“Raindrops keep falling on my head” Day 4: Fort William to Ardlui

May 12th, 2011 | 1 Comment

We spent last night at Glen Nevis SYHA in a bunk bed dorm. Fortunately it was quiet so neither of us had to play rock, paper, scissors for the top bunk. The hostel is large and clearly caters for vast numbers in the summer months. We were quite pleased that it was still out of season. Besides using the laundry facilities and a quick trip into Fort William, there was just enough time to take photos of the wonderful scenery, before trolling off to bed.

It was grim. The rain came down so hard last night that I’m sure it dented the window glass. It wasn’t much better at first light either although the rain had eased a little. It was so dark that Jer spent part of breakfast putting new batteries into his bike lights for his journey. There was a real sense of trepidation from Jer this morning. The route is straight forward enough, not too many road choices to go wrong, but both the storms ahead and a notorious climb over Rannoch Moor unsettled him. We decided on a different strategy, one that would include more stops if needed. I was to set down every 10 miles and he would either stop if the climb was tough or shout out the number of extra miles he wanted to do as he was passing. We were set.

The route today would take us down the A82 from Fort William to our stop at Ardlui. Heading out of Fort William, we crossed the bridge over Loch Leven hugging it’s southern shores before turning away inland towards Glen Coe and the mountains and moor beyond. Crianlarich would be first town out of the mountains and then a 17 mile descent to Ardlui alongside Loch Lomond.

As planned, I set out for the 10 mile point. Jer reached me in good time and shouted out “five more miles”. I stopped near the 15 mile marker just shy of West Laroch and Jer was not far behind. Despite frequent heavy bursts of rain, the stop remained dry long enough for Jer to enjoy noodles and a cuppa. On through to Glen Coe, the mountains suddenly came into view and we were heading up towards Rannoch Moor. The rain was hanging in the clouds as Jer started the slow ascent. With the climb came the views, and what stunning scenery it was too. The road wends its way through a broad valley between high peaks with watery pools and fast tributaries. The overnight rain had forced numerous streams to run hard down the mountains and made the scene all the more awe-inspiring. Jer saw it much more personally. At the 25 mile stop, he told me how he rounded the corner out of Glen Coe town and started to climb when a ray of sunshine struck the valley ahead and the winds suddenly turned to the south to push him along. He thought of Abbi…

With the wind finally behind him he pushed on up to our stop at the pace he would expect on the flat. The obligatory cuppa had to be taken in the van this time as it was raining heavily. Jer was keen to get back out there despite the deluge and he took off. Soon the ground flattened and the valley gave way to a wider and wider expanse of craggy heathland. There was nothing stopping Jer now and he waved me past the 30 mile point. I stopped at the 36 mile marker at a fantastic scenic area overlooking Loch Tulla. What’s more it had a snack van! I took some video of Jer as he approached but he just waved me on again. He was clearly enjoying the ride despite the lashing rain and believe me, it was lashing. What I didn’t realise was that the wind had turned and was against him once more. He was only cycling on through bloody mindedness at this point. It poured. Even when he caught up with me at the 40 mile point, just before Bridge of Orchy, he wouldn’t dismount, and paused only to catch a bite to eat and drink before heading on, shouting skywards as he did so. I carried on to a point just before the 45 mile marker which was uphill most of the way. I knew this was going to be very hard, the rain was relentless now. He actually arrived quicker than I thought but was still very angry at the weather. Again, he didn’t want stop for long although he take some soup before setting off once more. We agreed to meet just before Crianlarich, 7 miles away. Fortunately most of this section was downhill with the wind behind him for most of it. The rain was still not letting up and when Jer arrived, he had become very despondent and full of self-doubt whether he could finish or not. Despite his work rate, he was getting cold and fatigued – the weather was taking it’s toll. Again he decided to push on for another 5 miles, there would be only 17 more today if he could summon it.

At last the road was kind, if not the weather, and the long descent began to Ardlui. Jer forced himself on and I went on ahead of him just a few miles at a time. Each time he passed, I shouted the number of miles to go and with some shelter from the tress lining Loch Lomond, he pushed through to the finish line.

After a change of dry clothes in the car park, which we nominated as our finish point, we drove to our hotel for the night, The Arrochar, just a couple of miles down the road. In all, Jer had cycled 68 atrocious miles in a little over 6 hours, finishing just before 2pm. Time for a rest and then work on how to circumnavigate Glasgow tomorrow….

As for Jer’s spirits, a hot bath and lunch in a local bar overlooking a now sunny Loch Lomond seems to have done him the power of good and he’s back on form And looking forward to the next challenge in the morning.

I’ll take the high road and you take the low road. Day 3: Dingwall to Fort William

May 11th, 2011 | 0 Comments

The Garve Hotel. Interesting. Suffice to say we were the youngest guests by at least half a century! We declined the offer of dinner in the main dining room, which was a shame because when we passed the restaurant the other guests were being entreated to a rousing rendition of Delilah by the hotel singer. Everyone was joining in – if only we knew the words…

Ater stocking up with food for the next couple of days at Tesco in Dingwall, we wiled away the evening back at the hotel discussing the day ahead and watching a couple of favourite Laurel and Hardy movies. We know how to live!

After another good night’s sleep, we were up and about at 5.30am for an instant pot-porridge (we were too early for the hotel breakfast) and a cuppa before setting off to the start point back at Dingwall. Sticking to our 7am starts, Jer was cycling off into the distance for the long day ahead.

The route today would take us on a journey inland down through the Great Glen and alongside the magnificent lochs of Ness and Lochie and the Caledonian Canal to Fort William. The ride would start just outside of Dingwall at the junction of the A835 and A862. First heading towards Muir of Ord and Beauly, we would join the A831 near Drumnadrochit and then the A82 all the way down to Fort William. The predicted mileage is staggering today, a whopping 71 miles! This is further than Jer has ever cycled in one stint by some margin…which, incidentally, he did just yesterday! Well, that was the plan anyway…

The strong winds that made cycling so difficult yesterday had abated leaving a calm, sunny morning. The weather forecast predicted sunshine and showers for much of the day with a lightish south-westerly wind.

I went straight to the first scheduled stop at 20 miles, just short of Drumnadrochit. Jer’s consistent pace makes it fairly easy to predict his ETA and it was because of this I thought it strange that he was running late. I tidied the van, began the blog, watched deer run across the field in front of me, took some photos and waited. Fifteen minutes became 30, then 45 and still no sign of him. Finally, I got a call from to say that he realised that he had taken a wrong turn but only when he had reached C?? about 14 miles away from me.

I typed the village into TomTom and took off. About 10 miles down the road, I caught up with him pedalling away from C labouring up a rather steep incline. We quickly bundled the bike into the back of the van and headed towards the first stop…once again. We worked out that Jer had done an extra 6.5 miles – as if he needed the extra challenge today!

Fortunately, the detour was soon forgotten in quick time with the appearance of Loch Ness. Although the wind picked up as it swept across the loch, for the most part the weather stayed comfortably dry with only a few sunny showers. The scenery has everything, wide open views of the water with hills rising above to narrow tree-lined ‘avenues’ hugging the road.

Despite the extra miles, we kept to another 20 mile stop just beyond Invergarry and Jer certainly needed the break after 47 miles. He was only too aware that there was still another 24 to go. On his way after refuelling, Jer was soon dropping down to Loch Lochie and onto the final leg towards Fort William. We split the final stage in two equal sections to give Jer a further break before stopping near our hostel for the night, Glen Nevis. The hostel sits in the shadow of Ben Nevis and in a magnificent setting – a welcome sight for one weary cyclist.

 

Oh, the wind, the wind…Day 2: Helmsdale to Dingwall

May 10th, 2011 | 3 Comments

A very restful evening was spent in Helmsdale Hostel and a chance to reflect on the day’s cycling and the one ahead. The hostel was very quiet with only two other guests, a couple from Southampton who were on their last leg of a tandem ride from Lands End. It was both wonderful and daunting to hear about what to expect in the days ahead. Some great cycling tips were shared too. By the way, we would highly recommend the hostel if you ever find yourself in this neck of the woods – good decor, comfy sofas and very clean. The roaring wood burner is a nice touch on a chilly evening too.

After the best night’s sleep since leaving home, the obligatory porridge and cuppa for breakfast, Jer set off on the 56 miles to Dingwall. The weather forecast for today predicted light cloud with showers and sunny spells and moderately light winds. It was certainly all of the above but without the rain…at 7am at least.

As yesterday, today’s route followed the A9 for much of the way hugging the North Atlantic coast down through Brora, Golspie, Loch Fleet, Domoch Firth, Alness and into Helmsdale on the A862. The first 20 miles was pretty flat (for the Highlands) and so was the next 20 when there a scheduled stop near Balnagown River.  The only real difference was the appearance of rain for much of the ride between the 20 and 40 mile stops. With it came stronger winds, and in particular some vicious side winds going over the causeway across Domoch Firth. The rain gave way to short showers but the wind never really died down and although the remainder of the ride continued to be relatively level, the wind made it much, much harder than it should have been. At some points, Jer was cycling hard…downhill! Despite blowing a hoolie, Jer decided to extend the today’s leg just beyond Dingwall itself to make an easier start in the morning. In total, Jer clocked up 59 miles  in 5 hours and 14 minutes of cycling today. Not only the furthest yet but the furthest he’s ever cycled in one day!

We’re staying at a budget hotel tonight rather than a hostel as there aren’t any around Dingwall. So we’re off to Garve to chill for a few hours before going back to Dingwall for fresh supplies.

After two days of great cycling, Jer is in high spirits and is both flattered and extremely grateful for the constant enthusiasm and support for his challenge from family and friends. Sponsorship and pledges are coming in every day and the generosity of everyone is astonishing.

And we’re off! Day 1: John O’Groats to Helmsdale

May 9th, 2011 | 1 Comment

At this time of year, and in this part of the world, it gets light well before 5am and we were nearly up early enough to see the sunrise. What a difference a day makes. Gone were the clouds, rain, and howling gale and in was a clear blue sky and lighter winds. After a porridge breakfast, Jer was eager to set off and finally start the challenge. With only two other guests in the hostel (both end to end cyclists), it was very quiet…too quiet in fact – we couldn’t find the hostel manager to open up the bike shed! She appeared in the end, a little bleary-eyed, just after 7am.

We drove the short distance to John O’Groats and Jer kindly posed for various photos and videos around the start line before taking the cue to ride off into the distance…and head for our first target, Helmsdale, 55 miles away. The route today was very straightforward, a short stretch of A9 before joining the A99 that hugged the coast all the way down to Helmsdale.

I drove ahead and found suitable spots at the 20 mile and 40 mile markers – both, as it turned out, on the forecourts of abandoned petrol stations at Thrumster and Castlehill. We attempted to make a cup of tea at the first stop but Sean’s (aka Shane Lightning) petrol stove produced a little more flame than expected – more of a fireball than a gentle burner! Fortunately Jer managed to wrestle it to the ground and off the flat-bed. We will try something else tomorrow, probably the flask method…

Apart from nearly setting light to the pick-up, Jer’s first day was comfortingly uneventful although one long climb certainly dispelled any idea that this was going to be easy. A quick stop to relieve the onset of cramp and to get the colour back in his lips was all that was needed this time. But…there are many stories from other cyclists that there’s worse to come. Oh goody.

Jer dropped down into Helmsdale around 2pm having cycled for 4 hours 40 minutes at an average speed of just under 12 miles an hour. Nicely done Jer and a well deserved rest this evening.

We can’t close without thanking everyone for sending their good wishes today. It’s so great to know that Jer is being supported by all our family and friends. Please keep it up, it means a huge amount.

20110509-073348.jpg

I thought we were starting at Lands End…

May 4th, 2011 | 0 Comments

Yep, that’s right…there’s been a change of plan! After Jer spent a couple of training rides with his head into the wind, it suddenly occurred that it might be worth looking at the long range forecast to check the wind direction as it’s proving a real energy sapper. Turns out that it’s looking better to cycle in the opposite direction and start from John O’Groats. So we’re off to the Highlands…and what’s more, we’ve decided to go up this Saturday (7th) instead of setting off next Tuesday as planned. There’s nothing like a bit of spontaneity! A quick get together on Monday night and we’ve worked out the first five days ride and booked the accommodation as well. Phew! It’s going to take a couple of days up to John O’Groats and the big ride starts on Monday (9th). A big thank you in advance to the Welldens for putting us up on Saturday night.

Aside from last minute change of plan, Jer’s training has been going really, really well. In the final lead up to the challenge, Jer decided to put in long rides every other day to build some endurance strength. Most of these have been over 40 miles including a 50 mile cycle this morning. And he’s still averaging between 12-14 miles an hour – exactly on target for the challenge. There’s one more ride planned for Friday and that’s it until the big day!

Don’t forget, you can sponsor Jer via the website and it takes just a minute to do so. So why wait, pledge your support and help a very worthwhile charity.

The longest training ride yet…an incredible 53 miles!

April 24th, 2011 | 0 Comments

Jer has rounded off the Easter weekend with a stunning 53.2 mile ride in just over four hours and is his longest training ride yet!

In just over a week of training, Jer has clocked up around 250 miles and has easily surpassed his training regime for this stage of the build up to the big ride. The experts reckon that you should be cycling two thirds of your anticipated daily ride 3-4 times a week – that’s around 135-180 miles in total. Given Jer’s work commitments, it’s not going to be easy to put in long rides during the week but who cares, he’s easily doing the miles!

The long rides have not be totally without incident though – Jer has quickly found out that long rides gives him pins and needles in both hands! However, a trip to the bike shop yesterdsy and the purchase of some thicker gloves seems to have sorted that one out. A handful of sweatbands are also going to be essential if the warm weather continues. The bike’s holding up very nicely too given it’s age and Jer feels a little safer now that the brakes have been upgraded this week!

A big thank you for all the pledges received so far – what wonderful family and friends we have! But please keep those pledges coming in. There is still some way to go to reach that £1,000 target so please spread the word.

www.jeremysbikeride.co.uk

Short video….

April 22nd, 2011 | 0 Comments

LEJOG 2011 training

Happy birthday to Jer and an amazing 47.5 mile training ride!

April 21st, 2011 | 0 Comments

Not even his birthday has got in the way of Jer’s training this week and he’s been eating up the miles as we get ever closer to the big day. Jer turned in 34 miles on Monday in 2 hours 43 minutes and an even more impressive 47.5 miles this morning in just 3 hours 16 minutes. Both runs included short breaks so that it makes his time all the more impressive! Despite feeling a bit tired in the legs at the end of today’s ride, he recovered pretty quickly. Keep it going Jer!

I put an event on Facebook this week to announce the bike ride and we’d like to say a big thank you to all our Facebook family and friends for all the support so far. Please keep sending in your wishes to Jer and your pledges to Never Give Up. It really will make a difference.

24 days and counting….

April 17th, 2011 | 0 Comments

It’s a beautiful sunny Sunday morning and it’s the first chance that I’ve had to follow Jer on one of his training sessions. With only 24 short days to go before the the big ride, Jer has only now been able to start the build up to the long haul to John O’Groats. From yesterday, Jer is putting in a cycle ride every morning and I’ve taken the opportunity to stop off at points along his route to take some much needed photos and videos for the blog. Today, Jer is on a double circuit around the villages near his home and will clock up about 30 miles. He’s averaging about 12 miles an hour and this fits well with the 10-15 miles an hour that most pundits think is the right pace for LEJOG. A few pics of Jer ‘in action’.

 

Go, Jer, Go!

Welcome to Jeremy’s Bike Ride!

April 3rd, 2011 | 0 Comments

Jeremy (Jer) McConnell will be cycling from Lands End to John O’Groats in May 2011 to raise money for charity and fulfil a personal ambition. The challenge is to complete the gruelling 980 mile journey in just 14 days between May 11-24 2011 on his trusty 30 year old Raleigh Clubman!

Jer's 30 year old Raleigh Clubman

A huge motivation for the challenge is to raise money for the charity, Never Give Up, a foundation that was set up by Jer’s wife, Pamela, in honour of their daughter, Abbi. Abbi passed away in 2010, aged just 17, after a valiant battle against cancer. In the last months of her short life, Abbi turned her thoughts, not to her own struggle, but to her family, friends and the numerous medical professionals who supported her tirelessly. She recognised that in many cases, those looking after a loved one with a terminal illness need support too and Never Give Up was founded to serve that principle. I would urge everyone to check out the official website (http://www.never-give-up.org.uk) to find out more…

It might be worth mentioning right from the start that although Jer has always liked riding bikes, he certainly isn’t an avid cyclist, in fact, he’s only been on the odd Sunday bike ride in the last 20 years! So make no mistake, this is certainly not going to be easy. Jer will have to cycle an average of 70 miles a day ‘up hill and down dell’ in all weather conditions and without any day offs! Jer is currently in training for the big event but owing to hefty work commitments, even this is somewhat behind ‘schedule’. The most he’s been able to do so far is 23 miles in one go and that was cut short because of brake failure down a rather steep hill! The perils of an old bike! All the cycling gurus reckon that he should be cycling 40-45 miles several times a week by now – fat chance! But, we all know he CAN do it…and we’re all 100% behind him.

I am Jer’s brother, Richard, and I will be his support team throughout the ride. The plan is to start at Lands End on May 11th and stay at Youth Hostels and cheap motels all the way up to John O’Groats to finish on the 24th. The route Jer has chosen closely follows the one that Simon Brown describes in his excellent book, A Cycling Guide From Lands End to John O’Groats. Jer is keen to set off early and is hoping to set a pace of around 12 miles an hour. With breaks, we hope to finish by 3pm each day, allowing enough recuperation time, and any bike repairs, before it all starts again the next day. Jer will be on a strict carb heavy diet during the ride and it’s my job to keep him fed, watered and on the right road! It’s quite likely that I will get to know the nation’s bike shops pretty well too!

In the final month or so before the ride, Jer will be intensifying his training and YOU can follow the ups and downs of his preparation here on Jeremysbikeride.co.uk. I will be reporting on all the latest news with photos and even the odd video and once we get going, you can follow his progress on a daily basis. We’re even hoping that you’ll be able to stalk follow him LIVE as he wends his way across Britain. At this point, Jer and I would like to thank the enormous contribution made by Jack McConnell of Voltronik Web Design for the extraordinary design and implementation of this website.

The serious side to this challenge is to raise as much money as possible for Never Give Up in memory of Abbi and Jer is asking for your generous support to reach his target of £1,000. There are lots of friends, family and colleagues waiting in the wings to pledge their support and we will shortly announce the introduction of an online sponsorship form and downloadable print version so that we can officially start our totaliser. Rest assured, ALL the money raised will go to Never Give Up.