GBBR Day Four – Winchester to Twickenham

And so the final day started very strangely actually. We had been expecting a four am bugle call, which never came. Apparently the power was out on the rugby field, and so the first person to wake up in a dark and quiet tent did so at about 5.05am. We were late! There followed a sleepy dash to get into breakfast at the clubhouse, through lights which were just coming on for us.

Winchester rugby club, 5am

After the usual porridge and fry up (which this morning I just couldn’t eat, I don’t know if it was nerves, or the fact that my body had eaten so much food over the last few days that it just had had enough) I dashed back to the tent to get packed and ready for the final departure. It was going to be tight this morning to get finished in time. Barry knew that not all of us would make Twickenham in time for the proposed 1pm departure, and we had 82 miles still to get there. The start would have to be a bit slower than usual also, as it was still dark.

Nearly ready to pack and go, my final night in the army tent.

As I was walking back to pack, some people were already setting out. Unlike the pazazz of the start for the last few days, this morning was much more muted. Freck, aka Mr England, was still in his pyjamas, still pissed apparently after giving the bar a caning with some Fijians and the locals who had played a floodlit rugby game the evening before. I got to the start about 10 minutes late at 6.10, and then decided there was no way I could cycle without going to the toilet first (too much information here already I know:)). I duly went back to the clubhouse and unfortunately I had to wait for about 20 minutes whilst they were unblocked (170 cyclists after breakfast into two male toilets = bad news). So by the time I got back to the starting line, most everyone had gone, and it was after 6.30am, and the sun was beginning to come up.

This all made the start of the last day a bit of an anti-climax for me. Instead of cycling with a bunch of people and either hanging on to them, or threading my way through them, I was cycling on my own. The 82 miles that I had to go seemed like a long long way away. I began to calculate that if today was going to be at the same (13mph) average speed that I had done so far overall, then even without pit stops (impossible), I had at least 6 and a half hours to go. With refuelling stops this would mean a likely entry into Twickenham at about 2.30pm , after the scheduled ride together to the stadium itself, which was set for 1.30pm. This was awful, and so I just dug in, put my head down, and rode like I never have before. The route overall thankfully was a very kind one, taking us through New Alresford, Alton, Wheerstreet, Albury, Cobham, Esher, East Molesey, Bushy Park, Teddington before finally arriving at Twickenham. And apart from a fairly tough windy section through the Surrey Hills, which seemed a bit unnecessary quite frankly, the route was nice and easy, which helped to make up a lot of time.

It was not long before I caught up and passed a lot of people. There were quite a few sets of fresh legs out there -“glory hunters” as Barry had called them in his speech the previous evening, as they would later that day get to walk into Twickenham with the rest of us who had done the whole 340 miles. This didn’t bother me at all, it was nice to have some extra people to ride with, and in some cases to get me fired up and motivated alongside. One group of about five I clung onto for about 8 miles and we went at a great pace – they stopped for a rest eventually and I just powered on – by now I was eating up time and ground. I was no longer thinking about how late I would be arriving, but just how close to the actual front of the field I could actually get. This was never a race, but believe me it got very very competitive out there for some people. I am not in their league, but it is nice to be able to aspire to their standards and be able to push yourself that bit harder because of it.

I eventually reached Twickenham (or Kneller Hall, the place where we would meet and collect our bags) at 11.20. If I knock off 40 minutes or so for lunch, and the morning and afternoon pit stops, then I probably did the last leg in not much more than four hours cycling. I was amazed! When I caught up with the folks who had come in ‘first’ in the pub (bloody hell did that first pint taste good:)) shortly afterwards, they told me they had arrived at 10.50, only half an hour before me. They had set off at 6am, a full half an hour before me too. I was rather happy with that, to say the least!

Shortly after I met up with Mel, who had also kindly brought down my son Dan and his girflriend Emily. All of the cyclists who had arrived then regrouped, and we cycled to the stadium together, complete with police motorcade and led by a now (probably) sober Mr England.

The final short procession into Twickenham

And the next one is of me as part of the group above. I think it is the only picture of me actually cycling that I have, which considering I have done over 1,500 miles this summer, is a shame, especially as I don’t even have my helmet on (well it was only three hundred yards, not that that is an excuse). It felt fantastic to know that I, all of us, had done it. Moreover, I was safe, no injuries or mishaps along the way. It felt great.

Quite happy I am!

After a nice rest at the rugby stadium, during half time of the second rugby game, we were all led around the pitch itself by Richard Hill. Twelve cyclists got to ride around the track, the best thing being that Pete’s Dragons were amongst them, the most deserving people of all in my opinion. To walk around the pitch was very emotional – there were officially 75,112 people in the crowd, and they were very receptive (unlike some other half time audiences the likes of which you would see at a football game), and applauded us literally all of the way round. I had a lump in my throat the whole way.

Twickenham from our seats in the South Stand.

Just about to enter at pitch level to great applause

Our parade around the pitch.....

...and me, as close to the hallowed turf as I will ever get!

And so that was it. After a few goodbyes to the chaps who I had spent a fantastic and unforgettable week with, we went our separate ways. It was all over. It took me a good few days for the enormity of it all to sink in.

This summer I spent I have no idea how many hours, and a good deal of money, on an event which I found utterly endearing, and absolutely brilliant. Between the people who took part, we have raised to date over £100,000 for a number of charities, including Help for Heroes.

The overall statistics for the ride are 344 miles, and some 7,400 metres, or 24,400 feet of ascent. I can’t count the amount of food or calories that I ate, but I have never eaten so much in my whole life, and I am told by everyone I see that I have lost a lot of weight, I would say 10 or 12 lbs over the four days. I pushed myself harder than I have ever pushed myself. I could have given up 10 or more times along the way, and it was the toughest (apart from Stella Point on Kilimanjaro) thing I have ever done in my life.

To everyone (of which more in a later post) who sponsored me, helped me, humoured me, told me they were proud of me, thank you enormously, immeasurably. To everyone at the GBBR, thank you from all of us for a fantastically well organised event – I have no idea how you pulled it all off like you did. To everyone who competed in the GBBR, well done to all of us, we were all brilliant.

Ultimately, I met so many wonderful people along the way, found friends, laughed, and ultimately cried buckets when I found out the Pete’s Dragons story. I will be printing and mounting Ditsey’s poem and putting it up on my wall for all time. I couldn’t think or imagine a more fitting memento than that.

GBBR Day Three – Yeovil to Winchester

I woke up at about 3.30 this morning freezing. I couldn’t quite work out why I was so cold, apart from the fact that I was sleeping with my head close to the door, and I tossed and turned for the next couple of hours. When I finally got alerted to the Reveille at 5 I discovered that my sleeping bag was unzipped from the bottom up, and hence my feet were like blocks of ice.

The Reveille had a different tone this morning. The obligatory trumpet call was followed by the dulcet tones of Take That (Never Forget), and then a couple of other tracks, played at about 250 decibels through a couple of mega PA bins by the army. Oh what cheery chappies they are!

In breakfast we were greeted by none other than Martin Johnson (England international rugby union manager and ex England world cup captain for those of you who don’t know him). To say he is absolutely huge is an understatement. In fact he made Richard Hill, England’s 6ft 4 back row, look small. To give you an idea, here he is next to me:

I may have been standing on tiptoes here, I don't recall!

We set out from Ivel Barbarians at about 7.30 in the end, to clear skies if very cold. There were quite a few day riders today, about 50 in total I think, including quite a few guys from the club itself. This was the view at the starting line, with Martin Johnson at the head of the starting pack (he didn’t finish there I should add). Mr England again started us all off, with his now customary cries of “oyez, oyez” etc.

Ready to leave Yeovil....

The route took us out of Somerset, and through Dorset and then Hampshire. It was stunningly beautiful, particularly the New Forest, which I love. And this was simply the best day’s cycling I have ever had, maybe ever will have.

The morning session was punctuated by a few testing pulls, but nothing close to what has been seen the previous two days. The middle section had one very long and steep climb, but was otherwise a quite nice run. The afternoon session (through the New Forest) was spectacular. We went through Ringwood and a few other places that I can’t remember. I wanted to stop every 100 metres and take photographs, but of course just couldn’t really do that. The last third or so of the ride was the best terrain of the ride so far, mainly undulating and forested land, and just beautiful – made you glad to be alive.

I ended up arriving into Winchester at about 2.30pm or so, and I booked in straight away for my now obligatory sports massage. I think these helped my legs so much overall, the benefits could definitely be felt the next day.

Finishing earlier today was nice as it gave the opportunity to chill for a while in the sunshine at Winchester rugby club, which was a great venue. The locals turned up to come and see Martin Johnson and Richard Hill who both signed a few rugby balls etc., and it was a glorious warm sunny afternoon. I met and chatted to one of the best riders of the event, Anna Baird, who it turns out had done Kilimanjaro like me. She had sadly succumbed to fairly serious altitude sickness at 4,600m and had not been able to summit, and I realised how lucky I was to have been able to do so. We also chatted about what other adventures were in contemplation, and for me the seeds of doing Everest base camp were definitely sown. I have no aspirations to climb Everest itself, and indeed am not a climber and never will be, but to trek to base camp and to say that you have seen the highest mountain on the planet, well, that has to be done, doesn’t it?

There was a nice touch in Winchester too, as with our afternoon ‘tea’, someone had made a bunch of GBBR (complete with our logo etc) cup cakes, which were delicious!

I felt like I could eat the lot....

After dinner, which was sensational, and massive, Barry Clayton gave a rather splendid speech. He was obviously very emotional, and so he deserved to be – he has put a monstrous amount of effort into this event. He thanked the huge amount of people who have helped support the event, and including the army guys there are literally hundreds. Most importantly he also told us that we riders had raised £89,000 between us so far for Help For Heroes – a fantastic effort. He also gave a very emotional tribute to Pete’s Dragons, which if you have already read my previous post you will know all about by now. I didn’t at the time, and Barry didn’t want to share their story with everyone for reasons which I now know. I don’t think I could have given that speech and not cried my eyes out. In fact I wouldn’t have been able to speak at all. I am going get Ditsey’s poem printed and framed in my house, and keep it for ever. I cannot think of a better or more wonderful lasting memory of this event than that. What amazing people they are.

So the only downside to the evening was being told that Reveille was going to be at 4am (!). We have to leave by 6am, before sunrise, to get as many as possible of us the 82 miles to London by noon. It was going to be a tall order for sure. And the power cut that was to blight us didn’t help in the least. Bed was therefore by 9.15. Tomorrow would be Twickenham, our own summit. This is what most of us came for, “to arrive at Twickenham to the applause of 70,000 fans”. It was going to be fantastic, and I was going to finish this bike ride. I now, only now for the first time, knew that I could do it.

Statistics for the day were 77 miles and 1,390 metres of ascent. Calories eaten, about 10 billion. Oh and Two pints of Guinness.

To Pete’s Dragons

I can’t speak at the moment. Feel choked. Awestruck, gobsmacked, and humbled beyond anything I think I may have almost ever felt.

Last week I was lucky enough to do the Great British Bike Ride. I trained all summer without practically a care in the world. When I did the ride I looked at the other people doing it, and wondered about why they might be there. I saw people with photographs sellotaped to their bikes of presumably parents, grandparents and the like, and thought how nice it was that they chose to commemorate their family members in that way.

I also wrote a note to Barry today, as I wanted to ask him about a certain three people who did the bike ride. They came in (I believe I am right in saying) last every day, and on the first day for example they were cycling for thirteen and a half hours. They looked absolutely knackered. I saw they had “Pete’s Dragons” shirts on, and had no idea what it was all about. They also looked to be the cheeriest souls on the whole mountain, without it seemed a care in the world. Today I found out what it was all about.

I don’t intend to even comment on what is written below, I don’t need to. I want to let their words speak for themselves. I hope they don’t mind me reproducing it – but this is simply a copy of their website.

Pete’s Dragons – this is for you. I love you all, and that is a big word, but I mean it totally:

{From http://www.petesdragons.co.uk}:

Welcome to our website!

The Dragons
Please follow and/or add us
Facebook

Twitter

Please click here to donate

Letter from Diva

On the 29th of January this year my perspective on life changed forever.   That was the day my little brother decided that his life was too hard, difficult and painful to continue. In the first few weeks after his death (although my logical head kept telling me it was impossible) I kept waiting for someone to step forward and make everything ok again.  Surely this was a joke right?? Pete was going to come home with a massive hangover right?? That kind, gentle, quiet, smiley, shy, thoughtful little brother of mine was going to be around forever right???  Wrong.

The five days that Pete was missing were the worst days of my life.  I have never felt such despair and helplessness.  To have it over such a sustained period was exhausting, I watched my whole family deteriorate in front of my eyes with every passing hour.  We had a wonderful support group of friends and extended family who rallied round and helped to keep us going by keeping us fed and helping in our search. But as each night drew in we knew our chances of a happy outcome were diminishing.  The first day that he was missing we found the most frustrating – the police had all available officers searching for him but that just wasn’t enough for the terrain.  We often say “its a small world” but let me assure you, when your looking for a five foot six, eight stone, 24 year old in rural Cornwall, the world is massive.

On the second day the cavalry arrived.  The Cornwall Search and Rescue Team and the North Dartmoor Search and Rescue Team.  Just seeing them arrive in their droves, setting up their vans and radio systems gave us the much needed reassurance that everything that could be done was being done.  I must confess that at that point I couldn’t care less who they were and where they had come from.  One thing and one thing only was driving me and that was finding Pete.  I discovered after that the teams in total searched a massive area surrounding where Pete had last been seen. This area included rivers, woods, train tracks, farmland and the weather at the time was horrific, deep snow, rain and hail storms, constant freezing temperatures. However, for as long as the police needed them to help search, they came, from first light till dark.  They weren’t successful in finding Pete, he had concealed himself in a place none of us would have ever connected him too, to spare us, his family the trauma of finding him ourselves.

Throughout Devon and Cornwall these teams are on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  They are all volunteers who buy their own equipment.  They don’t have a rota system, they all get called out to every job. They recieve no central funding for their equipment.  However, in any rescue situation, from missing people to stranded people,  in the two counties they are the first point of contact for the police.  They are a 999 service.

Have you ever been to Devon or Cornwall, do you know anyone who lives in Devon and Cornwall, do you yourself live in Devon or Cornwall?  Having now met these guys I was humbled by the amount of their own time they give up for training and actually carrying out search and rescue operations, they are truly dedicated professionals often juggling their careers and family life with their search and rescue commitments.

That’s why Pete’s Dragons want to raise pots of money for them.  They don’t have a high profile, they struggle to raise the money they need to continue their work, against some of the more high profile charities. I didn’t know on the 28th of January 2010 who they were or that they even existed. On the 30th of January my family needed them and they were there.

On a personal note, “Pete’s Dragons” has got me and my family through some of our darkest days.  It has kept us busy and focused and enabled us to feel some positivity coming from such a tragic event.  We have received an enormous amount of support for which we are deeply touched and extremely grateful.  I have to mention the other two Dragons at this stage: phenomenal women who have given up their own lives this summer to train and fundraise like nutters. I find it very hard to tell them to their faces how grateful I am or indeed how I feel about them because I just blub!  But for the record ladies “you are awesome and inspirational, your friendship is priceless and I love you both”.

I can’t have my little brother back, my Mum can’t have her son back but what we CAN do with your help  is ensure that Search and Rescue Teams have the funding to continue their work and find other peoples loved ones safe and sound.

Please continue to support us though the BIG RIDE, our blog will be updated daily and we will be able to read all messages of support on facebook.  The route we will ride is on the LGBBR website and we would love to see as many of you as possible en-route for a wave and some heckling!!!! Thank you for all of your support so far – we really have had a blast!!!!!

Love Diva x x

A Poem by Ditsey

I wonder whatever possessed me

To cycle for so many miles?

Numb toes, arms and fingers

Heaven only knows about piles.

With a fond goodbye to sleeping

Television, alcohol and a life

We train and work and train

Forget the kids. Are you sure I’m a wife?

The birds they stay but snoring

Whilst the rabbits they still abound

The roads hold very little traffic

Only the farmers are around.

We’ve purchased shiny bike pumps,

Bright lights and inner tubes

But the kit list it says ear plugs,

An eye mask and some ‘lube”?

The Dragons, my they fund raise

From ‘Spinning’ to Car Boot Sales

Sporting Sweaty Betty clothing

Matching lippie, bright pink nails.

On Sundays you will find us

Up a mound or up a hill

With the Dynamos’ help and patience

And a cuppa at the Mill.

The ‘Bonk’ it comes to Ditsey

And a Diva strop will pass

Dreggie will get her baps out

But the Dragons; now they’re fast.

The days they are a passing

That GBBR is looming near

Is it anticipation, or excitement?

Or is it just down right fear?

Our muscles they are screaming

There are bags under our eyes

But the lady promised us ‘whippets’

With long and slender thighs.

What a journey of discovery

What fabulous people we’ve met

What a way to spend a summer

And guess what: it’s not over yet.

We’ve fallen in love with cycling

The freedom and the air

We’re just three very ordinary women,

With a dream we want to share.

We are doing this for you Pete,

Although it may take us some time

But we know that you’ll be with us

As we cross the Twickenham line.

Dragon

Supporting the Dartmoor Rescue Group, the Cornwall Search and Rescue Team

and Help for Heroes

GBBR Day Two – Tavistock to Yeovil

So day two was a bugger too. It began with the now customary Reveille, which consists of a piped bugle call at about 200 decibels at about 5am, perhaps earlier. The morning was very cold, if fairly still, and Dartmoor in the distance looked a stark and foreboding place. It was to prove that and and so much more, as we go straight through the middle of it.

Our camp at Tavistock RFC - the start of Dartmoor in the distance.

We set off just after daybreak, having first packed our bags and brought them to the truck that would take them around all week:

Our luggage gets ready to leave Tavistock

We then had to go back down the awful hill that we came up last night, and into Tavistock. From there we took a road which apparently the locals call ‘eight mile hill’. The reason for this somewhat eludes me, as the hill is actually about 12 miles long. No breaks, just an unrelenting tough slog from about 100ft above sea level to about 1700ft. It passes Princetown Jail at the top of Dartmoor, which today in the swaling mist made it appear an even more forbidding place than it no doubt normally is. Here is the profile of the morning’s route:

This was not a fun morning at all....

As you can see we went to over 1,500 feet, and the ‘hill” basically sorted the men from the boys. There were people lieing at the side of the road at almost every turn it seemed. On top of the fact that legs were stiff from doing 100 miles the day before, this was a beast. In fact it would be a beast in any circumstances. I think the longest hill I have tried climbing previously is probably half a mile long, so this was unchartered territory on every level for me. Dartmoor was also cold and misty to boot, with low visibility.

Once over the top of ‘High Moor’ there was a huge 14 mile descent, which was more of an undulating set of rollers than a true descent. It wasn’t helped also by the fact that it was into what was now a strong headwind. I would imagine that with a nice westerly wind and the benefit of knowing the run, you could have some fun down there. Apparently it is part of the course for the Tour of Britain in two weeks time. I would love to see the pros on it, it would be rather humbling for me I am sure.

There followed some real ups and downs through some very pretty Devon villages. There are no flat roads down here at all! After a couple of pit stops which took us through about 55 miles in total the route passed Exeter and then out of Honiton. Lunch was at a pub called the Lamb and Flag – would love to go back when I can actually have a drink! I walked into the bar on my way for a pee break and apologised to the landlady. I told her that I hoped sincerely that I would be back there someday in “happier” circumstances.

The roads out of Honiton had three brutal climbs, one about four miles long. I didn’t see one rider who didn’t stop at least once, myself included. One of the climbs had been newly gravelled, and was just about impossible to stay upright. Once we had got to about 70 miles for the day I was exhausted, totally. Thankfully it is amazing what bananas, tea, flapjacks, energy gels, electrolyte drinks, Clif shots, Mars Bars and jelly babies can do. I ate all of the these daily in abundance, and still ended up losing weight.

The final run came after pit stop three. Apart from the fact that they got the mileage wrong it was actually great. The run was about 24 miles, making about 90 for the day, taking us from somewhere near Chard (we had now reached Somerset) to Yeovil. There were a couple of nasty climbs again towards the end, but that is becoming expected now.

Pulling into Yeovil (Ivel Barbarians RFC) at about 3pm, I was greeted by the familiar army camp set up – those guys must have moved heaven and earth each day to get everything up and about – they were brilliant.

IV

In the evening after a sports massage there was a rugby game between the army guys and the Ivel Barbarians Vets team. I allowed myself a celebratory pint of Guinness too – I figured that one wouldn’t hurt me, and I am glad to say that it didn’t! I was soon in bed by 9.20 however, absolutely wiped out.

The stats for the day were:

Total mileage 90.

Total ascent 2,390 metres.

This meant we had done 186 miles and 5,200 metres (17,000 feet approx) of ascent since yesterday morning. No wonder I was tired. I slept very soundly, hoping that the rest of Somerset and then Hampshire would offer some easier riding than today. They would in fact do just that – the delights of the New Forest lay ahead……

GBBR Day One: Lands End to Tavistock

Do you know what the Reveille sounds like? Everyone on the Lexus Great British Bike Ride knows it very well indeed. We were to hear it every morning at 5am, pumped in by the army via a PA system that would have woken the dead. I have the sound ringing in my ears still as I type up my notes now almost a week later. Google it, please, I want to share it with you:)

So this was the start of our every day. In a cold (very) and dark, dampish army tent, we would get blasted with this lovely sound. The first morning it came as a big shock, but at least it got us all out of bed. In fact it probably got the whole of Lands End out of bed too.

So after a big queue for a breakfast of porridge, eggs, beans, toast, bacon and lots of tea, it was into the cycling kit for the start of the ride. We started at precisely 7am, and rode down to the famous signpost showing the way to various far flung places. I think there were 141 of us the first morning, and we were set off in ceremonious style by Mr England in groups of 25 or so. Here are some of the folks getting ready for the off:

The famous signpost is there in the background.

The route we knew was going to be around 97 miles. What I don’t think anyone knew really was just how hard this would be, certainly not me. Not helped by the easterly wind (I will try not to keep mentioning this, honest, but we did end up cycling into it for all 344 miles), the hills were just horrible, in fact some of them were bad going down too.

The reason for the bad ones going down were that many were on very narrow country roads with grass growing down the middle, a 25% slope, and high hedges each side. This meant that the best you could do was to cling onto the brakes all the way down and hope that you didn’t fall off. This hurt your arms and hands a lot, and I just wasn’t used to it. The hills I am used to cycling down are wide open, and you can freewheel, let yourself go and feel the wind in your hair. Very few of these allowed that freedom at all.

Some of the hills going up were so steep that my lack of triple chainring was apparent immediately. I reckon that 90% of people on the ride had a triple, and all of the experienced guys certainly had them. I was stupid, just didn’t know, and paid for it. You cannot do 25% slopes on a double, or I can’t anyway. In fact if I hadn’t had the 11-28 cassette fitted to my bike the week before I went I would have been walking half of the hills in Cornwall, and would probably still be there. I am glad to say that this was my only regret of the whole trip, but it was a significant one certainly. By the first pit stop however at 25 miles or so, I was flying along, and loving it. I think I knew that I was ready for the whole thing, as I was psyched up and determined. The other thing is that you are certainly carried along by the momentum, of riding with 150 people or so – there was always someone behind you or in front of you to keep you spurred on. Here I was at the first pit stop – still smiling!

Time for a banana and a flapjack methinks

So the route took us through or past Penzance, Redruth, St Austell, Liskeard, Callington and then eventually to Tavistock in Devon. The majority of the route was via the side roads to keep us out of the way of traffic. I think I posted the route profile in another post, but here just as a taster is the section that we finished with:

Nasty, vicious finish to say the least

So that is the last 45 miles post lunch. Following a nice descent around Callington and towards Tavistock itself, the climbs following both were absolutely horrible. Just what you want when you are nearing the end of the first 100 mile cycle of your life, and after about 9 hours in the saddle. I think I reached Tavistock at about 4.30pm. The climb up to the club itself was horrible even. It was nice as we arrived though that all the army guys were there and plenty of people from the rugby club to clap us in. There was also a film crew there from BBC Cornwall, and I think I got filmed – it would be nice to see that someday and I must find out if it exists somewhere.

Having parked the bike up I found out that I had finished in about the first 30 riders. Whilst this is by no means a race or anything it was a huge boost to find that out for me. I went and got myself booked in for a massage, which hurt about as much as climbing the 1 in 4 hills did! It was a thorough sports ‘deep tissue’ massage, of the ‘no pain no gain’ variety. I think I probably felt the benefit the next day but at the time it was nothing short of agony!

Dinner in the clubhouse was a feast of pasta, chilli con carne and curry all piled high on the same plate, followed by a dessert of meringue and fruit. I was ravenous. I managed to avoid a beer, being the good, strong willed soul that I am:), and was tucked in bed by about 9.15. This was after the ubiquitous briefing telling us what lay ahead the next day (90 miles of Devon basically, and another 2,390 metres of climbing).

Sleep itself came very very easily (always does for me, I am lucky like that), although the night was to prove very cold indeed. We were camped at about 700 feet, looking at the edge of Dartmoor, and the wind was blowing a misty coldness through the camp. I hunkered down into my sleeping bag, not wanting to get up to pee in the middle of the night because of the cold, and awaited the sound of the bugle at 5am. The start of the next day we knew was going to be a total pig of a climb – the locals referred to the start of the route over Dartmoor as “Eight Mile Hill”, and we were about to find out that they were definitely not kidding.

Lands End At Last!

So I arrived today in Lands End. I thought the journey was going to be a very bad one when I got to Didcot railway station and found my train had been cancelled! This would have been fairly bad, as my connecting train from Swindon to Penzance was leaving only some 30 minutes later and I would have missed it. Thankfully all was not lost, as the Penzance train was actually rerouted to Didcot, and came along some 25 minutes later. Here I am about to leave good old Didcot railway station:

Do I look nervous? I was!

The journey took about 6 hours, and was ‘marred’ slightly by a delay at Exeter. We were held up for 30 minutes there, to be told that there had been a ‘fatality on the track’. That put many things into perspective for me, and I vowed at that point not to moan about things as trivial as cycling into Easterly winds, although I do reserve the right to moan about them tomorrow when I am actually having to deal with them!

Trusting your bike to British Rail is also a bit of a leap of faith, as you cannot lock it! Having not had my bike out of my sight (almost:)) since I had it, I had a good lock with me to ensure that the only person who would be taking it out of the Guard’s van would be me, but to no avail. When I got on I was told that I was not allowed to lock it ‘in case train staff needed access to the equipment in there’. Great.

I left my bike in a rack alongside several others, and spent the whole journey peering out of the window at the 18 (yes 18) stops we made along the way, half expecting to see some youth pedalling away with my pride and joy. Thankfully it didn’t happen, and neither did it happen to the Cervelo or the Trek that were parked there too.

So after leaving the train, and sadly leaving my iPhone charger on there, I left the station to find about four other people get off the train with bikes too, headed for the same place as me. We duly found a big van (marked with GBBR stickers, but looking back it could have been anybody!) to load our bikes onto. Our bags came with us and we duly set off the remaining 10 miles or so to the Seaview Holiday Park – pictured below:

Our home for the first night

So we found our accommodation was a series of massive army tents at the back of the campsite, set up and guarded by probably 40 or so army guys. I was in tent 3, where I would stay all week, the tents being moved each day in a huge operation by the army guys:

Easy to go wrong in the dark....

The whole set up was incredible. With a mechanics tent, a massage tent, a check in area manned by the army, a water station complete with electrolyte drinks, etc. The only downside was that we had to (under strict instruction:)) use the campsite toilets, and with the exception of the bar area, which was some ways away, we had two male toilets for about 250 people. Lets just say that the queues were ‘ridiculous’ and I shall leave it at that.

The site was probably about 3/4 of a mile or so from the Lands End ‘signpost’, marking the most extreme south westerly point of Great Britain, where we would cycle down to the next morning for the start of the ride itself. In the tents themselves we slept 10 to a tent, which was cosy, but fine, and the bikes stayed with us in the tent too:)

"You're in the army now..."

And so the rest of the day was fairly uneventful. We were served a huge feast of pasta, pasta and pasta in the evening, and I generally tried to busy myself by keeping away from the campsite bar. Not everyone was as successful as me, but being the strong minded, impossible to influence figure that I am, I gnawed at my knuckles and shut my eyes and hoped it was all a mirage. There was also a very comprehensive briefing by the organising team, where we were told where the pit stops would be, what obstacles to look out for, and also that we would be doing just shy of 100 miles the next day, including 2,890 metres of ascent (9,537 feet for those of you who still work in the old money). This sounded very daunting, and accompanied by what would be a week-long easterly wind (we would travel easterly all the way), there were some pretty worried faces that evening, mine included.

After a bike check up by the mechanics, I retired at about 9.30 to bed, having been told that we would be woken at 5am by a bugle call from the army. It was here, finally. The final few days before things like this drag, and yet go so quickly looking back at them. I think it is the anticipation – you cannot wait for it to begin.

Tomorrow would be it, the start of a complete unknown for me. It was a fitful and cold night that lay ahead……..

I did it!

I am about to post updates for each of the days of my trip, but I thought I would just say that as of about noon yesterday, I had completed all 344 miles and 24,810 feet of ascent of the ride. We came into Twickenham in front of 75,112 people, a truly wonderful experience. Very tired, and very very exhilarated too.

Twickenham, 4th September 2010 - I am down there somewhere!