Monday, 31 December 2012

Reflections of a driver...

2012.  A fantastic year for sport

King Kenny brought a trophy to Anfield - first time in 6 years

City snatched the title in extra time.
Chelsea won the FA Cup and Champions League

Then we look forward to Summer:

In July 2012 we had dinner in Fort William watching Spain
become 2012 Euro Champions 

We look forward to the Olympics and Paralympics in London.  We were not disappointed

What a wonderful summer.  Gold medals.  World Records
So much effort, so many achievements, trials and tribulations.
and the best ever spirit in this Country. 

 During this time we watched some wonderful cricket.

Then off to the USA to bring back the Ryder Cup against all odds.

And then I bring you to 10 days in June when four men
attempted and achieved a magnificent triumph by completing
This journey will remain in my heart forever.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Anyone want to buy a bike?

Anyone Want to Buy a Bike? - One careful owner

As if, I might not have ventured back on the bike since Sunday, but I’m blaming the weather this week.

So how do you describe over 900 miles in 10 days?

This is the card my mum sent to the team on Monday

and that innocent excitement just about sums it up. At John O’Groats there was a real high that you’ve completed something that you’ve never done before and when you set out you didn’t actually know that you could do it.  On the downside you also realise quite quickly that once it’s over it’s over – a bit like Christmas as a youngster; lots of build-up, preparation and excitement until all the presents are open and then………….

You’ll not be surprised to know that there were “moments of discomfort” and I wouldn’t take this challenge on without a good sized tub of Sudocrem. The aches and pains fade fairly quickly and the memory is really good at pushing those moments of discomfort to the back of the mind. It means that you can chose to keep all of the good memories of being part of a great team – Richard. Mike and Barry on the bikes and Mike, Barry and Bob in the minibus.


Most importantly, however, this challenge was undertaken to raise funds and awareness for Sparks. If you’ve followed the blog then you’ll already know about the work Sparks undertakes. If you’ve not picked up on Sparks yet visit their website at . As a children’s medical research charity their objective is to improve the quality of life for babies, children and their families and it’s a privilege to be a supporter of Sparks and to participate in an event that helps to raise funds and awareness for such a great cause. For all of us involved this was a Sparks event more than a team and personal challenge.

It’s surprising how many people have been involved in bringing Sparks Wrexham  LEJOG together and can I add my personal thanks to everyone who has donated their time and/or money to this great cause. In particular I’d like to thank: Richard for the initial idea and asking me to take part. The support team Mike, Barry and Bob for getting us to Lands’ End; for being there every 10 to 15 miles to John O’Groats and for returning us to the day jobs. It’s not a glamorous task driving the minibus for a couple of thousand miles there and back but you’ve no idea how welcome the sight of a white minibus can be. Also on a personal note – thanks to Colin and Caroline for making a 3 hour round trip to wish us well at Pitlochry - above and beyond but great to see you guys.

Finally I can’t sign off without acknowledging the fantastic effort that Mr Potts put in. After two days Mike could barely walk and I thought his next destination was more likely to be Bristol Royal Infirmary than John O’Groats. How you cycle another 600/700 miles in such pain I don’t know but Mike did – respect. Oh, and he still made the tea every morning and evening.

Where do I plan to cycle next? – Probably to Dodleston village shop to get the paper in the morning…… Hey, it’s a start

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Mike's final blog

A Neighbour's Journey...............

Seeing John O'Groats in sight and marking the end of our journey, brought with it very mixed emotions - happiness to have reached our goal, sadness to have reached our goal.

Our journey has  been filled with  highs, lows and lots of good times in between. The good times far outweighed the bad. There were so many funny moments that my sides actually hurt laughing. For me, those memories are priceless and I will hold them dear for many, many years to come.

Not forgetting the reason we embarked on this journey, to raise funds for the much deserving children's charity "Sparks", I would like to thank all those people who kindly donated, you really have made a difference.

Thanks to:


For putting up with our absences and occasional moans during training (although I bet you were glad to see the back of us at times).

RPM Cycle Shop (Buckley):

Thanks James for the donation of spare wheels and other crucial parts to complete the journey

The Support Drivers:

Mike, Barry & Bob - couldn't have wished for 3 nicer guys to be there for us and to share this experience. Always, there with the much appreciated supplies and words of support. We really couldn't have done this without you.

Finally, my fellow cyclists:

Richard, for the idea and all your hard work in planning and making this happen.

Barry, for getting us each night (eventually :-)) to a hot shower and warm bed and taking the time to write the blogs, which I know everyone looked forward to reading.

Lee, for your cheery attitude whenever we needed support.

But most importantly to you all, for your encouragement, humour and friendship.

It's been a privilege to be part of this team and I am proud to call you my friends.

Until next time........


Moments that define you

"There are places I'll remember all my life" - Lennon/Mcartney

If you have never heard this particular Beatles song then I heartily recommend that you do.  This song has a particular place in my personal make up given that it was written by the Beatles (who are also from my home town of Liverpool) and used by Sky television following Liverpool's champions league win in 2005.  

Apparently it is John Lennon reflecting on his memories from childhood and how certain things stay with you.  Funny therefore that as a 36 year old dad this still seems as pertinent to me as at any time in my life.

The 2005 champions league game is one of the greatest of all time (unless you are a fan of certain other clubs - like Richard) with Liverpool being on the brink of an embarrassing defeat at half time before coming back to eventually draw and ultimately win on penalties.   This was possibly the greatest comeback ever and one of the most amazing ways to achieve a sporting goal perhaps until Manchester City decided to win the league in the last two minutes of this season.  If you still have them recorded on your sky plus/video and I have just messed up the ending for you then I apologise. 

As I sat on the grass bank looking out at the Orkney isles, talking to my wife and son to tell them that we had made it to our destination and completed what seemed impossible just six short months ago, I knew this is a place I will remember all my life.   The poignancy of the words in the song and this line in particular then really sank in and over the last few days I have had time to digest the trip and some of the thoughts that I had during it.

I can still see the waves lapping up against the far shore, feel the cold damp of the grass on my back and smell the fresh sea air just writing this and that is a memory that is just so alive.   


Thanks have to go to a number of people on this trip such as Mike, Barry and Bob for manning the support vehicle that broke our journey up not into one 900 mile trip but a number of shorter targets.  Their company was a great break from just the four of us and their enthusiasm for being with us and a part of the achievement was highly contagious.  As this is a team event, we have signed the books for them at both ends to reflect their contribution to the team success.

Our friends and family who contributed to our success as well deserve special mention.  My wife for being so keen that I take this challenge on in the first place. Perhaps I should have worried more about Chelley wanting me to be away but I know that the main idea was the complete break from work would do me good and it did.  My son for wanting to know exactly where I was when we spoke and asking how was "Duncan" which meant he read the blogs we produced.  

Barri, Simon and Jamie who helped us to learn that getting fit can be fun, how to control our breathing on a bike to ride for longer and how to get lost in country lanes respectively.  The latter a skill I employed on many occasions. Jamie, thanks for the training rides you came on with us.  I learnt a lot from watching you disappear up those hills and that was very helpful at points on this trip.

To all others who joined in on our no doubt annoying Facebook posts, playing along with the silly games we were creating to take our minds of our aching muscles, reading your posts was a welcome distraction.  The record for words in the letters of Livestrong is now at 250+.  Some people (you know who you are!) are so competitive.

For everybody who has sent just a good luck message or been able to support Sparks as well we thank you as that was our main goal to assist a fabulous charity.  

It goes without saying that the team I rode as part of deserve a lot of thanks.  This was a team effort and we did it together at the start and finish as shown on the photos below.  Lee, Mike and Richard.  Cheers.

Lands end to...

John O Groats
I do feel however the need to single out two people in particular and acknowledge their stories which have inspired me over the course of the last two weeks.

"the extra 10%"

A few years ago I was lucky enough to meet Bear Grylls as he was a guest speaker at one of our work functions.  For those of you who don't know, he is famous for a TV programme called Born Survivor where he is dropped into inhospitable environments and then survives by using a variety of unsavoury methods, Before this, he also served in the British SAS and was the youngest Briton to conquer Everest (the mountain not the window manufacturer).  

As part of his speech that day he talked about the moment he was told he was accepted into the SAS.  He had always pictured himself in his best dress uniform crisply ironed and his shoes sparkling in the sunshine when he received this news.  When he actually did find out he was apparently wearing ripped clothing covered in mud and blood and had actually lost one of his shoes.  I will need to paraphrase, but the Commanders' (?) speech went along the following lines:

"you have been selected because when you had nothing else to give, when everybody else would have given up, you found the extra 10% to keep going."

Mike Potts is a hero in this mould.  Even per the Mariah Carey standards of simply having the strength to carry on.  I saw the pain he was in on the third day and the icing of his knee that was taking place.  At one point, he and Richard looked like Arnie's Mr Freeze in one of the Batman films with the amount of ice packs/freeze gels they had on them.  

One of my favourite moments was on the fifth day when a combination of a good down hill and Mike's fearless approach to descending them meant he and Richard flew past me screaming " coming throughhh."  At that point Mike seemed to be coming to terms with all that his knees were throwing at him and his determination to reach the end was truly heroic.

"If an idea is not at first absurd, then there is no hope for it" - Einstein

A few months ago, we all wrote a small story as to why we were doing this.  Most of us laid the finger of blame firmly at Richard's door.  In fact if you go back (and I have) this was Richard's "fault" that we were all putting ourselves through training sessions, the harsh weather and preparing for something as monumental as this.

By the end of last week, nobody was using the word fault anymore.  Richard had been the inspiration behind the whole trip and thanks to him we were all getting to contribute to helping make such a dream a reality. 

When we had finished I got back to the hotel room for the night and logged into Facebook to catch up on the messages we were receiving.  My aunty had liked the following picture that Richard had posted months before into the group:

Richard's devotion to this idea made it happen.  Although he would never have it said that way.  Andrew Carnegie once said

"No man will make a great leader who wants to do it all himself, or to get all the credit for doing it"

If we had a yellow jersey to wear as opposed to fluorescent yellow rain jackets then Richard would have been wearing it from day one to day 10 but I suspect it would have been hidden under his blue wick away t-shirt.

The yellow jersey is not normally plastic

Richard and Lee do these challenges every two years to "give something back" which is a tremendous mindset in itself and I am just looking forward to seeing what 2014 has to offer.  


We chose to undertake this challenge.  However, some people are forced to take on the most horrendous of challenges when they find out that their children are ill and need to cope as they have no choice but to be strong for all concerned.    

One of the things that I thought about whilst approaching John O Groats was that our challenge had an obvious end to it.  A target point at which point our pain and discomfort would be relieved and we could rest or return to our "normal" lives.  As above, we were looking forward to the next stop, lunch, end of the day and only really on the ninth day when it was in sight did we start focusing on the actual destination.    For the people we were trying to help they do not always have a clear target point in mind and in this case their strength of character must be phenomenal to keep going.  

As we slowly rolled down the hill, nobody seemed to want to speed to the finish and actually end the journey.  It was as if we wanted to cling on to it and make the moments last that much longer given what they had meant to us.  This was my most emotional moment on the trip as the thought occurred to me that this was also potentially true for the people we were trying to help as the alternative may be too hard to contemplate.

This ride left me with great memories but more importantly I truly hope, borrowing somebody else's wording, that we will help some families have some moments that mean the world to them as that was the whole point.  

Cant vs Wont

We had people tell us repeatedly how hard this would be.  I am sure some people said that "we wouldn't do it"; some people probably also said "we couldn't do it" and the difference between those two words had never really struck me before.  

Six months ago I flippantly said "its just 8 hours a day of riding at 15 mph".  Then I bought the bike and realised what riding for an hour entailed.  Then I tried to repeat the effort on the following day and the effect was scary.  

My hardest moment during training was when I attempted the horseshoe pass in Llangollen for the first time.  Halfway up this 800 feet, 2-3 mile climb, I stopped in a lay by.  I was hot, wanted to vomit, was struggling to breathe (having stopped twice already) and had tears in my eyes as I stood there thinking I could not do it.  Thankfully at that point another part of my psyche kicked in.   It said "you will do it".  I paused, took deep breaths, sent Richard a text saying "struggling" and then got back on the bike.  

Whether you could do it is your body, but I realised that this is controlled by your mind which deals with the would component.  I think we were all amazed at the relative strengths of those two different components on this trip as we pushed our bodies beyond what they had ever done before.

When we hit the hill just outside of Helmsdale on day 9 that was so reminiscent to this, the fact that you had done something before is a great boost.  This wasn't a new task it was just repeating an old one so despite having ridden for around 65 miles already you used that memory and training to get to the top.  My mind had been trained as well.

The vans view from the top.  The hill starts way back in the top left corner

Surprise yourself

I hope you have enjoyed reading our stories and somewhere on these pages (assuming you read them all) you have found something to inspire you to take on a challenge.    The challenge may not be cycling one end of the country to the other, you may have far grander ideas than that, it may simply be to pick back up that new years resolution that has slipped.

The fear of failure can be immense, and also potentially a great motivation if you have told lots of people your plan, but from my perspective what defines you as a person, is not whether you finish the challenge but that you have the courage to start it in the first place.   

With dedication and time, we can all do things that surprise everyone; particularly ourselves.  

Monday, 2 July 2012

Reflections of a reluctant cyclist

Reflections of a reluctant cyclist!

To truly understand team you need to give yourself to it completely without question. You need to trust those around you and in turn be trusted. In that way you become part of a single entity.

Did we achieve this? well I guess so, we achieved our goal! But actually more than that we threw ourselves into the challenge we followed each other (sometimes blindly) supported each other and when things got tough we were there for each other. We mocked each other, sometimes gently and sometimes with vigour! Knowing which to do when is really important!!

The team

Mike, Barry and Bob (John)

We would not have completed this task without them, Fact! Having a van and a friendly face every 10 or so miles was fantastic. Knowing that food drink and a gentle ribbing was around the next corner gave us the mental strength to carry on! We all know that the best plans are only as good as the people delivering them and boy did they deliver. From all of us a huge Thank you.

Lee (hills)

Our Mr consistent always there seldom in the front seldom at the back. In fact Some of the hilly days I saw little of him as he is like lightning up hill and I down hill! Lee kept things on an even keel as we new he would. Always a willing ear he made himself available for those conversations necessary in distracting oneself from the task in hand. Thank you Lee

Mike (the mechanic)

What an emotional roller coaster. I have grown to respect Mike as a cyclist over the last few months and he duly smashed days 1&2 I think watching him struggle so badly on day 3 effected us all tremendously.

Throughout Mile kept us amused either with his agricultural anecdotes or when we mocked him with fake sightseeing experiences.

You couldn't wish for a better roommate always making tea and running baths just when they were needed most!

Mike you are a star and a hero! no one would have thought any less of you if you had succumbed to your knees on
Day 3, but giving up was never in your mind! respect!

Barry (Blog, IT & navigation)

Where do you start. I think it was Shrek or it could have been donkey who used the layers of an onion to describe personality. Well Barry you've shed some layers over the last 10 days and with each layer your warmth kindness and generosity has shone through.

There is so much I want to say but I won't yet! I'll save it for later.  We all owe you so much and I know for one that if it had not been for you I probably wouldn't have made it to the end.   I know that whenever I hear Preston being mentioned I will think of you and smile! Thank you

Families & Friends

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder.  Well, maybe if your heart isn't otherwise occupied forcing your body to do daft things!    Seeing the WAGs on the first Sunday we were away was great (making sure they didn't meet was difficult!!). Joking aside, for me the low point on day 3 soon turned to a high point when we met the families at Ludlow.  Spending the evening eating and talking was a much needed distraction.

The messages of support and encouragement from friends and family cannot be underestimated we have been truly humbled!


Having a goal that you all believe in really helps although when your pushing yourselves to the edge of your physical capabilities it sometimes gets lost in the grunting!  Nia somehow judged this and a motivational email arrived on day 3 after the families had gone home!

Without going into detail, Nia forwarded an email from a family who had lost their young daughter to cancer and had been fund raising ever since! This included LEJOG last year. They thanked us and reminded us that all our pain and suffering may make it possible for children to avoid suffering in the future.

As you can imagine there wasn't a dry eye in the room!

I guess the final mention must be to my friend and neighbour Jeff who's messages of support have been constant throughout the challenge. Once we had finished he sent this text:

"Absolutely fantastic,well done all of you. Today would of been my nephews birthday, he died when he was 5 so i know what a charity like sparks does and with the massive effort that you have all done will hopefully prevent the heartache that i went through. Again well done,enjoy a few beers tonight !!!"

We sat in silence for those few miles out of John O Groats, crying quietly and reflecting on what we had achieved and feeling immensely proud!

To the team; thank you all for sharing an idea and helping me make it a dream and then a reality! I couldn't think of any other people I would rather have shared these moments with. We are now all bound by these memories and they will stay with us forever! I will always remember!

What have you done today..................

Day 10 - Helmsdale to John o Groats

And now...

Breakfast on day ten was a buoyant affair.  Lots of jokes being swapped as the team sat down to its last guilt free big breakfast before we would have to start watching our calorie intakes again.

It was made more buoyant by the fact that knew we had the toughest 17 miles of the day out of the way.  Those three hills between Helmsdale and Dunbeath are truly breathtaking and very reminiscent of the horseshoe pass near Llangollen that thankfully we had all trained on. The knowledge that they were not in our path to John O Groats now and we could drive to the top and continue our journey was very uplifting.

Wick away

The ride this morning was slightly odd though.  There was 36 miles to go when we left the van at the tea room on top of the hill outside Dunbeath which normally would take us around 3 hours to ride on one  of our training sessions.  However, nobody seemed to want to race this distance away and instead we settled into a more gentle pace and really began to look around and chat as we made the trip.

For most of the journey we rode two aside chatting away to each other.  The level of conversation has always been a good indicator of the mood of the group.  The hour dash from Perth to Peebles there was practically none for instance whereas this morning was filled with laughter and chatter as we pushed along the very north of Scotland.

There were discussions about how we felt, what it had meant, what would we do at the end and (importantly from my perspective) was crying allowed when we got there?

After a brief stop in Tesco in Wick, where a few of us got the food we had actually ordered as the staff (Richard) struggled with the drinks machine buttons, we were chatting to two guys who were waiting for the airport having just completed the trip.  They had done it unsupported over 19 days ad the stories they told of the human kindness they had encountered, people genuinely wanting to help them, were touching.

We got back on the bikes and headed off to the final stop on this tour.

Rolling finish

Approaching John o Groats you sweep down to the coastal path near where Donald Trump would like to build a new golf complex.  If the wind yesterday is anything to go by you would need to learn to hit punch shots and run shots PDQ to be anything like successful on it but I digress.  We had to climb up one last hill to finally get the view of the finish line.

As a group we stopped in the layby at the top overlooking the sea and then started to roll down into John O Groats.  When I say roll i mean it. In this case we litereally rolled.  Not much pedal power was exerted or considered and gravity pulled the four of us to our destination.

We had made a promise on the top of the hill that having started at Lands End together we would roll across the line into the John O Groats car park together as well.  And that is exactly what we did. At a pace of about 3 mph.  Personally, I was glad of this.  The wave of emotion and pride in the team that swept over me coming down that hill hit hard and looking up was a challenge, cycling practically impossible.  Lets just say I was very grateful for my mirrored sunglasses :-).

Team together at the finish line

We crossed the line and then headed for the official signpost for the photos below.  Calls were made to loved ones and it was amazing how quickly the news spread with messages and calls then coming back to us practically within seconds as the news broke onto Facebook.  I now know how football teams must feel when a transfer is about to take place.

We had a photo like this 9 and a half days ago.

Having posed for photos from multiple angles with David Bailey Bob we headed back to the visitor centre to sign the book to confirm we were End to Enders.  We also signed the book on behalf of our support drivers who we could not have done without.  Bob, Mike and Barry a great thanks and your names are also in the book as part of our team.

The last thing on our agenda was to get ice cream from the shop which was fantastic and we could then load up the van, board it and head to Fort William for our celebratory meal.


You may or may not remember Richard asking for some motivational songs to put into his Ipod.  Thanks to Stephen who chose Proud by Heather Small which was a great choice.  This song was in my head most of this morning as we were coming closer and closer to making this achievement. Just as the van made the jump to light speed outside of John O Groats, the question in the chorus filled my mind.

"What have you done today to make you feel Proud?".  This.

Saturday, 30 June 2012

Day 9 Inverness to Helmsdale (and beyond)

Change of plan

Day 8 ended with an offer that I couldn't refuse.  "We have a plan" Richard announced as we sat down for dinner..."well a proposal really and we can vote".  As three of us have a plan and one person is about to cast their vote the odds of overturning seemed unlikely.  We do run a democratic system in our team of one man one vote but sadly I am not that man.

The cunning plan was to get up early and ride away from the Travelodge to get in some of the initial climbs we had planned prior to breakfast.  This seemed like a fair enough plan especially considering nothing locally served breakfast until around 8 which would make our setting off time very late. 

We all met outside at just before 7-15 to put the plan into implementation when Bob looked at Mike and asked "Where are the keys?" just as Mike looked at Bob and asked "where are the keys?".  Hence two people both scrabbled through their luggage to see if they really were the last ones to have them last night.

" I gave them to you..."

Now there was a second part of the plan that we will get to later.

The ride away from Inverness is possibly the most picturesque part of our entire journey so far.  You ride away over the river on the suspension bridge with the football ground on your right and the harbour on the left before climbing up towards Dingwall on the A9.  

Not the best bridge

Our first drinks stop was 10 miles out and we were making good time with the climb now behind us we descended down towards sea level again and the bridge spanned across the Loch.   Just before we got onto this bridge we saw the first sign for John o Groats which was 109 miles away.  By the time we would finish the day that distance would be down to 35 miles.

At the drinks stop Richard suggested Barry was preparing for the wrong sport as his lineout bandages seem to have slipped beneath his knees (these were actually Platella supports but we could see the point).  After crossing the first bridge and turning right towards breakfast at Skiach truck stop, we saw Seals in the water just off the road.  This is going to sound daft but when you first see something moving in the water up here you do look particularly closely but there was a small family of seals playing around the rocks which was great to see.

Not nessie

We had also been making good time.  40 minutes for the 10 miles from the last stop to breakfast with Captain Potts leading the way obviously encouraged by the thought of a truck stop meal.  During breakfast healthy debate ensued about how to build a business empire and Mike performed an interesting impersonation of Richard's "starman" onto his bed that reduced the entire group to tears.   Sadly this doesnt work so well in the blog but I have to record it because in years to come when I re-read this this really was one of those moments that I want to remind myself of.

There have been a lot of those during this trip.  There are times, when tempers are probably shorter than people want them to be but mostly that is linked to times when we are hungry, tired, soaking wet or a combination of the three.  This is far outweighed though by the genuinely funny moments that we have had as we try to encourage each other to the finish line.

A good breakfast had a unifying effect
The picture above is probably my favourite one from the blog so far.  It is a shame we are not wearing our Sparks shirts (held in best for tomorrow) but this is the four of us together as a team and the brighter moments over the last few days have also had that as a common link.

Fish and chips

It was around 10 o'clock when we left breakfast and it was dawning on us that given the time we had made in the morning we could get to Helmsdale (our destination) by mid afternoon which enthused all of us.  We headed off and would get in two more 40 minute times for 10 miles which at this stage of the trip was surprising.  

Could be Wales
As we crossed the third bridge of the day (fortunately the Forth bridge was behind us ;-)) we planned for lunch in Glospie and the scenery off this bridge reminded us of a lot of the training runs we had done around North Wales.  Richard took this photo with the flag on Barry's back and the hills off in the distance which could be near Bala.

Lunch was at the Fish and chip restaurant in Glospie and during the lunch I spoke with my Grandma who was really enthusiastic about the whole trip and what an achievement it was.  Hearing the pride in her voice made me quite emotional but also very enthusiastic to get to the end and finish what we had started and looking out at the beach the end was only 75 miles away.  Adrenalin was kicking in.

As we left the town slightly weighed down by the various meals we had eaten we did come across this funnily named castle that amused us all.  It's been a long trip.

Thieves retirement home
We rode along the coast road all the way up to Helmsdale which was fine apart from the last few miles where there were suddenly some more hills.  The view behind us was amazing though with the last of the Caringorms and the hill we had started the morning climbing now far in the distance.  This was probably the first day where you could see, if not the actual place, a rough idea of where you started the ride and the distance we covered in the day was unexpected.

Stating the obvious time but 60 plus miles is a long distance but to have this view down the coast of the distance emphasised the point.  

We rode into Helmsdale and straight to the hotel we were staying at which prompted a cheer from Barry.  At last we had done a day without getting lost.  " it was one road!" the others chimed but a victory is a victory. 

Whilst we waited for Bob to return from the ice cream shop he was waiting at, Richard took the time to take some self portraits the best of which is beneath.

Get your motor running...

The cunning plan

Now stage 2 of the plan could kick in.  As we had made such good time on the 68 mile trip to Helmsdale we decided to try and get a head start on day 10.  Particularly because day 10 started with three climbs within 15 miles totalling around 1400 feet of climb which we wanted to avoid tomorrow when the weather forecast was predicting both rain and a headwind.

So after refuelling and Barry changing his own back wheel (with just a little help from prove he still is useless in practical terms) and making sure our tyres were up to pressure we headed off for the largest of the hills which was an 800 feet climb not dissimilar to the horeshoe pass.

Barry at least tries to help fix his bike
These hills were hard.  Really hard.  Up until now the Bristol airport climb had been the hardest one but these three hills and the first two in particular were the toughest ones we had done.  

The first climb went straight from the harbour at Helmsdale and wound its way around the hill with an increase in altitude of 800 feet in just over three miles.   The road then flattened out a little and descended slightly allowing some good speeds to be attained until it descended 500 feet on a 13% incline before returning the same on the other side with an Alpine bend thrown in for good measure.  This 500 feet climb was torture on our legs and the woman in the layby laughing at us was not particularly helpful but I can see her point as we puffed and panted our ways to the top.

Our target point was a tea room at Dunbeath and the next few miles were quite pleasent as the coastal road meandered on and you could see further down the road to what we thought may be John o Groats but turns out is probably Wick.  
The end is in sight (well nearly)
One last valley at Dunbeath where you dived down into the harbour before climbing back out on the other side was finished off with a few hundred yard climb to the tea room.  We were all surprised to see the van pointing the wrong way down the road and being guided to the tea room further down the road particularly when the last two were told that Bob would see them back at the hotel before the van turned around to come and collect.

We returned to Helmsdale at pace in the van and we all surprised at just how far the 17 miles actually is when you get to replay it just after completion.  We will do this 17 miles again tomorrow to return for our start point for the 10th and final day.   36 short miles to go.