Monday, 3 July 2017

Lands End to John O'Groats, Day 20 - I Told You So!

Day 20 Morning

This was it, the day I'd become a world record holder! I woke up excited for the day. I knew I'd get to John O'Groats today even if I broke an arm I'd have just pushed one handed to the finish line. There was no way, with only 41 miles to go, I wasn't going to finish today!
The morning routine felt strange, almost like there wasn't a need to do it. Of course there was, we needed to store all the equipment, luggage and spares on the beds so we cold eat at the table to fuel the day's push. I needed to download all of the footage and gps data from Day 19 to make sure I had evidence for the world record. My gloves needed repairing. My £1600 carbon rear wheels had been very badly damaged so we used gaffer tape to hold them together too. I think I had it in my head that the challenge was already over. Obviously it wasn't; I still had a marathon, a half marathon and almost a park run to complete.
The weather was a bit drizzly so we decided to get on our way early to give me more pushing time. As we left the campsite, Ed smiled and waved at the owner whilst calling her a stingey bitch, ventriloquist style. All the way we'd had free sites and met some lovely campsite owners, this was the first one we'd paid for and it was the worst one we stayed at largely because the owner was an arrogant old mare. I may have worn my shoes past the no shoes sign, oops.
The start point for the day wasn't the most practical one, as soon as I had finished the hill from hell on day 19 I wanted to get out of my chair so we hadn't looked for a layby or side street like normal. I'd chosen a spot probably used for a home owner to park their car in front of their garden. Whilst setting up the chair and bikes I'd spotted a patch of wild orchids and made dad go and photograph them for me. Ed seemed quite interested in them too, maybe he was just humouring me but it was nice to see it wasn't only Devon and Cornwall that had fancy plants growing. We'd also been passing huge swathes of wild lupins in the Scottish Highlands. Ed collected me some seeds from them so I could grow them to remember the trip by. Oddly enough they flowered this year on the first day I started writing this blog.
My Scottish lupins
 There were two quite steep hills early on the morning push, both of them passing little fishing villages. Thankfully both Dunbeath and Lybster had bridges across the valley that lead down to the sea, I still had to descend down a couple of hundred feet and climb back out again but we could see the old road passing under the modern bridges. I am glad I didn't have to use the old road; that would have been almost as bad as Helmsdale and Berriedale on day 19.

Dunbeath from the modern bridge.

The picturesque Lybster Harbour
After Lybster the road was undulating but it was decent pushing, I was clicking off the miles quite well when a middle age German couple caught up to us on bikes. I could here them talking to Ed behind me but I hadn't yet seen them. They had told Ed they were heading for John O'Groats too but they hadn't set off from Lands End, they had begun their journey in Scotland. After a quick chat with Ed they overtook us like many cyclists had done over the challenge. Only this pair were on those motor assisted pedal bikes. As soon as I spotted them it REALLY offended me! haha! I'm not sure why it offended me so much but I thought "You cheeky bastards! That's cheating!"  I'd pushed all the way from Lands End using nothing but my own strength, I didn't even have gears and this pair of clowns were not even having to pedal!

Thrumster; my battle ground with the cheating Germans.

That was it! I was in race mode, I pushed hard to keep them in sight whilst on a slight climb. Then over the brow of a hill I belted my damaged wheels with my damaged fists in my damaged gloves as hard as I could. I got myself as low as I could, tucked my head down and went flying past them at 46mph, my fastest speed of the entire push. Once I'd overtook them I continued to push in race mode telling myself I wasn't going to be overtaken by cheats! Even when it started sleeting and then a deluge of hailstones came down I just kept going hell for leather. All the way to Wick.
I think Ed had cottoned on to my disgust in being overtaken by two Germans on electric bikes, I'm not sure he understood it though! Ant commented that I was flying today although he hadn't noticed the couple had it easy on their electric bikes so he didn't know what was going on. As we got to Wick I spotted a Pets At Home on a retail park so we pulled in to the car park to have lunch there and to get a tick remover for Bonnie. I felt so bad that we hadn't been able to get it removed yet but we just couldn't find a vets that was open anywhere near where we was. After reading the instructions I had a go with the tick remover. I panicked at first thinking I'd left its head inside Bonnie but dads magnifying glass came in in handy and I could see I'd got all of the little fucker out. I drowned it in vinegar, then mashed it up just to make double sure it was dead. Horrible little things!
 We ate our lunch and studied the map as we weren't far from leaving the A9 so we needed to make sure my dad knew where he was going and how we would work the finish so we had photos and video of the final few yards.
I made sure dad knew to get to the outskirts of John O'Groats before us so he could get a photo of us passing the welcome to John O'Groats sign. Then he was to drive on to the hotel at the junction where End to Enders leave the main road and travel about half a mile down to the famous signpost at the harbour. In the hotel carpark I needed to change into a 53 Foundation vest as I knew the photos would be in the press. I was going to get Bonnie ready to run the last stretch with me. Whilst Ant, Bonnie and I waited at the hotel Dad and Ed would drive down to the finish so they were in place to video and take photos of me finishing the 900 mile journey. When I explained to dad the plans he said
"Well I'll see"
"No dad, it's really important we get this bit right."
"Ok, I'll try my best then"
I wasn't sure what he was thinking and why he seemed reluctant. I thought maybe there was some sort of surprise for me at the end and my plans didn't fit in with that. It seemed a bit odd to me but I just explained that I really wanted Bonnie to run the last bit with me and I had to have the charity vest on show for the photos that would be in the media.
We did a little work on the gloves and the wheels when the weather eased slightly and let the dream team know that we were about to set off for John O'Groats so they could post of our facebook page. Then we got ready to leave on the last push of the challenge

Day 20 Morning Stats

Miles: 24.02
Time: 2:01:36
Average Moving Speed: 11.9mph
Top Speed: 46.0mph (fastest of the trip)
Slowest Mile Split: Mile 6 - 7:47
Fastest Mile Split: Mile 20 - 2:52
Total Ascent: 768ft
Average Heart Rate: 140bpm
Max Heart Rate: 160bpm

Day 20 Morning Progress Maps

Day 20 Afternoon

We set off on the afternoon push passing through the Scottish countryside. There were very few trees about which looked unusual. Throughout the rest of Scotland we had passed lots of pine plantations and a good few natural woodlands, up here there was nothing. We passed dozens of crofts, some derelict, some traditional thatched and some that had been modernised. I'd love a croft one day, just enough land to provide for myself. I think I'd enjoy that sort of life.

A Scottish croft.

The weather had begun to improve as we made our way towards John O'Groats. I'd been looking forward to this bit of the push, we'd been told this bit was easy by lots of people. People who had described other parts of the route perfectly had said that the last few miles are relatively flat. Its not! As I struggled up one hill there was a lady in her garden, dad had told her what we were doing and she told us we were on the last hill. That gave me a bit of confidence but she was lying too haha! There was a 300ft climb to do just before John O'Groats, I did ok climbing up it. I knew I wasn't far away now.
Not long after the climb I started the  downhill to the famous signpost. Dad got a photo of me passing the town sign but that wasn't the important one so we didn't stop to pose we carried on towards the hotel. Dad shot off ahead. I started to get butterflies in my belly with the excitement I was about to finish. I couldn't wait to let Bonnie have a run with me. She used to run with me quite a lot but as she is getting old and I am faster now she doesn't train anymore.
 When I spotted the Hotel and the motorhome was nowhere to be seen my heart sank, as we pulled up outside and checked the carpark and the side street I knew dad had ignored me from him saying he'd 'try' to meet us at the hotel when I was giving him directions at lunch. Ed phoned him to see where he was, in the time it took him to answer my blood had boiled. Ed passed me the phone and dad tried telling me there was nowhere to park at the hotel when he passed, there were only three cars in the carpark and not one on the side street and we couldn't have been more than 10 minutes behind him. That little fib tipped me over the edge and 899.5 miles worth of emotion ended up being yelled down the phone at my dad. I still have no idea why he chose to try and change my plans for finishing with Bonnie, I'd spoken about the plan since the start of the challenge. He knew I needed the charity vest and that I needed him and Ed at the finish line so I could get photos and a video of the finish. I eventually managed to get him to fetch the dog and the vest up for me. He decided to walk up rather than drive so it took quite a while. We had a massive row in the street over it, I was pretty nasty to him but I was so pissed off that he had put a huge downer on what should have been the best half hour of my life. I don't think I've ever been more angry.
I let Bonnie off the lead so she could trot along behind me like the old days, changed my vest and set off for the finish line. My dad didn't get to see me finish which really upset him but I was so angry with him I didn't care. When I arrived at the car park I wasn't sure of the way but I could see a big group of people so I headed for them. When I spotted the sign I also spotted the little off-roading section I would need to do to get to it. I looked around the big group of people thinking that maybe I knew people there and that's why dad had decided to change my plans for me. A few people had said they might go to the finish to see me but there was only Ed, Ant and Bonnie there that I knew.

 I had just broken a world record but it felt crap. I'd fallen out with my dad and that had ruined it for me. I spoke to a few of the cyclists that were around the Signpost asking them about their journeys and the stories behind them. Unlike Lands End there wasn't a charge for photos so people were gathering around and taking lots of photos then just chilling out on the grass. Some of the people who had done it before told me to go to the cafĂ© and sign the End to Enders book and I would get a medal. I did that whilst Ed went to find my dad.

With Ant and Bonnie at the signpost

I spoke to my mum once I was back in the motorhome, she was excited for me but I just couldn't enjoy it. 20 days of massive effort seemed completely ruined. My mum phoned my dad then phoned me back telling me he was refusing to come to the motorhome. I was up for leaving him there but Ed wouldn't drive off. It took Ed about an hour and a half to get him in the motorhome which made me even more angry at him - I wanted a bath and a pint!
Ed let me know that Amanda, the legend that had organised the cyclist to escort me over the border had shelled out for a night in a hotel for us in a nearby town. What an absolute star! That cheered me up no end! We headed straight for the hotel so I could get the pint I'd been waiting for whilst dad sulked. Once at the hotel dad refused to come inside, I'd had enough of fannying around him so we just left him in the motorhome and went to check in. We phoned Amanda and thanked her for the hotel, it was lovely to talk to someone who was actually in a good mood, that phone call and the gift of a night in a hotel broke my bad mood. I sent a message to dad to ask him if he wanted dinner but he refused to come inside so I made a decision to leave him to sulk and to enjoy my night. It actually took him over a week to say anything other than the word 'no' to me.
 Ed went to buy me a pint and when he returned to the room with it I posted a photo of the pint and my medal with a status taunting those that had treated me like an fool for believing I could complete the challenge to my personal facebook page. They had told me it couldn't be organised in time for August, we finished on the 3rd of July. They told me I needed a year or more to train, I did one training push. They told me I couldn't climb Shap, I climbed it in a morning and did another push that afternoon. They told me 33 miles a day was too much and I wouldn't finish in 28 days, I averaged 45miles per day and finished in 20 days. I was 8 days ahead of my own target, the first person to complete it and I beat the record set in an electric wheelchair by 10 days using arm power alone.
  I'm not normally a cocky person but I was so tempted to phone that group of people who had been so nasty to me and just laugh at them, say 'I told you so' and then put the phone down. I didn't, I had a meal with Ed and Ant, laughed and joked, had a few pints and went for a walk along the sea front to see the Lifeboat - I'm a little obsessed with Lifeboats which is a bit strange for someone who lives in the Pennines! Lots of well done comments kept coming all night, so many that I am still seeing messages that I missed at the time a year later!

Day 20 Afternoon Stats

Miles: 17.44
Time: 1:52:12
Average Moving Speed: 9.3mph
Top Speed: 25.8
Slowest Mile Split: Mile 15 - 13:45
Fastest Mile Split: Mile 17 - 3:02 (The last full mile of the trip)
Total Ascent: 754ft
Average Heart Rate: 143bpm
Max Heart Rate:164bpm

Day 20 Afternoon Progress Maps

Total Daily Mileage: 41.46

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Lands End to John O'Groats, Day 19 - A Big Fat Black One.

Day 19 Morning

After 61 miles you would have thought I would sleep like a baby. I very nearly did sleep like an actual baby, waking up every few hours balling my eyes out! I didn't cry but bloody hell my ribs were letting me know that 61 miles wasn't their favourite thing to do. My legs were protesting too. I still have almost normal feeling and some use of my legs which puts me at a disadvantage in wheelchair athletics. My legs weigh more than other athlete's legs and they hurt after a while in the chair - they are tucked up in an aerodynamic position, not a position designed for comfort.
After the alarms went off and everyone got their morning jobs done Ed and I sat down with the maps, we knew with a 61 mile push on day 18 I had a chance of finishing on day 20. The problem was throughout the challenge each time I had pushed a tough or a long push I had then struggled the next day to get much further than my 33 mile target. I was still 90 miles from John O'Groats. We'd been tipped off by a few different people that there were two very steep hills climbing out of gorges at Berriedale and Helmsdale which were around 40 miles from John O'Groats. We both felt like I would need to get them out of the way on Day 19 because starting on two very steep hills on day 20 would make it very tough for me to finish that day.
Getting these two climbs completed would need me to push past the 50 mile marker on Day 19, a tough ask after completing 61 miles the day before. I knew those final climbs were going to be tough after 50 miles of pushing.
I did have a carrot dangled in front of me to get off to a good start, I'd been offered a free lunch at the Royal Marine Hotel in Brora.... 30 miles away from my start point! The carrot of free food couldn't have come at a better time. I set off with the firm target of getting to Brora for lunch.

A traditional before picture

Ready to go!

The first 5 miles of the day's push were undulating but nothing to worry about, I made pretty good progress. I even delt with the first hill at 5 miles pretty well, much better than I had coped the morning after a big day so far in the challenge. Towards the top of the Hill we passed a village called Tain, I asked dad to drive through to see if there was a vets that could remove Bonnie's tick. Ant, Ed and I stayed on the A9 and dropped down the steep hill towards Dornoch Firth Bridge, again I dropped the lads on the downhill. On the way over the Bridge I just couldn't believe the beauty of the place. It's so stunning it has its own facebook fan page! Unfortunately I didn't have anybody with me to get any photos of me crossing the bridge. We'd been passing signposts for Bonar Bridge, Ed seemed very interested in the place - I did wonder if he'd took Ant on a detour just to get a comedy photo for facebook. As with the journey the whole way I didn't want to set up a photo of me on the bridge, all the action shots were as it happened so I just kept pushing.

Dornoch Firth


There were a big group of cyclists on a layby on the bridge getting ready to set off and I got a big cheer as I passed by. There was a big old climb as I came off the bridge and headed for loch fleet. On this stretch of the journey I somehow found myself in the centre of a vintage tractor rally! There were lots of photographers out and every now and then a 50 year old plus tractor came trundling past. Pretty odd, but I guess they thought the same about me!

Holding up some traffic on the way to Brora

After 20 miles we pulled over for a brew in a Layby. The group of cyclists I passed earlier pulled in just a few moments later. They were also on a Lands End John O'Groats record bid. One of their group was in his 70's and aiming for and age group record. They said they had followed my progress all the way from Bristol and had hoped to pass me somewhere. That's why I had got such a big cheer from them on the bridge. It was nice to know people involved in a completely different sport to me were following what I was doing and were impressed by it. We wished each other luck and they got on their way.
 I was starting to feel the previous days Mileage when I got back on the coast road at Golspie there were two short but nasty hills between there and Brora but the call of a free pint and free food kept me going. In true Lancashire style I love 'owt fer nowt'! We made our way to the Royal Marine Hotel, I think we all felt a bit out of place in a swanky hotel in our sweaty kit! It took us a while to find our way through the hotel to the restaurant but once there the manager came across and offered us anything from the menu. I fancied a pint, steak and followed it with apple crumble and custard - the best custard I have ever tasted. I was made up with my free lunch!

A tad under dressed lads?

Being a fool in the hotel.

Day 19 Morning Stats

Miles: 28.90
Time: 2:44:05
Average Moving Speed: 10.6mph
Top Speed: 31.4mph
Slowest Mile Split: Mile 24 - 10:31
Fastest Mile Split: Mile 18 - 2:37
Total Ascent: 1167ft
Average Heart Rate: 137bpm
Max Heart Rate: 157bpm

Day 19 Morning Progress Maps

Day 19 Afternoon

 After lunch we posed for photos with the manager and then got on our way again.

The top custard man in the UK.

At the first hill just after 3 miles I was already struggling, I'd eaten too much and had a cheeky pint, my stomach wasn't best pleased with me. From mile 3 to 11 I managed to keep it ticking over, I didn't feel great though and just as we got to Helmsdale we had rain so it was time for a brew.

Some flat!

I was hoping that the rain would blow over but it didn't so after half an hour or so I had to get back out in the rain before I started to cease up. In the first few hundred metres the main rubber pad on my gloves came off. I tried a set of soft gloves instead but my hands were too battered to put any useful effort through them in soft gloves so another few hundred meters down the road I had to put my damaged hard gloves back on and Ed Gaffer taped them together. Yet another few hundred meters down the road we had to stop again, the tape was too tight so we needed to loosen them.
The 5km climbing out of Helmsdale was awful, it took me over an hour, my PB is just under 12 minutes.
A Hill

This hill was a nightmare, luckily there was plenty to look at as I climbed it. Including a memorial for the Highland Clearance victims. I found myself a bit choked by it, statues of a family being forced from their home. Ant and Ed hadn't heard of the clearance so giving them a geek fest history lesson passed some time. When we finally got to the top we celebrated big hill number one being conquered by having a brew. Dad was already in a layby with a family who had stopped to have a chat as they had seen me a number of times last few days. The dad of the family warned me about the second climb, he said it was very steep and had some bad bends on it.


The family that stopped to chat.

I decided to set off before long as it was getting quite late. There was a smaller hill between Helmsdale and Berriedale and that was hard enough. We decided to phone the campsite to check if there was a time we needed to be there by but we were told not to worry. So on we went, down to just a few feet above sea level before tackling a bitch of a hill.

More rain on its way!

  On many parts of the hill I struggled to keep moving forward, Ed had to keep catching me from rolling back down the hill. Ant was fantastic at keeping me motivated. Dad shouted me on from wherever he could. I'd tried edging my way forward just using the tyres on not the push rims to give me more leverage but with the gaffer tape on the gloves it wasn't as effective as it was in Cornwall. I resorted to zigzagging across the road and back again. It was such a slow way to move forward but it was the best thing I could think of so Ant and Ed were checking for traffic and when it was safe I was cutting across the road and back again, inching my way forward.

Hated this hill.

 I was knackered, the closest to tears I had been on the trip. I was falling asleep and absolutely goosed. It was starting to get towards twilight and there was an invasion of slugs onto the road. It was a strange sight hundreds of slugs crossing the road. Ed then came out with one of those lines where you really had to be there for. I still giggle about it now. My best gay mate suddenly said
"do you know, its been years since I've seen a big fat black one!"
Just to clarify, he was talking about the slugs. There was a moment of silence after he said it, almost as if all three of us were waiting to see who'd be the child first. Then all three of us were in hysterics, I was crying so much I couldn't see where I was going, I even bloody dribbled! Ed was performing his ridiculously loud laugh at the top of his voice, Ant was struggling for breath, we were all like a group of high teenagers! We eventually calmed down and carried on climbing but every few minutes one of us started giggling and we'd all end up in hysterics again. It made it even more difficult to climb, crying with laugher at the end of 110 miles in two days whilst having two broken ribs hurts like hell! That mile climbing out of Berriedale took me 42 minutes, probably the slowest mile of my life.


When I finally got to the top of the hill I Wanted to get out of my chair as fast as possible so at the first semi safe place I could get in the motorhome I did. I'd done what I needed to do, I still had 40 miles to do on Day 20 but barring anything going wrong I should get to John O'Groats.
  The campsite for the last night was a bit shit, it was the back garden on a house on the main road. It was the first campsite that charged us on the whole challenge and it was the worst site too. The owner was rude to Ed, she'd also left snotty notes around the shower block. "Remove shoes, I don't clean for fun" and "This door is here for a reason: Close It!".
I'd got quite used to doing my short video interviews by now but it took so many attempts to get this one out. I kept forgetting where I had been and I kept giggling about black slugs. Myself and Ed were stood outside filming it and we were getting eaten alive by the famous Scottish Midge! I was in that much pain with my ribs I couldn't even sit in my day chair to film it!

Day 19 Afternoon Stats

Miles: 21.84
Time: 3:19:41
Average Moving Speed: 6.6mph
Top Speed: 36.4mph
Slowest Mile Split: Mile 21 - 41:53 (By far the slowest of the challenge)
Fastest Mile Split: Mile 10 - 2:21
Total Ascent: 1905ft (OOOOOOOOuch!!!)
Average Heart Rate: 135bpm
Max Heart Rate: 157bpm

Day 19 Afternoon Progress Maps

Total Daily Mileage: 50.74

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Lands End to John O'Groats, Day 18 - Pelted by Drawing Pins.

Day 18 Morning

I'd slept much better on the night of Day 17, which meant I woke up on Day 18 in a better mood. I was still tired, I'd woken up a few times during the night with rib pain but waking up a few times is far better than being awake all night! My target for the day was to get to Inverness or just beyond as that would leave me a good chance of finishing after another three days pushing which would be 21 days and a whole week ahead of schedule. Looking at the map over breakfast to check the route and where we thought might be a good place for lunch and where we might need to book a campsite. Whilst looking at the map it suddenly clicked why Inverness had its name, I like to think that I'd fairly bright and pick things up quite quickly. I have to admit that I didn't even know that Inverness was near Loch Ness until I was looking at the map that morning! I'd been noticing  places with the 'Inver' and 'Firth' prefix anytime we got close to the coast in Scotland. The penny finally dropped that an Inver was an estuary or river mouth and a Firth was a narrow area of sea between two bits of land. So Inverness was where the River Ness which runs through Loch Ness meets the sea. I'm not sure if Ed already knew that but he humoured me as I told him my discovery anyway.

Getting underway on day 18!

  We were going to be on the A9 all day again which made us all a little nervous especially getting closer to Inverness. The A9 was a really busy road. We were pretty sure all the traffic must have been heading to Inverness as there is nothing much north of the city in terms of built up areas. When we got going on our push I was actually surprised how quiet it was.

Quiet A9 climb during the morning push.

I had a nice start to the day with a one and a half mile downhill, the Scottish tarmac was vibrating the chair like mad so instead of pushing to try and get a fast speed I decided to put weight on my handlebars which helps keep the front wheel on the ground and allows the chair to work properly. I didn't want to be fighting for speed in the first mile of the push. Despite not even pushing my wheels the descent had gotten me over 30mph which is always a nice figure to see on the speedo.
After that initial drop I was then climbing for 15 tough miles. Ant seemed to have a new confidence in shouting me on. He was brilliant all morning, I'm not sure what had made the change, maybe it was just learning from Ed but I think maybe he was just feeling more confident we would both get to the finish line. If we did make the finish Ant would have cycled around 350 miles which is not easy from someone who really isn't sporty.

On another climb

  The long climb was followed by a nice 5 mile long downhill section that was broken by only one short flat and one half mile climb. The long downhill took me past the tiny village of Tomatin which is home to a famous distillery of the same name. Its an odd little place, surrounded by beautiful but rugged hills and mountains but Tomatin sits in a picturesque green valley, it looks like the grasslands of the south of England not the Scottish Highlands! Two bridges cross the valley, an old railway bridge and a modern road bridge. The views were great from the  road bridge.

The green valley at Tomatin

I wanted to have a geek fest over the views with Ed and Ant but unfortunately I'd just dropped them both on the long descent and they didn't catch me up until I was working my way through the undulating climbs over the next mile or so. We were soon back in rugged countryside and passing pine plantations near Loch Moy.

Just keep pushing.

Ed being special.

  I decided to stop for lunch at almost 26 miles so 3 miles over my target for the morning, I was happy with that in the Highlands as I thought going too far over target up there would be a bit difficult with all of the hills. I was 10 miles from Inverness so I might be able to get myself 5 miles past my target by evening time. As we didn't have anything other than beans on toast on the lunch front I opted for cereal instead. There was no way I was going to be able to stomach more beans!
 My dad got chatting to some old guy in the layby about his antique bike that Ed was riding, he kept coming back and knocking on the motorhome window to start yet another conversation with dad. Ant, Ed and I were in stiches laughing at my dad being stalked by the most boring man on earth, he was a right Norris Cole wannabe. I didn't rescue my dad though, it'll teach him not to talk to strangers in laybys! haha!

Lunch Break.

Day 18 Morning Stats

Miles: 25.9
Time: 2:27:39
Average Moving Speed: 10.5mph
Top Speed: 35.7mph
Slowest Mile Split: Mile 14 - 9:28
Fastest Mile Split: Mile 20 - 2:29
Total Ascent: 1026ft
Average Heart Rate: 143bpm
Max Heart Rate: 160bpm

Day 18 Morning Progress Maps

Day 18 Afternoon

I had made sure dad had the shopping list before we set off on the afternoon push in the sunshine. We had looked on the map for the closest retail park and given dad instructions to head to it as early as possible so he would be back with us before too long. Ed and Ant put extra supplies in their bags so we could perform minor repairs without the motorhome if we needed to. We then got on our way to Inverness.
The afternoon push started with a cracking downhill on normal tarmac for a change! I hit 44.7mph which is my fastest ever speed in my wheelchair. I left Ant and Ed trailing behind me. Ed had a go at sticking with me for maybe a quarter mile, Ant didn't bother trying, he already knew his legs wouldn't go fast enough. There was a big climb after 2.5 miles so Ed was soon back on my tail. It took Ant a good 3 or 4 minutes to catch us but we could see him in the distance gaining on us. I may have worked a little bit harder on the climb to keep Ant chasing us, I'm cruel like that! I think it's the coach in me that likes making people put effort in!

A nice wide berth from a tanker!

 It didn't take long to conquer the climb and get my self going down the amazing hill that leads in to Inverness, again I dropped the lads pretty quickly. My speed was building up well, I was tucked down low to make me nice and aero dynamic. I crept up to 42mph and had lots more hill left to gain more speed, I was easily on for 50mph before the bottom, I was loving it. Then a tosser in one of those Hymer motorhomes from the 70's that look like a giant VW camper but with tiny wheels pulled out in front of me. The most annoying part of it was that he pulled up to the edge of the layby, stopped, looked straight at me and then decided to pull out on me. If he hadn't stopped and just carried on driving there wouldn't have been a problem, he would have accelerated and got away from me. His acceleration from a stationary position was nowhere near fast enough to pull out when he did. I managed to slow enough not to hit him but I got close enough to tell him what I thought of his driving skills. Slowing down so quickly had torn a big chunk of rubber out of my gloves. A 50mph opportunity well and truly ruined.
Not long after it was the junction that dad needed to take to go shopping. I was now pushing on the hard shoulder so I didn't need shielding by the motorhome anymore. I pointed at the road sign and the exit and tried waving him off the dual carriageway but he was having none of it and carried on driving with me. I managed to get the message to him that he had to leave at the next junction or we would not have any food for dinner. At this junction he did leave but I was worried now because he would have to find his own way to a retail park and not follow the directions we had given him for the previous junction. The A9 was almost gridlocked at Inverness, it's basically a motorway but it didn't feel too dangerous because we were on the hard shoulder and the cars were only moving about 10mph.
We crossed over the Moray Firth on a bridge with some serious views and then the hard shoulder disappeared on the Black Isle. Some of the drivers shouted abuse out of their car windows at us here. I think they were frustrated with being sat in the road works traffic for so long.

The bridge over Moray Firth

Whilst climbing over the Black Isle it got really cold and started to rain. I could have done with stopping here but dad wasn't back yet so I just kept going. I had another belting downhill to tackle to get onto the bridge to leave the Black Isle by crossing the Cromarty Firth. This downhill wasn't fun, the rain was hurting my face as I was descending at 40mph again. It felt like I was being pelted with drawing pins, My hands and forearms were so cold they were hurting. I was also worried about Ed and Ant and how they were feeling. You could never have guessed it was the first day of July, it felt like November. Ed Caught me up when I was just leaving the bridge but Ant wasn't even in sight now. It took a long time for him to get back to us.

The Cromarty Firth Bridge

The busy, wet A9.

 I really wanted to stop so when we crossed the bridge Ed phoned my dad to see where he had got to. He was stuck in traffic. I was struggling because of the cold so sitting and waiting in wet clothes wasn't really an option. I'd already done 21 miles when I left the Black Isle. That was 48 for the day. The A9 was hugging the coast now we were back on the mainland do it was much flatter, another 40 minutes later it had dried up so I warmed up slightly and managed to work my was back to a respectable speed. After clocking 32 miles for the afternoon push I was ready to find a layby to wait for my dad but we were in a huge area of road works and we didn't find anywhere suitable to stop until over 35 miles.

Not looking too bad to say we'd pushed and cycled 61 miles.

 Ed phoned my dad again to find out where he was and direct him to where we had stopped. It took him another 20 minutes to finally get to our finish line I'd done 61 miles! I couldn't quite believe it. Part of me wanted to phone all those trustees at 'that' meeting where they had spoken to me like I was an idiot for thinking I could push 33 miles in a day. I wanted them to know just how wrong they were! I hadn't gone out that day with the idea of pushing anywhere near that far but circumstances had almost forced me into it. I was just happy my body was capable of doing that even with two broken ribs! If I had a good day on day 19 It might be possible I could finish on day 20, just a few hours earlier I had been hoping I could manage to get it done in 21 days.
There was fruit and veg in the motorhome!!! At last something healthy to eat. We had pasta with a tomato and herb sauce with mince beef, peppers, onions and mushrooms thrown in to bulk it up a bit. I was so happy to eat!

Day 18 Afternoon Stats

Miles: 35.62
Time: 3:01:17
Average Moving Speed: 11.8mph
Top Speed: 44.7mph (Fastest yet)
Slowest Mile Split: Mile 16 - 11:07
Fastest Mile Split: Mile 7 - 1:24
Total Ascent: 1175ft
Average Heart Rate: 141bpm
Max Heart Rate: 161bpm

Day 18 Afternoon Progress Maps

Total Daily Mileage: 61.52

Friday, 30 June 2017

Lands End to John O'Groats, Day 17 - More Bloody Beans.

Day 17 Morning

Thankfully I had had a much better sleep and although I struggled to get myself sat up in bed when the alarms went off because my ribs were so sore, I felt better prepared to take on the day's push. We had got our morning routine done as usual but on day 17 we'd been waved off from the campsite by a few of the other campers who had spoken with dad the night before. We passed two castles on the short drive to Killiecrankie to start my push. We weren't far at all from the Cairngorms National Park, the castles made the craggy hills look like a setting from a blockbuster film.
   Dad had said Ed could cycle today and he would drive, Ed was excited to get on the bike, he'd been there from the start but had always been stuck in the motorhome because Ant and Nick don't drive and dad wasn't confident on the directions. I was looking forward to pushing with Ed, I knew he would have me laughing before too long. Day 17 was A9 all the way so dad couldn't get lost! I was dreading the climb into the Cairngorms but I knew I could do it if I'd managed to climb the day before despite the rib pain then I could climb today.

Ed happy to start cycling today.

  Seconds after setting off on my push I knew something wasn't right, not with me but with the chair. I quickly noticed my wheels had been put on the wrong sides of the chair. I shouted to Ed to stop my dad from pulling out of the layby, luckily dad got the message in time so time was saved on him having to find somewhere to turn around and get back to us. I made my way back to the layby and my pit crew had my wheels swapped over in a couple of minutes. I set off again but something still wasn't right, it took me a bit longer to work out what it was but dad was busy packing tools and chairs away so he hadn't set off yet. I found the problem was a missing washer from one of the wheels. Different models of wheels sit on the chair slightly differently and some need washers to hold them away from the frame of the chair or the tyres rub. so we headed back to the layby to look for the missing washer. Four grown men crawling around in a layby at  9:00am must have been a strange sight for passing drivers. Eventually we found it and put it back on. Take three of morning 17 was more successful and we were finally on our way.

Ed the new Nick

Ed thanking drivers for giving me a wide berth.

 Exactly as I feared the journey into the Cairngorms was very tough, the scenery was amazing so that was a little compensation for the dragging climbs. Being a proud Rossendalian I am used to heather covered hills - I see them every day but the Cairngorms were something else. My humble little valley just doesn't compare to the desolate, rugged beauty of this National Park. During the first few miles we passed over the official border for the Scottish Highlands, I was only travelling at 6mph at the time but what a buzz that gave me. I'm not Scottish but I do have Scottish blood and I think it was that coupled with a signpost that made it plainly obvious I was now very high up on the map of the UK that gave me such a big boost. Whatever it was that caused it, I was happy with the adrenaline rush whilst climbing what seemed like an endless climb.

Climbing in to the Cairngorms National Park

  Well endless was a bit of an exaggeration, early on in the climb I had a short downhill but the dreaded Scottish tarmac made it quite a slow downhill, it certainly didn't give me much of a break from climbing. I stopped three times on the climb, I needed to keep my body fuelled. I was using a mixture of MyProtein products and tea & cake. I tried my best to keep going for as long as possible, Ed was an absolute star, cheering me on, keeping me motivated, making me laugh and taking my mind off pushing by asking about bits of history or wild flowers. Ed's enthusiasm seemed to rub off on to Ant and he was much better at keeping me entertained. I think I would of stopped for lunch much earlier if it wasn't for their support. Dad was doing great from the roadside too, stopping in every layby to cheer me on and take photos as I passed by.
The grey area shows the climb and the blue line shows my speed.

High up in the hills

 I was running low on steam after 2 hours, I squeezed out an extra half an hour but that was all I could manage. I hadn't reached my morning target of 23 miles which was a bit disappointing but stopping early for food and a rest might mean I could pull back a few more miles that afternoon. If I'd carried on flogging myself that morning then it risked ruining my afternoon push. 20 miles boxed off, almost all of it uphill wasn't a disaster.
 Dad had been so engrossed in cheering me on he'd either forgotten about or decided against going to get some food for lunch so the choice was beans on toast or beans on toast. On the first 10 days or so beans on toast, especially with cheese, was my favoured lunch but I'd struggled to get it down for a few days now. I knew I had to eat it, I needed to fuel my body but I found it difficult. After craving cake and stodgy food for two weeks I was now craving something healthy.
 After lunch we gave the chair the once over as I was worried the horrible Scottish tarmac could have vibrated bolts and screws loose. With everything tightened up we spent the rest of the break chatting in the motorhome. We checked the maps to see where dad could nip to the shop for food during the afternoon push. He didn't seem keen on leaving us and wanted to go after the push but that would mean extra driving around before going to the campsite, longer time before I could get a shower or use a toilet and a longer gap between pushing and eating which isn't good for recovery. Ed nipping to the shops whilst I was pushing had worked well so far so I wanted to keep things running the same.

Day 17 Morning Stats

Miles: 20.15
Time: 2:29:25
Average Moving Speed: 8.1mph
Top Speed: 29.5mph
Slowest Mile Split: Mile 20 - 10:21
Fastest Mile Split: Mile 4 - 3:54
Total Ascent: 1211ft
Average Heart Rate: 142bpm
Max Heart Rate: 160bpm

Day 17 Morning Progress Maps

Day 17 Afternoon

The afternoon started as the morning push had ended. We were climbing. We were now so high up that almost all the hills and mountains had snow on them, I couldn't believe that there was snow on the last day of June. The snow was another one of the things that hammered home just how far we had got ourselves. Whilst on the climb we saw both an Osprey and a Golden Eagle, I'd not seen either of these birds in the wild before. Ed and Ant were amazed I could tell what they were from a distance so I had to go full geek mode on them and explain about size, wing shape, tail shape and flying patterns. I was in love with the Cairngorms National Park.
 After a few miles climbing I got what I had been hoping for all day, a downhill! At last! We were still on the crappy Scottish tarmac with it's big stone chippings but the long downhill sections made the small climbs and the flat sections much easier to deal with. At 15 miles I thought I was on for something special on this push. My support crew were doing great again at the support. Ant was struggling keeping with me on some of the descents but when he was with me he was cheering me on. Ed was with me most of the time, he was telling me how fast I was going and how well I was doing. Dad was still stopping at every opportunity to encourage me, it was great for him to see me moving at speed for a long period. I had to remind him twice to go and get food for tea. I think he was excited and wanted to be involved, he was scared of missing something but we needed food desperately. He eventually gave in and went shopping for us.

Rough Scottish tarmac

 By 21 miles my maths had me on course to beat my marathon race PB. Yes the route was largely downhill but I had also pushed over 700 miles in the lead up to this and I was knackered from all the climbing over the last 48 hours so I did not expect to be moving this fast.
  Dad was back in next to no time, he was with us when we passed the marathon point in a time of 1:51:09 which is almost 4 minutes faster than my PB, obviously it doesn't count as a new PB but it put a smile on my face. Ed told dad the time for my marathon through the motorhome window and told him I was ready to stop. Dad went ahead to find a layby for me to stop in but there were road-works on the stretch of road we were on so it was another 3.5 miles before we stopped. Dad had set up the deckchairs, made brews, got some cake out and had the tools ready to strip the race chair and rack the bikes. I was more than happy to have a brew waiting for me at the finish after a massive afternoon push of almost 30 miles.

Passing dad in another layby.

 Yet another free campsite was waiting for us at the Dalraddy Estate, it was an unusual campsite in a woodland setting, the buildings were all log cabins and the whole site was really well kept. I was so hungry and looking forward to something healthy for dinner, my heart sank when dad revealed his shopping; there was hardly anything in the bag. For dinner we were on oven chips, fried egg, bacon and baked bastard beans! I'd been struggling with food for days now but I'd managed to force it down my neck. I really tried but I only managed about half of the meal. I could visualise my dad being so scared of missing something on the push that he dumped the motorhome, legged it into the shop and did his own Dale Winton style supermarket sweep just grabbing whatever was close to hand.
For the first time on the trip I was the last one up. Whilst writing my diary I had found a tick on Bonnie's neck so I had been googling how to remove one and if there was anything I could do without a tick remover. I also wrote a shopping list for when dad went shopping the next day so I could have something I had a chance of eating.

Day 17 Afternoon Stats

Miles: 29.88
Time:  2:07:43
Average Moving Speed: 14.0mph (The fastest of the challenge so far)
Top Speed: 28.4mph
Slowest Mile Split: Mile 2 - 8:21
Fastest Mile Split: Mile 6 - 2:37
Total Ascent: 574ft
Average Heart Rate: 143bpm
Max Heart Rate: 177bpm

Day 17 Afternoon Progress Maps

Total Daily Mileage:50.03