“He only did it” Day 14: Somewhere on the A30 near Newquay to Lands End

May 22nd, 2011 | 3 Comments

Well the day has come. The final leg of the challenge and the end of an epic journey from John O’Groats to Lands End for ‘Never Give Up’.

After 13 days of cycling from the most northerly tip of the UK to the most southerly, Jer is on the home straight and the end is almost in sight. All that stands between him and the fulfilment of an ambition and a tribute to the memory of Abbi is 34 miles. But would those last miles treat him kindly or does fate have something left up it’s sleeve to dash his hopes…

From the off, the weather was ominous. Cornwall had treated us to overnight rain and decided to throw in strong gusty wind this morning for Jer’s cycling pleasure. As Jer cycled away from the start point just after 8am, the wind was swirling around him and the wind turbines over the next hill were spinning in quick time. The wind wasn’t against him exactly but swiping his side. I held back for a while and overtook him after the first couple of miles. For the first time, Jer didn’t put his thumb up to me and I knew he was already finding it hard going. As I drove on to the 10 mile stop, the clouds joined forces ahead to form a single cloud laden with rain. Just as I passed Redruth, the heavens opened and it was as fierce as any rain Jer had faced. I winced as I knew that within minutes, it would meet Jer head on. Setting down at 9 miles, I watched the cloud roll over the top of me to reveal blue skies. I hoped they were the ones predicted to be with us for the rest of remaining miles.

When Jer reached me, he was not happy. He wasn’t concerned about the weather, he had more important problems. The bearings in one of pedals had gone and every few turns it jammed and tried flipping his foot over. We had spare pedals but they were old ones. One of them had to go on and Jer wasted no time in replacing the pedal. In doing so, he cross-threaded it!  A quick ride round the lay-by showed that it was oscillating each time he pedalled. He was concerned that if he put too much pressure on it, it might work it’s way loose. He was more than mad. Jer cursed all the way through drinking his soup and eating a snack and barely waited for it to go down before setting off. I found a Halfords in Penzance if needed and looked for bike hire shops just in case it went completely pear-shaped. We agreed that I should go to every lay-by from now on.

I stopped at 13 miles and Jer reached me still unhappy. Ahead of us was a long, steep hill and he asked me to wait for 20 minutes to give him plenty of time to reach the top. I did, and as I made it up over the hill myself I dreaded seeing him too soon. Each mile that he was not in my sights was a good mile and each empty lay-by was a comforting sign that he was limping on. I passed him after the 17 mile point and, encouragingly, he put his thumb up. I stopped at the next lay-by. He paused only to acknowledge that the pedal was holding but he was having to push harder than he wanted as the wind was in his face. And it was very strong – he was cycling hard down the hills just to keep going. It was not how it was meant to be today and it was fast becoming a real trial of stamina and bloody mindedness.

Once again, he asked me to hang back for 20 minutes to be safe. There was just over 16 miles to go and it was nail biting. Jer was waiting at the next lay-by at Crowlas and my heart sank as I assumed something was wrong. I needn’t have worried, he wanted to stop for a cuppa and refill his water bottle. There was 13.5 miles to go and the bike was holding…for now at least.

I hung back once more knowing that the next time I caught him up, we would have reached Penzance. Sure enough, I passed Jer on the ring road around the town and he gave me a thumbs up. I pulled in at a makeshift lay-by near a sign saying “Lands End 9”. It was very gratifying to know that Jer was running out of road. We played leap frog a few more miles until the signs for Lands End announced that there was only 4 miles to go. Jer could push it that far if needed and was no longer concerned if the pedal would hold. I followed him for much of the remaining few miles, taking video as he passed Sennen. As the distinctive white facade of the Lands End complex came into view, I overtook Jer to video him coming through the entrance. I went into the car park and took more video of Jer as he passed that finish line. What an achievement! Very well done Jer. It was so worth it and I’m honoured to have been there with you.

There are so many people that we would like to thank for their unreserved support both on the lead up to the challenge and, in particular, during this journey. It’s times like this that you realise just how special your family and friends are and it’s truly humbling. For Jer, during those dark moments in the wind and rain as well as those more serene moments when the sun was shining and the wind was at his back, the thought of those nearest either pushed him on or made him look up and smile.

But that’s not quite the end…we took scores of photos and many minutes of video footage of the journey and we will be posting it here soon. We will also be compiling a behind the scenes look at how it was all done. We will also be telling you how to turn those pledges into cash now that Jer has completed the challenge.

I’ll leave the final words to Jer:

“I will smile whenever I hear your name and be proud that you called me Dad”

20110522-091525.jpg

“It’s all gone a bit Bodmin” Day 13: Okehampton to somewhere on the A30 near Newquay

May 21st, 2011 | 1 Comment

We spent last night at Okehampton YHA. Next to the railway station, the main building is a converted goods shed. This one was full with school kids so we were placed 5 minutes away at another YHA building called ‘The Filter House’ on the edge of Dartmoor. A fairly recently converted barn/outbuilding with two single sex dorms, it was tucked away in woodland on the very edge of the National Park. We were put in an 8 bed dorm but we were the only 2 male guests and ended up having the whole room to ourselves! A tasteful conversion in a quiet location with good self catering facilities, and a powerful shower, it was only let down by rock hard vinyl mattresses! Both Jer and I didn’t manage an uninterrupted night’s sleep.

The weather ended the day yesterday in sunshine so we took the opportunity of taking the van up as high as we could into Dartmoor. The weather was calm and the visibility was so good that we could see to the very distant horizon. The scenery was stunning. Sheep and ponies were grazing on the lower pasture slopes with the green fields giving way to the distinctive purple and browns of the heather and the yellows of the gorse as the landscape ascended to craggy tors. Marred only by the distant rumble of the A30, we marvelled at the stunning vista and captured it on film to remember it all. We even put on a little music and had an impromptu dance…to White Horses. It was the altitude you know. A spectacle to be sure.

We were both up with the lark the next morning thanks to our lovely mattresses and busying away with preparations for this penultimate (hopefully) day of the challenge. After all the cycling and in all conditions, Jer was visibly apprehensive about the ride today. The long hills in Devon yesterday had taken their toll and his legs were tight, the tips of some of his fingers had lost sensation, and the general lack of a good night’s sleep was making him very fatigued. There wasn’t much left in the tank and Jer knew the day ahead could be as bad as yesterday. The mileage may be less today but it becomes irrelevant if all you’re doing is climbing hills.

We agreed to adopt a shorter stop strategy today, and start promptly, so if it did turn into a long day, he could get enough breaks and also have the hours to complete the leg.

We set off at 7:35am in Okehampton town centre. For the most part, we would be following the A30 all the way down to Mitchell, close to the turn off to Truro. The Sat Nav predicted 57 miles in 4.5 hours cycling time but with all the hills, we think TomTom must have used Lance Armstrong as the measuring stick.

So, we ignored the predicted time and Jer set off. I waited for a while and caught up with him as he had just finished a long climb out of Okehampton. Next was the A30 and being an early Saturday morning, the traffic was light. For once the lay-bys were predictably placed with good warning before they were reached. This would help me measure out 5 mile stretches and wait to see if Jer wanted to stop. He pulled in to the 5 and 10 mile lay-bys but was happy to go on despite cycling up some long inclines already. I stopped again at 15 miles and this time Jer paused for a cup of tea, a banana and cereal bar. At this point there was a fairly brisk breeze and overcast skies that looked like they might drop a shower at any time. It was rather fresh too and Jer felt it even though he was exercising hard.

The next 5 miles crossed the border into Cornwall, our last county in this epic journey. Cornwall greeted Jer with a shower and 2 incredibly long climbs just short of Launceston. He declined the stop at the next 5 mile stop but pulled in at the next for more food. Jer had now cycled 27.5 miles and the road had steadily climbed nearly all the way. The reason – Bodmin Moor. Not as dramatic as Dartmoor perhaps but bleak nonetheless, and windy too – very windy! And sure enough, it had pitched round to hit Jer square in the face.

My next stop was up on the highest point that the road passed over Bodmin and it was both windy and cold. I took a video of Jer climbing the long hill towards me but he didn’t want to stop. He just wanted to “get off the hill”. I went on to the next stop which was at 40 miles and knew he would want to rest there. It was lunchtime when Jer reached me and he did stop for a bite to eat and a rest. Jer declined a stop after the next 5 miles and the one after that principally because he wanted to see the back of the dual carriageway as soon as he could. It had also started raining, not heavy but that persistent drizzle that can soak you in no time.

I moved on again to the next stop at 54 miles just 2 short of the end for today. Jer paused this time for a final cup of tea and then said he wanted to carry on for another 8 miles. This would push Jer past 60 miles for the day and leave just 34 miles for the last leg tomorrow. Jer completed the extra miles in quick time and had cycled a total of 62 miles in a little under 6 hours. Not bad for a very tired man and a road that presented more ups than downs.

The 15th different stopover in as many days would be the ‘Trewinda Lodge’ in Newquay about 10 miles away. We arrived at the B&B around 4pm and was greeted by Paula, the owner. Our accommodation for the night is a very comfortable, if compact, room with bunk beds. That takes us back – we haven’t shared bunk beds since we were kids. For old times sake, Jer had the top bunk. A really big thank you must go to Paula for giving Jer £10 back from the room charge as sponsorship. The generosity from perfect strangers throughout the course of this journey has been truly astonishing. It restores your faith doesn’t it. All we can do in return is shamelessly plug the Trewinda Lodge. You can visit their website at http://www.trewinda-lodge.co.uk/index.html.

Well, here we are, on the eve of the final leg of an amazing 880 mile cycle challenge from John O’Groats to Lands End in just 14 days. It doesn’t seem like 13 days ago that Jer pedalled those first metres at the other end of the UK. So many miles, so much wind and rain, so many highs and lows and so much money raised for Never Give Up. We have an idea of the total raised, and all we wan to say that it has surpassed our wildest expectations. But…there’s still time to pledge your support and raise an even bigger total so please, please, please, if you haven’t yet had a chance to sponsor Jer, why don’t you do it now. It only takes a minute to fill out the online form on the website at http://www.jeremysbikeride.co.uk/support/. You can also download a sponsor form and print it off if you wish.

Tune in tomorrow to see if he pulled it off. For those who want Jer to fail, pledge a huge amount of money and I will promise to let his tyres down!

20110521-070632.jpg

“Them Thar Hills” Day 12: Bridgwater to Okehampton

May 20th, 2011 | 2 Comments

Last night was spent at the Tom Mogg Inn at Burtle about 10 miles from Bridgwater. Firmly in the budget category, photos of the pub on the bar wall from previous years hark back to a better time. Nevertheless, the landlord was friendly and the room was fine for an overnight stop. We went back to Bridgwater for an evening meal, stock up on essential supplies at Morrisons, and refuel the van. We stopped to take some photos at the Edington Holy Well on the way back to the pub, more out of curiosity than anything else, and rode the roller coaster lanes to the inn. It’s caused by all the peat subsiding in case you were wondering.

Breakfast was served promptly at 7am the next morning and before we left, Jer had some maintenance to do on the bike. This involved replacing the brake blocks on the rear wheel before setting off today. They’d been fine all the way down to Somerset but with expected hilly terrain, Jer thought it would be a wise move to change them. A few rides round the pub car park and several adjustments later, we were off back to Bridgwater and the start point. We were running a little behind and it wasn’t helped by rush hour traffic and temporary traffic lights in the town. Still, Jer managed to get going around 8:40am – our target today was Okehampton in Devon, some 60 miles away.

The weather was glorious for the start – clear blue skies and warm sunshine. The forecast, though, was for showers too and as Jer left, a band of cloud loomed on the horizon and it wasn’t long before it had overtaken us.

The first part if our route would take us on the A38 through Taunton, around Wellington, and on to Tiverton. Skirting round the town on the B3391, we would follow the A396 towards Exeter before sliding onto the A3072 towards Crediton and down to Okehampton.

Our first stop was at 19 miles just short of Beambridge. Jer made it in 1 hour 45 minutes, a creditable average of 11 miles an hour. The road was moderately flat and presented no problems. After a cup of tomato soup and a cereal bar, Jer was off once more. We calculated that our next stop at 40 miles would be over rhe border into Devon, between Tiverton and Crediton.

I set off just after Jer for the next stop. The road to Tiverton seemed to me to be much the same as the stretch we had just left behind although from here it was a very different scene. Almost immediately out of town  the terrain and the landscape began to change. As beautiful as the Somerset countryside is, this part of Devon was serene, a leafy avenue out of Tiverton opened up to reveal wooded slopes on either side, in some ways reminiscent of the loch countryside in Scotland. The roads twist and turn and rise and fall to match. The road splits at the bottom of a valley at a wonderfully picturesque junction near The Trout Inn and Fisherman’s Cot, both public houses. From here, it rises sharply and keeps going, bending it’s way up to a summit with glorious panoramic views across farmland for miles. Despite being overcast, it was bright, and views could be had to the distant horizon. As pretty as this was, I knew Jer would have to push exceptionally hard up these hills and with over 20 more miles to go, I feared that if this terrain continued, it would draw a lot of energy out of him, energy that he was running out…fast.

Jer averaged a little less than 11 miles an hour in reaching me at the lunch stop and sure enough, climbing the hills had taken it’s toll. We always knew that Devon and Cornwall would be difficult and it was living up to all the stories we’d heard. Jer cycle legs had not let him down yet though and he was fairly stoical about the rigours ahead. We kept talking about the how little there was left of the challenge to do and that seemed to lift his spirits. After today he would have less than 100 miles to go to the finish. Split over 2 days, it would mean that today would be the last 60+ mile day.

There was still a little matter of getting through today first, and not knowing if there were lots more hills to come, Jer wanted me to stop every 5 miles for the rest of this leg in case he needed more frequent breaks.

Jer did decide to stop at the next 5 mile point which was just beyond Copplestone, but only briefly for a banana. The road from there to the next stop at Stone Cross was gentler but still rolling. He stopped just to refill his water bottle and with only 8 more miles to go, we would make a final stop after another 4. The weather was still holding – no rain but a fairly strong wind had picked up and it was against him. Jer only paused at the final 4 mile point to take a quick drink and never got off his bike. He made it to Okehampton just before 4:30pm having completed 61.5 miles in a little less than 6 hours of tough cycling.

If there was any thought that the final push to Lands End was going be a gentle ride it was cruelly dispelled today…

“Zunny Zomerset” Day 11: Stroud to Bridgwater

May 19th, 2011 | 0 Comments

We woke this morning to bright sunshine. We didn’t believe it but it was true – the weather lady on the TV confirmed it as well. And what’s more, it was going to be pretty much the same all day. And even better, there was only going to be a gentle breeze. Only one question remained – how would Jer cope in sunny, dry and calm weather? He was going into the unknown and he would need to brace himself.

We stayed the night at The Beacon Inn between Stonehouse and Stroud. Essentially a pub with bedrooms, it was in the process of being taken over, and was quiet. We only saw two other guests and they were using it as a stopover as they walked the Cotswold Way. The landlord and landlady were very friendly hosts and we enjoyed a hearty supper (although I’m not sure about the side salad with steak and kidney pie) and cooked breakfast. The room was quite large and was perfectly pleasant enough.

We made the short drive to the start point just before 8am and Jer set off promptly. The destination today was Bridgwater in Somerset and the predicted mileage around 65. Most of the journey would follow the A38.

We decided on a 20 mile stop strategy and I went ahead as usual. I set down at 21 miles and Jer made the stop in good time, around 1 hour and 40 minutes. So far, the road went through flattish countryside but the next 20 miles would take in Bristol. The most direct route, the A38, carved a path right through the middle and Jer was happy to do this rather than follow a convoluted route around the city. Jer navigated through perfectly and I was doing well with my Sat Nav route until a road closure ahead took me every which way before joining the A38. The next stop was at 41 miles at Redhill just beyond Bristol Airport. Jer made it in just less than 2 hours which was a good time bearing in mind the inevitable stop-start through Bristol.

It was good to see Jer enjoying the sunshine and he was happy to make a fairly brief stop before setting off again. Knowing we only had 24 miles to go, we agreed to take a final stop at 12 miles. As we dropped down into Somerset, the Levels stretched out before us with their lush pasture fields and distinctive rhynes. The final stop near Sedgemoor Services was a delight – the sun was shining, the bike was behaving and Jer was able to indulge in the joy of cycling through some beautiful countryside. The cold, wind and rain of the Scottish Highlands seemed like a distant memory…

A gentle ride into Bridgwater ended an increasingly glorious day of cycling and another 65 miles nearer the goal of reaching Land’s End. Jer has now turned the ‘corner’ into the West country and it feels like the home straight but as Jer is getting increasingly fatigued and the terrain of Devon and Cornwall is notoriously difficult, it’s still not in the bag…

“Grinding gears and grinding miles” Day 10: Ironbridge to Stroud

May 18th, 2011 | 3 Comments

We spent the night at Buckatree Hall Hotel near Wellington, just a few miles from Ironbridge. A budget price (less than a hostel), the accommodation was anything but cheap. The hotel is undergoing major refurbishment work but most of it appears to have been completed with only the occasional smell of fresh paint to remind you that work was ongoing. Our room was ‘brand new’ with a balcony overlooking the hotel pond. The tasteful decor of the lounge bar and a good menu meant that we were quite happy to stay at the hotel. Just as well as we had plenty of planning to do for the day ahead.

Jer spent some time that evening giving the bike the once over and noticed a potentially serious problem. There was a loud grinding noise coming from the back wheel. Jer described it like crunching glass. With all the mileage and bad weather, grit had clearly worked it’s way in to the hub and was grinding on the wheel bearings. Jer was convinced that this would only get worse and potentially scupper the challenge. Either he got a brand new wheel or the the old wheel would need cleaning out and the bearings replaced. One way or another, we had to get it to a cycle shop, and soon! Our destination for today was Stroud(ish) and it was a long ride. We decided to go via Worcester and hope a bike shop there could fix it. We reckoned we could be there by midday. We had a plan….or so we thought.

In order to cover an enormous 70+ miles today and get the bike fixed was a huge ask and we knew that to have any chance of Jer finishing in daylight, we had to start early.

We arrived at Ironbridge before 7am and once I had taken photos and video of Jer in front of the famous bridge, we were off and heading towards Worcester. Although threatening to rain, the weather was dry and apart from the ascent out of Ironbridge, the road looked moderately flat. We adopted a 5 mile stop strategy so that I wasn’t too far away from Jer at any one time. Right from the start, the bike was noisy and getting worse by the first stop. Jer didn’t want to waste any time and set off without hardly pausing. I decided that we might not make Worcester with another 40 miles to go and looked for bike shops closer.

I found one at Kidderminster only 18 miles away but it was too early to give them a call. We decided that we should head there regardless, particularly as it wasn’t going to add any miles to the journey. With 5 miles to go, it was past 9am, and I called the shop. They were happy to help. I stopped on the outskirts of the town and waited for Jer. We put the bike in the back of the van and headed to Smith’s Cycles in the middle of town. I took the opportunity to get more supplies in Tescos opposite and Jer took the bike in.

Turned out that the axle was bent and needed replacing along with a new cog set. The wheel itself was fine. Jer also took the opportunity to have the spare tyre put on the back wheel at the same time. In just over an hour, the bike was repaired. An honourable mention is due to Smith’s Cycles (smithscycles.co.uk) for such efficient and speedy work. As it was for charity, he only wanted £20 too! A big thank you.

With a new cog set and 3 extra gears, we went back to the outskirts of Kidderminster and Jer set off around 11:15am. It was business as usual once more and Jer needed to get nearly 50 more miles under his belt before the day was out. Jer had fun with the all the roundabouts skirting Worcester before he finally joined me back on the A38 on the other side. Jer had cycled 20 miles since Kidderminster and was still getting used the new gears and the new noises it was making. Lunch was taken at around 1:45pm and we worked out that there was still about 30 miles of cycling left and that he probably wouldn’t finish until 5pm. What’s more it was raining again. It was patchy for sure but soaking rain nonetheless when it fell.

We decided to split the remaining miles and make a final stop with just 12 miles to go. This put us on the other side of the pretty town of Tewkesbury. After stopping for a brief cuppa and cutting off a bit of the chain guide that had been gnawed by the chain (that’s got to be it surely!), Jer was off for the final leg. He eventually pulled into the scheduled stop near Stroud at 4:45pm after cycling 72.1 miles in 6 hours and 45 minutes that was strewn with stops. Any further bike problems and it will have a new home in the nearest river!

“Houston we had a problem” Day 9: Warrington to Ironbridge

May 17th, 2011 | 0 Comments

We stayed at the Paddington House Hotel in Warrington last night. It was a fairly non-descript budget hotel but perfectly serviceable for an overnight stop.

Having extended the ride to the southern outskirts of Warrington near Stratton yesterday, we made our way back there to pick up the start today. Jer was on the road by 7:30. Lucky for him it was raining once again – he can’t get enough of it?!? Within a few short miles, he was in open countryside and heading towards the leafy village of Cuddlington. The villages of Cotebrook and Tiverton followed and we had swopped Lancashire for Cheshire. The road was moderately busy, as expected, but narrowed and became more interesting around Tiverton where it twisted and turned. Much more up Jer’s street for cycling. One of his pet hates is seeing a long road stretch out ahead of him, he much prefers the ‘I wonder what’s round the corner’ style of cycling. I think he’s right. Up until Tiverton you still know that you’re near major towns and cities as the road is punctured by major traffic light controlled crossroads and large roundabouts.

The first stop was at 20 miles in a lay-by (surprise, surprise!) just beyond Tiverton near the wonderfully named, ‘Panama Hattys’ restaurant. Low and behold, the rain had stopped and it was dry here. A mirage, perhaps? No, it was true. Jer made good time in reaching me and only wanted a soup to refuel. Jer soon pressed on and we agreed to meet at the 40 mile point on the other side of Hodnet. For the first time in days, the route would take us on a minor road. By the time I reached Hodnet the sun was pushing through light clouds and with it came some real warmth. I looked at the clock and estimated I had an hour for some writing and tidy the van before Jer arrived.

I’d stopped for no more than 5 minutes when Jer called. He was in a lay-by 10 miles back and he had a problem with the main crank bearings – they were becoming loose. He had no tools with him to tighten it and it was unlikely we had any that fitted it in the van – specialist tools were needed. I drove back to Jer and he tried to tighten it but to no avail. I looked up the nearest cycle shop and found that there was one in Nantwich about 11 miles away. We put the bike in the back and set off. The shop (A F Cycles) was open and they were happy to fix it there and then. In less than 15 minutes and £5 later, we were heading back to the lay-by and after breaking for lunch, Jer wanted to push on with minimal stops for the remaining 28 miles or so. As a precaution, we agreed that I should stop every 5 miles until the end of the leg in case there was a further problem. Jer passed me with thumbs up after the first 5 miles but when I saw him again at 10 miles, there was still a little play in the crank and he was nervous that it might work loose again…and soon. We were now just 12 miles or so from the next major town, Telford, and we decided to find another bike shop to get it fully tightened. We had to by-pass the town anyway so the diversion would be minimal. I phoned ahead and explained the problem and the guy at Perry’s Cycles was happy to help. This time it was tightened hard and Jer managed to pick up a spare set of brake blocks at the same time. We took the opportunity to have some lunch while the bike was being repaired and Jer was pedalling again towards the last 7 miles or so into Ironbridge soon after.

Jer peddled into Ironbridge just before 4pm – not bad given the two un-scheduled repair stops! In total, Jer clocked up 59 miles and despite everything, he enjoyed the day. It was a pleasant change for him to cycle in dry weather and at times even the sun shone making it really quite warm.

We’re staying at the Buckatree Hall Hotel near Wellington tonight, around 10 miles from Ironbridge. After a rest, Jer spent some time cleaning and oiling the bike in the car park and as he was doing so an enquiring lady asked him what he was doing. Jer was pleased to tell her all about the challenge. So impressed, she insisted on sponsoring him and promptly gave him £10! The kindness of some people is astonishing. The least we can do is give you a mention Sue. Thank you.

“The concrete jungle” Day 8: Carnforth to Warrington

May 16th, 2011 | 1 Comment

Our accommodation for last night was the YHA hostel at Arnside overlooking the northern edge of Morecombe Bay. An Edwardian building, about 8 miles west of Carnforth, the hostel was very well run with a friendly atmosphere. It even had a licensed bar! Those whiskies went down nicely didn’t they Kev? We were in a 4 bed dorm but with no 4th guest, we had the room to ourselves. Being the smallest, Kev ‘won’ the top bunk and we settled down to an evening of chatter and lots of laughs. By 9:30, Jer was staring at the insides of his eyelids and it wasn’t long before the talking faded.

We started this morning with porridge and a cup of tea before packing our things in the van and setting off back to Carnforth for the start point. This is where we also said goodbye to Kev who was taking the next train back to Salisbury. Thanks Kev, it was good to see you. Kev sent us a text later in the day and not content with raising £500, he got chatting to a guy on the train who was so touched by Jer’s challenge that he gave him £20! Kev had no sponsorship form with him either!

The route today would largely take us down the A6 and A49 to Warrington through the towns of Lancaster, Preston and Wigan. The predicted mileage is around 60 and the weather forecast is…wait for it…rain. Oh goody!

The short cycle to Lancaster was mostly urban with only short glimpses of countryside. We both joined a train of vehicles through Lancaster and at one point Jer overtook me as it took more than 20 minutes to get through rush hour traffic before seeing ‘daylight’ on the other side. For the next 10 miles or so towards the first stop at 19 miles, it was a mixture of suburban and village scenes with some open countryside. At least the road was flat and we only encountered moderate traffic once Lancaster had been left behind. But it was raining hard and it wasn’t going to stop any time soon. I knew Jer would have his head down and crunching miles behind. The saving grace was that there was little in the way of scenery to miss.

Despite the rain, Jer was in good spirits when he caught up with me at our first stop just outside of Garstang. A pot noodle and a cereal bar later, Jer wasted little time in getting back on his bike and setting off for another 20 miles. Preston was next and a bit less traffic to follow through the town now that rush hour was over. The urban sprawl finally gave way and next was a series of small towns and villages straddling the A49. I stopped just  beyond Coppull on the outskirts of Wigan at 40 miles.

We decided to put in a stop between Wigan and Warrington and then another on the far side of Warrington so that we could pick up the route from there in the morning and be certain of missing any rush hour traffic. Jer finally finished the leg after nearly 6 hours of cycling and 60.5 miles. A lowly average (for Jer) but navigating the towns and cities that were strewn along his route, and the persistent rain, took it’s toll. It wasn’t the most scenic of journeys either and I’m pretty sure that it won’t feature in Jer’s most memorable days of the challenge.

After 8 days of cycling, Jer has passed through the halfway stage – a fantastic achievement in itself. And he’s done it in some style. if my maths is correct, he has cycled 525 miles since John O’Groats, an average of over 65 miles a day – quite astonishing.

Going into the second week has prompted both of us to reflect on the highs and lows of the days behind us and the reasons why it’s all being done.  Inevitably, thoughts turn to Abbi and I know that in the brief pauses between planning the route for the day ahead, looking up at a mountain range or staring down a valley, Abbi is not far from Jer’s thoughts. On miserable wet and windy days, I’m sure it’s for this reason that he ploughs on at a relentless pace. The support from all our family and friends, and even friends and friends, is truly humbling and there is no question that it spurs him on.

Tomorrow, Jer cycles to Ironbridge. We are promised better weather and open countryside….we’ll see.

It rained. Day 7: Gretna to Carnforth

May 15th, 2011 | 2 Comments

We were lucky to find accommodation for last night around Gretna given that most had been snapped up weeks ago for the Radio 1 Big Weekend in Carlisle. The hotel that I’d picked out when planning the challenge had availability but suddenly hiked its price by 50% when I called to confirm. Well there’s a surprise! A quick call to Carlisle Tourist Information and by sheer fluke a B&B had called in moments earlier to say they had vacancies. I spoke to Carol, the owner of Kirkpatrick House B&B directly and promptly booked at a very reasonable rate. Carol even took a few pounds off when I explained what Jer was doing! What’s more, the B&B was only a few miles from Gretna – perfect. Kirkpatrick House is a gorgeous small manor with large rooms and high ceilings. Carol was a wonderful hostess – we were treated to coffee and biscuits in front of a roaring fire when we arrived and a splendid cooked breakfast in the morning with local bacon and sausages, and eggs from her own hens. Even the jam and marmalade was home-made. I would recommend Kirkpatrick House to anyone. The address is Kirkpatrick-house.co.uk. Thank you Carol – hope to see you again one day.

Despite the lavish breakfast, we were back at the start point in Carlisle at 7:45. Jer was off once more.

Our destination today is Carnforth looking out over Morecombe Bay. The predicted mileage is around 65. The route passes through Carlisle on the A6 down to Penrith and over Shap on the edge of the Lake District. Jer then heads for Kendall and onto the finish at Carnforth.

Rain was predicted for today and it was certainly grey skies as we left Carlisle. The rain wasn’t far behind and after passing through the town, light rain was already falling. The first 5 miles was spent going through a myriad of traffic lights that seemed to typify Carlisle. The sight of rolling countryside and green pasture fields outside the urban sprawl was much more gratifying. The terrain was moderate but the wind was against Jer today. For this part of the leg, at least, it was tolerable.

Our first stop was at 19 miles just before Penrith and the countryside was much the same. The rain had picked up a little but the effects were calmed by a hot brew and a mug of soup. After 6 days of cycling, Jer appears to face each day with less trepidation and more confident in his ability to handle the rigours of the challenge. It was for this reason, I think, that he seemed very relaxed about the next section today…reaching Shap summit at 430 metres above sea level. Sure enough, after passing through Penrith and the village of Clifton with it’s beautiful apsidal church, the ascent began. The lush pasture fields separated by a chequer board pattern of dry stone walls gave way to open, brown scrubby moorland with hills rising on either side. We were on the eastern edge of the Lake District National Park and it was bleak up there today. The rain was still moderate but was being pushed hard by a very strong cross wind – it was piercing. We agreed to stop at 30 miles. As it turned out this went beyond Shap summit and back down into the valley and a return to pasture fields. I took the time to pause on the peak and take some photos before the sharp descent. I knew Jer was going to have as much trouble going down the other side as he would have going up. I passed a cyclist coming up the opposite way and a side wind nearly knocked him over. At the next stop, Jer told me that it nearly happened to him too.

After another cup of tea, and a consulting the maps, Jer set off for the other side of Kendall and our next stop at 40 miles. I went ahead and sent Jer a text after I’d gone through the town to help with directions as the road we wanted split, turned, veered and generally made a nuisance of itself out of the town. Brief stops at 50 and 58 miles, the last being just beyond Milnthorpe, and Jer did the last few miles into Carnforth to finish a miserable day in the pouring rain. In all, Jer completed 63 miles in 6 hours averaging just a smidge over 10 miles an hour. Once more, the weather was the victor and much of Jer’s view was looking down at the tarmac to avoid the driving rain. Lovely countryside but it’s difficult to appreciate any of it when you can’t raise your head to see it!

We deliberately finished the day at Carnforth railway station so that we could meet our brother-in-law, Kev. Kev sacrificed a short break after a long working week to come up on the train from Salisbury today. Kev will be staying with us overnight at our hostel at Arnside, just a few miles away before making the long trip back. The three of us went out to dinner in Carnforth this evening and Kev took the opportunity to present Jer with a pledge note for an incredible £500! Kev has spent the last month or so collecting pledges from friends and colleagues – the most amazing part is that none of them know Jer personally. What can you say…

“Au revoir Scotland, Hello England” Day 6: Cumnock to Gretna

May 14th, 2011 | 0 Comments

We stayed at the Adamton House Hotel near Prestwick last night with a vantage point over the Firth of Clyde and the island of Annan. Set in its own grounds, and with a lovely Victorian country house frontage, the 1970s ‘express wing’ at the back is the business end with hundreds of rooms. Ours was very clean, if a little compact, and looked as though it had been re-decorated and re-carpeted fairly recently. It’s age was only given away by the advocado bath suite!

Breakfast was taken in the old building and Jer took advantage of a full breakfast. Despite the books saying that you should be on a heavy carb diet, Jer is mindful that he also needs high calorie foods to maintain his energy levels, particularly first thing. The only logistical problem with waiting for breakfast time is that it pushes the start back. By the time we’d checked out and driven the 14 miles or so to the start point in Cumnock, it was 8:45am before Jer got going.

The route today would largely take us down the A76 passing New Cummnock, Sanquhar (I wonder how you pronounce it), Mennock and around the top of Dumfries. The road then joins the A75 which we leave at Collin on the B724 so that we can take the coast road overlooking the Solway Firth. This leads to Annan and Gretna shortly after. The weather forecast is for showers and however much we squinted at the weather map, we felt it inevitable that it was still going to get Jer at some point.

As we stopped just off a roundabout, I set off at the same time as Jer and went ahead to the 20 mile stop (turned out to be a little over 21). From New Cumnock, both the feel of the road and the scene in front was much improved from yesterday and you actually wanted to reach for your camera. Neither of us did much of that at all yesterday. Being a Saturday, the hustle and bustle of the A76 had abated to leave an acceptably quiet road that twisted and turned. The A76 was fast redeeming itself. Coupled with the appearance of the grass-covered summits of the Lowther Hills to the left and the tumbling River Nith below to the right, it felt like we were entering the Highlands once more. At this point, the weather was overcast but dry. Not so for Jer who phoned to say that he was watching a black cloud that was making the world quickly disappear behind him. He was calling to say that he was going to take shelter at a bus stop and let it race on ahead. As it turned out, the blackness swerved to one side and he caught the edge of a short shower before the way was clear.

The first stop was taken at a picnic site by the Nith where a group of rookie canoeists were being instructed on health and safety before being allowed to ride the water down to Dumfries. Jer caught up with me a good 20 minutes earlier than I had predicted and took me by surprise as he suddenly appeared at the window. He was in really good spirits. He was excited to tell me that the section was the best cycling he had ever done. The wind was at his back and for the most part, the road was both good and downhill. One cup of tea and a mug of soup later he was off and looking forward to more of the same. The next 20 mile stop would be at Dumfries.

As I drove the next 20 miles I smiled as I knew Jer would like this next leg. The road followed a beautifully steady downhill route alongside the Nith, first passing through the pretty town of Thornhill and then through a gorge-like avenue with trees clinging on to steep craggy slopes. Those canoeists would have great fun through here. Finally opening out again, the terrain flattened and looked distinctly like a parkland estate with well kept pasture fields interspersed with isolated mature trees.

The road continued downwards to Dumfries and our next scheduled stop. I pulled in at a McDonalds on the ring road at 42 miles and once again, Jer caught me up in quick time. He’d cycled the distance today in just 3 hours, a great average of 14 miles an hour. That compares really well with the 11 miles an hour that he’s been achieving so far – admittedly in trying conditions. A sedate cuppa and cheese burger (oops) and Jer was off again. He had only 25 miles to go and we decided to split the journey in half.

After roundabouting our way out of The greyness of the ubiquitous out-of-town shops and housing estates, we took the B724 at Collin (what a great name) and headed on the scenic route to Gretna via Clarencefield and Annan. Apart from the railway embankment, the landscape was now pretty flat as we approached the Solway Firth. Off to our right the Solway was marked by wind turbines standing on the most enormous masts in the Firth. From what I could tell the tide was out exposing miles of mad flats. I stopped at the 55 mile marker just beyond Clarencefield and once again Jer was not far behind. Delighted with his progress on flat scenic roads with the wind behind him he was in very buoyant mood and threw in the possibility of heading beyond Gretna today and stopping just shy of Carlisle. I moved on to a lay-by just outside of Gretna to plot a route.

Jer calls the miles like today “free miles” as there is virtually no effort needed in completing them. It’s a relative term of course but I know what he means. I could see a way down as far as Carlisle to give him an extra 8 miles but I was reticent to go any further for one major reason – Radio 1s Big Weekend in Carlisle. Over 40,000 people are expected to turn up today to see Lady GaGa et al and the town would be heaving. Our route for tomorrow takes us right through the middle and I managed to convince Jer that we would severely pay for the couple of extra miles to get to the other side if we tried today. He agreed and we stopped short at yet another out-of-town shopping ‘centre’. We’ll have much better luck with Carlisle early tomorrow morning. Oh, and just one more thing…he’s only gone and cycled into England!

In all Jer clocked up an incredible 75.6 miles in 5.25 hours, an awesome average of 14.4 miles an hour. The weather was also kind and stayed dry nearly all the way. Rarely will there be days like this and Jer has got a wonderful Cheshire cat smile. The day ahead looks tough so to bring the total miles for the next leg down into the 50s means that Jer will hit the ground running.

Jer finished in good time for us to go back over the border to Scotland and take some pictures in front of the signs welcoming us to both England and Scotland that are within feet of each other. It feels good to be through Scotland as far as the challenge goes but we will both miss the magnificence of the Highlands. Such is life. England now beckons.

“If you can’t say anything nice…” Day 5: Ardlui to Cumnock

May 13th, 2011 | 0 Comments

We spent the night at the Arrochar Hotel just a couple of miles away from our start point for the day. Our room faced out onto Loch Long and the distinctive rocky summit of the Cobbler. Jer’s early finish yesterday meant that he had most of the afternoon and evening to recuperate and relax. We used some of it to go over the route for today – a potentially awkward leg to navigate. At least, the forecast was looking kinder.

Jer’s route today would take him down to Cumnock, passing along the western side of Loch Lomond on the A92 before skirting Dumbarton then across the Erskine Bridge and by-passing Glasgow. From there, Jer would take the A737 around the top of Paisley and Johnstone joining the B706 and then the A735 towards Kilmarnock. It’s a straight ride from there down to Cumnock along the A77. In total, the predicted mileage was around 70 miles.

This leg of the challenge looked set to be less arduous than yesterday. We were leaving the mountains and lochs behind for Scotland’s lowlands. The weather was forecasted to be fair with light cloud and no rain – mmm….we’ll see.

Jer set off later today, just after 8am, so that we could take advantage of the hotel breakfast. The weather was indeed fair as he set off alongside Loch Lomond. Going back to our original strategy of stopping every 20 miles for this leg, I set off for the first stop. By mile 15 the landscape changed quite dramatically. The mountainous terrain gave way to a downland scene reminiscent of the West country and the hillsides become peppered with estates rather than isolated cottages. The roads widen and soon become dual carriageways and the roundabouts start appearing with some regularity. From Dumbarton, the scene is very urban with fast moving traffic to match. Being used to seeing plenty of lay-bys and picnic rest areas, it was already proving more difficult to set down at a convenient mile marker. As a result, the first stop was nearly 23 miles from the start. It’s a good job that the road was flat and I knew it wouldn’t be a problem for Jer to do a couple of extra miles before his first break.

Our stop was just short of the Erskine Bridge on the outskirts of Glasgow on a lay-by next to a very busy dual carriageway – the solitude and peace of the Highlands already seemed very far away. After a mug of soup and tea (not together in the same cup), we checked the best route around Paisley and Johnstone and met up again around 15 miles later once we were back on country roads. The break turned into a much longer rest than anticipated due to a violent hailstorm that would have drenched Jer in seconds if he’d been out there. Fortunately, it passed pretty quickly and Jer was back on the bike and over small country roads towards Kilmarnock. He enjoyed this part of the ride best of all today – the sun was shining, the wind was tolerable and, for the most part, it was just Jer and his bike. From Kilmarnock, it was all change again, the roads widened once more and the traffic noise was deafening. The last miles to Cumnock were much the same and Jer felt that the day had mostly been spent crunching miles rather than taking in the scenery. There will be other days like this I’m sure. It was very much a stop start day today and although Jer was pleased to get a whopping 72 miles under his belt, the scenery that made the Highlands so magnificent, was not being matched by the Lowlands…yet.

A later start to the day and an increasing number of stops to guide Jer round a tricky leg, he didn’t finish until nearly 5pm.

We’re staying at a hotel near Prestwick airport tonight and hoping for better things tomorrow.