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A Bike Ride For Isabelle

Day One: Hills, more hills and some harsh realities

The opening leg of the journey would take the team from Lands End to Okehampton, trip of supposedly 105 miles which in reality was nearly ten more than planned due to closed roads and detours due to roadworks. They always knew the first couple of days were going to be the hardest but nothing had prepared them for the reality. Tom, Dan & the crew started off at 7am in misty conditions and the first few miles would give them an insight into the undulating nature of this first stage. It was a good thing they’d all managed to get a lot of mileage in their legs with their training runs beforehand. The further they went the tougher the day got, the afternoon just turned into hill after hill with a sting in the tail, a climb of over 10% at the end of a hard days cycling. Everybody struggled on the first day but the main pack reached Okehampton and a well deserved meal. and rest. With over 5,000ft of climbing on this torturous first day and the group are under no illusions that it’ll be much the same tomorrow, at least for the first 50 or so miles. Time now to rest the weary legs, load up on carbs and come out fighting again tomorrow. The sheer willpower and perseverance from the group to battle through a really tough first day really is inspiring. Onwards and upwards! To donate to the Ride for Isabelle cause please see the JustGiving page for the group here.
To find out more about Sands and the wonderful work they do click here.

Day Three: Bristol to Much Wenlock

Feeling a lot better for today’s stage with spirits a lot higher, we left an overcast (there’s a shock!) Bristol and even found time for a selfie while crossing the Severn Bridge! Todays route would take in some stunning Welsh countryside, taking us through Chepstow, Monmouth, Hereford and Leominster before reaching our overnight stop at the Much Wenlock YHA. 96 miles in total in the saddle today with some quite undulating roads especially between Chepstow and Monmouth. Monmouth also saw another supermarket break (mmm….doughnuts!) before heading on to Hereford for lunch. Onwards through Leominster and on to Ludlow where the road took an uphill slant, not a sharp rise but one of those gruelling inclines that never seems to end! As we approached Much Wenlock the sky started getting darker and more ominous. The rain the started coming down and quite quickly turned into a real downpour. We were treated to a spectacular lightning display which took out a few trees as we desperately tried to get to our overnight accommodation. We finally reached the top of the incline and enjoyed the downhill run into Much Wenlock and into the YHA to get out of the wet gear and a nice warm meal.  

Day Two: Okehampton to Bristol

119 miles in the saddle today and after another hilly start, the rest of the day was quite flat apart from a couple of sharp climbs around Wellington and Cheddar. Weather a gray again, I thought this was supposd to be summer? We managed to set off albeit a little late but we’re off course and ended up going almost directly north to South Molton in Devon. This turned out to be a bit of an issue because it meant that the second leg would involve a 40 mile trip to get back on the correct route. Travelling around this part of the world by bike is fraught with danger, cows on the road! The rest of the trip from Taunton Morrisons, our UK tour of supermarket car parks is beginning to be a normal occurance, was relatively flat apart from the little spike around Cheddar, steadily moving on to Bristol via Weston-super-Mare. Tired, emotionally drained and hungry so time for a little rest now and we go again tomorrow.

Day Four: Much Wenlock to Manchester

Today has been a good day. We worked incredibly hard. Left at a decent hour and after eight and a half hours in the saddle, arrived in Manchester pretty much bang on 5. It was largely a flat day thanks to some epic re-mapping from Jimmy and Grant and we made excellent time. You’ll be surprised to learn we had more rain to contend with today (seriously, it is supposed to be summer right?) including an horrendous downpour as we approached Trafford and Manchester itself. It’s been great to get it all done today and arrive with enough time to relax. The day started with a nice downhill section but soon went back in an upwards direction again around Telford. Apart from that it was a relatively flat day and with the 89 miles covered today takes the total for the trip so far to 412 miles. Six days of riding left, everyone in good spirits and looking forward to a decent nights sleep before we go again tomorrow.
Many thanks once again to Tom for his updates throughout their adventure. We are pleased to be able to give you an update on our fundraising, we have now raised over £13,350 which is well over our target! Thank you for following our story, and for your help, support and generosity!

Day Five: Manchester to Shap

Today started well enough, left Manchester quite early and in good spirits. The sun made a rare appearance as we cycled past Leigh, Bolton and Chorley before ending up in Leyland. Three of the bikes needed urgent medical attention at this point and we were fortunate to find Bill Nicksons Cycles in Leyland who managed to complete the repairs allowing us to carry on without losing too much time. Mine needed a major surgery as the gears and chain had developed a mind of their own so the other guys went on ahead while it was repaired. The fault meant I was forced to stay on the middle chainring as trying to go to a higher or lower set of gears caused the chain to fall off. Even with the chain on the “safe” chainring the gears decided to move up and down of their own free will which was a real pain when it suddenly jumped to a higher gear going up a hill! The guys at Bill Nicksons were brilliant and managed to get me back on the road after only a short delay. Those of you following supermarket watch will be glad to know we didn’t let you down today, visiting no less than three, Tesco, Sainsbury’s & Morrisons. We were all back together passing Preston before travelling through Lancaster and continued on to the final break in Kendal, then on to take on the wonderful scenery in the Lake District. The only hills on today’s route came soon after leaving Kendal and boy was it a sting in the tail! The total climb of over 1,400 feet was a tough end to the day, coming after another over 106 miles in the saddle but at least we managed to enjoy both the stunning views of the Lake District at the top of the climb and a nice downhill freewheel into Shap. Next up, onwards towards Scotland… PS. It didn’t rain!

Day Six: Shap to Interleithen

Wow, a long old day but we’ve now made it to Scotland and then some. The first leg was a 40 mile stint which took us from Shap to Gretna and we made good time to reach Gretna by midday. Just outside Gretna we came across a signpost indicating 476 miles to Lands End and only 360 miles to John O’Groats, which made us proud of what we’ve acheived on this adventure so far while also knowing we still have more hard days in the saddle to come. We’ve only gone and cycled the length of England! The journey itself was what I can politely call undulating, and the deeper we moved into Scotland the more the fun started. It began with with a fair amount of uphill across farm tracks before moving on to roads littered with cattle grids and kamikaze sheep! It was just an incredible ride through the Scottish borders and some quite stunning scenery. Thanks to the Strategic Forestry Commission and their transport improvement fund we soon treated to some 20 odd miles of gloriously smooth down hill eventually arriving in Innerleithen for a slap up steak dinner! Tomorrow, Edinburgh and beyond…

Day Seven: Innerleithen to Perth

Less miles on the clock today but still a tough, physical day in the saddle. We left the Scottish borders in good spirits but then experienced the worst weather of the journey so far during the first 25 or so miles. Driving winds and torrential rain made the journey to Edinburgh not a very nice experience. In the valleys of Scotland past Innerleithen Golf Course, it was freezing at the top and even a monumental down hill didn’t cheer me up, it simply made me colder. Edinburgh Morrisons gave us a little respite from the cold and wet, their trolley shelter giving us a chance to dry out for a bit. A horrible start to the day! The thing is, Scotland was quite kind to us really. The miserable mornings gave way to sweltering afternoons, although never quite warm enough to totally dry out your shoes but enough for the rest of you. The rain relented as we set of for what turned out to be a very hilly last 50 miles of the day. We cycled across the iconic Forth Road Bridge before heading towards Dunfermline. The rest of the route to Perth, our overnight stop, took us through some high climbs and but also some lovely valleys. The scenery is just stunning, obviously you can appreciate it more when not battling through high winds and rainfall of biblical proportions! All told, we cycled 76 miles and took on around 4,000 feet of climbing so I think we all earned our dinner and a comfy bed tonight! Onwards and no doubt upwards tomorrow…

Day Eight: Perth to Newtonmore

Now we know why they call the the Highlands! We followed the River Tay all the way to Pitlochry before a very long hard climb between Blair Atholl and Dalwhinnie and thankfully a fairly flat afternoon.  Mostly on the A9 today which is a busy road but it does at least have a cycle track alongside all the way along. Alongside the A9 around Glenmore Forest Park we saw some incredible scenery, but also faced an intense headwind. We managed to get the wind behind us and found the holy grail of a smooth, newly laid road and path which got us shifting along nicely. Saw some highland cattle for the first time today. The further north we head the better the scenery gets, it really does keep our spirits up seeing some of the views from the top of the climbs. One of the team, Jimmy, took a tumble today after finding some gravel and managed a perfect somersault into a ditch. He was fine and so was his bike, well, it was until we hit the outskirts of Newtonmore, as this was when his derailleur decided to fall off! It would a later start for Jimmy tomorrow as he’ll have to find a bike shop to get the derailleur replaced. Couldn’t escape from the rain though, we thought doing this in August would at least give us a few sunny days but obviously not! Over 2,500ft of climbing today in the 90 miles cycling. Not far to go and starting to get saddle sore now but the determination of the group is amazing. Time for sleep…hopefully!  

Day Nine: Aviemore to Golspie

Once more started out with the rain hammering down on us and more climbing. The day was pretty flat apart from the opening climb, taking us through the Cairngorms National Park and up to Inverness. Luckily it had stopped raining and the sun had finally started peeking out by the time we needed to stop in Inverness for yet more emergency bike repairs. A couple more sharp climbs at Bogbain and on the way to Dingwall but also some nice little downhill sections like the picture (right). Everyone starting to feel it now and after crossing the first of three bridges between Inverness and Golspie it felt like we might actually manage it. The ride down into Golspie was absolutely stunning, despite a brief incline, and we’d done it, 110 miles completed on another tough day. Still, we’re within touching distance of John O’Groats now, just 70 miles to go, and to be honest it can’t end soon enough! Last push tomorrow, just one more day in the saddle!

Day Ten: Golspie to John O’Groats

So, the final day dawned and this time it was overcast but not raining! We decided to take the coastal route (less hills) rather than carry on along the busy A9. The route took us through Brora, Dunbeath and Wick before the final couple of hills taking us into John O’Groats. There was one nasty surprise along the way as we had a 700ft climb around Navidale but the upside was a lovely long downhill freewheel into Berridale. Apart from that it was fairly flat through easy cycling country, most of it on a single track with little or no traffic. We had a stop in Wick to regroup and planned a route to reach John O’Groats by 3pm as we’d heard the weather was closing in. We were starting to push our luck but once we got going we started to hit our stride. Powering along again, I was pushing it with everything I had. My knees were burning, my calves and my thighs too. We made good time travelling along these paths, next to lovely streams and a fast moving river while also having occasional views of the North Sea. Two miles of downhill after a brief incline and realisation hit us, we’d made it, we’d all faced some demons along the way (not to mention the gremlins toying with our bikes!) but we’ve fought them off and now we’d finally reached our destination. We were clapped and cheered in by a decent crowd. I was last naturally. From reading this you’ll know there were times I struggled but just so happy we’d achieved what we set out to do and we got to spray some champagne which was worth the mental anguish alone! Ten long hard days, lots of wind and rain, and 900 odd miles later we’d successfully cycled from Lands’ End to John O’Groats! Wow! What a feeling! The whole experience and memories will live with all of us forever and always feel so sweet. So proud of these guys and what we’ve acheived. The pain in the legs disappeared, for a little while anyway, as we had the obligatory pictures taken next to the sign, we also found out we’d smashed our sponsorship target of £10,000 as well! We’ve done it!!!
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