Callum, Daniel, Jørgen and myself had known each other for a while before we’d even ridden together. We met through one of the dustier, more niche corners of the internet, Reddit’s cycling forum reddit.com/r/bicycling/. Despite coming from varied cycling backgrounds, we all had an appreciation and a longing for that one challenge that would test us. So when a reader suggested Land’s End to John o'Groats, I pitched the idea and without hesitation they said yes.
For months the challenge didn’t feel real, even while trying to solve the arduous logistical puzzle of organising a week-long journey for six people. Then suddenly there I was, standing outside my front door with Jørgen awaiting the imminent arrival of our home on wheels that carried the rest of our six-person ensemble.
Starting at the End
Leading up to our Land’s End grand départ, the weather had been fairly spectacular, which bummed me out. Not because I hate nice weather but because I knew it was only a matter of when, not if, the weather would turn. However, on the morning of Sunday 31 July, day one, the sun provided a pleasantly warm start to our 1,000-mile journey.
Our planned route that day was just shy of 200 miles through Cornwall, Devon and Somerset’s steep, undulating hills, and was the day I was most worried about. Thankfully the wind was on our backs giving us a gentle push through the 15-hour day.
Arriving at The Caravan Club’s Burnham-on-Sea campsite as the clock ticked over into the early hours of the next day after 15,000ft of climbing was a real eye opener into what we’d got ourselves in to. We still had to deal with our post-ride routine (showering, locking the bikes up, laundry if required, eating, tidying up, charging gadgets and prepping for the next day). We finally got our heads down around 2am, after a brilliant meal cooked by our soigneurs-for-the-week, Don and Gwen, Daniel’s parents.
Day two’s early route visited Weston-super-Mare, Clevedon and on into Bristol (my adopted home and home to BikeRadar and Cycling Plus magazine), which meant we received welcome support through car beeps and drivers waving their arms as our four-man train snaked its way through Somerset bound for Wales. I’m certain it was all encouragement and nothing else; we were all in Team Cycling Plus Sugoi kit after all.
The drizzle turned into rain almost as soon as we crossed the Severn Bridge, conditions we would have to contend with for the next three days. On and off spells of rain plagued us all the way through to the Lake District where our 150-mile day ended with an eerie but incredibly atmospheric six-mile climb up the south side of Kirkstone Pass through fog, resulting in an even more spectacular north side descent into the valley surrounding Ullswater. There we were greeted with the warmth and comfort of sunshine.
We ended our day in the hospitality of The Caravan Club at Troutbeck Head campsite. Warm showers, dry clothes and the evening sunshine rejuvenating not just our legs but also our spirits.
You might think that riding from one end of the country to another would mean an endless maze of picturesque country lanes and villages. Reality struck fairly early and about 70 percent of the time it was the complete opposite. Traffic-laden A-roads, potholes that resembled Arctic crevasses, petrol and salted road spray that stung our eyes to near blindness in the rain, with miles of broken roads that shook our bones to the core.
Three days of being at various degrees of damp to wet take their toll on enthusiasm. At times we did get a bit… snappy. Thankfully there were no major ones, but certainly grumpiness at times, which came as no surprise with six people living in close proximity for eight straight days.
We’ve all seen motorhomes crowd the car parks of start and finish towns at professional races, and hiring one was an exciting part of this journey. I felt that the classic hotel-to-hotel option that most supported LEJOG rides feature had been done to death so wanted to test just how feasible it was to live in and out of a house on wheels — thankfully the others agreed.
In a nutshell it’s cramped. You have to ditch any ideas of privacy and accept a life of bumping into people, saying sorry when you realise you’ve been standing in the way and trying to keep as organised as possible. Organisation is the key to keeping sane in such small spaces.
Scicon had provided us with kit bags, personalised with our flag of origin and name — a nice touch that made us feel a little special.
Power on the move is a concern when doing big rides, because we all know if it’s not on Strava it didn’t happen. So, when you include all the gadgets a modern day cyclist needs on a multi-day ride (for us it was three action cameras, four Garmins, four mobile phones and three laptops), power does become an issue. Goal Zero provided us with its impressive Yeti 400 portable generator for the nights when we were off The Grid and away from The Caravan Club campsites.
The Cannondale Synapses we rode had surprisingly few mechanicals given the distances we were covering, a lot of the time on pretty horrible surfaces. Graphene has been touted as the new wonder material for tyres and Vittoria’s Corsa G+s were excellent, but not infallible with two punctures throughout the week.
The only other notable issue was a frayed gear cable, but Arragons Cycle Centre in Penrith sorted my bike out quick sharp to keep our time off the road to a minimum, so big thanks to Phil and Ben.
Unfortunately, our bodies couldn’t be fixed so quickly. Callum had a reoccurring knee injury midway through day two and decided to rest up and hit day three fresh. Sadly the same injury bit hard early on day four, which ultimately meant he had to pull out of the rest of the ride. Thankfully Callum used his kitchen talents to join Gwen in cooking up some morale-boosting meals.
Our second big loss came as we rolled into our penultimate campsite on the edge of Loch Ness when Jørgen said to me in a very croaky voice, “I’m broken.” The steep and exotically named B826 climb out of Fort Augustus up to Suidhe Viewpoint had inflamed a niggling Achilles heel to the point where walking was a struggle. Only with the loss of our Norwegian powerhouse did it hit me how much the other guys had been suffering. We tried but ultimately failed to talk freely about how we were feeling throughout the week.
With the team down to Daniel and myself on the final day, everything came to the surface at the final feed stop at Bettyhill — an agonisingly close 50 miles from John O'Groats.
Throughout the morning and early afternoon the conversations with Daniel became shorter and my time on the front got longer, which gave me the sense he was suffering behind me. After reaching the motorhome 110 miles after leaving it that morning, Daniel fell to the floor and let out a considerable amount of emotion. The sheer physical exhaustion we could see Daniel was in meant something had to break.
Our original plan was a quick grab-and-go stop, but circumstances dictated a longer feed so we could gather our thoughts and hit the final 50 miles in slightly better shape. With the tearful release came the moment where Daniel’s head cleared, enabling him to push on to the finish.
We made it!
The final run in to the famous John O'Groats signpost seemed to drag, but once there we exchanged some weary thank yous and tired handshakes and still managed to pop a bottle of bubbly in triumphant glory.
A ride like this is more than just jumping on a bike each day and following the route. The logistics, at least for me, have been the source of endless head scratching in the months preceding our departure and this is where I want to talk about the two most important people who were with us during the week.
Don and Gwen deserve more recognition for putting up with the four numpties on bikes than we do for riding from one end of the country to another. Don drove every mile that we cycled while Gwen cooked every meal accompanied by a seemingly bottomless barrel of coffee regardless of the time of day.
Despite the fatigue they were no doubt suffering, both remained upbeat and smiley, which does wonders for motivation. When you see first hand the amount of work a carer (and that’s what they were for us) does then it puts the job of a professional soigneur into perspective, allowing a bunch of cyclists to concentrate on doing what they’re best at — riding bikes.
It’s hard to find too many regrets with a ride that encompasses everything you wanted from a challenge such as this, but due to the amount of miles we covered I didn’t appreciate exactly where we rode.
Trawling through Strava and Google Maps I’ve been reminded of some of the incredible landscapes we rode through, down, up and around — the valleys of Exe, Wye and Hope, over the unforgiving Lake District, climbing above Castle Stalker on Loch Laich, under the shadow of Ben Nevis and through the barren, midge-infested yet still beautiful lands of Caithness and Sutherland.
What started out with four blokes talking bikes on the internet ended with four friends having travelled the length of an entire country together on two wheels in six days — quite an achievement whatever way you look at it.
LEJOG in numbers (According to Strava)
- 1,018 miles ridden
- 50,048ft of ascent
- 60 hours, 26 minutes and 17 seconds total moving time
- 16.9mph average speed
- 37,656 calories burned
- 13.5°C average temperature