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Sunday, 4 August 2013

Wrapping Up

Almost 10 months after finishing LEJoG I still have fond memories of the good and the bad days, the beauty and variety of our wonderful "Sceptred Isle", the friends made along the way, and the emotions of finishing.

As I rode into John O'Groats I was greeted by what is perhaps the most pointless but at the same time welcoming (and yet sad) sign posts

We were riding in one large group for the first time in over 1000 miles and  were escorted by two ambulances, that worked for Papworth, sirens and blue lights blazing out into the cooling evening air

As I rode down I saw what appeared to be a group of nurses wearing the old fashioned caps.

As I got closer I realised that it was a group of John Plants - I had been cloned...

For the first time in over a month I was with my whole family and their partners masked and kitted out in Jonnie P masks and T Shirts, an amazing surprise. Thanks to you all for your love and support

So what did I learn?

Before revealing that, I have to say a massive thank you to Neil, Lee and Tony from Peak Tours. Your good humour, professionalism and help made the trip go smoothly and I am sure it helped many of our group complete the ride

And last but by no means least to the dozens of sponsors who gave so much to help the TCT in its work in helping so many young people in what are for them ghastly times.

Will I do it again? - yes in 2014 I will be riding again with Peak Tours to raise money for another good cause. I will also be riding with someone who as yet does not even own a bike!

LEJoG – Things learnt or remembered

Prior to doing LEJoG I did a lot of reading and searching to learn more of how
to deal with something that  “normal” riders of bikes do not ever contemplate.
This  research added to my own experience. Some of what I have to
suggest might be contentious and you may disagree. In the end things worked for
me, in some cases they didn’t, it is for you to decide what might be good for

I have divided this into sections which I hope will appear logical:

The rider
o Get the miles in – train as much as you can, hours in the saddle rather
than speed are key
o Ride or train (on an exercise bike if you have to) at least 3 times per
o Ride back to back days – use these to practice things related to
recovery, taking care of you, taking care of the bike, since both body
and bike will require maintenance
o Drink, even on cold or damp days since you will be loosing fluids, take small
drinks at regular intervals, I tried to remember to take a small amount
of drink every 20 – 30 minutes
o Avoid plain water if you can – I carried Zero tablets and would add
these when I filled my bottles during the day after energy drinks had been used up.
o Eat well and try to avoid hard to digest food. A full English, Welsh, or
Scottish will not be easily digested. I usually ate porridge with fruit and
honey most mornings, topped up with toast and jams
o Avoid coffee it is a diuretic you will pee more and loose fluids
o Balance your diet, protein and carbohydrate in balanced proportions are
said to overcome cramps
o Having suffered with cramps I had three strategies:
1. Drink regularly
2. Towards the end of the ride start to drink a recovery drink a mix
of protein and carbohydrate, finish this immediately after the
ride – I would drink 750ml of this during the hour on either side
of the ride
3. Eat meals that have a balance of carbohydrate and good quality
low fat protein – Some mornings as well as porridge I would eat
eggs and toast
Did this work? – yes
o Look after your bum!
a. Keep shorts clean wash them regularly
b. Use Chamois Butter every day
c. Smooth out creases in your shorts or longs
d. Stand up every now and again and shift your position on the
e. If things get sore use Sudocrem (I mixed this on a couple of
days with Chamois Butter putting Sudocrem on first to provide
an antiseptic and water resistant barrier)
f. I also used Assos Skin repair cream which seemed to heal one
sore spot that developed due to my ignoring a crease in my
o Find some long hills we have nothing in our area (West
Midlands) that comes any where near what will be encountered,
learn how to ride them – its all about, getting the right gear,
finding a rhythm, and switching off (don’t worry about it, look
around and enjoy the views or admire the tarmac)
o Don’t be a “gear snob” – On LEJoG I noticed one guy would not
change down until someone else did. I asked him quietly why
his answer “I didn’t want to look like a whimp”. We all have our
own natural cadence mine is quiet fast so I am comfortable
twiddling low gears do what is right for you.
o Sleep and rest are important, get to bed early
o Stretch, learn how,  and what to stretch do it properly and don’t
over stretch and injure yourself
o Learn and practice the skills you will need; navigation,
maintenance and repairs (you should now how to change a tyre,
how to adjust brakes, and take up the stretch in gear cables as
a minimum),
o Practice drinking and eating on the move, its better to do this than to stop
and loose momentum, it also encourages regular eating and drinking
o Find out what foods and drinks suit you make sure you can get
these on the ride.
o Don’t try anything new
o Keep warm and dry
o Don’t push yourself too hard always ride so that you feel you
are in your comfort zone
o Eyes may get sore from wind and salt from sweat – take some
eye drops, wear glasses think about using a sweat band, a bandana or a cap
o Lips may chap – take some lip balm ( I took one with sun
protection to kill two birds)
o Watch out for sunburn
The bike
o It should be comfortable -  ideally get fitted (this need not involve having
a bike made for you since stems, saddle height, and crank length can
all be changed).
o Get mudguards (proper ones if you can) a wet bum and a body
covered in road dirt, or worse, is no fun
o Choose some sensible tyres. I rode 25mm Gatorhardshells and had one
puncture. Others on 23mm tyres like Ultremos suffered not only
punctures but also horrendous vibration (see the part on Scottish roads
below). I would have probably ridden on 28mm had my frame not
been steel and hence softer
o Fit a good bag to carry things that you will, or might need, don't use a backpack 
o Have some good bar tape – gel tape is really comfortable two layers
even more so
o Use pedals that you are comfortable with. I would really recommend SPDs
and touring shoes (make sure these are wide enough since your feet will swell)
o Get a good saddle, at this point opinions will divide. I have four Brooks
saddles one of which is 35 years old and love them. On LEJoG I rode a
B17 narrow that I broke in over about 400 miles. The choice is yours.
o Get a triple chain set, or failing that a low gear. I rode a chainset with a 30 tooth
front matched to a 30 tooth cassette. A granny gear (Vitesse Grand
Mere) it was and I welcomed it, hitting a 1 in 3 at 6 miles an hour is
not a good experience and I was one of only a few riders who did not
have to bail out. It used to be possible to match road changers to
Shimano MTB deraileurs (I have a compact chainset with a 38 tooth
cassette on a road bike since my heart attack) you could look at this
as an option (it is cheaper than buying a triple chainset) if you have
older series changers and can find an XT Shadow rear mech it may work
(Chris Juden of the CTC has information on this) . If you are
having a bike built think carefully about your gearing, do you really need
to race down all the hills? Lower gears may be more use, but less "sexy"
o Sort out your cockpit. Speedometer, Garmin, and a holder for map or route
directions, all will need to be visible and secure.
o Fit a rear light – on busy roads in rain use it
o Fit a small front light – again on busy roads in the rain use it
This bit about lights might seem superfluous but having seen the
difference in the visibility of other cyclists with and without lights on
main roads it does make sense
o Before you go service your bike, or have it serviced (in any event check it)
ensure it has;
• Tyres with a good deal of life left in them
• New brake blocks
• A good and newish chain
• Everything properly lubricated and adjusted
• All the bolts tightened down properly
• Everything is working as it should
• The headset properly adjusted
On the issue of services I have only ever had my bikes serviced at a
bike shop twice. On the first occasion I was working away from home
and needed the bike in a hurry so one of my sons’ friends did it (he
had a part time job in the LBS) and did a superb job, cables were
oiled, grease literally oozed out of bearings, the bike was clean, the
brakes were spot on both in terms of clearance and centring, there
was obvious love and pride in what he had done (he now is a motor
engineer who has designed F1 chassis and develops tyres). On the
second occasion I needed a wheel re-builiding so asked for a service.
It was not a good experience and I spent 2 hours after collecting the
bike cleaning lubricating it and finding things that had not been done.
If you can do your own maintenance it will be done properly and you
will better understand how your bike works and how to mend it if
things go wrong
What did I find best?
o Good waterproofs – jacket, trousers and overshoes
o Shorts gel padded I took 3 pairs to allow them to be washed
o Arm warmers 1 set
o Cycling tops short sleeve – 3.  These were either wool/ acrylic wool
 Merino has a natural resistance to developing odours and is neither too hot or cold
o Vests  / Baselayers– I took some acrylic vests (2) but used only merino (3)
other than when I needed an extra layer to keep out wind DHB merino vests
from Wiggle are good
o Long bottoms – basically some running tights that I would wear over
shorts on cold mornings, when it warmed up these rolled up small and
vanished into my Barley Saddle bag
o Gloves and Mittens (1 pair of gloves and 2 pairs of mittens) all with gel
o Buff so good for so many things; hat, glasses cloth, neck warmer, and
seal to stop water running down my neck ( I now have a Merino Wool version
which is even better)
o Glasses with clear and sunglass lenses
o Cap – worn under my helmet it did two things; keeps rain of glasses,
stops sweat running into eyes. I used to think riders who used these
looked stupid - I was wrong.
o Helmet – these were compulsory on our ride I struck lucky when I
bought my Kask Mojito it is the most comfortable helmet I have
ever used and has gel padding that does not soak up sweat
o Rain cap – I splashed out on an Assos cap that is waterproof and
breathable it is great, Sealskins now do a similar cap.
Reflective vest - keeps our the wind makes you visible most are useless because
they don't have pockets! I now have a Respro and a Louis Garneau with pockets
others are redundant
o Garmin Edge 800
o iPhone loaded with View Ranger it allowed friends to follow my
progress using Buddy Beacon (Its free if you have the right tariff, set the
interval between points sent to more than 30 minutes if you want to have the
whole track visible) 
o Power Monkey – and external battery for the iPhone since View Ranger
and GPS applications reduce iPhone battery life to about 4 hours, it can also charge
your Garmin
o iPad to check weather to blog and generally keep in touch with people
o Eagle Creek Packit cubes and folders, these keep your kit and clothes
organised and easy to find (see routines below)
o A tough soft holdall – I have a Northface bag that has been around the
globe quite a lot in the last 8 years it holds enormous amounts of kit, is
tough and water proofish and can be dragged around without any
worries. Van drivers love it because it is easier to pack in the van than
a hard case (Yes my luggage was carried for me)
o 750 ml drink bottles rather than 500ml
o Leatherman with pliers
o Swiss army knife
o Park Tyre Levers
o Separate chain splitter ( I now use KMC chain and quick links but will still
carry the splitter in case I needed to shorten the chain)
o Multi tool (make sure the allen keys will fit all of your bolts)
o Good quality puncture repair kit (one with tapered patches not square cut edges)
o Spare folding tyre (sold to one of my fellow riders)
o Good quality light inner tubes
o Lumix camera (Now a waterproof version)
o Gorillapod tripod (for self portraits and landscapes)
o Water sterilising tablets (used to bleach bottles at night see below)
o Café lock
What was useless?
o A pair of leg warmers – they creased and gave me pain in the tendons
at the back of my legs almost useless but kept me warm for 4 hours in
the glens
o A pair of Sealskins waterproof gloves (taken because I had them) the
linings stick to damp fingers making them difficult to take off and put
on totally useless. In frustration I binned these on our wettest day.
You could carry a wooden spoon to push the linings back!
o Too many normal clothes – you will spend about 6 hours in the
evening eating and considerable more sleeping. I took and used all of:
o 1 pair trousers
o 2 T shirts (Climafit in case I needed extra layers for cycling)
o 1 pair of SPD trainers (to act as a back up to my road shoes if I
needed them
o 1 woollen jumper
o 1 casual shirt for the occasional smartish restaurant
o 2 sets of underwear
I would have taken a warm fleece
Every day of the ride will be long. On my ride people became tired and forgot things,
or made mistakes. Some people were really well organised and had routines
some of these tips are theirs, some are mine
o Wear your cycling gear to breakfast there is no point in having to rush
away from breakfast to change and pack
o Pack the night before and put your kit for the next day ready,in the
morning you should only then have to pack nightwear and wash kit
(Pile your kit in the order you will put it on, leave the Chamois Butter next to your
o Wash out drink bottles every day and leave them filled (to the brim) overnight
 with water to which you have added 2 water sterilising tablets,
turn the tops upside down so that the open drink spout is in the water. The
tablets release chlorine this will kill off all bugs. Next morning fit the top
to the bottle and squeeze the water through the top to flush it out.
o Have a small bag ( I have one of the Sainsbury’s packable shopping
bags) into which you can put all you loose things (Garmin, Bottle,
Gloves, Hat, Glasses) when you stop for lunch and when you are
picking up your bike. Nothing gets dropped or left behind
o Before you leave any where take a good look around for anything that
has been left (One guy set off without his helmet – adding 10 miles to
his ride for the day)
o Eat as soon as you can when you finish your ride
o Stretch when you can
o At lunch or drink stops don’t linger if you can avoid it
o Every night look over your bike for any problems there is more time to
deal with these at the end of the ride even if you are tired. In the evening
there may still be a bike shop open, next morning there wont be time or opportunity
o Clean you bike when you can, ideally before it dries, a wipe with a cloth
is better than nothing. Call in at a filling station and use a jet wash if
you can (don’t spray bearings with full power wash) Spray with WD40
or similar to get rid of water. Your B&B may have a hose and things
that they will let you use
o Carry and use chain lube every morning
o Pump tyres every morning and do your checks of brakes etc.
o Every other day check bolts for tightness
Wrap some tape around your saddle stem to mark where it enters the frame.
Over time it may slip down ruining the fit of the bike.
o Check to make sure you know where you are staying each night.
(Seeing people having to ride back 2 / 3 miles was not uncommon)
o Store leaders and other riders numbers in your phone
o Dry clothes by rolling them in a towel and then treading on it before
hanging them out to dry
o Charge everything every night

Saturday, 22 September 2012

The End

We road into JoG at around 17:00 with an escort or ambulances sirens wailing to an amazing reception. I was to  learn that I have been adopted as an honorary member of  The Papworth Team. The best part was being welcomed by my wonderful family with a surprise ( I will post about this later) my final day which included a ride up to Dunnet Head (The most northerly point on the UK mainland) was 94.98 miles and 5042 feet. A super days ride in great weather with an inspiring group of people. Off for dinner and some beers now

Friday, 21 September 2012

Day 13 Inverness – The Crask

"After some navigation through Inverness you will cross the Kessock Bridge & continue along the NCN1 route through Tore & Dingwall. There are a few hills away from Dingwall as you continue to Evanton. Leaving Evanton behind you will later climb & venture deeper into open country & appreciate the beautiful scenery of the area (or curse the sometimes brutal nature of the weather). .. A spectacular yet barren ride awaits as you cycle through woods & high moor land to the Crask. Indeed it was both spectacular and at times barren."

The route was as described but understated just how varied and wonderful it was. The road took us up deep valleys past the Falls of Shin (famous for its Salmon), Bonar Bridge brought lunch (a seafood extravaganza of Salmon and Langoustine (not easy to fit into jersey pockets). From here we climbed up and into "flow country", a land of wide empty skies, Curlew calling, and finally The Crask.

The Crask is a haven in another wise empty land, filled with dogs, wood smoke and a welcome drink. Sadly I was not staying there and was transported with a few others to a hotel in Lairg.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Day 12 Glen Coe - Inverness

"This is another truly spectacular day but also a long day in terms of mileage. ... The 1st 20 miles is relatively flat until Fort William.... If you take the hilly route after lunch you will be rewarded with quiet roads & some of the finest views of the trip."

The morning brought soft rain (lots of it) and a long flat ride to Fort William and then via the Mallaig road to Spean Bridge and the Commando Memorial. At one point I was joined by two Germans who were fully loaded touring around Scotland, they had been camping for 10 days and admitted that they would be glad to catch the ferry at Inverness. From Spean Bridge the only options was to follow the A82 to Fort Augustus.  After 50 miles lunch in The Scots Kitchen was needed,  good a bowl of really delicious soup with mounds of sandwiches, this was to fuel us for the next challenge "General Wades Road" 

Fort Augustus is at around 30-40 ft above sea level the "General Wades" summits at over 1100 ft in about 5 miles  it was long but not overly steep, yet again demonstrating the need for training on long hills, and a "vitesse grand mere". As with all climbs there was a reward as the road headed back toward sea level.

The next section along Loch Ness through Foyers and Dores was undulating, scenic and sunny at last.

Arriving at Inverness was a shock, so many people, cars, and huge buildings filled with things to buy!

Stats: 83.72 miles 4614 ft of climb 12.4 avg 36.3 max (again without pedalling)