Friday, August 2, 2013

Getting Ready.

Getting Ready


The plan – LEJOG – The plan....foiled – In training – Ready for the ride

The plan!

It was my friend, David's idea to cycle the length of Britain.

Planning to leave full time work in April, 2013, he wanted to move his life on, not with a whimper ( sit round moping, cos your useful life is over and maybe they''ll call and beg me to come back) but with a bang ( something totally different, manageable, challenging and fun). So he suggested that we hire bikes and ride the 1000 miles from Lands End (LE) in Cornwall to John O'Groats (JOG) on the north- eastern tip of Scotland.

That was ok with me. Two days after I left work in September 2009, my patient and saintly wife, Deirdre, drove me up to the top of New Zealand, unloaded me at the Cape Reinga lighthouse carpark with a ….. “ see you in a couple of months, sweetums!” ( that's exactly what she said) and left me to pedal my way down all three islands.

Deirdre, in front of German writer Herman Hesse's house on the shores of Lake Constance.

Me, on the road in Scotland.

The ride left me with legacies: a love of life on the road; buttocks the consistency of leather; and a collection of photos that I withdrew from public viewing after Susie, a family friend, having endured an hour of my babbling, slid her phone from her handbag , pinioned me in the corner of the couch and forced me to watch 371 blurry postage-stamp sized photos of her flock of sheep. Delicious revenge!

Now David and I planned to become End to Enders, LEJOGGERS, We bought the Lonely Planet Guide to cycling in Britain, oiled our chains and bought our tickets to the UK. Actually Deirdre and Gabrielle, David's wife bought the tickets. David and I have long ago learnt to let them do the planning for our trips. Our role is to admire and follow. We know our place.


The trip up England , Wales and Scotland from the south-west to the north east corner is called 'End to End' or LEJOG. It's not really furthest south to furthest north. Then it would be called LPDH ( Lizard Point (south),, to Dunnet Head( north)) and LPDH just doesn't have the same ring to it.
Each year, mostly between June and September, about 4,000 e2enders, some motorists, some walkers, but mostly cyclists, make the trip. In 1990, Andy Wilkinson rode it in a recumbent cycle in 41 hours 4 minutes and 22 seconds, an average of about 22 miles an hour but most people take time for toilet, food and sleep breaks and spend two to three weeks on the ride, usually covering 1000 miles. A skateboarder has done it in 21 days and the record for a non- motorised wheelchair is 8 days and 10 hours.
We planned to set a record for the most leisurely and meandering trip, hiring our bikes from Lands End Cycle Hire (at Long Rock near Penzance) for 40 days to the delight and surprise of Peter Rivett, the owner.

Why do you want to take so long for? Most people do it in 20 days or so.”
Then, realising that the longer the hire the greater his profit, he added; “Good on you for not rushing. This way you'll really get to see the country.”

David, a Kiwi after thirty years of living in England, wanted the time to visit friends, to see towns he'd missed in his youth.

The Lonely Planet "Cycling in Britain"
 route that we followed.

I got an email: “I can't believe that you're going to spend four weeks riding a bike through the UK. What are you doing it for?”
I wrote a list:
  1. I love riding, especially down hills. I love the smells of town and country. I love your ability to stop in a couple of metres to take pictures, to chat to strangers, to stretch out on a grassy patch, gaze at a view, be warmed by the sun.
  2. I want to find out why many English and Scottish emigrants were so keen to leave their homeland in the 1800s that they put up with sailing in leaky ships for three months over vomit- inducing oceans to settle in an undeveloped land with boiling pools of mud and water and inhabited by natives who included human flesh on their menu.
  3. I was fascinated by British place-names and was keen to visit: Upper Sodding, No Mans Land, Piddlehinton, Scratchy Bottom, Berryhill ( or any name including Berry – it could be an unclaimed family inheritance)
  4. It will be good to have company on this ride. I rode solo through New Zealand and missed the chance to talk through the good and the painful parts.
  5. After the ride I would like to go to the Orkneys to find out why my great great grandfather left his farm in 1863 to bring his wife and 8 children to NZ's South Island.
  6. I want to take every chance to talk to locals, unsuspecting passers by, B and B owners, other riders. 
  7. England, Scotland: I wanted to know them better, the people, the towns, the history, the scenic bits

The plan.......foiled
Gabrielle phoned one evening in early April, three weeks before we'd planned to fly out.
David's fallen off his bike and broken his hip. There's no way he can do the trip.”
On a training ride, David had stopped, then fallen when his shoes jammed in just- fitted toe baskets. He later told me he heard a sharp crack , knew he'd done serious damage and pounded his fists on the ground in his frustration.
We chatted. I thought he may want to delay the ride till 2014.... or cancel it. Neither. He wanted to do the trip but in a vehicle, seeing friends and the sights and to support my ride. I could carry less. We could branch off the cycle route. He could push my bike up hills, bring me food and drink at times of crisis.
And so it proved. He never did get to push my bike up hills, though, but his company, his daily purchases of pork pies for my lunch, his hours spent organising accommodation, meals and excursions after the day's riding made the trip, for me, easier, more diverse and much more enjoyable.

In training
Leaving David to flex his new titanium hip in Auckland till he was ready to join us , Deirdre, Gabrielle and I joined friends to tour France, then, later in May, to cycle 350 kms over 10 days round Lake Konstanz on hired bikes. We biked through Germany, Switzerland and Austria but I was never sure which of those we were in.

I asked a woman in the Konstanz Railway Station:
Excuse me, is this Germany or Switzerland?”
Horror, scorn, pity, disbelief flitted across her face.
Huh, zis is Chermany , of course!” She wandered off, muttering....”Dumkoff....Deutschland Uber Alles.....” and shaking her head.

This is a photo of the Lake Constance Team 
on the bridge over the Rhine at Stein am Rhine.

We rode easy daily distances, often on cycle tracks and up few hills. We were rained and hailed on, rode on ferries, ate and drank well and flew a NZ flag which of course most mistook for an Australian one. The flag was a good idea, though, and got us talking to many.
Above all I remember Imperia, a 9 metre tall statue which stands at the entrance to Konstanz Harbour. Imperia is a courtesan, her chest of magnificent amplitude and in her hands she holds the dwarf, naked, mewling figures of the pope and the emperor.
True history. Perfect! I fell in love with her in the time it took me to walk to the end of the breakwater where she slowly revolves to show her exquisiteness to the world.

Ready for LEJOG

Deirdre and Gabrielle flew back to work in New Zealand – look, someone has to pay for us to swan around Britain for the next six weeks .
We collected our car from Julie, David's sister in law and her husband Martin ( they couldn't have been more helpful) , and drove 350 miles along the south coast of England to Penzance, Cornwall, that long tail of England poking far out into the Atlantic. The hills of Cornwall were low, rolling and treeless, rounded like an ocean swell. Easy riding, I thought.

Did I hear an echo in the vallies? Sounded like.....” ha ha ha, you fool. We'll show you easy riding!”

The Lake Constance riders on one of
 the excellent cycle tracks around the lake.

David at Lands End, June 3, 2013

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