go back to where we had departed the route. Credit to Brent here who from the outset simply said '' I have had nothing to do with planning this route, and nor any of its navigation, so you will never hear me complain when we get 'lost'. And he didn't.
Five bug bears with STRAVA as a navigation tool.
It doesn't tell you how far to your destination
It doesn't (like GARMIN or KAROO) give you an audible sound/beep when you are approaching a turn. The result means that as a turn approaches you find yourself constantly looking down to see where to turn. That head down attitude can sometimes put you in a compromising position should a car or your fellow cyclist decide to brake in front of you or a pot hole appear or speed bump.
It doesn't re-route you back to your route when you take a wrong turn
Unlike GARMIN it doesn't give you a feel for the terrain ahead. You can see the terrain of the route when you download the route onto a computer but when you are on the road it's simply a blue line.
Running the STRAVA app as a navigation tool drains your iPhone battery life quicker than putting it in the freezer.
Random thoughts & observations
- My romantic idea of a sleeper train has been squashed. Can't see myself doing that again in a rush. Not given that ratio of cost to value to experience
- Fort William is not as picturesque as I thought it would be
- Charging for a cyclist on a ferry ride that lasts less than 10 mins is a bit of a money grab
- The midge situation in Scotland during the 3 days we were there was NOWHERE near as ferocious as every one had warned me about. Several people who have lived there or are living there now scared me to such an extent I purchased a bottle of midge repellant and a midge net that fitted over my helmet. Neither were ever used. Aside from the first day I wasn't stung by a midge the entire ride through Scotland. Helps that we weren't camping that is for sure and that our speed on the bikes were generally quicker than a midge can fly.
- Scottish roads, given they're belted by the weather about 345 days of the year are in pretty poor shape
- I know a few Scots. Of both genders. Top people they are indeed. However trying to glean a smile or friendly response from many was nigh impossible. Even when I laid on a thick Australian accent and made it abundantly clear I wasn't English. The word dour springs to mind. Perhaps, like the roads, it is the weather.
- Ardnamurchan slaughters is eastern counterpart Lowestoft for beauty
- I was surprised at how few cars there were on the quiet country roads of Scotland and England.
- Every single B&B we cycled past in either England or Scotland had a '' No Vacancies'' sign out the front. Clearly the post -covid and staycation rush is helping the hospitality industry in the countryside.
- Not a single Scottish road sign directed you to England
- What's with haggis? Still don't get it.
- Isle of Arran staggeringly beautiful and as one Scotsman was heard to say '' It's the nearest we have to the South Island of New Zealand''
- People in remote Scotland were taking the covid thing VERY seriously. I can understand why too. Especially on the islands that were able to prevent themselves from being affected by their very isolation from the rest of the world.
- Professional lorry and van drivers were the most courteous and patient drivers
- People driving powerful SUV's were not. I will also add motorcyclists, who despite having two lanes of road and no oncoming traffic would invariably still pass too close for comfort.
- Motorcyclists ALWAYS came in at least a pair of bikes
- Scottish ferries ran on time
- A lot of people clearly didn't use the lockdown periods to refurbish their businesses which I find strange given how much time they had on their hands. Even easy fixes like painting and varnishing or simply beautifying a property seemed to have been avoided.
- The coastline from Ardrossan to Ayr is not attractive. Nor the housing. It also seemed very impoverished.
- For all its fame as a golf course, Royal Troon was very unassuming and I was surprised at the ease of access given that we cycled across one of its fairways.
- Best coffee of the entire ride was had in Ayr.
- Cumbria is a definite re-visit. In a car.
- When approaching dogs or young children give them a very wide berth. Also men carrying an open can of beer at 10 am in the morning. Assume the worst and you will be fine is what I have discovered is the best approach.
- Assume every person driving a car is an idiot and hasn't seen you or doesn't care that you are there. Most of the time you will be right on both fronts.
- Lockerbie. Surrounded by such beautiful countryside its a travesty its place on a map is best known for what happened one night in December back in 1988.
- The ride from Ayr to Lockerbie is in my top 5 best sections of the entire ride. Beautiful route alongside a river, on recently tarmac road, slightly downwind, sunny, stunning scenery. And then we bumped into a castle in the middle of nowhere.
- Every part of the ride through Cumbria was stunning. So too Yorkshire. Less so Lincolnshire. Norfolk was better than Lincolnshire.
- There is a defibrillator in EVERY SINGLE village in England. Usually attached to the wall of the town hall, and if not there then inside a disused red telephone box and if not there, then on some random wall in the village
- Richmond Town is a return to see type place. Quite liked the look of it. So too the town of Ripon in Yorkshire.
- Surprised at how few fellow bike tourers we saw given it must be the height of the season for it.
- York on a Sunday afternoon in summer was mobbed. Yes the cathedral is impressive but I think it is out-shadowed by that one in Lincoln where there were less people too. Admittedly we visited the latter on a weekday.
- Brent likes a fighter jet and I suspect there is a bit of a frustrated Top Gun character lying somewhere within his personality.
Speaking of Brent, a solid thanks to him for his company on the ride. Despite being physically underprepared / undercooked (his own words) he gritted his teeth and put up with the terrain and weather and his bike, some questionable accommodation choices, my erratic navigation at times, and my idiosyncrasies without complaint once. It was an impressive performance.
Photo's that didn't make the first cut
On the train approaching fort William - Behind those clouds is Ben Nevis
The Climb up out of Lochranza Port on the isle of Arran
A common occurrence on narrow Scottish (and English) lanes. Who gives way to who.
Mask of a young gent waiting for ferry to Lochranza. About sums it up perfectly
The steepest section of the ride. Which after 120 km already cycled wasn't a. pleasant experience.
One of many bridge crossings that gave way to a stunning view on the ride westward from Fort William.
Nearing Kilchoan at the end of the first day was this lovely little climb.
A quaint departure sign on the way out of a village as headed south from Oban.
Solid Scottish beach.
The start of the Caledonian Sleeper experience.
Neeps and tatties ? Err no thanks. And you can keep the haggis too !