Without a doubt the most difficult ride I have ever completed, despite the first half going extremely well. But first things first: let me start at the beginning…
I woke up early, and a little apprehensive that the day had finally arrived. Breakfast was ok, but the scrambled eggs didn’t go down too well – I should have stuck with just cereal and toast. The nice B&B lady commented on the stiff wind outside, which got me worried (and with good reason, as you will see). We paid up and drove to John O’Groats, where the slightly bizaire sign post fiasco began. The sign post is just, erm, a post. No directions or words on it at all. In fact it is owned by a photographer, who you have to ring up and persuade to drive over and put the thing up, for the princely sum of £10. Well that’s a jolly old scam really isn’t it? Still, fair enough, and I wasn’t going to do this whole challenge without the evidence, so we rang him and waited. The start time of 9am drifted to around 9.45 when the rather rotund fellow arrived. He spent a while setting up his queuing ropes and stand (after all, the two of us waiting might have stampeded the place) and then we paid out dues and got him to put ‘REUBENs JOGLE’ and the date on the sign for us. Although I was tempted to let it pass, I decided to tell him that ‘Setpember’ was spelt incorrectly, to the amusement of all the motorbikers who were now gathering around us too. At last it was all set and the obligatory photos were taken.
One thing was for sure. It was windy. But by this time I had figured out that the wind was going to push me along the morning stretch, as it was blowing from the East. My legs were freezing by the time I cycled out of the car park but they soon warmed up and the JOGLE had begun!!
The miles passed quickly, and for me very clearly as I had taken delivery of my prescription inserts just in time on the Friday before we left. It was fascinating to actually read the sign posts at last and enjoy the distance scenery! With highland cattle wondering what I was doing, I flew through the first 30 or so miles and the scenery was fantastic. The sun was out, and the wind was pushing me along, perfect. I managed to find a spot to do my little piece to camera, although soon realise there was something very odd going on just a little way down a track, for a number of dogs were squealing constantly. No idea. And I wasn’t going to investigate! The time had come to bring out my little mascots – check the video for more.
From there it was another enjoyable stretch to Bettyhill and before I reached the hamlet I passed another couple of End to Enders up a hill. Then I was passed by a very familiar grey Audi with roofbox and Tasha pulled into a lay-by at the top. It was a good impromptu meeting and the other End to Enders also pulled in and we got talking. A very friendly and delightful couple – I took a photo of them you can see on the route at the bottom. Bettyhill was just one very fast downhill away and we stopped just after there for lunch. Whilst eating lunch in the car, a sound was beginning to bother me: the howling of the wind outside was getting stronger and stronger…
The whole day had been shifted back by the photographer at the start, so I had to leave our lunch spot probably before my fill had settled. I headed West towards Tongue, where I would turn due South for the last 45 miles of the ride. All this time the wind was picking up and I was only too aware that it was coming from the left, meaning that upon turning South I would be heading directly into the gale. After Tongue, and a brief deviation from the route, I headed South. And there the trouble began. The headwind was relentless. In 15 years I have never cycled into a headwind as bad as this was to become. It was the combination of the wide oven spaces, the stiff wind and the poor quality road surface that just began to add up to a cyclist’s worst nightmare. Before long I was struggling to cycle along the flat in some of my lowest gears, and the even cycling downhill was difficult. With 40 miles to go I took refuge in a quaint circular wall, and made another small piece to camera. You REALLY need sounds for this one!
I decided to put the jacket on, for despite it being wonderfully sunny, the wind was freezing my arms and this was beginning to really get on my nerves. It really was around this point where the nightmare began to unfold. It was clear that due to this wind I was making around half the progress I was normally used to, and because I wasn’t used to being held back so much in this way I found it tricky to budget for it in terms of effort. Anyway, I pushed on, and on, and on. Many times I had to resort to almost my lowest gear on the flats just to keep moving forwards. To compound the problems, my stomach was rebelling against something or other – perhaps just not having enough time to digest lunch before leaving for the second part of the ride, but it wasn’t a great feeling. I knew I needed to take on energy, but I wasn’t sure I would be able to eat anything, so had to just keep on and on. It’s wonderful how your body handles these situations however, and as has happened once or twice before, it got to the point where my body just said STOP. And you have no choice, you have to stop and take on fuel. In went fig rolls, and a load of fastics, which really are a life saver. After 10 minutes or so the energy was back up and although the headwind was still relentless, progress was being made. I went past a sign saying 21 miles to Lairg, and normally I would have been pleased as that’s just around 1.5 hours, but I knew in these conditions it would be around a hour more. Another couple of times I stopped and rested the legs, which were beginning to object to being pushed so hard, but bit by bit I reeled in the miles and finally, eventually I entered the village. I rolled into the B&B and collapsed with a pint of my recovery drink and slowly let the legs recover. Had there been a bath in the ensuite, I would have certainly taking Ians advice on the ice bath as I have no doubt that my legs will be rough tomorrow, but this wasn’t an option. We headed out for some food and I’m now here writing this blog, resisting the urge to fall asleep!
So that first day, and probably the hardest, is complete. A total of 103 miles, which felt much more like 130 – 140. Tomorrow should be a breeze in comparison at only 80 miles! I just hope the wind has died down. The scenery, I must say, was fantastic, and it was a real pleasure to be cycling though it, just a shame about the wind. Still, I like a challenge, and the challenge was completed! Here is the route and all the route pictures: