The origins of pedalling about
May 2008, Land’s End to John O’Groats, UK, 1,050 miles
In May 2011, I’ll be leaving work, renting out my home and catching a flight to Rio de Janeiro to cycle around every country in South America. How did it come to this?
My first taste of bicycle touring was in the summer of 2008, when I cycled from Lands End to John O’Groats in two weeks. The idea came from the need to find a physical challenge that didn’t destroy my knees as much as the London Marathon had done in the last few years.
The plan became a reality when, after a few beers, I persuaded my old school friend Nick and brother Ed to join me on the ride. It’s just as well, as I wouldn’t have done it by myself.
We decided to cycle ‘up’ the UK to take advantage of the prevailing winds and keep the sun out of our eyes. Starting in Cornwall and Devon our lack of fitness was apparent. The pace was slow across the undulating terrain, but we didn’t mind as our daily goal was simple – cycle from A to B, eating what and as much as we liked along the way.
Before we started it was a struggle to comprehend the distances we would need to cover and no guidebook, website or map could give a true perspective of the scenery or the mini-adventures that would happen. That, to me, was the real enjoyment of the whole trip: translating what I’d read into what I experienced.
Whilst there were many highlights, it was not all plain sailing. The weather on the third day was atrocious with horizontal rain driven by gale force winds forcing us to pedal hard even on slight descents: so much so that by lunchtime we had only covered about one quarter of our mileage and found ourselves despondently drying off in a launderette.
At times being in each other’s company 24/7 took its toll and the smallest things could cause friction between us. Such as trying to agree when tired and wet whether to risk the shorter route via the motorway or to take the longer but sensible option. Fortunately, once we were warm and dry in the pub at the end of the day we were able to laugh it off.
We’d expected the highlight of the trip would be the arrival at John O’Groats after 1,050 miles. Yet cracking open a bottle of champagne stashed in my panniers and toasting our success was somewhat of an anti-climax. Sure this had been our goal and it had been important to have that, but the most enjoyable moments of the trip were those were the simpler, less obvious ones such as the beautiful scenery on the huge descent into Lochranza on the Isle of Arran or some of the interesting ‘Little Britain’ we passed along the way.
This is what I am looking forward to in South America. Discovering new cultures, fantastic scenery and having more adventures. Because if LEJOG taught me anything it’s about the journey, not the destination.