LEJOG day 12 : we made it! Yesterday we completed our epic journey from Land’s End go John O’Groats and it’s hard to believe how far we’ve come! We’ve cycled 935.74 miles (1505.9km) in just 12 days and climbed 52283 ft (15936m) which is nearly twice the height of Everest! This time last week only two people in the group had even met, but we worked together as a team and supported each other through to the very end with lots of laughs along the way!
I’m so proud of what we have achieved, especially yesterday, getting to the end despite the 60mph offshore crosswinds pushing us across the roads. The last 15 miles from Wick to John O’Groats were the first time that I ever doubted that I could finish, but we did it! Our longest and fastest day yet 86.65 miles, 4268 ft of climbing with an average speed of 14:8mph.
We woke up to the wind howling outside and opened the curtains to find the table umbrella outside our window blown dramatically inside out. From the window in the dining room at breakfast we couldn’t really see the mountains across the water that we’d seen the night before and it had also suddenly got rather cold! We layered up nervously, packed clothes and extra layers to go with Carl in the van and set out into a sunny but cold and windy morning.
Even on the road out of the hotel the wind was already gusting, wobbling is on our bikes and I thought of Rachel after our conversation that morning about how she hates it when the wind catches you on the bike. Little did we know how much more was to come!
We headed to Dornoch Firth under dramatic skies, our side bright and sunny, the other dark and cloudy with rain fuzzing the outlines of the hills and a rainbow joining the bridge in spanning the two. A dramatically contrasting but beautiful scene. We stopped for some photos then set out across the bridge, wary of the wind.
Rachel riding into the darkness on the other side of Dornoch Firth.We stopped excitedly for what we thought might be our last county sign selfie then headed on into the comparative darkness! My sunglasses were feeling a little optimistic by that stage.
We headed on up enjoying our first tailwinds of the trip, past a disputed monument to the Duke of Sutherland, Dunrobin Castle and the village of Brora (or Brora Brora!) which proclaimed its award-winning beach. We saw signs for otters, but sadly no sign of the creatures themselves and stopped to put our coats on as it started to rain. It cleared up for a bit then as we were nearly Helmsdale around the 35 mile mark it really started tipping it down and we rushed for cover ending up sheltering and eating cake in the Timespan museum as the rain hammered down. Once again we were counting our lucky stars for the weather we’d had!
We hit the road, climbing a hill and crossing into,Caithness, our final county, mucking around pretending it was really windy in our photos. Around 43 miles in we had a big 13% descent and a steep climb with hairpin bends up on the other side as the wind got up. At the top of this hill is where the wind really took hold. It was gusting left to right across the road, catching us and our bikes and pushing us towards the middle of the road. The other group were stopped and nervous but I did my best to pedal on, desperate not to have to get off and walk and thinking that if I just pedalled as hard as I could I’d be through it. I caught up with some of the group in a sheltered part of the road further up and just felt so proud of myself for getting up there and keeping going. A few years ago even a slight breeze would make me feel scared on the bike, and I don’t think I’d have coped well even with the wind we had on the hill, let alone it’s strength out in the open at the top.
Once we’d regrouped we pushed on and the wind continued as soon as we were back out in the shelter again, howling around walls and pylons, gusty and capricious but for the most part relentlessly pushing us into the middle of road. The journey to Wick was exhausting lean, pedal, lean, pedal, looking nervously ahead for big gaps in the drystone walls and broom that would mean bigger stronger gusts. My neck and arms ached from all the leaning, my hair was constant blown in my eyes and mouth and the water and rain blown in from the fields was being pushed sideways across my glasses and I was starting to get a bit hungry. We barely had time to take in the coastal views, let alone take any photos as we pushed on against the wind, working through the miles.
At last we stopped in Wick, so grateful for a break as the winds had grown stronger and stronger. We sheltered in Morag’s café warming up with hot chocolate and paninis and checked the weather to find that the predicted 40-50 mph winds were now 60+mph. No wonder we were finding it hard going!
It felt worse when we left the shelter of the café and set off. Our last 15 miles, we’d already covered over 900 so how hard could it be? As it turns out, very! I somehow ended up out at the front of the group and really started wondering if we’d ever make it, the wind wasn’t relenting and I did everything I could to try and stay in course, on my side of the road, so scared of being caught by a gust and being pushed into the path of the oncoming traffic or the many overtaking vehicles. My worries weren’t helped when an ambulance rushed past and I hoped it wasn’t for anyone in the other group! On the front in those conditions I just couldn’t risk turning round and losing balance so felt very alone. Stopping in the shelter of a house to let the others catch up, Rachel struggling more than I was in the wind, I rejoined at the back of the group and felt reassured by the friendly figures, though still doubtful that we’d actually manage to get there in one piece on our bikes.
We turned right to John O’Groats but didn’t really benefit from any tailwind as the road soon turned again, leaving the wind to continue in its game of push the cyclist. Nature is so much bigger than us and yesterday we really felt it’s force. The sea was heaving too and I was very grateful to at least be on land!
Eventually and somehow we made it into John O’Groats and were all surprised by how many houses there were dotted around, not like the almost complete isolation of Land’s End aside from the amusement arcade. We cycled down to the sign post and northernmost point of mainland Scotland, trying to take in the views and what we had achieved. We made it. End to end. Land’s End to John O’Groats. The furthest south we could go to the furthest north, and further north than I’ve ever been before. And all by bike in just 12 days. I think it’s going to take some time to sink in.
We celebrated with champagne in the van on the way back, courtesy of Carl (“I’m not having you all getting back sober!”) and fish and chips in Golspie. What a team and what an achievement. Today at breakfast it was strange and a little sad to not be going out on our bikes today and to be heading our separate ways. The adventure is over, but what next?
Thank you all for your support on this journey from Land’s End to John O’Groats which started far earlier than two weeks ago. Thank you for the support and advice, the rides in rain and sun as I’ve built up to this. Thank you all for the interest you’ve shown in my adventure over the last few weeks, all your comments, encouragement and likes have real meant a lot to me. And a really really big thank you to everyone who has helped me make a difference for Alzheimer’s Research. They may not be able to bring Gookey back, but through their research I hope that someday soon we can find a way to stop this devastating disease in its tracks. It’s a cause that means so much to me and I feel lucky to have been able to do something positive in the face of something that makes you feel so powerless.